INTERVIEW: "Batgirl and the Birds of Prey" Hunt Rebirth's Oracle
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Adam Hughes, and the stories are “Two Sides of the Man” in Warriors #1 and “A Tradition of Terror” in Blood of Dracula #4, the first of which was published by Adventure Publications and is cover dated November 1987, the second of which was published by Apple Comics and is cover dated July 1988. Enjoy!
When I started writing these columns, I foolishly thought I could use my own vast store of comics and whatever I happened to buy during this year as a matter of course – things I would buy anyway – to finish the series. I soon learned that would be impossible, and way back in the early days of the column, I actually had to go to the comics shoppe and buy two issues of Micronauts to show early Kelley Jones work. I’ve done it much more often recently – both my own comics shoppe and on-line places (Midtown Comics primarily, although not exclusively) – and today, I’m going to show art from two issues I only bought recently. I just didn’t want you to think I was so into the comics scene in 1988 that I happened to buy very early Adam Hughes art without knowing it was “Adam Hughes.” I own a lot of comics, but there’s still far too many for me to be that on the ball! This is very early Hughes art – the story in Warriors was one of the first things he had published – and it’s interesting to see how raw he was but how good you could tell he would become, especially on the second story. He was 20 years old when both (probably – he may have drawn the first one when he was 19) of these stories were drawn, to give you an idea of context. So let’s check them out!
The main character, Sultar, is the nervous fellow who is trying to find a game to get into. This is the third page of the story, and already we’ve seen that Sultar appears to be talking to an invisible (or imaginary?) friend. Warriors is a spin-off title from a book called Adventurers, and it focuses on characters within that team, so I assume people who were already reading that comic would know what was going on with Sultar. We eventually find out his “secret,” but early on, he just seems like a nervous dude with an invisible friend. Anyway, Hughes shows a pretty good sense of layout on this page – Sultar moves around, bumping into people, and Hughes does a good job leading us over the page. Sulter backs into a dude, who spills his drink on that larger dude. He’s swatted away by the woman at the table. He can’t get the attention of the dude pulling the “Lance Henriksen” in Panel 3 until the dude spins around and holds the knife at his throat (a kris, I suppose it would be). He stumbles backward into three burly dudes, and turns to apologize to the largest burly dude. It’s a nice way to take us through the hive of scum and villainy he’s stumbled into, and also get Sultar to where he needs to be, which is playing craps (or “knucklebones,” although they’re only throwing two dice) with the three dudes. Notice that Hughes’s trademark smooth lines aren’t in evidence yet – the story was inked by Steve Stiles, so maybe the inking was a bit rougher than the raw pencils – but the figure work is still very accomplished for such a young artist. The woman in Panel 2 is a good example of how Hughes would draw women – yes, she’s a bit large in the bust area, but Hughes and Stiles give her nice muscular arms, as she seems to fit right in with all the other evil dudes – while Sultar’s nervous face in Panel 6 shows hints of the way Hughes would draw nervous men as he got more experienced (I’m not commenting on the point of view we get in that panel, but it’s … something). The rougher inking and spot blacks make the gambling den a bit more seedy, which is the point.
Sultar gets to playing with the dudes, one of whom is cheating. This page shows Hughes’s ability to draw light-hearted stuff, which served him well down the road. He has a cartoony style that’s very fluid, and he also is able to draw rubbery faces that express emotions in a somewhat exaggerated fashion. Hughes can rein that in, of course, but in a story where there’s some humor (it’s not exactly a funny story, but there’s still some humor), that’s a good skill to have. So the big dude, who’s cheating, is nicely expressive throughout this page – he’s exultant in Panel 1, and then Hughes pinches in his face when he leans toward Sultar in Panel 3. He looks smug in Panel 4 (because he knows he’s going to win) and slyly amused in Panel 5. Finally, in Panel 6, he looks toward Sultar with a sour look on his face, as he’s still hearing things but isn’t sure what. Sultar, meanwhile, is a shrinking violet in Panel 3 as the big guy appears to be spoiling for a fight, and in Panel 6, we can see that he doesn’t want to fight, but it’s becoming more difficult to remain calm (as we can see from the smoke rising from his hand in Panel 5 and the “SSSS” leading us down to Panel 6). Once again, the rough inking doesn’t make Hughes’s work any less cartoony, but it does help make the setting a bit murkier. The inking on Sultar’s face in Panel 6 is well done, as it makes him look more tortured than just the facial expression would. It’s a good mix.
We turn the page and get this sequence, when it becomes clear that “Oneida” is real, and she (he?) is pissed (and why “Oneida”?). It’s another nice scene. Panel 1 is a long view, and he can see Sultar smoking (literally) and the Playboy Bunny waitress looking on worriedly. In the foreground, Hughes adds some nice barbarian-type characters – the guy on the left looks like your standard pirate, while the dude on the left is a standard Conan figure, who apparently travels with his own giant mug on which is inscribed “Damn I’m Good” (I totally want a beer-drinking mug like that). In Panel 2, Oneida decides to seize the day, and we get that wonderful drawing of Sultar freaking out as flames shoot out of his hand. The lack of holding lines, along with the rough inks, make the flames’ brightness stand out well even in a black-and-white comic. In Panel 3, Hughes/Stiles uses light brush-like lines to show the dice burning away, revealing the weights within. It’s a very neat sequence, and while I imagine Stiles did a lot of the work in the inking, Hughes’s drawing remains strong.
The bad guys put Sultar in a barrel and chuck him into the harbor, but with Oneida’s help, he escapes and gets revenge. Once again, Stiles does nice work with the inking, as the rough hem of Sultar’s cloak in Panel 1 and his hand in Panel 2 looks like it’s mostly inking work. Sultar’s face in Panel 2 is a nice proto-Hughes face, and once again the heavy inks show the light source well. Hughes shows that he can do the humorous faces that we saw above, but he’s pretty good at the dark stuff, too.
Hughes drew some other stories in Warriors in late 1987/early 1988, and then came Blood of Dracula #4, which had Mark Wheatley as editor and Marc Hempel as art director. Apple might be best known for publishing Don Lomax’s Vietnam Journal, but they published this book, too! In the short time since Warriors, Hughes had gotten better, as we’ll see.
Apparently the “Death Dreams of Dracula” was recurring feature in Blood of Dracula, and the introduction to this story is pretty fun:
Following his demise at the hands of Quincey and Harker (see Bram Stoker’s novel), Dracula found himself trapped on the plane between life and death, where he discovered he could interact with the dreams and fears of the living.
Last issue, the unconscious psychic power of G-Man Melvin Purvis enabled Dracula to materialize briefly in pre-Depression Chicago. There, Dracula fought and destroyed a werewolf who had been using moonshine to transmit the werewolf infection to the patrons of the city’s speakeasies.
Let’s hope the writers of Boardwalk Empire read this comic back in the day and we’ll see something like that in the upcoming season!
This splash page is gorgeous, and shows a lot of development on Hughes’s part. The absolutely beautiful women in the center of the page (is the one on the right supposed to be Lucy Westenra?) are Hughes creations through and through – the lush hair, the small noses, even the somewhat vague feeling that Hughes drew them using models from magazines as guides, which has become more apparent as Hughes has done less interior work and more cover work (Exhibit A). That doesn’t change the fact that it’s a tremendous drawing. Hughes lays it out very well, with Dracula opening his arms to encompass everything, and Hughes gives him a good evil expression as he looks on. The woman on the left (Mina?) has a swirly nightgown on, and that and her hair sweep downward to encircle Harker (I assume) holding off Dracula with a cross. Hughes or Nick Sigismondi (who inked this, and if you can give me a better last name in comics history, I’d like to hear it) gets rid of holding lines on the characters, making the cross illuminate the scene, which is an odd but effective choice. It’s very neat how the hair of the two women entwines at the bottom of the page, linking them (and suggesting even more that they’re Mina and Lucy). The only thing I’m puzzled about is the hand in the center of the page. It’s obviously Dracula’s, but is it supposed to be attached to the Dracula on the right side of the page, where he’s pulling “Lucy’s” nightgown down? I guess, but his arm seems like it would have to be at a very awkward angle for his hand to be at that angle. Weird. Anyway, this is a beautiful page.
Rickey Shanklin wrote this story, and it’s kind of weird. That dude, Professor Kleigh, is determined to prove the existence of Dracula, so he … invades the dream realm and confronts Dracula? How will that give him proof? It’s unexplained, but hey, it gives Hughes a chance to draw Dracula. He does a good job showing both Kleigh’s nervousness and his evil side, as Kleigh at first is a bit scared when Dracula shows up but then quickly reveals his dark side. The blacks continue to look very nice, and Hughes shows that he knows the value of a good cape in Panel 7, as Dracula’s extends far beyond what a normal cape would look like. It’s the McFarlanization of superhero capes!
Professor Kleigh is in over his head, and Dracula dispatches him with relative ease. Once again Hughes gives us a giant cape (it’s a “dream,” so we can excuse it) in Panel 1, and then he gives us a nice close-up in Panel 2. The thick border lines are something we’ll see more of from Hughes in the future, and they add nice strength to the drawing. Dracula looks cool, but Kleigh is really nicely drawn – Hughes does a marvelous job with his realization that he’s bitten off far more than he can chew. He adds beads of sweat, he raises Kleigh’s eyebrows just a bit, he moves his glasses down his nose so we can see his worried eyes, and he juts his chin out a little to show him trying (and failing) to stop Dracula. It’s really well done. Then, when we turn the page, we get the final image, as Hughes does a wonderful job showing Kleigh disintegrating. The shocked look on his face as he begins to topple turns into an emaciated gaze of despair and then a semblance of a skull. Hughes gives us very nice details, and Sigismondi’s inking helps turn it even more into a disturbing portrait of death. Obviously, even by this time, it was clear Hughes was destined for bigger and better things.
He did draw a few other stories in Blood of Dracula, however, and to finish, I’d like to show one page from issue #8, where he penciled the page from Neil Vokes’s breakdowns with Wheatley inking it. It’s an unusual mix:
This is very different than what we’ve seen, and I wonder how detailed Vokes’s breakdowns were. Vokes was a slightly stiffer artist than Hughes was, so the fluidity on this page is, I have to believe, due to Hughes. Wheatley was a more known quantity in comics at this point than Hughes was, and from what I know about his inking, this is fairly standard – he liked rougher inks, with thick lines and lots of blacks. I showed this particular page because the woman in Panel 5, despite being a bit more heavily inked than we’ve seen in the earlier examples, shows some Hughes touches – not those, you perverts! Her features – the thin but slightly heavy eyes, the small nose, and the pert mouth – are something we’ve already seen from Hughes and which we will see more of. Even back then, Hughes was drawing nice-looking ladies!
Hughes soon got a bigger gig, one that wasn’t quite as high-profile as if he’d been drawing for the Big Two, but one that catapulted him even further into the limelight. It’s a wonderful comic, and we’ll see some cool work he did for it! Until then, there’s nothing stopping you from checking out the archives!
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