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Year of the Artist, Day 217: Bill Sienkiewicz, Part 1 – Marvel Preview #18

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Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Bill Sienkiewicz, and the issue is Marvel Preview #18, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated Spring 1979 (it went on sale in May). These scans are from the trade Star-Lord: Guardian of the Galaxy, which was published in 2014. Enjoy!

This is not the very first Sienkiewicz comics work, but I’m going to show Moon Knight tomorrow, so I figured I should probably skip the first few Moon Knight stories he drew and go to Star-Lord. It was early enough in his career that his major influence, Neal Adams, was still very, very obvious in his work. Plus, his Moon Knight work has been reprinted often, while I think this recent trade was the first time this was reprinted, so perhaps fewer people have seen this artwork!

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Doug Moench’s story in this issue is simple: Bad guy has a secret and a secret weapon, lion-man hybrids he created and then genocided want secret weapon, Peter Quill gets in the middle and has to decide if his no-killing oath is that important in a war zone (answer: no.). But first Sienkiewicz, all of 21 when he drew this, has to establish the lo-tech world of Redstone and introduce Sylvana, who sits around in a bikini for no discernible reason! Obviously, Sienkiewicz is channeling Neal Adams in this issue, but there are worse artists in 1979 to channel, so the art is pretty danged good, especially for someone drawing something like their fourth comic. He already can draw horses quite well (although those are horse-elephants, from the looks of it), and he knows how to draw square-jawed, barrel-chested dudes. Sylvana, for some reason, is just sitting in that bar wearing a bikini and a sword – her presence in the story is never explained, so let’s chalk it up to “cheesecake reasons.” Bob McLeod inked this, and at this stage of Sienkiewicz’s career, an old-school inker like McLeod (who was only 27 when he inked this, but who had been around for a few years longer than Sienkiewicz, working on a variety of Marvel titles) was a good fit. As usual, I don’t know where the penciling stops and the inking begins, but some of the more feathery and sleeker touches, like the horses’ gleaming hides and Peter’s groovy hair, are probably due to McLeod.

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Sienkiewicz was pretty good at action even this early in his career (some would point to his avant-garde stuff and say this was the only time he was good at action!), as we see here. His characters move like they would in a sword/fist fight, and Sienkiewicz keeps them loose as they move around. Yes, the Beastmen are wearing really tight pants, as if they stopped by for a sword fight on their way to the disco, but it’s 1979, right? I should point out that I don’t know how much Marvel “remastered” these pages for the trade release, because McLeod’s inking is really stellar, with the various shades of gray, black, and white really making the world fully realized, and I’d be disappointed if a good amount of it was added post-production. Does anyone have the original issue?

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Look at how good Sienkiewicz was with body language and facial expressions. Again, at this point Sienkiewicz had drawn a few – 3-5? – Moon Knight stories, and that’s it. Sylvana in Panel 1 is wonderful, as she suddenly realizes that Peter Quill might be, you know, a bit out of touch with reality (he’s not, but she doesn’t know that). Sienkiewicz opens her eyes wide and tilts her head down, while he bends her body into a concave curve as she places her hand on her chest, showing her incredulity. Yes, her breasts are trying really hard to burst out of that tiny bra she’s wearing, but the body language is tremendous. In Panel 2, her mouth drops as Peter begins speaking to the “widgets,” with “Ship” sent out to warn Peter, and she begins to understand that Peter might actually not be crazy. Then, in Panel 3, she’s recovered enough to get back to her point, which is that Peter stole her sword and won’t give it back. Despite being farther away, we can see that Sienkiewicz has given her an angry face, while placing her hand on her hip, straightening her up, and showing her pointing at the sword all indicate that she doesn’t really care what Peter is up to, because he won’t give her the furshlugginer sword back! That’s a really nice pose, and the way Sylvana moves through her emotions is really well done.

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“Musical montages” in comics are so much less annoying than on television because, well, they’re not “musical,” for one, but they usually last only one panel, as we see here. Can you imagine this on a television show? We’d get a full minute or so or Peter Quill reliving his past and imagining what it’s like for the lion-man hybrids to live, all while some hipper-than-thou music played on the soundtrack (I’d name some hipper-than-thou music, but as I am not hip, I don’t know any), and we’d all to endure it. Here, Sienkiewicz draws an attack on the bad guy’s citadel, which causes Peter to flashback, and we get it all in one nice panel. First, of course, McLeod probably does the heavy lifting on the explosion in Panel 1, and it’s beautiful brush work. In Panel 2, Sienkiewicz/McLeod do wonderful work with the explosion that kills Peter’s mother, and McLeod inks the lion’s mane exquisitely on the right side. The exploding planet is nice, too, as either Sienkiewicz or McLeod simply use black chunks to make the destruction more abstract but also more devastating.

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Come on, now Billy Sink is just fucking with us, isn’t he?

Sienkiewicz was so good this young, in fact, that he soon after began working on Fantastic Four, which is impressive for someone so young, even though the comic didn’t have quite the cachet that it enjoyed before and after this time. I don’t own those issues, though, so tomorrow I’m going to check out one of his later Moon Knight issues, when he decided to stop being a Neal Adams clone and decided to go … in a slightly different direction. Come back tomorrow and check out the evolution! And don’t forget about the archives!

38 Comments

My favorite artist.

Awesome. One of my favorites. Could there be a post of only covers coming?

Redorb2: Ha! No, I decided before the year began to skip covers, because I wanted to take a look at sequential storytelling. Sienkiewicz is one of those artists for whom I could easily do a month of great covers, but I have to restrain myself!

Too bad. His covers were the reason that I got into both Moon Knight and New Mutants….. a weird mix of titles when I was 12-15

some stupid japanese name

August 5, 2014 at 2:24 pm

I’m curious if you are only going to highlight his pencils.
I may be in the minority, but I really liked it when he would ink some of the…old-timers. It may not always have been pretty, but it was always interesting to look at.

Wow. He’s up there on my list, just because of his run on New Mutants (go Demon Bear!). I’ve loved his stuff for years but have never given it this critical of an eye, so I’m even more amazed at how good his “normal” stuff is way back at the dawn of his career! Can’t wait to see what you choose to spotlight, because I know it will ALL be awesome!

tom fitzpatrick

August 5, 2014 at 2:35 pm

I can’t remember which book I read first (regardless of time of publication) – MOON KNIGHT or THE NEW MUTANT (the chicken or the egg).

Regardless of which, I was blown over by Sienkiewicz and was hooked on him since for most of the 80’s and 90’s.

I’m shocked at just HOW subdued he is in MARVEL PREVIEW. He was holding back.

I feel sorry for you, Mr. Burgas, you have well over 3 decades of work to sift through to showcase in 5 days.
It’ll be interesting to see what you come up with tomorrow, to say the very least.

Redorb2: I agree that his covers are awesome. I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a year-long series on covers (which wouldn’t happen until 2016), but I’m still thinking about it. He would definitely be featured!

some stupid japanese name: Yeah, the “problem” with Sienkiewicz is that he’s been inking so much recently and he’s so strong, that it’s almost as if he penciled it. But I’m sticking to featuring “pencil” work, so I’m not going to show his inking work when I’m looking at him as an artist. I did already, when he inked Jim Aparo, but for him as the “spotlight” artist, I’m going to stick to his pencils or full art, not when he’s only inking.

David: Well, the final day of his art is a bit … unusual, so I still hope you think it’s awesome! :)

tom: I’m not sure if it was him holding back, or if he was just so young that he was sorting through what he could do. I don’t know what it is, but you have to remember that he was 21, so maybe he wasn’t quite good/confident enough to go nuts like he did later.

So happy to see Bill S. on your docket. Never have seen this issue before, so great pick. @some stupid Japanese name I completely agree with you on his inking work. Loved that Galactus mini he did over Buscema (and Muth for an issue or two) pencils. Though my favorite of his inking work was over Giffen’s pencils in the Mad Hatter one shot. Two of my favorite artists in one place.

I’m sure I’m in a very small minority here, but I love early Sienkiewicz art like this stuff here. I think this is just beautiful work. The actions scenes are great. Love the facial expressions. It’s all great to me. When he got experimental with his work I just found it a mess that I had a hard time enjoying. I really disliked his New Mutants work that most just love, but I guess different strokes yada yada yada.

Jeff Nettleton

August 5, 2014 at 5:16 pm

I’m kind of in the camp that preferred Sienkiewicz before he became more abstract. However, his storytelling took leaps as he became abstract. That said, Moon Knight #3 was my intro to both and I loved it.

I wish more of Marvel’s magazine stuf was reprinted. They had some real gems in there, like the Paul Gulacy Black Widow story (complete with Bogart and Michael Caine cameos), Howard Chaykin’s Dominic Fortune stuff, a Frank Miller Elektra story, and many others.

I’m sure I’m in a very small minority here, but I love early Sienkiewicz art like this stuff here.

I don’t think loving Sienkiewicz’s early work puts you in a minority at all. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone say it wasn’t beautiful, just that it wasn’t very original in style. Even Neal Adams, whose work he was imitating, has gone on record saying this early stuff was beautiful.

Funny, I was just looking through my Venture Brothers DVDs and admiring the Sienkiewicz art. He really is one of the best.

neat-o. you are winning me back!! i am in like w/ bill s. early stuff but straight like the jacket in love with the latter stuff. question time. are you planning to feature big numbers ? i know i know wait and see, the thing is if i may reveal something what shames me, i ve never seen any of the art from, and would very much like to. thank you by the way, for doing all of this

If it is possible to make requests at this point: Stray Toasters. Holy Moley, comic is bananas. Also fantastic.

Like Angel, he’s my favorite artist (tied with Gene Colan’s). Gonzo abstraction at its most beautiful.

Man, I haven’t read this story in maybe 30 years, so it’s pretty remarkable how well I remember this art. Especially the bikini lady. Hey, I was 12 or 13.

Eastin: Yeah, like T. said, it’s not a question of the art not being excellent. Even when I don’t love later Sienkiewicz art (which does happen, although not often), I love that he’s always pushing himself.

Jeff: It’s unfortunate that Marvel only reprints some of their odder stuff when a movie comes out or when the writer/artist comes back in vogue at the company, because I would like to see some of that stuff, but I doubt if Chaykin will ever be in vogue at Marvel again, for example.

s!moN: Winning you back?!?!?! Why did I lose you?!?!?!? :)

Yes, I will be showing Big Numbers. It’s one of my favorites.

Mike: I’m already done with Sienkiewicz, so it’s too late to request things! Stay tuned, though, because I think I’m going to do a readers’ choice later, probably all of December. If I feel like it! :)

buttler: Everyone loves bikinis!!!!!

I really started to get into comics in 1989 (X-Men in particular) and picked up Uncanny X-Men #200 and New Mutants #24 at a flea market held inside a mall (those were the days) and both of those books blew my mind, for different reasons. I thought all comics were like those for the longest time.

I don’t know how Sienkiewicz kept up a monthly pace on New Mutants but he rocked that book for a good year. All while doing covers and the Dune adaptation mini-series. He’s definitely in my top 5. I even slogged through Daredevil: End of Days just for the Janson/Sienkiewicz artwork.

with liefeld i began to question your competency but hindsightedly i applaud you getting him out of the way. same thoughts on the mcfarlane coverage but i admit that was less an assault on my ocular sense than i figured it d be. but i m over all that and super excited to see those big numbers.

Well this should be extremely interesting. Probably no artist in comics history has “evolved” over the course of their career more than he did. What I find most interesting though is that he was one of those guys back in the day like Howard Chaykin and Steve Gerber who was supposed to “change everything” but never quite did, instead just leaving a body of work that both stands above the majority of the material from that time period and also speaks VOLUMES about the era itself.

I’m going to like these next few entries. Bill is one of the defining creators of the 80s for me, and I didn’t even always love him.

First loved him on Moon Knight (didn’t know who Neal Adams was, so it was all new and great to me). Then his experimental stuff kind of lost me…but I came around by the time he started on the Shadow (hope we see one of those issues), and I’ve been a huge fan ever since!

Thanks very much, looking forward to what’s to come..!

This should be really cool, seeing Bill Sienkiewicz’s style evolve as Greg spotlights the artist’s career over the next few days. I’m looking forward to seeing what examples of B.S.’s work Greg selects to examine.

G Thomas Mueller

August 6, 2014 at 8:47 am

Mike Loughlin, I know stray toasters, but holey moley & comic is bananas I’m not familiar with. I’m curious now. Anybody ever read the Jim Hendrix biography? I never thought a rock’n’roll Bio could be so awesome!

The “the pouch must be ours!” panel is sooooooo Neal Adams, and so reminiscent of the classic Batman/Ras al Ghul swordfight. Even the “YOU!” panel reminds me of Batman/Ras.

Ah, I see. he must be “fucking with us” indeed!

The artwork on that page with the flying“widgets” is very Bob McLeod-esque. His inking is certainly distinctive, and I’ve been a fan of his work for years. That definitely shows how much of an impact the inker / embellisher can have on the finished look of the comic.

It is amazing, though, to look at this and compare it to Bill Sienkiewicz’s later work. He is undoubtedly one of the artists who had the most dramatic evolution of his style. This Starlord story was from 1979. I believe that the first comics I ever read as a kid that had his art were Rom Spaceknight Annual #3, which had one of his painted covers, and New Mutants #29, which was an insanely bizarre, abstractly illustrated story involving mutant gladiators in an underground arena. Those both came out in 1985, a mere six years later, and already Sienkiewicz had totally changed the look of his work.

G Thomas Mueller: I think Mike Loughlin was saying Holey moley, that comic (meaning Stray Toasters) is bananas. I admit, the lack of a “that” threw me for a second, but I think that’s what he was trying to say.

Ecron: I leaped out at me the first time I saw it, so I figured I’d make sure it was obvious!

Ben: If we consider that his first comic with a pretty radical new style (even though it wasn’t as crazy as it would later get) was Moon Knight #22, which came out in early 1982, it’s even more amazing!

Met him at a convention a couple years ago–nice guy. He drew a great Godzilla for the Criterion Collection release of the original movie.

Sylvana, who sits around in a bikini for no discernible reason!

What’s your point? :)

Seriously, I certainly do not mind the occasional tasteful cheesecake, especially if the artist genuinely knows how to draw realistically beautiful, anatomically accurate women.

Ben: Oh, I have no point – I just love that that’s her “going around town” clothing! :)

I am looking forward to you spotlighting Big Numbers because that is where I stopped following BS devoutly. I am hoping you can get my more mature or wise (yeah right!) self to appreciate it. Back then, I just did not get it. I think I also was trying to get into Violent Cases (Dave McKean) and couldn’t follow that one either.

One other thing I found out lately about BS was that he did some pretty awesome Dazzler covers too. I picked up a bunch of those to read someday at a bargain price, and as I was bagging/boarding them, I was like “Sienkiwicz!!!!” Man I do love his Marvel covers. Can’t wait!

Imraith Nimphais

August 6, 2014 at 3:27 pm

Put me in the list of those who bought a comic just because Bill Sienkiewicz illustrated the cover. (My most recent…last Thursday to be exact….purchase being the Beauty and the Beast LS).

Admittedly, it was long after my deep, abiding love for “New Mutants” Bill that I was able to look back on his very early work (the few that I had seen) with great appreciation.

I the subject of Sienkewicz being influenced by Adams, there was a funny exchange on the cover of Comics Jourmal #53 and the back cover of a later issue. They’re featured in Comic Book Legends Revealed #420.

G Thomas Mueller,

Yeah, the “that” got mysteriously left off of my comment. Proof reading? Never heard of it.

I looooove his Hendrix bio. It might be Sienkiewicz’s most gorgeous work.

Well, Marvel did reprint the Dominic Fortune story from Marvel Preview #2; but not the story from Marvel Super Action #1. Instead, they included the color story from Marvel Premiere #56 (the regular comic, with Dum-Dum Dugan guest starring). A later Marvel Preview/Bizarre Adventures reprinted both b&w stories. What has not been reprinted were the color stories from Rampaging Hulk, which includes revealing that his real name is Davey Fortunoff and that he is Jewish (Howard Chaykin with Jewish hero?). The Elektra story was reprinted in The Elektra Saga, and I believe included with the Frank Miller Daredevil Visionaries. Really, though, Marvel could at least put out some Essential collections of the material.

Happy you’re on Sienkiewicz, I think I requested him back in January and I had faith you’d get to him sooner or later because eI know you love him. Since I grew up with the Image generation and that’s who got me into comics, I think of learning to love Billy as a bit of a coming of age in terms of comics reading. When I first started buying New Mutants back issues in like ’94-ish, I HATED his art. But then, I loved Liefeld at the time, so of course I did. A few years later when I went back and reread those NM stories for the first time, he quickly became one of my favorite artists.

FYI: The ten issues of Fantastic Four that he and Moench did just before Byrne took the book over are absolutely awful. I picked them up about ten years ago when I first found out they existed, and I was very excited thinking I’d uncovered some lost gem. I only read the first five before I just had to stop because they were so terrible, and I quickly sold them on eBay. Considering how much I like both creators, and how they were both in a creative prime at the time of those stories, it’s almost shocking how bad they are. Sink was mostly inked by Joe Sinnott, which has to be one of the worst Penciler/inker combos in comic history. Just two good artists with absolutely no visual common ground. And Moench’s stories on that brief run came off like mid-90’s Bob Harras Avengers stuff. All explanation and exposition, no action or quality character work, horrible pacing. Probably the nadir of both careers.

Also, regarding McLeod… he really was a great inker, wasn’t he? I never loved his pencil work ( I found it a little too bland), but he always brought a lot to the table as an inker. His work with Keown on the early 90’s Hulk stuff was fantastic. Definitely the best Keown has ever looked. McLeod seemed to bring an early-Byrne-roundness to things, which really fleshed out the characters physically.

Mike: The Hendrix thing (and Brought to Light) are two big holes in my Sienkiewicz collection (Moby Dick, which was supposed to be reprinted recently, is another). I will have to find it one of these days.

Daniel: You knew I’d get to him eventually! :)

Thanks for the info about the Fantastic Four. That’s very weird that it’s so bad. Some things just don’t work out!

It’s funny, I still have those FF issues from when I was a kid, and I don’t think of them as terrible at all. Like the DeFalco issues of Thor that came after the awesome Simonson run, they’re not outstanding, just kind of fun, standard-issue superhero stuff of its the time. I enjoyed the weird Space Aesir storyline and the Shogun Warriors crossover, and I think of those issues fondly because I did like the art. But if I’d sought them out thinking they’d be outstanding, I could see being disappointed. They’re not that.

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