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Year of the Artist, Day 221: Bill Sienkiewicz, Part 5 – Rocketeer Adventures (volume 2) #1

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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 story is “The Ducketeer” in Rocketeer Adventures (volume 2) #1, which was published by IDW and is cover dated March 2012. Enjoy!

So IDW hired Bill Sienkiewicz to draw Peter David’s story about Cliff and Betty going to the movies and seeing a short in which Daffy Duck plays the “Ducketeer,” battling against a Nazi Marvin the Martian, who works for the “Fudhrer,” who naturally looks like Elmer Fudd. Because why wouldn’t you get Bill Sienkiewicz to draw that?

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Sienkiewicz draws this in the style of Looney Tunes cartoons, with an unusual modern sheen to it. It appears that he’s using watercolors to paint it, or using the computer to mimic watercolors. It leads to the unusual clash we see here, where we get the metallic sheen on the Ducketeer’s helmet, implying that it’s some kind of alloy, but also the more lo-tech paints on the general’s uniform. The colors are oddly sloppy, unlike the crispness of your normal 1940s Looney Tunes cartoon, which probably is just an artistic tic of Sienkiewicz and not anything that makes some kind of statement. Sienkiewicz, as we can see, is perfectly fine with the cartoony aspects of comic book art, as the general is a goofy caricature. Sienkiewicz has never taken his art too seriously, which is nice.

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Panels 1 and 2 show Cliff and Betty, sitting in the audience watching the cartoon, and it’s very much in contrast to the rest of the story. Sienkiewicz uses straight pencils and inks, with just some shading to make Cliff a bit peeved with the cartoon parody that’s unfolding before his eyes. It’s more traditionally “Sienkiewiczian,” with the harsh lines and chaotic hatching. Back in the cartoon, Sienkiewicz loosens up a little (even more than in the first row, which is pretty loose), as he uses fewer strong lines and sticks to paints. It’s a nice shift to take us back into the cartoon. The riot of colors in Panel 5 is nice, too, as Sienkiewicz uses the wild paints to hide some of the more cartoony characters stuffed into the corner. His design of the three-eyed Marvin is both familiar and disturbing, which is pretty neat.

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The story is eight pages long, and this is the seventh page, so some storytelling wonkiness is probably going to happen. The Ducketeer gets shrunk by Marvin’s gun, but on the previous page, he reverses the gun, and on this page, he’s still small but Marvin is about to zap him again, which will, unbeknownst to our villain, make him large again. As we can see, it makes him really, really large, and he steps on Marvin. The layout isn’t great, unfortunately, because we don’t know that the gun will make him much larger than his normal size. So we get the sound effect separating the first panel from the bottom row, and while the Ducketeer is standing among zeppelins and buildings, the fact that it’s Sienkiewicz makes us wonder if this is “realistic” or not. It’s one of those things where Sienkiewicz’s reputation works against him – we’re so used to seeing Sienkiewicz using exaggerated and fantastical elements that readers don’t necessarily take that drawing seriously, especially as David and Sienkiewicz don’t imply that the reverse will cause this kind of thing. You’ll notice that Sienkiewicz uses lighter lines to “ghost” the Ducketeer’s face as he looks around, which is a standard thing to do in comics, but Sienkiewicz’s idiosyncratic work makes the Ducketeer look much more surreal than we usually see with this kind of thing.

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The final panel of the story shows us Cliff and Betty leaving the theater, with Sienkiewicz once again using more traditional artistry to show their faces. In the background, we get Abbott and Costello in “The Bucketeer,” and Sienkiewicz uses a nice image of Bud, which is presumably just from a Google search. Once again, Sienkiewicz shows that he could still do traditional stories if he wanted to, as Betty and Cliff are showing nice facial expressions that don’t allow for any ambiguity. This is just nice line work, contrasting well with the insane adventures of the “cartoon” on the screen.

I’m always curious to see where Sienkiewicz will show up next – I guess he’s doing a story in the next Vertigo Quarterly, so that should be fun. I wish he did more artwork, more than just inking, because whether or not you like his work (and I admit, the work on this story doesn’t thrill me as much as some of his other work does), he’s just a very interesting artist. He might never produce another masterpiece, but he’s still fascinating to see.

Tomorrow I’m going to check out a different artist. I know, shocking, right? I mean, what are the odds? I don’t have much to say about this dude except that he’s a dude and he drew two (well one-and-a-half) of the more impressive series of the past two decades. Wrap your brain around that! And, obviously, you can check out the archives to see what’s what!

14 Comments

Stephen Conway

August 9, 2014 at 3:36 pm

Really weird story. I think I’ll have to check it out.

Also, I’m guessing Steve Rude as the next artist.

tom fitzpatrick

August 9, 2014 at 3:54 pm

@ Stephen Conway: Yeah, that’s probably right.

As far as today’s blog: such a talented artist. It is a tragedy that we don’t see much of his work these days.

Stephen: The Rocketeer anthologies (there were two of them, so eight issues) had some really neat stories and cool art. They’re worth tracking down.

tom: I guess he’s doing what he wants to do! I too wish we would get more from him, but if he’s happy, more power to him.

Oh, you’re so wrong about tomorrow’s artist! As far as I know, Rude is only really well known for half of one series, and that’s from 30 years ago. I might get to the Dude if I can find some pre-Nexus stuff (which will probably be quite difficult), but it’s not Rude tomorrow! :)

How could I have missed getting this when it first came out?!? I will definitely have to rectify that soon!

Great pieces on Sienkiewicz — especially getting hold of Big Numbers #1. Very much enjoyed the commentary on his works. The Electra segment was cool, and I know it is very similar, but would really have enjoyed hearing your comments on Stray Toasters since Sienkiewicz both wrote and drew that series. I know it can be pretty psychologically obscure, but to me it is one of his definitive works!

DocSpin: Thanks! I bought Big Numbers when it first came out, and my copy is not in the best shape, but I still love looking at it every once in a while! I thought about doing Stray Toasters, but I decided that Elektra and Big Numbers were good exemplars of his work during that time, and I had to skip some things. Believe me, it was hard to skip some of the Sienkiewicz work I own, because I dig it so much!

Jeff Nettleton

August 9, 2014 at 8:16 pm

Love that Rocketeer story. Heck, the whole series has been great, with something to offer in each story. Sometimes it’s a minor thing, sometimes it’s the whole story; but, always…something. That’s the mark of a good anthology.

I’m going to take a stab in the dark and say either Bryan Hitch or John Cassady.

Jeff Nettleton

August 9, 2014 at 8:35 pm

ps. I can’t recall if there really is any pre-Nexus stuff (at least, professionally); but, there is Vanguard Illustrated, from Pacific Comics, which feature Mike Baron and Steve Rude’s “Encyclopedias” stories. Really, you can use Nexus all by itself to show Rude’s evolution, though the Space Ghost one-shot and the Mister Miracle Special showcase his tributes to his influences.

I’m not much of a fan of Sienkiewicz’s computer assisted work. Things like his Delirium story and some of the covers he’s done in more recent years are still great art but pale on comparison to his work on Elektra and New Mutants. Even with the obvious computer work, this Rocketeer story looks really good, I’ll have to track it down.

In the X-Men Heroes For Hope book Sienkiewicz inked Miller for a two or three page Wolverine segment that looked really cool and weird.

Rude’s work never evolved! There’d be nothing to analyze!

I’ll guess Tony Harris next. He did most of the first 50 issues of Starman and all of BKV’s Ex Machina and has definitely evolved a lot over the years (not always for the better IMO).

Imraith Nimphais

August 10, 2014 at 7:52 am

LOLOLOLOLOLOLOMGODDESSLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL. As a fan of Looney Tunes and Sienkiewicz…how this have gone unknown and undiscovered by me is one of my life’s great mysteries. (It’s acquisition is henceforth added to my “bucket list”)

Loved this Rocketeer story, and laughed out loud at every page. Definitely recommend it.

Anonymous: That’s one of the reasons I might skip him, honestly. He was so good on the first issues of Nexus, and his art hasn’t changed that much. I might still check him out, but it’s one reason I might not. It’s the same thing with Byrne – whenever I keep seeing earlier and earlier art by him, it looks the same as it does now, so I probably won’t do him.

Papercut Fun: Hey, good guess! It is indeed Harris coming up!

Imraith: Things slip through the cracks all the time! That’s why the Internet is awesome, because it lets you find things you might have missed! :)

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