Year of the Artist, Day 224: Tony Harris, Part 3 – Obergeist: Ragnarok Highway #2
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Tony Harris, and the issue is Obergeist: Ragnarok Highway #2, which was published by Image/Top Cow/Minotaur and is cover dated June 2001. Enjoy!
After leaving Starman, Harris worked with Dan Jolley on Obergeist, their creator-owned series about a Nazi scientist who suddenly realizes what a monster he is, gets tortured by his colleagues, sort-of dies, and wakes up two hundred years later with superpowers (his experiments were meant to unlock the mind’s psionic powers, and in that, I guess, he succeeded) and a chance to redeem himself. Yeah, it’s something.
This is the first page of the issue, as Jürgen Steinholtz manages to get out of the ground and, well, freak out. Harris, we can see, has gotten a bit more cartoony since Starman, as Steinholtz is a bit more stylized – note the crazy curls of his hair in Panel 3 – and his hands, as we see a bit here and we’ll see more below, are a bit larger than even the characters in Starman possess. Harris’s hands are quite distinctive in his art, as it seems to be the one part of his art that he perfected early and never really changed except for making them slightly bigger in relation to the rest of the body. It’s interesting. Anyway, we can see how Harris continues to use a lot of blocky shapes and that he and inker Ray Snyder get rid of holding lines a lot, which makes the shadows pop even more. The first panel is really nice – we can tell it’s a church, and Harris uses simple shapes to make it look spartan, while the backlit items – the crucifix, the cross, the small bannister – helps create an eerie atmosphere for Steinholtz’s resurrection. In the foreground, we get the hole in the floor with Steinholtz’s hands reaching out, and we get a nice ordered pattern violated by the resurrection. As we get close-ups on Steinholtz, we see Harris’s distinctive cartooning, especially in Panel 3, as Steinholtz puts on the handy goggles. The lines on Steinholtz are bolder than we saw on Starman – not much, but a little – and I wonder if that’s Harris becoming more confident or the switch in inkers from Wade von Grawbadger to Snyder. As we see, Harris still likes silhouettes – Panel 4 is thus because Steinholtz is naked, but it’s still a dramatic drawing. His sense of design remains strong, as the church in Panel 1 and the door in Panel 4 show well. As technology becomes more adept at things, Harris and his collaborators began using it more. Yesterday I noted that the electricity from the robots was drawn in by Harris, and today, we can see that colorist Matt Hollingsworth added the energy in Panels 2 and 3 during the coloring process, not the penciling process. It appears that Harris drew in the separate lines for Steinholtz’s fingers in Panel 5, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he used some computer process to help, even though I can’t be sure.
Steinholtz believes that Jesus is talking to him, and he realizes the horrors he perpetuated as a Nazi scientist and he doesn’t handle it too well. This is a nice page, as it has elements of Mike Mignola and Chris Bachalo as well as Harris’s flair. The use of a photograph of the concentration camp inmates is well done, because drawing them seems like it would veer toward the disrespectful, so Harris uses a photo and blends it into the page very well. Meanwhile, the abstract smoke surrounding Steinholtz is something we’ve seen from Bachalo, but Harris also began doing stuff like it in Starman and would continue with it in his later career. We don’t see as much of the harsh, toothy hatching on characters that we’ve seen in Harris’s work prior to this, but Steinholtz’s short hair gives us a remnant of it as he crouches on the ground.
An angel appears and explains to Steinholtz that the Rapture has come, and we get this beautiful double-page spread of the chaos and destruction outside the church (as usual, I apologize for the smallness of the image, but such is life). Harris places a giant tree (Yggdrasil?) in the center of the page, with naked women and spirits entwined in the trunk, and it divides the page nicely. On the left side of the page, we get what I assume are medieval versions of the Four Horsemen. Harris does a wonderful job with their armor and clothing, while his and Snyder’s rendition of Death is really well done. In the lower left, we get buildings destroyed by fire and people dying in the destruction, reaching toward the heavens. We see “Harris hands” really nicely here, as his fingers always look a bit thicker than they should. On the right side, we get a ghostly angel decapitating a ghostly demon above the church, and down in the right corner we get nasty-looking insects wielding bloody swords. As always, there’s a great deal of precision in Harris’s work, and we see also some of the stylish tics that have seeped into his drawing over the years. He began liking swirls quite a bit, so on the dude in the lower left who’s about to die, we see a swirl as his elbow. The angel in the upper right has lush, swirly hair. This is something that would become more apparent as Harris moved forward. Meanwhile, once again he loves using silhouettes, as the church is made up of black chunks with parts of it highlighted to make it more imposing. Steinholtz and the angel are also mostly silhouettes, as the light is in the world, not in the church. It’s so symbolic!!!!
Two angels give Steinholtz a mission – his not-quite “death” has screwed things up a bit, so they say they can send him back in time and give him another chance. Of course, as we’ll see, they have a sense of humor, so they send him back to 2147 and not the 1940s. But here they’re zapping him to send him out of time, and Harris does a nice job with it. In Panel 1, he gets Steinholtz’s desperation quite well – despite our “hero” wearing goggles, they look bigger than in other drawings of him, and Harris’s straight-on viewpoint makes his forehead look bigger, so that his face looks longer and more traumatized. Panel 3, where the angel touches him, is interesting. One tic that Harris has developed over the years is getting rid of the line when exposed skin touches each other. In Panel 3, the angel’s middle finger touches Steinholtz’s forehead, and the flesh looks fused together. It’s somewhat interesting, because I think Harris is the only artist I’ve ever seen who does this. I wonder if it’s to show intimacy. Anyway, the big panel is the fourth, where Steinholtz turns into energy and travels through time. Harris uses more black chunks than usual, but he breaks them up on Steinholtz’s body as it disintegrates. Notice the curls of his cloak and of the energy emanating from his head. Hollingsworth earns his money, using that bright pink spotted with white and the painted flame at the bottom to sell the fact that Steinholtz is turning into something else. It’s very effective.
The joke is that demons are posing as angels, sending Steinholtz back into the world just to mess with him, as we see here. This is nicely done by all concerned. Harris’s cut-outs of angels are well done and very funny, while Snyder’s inking on them is really beautiful. He begins with almost all black, and as he moves downward and the cut-outs are illuminated by the demons’ flames, we get a lot of rough hatching, which mimics poster board. In the foreground, Harris uses silhouettes to cut off most of the demons, which is quite interesting. His body language is really nice, especially because he doesn’t show the demons’ mouths. Just the way the male demon shifts his weight and raises his hands is clever. The difference in the female demon in both panels is so subtle that I wonder if Harris used the same drawing and just tweaked it a little. Many artists do this, and I don’t really have a problem with it in situations like this, where very little time has passed. Harris seemed to do it more on the series I’m going to show tomorrow, but I might be misremembering. If I spot it, I’ll point it out. But I do like that he seems to change it just a bit to show a small shift in her position.
Steinholtz gets a new body, and once again we get a very nice drawing. Harris is using even more angular blocks to construct Steinholtz, with the dividing lines on his uniform wider than we might expect, allowing Hollingsworth to fill them in with pink and making Steinholtz look even more creepy. Harris gives him crazy hair, while he uses spot blacks on his nose and black squares as his teeth, making the effect even starker. On the wall behind him, he or Snyder almost goes pointillist in creating the shadow of the swan (the company uses a swan as its logo), and in the foreground, the two punks who were threatening two characters raise their “Harris hands” in amazement, and Harris once again uses almost all blacks to create them. Steinholtz has barbed wire wrapped around his wrists, and Harris links it to the wire along the top of the fence, which is neat. Hollingsworth does a really nice job on this page, with the pink Kirby Krackle (which, of course, could be Harris’s doing) emanating from Steinholtz’s mouth, while the pink changes shades as it blends with Steinholtz’s black uniform to create a purple tint around the edges. Snyder and Hollingsworth do a neat job fading Steinholtz’s legs into the mist as he rises. Plus, we see once again the paint in the lightning, which is nifty.
Harris is an interesting artist, because as far as I can tell, most people who write about him say his figure work is somewhat stiff and he doesn’t do action well because he’s using so much photo referencing. That’s weird, because while he does use photographs, it hasn’t often compromised his cartooning, and I wonder if the people who wrote that just weren’t that familiar with his work. Some parts of Starman are a bit stiff, but not as much as you might expect from the criticisms, and tomorrow’s entry is a bit stiffer than most of Harris’s work, but as we can see just in this sequence, Harris knows how to draw an action scene. The punk’s rise in Panel 1 is accompanied by motion lines, which works with Harris’s cartoony style on this book, and the motion lines at Steinholtz’s arm are nicely done, too. But Harris or Snyder also blurs his arm a little, as inking lines run from his sleeve as he raises his hand. The pose of the punk is well done, as his feet flop helplessly, which is what would happen if someone was jerked off their feet like that. Steinholtz’s rage is clear on his face, as Harris opens his mouth wide and shows his crooked teeth. Notice the “Harris hands”! In Panel 2, we get more motion lines, but even without them, the action is done well. The punk’s body explodes, and Harris draws his limbs in a loose, fluid style, which is certainly not stiff. The intestines and other organs flying from the pile, plus the swirls of smoke, make this a fairly dynamic and violent death. Notice, too, that we get the abstract blur of Steinholtz’s sleeve as he lowers his hand – it’s not blurred by computer, but each spike is drawn in separately. Harris draws a robot with a brain in a jar that is straight out of a Dean Motter comic, and then in Panel 4, we get a bit more blurring as the bad guy turns tail and runs. This is a very nice-looking sequence.
Tomorrow we’ll check out another superb series that Harris illustrated. He managed to work on two really excellent series in 15 years, neither of which was really similar to the other. We already saw Starman, and tomorrow we’ll see the next one! Make sure you spend some time in the archives!