Year of the Artist, Day 226: Tony Harris, Part 5 – Chin Music #1
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 Chin Music #1, which was published by Image and is cover dated May 2013. Enjoy!
Steve Niles’s and Tony Harris’s Chin Music is a weird, horror/gangster comic that is frightfully (see what I did there?) delayed. Issue #2 came out about a year ago (21 August, I guess), and who knows when it will ever come back. It would be nice to see, because it’s an intriguing comic, with really nice art. Let’s see some of that art, shall we?
Chin Music is a bit opaque, mainly because only two issues have come out yet and we’re not sure how everything ties together, but it begins with this dude in a room carving symbols onto a bullet. Then we get this page, which I wanted to show because of the ornate border designs (well, not only because of that, but that’s the main reason). As we saw when Harris was drawing Starman, he really likes doing this, but he didn’t play around with panels in Ex Machina too much, because that series was much more grounded. Chin Music is a bit odder, so Harris can throw in some nifty stylings. The parallel lines on the side of the page, leading down to the circle and the curved arcs in the middle, are very Art Deco, and they wouldn’t be out of place in Starman at all. This comic is set in the 1930s, so it’s not terribly surprising that Harris uses these kinds of panel borders. Meanwhile, he’s inking himself here, which is not a bad choice on his part (I imagine it’s to save money by not paying an inker on this creator-owned book, but it’s still nice to see him doing it). Harris goes a bit old-school here, with more of that spiky hatching that we saw early in his career, but he’s also using looser lines, too, as well as messier blacks, as we can see with the waxy candle and the rough markings on the desk. Harris colors this, too, and we get some murkiness that helps the orange of the flame stand out more. In the foreground, we uses thick blacks and gouache to give a metallic sheen to the telephones. I love how Harris shows movement on the page, as he gives us the complete drawing of the dude but splits his lighting of the match from his cigarette and then the lighting of the candle into two panels. It looks odd when we first see it, because it jars with what we expect, but it works really well.
The dude loads his gun and fires it out the window. Yes, that’s all that happens on the page, but Harris constructs it beautifully to increase the tension and lead into a flashback, which begins on the following page. Harris once again uses strong lines to show the dude standing in his office and aiming out the window, and we get the nice touches of 1930s aesthetic – the lamps, the sofa, the desk light, even the Venetian blinds – with thick blacks to create a murky and even creepy atmosphere. As the dude squeezes the trigger, Harris closes in on his eye, and we get thick lines, showing his age, a better look at the bandage on his nose, implying a life of violence, and a bit of madness as his eye widens. As we saw on the previous page, Harris uses bold panel borders to link all the smaller panels at the bottom of the page. Harris uses white flecks to good effect on this page, too – the lights in Panel 1 seem to throw weak light speckled with white, while we get the flecks on the dude’s arm and even on his skin. Harris is using a digital palette, obviously, and while this isn’t as flat as we see in older comics, it’s not quite that overly rendered coloring we often get in modern comics. It’s a good blend.
We flash back to Egypt, but it’s a bit unclear when. There’s a joke about the nose of the Sphinx getting blasted off in this very issue (see below), an event which, as far as the Internet tells us, may have occurred as early as the late 1300s (it wasn’t Napoleon’s soldiers, by the way). So does this take place in the 1300s? There’s nothing modern about the setting, but we don’t see too much of Cairo, so it could have been the late 1800s, for all I know. Anyway, that’s neither here nor there. This page shows, once again, that Harris is pretty good at action, as the dude kicks the table against that other dude and flees. Harris, as we can see, is back to a more cartoony style, and that lends his characters some flexibility, so the dude kicking the table doesn’t look awkward, while he draws the reaction of the dude getting the table in his face is well done, too. The sound effect is a bit intrusive, unfortunately, but it doesn’t obscure too much. On the table, we see that Harris is using a bit more nuance – the lines aren’t as bold and harsh, as Harris uses the shadows to define some parts of the table. What we do see is intricate, as Harris takes time to draw in the grain, but the use of shadows is well done, as it shows the murkiness of the setting. When the dude runs away, Harris makes sure to draw his swirling robes around him, giving him a sense of movement. The colors on this page are dark – as usual, they’re darker on the page – but Harris is using those deep reds to contrast the interior of the dude’s place with the bright desert outside, as we’ll see below.
As I noted, Harris makes the exterior much brighter, as we are, after all, in the desert. This is, of course, where the Sphinx loses its nose, as we see in Panel 4. I like what Harris does on this page. He uses smudgy black to make the pyramids and the desert a bit hazy, adding to the “misty sands of time” vibe that this sequence has. It’s very nicely done, and as someone who lives in a desert, the idea of things not being crisply delineated is a good one (once you get below the horizon, where the stark blue of the sky often looks razor-cut by the mountains). In Panel 2, the chasing dudes catch up to the “meddler” (as he’s called on the next page) and begin tearing him to pieces. Harris again uses a lot of blacks and thin motion lines to turn the chasers into wraiths, while the “meddler” remains a bit more crisply drawn, especially in Panel 3, when we get the close-up of his destruction. Harris is still using those bold lines, but his mixture of colors on this book creates a bit of a textured look to the art, which is, as I’ve noted, where comics are going these days, and Harris obviously has been able to transition to the new style. In Panel 4, the inking on the Sphinx – the knotty lines on the side, the thick, wavy lines on its face – helps age it, which makes it more impressive. It still loses its nose, though!
The book gets confusing on these pages. The chasers rip up the “meddler” but leave him alive (well, sort of – I mean, they strip him to a skeleton, but he’s still conscious), then kick him into a ditch. On one page, apparently hundreds of years pass and the skeleton somehow ends up in Cook County, which is where this page occurs (although in issue #2, Ness claims he found the dude in the “desert,” but then how does he get to Cook County Hospital?). So what really happened here? I don’t know, and so far, we haven’t gotten an explanation. This is still a nice page, as Eliot Ness runs over the dude. Harris does a wonderful job in the first panel, with the thick inks and the splotches of white, red, and orange showing us the horrible face of the “meddler” but also his surprise at the fact that he’s about to get run over. In Panel 2, Harris uses very thin lines on Ness’s car, possibly because it’s photo-referenced, but also because it’s coming out of the dust, which he draws billowing around the car. It’s a nice contrast to the solid skeleton in the foreground. He shows Ness’s reaction in Panel 3, but it’s too late and Ness runs the dude over in Panel 4. Again, we get strong hatching on the car and the nice use of spot blacks with fewer holding lines, which makes the car seem a bit more ancient and mystical, which it’s not, of course, but which is not a bad implication because we’ve been thrown forward several years and the car might be utterly mystifying to the “meddler.” In the foreground, Harris remembers to place an eye, because it provides context for where the dude actually gets hit, and the lack of an eyelid means that the dude always looks surprised, even as the tire is running over his head. We’re back to the murkier palette, but that’s because we’re no longer in the desert (unless, as I noted, we are) and we’re in a morally murkier environment.
Ness watches the paramedics load the dude into the ambulance and then follows it, and Harris lays the page out really well. We begin in the upper left with the paramedic, which leads us to the stretcher and the second paramedic and the back of the ambulance. The paramedic is looking at Ness, who stands to the right. From the bottom of the ambulance, Harris draws the road, running past Ness and curving down to the left bottom half of the page. The curve of the bridge leads us back to the final scene, where the paramedic moves to the right to open the back door of the ambulance. In the final inset panel, we get a close-up on his hand, which leads us to the next page, where Ness discovers that the “meddler” has disappeared. The layout is a tiny bit flashy, but I, for one, excuse it because it’s not difficult at all to read. Some flashy layouts sacrifice legibility for style, but Harris doesn’t do that here.
We’re back with the dude in the beginning, who, as we learn in issue #2, is the “meddler.” The only thing I want to point out on this page is that once again, Harris has fun with the Art Deco panel borders. The layout is interesting, as he gives us those little touches around the main panel of the dude pouring himself a drink, but the neat borders, with the thick, angled lines and the unnecessary quadrilaterals in the middle of the page, make the page look even cooler. In the final panel, Harris is embracing modern technology, using very light lines and, I assume, some kind of digital editing to make the dude’s reflection hazy. It works nicely, and it shows that Harris can still draw in an old-school style while using the new tech to suit his needs.
So that’s a bit about Tony Harris’s career. I hope you liked it! I also hope that Chin Music finishes at some point. That would be nice.
Tomorrow I’m beginning a new artist, another one of those dudes whose work I love and therefore I will have a difficult time winnowing out five examples to use. I’m tempted to show this artist and NOT show any of his Batman work, but I might face a revolt from the readers. Let that be a clue! You can always find Batman in the archives!