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CSBG Archive

Year of the Artist, Day 231: Norm Breyfogle, Part 5 – Of Bitter Souls #2

ofbittersouls5005 (2)

Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Norm Breyfogle, and the issue is Of Bitter Souls (volume 1) #2, which was published by Speakeasy Comics and is cover dated September 2005. Enjoy!

Of Bitter Souls came out from Speakeasy before that publisher went belly-up, then it managed three issues from Markosia before it disappeared. It was an interesting comic, but it never quite became that good. Part of it was Chuck Satterlee’s writing, which was just okay. Breyfogle seemed a bit off on the book – it’s not bad work, but he and the colorist, Mike Kowalcyzk (on these issues; a different one came on board for the Markosia issues), don’t have the greatest synergy together, so while the art is fine, it doesn’t soar like a lot of other Breyfogle work. Is that due to the computerized coloring? I don’t know. Let’s take a look!

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The first page of the issue, however, is a good one. Panel 1 is a good set-up, with Breyfogle providing period houses, nice details, and solid inking that makes the woman’s clothes, for example, look florid but keeps the man somber. Breyfogle has never had any problems with perspective, so the street scene is handled well. In Panel 3, we get the inside of the sultan’s house, and Breyfogle once again fills the panel with nice details of Turkish culture (yes, the decadence of the scene is a bit stereotypical, but such is life). Breyfogle, I imagine, uses different markers on the floor to give it that nice shine, while we see his trend of using a thick line along the jaw line of characters, as with the mustached man in Panel 1 and the reclining young woman in Panel 3, which he used in the past but seemed to prefer more as he got more experienced. Kowalcyzk uses sepia tones for the coloring, which is clichéd, of course, but isn’t too egregious. Most notably, he uses flatter colors and not a lot of Photoshop effects so that it matches Breyfogle’s “flatter” pencil work. We’ll see examples where Kowalcyzk doesn’t do this, including the panel below!

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This panel is an example of the clash between Breyfogle’s sturdy pencils and modern coloring techniques. Kowalczyk doesn’t do this that often, which is nice, but it does stand out quite a bit when he does. For the floor, the walls, and the columns, he’s obviously using some kind of computer template and laying it down over the artwork, which isn’t a terrible thing to do, especially with backgrounds, but it does jar with the more old-school style of pencil work. I have no idea if Breyfogle did the pencils and inks digitally on this book or on any of his books, but even if he did, he retains that old-school style, where the lines are bold, the inks are crisp, and you get texture from the hatching, not the rendering of colors. Kowalczyk, thankfully, sticks to that kind of style for most of the book, but when he doesn’t, it leaps out at the reader.

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Both artists do good work on this page, as George tries to break his heroin addiction. Breyfogle lays the page out so that we get a nightmarish journey, and he’s always been good at facial expressions, so George’s anguish is very clear. The bottom row, which begins with only his mouth and ends with him beaten down, is nice, too, as Breyfogle adds wrinkles as George collapses. Meanwhile, Kowalczyk does nice work, too. He softens Breyfogle’s lines in Panel 1 and uses good shading, on George’s teeth, for instance. The beads of sweat are painted on, either with Kowalczyk getting rid of Breyfogle’s lines or simply adding them after the inking process, but it works. Breyfogle’s inks in the middle of the page give the sheet George is chewing on a silkier feel, while Kowalczyk’s shading helps soften it as well. The layers Kowalczyk adds, like the way he colors George’s lips in that bottom row, aren’t excessive but add some nice texture to the face. This is Kowalczyk using restraint, which makes it work well.

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I don’t know if Breyfogle simply drew the ghosts with old-fashioned pencils and inks and then Kowalczyk airbrushed in the colors (which I suspect) or if Breyfogle had more to do with it, but however they made it work, it looks pretty good. It’s in nice contrast to the more old-school style that we get with the “regular” figures, who are shaded but are still mostly “flatly” colored. Notice that in Panel 4, Breyfogle doesn’t put in a background, which we’ve seen before in his art, but Kowalczyk uses a blue palette and adds some white haze, which makes the empty background a bit more interesting than if he had just used a flat, lighter blue.

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Let’s check out one final Breyfogle fight before we bid him farewell. The ghost chucks Magz across our field of vision and disrupts the bromantic moment between Jobe and Sampson in Panel 1. Breyfogle shows the dude in the left of Panel 2, and then the ghost is angled from the top to the bottom, so we slide down its body to Jobe, who yells to get its attention. In Panel 3, the ghost turns, but Jobe has already moved, so we see him first and we see he’s about to use his power – he’s a shape-shifter. In Panel 4, the hapless victim runs out the door, and Jobe takes his place. Breyfogle draws him with a clenched fist, so we move from that, across his body, and toward the ghost, which has turned back, a bit puzzled. Jobe punches it, but it’s, you know, a ghost, so he has no effect on it. Breyfogle’s ability to lay out a fight scene is as good as ever!

Breyfogle continues to work, but he’s doing a lot of non-superhero work (yes, he was working on Batman Beyond, but it’s not the “real” Batman, so I don’t know how many people read it because comics fans are weird), so he doesn’t get a lot of press these days. That’s too bad, because he’s such a great artist that it’s a shame he’s not as popular as he was 20 years ago. Until then, we can enjoy what’s out there!

I’m sure you remember those good times we had with the two Image founders I’ve already featured in this series. So tomorrow, I’ll dive into yet another one! Won’t that be fun? So come on back, y’hear, and never forget about the archives!

17 Comments

Angry Objectivist

August 19, 2014 at 2:41 pm

Please, no Jim Valentino. His artwork sucks.

Angry Objectivist: It’s not Valentino!

I was kind of hoping your Breyfogle retrospective would have included his work on Archie, but… oh, well. Can’t have everything, I guess. :)

tom fitzpatrick

August 19, 2014 at 3:27 pm

Erik Larsen is savagely awesome.
Jim Lee is too obvious.
Robert Kirkland is partner, not a founder.

Angry Objectivist

August 19, 2014 at 3:30 pm

Greg Burgas: Thank God!

What, no Prime? Auuuuuggggggh! You’re killing me, man! No seriously, there’s some interesting stuff in these pieces, though we do need to get you some material from the Bronze Age and before. Some Kaluta or Chaykin, Jim Starlin, maybe. P Craig Russell; watch him go from superheo/sci-fi (Killraven) to opera and Oscar Wilde.

Meanwhile, next: Silvestri or Larsen

um..silvestri?

Green Luthor: I don’t own Life With Archie, although I keep thinking I need to get the trades!

tom: Maybe I like being obvious! You ever think about that?!?!?

Jeff: In the mid-1990s, I didn’t get a lot of the whole Image/Malibu/whatever stuff. I think the early Image stuff, with its emphasis on art (I was much more a writer guy) and its hopeless scheduling scared me off, and back then, I was much more inclined to follow characters rather than creators. So there are big gaps in the mid-1990s for specific creators, because I didn’t follow them away from the Big Two. Some I did, but they were more likely to be writers than artists.

I need to get some of those artists you mentioned, but I’m having trouble finding their early work. I know some of them worked on Creepy and Eerie, but I’m wary about the trades from Dark Horse, as they’re 50 bucks a pop. I’ll try to track some of their work down, but you’re right – I’m a bit wary about featuring them until I have really early work. We’ll see!

s!moN: You’ll have to wait and see! :)

Speaking of Creepy and Eerie, did you ever pick up Dark Horse’s Eerie #4, with stories by Kelly Jones and Norm Breyfogle?

You can find some early Kaluta in House of Mystery (or was it House of Secrets? or both). I can’t remember if there was any of that in the Showcase edition DC put out or not. He also did, if i recall correctly, some stuff for Gold Key’s fantasy series (I think it was Dagar, might have been Samson). There are inexpensive ways to find that on the web; just not from the copyright holders. Ahem……not that I advocate piracy, or anything……Ahem. Anyhoo…… There’s tons of Chaykin. Really, a nice progression there is his early work on Sword & Sorcery (DC), Cody Starbuck at Star*Reach and Heavy Metal, Star Wars, American Flagg, The Shadow, Batman: Dark Allegiances, and some of his more recent era stuff. Russell is another good one, as you can start out with standard Marvel stuff (but with an interesting variation in style) and watch him grow lusher as time progresses. Heck, just juxtaposing his Amazing Adventures Killraven with the Marvel Graphic Novel is interesting, as he had grown so much.

I understand being wary of Malibu; but, they actually had some good stuff there, at first. Prime is essentially just a reworking of Captain Marvel, but a pretty good one and Breyfogle’s art is a big component of that. The Strangers was an interesting idea for a team book, with good, if not flashy art art. Firearm was a real sleeper favorite, from James Robinson. Thing was, Malibu’s Ultraverse stuff was very writer-driven. The creator-owned Bravua line was a bit more artist-driven, though they wrote their own stuff. The books ranged from okay to very good, though the bloom seemed to come off the rose by the time they did their crossover. The, Marvel bought ‘em out and *pfffffttttttt*! Personally, I hated to see their Protectors book pushed aside to make room for the Ultraverse launch. It had some interesting ideas, though there was a bit of bait and switch on the art. They publicized it with work from Clarke Hawbaker and Jerry Bingham and then delivered something a little less seasoned.

The 90s started out with some nice innovation; but, by mid-decade, the business was in turmoil and a lot of garbage was muddying the waters. I was very happy to see the speculators leave and take their foil covers and bagged issues with them. Unfortunately, they took down a lot of good companies on the way out.

A couple notes:

You’ve referred to my “pencils” a number of times, but you’re not seeing my pencils. What you’re seeing is a printed copy of my *inks* (and I don’t ink my work digitally, BTW).

The beads of sweat were all penciled and inked by me; Kowalczyk then digitally changed the inked black lines to white.

kdu2814: No, I missed that. I really should track down the new ones that Dark Horse is publishing, because there’s some cool stuff in it.

Jeff: The problem with the Malibu stuff is, as far as I know, it’s either not in trade or the trades are out of print, and finding the issues can be a chore. I might have to, though.

Norm: Yeah, I should be more precise. I tend to refer to “pencils” even though I know it’s inked lines. It’s lazy shorthand, and I should change it.

That’s neat about the sweat. It’s an interesting effect.

Thanks a lot for stopping by and explaining some things. I really appreciate it!

If you can’t find a batch of Malibu and Ultraverse stuff in a cheapo bin, you’re not really trying ;)

And Mr Breyfogle’s work was pretty cool on the Life with Archie stuff, even if the story was…weirdly emo depressing.

The early issues of Prime were collected in a trade; I think it was the only series that was (maybe UlraForce?)

Before you stated the obvious, I was hoping for Whilce Portaccio, as I only knew him from his Punisher stuff, and was always put off by his latter stuff. Everything I know from him seems to be a weird Clive Barkerian take on anatomy, so while not to my taste, I’m always somewhat fascinated by his “style”

The layouts and storytelling by Norn Breyfogle on these pages are amazing. That’s just one of the reasons why I am a fan of his work. That quality was especially well suited to his various Batman stories, where he gave the Dark Knight a very dynamic athleticism.

tom fitzpatrick

August 20, 2014 at 7:09 pm

@ Mr. Burgas: I have done so, and do you know what: sometimes you’re just too subtle for words! :-)

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