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