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Year of the Artist, Day 237: Steve Mannion, Part 1 – Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty #10

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Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Steve Mannion, and the issue is Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty #10, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated June 1999. Enjoy!

Some commenters have been asking me if I’m going to feature Steve Rude this year, and I’ve noted that the Dude emerged as a fully developed artist on Nexus and hasn’t changed his style too much, so I might skip him. But I have featured artists whose style hasn’t changed too much just because I happen to like them, so I might have to show the Dude at some point this year. I bring this up because Steve Mannion, whose work I’ll be showing over the next few days, is another dude whose work hasn’t changed too significantly since 1999, but I dig it quite a bit, so I’m going to show you some of it! In the mid-1990s, Mannion did evolve quite a bit, but I don’t have many examples of that artwork. He worked on some of those “Big Book of …” books from Paradox Press, but I can’t find those, either. In The Bomb trade paperback, there are two stories from 1993 and 1994, and I did, of course, just get his Strange Pirate Tales in San Diego, which features at least one story from before this, because Mannion put the date on one of the pages. Here are three pages – the first from 1993, the second from 1994, and the third from 1997:

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In the first two, you see how “Mad-magazine” his work is, with lots of silliness, lots of details, lots of buxom women and goofy men, and lots of good, wholesome violence. The third one is smoother, as he began to ease slightly back on the insanity and concentrated a bit more on craft. Luckily, he has never backed off completely on the insanity, as we’ll see moving forward. But that’s just a little bit of his very early work, so I have to move on to 1999, where we find Sentinel of Liberty, which is a rather odd Captain America story.

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Mannion, as we can see, is very cartoony, and he loves exaggeration. He draws Cap with large muscles, and he slouches him over so his head sticks out freakishly from his body. He’s a bit surprised to see Marilyn Monroe in the White House, and she’s a bit surprised to see him. This page establishes a pattern for a lot of Mannion’s work – his men, especially his manliest men (the general doesn’t really count), tend to be lunkheads, while his women tend to be petite, curvy, and scantily clad. We’ll see other examples of Cap’s very square jaw and his wide eyes, as Mannion portrays him in this comic as a pretty straight-forward good ol’ American hero, bulldozing ahead in the face of overwhelming odds. Mannion also does a nice job showing Cap’s embarrassment – he and colorist Matt Hicks don’t shade Cap’s face, but the way Cap hides his face and his gaping mouth in Panel 2 do a nice job getting across the idea that Cap isn’t comfortable around naked women who use the American flag to cover their womanly bits.

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When Mannion works in black and white, he tends to use starker lines, while his color work, at least at this stage, had more spot blacks where he could ditch holding lines, as we see with the machinery in Panel 1. You can see that, while he likes drawing figures in a cartoonish manner, he’s good at making the machinery look clunky and metallic, so we get a good contrast with Cap’s more fluid design. His M.O.D.O.K. is pretty good, too, as he smushes his face more than we usually see, with M.O.D.O.K.’s eyes and mouth stretched out across his face and his nose smashed into the center. It makes M.O.D.O.K. look a bit goofier than he usually looks (and let’s be honest, M.O.D.O.K. usually looks pretty goofy), but he’s still menacing.

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M.O.D.O.K. has a bizarre scheme that involves putting people into a chamber, which tends to drive them insane. So M.O.D.O.K. himself enters the chamber, and Cap follows. Hence, this page. This kind of insanity is right in Mannion’s wheelhouse, as he’s able to create all kinds of weird creatures on the perimeter to show how strange this place is. Mannion’s loose, curvy, funky line helps him make the creatures look all kinds of weird, which is all that matters. He draws a cartoon face on Cap’s shield, with the big oval eyes that angle downward and to the outside, implying fear and worry, while he turns down the shield’s mouth, which implies the same thing. Cap’s mouth, with its overbite, shows shock that his shield is now sentient, but also a bit of terror. M.O.D.O.K. is once again drawn really well, as Mannion makes his mouth much larger to accommodate his giant teeth and tongue, which drips with drool, another stereotypical signifier of insanity. Apparently Cap is terrified of snails, and Mannion draws them oozing out of M.O.D.O.K.’s eyes, while Hicks uses a nice green hue speckled with white to make the ooze even more disgusting. Mannion still draws Cap out of proportion in the final panel, as his hands are gigantic, but the exaggeration helps the reader see his fear and helplessness a bit more. The screw-up on the page comes with the word balloons, and I’m not sure whose responsibility that was. The word balloons that read “Whoa, man! This is too freaky!” and “I’m outta here!” don’t seem to be said by anyone or anything, except maybe the snails. I assume the shield is saying both of those things, as it’s trying to get away and Cap is chasing it, but I’m not positive.

Mannion has a bit of an issue with the layout, too. The top panel is fine, but the way the word balloons lead us, we go down the right side of the page, where we see the snails in the small panel where Cap chases his shield before we go to the left side of the page and learn what the hell that green stuff is. I guess the reveal of “SNAILS” at the bottom of the page is the joke, but the way we move around the page isn’t, in my opinion, worth it. I don’t even think Mannion needed to change the layout – some editing of the dialogue and better placement of the word balloons could have allowed us to take in M.O.D.O.K.’s assault on the left side of the page and then move to the right. But that’s just me.

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Cap figures out that this is all in his mind, so he can use his mind to, say, grow giant wings out of the little ones on his cowl, and off he goes! I love his face in Panel 2, where he goes Professor X on us, as Mannion gives him a giant mouth and an even bigger chin, while narrowing his eyes as he thunders away. Cap is tired of being played for a sucker! Mannion gives the shield a more resolute face, too, as his eyes are no longer angled downward, but turned inward, while his brow and mouth are set grimly. Mannion inks the wings on Cap’s head really well, making them thick and puffy, a lot like clouds, which turns them more dream-like than real wings, indicating again that this is in Cap’s mind. Down at the bottom, when he smashes through the wall of skulls, Mannion uses nice blacks to add the small details to the heads, and notice that Cap and his shield are smiling. They’re back, baby!

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Don’t worry why Robo-M.O.D.O.K. is saying “baby” – it all makes sense if you read the issue (okay, it doesn’t, but at least you know why he’s saying it). Focus instead on how nicely Mannion draws him. He uses very light lines or no lines at all for his outline and a lot of spot blacks to full in the details. He once again flattens M.O.D.O.K.’s face, this time in a slightly more traditional manner, and he uses a lot of black on that face to make it more malevolent. The blacks that create the gears and the armor plating are really well done, and Hicks’s use of yellow and orange works well with the blacks. Hicks, of course, knows all about complementary colors, so the men and the background are colored blue to make Robo-M.O.D.O.K. pop a bit more.

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I only showed one page with Mannion females, so here’s another one. He does curvy women very well, doesn’t he?

Mannion is influenced by Wallace Wood – he has name checked Wood in his comics before, and even if he didn’t, it’s pretty obvious. I’m planning on featuring Wood this year, but I have a bunch of Mannion comics, so I figured I’d get to him first. So fret not, if you’re wanting to see some good Wood (get your minds out of the gutter, you!) this year. I’ll get to him!

Tomorrow, the immutable Batman Axiom of Comics rears its head, as Mannion drew not one, but two Batman stories. Which one will I pick? You’ll have to come back and see! And, of course, you can find plenty of Batman in the archives!

16 Comments

Are you planning to cover the legendary Joe Orlando and MAD’s Don Martin?

Morten: Probably not, unfortunately. I think I own one story drawn by Orlando, and none by Martin. I could probably find some of Orlando’s work, so there’s a possibility there, but I wouldn’t even know where to look to find Martin’s. Maybe I’ll have to scour Amazon or some other on-line vendor, because I do like his art.

Wood is obvious; but I would also say Mannion shares some DNA with Michael T Gilbert and Don Simpson, stylistically.

Some Bernie Wrightson, too, circa Captain Stern.

Jeff: Yeah, definitely. He very much digs Wood, though, which is why I specifically mentioned him.

Steve Mannion is the greatest artist working in comics today.

This is great, especially coming after Jim Lee. Those days of his were enough for an entire year.

Don Martin, now that brings me back… And makes me think, will we see some Sergio Aragones here? In commemoration of his pairing of Conan and Groo finally?

Steve Mannion!!! I am a HUGE fan of his work. He is an awesome artist and a really nice guy.

Greg, I do think that Mannion has evolved and grown as an artist. In the last several years, he has been doing more work with pencil-only art. More recently some of his art on Fearless Dawn has been taking on a bit of a Heavy Metal quality that I’ve described as “Wally Wood meets Geoff Darrow.” And Steve has created some superb painted pieces.

In any case, Greg, I’m really glad that you are spotlighting Steve Mannion. I’m looking forward to your next four entries.

By the way, I’ve obtained several pieces of original art from Steve over the years…

http://www.comicartfans.com/gallerydetailsearch.asp?artist=Steve+Mannion&GCat=60

Guy: Probably no Aragones. He really hasn’t changed too much over the years, although I dig his art.

Ben: Yeah, I’ll show some of the pencil-only stuff in a few days. He certainly has changed, but not as drastically as some people I’ve shown. Of course, as was noted in the Jim Lee posts, most artists reach a comfort level and don’t change that much afterward.

Those are some very cool pieces!

Oh boy, I love me some Mannion. Totally whacky stuff, and his books are really worth checking out. Never knew he did Batman and Cap, have to scour the net for it.
Can’t wait for Wood, if you haven’t done so yet, trear yourself to the Wood Artist’s Edition. It my largest book, doesn’t fit any shelf but so pretty. It’s the closest thing to owning originals.

I love his face in Panel 2, where he goes Professor X on us

Greg, that panel where Cap shouts “To me, my shield!” might also be a nod to the Silver Surfer, who Stan Lee often scripted as calling out “To me, my board” when summoning his surfboard.

Whatever the case, it’s a hystericaly insane image, having Cap flying around on his giant-sized, smiling, talking shield. “Keep ‘em flying, Cap!” :)

Dimo1: Neither this issue nor his Batman work should be hard to find – the Batman story I’m showing is in the third volume of Batman Black and White, for instance.

Don’t tempt me with the Artist’s Edition!!!! I want all of them, but man, I don’t want to go down that path of spending all that money on them. I’ve only seen the first one of Simonson’s Thor, and dang, it is sweet. I imagine the Wood one is very nice, too.

Ben: Ah, good point. I’m far more familiar with the X-Men than the Surfer, but I do recall ol’ Norrin saying that, and it makes more sense in that context, as it’s a tool the hero uses.

Holy ugly Batman!

Not my style.

Nu-D: Fair enough! If you want more ugly Batman, wait for today’s post! Maybe Mannion’s more recent work will be more to your liking.

Oh, he did some of those Paradox books? Sweet. I’ll have to check if he’s in the Big Book of Urban Legends that I own (which is awesome, if you can find it. Early Quitely, among a ton of others).

Don’t forget, you could always just do, like, 3 days of someone who hasn’t changed much (like the Dude), or do one of your cheating cheatery posts with several stories in it.

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