Thursday, August 22, 2013
2013 Kishana Lewis Commission by Chris Beaver
Last year, Chris Beaver surprised me with one of my all-time favorite commissions, The Human Squirrel, which I have since had reproduced and framed on the wall beside my computer. I loved the concept and small details, but aside from the figure, it was stark and minimalist. When I caught up with Beaver later that summer, he decided to go more colorful and fill in a greater portion of the image space on Hunter Commander J'en. As happy as I've been with his work, I'd have put some thought into the subject for a third commission, but I wasn't aware that he would be at Comicpalooza 2013 until I spotted him at a booth. Luckily, it didn't take too long thumbing through my reference sheets to find just the right subject.
One of the characters I'd had in mind for Beaver to do before I got my first commission was Kishana Lewis, and while Chris Foreman did a bust at the same show I got the Squirrel, I still wanted a full figure.
I grew up on Chris Claremont Uncanny X-Men, and while his later work wasn't often my taste, I thoroughly enjoyed the mythology he came up with for the Scary Monsters mini-series. I suspect Claremont missed writing Storm, and perhaps wanted to set up a proxy at DC, as a lot more thought went into the plot than could be fully explored in just a few issues. As with Commander Blanx & Malefic or Cay'an & D'Kay D'Razz, Kishana Lewis was replaced by a similar character in Scorch and never used again.
Scorch was one of about a half dozen new characters created to fill out a Superman event, but since Joe Kelly and his editors thought J'Onn J'Onzz was boring, they decided to recycle the villainess as literally a "hot" new girlfriend with a surplus of personality to jazz J'Onzz up. Kishana Lewis was created as a new protagonist to combat the monstrous hordes unleashed at Carmody’s Folly, with its own rich history built into the story. As it happened, the Martian Manhunter also had ancestral ties to the monsters, and when he became infected by their evil, Lewis cured him. Healer and patient wound up in bed together to do more than nurse wounds, but Lewis' manifesting fire powers drove the new couple apart. Lewis was to my mind a better developed character, a more suitable partner for J'Onn, their romance was more organic, and their break-up understandable.
Scorch was frowned upon by the JLA, and a suspect in the creation of Fernus the Burning right up until he sent her into a coma. J'Onn mourned her vegetative state for a few pages, then pretty much forgot she existed, aside from arbitrarily making her a suspect in a later case. Scorch had a few more appearances than Kishana Lewis, but she was ultimately treated as similarly disposable. Shame the two characters weren't consolidated, so at least the heroine could have had another shot, and the villainess might have continued as a Supergirl foil had she not been dragged into a Manhunter mess.
Like his convention buddy Vo Nguyen, Chris Beaver has been wanting to spend more time on his pieces, to show what he's really capable of rather than trying to knock out stuff before the end of a con. I was fine with that, and proceeded to give Beaver a huge verbal information dump about who Kishana Lewis was supposed to be. This can be overwhelming, as anyone who's listened to my podcast guest spots can attest, so Beaver mostly nodded silently with saucer eyes. Whether he could take my dialogue diarrhea in or simply researched the character through the blog (likely both,) Beaver packed his initial sketch with telling details.
By the end of the con, Beaver had an excellent black and white image done that I would have been perfectly happy with. He had adapted co-creator Joshua Hood's facial features into a somewhat more realistic and better defined visage. I enjoyed Lewis' hand gestures, which indicate the magical shamanic origins of her abilities, while all the costume specifics were in place. One of the things that first attracted me to Beaver's work was his believably feminine figures, and he excelled here at making Lewis sensually depicted without being sexualized. Lewis is athletically well toned, but her proportions aren't exaggerated, though her muscular muffin top and pelvis are certainly drool worthy. Beaver had already outlined the flames and parts of the background, so I was satisfied where the piece stood, but Beaver wasn't remotely finished.
A few weeks later, Beaver sent me a photo from his drawing table, and apologized needlessly for the time taken, as he had continued on the con circuit. He'd added lovely, nuanced flesh tones that brought Kishana Lewis that much more fully to life. The tiles under her feet had broken up with infernal flames licking up at her feet, recalling the demonic forces that dogged her. A stone temple had been added to the background, alluding to either Carmody's Folly or perhaps insinuating that her ongoing battle had gone global. Beaver asked how I liked his progress, and I told him that he could stop right there if he liked, because the piece was already fantastic.
A few more weeks passed, and Beaver emailed me a scan of the finished piece, the same seen at the top of the post. The flames were enlivened with yellows, oranges, reds and delicately feathered grays. The tan mass in the background had become a forest of the sort where Lewis had fought fires and first confronted her monsters. Map pencil crosshatching had rendered the location a dawn setting. Unnatural green luminescence twinkled from beneath the tiles. I immediately set the image as my desktop wallpaper, where it remains, as I like to marvel at the intricacy of the work while I boot up.
Chris Beaver didn't have a table at Space City Con, but he was attending all three days, so we worked out a hand-off for Sunday. Let me tell you, no scan can do the work justice. The texture of Lewis' hair, streaks of white laced into flames, the tonal changes-- can't be conveyed digitally. Below I offer a second darker scan, which better represents some colors but washes out others. Hopefully, a stronger sense of the physical art can be found in the balance of the two extremes. Regardless, I'm the proud owner of what I feel is Chris Beaver's finest work, and I'm hopeful we'll see more of it in comics, because this guy just keeps getting better! I need to see if I can get this beauty more properly reproduced and up on the wall!