Wednesday, September 30, 2015
2013 Martian Manhunter Comicpalooza Commission by David Mack
A couple of years ago, I started thinking seriously about what I wanted to do for the 60th anniversary celebration, and one thing I tried to do was save back a few pieces from each summer convention commission season for the occasion. This was of course before 2014, when I a) started a bunch of jam pieces that are muchly still unfinished, halting their post progress and b) was still producing a daily blog of reasonably freshly produced content. I could probably post a new illustration every day for the rest of the year and still not completely exhaust the stockpile thanks to hoarding, other projects and procrastination. I was also still concerned about "debuting" pieces based on whether they had shown up on the internet outside my control (usually on the artist's social media/art galleries/et cetera.) This work by David Mack was threefold perfection, as it was a name artist who to the best of my knowledge never circulated the piece and actually spotlighted J'Onn J'Onzz instead of another obscurity from his circles. Niftily enough, it also allows me to offer a new bit of Alien Atlas art for the rest of the workweek, from 2013, 2014 & 2015, each from creators of some profile.
I first became acquainted with Mack from reading a few issues of the 1995 Caliber Press series Kabuki: Circle Of Blood when it passed through the comic shop I was working at that year. It reminded me a lot of early Frank Miller, and was strong enough that I followed his career from indie books to the majors on Marvel titles like Daredevil and Alias, which was easy to do since he mostly just did covers and pin-ups outside of Kabuki (who by the way turned 20 last year.) The man works wonders with watercolors, but I'm not sure that's an option on commissions. Doesn't matter, because he does produce work for fans in the 水墨画 (suiboku-ga/suibokuga) realm, a Japanese technique of ink wash painting that produces very iconic (in the literal sense of the word) images. It may sound esoteric, but they used that technique on the movie posters for 2013's The Wolverine, and it sure made the home video boxes pop on the shelf.
Among my friends, the piece is divisive, with folks having an art background digging it and those without "not getting it," and though I lack for formal education, I know quality when I see it. I love the Martian's distinctiveness in semi-silhouette, with the oblong celestial body in the background and the slight anatomical distortions evoking the subject's shapeshifting alien otherness. At the same time, it isn't remotely minimalist, with the features of the neck up resembling a film negative of a precisely shot but high contrast living being. The folds of the cape, its circular clasps with rope bridge, the rib cage, chest straps and even the beloved "pie symbol" belt buckle-- there's a wealth of detail in what appears to be a simple drawing from a ways out. The actual piece is roughly 11" x 16" on heavy stock board that holds rich, dark inks still slightly tacky after all this time, with lots of scribbly pencil layout artifacts that didn't come through on the scan. It's a lovely piece, and when the Photobucket account offered prices for matted/frame/metal reproductions, I confess that it gave me pause (even as I hold the original!)