Wednesday, May 8, 2013

2012 Fernus the Burning Space City Con Commission by Mark Nasso

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"This is a commissioned piece of the DC Comics character, Fernus. Media used are india ink with brush, technical pen followed by spattered ink and white acrylic paint."
Going into Comicpalooza 2012 with an eye on getting a wealth of commissions to celebrate the blog's then-upcoming fifth anniversary, I vetted the hell out of the attending artists. Thankfully, that year the con gave months' notice for artist alley exhibitors, rather than a month's notice (with copious alterations/additions/corrections still getting hammered out at T-minus 16 days and counting.) Truth to tell, there was a lot of samey-samey, and while I kept the half dozen near identical manga-inspired artists/ flea market Chromium Age acolytes in the potential pool, as funds dwindled, passing on them didn't exactly hurt my heart.

Mark Nasso was a different story. I approached him on the first day of the con, but his attendance was somewhat last minute and he didn't have any space or supplies to do commissions on site. We talked about talking about an out-of-con commish instead, but following the beaucoup bucks that left my hand after that first day's round of big ticket purchases, I kind of avoided the issue. Also, I've had some rocky experiences with open-ended commissions, so even pieces I really wanted to try hammering out (like a Howard Chaykin John Jones take-home project) quickly turned verboten (despite having a faux pas lengthy conversation right in front of his table, I don't recall actually speaking a word to Chaykin.)

Setting aside that admission of guilt, I felt that sooner or later, I'd get around to working with Nasso. Nobody else drew anything like him, and his work was evocative of much personal and four color history. There's something unnatural and unearthly about Nasso's work, and while influences like Charles Burns, H. R. Giger and Dan Clowes creep in, he has very much his own vibe. There's a primordial, paganistic aura, even as he renders imagery from the fever dream of a Southern tent revivalist fearing eternal damnation for those Lovecraft tales enjoyed clandestinely in youth. His best work, much of it conceptual pieces for the creator-owned series Land of the Rats, is existentially unnerving in that way only mingling things that ought not ever come into contact with one another can be, massaging the lizard brain of the viewer.

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As is often the case with artists who work out their darker inclinations through their craft, Nasso was quite friendly and approachable when I ran into him again a few months later at Space City Con. It was easy to compile a list of nasties to be given the Nasso treatment, but I finally zeroed in on The Burning because I thought he would be the most impactful and appreciated option for the blog's readers. The Burning was part of a ludicrous retcon where prehistoric Martians were supposed to be flaming chaotic quasi-demons who the Guardians of the Universe tamed by genetically modifying into the fire-fearing sissies fanboys have mocked since 1955. Once J'Onn J'Onzz and his extremely implausible short-term girlfriend Scorch disengaged the weakness, they released the rampaging id monster oh-so-'90s moniker'd "Fernus," who went on to brutalize the JLA and kill off most of Morrison's White Martians (plus a bunch of Vandal Savage's red shirts.) Fernus was defeated by douchey machina, including a major(ly desperate) spotlight moment for Plastic Man, but he still somehow manages to make it onto a lot of top ten Martian Manhunter rogues lists for the scale of his devastation (regardless of its relative impermanence.) I figured if anyone could redeem Fernus (not to mention render him with clarity in a single illustration unmarred by flames, heavy shadows, cropping or digital effects,) it was Nasso.

I think we initially agreed to a bargain basement price of $35-40, and then Nasso kept working the piece over until I ended up choosing to pay him twice that and still felt like a bandit. There's so much ink and correction fluid on this 11" x 17" beast that it has weight and texture. One of the reasons it's among the last of my 2012 commission stock to get posted is because I cannot replicate it fully with the technology at my disposal. Every millimeter of it is filled with darkened starfield or soot or charred earth or licks of flame or energy bursts or craggy extraterrestrial flesh. The edges are all trimmed off in my scans, though you can see a more complete (but smaller) replication here. This is another one that I simply cannot do justice to, but can't keep warehoused anymore either, so here's the best representation I can manage.

Nasso was totally cool about what looks like an arduous assignment, and he even gave me oodles of freebies like stickers and a print of Ghosts of Jefferson Davis Hospital (which I once visited with a morbid ex-girlfriend before they turned it into artists lofts.) Also, he actually bothered to remember the name of one of the Idol-Head's obscuro characters, an endearing rarity in my experience. Nasso will be returning to Comicpalooza this year, and I look forward to seeing what kind of creepy crawlies he pulls off on the next round...


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Diabolu Frank said...

I spent at least a half hour on the net trying to find a safe "loaner" copy until I get the physical one I already paid for via mail order. No dice.