Alex Ross and Paolo Rivera: Painters Turned Pencillers and Storytellers

Posted by on Sunday, December 7th, 2008 at 07:04:49 PM

This is some stuff I started writing a few weeks ago, when Amazing Spider-Man #577 and JSA Kingdom Come Special: Superman had just hit. It’s a bit late now, but I sort of like where I was going with it, so I’m gonna finish it off anyway.

The week of November 12 was pretty lackluster, but there’s one thing I noticed that I think is worth talking about: we had not one but two painters making their debut with traditional pencil & ink comic book art, which is a significant shift in style for one and… well… we’ll talk later about the other.

Alex Ross wrote, pencilled, and sort-of-inked-but-really-washed-and-shaded the interminably-named Justice Society of America Kingdom Come Special: Superman. I was actually pretty surprised by how decent the scripting and dialogue were; Ross certainly has a huge leg up on Dan DiDio in that department. However, to be completely honest, it’s really only through realizing the story-based context (painted pages are Earth-22, other pages are Earth-0) that I can tell which parts are painted and which parts are colored by Alex Sinclair; while his work here is certainly more kinetic than his work on Marvels and the original Kingdom Come, I don’t know if that’s a function of the switch to pencil & ink as much as it is the passage of time and perhaps him learning from painting over Doug Braithwaite’s dynamic pencils for Justice. (As a side note, I actually like his non-photo-referenced faces in the back thumbnails more than the photoreferenced finished work; the faces are more expressive, and Ross clearly has the chops to be an above-average penciller if he ever wanted to drop the painting and reference and go that route.)

On the other hand, we got Paolo Rivera on Amazing Spider-Man #577. And, uh, damn.

I enjoy Rivera’s painted work; it captures just the right balance between stimulating that “Wow, it’s realistic and artistic because it’s painted” attitude in superhero fans while also being pretty powerful and well-done cartooning. It also takes a damn long time, and like all painted comics, the linework ends up completely obscured. So I picked up Amazing, kind of expecting to get a more rendered version of his usual style. And, uh, no. I was wrong.

Painted Paolo Rivera (from Mythos: Spider-Man)

From Mythos: Spider-Man

From Mythos: Spider-Man

Pen & Ink Paolo Rivera (from Amazing Spider-Man #577)

From Amazing Spider-Man #577

From Amazing Spider-Man #577

While Rivera’s painted art is undoubtedly both impressive and expressive – far more expressive than, say, Alex Ross – the ability to do traditional cartooning with his linework really, for me, elevates him to another level. That Frank Castle/Peter Parker bump-in contains so much information in the art alone – I’ve seen complaints that Rivera makes the Punisher look like a hobo pedophile, but it works perfectly for me, especially in contrast to the clean style used for Peter. The linework also gives him the ability to add the motion lines around Peter’s head turning and the alert lines (is there a technical term for these?) around both of them, and these are the kinds of deliberate storytelling decisions Rivera makes that surprised the shit out of me when I read this comic, since as far as I can tell this is the first time he’s ever done this. He looks like the bastard love child of Goran Parlov and Marcos Martin, in the best way possible.

And on a side note, I’ve got to give Stephen Wacker props for putting together this book as well as he has. Whatever you think about Menace and Freak and Dexter Bennett and the Hollisters, the art teams on this title have been uniformly accomplished, unique and professional. Nobody’s doing a hack job on this book, everyone’s bringing their A-game, these are all known names (or talented upcoming rookies) and the book hasn’t missed a ship date. The additions of Joe Kelly and Mark Waid have certainly fixed a lot of the problems people were having with the scripts, and New Ways to Die was a significant improvement over Slott’s earlier arcs. Despite all the initial kvetching and oaths to drop all of Marvel’s books, it’s clear from both the sales and the creative acumen on display that this approach is working. Kudos to Wacker, Brevoort and Marvel.

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