Another Art Project

I’m still trying to learn how to work the new Wacom tablet, so I moved on to a slightly more complicated project than last time.  Lately I’ve been obsessed with the Six Million Dollar Man (mostly because the new Bionic Woman is such a letdown.  Universal, get those old shows on DVD fast!!) so I tried my hand at Steve Austin, Astronaut.

Rather than kill myself trying to make this thing photo-realistic I decided to keep it simple and fairly abstract.  It started looking “iconic,” like one of those images used to promote a fan club or something, so I added the frame and legend to suggest a vintage pinback…or whatever.

Anyway, here it is.  If nothing else, I’ve learned a few things.  Hopefully this stuff will just get better as I go.

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Guns + Kids = Fun

From the days when boys were allowed to be boys, here’s a wild TV commercial for the Dick Tracy “Tommy Burst” machine gun and detective set. “You Can Tell It’s Mattel: It’s Swell!”

Nowadays of course, the liberal wetnurses running America have torpedoed anything remotely as fun, although Mattel is still managing to make dangerous toys, bless ’em. But be honest, wouldn’t you rather expire manfully from a “safe” bullet in the eye than go out like a punk, licking lead paint off a “Press-N-Go Elmo”?

Super-Jason and Hoppy

Last Halloween, Jason had trouble deciding on a costume, so we grabbed a Superman outfit on sale and figured we were good to go.  Then he decided he wanted to be a pumpkin.

A few days ago we pulled out the Superman suit again and this time he took to it in a big way.  For nearly a week, he insisted on wearing it every day around the house (We managed to convince him not to wear it outside or he’d ruin the surprise for everyone come Halloween).  I don’t think Jason’s ever seen the old George Reeves TV show, but he seemed to know instinctively that a proper superhero takes three running steps before leaping skyward.  This resulted in a few spills, but Jason took it in stride, reporting with a grin, “I try to fly, but I always come down with a ‘plop!'”  With any luck, the outfit will survive until Trick or Treat time.

This week the big news was a visit from Hoppy the Bunny, a stuffed animal Jason’s teacher awards to “special helpers” for overnight visits at her students’ homes.  Jason was very proud to have earned a visit from Hoppy, and when we had to leave the bunny behind for a trip to the store, Jason said Hoppy was having fun “playing with Pretend Superman.”  I thought it was interesting, given Jason’s food allergies, that he assigned one to Hoppy as a way of identifying with him.  Interesting but also kind of sad; of all things, poor Hoppy the Bunny is apparently allergic to carrots.

Jason The Cop

Jason and Scott had a lot of fun over the Labor Day weekend, tearing around the back yard, throwing their frisbees and balls, digging in the sandbox and chasing frogs. At one point, they got a frisbee caught in a tree branch, so Jason tried knocking it down with a second frisbee, which he somehow managed to lodge in the exact same spot, lying perfectly aligned on top of the first disc. Even the worst gambler wouldn’t have taken a bet on that shot.

On Saturday, they raced each other on their tricycles in the front yard. Predictably, Jason won most of the heats, as Scott still scoots along with his feet and avoids using the pedals. One time out, however, Scott finished first — I suspect because Jason let him — but in the time-honored tradition of little brothers, even when he wins, he loses. Immediately following Scott’s victory, Jason came over to him and extended his hand. “Here,” he said, “you went too fast, so I’m giving you a ticket.”

Mike Wieringo, 1963-2007

Earlier this month, comic book artist Mike Wieringo passed away suddenly at the too-young age of 44.

Although I only met him once, and briefly, I always felt an odd kinship to Mike. Like him, I grew up on a steady diet of superhero adventures, and spent much of my childhood drawing stories of Superman and Batman — and my own (derivative) characters — on any scrap of paper I could find. In my teens, I attended Rustburg High School two classes behind Mike’s. Whenever my classmates or teachers saw my work, the response was always the same: “Hey, that’s great” followed by, “You should see Mike Wieringo’s stuff.” From the way they said it, I knew what they really meant was, “Mike does it better,” or maybe “Thanks but we’ve already got a comic book artist at this school.”

I met Mike briefly when I was a new employee at VCU and he was finishing up his degree in Communication Arts, still a couple months away from being “discovered” by a publisher and landing his first gig in comics. I also learned we frequented the same local comics shop, though we never crossed paths there. Thus, I’m no expert on what kind of guy Mike was personally, though from everything I’ve ever heard he was a great human being.

What I can speak to, though, is Mike’s boldness and dedication as an artist. Talent is one thing; lots of us have talent. The key is persistence; pushing yourself to grow constantly, challenging yourself to move beyond what’s comfortable and be a better artist today than you were yesterday. That’s what moved Mike beyond what he was in high school — a kid like me aping the likes of Neal Adams and John Byrne — to what he became, a creator in his own right, with a style all his own.

Mike entered the industry in the 1990’s, an era defined by dark storylines where superheroes were getting killed, crippled, maimed, you name it. His style was like an antidote to all that emotional poison; it was bright and fun, featuring characters with big eyes and big feet, loose limbs and thick eyebrows. You could have called it “cartoony,” I suppose, or “whimsical” compared to what else was out there. It was new and different, and Mike found a hungry audience; fans embraced his work and made him one of the most popular artists in the business. He was assigned to some of the biggest titles in the business: The Flash, Superman, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four. And of course, true to form, other artists came along to ape his style.

That’s what separates the greats from the rest of the crowd, in the end. There’s a handful of artists whose work is so distinctive any fan can spot it anywhere: Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Neal Adams, George Perez…and yes, Mike Wieringo. Other artists may make the quick buck imitating those guys (and have!), but in the end it’s the innovators that get remembered.

So Mike, if you’re up there reading this, I’m sorry I never made the effort to know you in high school, or beyond. Sorry I always assumed I’d have another chance somewhere down the road. But I’m also happy that you got to live your dream, that you got to meet the greats of the industry as an equal, that you got to bring so much entertainment and pleasure to so many fans.

Somewhere out there right now is a kid drawing Spider-Man or The Flash based on the fun they had reading a Wieringo-drawn comic, and dreaming of the day he’ll be a famous artist himself. Thanks, Mike, for living the dream for the rest of us, and passing it on to the next generation. I hope that, for you, the adventure is just beginning.

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