Inktober 2019 Day 28

Everybody talks about how terrible it is to draw horses, but you know what?  It’s fine.  Once you simply acknowledge that you will need to look at reference for a thing, drawing it becomes way less worrisome.  Of course, there wasn’t much in the way of reference for a flying horse (although I did learn that artists are apparently split on where you place the wings–like it makes sense to put them anywhere besides the shoulders), so that took some imagination, but I think I managed okay despite these challenges.

Today’s prompt is “Ride” which could have been a difficult lift except that I remembered one of my other favorite X-Men characters was chosen to be a Valkyrie and actually has a winged horse.  Danielle Moonstar is one of the original members of the New Mutants who used to have the psychic power to project illusions based on her target’s deepest fears or desires.  Her powers went through a lot of changes over the years, probably because writers decided being able to make people see stuff they find personally terrifying isn’t a cool enough power, and then she eventually got de-powered after the mutant Decimation.  The Valkyrie bits come and go as well, but I think she’s most recently working as a Valkyrie for Hela, Marvel’s version of the Norse god of death and the underworld.  None of that’s super important (although I highly recommend any story that features Dani) except that she is friends with a winged horse named Brightwind and she rides him into battle.

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Inktober 2019 Day 26

My original concept for today’s drawing was more of a solo picture with only the primary subject, but then I got this idea of a setting it on a subway car, and then I had to figure out why they would be there (today’s character is a teleporter), which settled me on the idea of going somewhere with friends.  The body count sort of multiplied after that.  In terms of composition, I think I’m happiest with the perspective on this drawing.  I don’t know that I’ve played around with doing a top down view like this in the past, but it was fun.  I debated with myself about how much to shade the windows of the train car because I figured there needed to be some significant pockets of black on the page, but I wasn’t sure how it would look if I filled each window in completely.  I skipped pencil shading on this one, so I didn’t have a real sense of what that much ink would do to the picture, and you can’t really take ink back once it’s been put down on the paper.

The prompt for the day is “Dark,” which I’ve been looking forward to all month because I’d reserved this prompt to draw my favorite X-Men character, Illyana Rasputin, code name Magik.  I’ve written, well, a lot about Illyana on my blog in the past (obligatory links found here, here, here, here, here, and also here), so there’s not much to say at this point other than she’s one of the characters most entitled to brooding but she doesn’t let that stop her from being fun.  Once I got the idea for the subway ride with friends, I decided to run with that contrast.  She’s going out and doing something social with Kitty Pryde and Doug Ramsey, but that isn’t going to stop her from wearing all black and half listening to something appropriately overwrought and emo like My Chemical Romance (I don’t know that she’d actually listen to My Chemical Romance, but I don’t know much about the landscape of Goth music).

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Inktober 2019 Day 18

After the relatively complex last few days, I decided to do a few simple drawings.  Today’s is very straightforward, with a relatively ordinary composition of two figures facing each other in an over-the-shoulder perspective.  I’ve not drawn a lot of backs lately (funny how faces tend to be more interesting), but this one was done in a simple enough style that it didn’t strike me as particularly challenging.  Playing with the proportions to communicate that I was drawing a child were a little fun though.

The prompt for today is “Misfit,” and I thought primarily of Rahne Sinclair, one of the original members of the New Mutants who has the power to transition at will between the forms of a human girl and a wolf.  Rahne had a very strict religious upbringing in a fundamentalist Scots Presbyterian community, so she’s spent most of her life processing and extricating the internalized self loathing her religious community instilled in her for being a mutant.  Combined with that is Rahne’s early portrayal as a child whose powers manifested unusual physical traits, specifically her inability to grow long hair.  She’s an extremely feminine character (her primary fantasy as an adolescent was to be a fairy tale princess) who for a long time was denied the basic visual markers of femininity.  There’s a fair bit of text surrounding Rahne’s adolescence that codes her in ways that evoke transgender identity: the rejection by her fundamentalist community, the aspiration to explicit feminine presentation despite the limitations of her body, the euphoria she experiences in her wolf form compared with the doubts of her human mind as a stand in for body dysphoria in general.  It’s no wonder that Matthew Rosenberg chose to use her as the subject of a scene in his recent Uncanny X-Men run that carries the trappings of a trans panic murder (much has been said about the general insensitivity of the scene itself elsewhere).

That was a lot of thoughts for a simple drawing, I guess.  Sometimes I suppose the ideas end up being more complex than the execution.

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Inktober 2019 Day 2

Another day, another sketch!  I’m really enjoying the practice that I’m getting doing all this on-demand drawing at this point.  I expect I will be feeling a little differently the longer this streak goes on.  For now though, let’s just focus on the positive.

The theme for today was “Mindless,” so I decided that I’d do a combination sketch of two characters who go at the concept from different angles.  The primary subject is Xi’an Coy Manh, Karma, of the New Mutants, and the secondary one is Santo Vacarro, Rockslide, of one of the younger X-Men teams.  Karma’s mutant power allows her to possess people (it’s a very specific form of telepathy), while Rockslide is actually a psionic metamorph.  His powers originally manifested as his body turning into mobile stone, but it was eventually discovered that he’s actually become a disembodied psychic entity who telekinetically wills a body into existence for himself.  His head is literally full of rocks.

Anyway, here’s the sketch.  I had the most fun with the visual effect for Karma’s possession power.  It’s a very distinct look like a chunky halo.  All I can say is that straight edges and circle stencils are my friends.

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Bits that were also fun for this one include Karma’s robot leg and the fact that because Rockslide’s body is literally made of jagged rocks, I was able to play with building a face out of all straight lines and angles.  Good times!

Free Comic Book Day 2016 Postmortem #1: New Mutants Volume 1, 71-73

I have read a lot of X-Men comics.  As a child of the ’90s, I was at that ideal age where I was smitten enough with the cartoon that I wanted to learn more about the characters in the comics.  When I graduated college, I finally got to do that in a truly satisfying way as I was given a huge backlog of X-Men comics by a coworker at my first white collar job.  My favorite of the early stuff was easily The New Mutants, which continues to be one of my favorite super teams in the entire Marvel universe.  Probably my hands down favorite character of the team is Danielle Moonstar (thirty years later she’s still kicking butt as a de-powered member of the team’s most recent incarnation), but a very close second is Illyana Rasputin, the little sister of the X-Men’s most famous strongman character Colossus.

I’ve been taken with Illyana ever since I read Chris Claremont’s Magik miniseries about how she survives for eight years in the demonic dimension of Limbo by becoming a sorceror and gradually losing small parts of her soul in desperate bids just to survive.  This origin story sets up Illyana’s core concept of a child who had to grow up too quickly while being forced to make a series of morally dubious choices that left her doubting her own ability to do good in the world.  Illyana became a regular member of the New Mutants shortly after she first returned from Limbo, and she always offered an incredibly poignant counterpoint to the much more naive perspective of her teammates who frequently assumed that because they were children they were generally safe from serious consequences (this attitude is constantly undercut in the original run of New Mutants as all kinds of messed up stuff happens to the team; even though they were the junior team to the adult X-Men, the New Mutants often had much darker adventures than their counterparts).  Where everyone else generally assumed they would be okay at the end of any given day, Illyana was the character who had already come out the other end really damaged by her experiences.

In the original New Mutants, Illyana’s arc began with her being haunted by her childhood, and her power set (being able to teleport through space and time by way of Limbo and being able to use the dark magic she was taught by her captor while she was trapped there) made it impossible for her to ever move beyond her history; some of her teammates, particularly Rahne Sinclair and Roberto DaCosta, never fully trusted her because of her association with Limbo.  In a book filled with tragic moments, Illyana was the classic tragic character.

The cover of #73 kind of gives the end away, but it’s also sort of an homage to the death of Supergirl, so that’s okay. (Image credit: Comic Vine)

Illyana’s story is heavily threaded throughout the majority of the original New Mutants run, and it all culminates in the 1989 X-Men crossover event Inferno.  Because of the manipulations of two demons from Limbo, S’ym and N’astirh, Illyana is tricked into opening a giant portal over Manhattan that allows demons to pour out from Limbo and invade Earth.  In the collection of comics I got from my coworker, I never got to read this story; it was missing from an otherwise highly comprehensive library of back issues.  I had to skip ahead, and I found in the issues following the event that Illyana had somehow reverted back to being six years old, effectively removing her from the New Mutants (this narrative move coincides in my mind with the decline of the first volume’s quality; it happened about a year before Rob Liefeld joined the creative team and began to push Louise Simonson out; that one of the last arcs of Simonson’s run without Liefeld’s input ended with Dani Moonstar leaving the team as well was pretty much the end of New Mutants as the book that I loved).  The version of Illyana that’s featured in New Mutants volume 1 doesn’t reappear again outside of a miniseries from 2009 called X-Infernus, which if I remember right didn’t really go anywhere.  The version who’s been running around in the 2010s is from a slightly different timeline, which is narratively interesting because she has moments where she has to remind her teammates that she’s not the same Illyana that they remember (usually just before she does something that looks like a betrayal because like all versions of Illyana, she has her own motives for just about everything).

Anyhow, the point of all this background is to say that one of my purchases on Free Comic Book Day this year was back issues of New Mutants #71-73 (also #70, but that issue’s part of the previous story arc, and I only picked it up because the shop was doing a buy 3 get 1 free deal).  These issues were recently covered by Jay and Miles X-Plain the X-Men (Jay’s explication of the gender politics surrounding the Inferno event, which focuses heavily on the culmination of Illyana and Madelyne Pryor’s stories in the X-books they respectively appear in, is excellent stuff so you should go listen to the episodes about it right now), and with the occasion of Free Comic Book Day to hit up the comic shop, I decided to get the back issues I’d missed.

It’s been more than a few years since I’ve read comics of the ’80s (I don’t really count Sandman because Gaiman’s style is distinctly literary with heavy doses of pseudorealistic dialogue, as contrasted with the high melodrama and hyperdeclamatory dialogue of mainstream superhero books of the time), and it’s a very different experience from more contemporary fare.  The narration isn’t as over-the-top as what Claremont did at the height of his run on the X-books, but caption boxes, when they appear, are pretty sizable, and all the characters feel the need to explain what they’re doing in-panel pretty regularly.  It’s unfortunate that I’m having to read this arc divorced from its context (again, it’s been years since I read through the original New Mutants), but seeing the characters that I enjoyed so much is really satisfying, and leaves me with a vague desire to pull out my archives and read the old comics again.

So Fox is Making a New Mutants Movie

Fox is making a New Mutants movie.

Fox is making a New Mutants movie.

Fox is making a New Mutants movie.

This cover’s almost a perfect team lineup (except it doesn’t have Dani). (Image credit: Comic Vine)

I’m not sure what else there is to say about this news right now other than I really hope they don’t screw it up.  I’m not entirely sure how they could screw it up (perhaps by making a stealth X-Force movie, though given the concept Fox is apparently going to explore, that strikes me as unlikely), but for all of Fox’s recent success with the last few X-Men movies, I’m still weary about their vision for this movie.  I mean, the New Mutants are kind of a big deal in the X-Men franchise, since they’re the most enduring spin-off team that Marvel ever created in relation to the primary X-Men team (they also originated a perennial tradition of introducing a new team of teenage mutants every decade who eventually graduate to being full-fledged X-men, assuming they acquire a significant enough fanbase).

Though this is just announced and the whole thing is probably several years away from actually being completed, I’m already wondering about things like what the character lineup will be, and what story Fox will adapt.  The quintessential New Mutants includes a roster of nine characters, which seems like a bit much for a single movie (it’s kind of amazing that Chris Claremont balanced such a large regular cast in a monthly book without making anyone ever feel like they were underwritten), and at the same time I can’t help wondering who could possibly be cut.  I feel like Danielle Moonstar and Sam Guthrie are must haves, since they’re the obvious team leaders (and also a couple of my favorite New Mutants characters), and then there’s Illyana Rasputin, who is one of the best tragic characters that ever emerged from the X-Men franchise.  Of course, if I go down the roster, I can see a good reason to include everyone, which isn’t very helpful for figuring out who to build a story around.

As for story, well there’s plenty to choose from.  My personal hope is that if they include Dani (and seriously, why the heck wouldn’t they?) they go for the “Demon Bear Saga” (it’s a landmark story for the series both visually and in terms of character, and I would love a big screen story that’s centered on a woman which doesn’t involve any sexual angst or trauma).  Of course, that’s a story that didn’t happen until after the series had been going for over a year, meaning readers were pretty well acquainted with the characters, so maybe there would be a bit too much groundwork to lay to make the story really resonate (of course, I’m not a screenwriter, so maybe it’s possible).

Nonetheless, this is one of those superhero movies that’s been on my wishlist for a while now, and I’m honestly both really excited and worried about how it will turn out.  I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

In Praise of Creators

I’ve devoted a good chunk of time this summer to writing about the work of a lot of writers and artists.  Some of my commentary has been very positive, and some of it hasn’t.  A lot of that has depended on my personal taste, although I’ve also tried to write from the perspective of someone who wants to understand what objectively makes a good story.

The cover of New Mutants (vol. 1) #87 featurin...

Even though this is objectively awful, someone still put themselves into it.  The cover of New Mutants (vol. 1) #87 featuring the first appearance of Cable. Art by Rob Liefeld and Todd McFarlane. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Several weeks ago, back when I was in the middle of writing my series on Chuck Austen’s Uncanny X-Men story “She Lies with Angels” I was reading through my feeder when I came across this article by Shauna Niequist on being a creator.  Her first two pieces of advice are useful for anyone who is an artist in that they offer some guidelines for how to approach criticism.  Her third point is also addressed to creators, but I think it’s valuable advice for anyone:

Be on the side of the creator.

As Niequist points out, once you’ve actually put in the time and energy to make something of your own, you begin to understand how difficult creation is.  You wonder if your work is worthwhile, if you can pull it off so that other people will enjoy it, if it’s really just a waste of time and you should give up.

Creation is a deeply personal experience.

And not only is it personal, it’s also vulnerable.  You expose yourself whenever you create something and then dare to show it to another person.

So, yeah, I really don’t like Chuck Austen’s run on Uncanny X-Men.  It feels out of place in that canon, and I think that the writing and plotting were weak.  In spite of that, I don’t dislike Chuck Austen.  His work is not to my taste, but I can’t deny that he is a professional writer, which means that on a very regular basis he produces his own work and submits it to the public for approval.

In the same vein, though I utterly despise Rob Liefeld’s artwork and what he did with New Mutants and then X-Force, I try to keep that separate from any personal animosity.  He’s a creator.  Though I think he can improve his work, I don’t begrudge him for making a living by being creative.

All of this is to say that it’s fun to be a critic of other people’s work, especially in a space like the internet where you’re safe from having to look them in the eye while you do it.  Austen and Liefeld also provide easy targets, because they’re rather unpopular creators in the comics industry.  So, I thought it would be good to remember that despite whatever flaws we find in other artists’ work, they are still struggling and fighting to produce these things that they then release into the world to stand on their own merits.

It’s an act of love, and whatever else, I can’t criticize that.