Pipeline: Coveting Todd McFarlane's "Lost" Spider-Man Art

Tue, January 12th, 2016 at 2:58pm PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist


mcfarlan art

  • Todd McFarlane recently found and shared the original art from a Spider-Man trade paperback he drew around 1989 or 1990. I remember buying that book at Waldenbooks shortly after getting into comics. It was in a spinner rack along with all the single issues. "Amazing Spider-Man" was my favorite title, and I had just started collecting with the issues that followed the ones in this trade. I still have my copy of that trade somewhere; it's well worn now.

    I can only imagine the emails and frantic phone calls McFarlane got from dealers instantly after showing that page off. I bet he has offers in the six figures for it.

    I'm still smarting over not buying "Infinity Inc" art from his comic shop around that same time, when it could be had for tens of dollars. Even the least of those pages likely would go for hundreds today. On the other hand, I was 14 or 15 when that price list was going around, so I was financially constrained. That's a good euphemism. Maybe I should have just mowed some lawns or something.

  • Meanwhile, the second episode of the Felix Comics Art Podcast came out last week. It's an interview with a comics art whale -- he's a television show runner who had the good timing to have disposable income at a time just before the original art market exploded. There's a video that goes with the interview. The stuff in his collection will make you drool.

    I couldn't handle it. I like the art and all, but once you get to those kinds of pages, the insurance and handling and fear of theft would drive me mad. Give me an Artist's Edition book and I'm good. There, I just saved myself thousands and made IDW look like the best bargain publisher in comics.

  • Also on YouTube, Jake Parker makes the case for why you should draw fan art. He's absolutely right. There's a line to be drawn here, but the best way to be noticed on-line is through fan art, not your original stuff. Ask Disney artist, Brian Kesinger, whose "Otto & Vistoria" has a popular on-line steampunk following, but whose "Star Wars" and "Calvin & Hobbes" mash-up went viral last week. (He replicates Watterson's ink lines perfectly. It's scary good stuff.) The trick is to use that attention to then draw viewers towards you own stuff. Don't get caught up too much in it.

  • Jim Zub tweeted out a link to an article outlining Ten Typical Perspective Errors. I knew the major ones, but some of the secondary errors were eye-opening to me, in the way where your eyes are suddenly opened to something you know has looked wrong in the past, but now understand why.

  • Finally, and slightly off-topic but I'll bring it around, don't worry: Netflix has hidden movie category codes that have spread across the internet recently. Here's a complete list of them. "Comic Book and Superhero Movies" is 10118.

injection tpb

The sixth issue is out this week, starting a new arc that so far is pretty completely disconnected from the first.

Let's talk about those first five issues, first, because the trade paperback collecting it is stores now. Written by Warren Ellis and drawn by Declan Shalvey, "Injection" is a story that demands your attention. Even with the expository moments, it's not always easy to figure out at first glance. You need to pay attention, but you'll be rewarded. Clues get sprinkled throughout, some of which you won't realize were they until a second reading.

It has some high concept stuff that feels right up Ellis' alley, from alternate uses of the internet to paranormal power lines through landscapes and more. If you follow Ellis through his newsletter, you won't be surprised at the kind of ground he walks on here.

The thing is, I'm not sure I could do justice in explaining the details of the series to you, even after having read the trade twice. It's doubly hard because the only way to do so would be to spoil the whole thing, which I'm not going to do. So here's what I can tell you: There's a group of five folks who come together to work as a government agency, the Cultural Cross-Contamination Unit (“The Unit”), to solve paranormal problems. One case goes awry enough that it splits them up. This is the story about them getting back together years later to make things right. Basically.

Story continues below

injection 1 page

There are also a lot of sandwiches. More comics need running gags, dangit.

Declan Shalvey does some very pretty work in the book. He uses mostly widescreen panels for the storytelling, and some light gray washes to fill in shadows during the current events of the story. Nothing feels like a cheat. Everything is drawn on the page, occasionally in magnificent detail when it counts, particularly in the bigger moments when the point of the page is to leave a big impact.

Ellis weaves the story together, in part, with flashbacks to the formation and life span of The Unit. For those, Shalvey's artwork changes just a bit. The gray washes are gone. The line work gets simpler and thinner. Black areas go away. Jordie Bellaire steps up with the colors to simplify things, as well. The backgrounds go to a single color – yellow, purple, or blue – and the linework all gets filled in with the color, as well. It's simple little things like that that keep Ellis from having to sprinkle captions like “5 years ago” around the comic. If you can tell the story visually in comics, you should. “Injection” does just that.

injection flashback colors

Even for as dark a book as this can be at times, Bellaire doesn't compete with that by going darker with her colors, even in the “current” events. She often goes the opposite way. The colors are bright and make the line work easy to read. Strong colors jump off the page, but them might recede a scene later with a bit of de-saturation. The textures in the book come from Shalvey's intermittent use of gray washes as shadows. Bellaire doesn't attempt to model every panel into a 3D image, or add details with special effects. Everything she does in this book goes the opposite way. Shalvey's art is the hero of the book, in large part because the coloring is pushing it forward instead of competing with it for your attention.

Shalvey does everything right in designing the cast for the book. No two characters look alike. They vary in height, color, style of dress, and even posture and posing. The differences between past and present, likewise, are easy to spot and informative, as hair styles change, faces grow visibly older, and more.

Fonografix handles the lettering and design on the series. They also do "Saga," so you already know how good they are. The series uses mixed case lettering well, and the captions from The Injection are a nice touch.

injection 6 cover

This week, the sixth issue in the series comes out, and I think it's the best issue so far. It's a spotlight on Vivek Headland, who is the Sherlock Holmes-like character in this series. He's ultra cool with a deadpan sense of humor. A know it all who not only will tell you everything, but find a way to do so while batting you around a little bit.

A lot happens in this issue, much of which we'll need to wait for following issues to explain to us, but even with those moments, the issue is packed wall to wall with memorable scenes and bits of dialogue. "Injection" #6 is Ellis at his finest, crafting dialogue that crackles on the page. It's funny, it's sharp, it makes reading any number of word balloons feel like five word balloons too few. You'll just want more. The attitudes ooze off the page.

In the story, Headland catches the case of a man who needs to find his late wife. That's the main mystery of the story, but it also feels like the smallest part. The rest is there to establish Headland's corner of the world as the wise-talking all-knowing detective in a large apartment in Manhattan. This gives Ellis plenty of opportunities to dazzle the reader with snappy dialogue and creative word play. I've read the issue three or four times already and I'm still entertained by every page. If you don't like Ellis' style, this book will not change your mind. If you like it, though, you'll fall in love with the entire series based on just this issue.

Shalvey adjusts his art to the new storyline a little bit. The widescreen panels of the first storyline are still here, but are broken up with more square panels on a grid. It's a good mix of the two. The gray washes remain. And, most importantly, the characters act strongly. Their expressions and gestures sell the dialogue, from the tug at a collar to the smug smirk of a man who knows what he's saying will gross others out.

Story continues below

There's a series of flashbacks near the end of the issue that don't follow the same pattern as the first five issues. Bellaire uses colors completely differently in those panels, keeping Headland in black and white in a world of color around him. Backgrounds do not get their lines knocked out by the colors. It's just as effective. In interview, both Ellis and Shalvey have talked about this series being a series of five graphic novels, each starring a different character from The Unit. It makes sense to also differentiate those books with subtly different artistic techniques.

Issue six is more light-hearted than previous issues, even as it delves into some dark corners. The other four main character of the series are not present in this issue. In fact, I'd say you can read this without reading the trade first, if you can't get it right away. Go ahead and start here. Things might get more complicated later in the storyline, but this issue is pretty well self-contained.

So inspired was I by the book that I started doing a little sketch from it that turned into a bigger sketch that turned into the full cast:

injection cast augiedb

I have no sense of color, so I sampled Bellaire's to help fill this in. I also learned in the course of making this that my monitor needs some serious calibration. Nothing's ever easy!


After six installments of this series, we've reached the first issue of "Gen13." Whew.

We jump forward in time a tad to where the team is living together at a safe house/beach house in La Jolla, California, along with their mentor John Lynch and housekeeper/maid, Anna. Being irresponsible young things, they goof off a lot with video games and guitars and naked jumps into the pool. Rainmaker, you see, is Native American and communes with nature au natural. She's confident in her body and enjoys going from the sauna to the cold pool, while the boys stare slack jawed and make with the double entendres.

Everyone is perfectly chaste, don't worry. It's all talk. And all the nudity happens off panel. See:

gen13 1 naked

Campbell pushed those panel borders right up to the perfect spot to maintain the purity of the series' nipple-less vision.

There's no plot in the first half of the issue, and that's fine. The book is not really about fighting and defeating a series of big bad guys. It will shortly define itself more as a character book about teenagers who happen to have superpowers and use them while fooling around. It's something like what a live action sit-com Dan Schneider would create for Nickelodeon. (He does do "Henry Danger" currently, so superhero material is not beyond his grasp!)

Lynch is there to guide them through the issues that the bad guys will bring to their doorstep, because they'd be useless without him. But, being teenagers, they'll also feel the need to rebel against such a father figure at the same time. It's an interesting dynamic. I think John Arcudi explored it better, as I remember, but we're a couple dozen issues away from that happening.

The plot in this issue begins when Freefall (Roxy Spalding) goes to a dance club by herself in San Diego. There, she meets up with a dark and mysterious stranger, who is obviously not going to be any good for her. The part where he asks her to look deep into his eyes like a Vaudeville hypnotist is a dead giveaway. Doesn't matter, though. That story is dropped quickly and not picked back up. Because that's when a portal opens from another place and the dance club is besieged by oddly-shaped violent people from another dimension who appear to be hunting down Freefall.

gen13 1 qeelock

Don't worry; it's not her they're looking for. It's a little green mascot by the name of Qeelock, who is roughly analogous to Lockheed's position in "Excalibur." Except he's green and shaped more like a skinny squirrel. Lynch pulls the team together to go fight off the bad guys and bring Roxy home in one piece. They win, but the bad guys get away to fight another day.

If Art Adams were drawing a book written by Chris Claremont in the mid- to late-1980s, "Gen13" might just be the book you'd get. Claremont is very clearly a huge influence on Choi's writing, which makes sense. "X-Men" was the best-selling comic book of that era (before you kids decided you liked Avengers more), and team superhero books were dominated by that style. Choi's dialogue is clunkier than Claremont's, but you can see his attempts at that style throughout this issue. The attempts at catch phrases, the expository word balloons, and the story structure, itself, just screams of "Uncanny X-Men."

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Campbell lets his Adams influence shine in this issue with the bad guys' designs. They look like a group of rejects from a "Longshot" Annual. You might even recognize bits and pieces from Adams characters being reconfigured to create these aliens.

gen13 1 art adams
No, really, this is J. Scott Campbell drawing a "Gen13" issue. It is not a missing page from the never-released second "Longshot" miniseries.

But Campbell's art is noticeably cleaner in this issue than it was in the miniseries. Wendy Fouts is back as colorist and Alex Garner is handling inks, so the creative team is intact. (Comicraft is now on board as series letterer, which also helps.) Maybe it's the better paper once again making a big difference on the art? The storytelling is still a little klunky at times, often with pages looking like they were laid out as the artist went along, rather than being designed in advance.

gen13 1 gumby
Campbell wasn't hiding his influences. Look, he even put an Adams-favorite Gumby in the background here. I also like the "Top Banana 2000" computer stack behind Caitlin and her perfectly 90s vest outfit. It's like I'm looking at my high school yearbook here...

Garner's inks are also more restrained. There's less of an attempt to look like Scott Williams here, I think. When the kids get into the fight with the aliens, it gets a bit more cross-hatched, but when the kids are relaxing at home? It's much cleaner.

Campbell is also experimenting with his art, trying some new storytelling techniques and isolated angles and layouts that are interesting. I like this one angled from above, where the floor is not completely drawn in. It's a nice trick that helps to spotlight the characters by forming a circle around them.

gen13 1 floor1

He goes a little meta here, as Grunge falls to the ground and cracks show up in the gutters.

gen13 1 floor2
You could almost see this trick being used in a "Spirit" story, can't you?

And, of course, he takes playful swipes at studio mate Dan Fraga:

gen13 1 fraga

Fraga is currently prolific on Instagram and has some wonderful stuff posted here. Check it out.

That's the first issue of the new series. It is a story complete in one issue, even if the ending isn't completely satisfying. The characterization and relatable interests of the characters to their intended youthful audience is strong in the issue, though. It's a book that has a purpose with its design and is meeting it.

Next issue: You know what a promising new series needs with its second issue? YES! A company-wide crossover event! Remember "Wildstorm Rising"? No, it wasn't at all memorable and we've all forgotten it. Sorry to bring it back up again on you like this...

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TAGS:  todd mcfarlane, injection, warren ellis, declan shalvey, gen13

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