Mike Zeck needs no introduction. Here’s a short one anyway. He’s best known for four things: a three-year run on “Captain America,” the 1986 “Punisher” miniseries that made Frank Castle into a real character and not a Spider-Man foil; and 40 or so unbelievable G.I. Joe covers. His career in comics is bigger than that, but you only asked for a short introduction.
Category Archives: Comic Books
Everybody knows Larry Hama has written about 250 G.I. Joe comics. And almost everybody talks about that famous issue that Hama drew. Well, did rough pencils on. And most of those people recall the other issue Hama roughed — issue #26, “Snake-Eyes: The Origin! Part One.” (And people forget he also-also drew portions of #35 and #36 — so many issues behind schedule!) But a member of the creative team who rarely gets mentioned is George Roussos, who besides coloring a few dozen issues of G.I. Joe, had a long career in comics. He inked part of Two-Face’s first appearance in 1942. As George Bell he’d inked Jack Kirby in the ’60s, and between the two he’d drawn much more. But by the time G.I. Joe rolled around Roussos was a staff colorist for Marvel, and for a bit he colored all of Marvel’s covers. It is Roussos’ colors that we see here on this original color guide to G.I. Joe issue #26 page 14.
Comic art is drawn in black ink on large, white bristol. Photocopies, often shrunk to common 8.5″ x 11″ paper, were handed to the color artists, who applied Dr. Ph. Martin’s dyes, which are concentrated watercolor. The color artist then coded each color, using the limited four-color palette of the day — combinations of just a few percentages of cyan, yellow, magenta, and blank ink. This is how it was all done until the 1990s, when Photoshop, computer separations, and digital pre-press became the norm.
Other folks then would painstakingly cut rubylith masking film to match the placement of the four printing colors, and turn those into plates for the printer. So what you’re looking at above is George Roussos’ original color guide to G.I. Joe issue #26, page 14. It’s not the original comic art — that is left untouched — but it is the original color art.
Oh, here’s something fun. For some reason this color guide was done in two parts, the top half of one sheet of paper, and the bottom half of another, then cut out and taped to the first, revealing some uncolored art. Not easy to find black and white Hama/Leialoha G.I. Joe art!
When I asked Hama if he had any recollections of George Roussos, he replied “George was a character. He was a staff colorist, but everyone suspected that a lot of the freelance stuff he took home with him was actually colored by his wife, who was always referred to as ‘Mrs. George.'” We have no way of knowing who colored this page, and I don’t include Hama’s quote to swipe at Mr. Roussos, who passed away in 2000, but rather as a fun anecdote. Artists and color artists have long had assistants who filled in large areas of black ink, finished backgrounds or crowd scenes, or more recently, flatted colors before a rendering stage. If one could steadily hold a brush, one could fill in color where one’s boss (or husband?) had designated. (Duck fans: Carl Barks’ wife Gare lettered and inked backgrounds for Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck stories.) And in the limited language of 20th century comics coloring, there’s some interesting stuff going on here in G.I. Joe #26 — the blues-and-purples only of the flashback in the final panel. So I do credit this page to George Roussos, and appreciate his color work at the House of Ideas.
Additionally, Larry Hama added “He came into my office once and told me he had a ten year run of Prince Valiant Sunday pages [clipped] from the Newark Star Ledger, which printed them on gravure at the biggest possible size. He offered me the whole stack for 200 bucks, so I got them. I had them sitting around in my closet for another ten years, and finally sold them to Adam Kubert for what I paid for them.”
“Silent Interlude” gets a lot of attention. People who’ve read comics, but have never read G.I. Joe, and who don’t like G.I. Joe, have heard of that twenty-first issue of Marvel Comics’ G.I. Joe, with its wordless tale of action and rescue. And all that attention is deserved. But what never gets mentioned alongside this comic that Larry Hama wrote and drew (at the same time — it was a single step), is the other two silent stories published in the original Marvel run: “SFX,” issue #85, April 1989, penciled by Paul Ryan and Randy Emberlin; and “Hush Job” from Yearbook #3, drawn by Ron Wagner and Kim DeMulder.
Let’s take a look at page 4 of “Hush Job.”
To repeat: This is a silent story. It’s not that the word balloons fell off. There aren’t any.
Ron Wagner, a graduate of the Kubert School, really knows how to draw. Look at those two 3/4 rear views on Storm Shadow. And one is an up-shot. Look at that jaw in panel 4! Look at the intensity of Storm Shadow’s expression in the final panel!
Ron Wagner draws some of my favorite comics ever, and his work here, under DeMulder’s inks, really shines. Note that wonderful negative space treatment on the trees in panel 2. They’re left out, so color and the hatching at that edge creates the night sky. Wonderful depth in panel 1 — foreground, middle ground, background. Also note the storytelling. Silent stories are hard. (If you want to see Marvel stumble, check out the “‘Nuff Said” month of silent comics from 2002.) Here Ron Wagner pulls if off deftly — Storm Shadow and Timber at rest, yet we see the sky, so we’re ready for something to appear. Up-shot, and Scarlett does appear. Touchdown, and Storm Shadow is up. Scarlett shows a photo of Snake-Eyes, captive. Storm Shadow sees it, and is surprised and concerned. Every panel a strong composition, and the whole page has a great balance with darks at top and bottom, with horizontal panels bracketing three tall ones. Great!
Here’s a detail, click to embiggen:
Ron Wagner drew Marvel comics for years: G.I. Joe, Nth Man, Excalibur, Punisher. And at DC, he drew a forgotten “event,” Genesis. Later, he storyboarded for various WB cartoons, where his storytelling skills undoubtedly made him shine but presumably the demands of animation timetables meant more focus on shapes and angles and less on lines and details. And in recent years, he’s drawn a few issues of G.I. Joe — yes, the Larry Hama series that continues the original one that you all ignore — and Wagner is about to draw four comics for DC as part of its “Convergence” event, one with Green Lantern (image below reposted from Wagner’s tumblr) —
— and the other with the Teen Titans. Wagner’s art has changed since 1987. In the 2000s, it’s streamlined, and there’s no feathering. That may be down to inkers, but I suspect that he’s saying more with less, as many of the best artists in comics tend to do.
What’s your favorite work by Ron Wagner?
In 1990 Lee Weeks had recently finished at the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art (now just “The Kubert School”) and was regularly drawing Daredevil for Marvel. Before that job started, fellow alum Andy Kubert had helped get him a cover job on G.I. Joe, and in the middle of that 10-issue cover run, Weeks drew a fill-in issue as regular artist Mark Bright’s time on the series was winding down. Continue reading
No doubt you’re familiar with the Academy Awards, given to films and film artists, planners, and scientists. Or the Emmys, given for television, or the Grammys and Tonys, for recorded music and Broadway theatre. You’ve maybe heard of the Clios, which we think of as the Oscars of advertising, but that category is more broadly defined on the Clio website as “advertising, design, interactive and communications.” And there are the Effies, for “marketing communications” — given to marketers by the marketing industry.
G.I. Joe won a silver Effie in 1987. Continue reading
Told at many conventions and in many interviews is the prehistory of G.I. Joe, how Larry Hama pitched a military comic to Marvel called “Fury Force.” He sketched out six heroes — covert military types — along with a motorcycle, a van, and a secret base underground base. And later grafted it onto Ron Rudat’s G.I. Joe action figure designs, and made it the through line for the monthly G.I. Joe comic book.
Fury Force had a helicopter, too.