Although the stereotypical view of comics’ art may be of line-art illustration, a growing number of artists are breaking that mold and bringing classical – and sometimes not so classical – painting into comics. From today’s giants like Alex Ross and Phil Noto to iconic stalwarts like Frank Frazetta and Brian Bolland, painting in comics has become more than just one style but a growing segment of comics art today. And now Ross and comics journalist Chris Lawrence are partnering together to celebrate that in a new hardcover book from Dynamite titled The Art of Painted Comics.
Announced Friday at Comic-Con International: San Diego, The Art of Painted Comics is intended to be an all-encompassing retrospective of painters and painting in comics, going back to the early days of pulp books’ painted covers being used in comics to modern artists like Adi Granov.Alex Ross’ resume on this is well known, but people may be less aware of Lawrence’s. Lawrence got his start in comics as a writer for Wizard magazine, and he’s gone on to write several standalone books about comics such as The Art of Red Sonja and George Perez Storyteller, both published by Dynamite. The Art of Painted Comics sprung out of a phone conversation Lawrence had with Ross, and quickly turned into a Who’s Who of painted comics with them interviewing comics painters from Joe Jusko to Ben Templesmith.
Newsarama spoke with Lawrence earlier this week about this celebration of painted comics, and he gave us insight about the origins of painting in comics and a thrilling list of who he interviews and features in the book.Newsarama: How would you describe what this book will hold within its covers?
Chris Lawrence: The Art of Painted Comics includes stories from some of modern comics’ most well respected painters, sharing anecdotes about the artists and projects that most influenced them. It tells the story of an often-unrecognized aspect of popular culture, delving into the wide-ranging impact of painted art on comic book history. And it features a collection of eye-popping painted images the likes of which readers have never before seen.
Nrama: On today’s comic shelves we’re seeing more painted comics now than ever; what do you attribute that to?Lawrence: There is so much talent out there, so many people who can make images come alive, both with traditional painting instruments and the latest in technological advancements. Many of those people grew up studying the Sandman covers of Dave McKean, marveling at the artistry of Marvels, and having their jaws dropped by Joe Jusko’s terrific trading card paintings. Combine that talent, the idea that anything is possible, and comic companies’ ever-expanding appreciation for the possibilities of painted comic book art, and…well, it sort of makes sense.
Nrama: Who are the painters you’ve talked to for this book?
Lawrence: The list of artists who agreed to be interviewed for this book reads, rather appropriately, like a Who's Who of painted comics history. Off the top of my head, John Romita, Sr., Scott Hampton, Joe Jusko, Paolo Rivera, Joe Linsner, Jim Starlin, Matt Busch, Mark Chiarello, James Jean, Bob Larkin, George Pratt, J.G. Jones, Arthur Suydam, Howard Chaykin, John Van Fleet, Adi Granov, Esad Ribic, Greg Hildebrandt, Kaare Andrews, Ben Templesmith, Andrew Robinson, Simone Bianchi, Greg Horn, Mike Mayhew, Frank Brunner, Joe DeVito, and David Michael Beck all gave their time to be interviewed for the project. (As did Alex, of course.) I also had the honor of speaking to a number of other fans (like bestselling author Brad Meltzer), comic professionals (such as Marvel's Axel Alonso), and experts on various eras of pop culture history.In terms of interviews of particular interest...I hate to say it, but it's really impossible to choose. Hearing some of the greatest artists in the history of painted comics excitedly discussing the artists and projects most influential to them...listening to mind-blowing talents discussing the thought processes behind their epic works...having the opportunity to chat with legends like John Romita Sr. ...the whole experience has forever changed my understanding of painted comics and the way I look at art. And I hope the book has the same effect on its readers.
Nrama: In your research for this book, did you manage to find the first example of painted comics – both as covers and interiors?
Lawrence: We didn’t set out to find firsts in either category – mostly because of all the variables that would go into bestowing that title onto any particular work. In the early days of comics, for example, some publishers reprinted painted images that had already appeared on pulp magazines. Technically, those would qualify as some of the earliest painted comic covers, even though they weren’t initially intended for comic books.Along similar lines, the earliest painted comic interiors weren’t actually created for comic books, either. Playboy Magazine, for instance, included a fully painted comic strip (Little Annie Fanny) within its pages during the 1960s. That represents one of the first examples of painted comic interiors in the United States, but it certainly wasn’t the sort of thing kids could get their hands on.
At least, it wasn’t the sort of thing kids were supposed to get their hands on.
Given all that, we decided to focus less specifically on “firsts” in this book and more on exploring the artists and entities that influenced the development of painted comic book art, tracing a history that began with pulp magazines and paperback covers, then moved up through magazines and graphic novels before transitioning into more traditional comic books.
Nrama: Were there any key moments or periods that really changed the way painted comics were progressing?Lawrence: Each era had its own signature projects, its own inimitable talents, that advanced the overall progression of painted art in comics. The artists who painted the covers for the pulps really started it all. Frank Frazetta’s impact on the field is almost impossible to overestimate. James Bama, Heavy Metal, Richard Corben, Bill Sienkiewicz…they all played pivotal roles in what painted comics are today. Painted comic book art has such a long and rich history; what we’ve done with this book is provide snapshots of various points throughout that history, giving readers a wealth of images to devour and an abundant supply of stories on which to feast.
Nrama: How did you and Alex get together to do this project?
Lawrence: It all began with a phone call from Alex, during which were discussing the long and oft-overlooked history of painted comic books. By the end of the conversation, we’d brainstormed so many ideas, brought up so many artists and painted projects that we decided to collaborate on a magazine article detailing the aforementioned history. It wasn’t too long afterward that Nick came into the picture, recommending we take the idea and give it the type of in-depth treatment it warranted, the type of treatment that only a book could provide. Thus, The Art of Painted Comics was born.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!