The Art Of Sean Phillips

The Art Of Sean Phillips Cover

I assumed Dynamite Entertainment’s 2013 The Art Of Sean Phillips — by the artist himself (along with Eddie Robson) — would be a handsome book, but wasn’t prepared for just how well designed and lavishly illustrated this 300+ page over-size hardcover would be. I ordered it online and was surprised to see it arrive in a package from England, but maybe that’s best for a book on a UK artist.

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Sean Phillips’ gorgeous work has appeared at this site before with images from Criminal, The Fade Out, the artist’s own site and more, so it should be clear that I’m a fan. Phillips has a rare talent for designing, composing and rendering consistently engaging and even visually provocative panels, pages and covers of what might seem like very prosaic scenes and mundane subjects (compared to the flashy distortion of the SF/Fantasy/Horror and superhero comics segments). Mind you, he’s done his share of work in dark fantasy and for the capes-n-tights titles. But it’s his more human scaled and distinctly noir-ish work (much of this done with team-mate scribe Ed Brubaker) that elevate Phillips above so many other Photoshop EFX-obsessed and manga-inspired peers.

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I’d love to offer some page scans from the book for you to browse, but there’s no way I’m going to bust that spine just to cram it into a scanner (my scanner’s bed too small anyway). So, sorry – you’ll have to get your own. If you do, you get to enjoy lushly illustrated pages of Phillips’ childhood drawings and comics, incredibly mature work for the UK ‘Girl Comics’ done when still only in his mid-teens and read all about his early years. Since I’m unwilling to mangle my precious book, the visuals shown here are just culled from found art that’s been lurking in my Sean Phillips archive folder for who knows how long. You’ll be familiar with some, I’m sure. Phillips’ Criterion Collection illustrations are particular favorites of mine — that warm-toned NYC penthouse balcony painting of Susan Harrison from The Sweet Smell of Success right below is so darkly beautiful, it almost makes me teary-eyed. (Art can get me a little choked up sometimes.)

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If you have The Art Of Sean Phillips already, you know what a terrific book it is. If not, consider getting it – you won’t be disappointed in the countless visuals or the accompanying text, with interviews and commentary from Ed Brubaker, Warren Ellis and others. Or, hold and see if an updated edition is ever done. This was produced 6-7 years ago, after all. There’s been a lot of stunning Phillips work out there since. Almost another book’s worth, dontcha think?

Sean Phillips 3Sean Phillips 1Sean Phillips The Fade Out

More Of The Blonde Phantom

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Some more of The Blonde Phantom, actually Hoboken, New Jersey Louise Grant, secretary to private eye Mark Mason, and star of her own post-WWII era title. See the preceding post for more info and images.

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Louise Grant: The Blonde Phantom

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Women private detectives, plucky ‘girl reporters’, enterprising Gal Fridays and even costumed female crimefighters had largely disappeared from the already dwindling pulp magazine marketplace by the end of WWII (not that there were all that many to begin with), but a few made appearances in comics in that immediate postwar period. Case in point: The Blonde Phantom, who debuted in the Fall of 1946. Usually credited to Stan Lee and artist Syd Shores, some sources say Al Sulman created the character during his Timely Comics stint. Syd Shores is probably best known by Golden Age comics fans for his work on Captain America, but more notoriously among pulp magazine fans for his genuinely squirm-worthy Nazi bondage and torture cover paintings for the 1960’s “men’s sweats” magazines. While also appearing in numerous other comics, The Blonde Phantom quickly took over her own title which lasted for two years, devolving into a romance anthology in 1949. Modified versions of the character were even revived in the late 1980’s, so it’s not uncommon to still spot pics of a Blonde Phantom or two in the cosplay scene today.

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Secretary to (and smitten with) private detective Mark Mason, Hoboken New Jersey’s Louise Grant isn’t content to answer phones and type letters, donning a swirly red slit dress emblazoned with bright stars as yellow as her own long blonde hair. Hidden behind a black domino mask and somehow racing around in red heels, Louise draws upon her natural athletic abilities (backed up by her .45 automatic) to become the costumed crimefighter The Blonde Phantom. By 1949, Louise retired from crimefighting when she married Mason, later giving birth to a daughter and a son. After Mark Mason dies, Louise (now Mason) goes to work for D.A. Blake Tower in the 1989 revival, appearing alongside numerous members of the Marvel superhero stable. Later, her daughter Wanda briefly continued Louise’s crimefighting legacy as an all-new Blonde Phantom sporting a more traditional superhero-style uniform.

The Blonde Phantom Montage

Drawn in a typical Good Girl Art style by Syd Shores and other artists, The Blonde Phantom is a mix of straightforward mysteries punctuated by exciting action, but all of it sprinkled with bits of romance and requisite damsel-in-distress scenes, though Louise often gets herself out of trouble without the help of detective Mark Mason or some other fellow.

Myself, I’ve only had the pleasure of reading one complete The Blonde Phantom tale, but it was pretty darn good. The rest of what I’ve seen are only random pages, panels and covers, but all intriguing enough to make me want to find more. Unwilling to plunk down mega-dollars for collectible Golden Age comics, I guess I’ll just have to wait for some enterprising reprint publisher to put something together.

“…A Silenced Roscoe In Her Trembling Mitt.”

Spicy Detective May 1941 Allen Anderson cover

This May 1941 Spicy Detective is another Adventure House reprint from 2008 (I assume they’re actually POD editions, my copy fresh from Monee, Illinois with a January 2020 date), includes the original pulp magazine’s full issue, ads, Allen Anderson cover art and all. There are stories from Luke Terry, Henri St. Amur, Max Neilson, Walton Grey, Stan Warner and Paul Hama, but the best would surely be Carl Lenox’ “Dressed To Kill” and a must for Spicy Detective, a Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective tale from Robert Leslie Bellem: “Future Book” opening at Hollywood Park Racetrack and dealing with an illegal betting operation, a dead race horse and murder. As always, it’s Bellem’s colorful wordsmithing that makes me enjoy these zany and often implausible yarns so much. Here, Turner follows one dame-in-danger into the track’s stables, only to find another woman there, already dead:

“A caterwauling scream tortured my eardrums like a bandsaw ripping through a hardwood knot. I said: “What the hell –!” and lanced my poundage inside the building. A minute later, I drew up short; felt my solar plexus turning handsprings. Mary Foster was standing there with a silenced roscoe in her trembling mitt. There was a stink of burned cordite in the air and a sprawled feminine form, ominously motionless, on the stable’s concrete floor.

That sprawled form was all that remained of Arlynne Quistan. She was as dead as the skull on a sinus doctor’s desk. Even defunct, the blonde Quistan bimbo was a copious kick in the optics. From the appearance of things, she must have put up a terrific brawl before getting chilled. Her dress was ripped to pennants and you could see practically everything she possessed in the way of she-male blandishments. Her sleekly tapered stems melted into flawless thighs as cream-smooth and tempting as the illustrations in a lingerie ad. Where the bodice of her costume was torn open, the lacy ruins of an uplift brassiere snuggled around curves as perfect as sculpture. It wasn’t until your glance came to her face that you got the horrors. The .38 slug had ripped diagonally northward from chin to temple, finally finding lodging in her think tank.”

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If you’ve never actually read any 1930’s/40’s era crime pulps, Bellem’s way with words pretty much tells you all you need to know about the genre’s incredible, albeit squirm-worthy, writing. Mind you, there’s no shortage of florid, meandering and darn-near un-readable stuff tucked amongst the gems. But if you can compartmentalize all normal 2020 sensibilities long enough, there’s something to be learned from these pulp masters.

Sally The Sleuth

An Adolphe Barreaux Sally The Sleuth four-pager is included. “Crime On Campus” finds Sally going undercover as a college co-ed to trap a campus killer. Barreaux’ Sally The Sleuth stories weren’t really mystery comics so much as abbreviated damsel-in-distress shorties. Panel four from the tale’s opening page says it all: “Why, her undies are on backwards. It’s murder, chief!”  Sally manages to lounge about in her undies with some dorm mates before being snatched by a murderous med school maniac and rescued in the knick of time.

Kinky vintage kitsch at its best…pretty twisted at its worst…but I confess, I’m kind of hooked on these things.

You Have Killed Me.

You Have Killed Me Cover

Cold and windy under nonstop pouring rain, last Saturday would’ve been a good day to stay indoors. But I ventured out to pick up a current events book reserved at the library (there being a current event or two to keep tabs on these days). The local public library’s a bit lean on actual books, but is well appointed with comfy reading nooks, plush seating and even a fireplace. Almost ready to check out, Jamie S. Rich and Joelle Jones’ You Have Killed Me caught my eye on the graphic novel section’s endcap. I have it, of course, being an ardent Jones fan. Still, I paused to flip through the 2018 trade pb edition of this 2009 graphic novel anyway. Before I knew it, I’d dropped into one of those fireside chairs to reread this yummy bit of retro noir fun from cover to cover before dashing back out into the rain.

You Have Killed Me Art

Some will holler cliché. Me? I see nothing but classic noir and hard-boiled genre tropes lovingly celebrated in Rich’s story, a smooth flowing piece of work that reads like a period-perfect screenplay for a 1940’s-50’s noir. As for Joelle Jones art? Fans might be surprised to see some softer lines and curvier faces here and there, but it’s still Joelle Jones’ brilliant, stylized draftsmanship throughout, and an excellent chance to see where she was ten years ago. The pair make an excellent team (as seen since on Lady Killer, for example) in this tale of hard luck P.I. Antonio Mercer, hired by wealthy and beautiful Jessica Roman to locate her sister Julie, who’s gone missing on the eve of her society wedding…the missing Julie also Mercer’s one-time lover. But family dramas and messy love affairs are the least of Mercer’s problems once he begins to tangle with gamblers, gangsters and hard-assed cops in jazz clubs, racetracks and roadhouses. Any savvy noir fan will smell a rat – or at least an untrustworthy femme fatale – early on, but even the savviest may not be ready for what really happened to the missing sister. Trust me: This one’s a treat.

Sure, I got soaked on my way back to my car. But I did get the political rant hardcover I’d reserved a week earlier (just to drive myself nuts) and had a good time savoring Jamie Rich’s wordsmithing and ogling Joelle Jones art, both every bit as tasty today as ten years ago when the book came out.

 

Crime Does Not Pay: The First issues

Crime Does Not Pay Volume 1

A while back I mentioned Blackjacked And Pistol-Whipped: A Crime Does Not Pay Primer,  a handsome 2011 Dark Horse Books trade pb with a sampling of stories from that notorious early 1950’s pre-comics code authority era title, which also included a detailed, multi-page history by Denis Kitchen.

Crime Does Not Pay: Volume One is a 2012 hardcover reproducing complete intact issues, ads and all. Much of Crime Does Not Pay’s legendary status – and why it attracted the attention of censors and the newly appointed Comics Code Authority — is due to its gruesome covers more than the actual stories and art, some of which can be surprisingly tame. But oh, those covers…yikes! The Charles Biro art shown here is pretty indicative of some. Crime Does Not Pay was packaged by Charles Brio and Bob Wood, the latter coming to a nasty end a few years after Crime Does Not Pay’s demise, doing time for manslaughter (which by all accounts should have been a second-degree murder charge), his girlfriend the victim. Out after only three years, Wood hit the skids, and died in 1961…run over by a truck when drunk, or as the rumor mill tells it, taken for a one-way ride by some former prison acquaintances. Either way, Wood’s story is a Crime Does Not Pay tale in itself, and worthy of its own post later.

This 279-page book is a visual treat, with crisp and vibrant colors throughout that really make the sometimes-stilted vintage artwork pop. Volumes Two and Three were right beside this book when I bought it a week ago. I have a feeling they’ll be going home with me on my next trip to that particular comix shop.

Mario’s Mara & Bruce

mara corday by mario chavez

Actress, showgirl and model Mara Corday above (who I believe is still with us at age 89, and who I got to see being both fetching and wicked in an old 1959 Peter Gunn episode rerun Saturday night ) and below, Bruce Wayne by artist and illustrator Mario Chavez. Sorry, but the rather prominent ‘gams’ Wayne’s ogling aren’t actually identified by the artist.

bruce wayne by mario chavez

I Guess I Know Where I’ll Be On Sunday Evenings For A While…

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Buying comics since grade school, I doubt if I acquired more than five or six Superman comics in all that time. Super-anything, actually: Superman, Superboy, Supergirl, World’s Finest, whatever. Aside from DC’s current Lois Lane mini-series, I just never got into the whole Krypton/Smallville/Metropolis scene, instead being a dedicated denizen of Gotham City pretty much right from the cradle, always drawn to the dark side and the notion of a regular person fighting crime partly for justice and partly for vengeance. So, a loyal Bat-fan I‘ve always been (and later Batgirl – well, make that the various Bat-Girlz – and Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Huntress, the Bird Of Prey…).

Super powers? Indestructible? Flying, space travel, alternate dimensions? Not for me.

Yet I clicked on CBS a few years back for the premiere of Supergirl, shocked to discover that Melissa Benoist’s Kara Danvers/Supergirl character, the show’s premise and the entire cast all left me completely smitten. I’ve been a rabid fan since, worried at first when the series switched to the CW, concerned on occasion that the growing cast of characters made for some unwieldly storylines, frustrated to see some characters depart but learning to love the newcomers, and always pleased with the show’s none-too-subtle bits of politicking.

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Season Five premiered this past Sunday and didn’t disappoint, doing the obligatory setup for some impending changes, new personal dramas, secondary villains and the season’s ‘big bad’. A lot of advance chatter dwelt with Benoist’s ever-so-slightly different look (bangs) and more notably, a redesign for her Supergirl uniform. “Pants!” she exclaimed once it appeared, and who couldn’t share her relief. I’ll still ponder precisely where Kara Danvers (like her cousin, Clark Kent/Superman) hid her costume. Super-speed aside, Kara’s sleek Catco Media office attire – a sleeveless dress, bare-legged with designer heels — doesn’t provide any convenient places to stow a superhero’s gear. Bottom line: Where did she hide those enormous red boots? So now she has fake hi-tech specs engineered by Brainiac to trigger an all-new morph-on-the-fly Supergirl suit. Sans skirt.

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But instead of pondering where superheroes hide their super-gear, I’ll focus on what will make the two-hour 7:00 – 9:00 PM CST Sunday slot a real pre-workweek delight: Supergirl preceded by the CW’s new Batwoman, a show that’s gotten a lot of buzz. If Supergirl proudly provided us with a prominent lesbian character (Kara’s adopted earth sister Alex) and a trans actor (Nicole Maines), Batwoman keeps the faith with the DC comic source and Ruby Rose’s Kate Kane. Readers of this site should guess by now that “The Stiletto Gumshoe” is coming from Chicago, so it was nice to see so many Batwoman exteriors shot here (sets and interiors done in Vancouver along with the other Arrow-verse shows), providing a nice visual link to the first two Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale Batman movies: LaSalle Street and the Board Of Trade Building as Wayne Tower (that darn street’s in so many movies), the Field Museum (that’s the dinosaur and mummy museum, not the one with whole airliners hanging inside or the WWII Nazi sub outside). And while I may be wrong, did they locate the questionable mercenary Crow organization’s HQ in Chicago’s Trump Tower? Looked that way to me. If so – cute choice.

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