Thursday, August 28, 2008

John Totleben, an artist spotlight

One of my favorite comic book artists is John Totleben and anyone who has seen his work can understand why. John Totleben is mostly known for working with artist Steve Bissette and with writer Alan Moore on Swamp Thing and for penciling and inking the third book of Alan Moore's Miracleman. All of book three of Miracleman (titled Olympus) was amazing in every respect, but it wouldn't be anywhere as legendary as it is without the contributions of John Totleben's art. Unfortunately Miracleman is almost impossible (and expensive) to read as it's not in print because of all the legal complications surrounding the ownership of the character (enter "Miracleman" in Wikipedia and you'll see how convoluted the rights situation is).

This first page of art (above, click on image to see it larger in all its glory) is from Swamp Thing #29, titled Love and Death, which is one of the creepiest issues of any comic ever. John Totleben mostly worked with artist Steve Bissitte on Swamp Thing, but their working relationship was very different from the way most artists and inkers work, in that they would alternate what each of them actually contributed to the finished page. Steve Bissette is a great primal artist, who always had great innovative layouts, but anyone who is familiar with Totleben's art knows that with his fine ink lines, Totleben was the part of the equation that made the art really jump out (and Totleben is a great innovative layout artist as well). Even if you haven't read Love and Death, a person looking at this page of art can just see (and feel) the horror that Abby is experiencing (particularily in the last image on the bottom right). Totleben is one of the great masters of horror comic art, but he could also draw scenes of incredible beauty. My biggest gripe with the Swamp Thing collections is that they weren't re-colored because the coloring on this book was really loud (not in a good way) and pages such as this one lost a lot of their power because of the coloring process used at the time (in a perfect world I'd like to see all of the Alan Moore Swamp Things collected in black and white).
This page featuring Green Lantern, Superman, and Deadman was penciled and inked by John Totleben for a one shot book called Legend of The Green Flame, written by Neil Gaiman (various artists did the different chapters and Totleben was one of those artists). From this page, one can see Totleben's gorgeous page composition and his fine line brushwork is also superbly evident.

Sadly, John Totleben isn't a very prolific artist as he has a degenerative eye disease that has made him legally blind. He still draws, but it's very difficult for him to do so as from what I understand he has to have his eyes very close to the page he's working on and thus he has difficulty seeing the whole image he's working on. Today John Totleben's income from art he does is mostly from fan commissions and recreations of art he did over twenty years ago as he sold most of his original art before the ebay age in which his original art (the rare times one sees pages or covers of his pop up there) commands HUGE amounts of money. Before ebay opened up the original comic book art audience, people could pick up really nice Totleben covers and pages for just a couple of hundred dollars and now they go for one thousand dollars and up (mostly for the sheer amazement of Totleben's artistry, but also because there's not that much Totleben art out there).

2 comments:

Cheeky said...

Your prayers may be answered. In the UK, Titan Books published the Swamp Thing run in black and white over about 8-10 volumes. They are out of print now but do come up on Ebay Uk as I've seen them and believe its where I sold mine.
Cheers
Joseph

Anonymous said...

It was 11 volumes and they really are gorgeous. The recent coloured volumes of reprints don't have half the power and atmosphere.

Happy New Comics Wednesday 12/13/17 - Mister Miracle, Wonder Woman, Coyotes, Port of Earth, Star Wars, Fighting American, Daredevil edition!

 Mister Miracle & Wonder Woman are especially good this week!! Looking forward to reading the second issues of Coyotes and Port of ear...