Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Greatest Comic Artists : Norm Breyfogle

It´s about time for a new post after my short Valentine´s Day post. And before you ask : the reason why it was so short was that I´m not the most suited writer for the topic.


As a comic fan I spent many years hiding my comic addiction from the world and the people around me but at a certain point I just got too old to be embarrassed by anything. I mean with all the stuff I have already experienced in my life so far what is there left for me to get worked up over ? Which skeletons in the basement could help to depict me in a more negative way ? I´m old, I´m overweight, I´m short, I´m poor, I have no job and I still live at home ( although I can say that my parents are the ones that left ).

And as a comic reader you aren´t that interesting to women in general. I think comic reader rates below pimp and drug addict. So no Valentine´s Day related posts about my personal love life in the forseeable future. And aside from that I think all the LOVE AND COMICS related themes like " greatest comic book couples ", " greatest comic book romances " and such are all done to death. So I just kept it short.


Which helped me get my posts - per - month - rate up but didn´t really fool anyone. It´s back to one post per month. Now as you have seen by the title of this post, this is not the promised analysis why the JONAH HEX movie sucked on so many levels and the LUCKY LUKE movie didn´t. Sorry, but as always another thing came up in the meantime.

Originally I wanted to do a short post for Norm Breyfogle´s 51st birthday, but as usual I didn´t have internet access on Sunday. I really have to buy my own internet cable, now that my brother has started with DC UNIVERSE ONLINE. Man, if I knew who came up with the idea of internet gaming for consoles I would strangle him. In any case, Yesterday I also wanted to do the post but I just had enough time to do the research. Which means looking for all the pictures, finding out which ones I already used ( I don´t like to repeat myself on that account ) and looking for background information and interviews.


I haven´t managed to find all the pics I have used of Norm Breyfogle so far so I hope my readers can excuse it if I re - use some pictures. Norm Breyfogle has always been one of my favorite Batman artists - I think my ranking would be Jim Aparo, then Neal Adams, then Norm Breyfogle and then Kelley Jones - so I´m sure you can find some of his pictures on this blog. In preparation for this post I also went over my old posts but I couldn´t find much about Norm Breyfogle. One of the constant problems with writing this blog is that I always think I have already written about such and such and when I try to find it it turns out that I didn´t.

I thought I already wrote a bit about Norm Breyfogle being one of my favorite Batman artists, but I didn´t. I thought I already wrote something of the OF BITTER SOULS trade I finally managed to get via amazon, but I didn´t.


And I thought I already wrote a lot about Anarky in this post but I barely touched on the subject ( although I called him Anarchy instead of Anarky ). So let´s just start from ground zero.

One last thing about the title for this post : since it´s already two days after the actual birthday I couldn´t make an HAPPY BIRTHDAY NORM BREYFOGLE post, and with all the research I´ve done a simple NORM BREYFOGLE APRECIATION DAY post will not do it either. So I´m going with the WORLD´S GREATEST COMIC ARTISTS thing. Who knows, with my track record I´m probably going to miss many more comic creator birthdays so it may turn into a new series on this blog.

DISCOVERING THE NORM

Norm Breyfogle was born on February 27, 1960 in Iowa City, Iowa. He started drawing under the tutelage of Andrew Benson at the age of 12. Destined for greatness, his professional career began in 1985 pencilling American Flagg and a few issues of DC's New Talent Showcase. In 1987 he teamed up with Alan Grant and rejuvenated the Batman, injecting an amazing amount of energy into a dwindling franchise. From then on Norm has never stopped working in comics, appearing at small and big publishers alike.


As usual ( I´m trying to avoid the word norm for obvious reasons but I´m still using it in all my chapter headlines ) I have to begin with my own experience before delving into the general area which starts with my first encounters with Norm Breyfogle´s art. As a reader who´s too young to have read his work on indy titles like WHISPER my first issues must have been from when he was on DETECTIVE COMICS. I have one WHISPER comic in my collection but it was towards the end of the series and was done by another artist.


This was probably around the time I did my military service with the Deutsche Bundeswehr in Munich between 1989 and 1990 so I bought the WHISPER issue that was from the end of the series either there or at the first Comicsalons in Erlangen I visited. But I got my first american comics with Batman by Norm Breyfogle in Munich. I had only discovered the possibility of getting american comics through the international press newsstands at the bigger train stations and there were three ( ! ) places where I could get them in Munich.

The first one was at the train level, coming out where all the shops were that were open on Saturdays and Sundays. I always went to the barracks on Sunday so I could watch TUTTI FRUTTI since we still didn´t have cable at home.


And I always passed the international press newsstand where you could buy american comics that were a few months old. Due to the fact that nobody really cared for them they were sometimes in a really bad condition but since I often needed them to close the gaps between other issues I couldn´t be too picky. Usually I just picked my favorites and came back whenever I was near the train station until I had bought them all or the new ones arrived. Whatever happened first.

The second one was Sussmann's COMIC CORNER in the store passage opposite of rail 24 where you could get the actual issues. The store only had 30 square meters but one corner was crammed full with the latest american comics. They even had a comic podcast which showcased three different comics each week but they never got past the third episode. From personal experience I know how hard it can be to stick with something especially if the initial success is not as great as you figured. But the store still seems to be open and here´s the contact data and the opening hours in english and german


And the third one was JUERGENS COMIC SHOP in the city of Munich which was the biggest comicshop I had seen till that day and where I spent 100 Deutschmarks on my first visit. We´re talking about REAL money here. It´s been ages since I´ve been to Munich but I heard that the original owner died and his son renamed the shop COMIC DEALER.

Anyway, my first encounter with Norm Breyfogle was during his stint on DETECTIVE COMICS, BATMAN and SHADOW OF THE BAT ( which started a few years later ). Before Norm Breyfogle Gene Colan and Alan Davis had been the artists of the book but somehow neither of them nor the YEAR TWO storyarc - started by Alan Davis and finished by an at that time rather unknown Todd McFarlane - had managed to keep the reader interest. The titles sales were dropping until Norm Breyfogle took over - first in issue 579 and starting with issue 584 as the regular artist with writers Alan Grant and John Wagner ( who soon left the title ).


This was around March 1998 and he also took on art duty on the regular BATMAN title in June 1990.

So the time when I discovered Norm Breyfogle was shortly thereafter as he was already doing both books at that time. Although to say the truth, it was more like he was doing one book that came out twice a month since storylines often began in one title and continued in the other. That way you had much more story that was told quicker.

And you had the same artist on both titles. Norm Breyfogle´s Batman was a mysterious, almost demonlike figure, more bat than man. A shadow that flowed through a haunting Gotham City with a cape that almost seemed a living thing, an extension of this weird batcreature.


As someone who always felt that Batman´s roots were steeped deeply in the horror genre - and as a horror fan in general - Norm´s expressionistic and dynamic style instantly clicked with me.

The art was captivating, kinetic and had a raw energy to it that was hard to resist. Some issues, like the ones with the Joker, were like taking a trip into someone else´s claustrophobic nightmares.


And speaking about villains the creative duo introduced a lot of new ones like the Ventriloquist, the Corrosive Man, the Fear, Zsazs or Scarface. And of course the new Robin, Tim Drake, got his start during their tenure on the Batbooks, although Norm Breyfogle´s design for the new Robin costume wasn´t used and they went with Neal Adam´s version.

Although I have to say, a lot of the elements of Norm Breyfogle´s design - like the new form of the R and the fact that he carried a staff to equalize the odds when he’s fighting adults - made it into the final version so he deserves some credit ( if not some royalties ) for it.


You can see the complete design pages over at 20th Century Danny Boy . But aside from the new Robin Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle also introduced another new character who would become their most popular creation and possibly the reason for the end of their work at DC - or not.

THE ANARKY OF THE NORM

Now you may have noticed that I said character instead of hero or villain because that´s very difficult to decide where ANARKY is concerned. Like superheroes, he fights crime. But unlike them, he does not limit himself to fighting private criminals, but takes on the biggest criminal of all : the state itself. As Anarky explains : “ What’s the difference between democracy and the Mafia ? In a democracy, you get to elect the gangbusters who rule your life and the Mafia takes only ten percent in taxes! ”

This stance routinely puts Anarky at odds both with heroes such as Batman and Green Lantern, and villains such as Darkseid and the Joker.


Few of his opponents suspect that behind the mask lies a teenage computer genius named Lonnie Machin, a child prodigy with knowledge of radical philosophy and driven to overthrow governments to improve social conditions. Anarky, who is named after the philosophy of anarchism, primarily espouses anti - statism and his stories often focus on political and philosophical themes ( you can read the intro to the character that tells you a little bit what the character´s all about in my own post that I have linked higher up in this post ).

Multiple social issues have been addressed whenever the character has appeared in print, including environmentalism, antimilitarism, economic exploitation, and political corruption. Inspired by multiple sources, early stories often included homages to political and philosophical books, and referenced anarchist philosophers and theorists. Anarky was also partially influenced by Alan Moore's character " V " from V for Vendetta and he owes a lot of his visual to V´s look.



When Grant himself transitioned to the philosophy of Neo - Tech, he transformed Anarky from a vehicle for socialist and populist philosophy, to rationalist, atheist, and free market - based thought.

extensive article on Anarky on wikipedia

Initially a one - appearance villain positive fan reaction sparkled the idea to bring him back and make him the third Robin after Jason Todd. Those plans were cancelled when Alan Grant learned that Marv Wolfman had already created Tim Drake for the role of the next Robin. So instead Anarky was the antagonist for Tim Drake´s first solo detective case in his second appearance.

Anarky became very popular and appeared in a four issue miniseries in 1997 that was received with positive reviews and sales, and later declared by Grant to be among his career highlights. I think I have the german version of that - somewhere - and there even was a second series in 1999 that was cancelled after issue 8. The series is said to not be as good as the first one but since I never read it I really can´t comment on the quality.


THE END OF THE NORM THROUGH ANARKY ?

Now, a few paragraphs before I wrote that Anarky was " possibly the reason for the end of their work at DC - or not " and here´s where it gets tricky. With a character like Anarky who is all about fighting the system lika a modern - day Robin Hood ( to quote Wayland Jennings ) and conspiracies and secret empires it´s easy to believe that Norm Breyfogle and Alan Grant were blacklisted at DC and Marvel because of social and political issues they addressed with Anarky like the USA’s arms sales to Indonesia’s repressive government ( this story was slated to appear in one of the three issues that never saw print ).

I don´t know how much of that is true so I don´t want to speculate on that part. Another theory says that it has something to do with ageism and there may be some merit to it. As a longtime comic reader I have often observed that many veteran comic artist are dropped by comic companies and don´t get any work in favor of the hot new artists. Which mostly is a style over substance thing. One instance where that was cristal clear was when the manga boom hit american audiences and suddenly everything had to have that mangavibe.

All the american comics suddenly tried to imitate the look of mangas - instead of trying to learn from them why they were so popular ( don´t worry, the Germans made the same mistake ). And in all my favorite comicbooks artists appeared whom I never heard of while personal favorites of mine like Kerry Gammill, Mike Zeck or Bob McLeod seemed to vanish.


There are always these periods in the comic industry where some hot new thing comes along and all the artists who are too " old school " end up on the chopping block.

Now this " old school " thing doesn´t seem to be quantifiable and I guess the best description is " comic artists who don´t draw like the new artists that started no longer than three years ago and therefore are not hip enough for the newest and most inexperienced readers " as I have heard this label being attached to such superstars like George Perez or John Romita Jr. It´s not uncommon to hear things like " What´s a Frazetta ? " from the younger reading audience.


And I have to say that I´m no exception to that rule since it took me a really long time to appreciate Jack Kirby and I´m pretty sure 20 years ago I wouldn´t be caught dead buying comics by Mike Allred, Stan Sakai or Rick Leonardi. In fact, I hated it when the last one did some fill - in issues back in the 90s. Now I would be glad if he was on a regular book. But that just shows how personal tastes evolve over time.

So, we can all agree that there are times when the old guard gets the short end of the stick in favor for the new in - crowd. In a few fortunate occasions a few of those old pros band together and build their own comic company like Bob Layton, Dick Giordano and David Michelinie who founded the now - defunct comic company FUTURE COMICS. But these are few and far between.


On the other side Gerry Conway makes a good argument that there may be some ageism at work but in an entirely different way. According to him there are many older writers and artists who can’t get work now and strictly speaking, it’s because of their age, but not because they’re being discriminated against by editors or publishers.

They’re being discriminated against, if that’s the proper term, by readers and fans because these older writers and artists aren’t producing work that the readers and fans of today are interested in seeing. It isn’t ‘ fair ’ in the sense that these older talents still have a great deal to offer, but you can’t legislate taste or fashion and the sad fact is that in the creative world, taste and fashion are the ruling factors that influence your viability as a writer or an artist – not your age.

Yes, there are people capable of doing the same quality of work that they did years ago when they were fully employed; but the market for that work no longer exists and either they must adapt to the new market and produce work that is of interest to new readers or they have to accept retirement.


Having read some of Chris Claremont´s FANTASTIC FOUR issues I know what he means so I´ll let my readers decide to which philosophy they subscribe. Here are the links for both arguments ( from which I quoted parts ) : Was Norm Breyfogle blacklisted at DC and Marvel ?

Norm Breyfogle on ageism / Gerry Conway on ageism

Aside from his work on the Battitles like DETECTIVE COMICS, BATMAN and SHADOW OF THE BAT there were of course a lot of other comics Norm did for DC. Inside the Batuniverse he worked on the ELSEWORLDS prestige HOLY TERROR ( one of my favorite Batman stories ), the two prestige comics BATMAN - THE ABDUCTION and BATMAN - DREAMLAND dealing with alien abductions and the conspiracy theories involved with that.


Outside of the Batuniverse he did the first FLASHPOINT mini series and worked on THE SPECTRE, HAWKMAN, LEGION OF SUPER - HEROES, LOBO and SUPERMAN.


Comics you should own : Norm Breyfogle´s BATMAN

Norm Breyfogle on FLASHPOINT

Being more of a DC man than a Marvel guy his list of work at Marvel consists mainly of one issue of BLACK PANTHER and his three part HELLCAT miniseries.


He did one of his more prolific jobs at MALIBU where he co - created and drew PRIME and one could argue that as MARVEL bought MALIBU this could be counted as Marvel work.

I have to confess that PRIME is one of the series I never caught up with, like many books that were published by MALIBU and which in hindsight seem to be better than their reputation at that time. MARVEL never did much with PRIME and I think now that DISNEY has bought them chances to see some trades collecting the work are worse than ever.


THE NORM OF INDEPENDENCE

So due to unknown reasons in 2001, Norm found himself without comic work for the first time in over 13 years. With many bills and a monthly mortgage, Norm put his house up for sale and moved to the less expensive locale and lifestyle of his youth - upper Michigan.

He had already done work for other publishers like MALIBU, for whom he did PRIME , a new series for their Ultraverse line. He helped popularize the character, resulting in great sales from 1993 till 1994, and leaving after a full year to create his own creator - owned title. From 1994 to 1995 Norm wrote and illustrated his own comic titled METAPHYSIQUE for MALIBUs creator - owned Bravura line.


It was a 6 issue mini-series that received acclaimed reviews ( strangely enough Metaphysique was also the title of a previous two issue anthology which collected work Norm had written, penciled, and inked in college; this two issue Metaphysique was published in 1992, by Eclipse Comics ). METAPHYSIQUE is one of Norm´s favorite works and it bugs me a bit that I haven´t managed to get the series so far. Again, being a MALIBU series which belonged to MARVEL later on and becoming the property of DISNEY the chances of a trade are possibly thin.

Norm spent 2003 penciling and inking BLACK TIDE from Angel Gate Press.


In 2005 Norm penciled and inked the interiors and covers of the new on-going monthly title OF BITTER SOULS published by Speakeasy Comics ( and later by MARKOSIA ) and written by Chuck Satterlee. I have managed to get my hands on the first trade ( I think there was a second one but I´m not sure ) and I really liked it.


It´s not strictly a superhero book, which kind of bugged me at the beginning but it has really strong horror elents in it which is a plus in my book. As a foreigner to the history of New Orleans I can´t make any comments how accurate the local history is presented.



But the stories are really interesting to read, the art is - of course - gorgeous and the main characters are developed at a good pace. Too often writers try to flesh out all five or six members of a new team in the first issue and that never works. Here Chuck Satterlee takes time to get the reader interested in the characters.


Now I said that this is not strictly a superhero book because the " people with powers " formula that is used here could also work in other types of genres. I could see the characters make an appearance on such mystery shows like BUFFY or SUPERNATURAL. The theme of the series is faith, temptation, redemption and how easily power can be abused. In that it also takes a step outside of usual mainstream superheroes.


Which doesn´t mean that it hasn´t its share of vampires, ghosts, the boogeyman, undead skeletons and even the devil himself appear in the book. If you are a fan of Norm Breyfogle you need to get this book as he is producing one of his best works and if Halloween is your favorite season of the year and you´re a fan of shows like ANGEL, BUFFY or SUPERNATURAL you should definitely check it out.


I have read in some reviews that some of the issues don´t work as well as others because of the done - in - one approach the writer takes. Well, I really can´t verify that as I got the trade and there all the stories work just fine. The first trade SAINTS & SINNERS collects the first six issues as well as three short stories, all the covers and variant covers,a pin´- up gallery, a sketchbook section, four pages for sketches and autographs, an introduction by Mark Waid and an afterword by Brian Augustyn.


All in all a nice package printed on strong, glossy paper and if I had to say one negative thin it´s that my trade smells strange. But that´s more a printing problem and happens to the big companies too. Okay, my only real complaint is that I couldn´t find the next trade and that there is no hardcover edition available. This would be so cool as a Halloween present. If you would give out presents at Halloween, I mean. In short this trade gets my stamp of approval.


I have also found the first trade on one of my often frequented online comicshops ANDIS COMIC EXPRESS, but it´s cheaper on amazon. On the other side if you want to buy some single issues anyway :

order the first trade via andis comic express / review first trade

read the complete first issue / review first issue vol 2

Norm Breyfogle interview on dreamers 

interview with Chuck Satterlee on comic monsters



In 2006-2007 Norm penciled and inked the main story interiors and the covers for the comic book The Danger's Dozen, published by A First Salvo ( which I already mentioned in the Anarky post ). And then the next big step in Norm Breyfogle´s carrer began when he penciled and inked the " New Look " storyarc for Archie Comic publications.


And I have to say that I have Terry Hooper from COMICBITS ONLINE ( he´s on the linkroll and I hope you check out his blog on a regular basis because it´s just chockfull on interesting articles ) to thank for even being aware of the fact. If it hadn´t been for his tireless dedication to promote ARCHIE comics I might have missed.

I have to say I´m just one step away from buying some Archie comics, that step being that it´s not yet available via amazon. I know that I could try to get the regular issues but I would just rather have the collected comic edition without all the pages about Hannah Montana, Justin Bieber and Twilight. Thank you very much. Coming back to Norm Breyfogle, his work on the " New Look " storyarc went over so well with the editors and fans that he started on two new monthly series ARCHIE LOVES BETTY and ARCHIE LOVES VERONICA two stories playing in alternate universes in which Archie is married to Betty or Veronica.


He´s still working on that at the moment and the books get a lot of press and good critiques. As longtime readers know I have mentioned it on this very blog a few months back.

Norm Breyfogle talks about the married life of Archie

Norm also did 21 full - color illustrations for Stephen Pytak's third novel, The Wild Damned. Since 2005, Breyfogle has produced illustrations for a wide variety of clients outside of the comics industry like Nike, MOJO, The Red Bulletin, Time Out, Company Magazine, Suddeutsch Zeitung Magazin ( I gotta get my hands on this one ) and various bands including 12 Stone Toddler, among many others.


And that´s the end of the post for Today, Tomorrow I will add the usualy pictures, links and video clips and change a few things here and there. I want to give thanks to all the writers of the many articles I used for my research and without whom making this post would have been impossible. For more about Norm Breyfogle : official website / biography

the questionaire with Norm Breyfogle

Since there is such a strong horror vibe to this post I thought it only fitting to post the video of LA MUJER ARANA CONTRA DORMAMMU EN EL REINO DE LAS TINIEBLAS. Enjoy !



New to the blog ? Everything you need to know about TALES FROM THE KRYPTONIAN : top ten posts / more posts of interest

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