Monday, July 28, 2008

Doug tells: Why We Like John Buscema

I have a confession to make: as a wee lad of 10 (back in 1976), I didn’t appreciate John Buscema. I really didn’t even care for him! Ouch. That hurts to admit.

But really – the first Buscema-drawn issue I recall was Fantastic Four #173, and it followed a very nice run by a young fellow named George Perez. Perez’s art was not only dynamic, but as inked by the ever-influential Joe Sinnott showcased beautiful faces on all of the characters. A fan of Perez’s from his then-recent tenure on my favorite book, The Avengers, Sinnott made him look all the better in the pages of the FF. Credits aside, I was immediately aware that Perez was not the penciller on #173. The differences were subtle, however – perhaps Buscema’s figures were more lithe, his facial expressions more intense. But the art was consistent (due again to Sinnott). Issue #175 ensured in me the accuracy of my belief that this Buscema fellow was no George Perez – inking himself, that “FF” look was gone. The faces became more angular, maybe even drawn. The nice figure-work was there – still lithe, fluid, etc. But the faces preoccupied me. Issue #176 brought Perez back, along with Sinnott – and I became a John Buscema-wary reader…

Boy, was I a dope!

After a hiatus from reading comics whilst in high school, I got back into the hobby circa 1985 while a sophomore in college. Wow – were my eyes opened! Having matured in my comics knowledge as well as tastes, and in possession of a little cash left over from student loans, I began to seek out back issues to further my runs of various titles. My first task was to attempt to amass a complete run of The Avengers, my favorite book. In doing so, I was introduced for the first time to the classic 1960’s Buscema run featuring inks by George Klein, George Bell/Roussos, and Tom Palmer. What rich, wonderful pictures – awe-inspiring in some cases. Fantastic story telling, figure work, and a dynamism not unlike Kirby’s but oh so much more realistic. His treatment of Hercules, Dragon Man, Goliath, the Vision, and Ultron fascinated me. Never had I seen such raw emotion – from anger to angst, in a comic. These pages were reminiscent of art I’d only previously seen from Renaissance masters… high praise indeed.

Incredible Hulk: pencils by Big John, paints by Joe Jusko!

As I moved toward buying up other titles, I came across his first run on the FF. Again, my appreciation for John Buscema grew by leaps and bounds. The Galactus 4-parter that included the Silver Surfer (natch!) and the robot herald Gabriel was a high point – I first owned this arc in the form of Marvel Treasury Edition #21! Thor, some Conan… I found myself now not dismissing Buscema’s art, but embracing it; yea, even seeking it out!

My opinion of him and of his work quickly moved toward a desire to see more and more of it. I sought out reprints, collections, anything that could bring me more examples of not only his superhero career but also of his sword-and-sorcery books. The Man Called Nova, Tarzan – I gobbled up all of this as quickly as I could. Animals, monsters, fantasy city-scapes – was there anything he couldn’t draw?

After working full-time for several years, I began to pursue original pencils done by Buscema and have been fortunate enough to purchase several examples of both his finished art as well as draft work. He was, and should be considered, a leader in his craft. I am now of the opinion that there truly have been few in the history of the comics business who are/were qualified to be called storyteller, artist, and master. Neal Adams, Jack Kirby, and John Buscema. Others may disagree, or add to the list. But for me, Buscema was a creator whose work I could spend just hours looking at, and admiring. And it never stops being that way.

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