Apr 10, 2017

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 775: Iron Man v.1 #241, April 1989


The late 80s at Marvel were a strange time. Or, my understanding is that they were. I'd stopped collecting comics at this point, so I missed much of the hullaballoo that led to the forming of Image Comics. It seems to me, though, that the stories were very much retreading waters that had only recently been trod (?). Today's comic is a good example.

I was recently talking with a friend about Blues music. My contention had been that, much like Shakespeare, it wasn't necessarily the originality of a Blues song that was paramount, but the way in which an artist took the form and made something novel out of it. Comics, I think, are very similar. Especially superhero comics. There's really only so many stories you can tell, and so many things you can do with a character, so it's not always the originality of plot we readers want to see, but originality of execution.

Anyway. Today's featured creator is breakdown artist Denys Cowan. Cowan's work is very much in the 80s Marvel style, similar to the John Buscema Avengers that was my bread and butter a little earlier in the decade. Marvel's art had moved from the more stylized look of Kirby and Ditko into a parodic style through the 70s (see Howard the Duck), and then into a more realistic style in the 80s. I can only assume this is a response to Dave Gibbons' work on Watchmen. There's not a lot to distinguish Cowan's art from most of his contemporaries at this time, but that's entirely the point. A "house style" develops at a publisher in order that readers might have some idea of a baseline level of quality they'll be receiving in buying a comic from that publisher. And while there's definitely something to be said for novelty, sometimes one simply wants a good, old-fashioned superhero comic. Whatever that may be.

From the looks of his Wikipedia bibliography, Mr. Cowan has mostly moved on from comics, though he's fundamental in the formation of Milestone Comics at DC later into the 90s, and which we'll be having a look at some time in the next couple of weeks. Milestone was an imprint designed to highlight Persons of Colour in comics, and was, for a little while, mildly successful. In today's issue, as I've intimated, his art is very much in keeping with the look of Marvel in the 80s. I don't want this to seem like I'm down-playing his art. The creation of a brand, of a standard of production, is very important in a publishing endeavour, so that an artist can cop to this house style, even though his own personal style might be quite different (I'm thinking of Cowan's very different art on The Question), speaks well of that artist. Of course, it's likely that inker Bob Layton had a lot to do with this as well.

More tomorrow. To be continued.

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