söndag 4 mars 2012

Renee Witterstaetter: Excess – The Art of Michael Golden. Comics' Inimitable Storyteller And How He Does It

I read Michael Golden's Batman stories in the early eighties and was pretty much blown away by them. They didn't have quite the elegance of my all-time favorite Batman artist, Neal Adams, but they were quite impressive, and as I recall, the stories weren't half-bad either (perhaps written by Bob Rozakis?). What struck me wasn't just that Golden was good at using shadows to create dramatic pictures, he used them to depict shapes, fleshing his characters out and making them seem almost three-dimensional – they had volume, instead of being just flat lines on flat paper like the art of so many other artists.

Then Golden moved on to do Micronauts for Marvel, and he brought the same powerful feeling for volumes there, plus he was inked by the excellent Joe Rubinstein who knew how to give the finished art both power, elegance and clarity. It was great. It was also a Star Wars knock-off, but a good one (better, even; I never was much of a Star Wars fan), so I didn't much mind. One thing that Golden pulled off very well in Micronauts, IMO, was having a lot of characters – and action – in the rather cramped space that a comics panel is and still managing to make it both three-dimensional and relatively uncluttered.

(Covers via the excellent Grand Comics Database.)

Later, he went on to do The 'Nam in a slightly cartoonish style which belied the bloody subject matter, but he stayed rather realistic with the weapons systems. As long as Doug Murray was writing it, I think the book stayed away from the revanchism it might well have devolved into (which can certainly be found in plenty of the literature on the subject), but once it got handed over to Chuck Dixon, it got too stereotypical for my tastes. Anyway, that was pretty much the last I saw of Michael Golden doing a regular series. Time, space and money issues meant I couldn't keep up my comics consumption at anywhere near the levels I'd been used to, so this volume gives me a chance to catch up. Bucky O'Hare, Spartan X, etc. Unfortunately, it's a bit thin on details and analysis, so you don't get the insight into Golden's views and history I'd have wanted; instead, there's just a bit too much "he's such an incredibly great artist"-type prose, making me feel at times like I'm reading a "Stan's Soapbox" by Stan Lee, doing the hard sell he was doing in the late seventies.

Unfortunately, the more recent Golden doesn't feel as interesting as an artist as the earlier one. He's still very skilled and capable of doing very nice, slick work, but I preferred the somewhat quirkier Golden of the earlier years, with things like a great Batman-Demon team-up, and the explosive Micronauts and 'Nam artwork.

I don't want to be too critical of the book; there are still interesting tidbits to be had, like how Marvel asked him to Kirbify his art when he came to work for them, whereas DC wanted him to Neal Adams-ify it, and you do get an overview of his career. (He is self-taught and started out doing commercial art and decorating vans & skateboards, so he didn't get into comics out of a deep love for the artform – which makes his obvious storytelling skills all the more interesting, I guess.) What I miss is more depth, getting bit more into what makes Golden tick as an artist, and dating and identifying the inkers of the many illustrations accompanying the text. That would really help me as a reader understand how Golden has developed as an artist, which should IMO be the foremost job of a book like this.

So worth a read, yes, but at $25, not a recommended buy. Go with the five times as expensive, gorgeous, large-size IDW edition of Wally Wood's EC stories instead. Now that's how you present an artist's work!

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