Friday, April 06, 2007

Influences: Alan Davis

It's hard to overstate how much of an influence Alan Davis was on me as a teenager. From Detective Comics to New Mutants, Excalibur to D.R. and Quinch, he was one of the perfect artists (David Mazzucchelli was the other one; he will be the subject of a future post).

Alan Davis' art had a cartoonishly clean feel and an instinct for humor that I found refreshing in a time when every artist was trying to copy Frank Miller's grim (but admittedly awesome) art style. I first came upon Alan Davis' stuff in Detective Comics #574, in which he rushed a wounded Robin to the clinic in Crime Alley. Conveniently enough, the clinic is right across the street from the corner where his parents were killed years before, and he spontaneously recalls his entire origin.

It's grim stuff, as code-approved 80s superhero comics go, but the smooth style and lighthearted physical comedy makes it not only more palatable to a young audience, but also makes it more "real" in relation to the Batman world, which exists happily removed from the complexity of the REAL real world.

At that time, Alan Davis' art was being inked exclusively by Paul Neary, whose economical linework and bold outlines gave Davis' work a weight and depth that made it both cartoonishly appealing and heroic all at the same time. Since the late nineties, Davis has been inked by Mark Farmer for the most part, and although it's beautiful work, and the heroism is still there, it is a more laborious and detailed inking style, and it lacks some of the humor and elegance of his earlier work that appealed particularly to me.

What I liked also about this work as a young cartoonist is that, with relatively few brushstrokes, it communicated multiple light sources on such things as hands or leather jackets. At the time, I didn't have the skills to reproduce it properly, but I loved the fact that he did such a good job making the physical objects look so solid and powerful, as well as making them look like they fit into the lighting of the panel.

Davis' storytelling is exemplary as well; he makes a point to widely vary the size and shape of his panels, as well as the size of the subjects within them, so that the page has a nice combination of visuals that work as both story and design. By often using borderless panels, he draws attention to the physicality of his subjects, entirely apart from their backgrounds, which, for an adventure series like Detective Comics or Excalibur, works extremely well.

Alan Davis showed me that there was something to be said for lighthearted art in a world of comics and superheroes that were turning darker and darker by the minute. He also showed me that that semi-cartoony work can nevertheless be powerful, heroic, and thrilling. That sort of combination was something that I tried to emulate pretty much every day since then.



At 2:53 PM, Blogger Tim said...

Great choice! Davis was a huge figure to me as well in my formative years.

At 11:18 PM, Blogger Shad said...

...and years later Alan would buy Zander a tuna fish sandwich.

I was there. '

Alan was my favorite as a kid but I never got a sandwich out of it.

At 1:31 AM, Blogger H said...

Wow. Pretty much what I've been explaining to sarcastic, scrawny. pasty fanboys in comic shops for years. Actually, I've maybe done that twice in my life, since I generally eschew comic shops because of said lurkers and their ilk, but I've had the conversation before, and made similar points, particularly about the Neary/Farmer phenomenon.

One admittedly self-evident thing you missed is a mention of Davis' command of dynamic anatomy. The fluidity and grace of movement - to say nothing of the bone-crushing violence - employed by the Bat during Davis' run on Outsiders & 'Tec, to me, define the character. The only other artists who compare are Garcia-Lopez (from the late 70's early 80's) and Mazuchelli (who you mention in another post), and they are nowhere NEAR as prolific as Davis. The fact that AD can crank out dynamic art of this calibre, and do it consistantly, is another point that deserves mention as well.

Great topic - I really enjoyed it!


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