Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Brave, bold and damn talented

As has been reported all over the comics blogosphere today, longtime DC artist Jim Aparo died Monday night, at the age of 72.

Aparo was my first "favorite" artist. Back when I though Kirby was just a bit too weird (to say nothing of Ditko), I thought Aparo had a great, versatile style that set him apart from the rest -- and I still do.

For years he drew THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD, the DC team-up book that paired Batman with...well, with everyone, from an old version of Sgt. Rock (above) to the Legion of Super Heroes to Zatanna to the Blackhawks to Supergirl to the Joker to Black Canary to the Hawk and the Dove (an especially fine issue written by Alan Brennart -- whatever happened to him?) to the Huntress to the (grown up) Earth 2 Robin to Kamandi to just about everyone. And Aparo could do it all, from the past to the future and everything in between. Inking (and lettering!) his own work, he gave it a distinctive, lush look, more like Caniff than your run-of-the-mill comic book artist. The guy knew faces, he knew anatomy, he knew how to stage a scene and he knew how let white space (or black space) add balance and drama to a panel. Solid but never boring. His pages moved, man, and you always knew where they were going. His drawing was beautiful, but his storytelling was even better.

His Batman ranks with the best versions of the character. He gave him an athleticism and a sense of drama that fit perfectly with that more innocent version. It's too bad that his best-selling comic was that lame-ass "Death of Robin" mini-series, because he did much, much better work (with much better stories) on THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD, AQUAMAN and THE SPECTRE. Most of these will require a trip through the back-issue bins (and it's worth it) but DC recently collected THE SPECTRE in a trade, and it's good stuff -- with Michael Fleischer's strange, violent scripts perfectly brought to life by Aparo.

That is a self-portrait of Aparo on THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD cover at the top of this entry. "Small War of the Super Rifles" is a typically wonky Bob Haney story that is just as "meta" as the cover suggests. Batman and Rock are investigating the theft of some experimental rifles by a Gotham terrorist group called "The Thousand." The group realizes it can stop Batman and Rock by forcing Aparo to draw them getting killed in the comic book (that's apparently depicting the story that's happening to all of them, right at that moment!) so he hides out at a friend's lighthouse on Long Island and, with the help of Haney and editor Murray Boltinoff, finishes the book and saves the day. It's as strange as the movie ADAPTATION or Grant Morrison's last issue of ANIMAL MAN, but remember -- this was a comic book from 1976, when kids were the ones who read the damn things. In fact, this is the first time I've read it in at least 20 years, and I never realized just how surreal it actually is. But Aparo's art, as always, grounds the action and makes it completely understandable and believable. In fact, I'll let his last panel from the book close out this entry. Rest in peace, Mr. Aparo. You will be missed.

5 comments:

Jhunt said...

I was starting to think I was crazy for seeing such a clear Caniff/Aparo connection. I've been reading the Steve Canyon Magazine reprints, and it's really striking how complementary the two styles are, especially with the 1945-48 era Caniff. It doesn't diminish Aparo's great clean art to me, just gives it a bit of historical resonance. And that Hawk & Dove issue was choice, although, the Brave & Bold issue that jumps to the top of my mind is a Batman/Creeper issue where they fight a paper monster. No, I have no idea why.

Anyways, Aparo will always be THE Batman artist to me.

Will Pfeifer said...

Those are both great issues -- I was looking them over before putting the Aparo piece up. I think Alan Brennart wrote the Creeper one two, and really managed to give it some Ditko-esque themes.

I was happy to see, by the way, that a Jim Aparo obit made the Associated Press wires, which is a pretty big deal.

Psychbloke said...

A lovely tribute....
For ages I thought Aparo was THE Batman artist and everyone else was just guesting.....

The Shat said...

Nicely done Will. A fitting tribute to an artist with a large body of quality work. Oddly enough, The Brave and the Bold issue you profiled was the first one I bought and it made me a fan of the series long after it was canceled. I still say Aparo's portrayal of the Bat is the definitive one for me. RIP Jim Aparo.

John Oak Dalton said...

One of my favorite artists.

John