Welcome to my column showcasing up and coming or undiscovered talent, bringing to your attention creators that I feel will be break-out stars in the near future. Some are already well on their way to super stardom, while some are just on the outskirts breaking in.
Everyone has a favorite comic book creator. One they’ve discovered recently, or maybe followed from the very beginning of their career. Some have so many favorites it’s hard to choose just one.
Every single one of those creators started somewhere, be it by producing photocopied mini comics to sell at their neighborhood comic shop, getting a table in the artist’s alley at their local comic convention, publishing fan fiction, posting images to deviantart.com, or doing commissions through the internet or at conventions. Some come from the world of graphic design, advertizing illustration, or fine art, using those jobs to pay the bills in the meantime.
Then came their break. Something they did got noticed, an editor got in touch, and they were on their way. A fill in page here, a small press book there, maybe a miniseries or one-shot for one of the big two. Something about their style catches fan’s eyes, and their star begins to rise.
I’m a sucker for Doctor Strange, and as soon as I saw the cover I knew I was in store for something fun. As I turned the last page I knew I was going to have to track down every piece of Greg Smallwood work I could find. Unfortunately there wasn’t much out there, which surprised me because his work has the touch of a seasoned pro. Other than Day of the Dead: The Rising of Bub #1, from Dead Dog Productions in 2007, he didn’t have anything else until 2013’s excellent Dream Thief with his A + X writer Jai Nitz. As far as I know that Day of the Dead series never saw another issue published.
Just over a year ago saw the release of Dream Thief #1, a supernatural revenge tale about a thief who steals an ancient mask and becomes possessed by spirits that make him enact their revenge while he sleeps. The concept itself isn’t THAT original, but what Nitz and Smallwood do with it sure is. It became one of my favorite books of last year, a year already filled to the brim with brilliant new series after series. The story itself was great, full of action, excitement, and pathos, as the main character, a man of dubious morals, struggles with the things these spirits make him do. But man, that art!
As a regular reader of this column can probably tell I’m not a fan of the slick and polished work of many Big Two artists. I don’t dislike it, by a long shot, but to me there’s something to be said for an artist like Sean Phillips or David Aja, and Smallwood’s work occupies the same class of draftsmen. His brushwork has a loose quality to it, not sloppy by any means, just free flowing and organic. If Jim Lee is the digital of comic artists, Greg Smallwood would be the analog, and I always preferred analog. He sometimes uses a dry brush technique that really adds depth and texture to his work, giving it a weight that isn’t found in many artist’s work.
His covers for Dynamite’s Grimm: The Warlock series, as well as the Robocop: Beta cover, show his ability to not merely capture the looks of real people, but to distill their essence into as few lines as possible. The reflection in Robocop’s helmet doesn’t clearly show Michael Keaton’s Raymond Sellars, but implies him with a simplicity of line that is just fantastic. No matter what you thought of the movie itself, that cover is beautiful in it’s design and execution.
His page layouts are smart, nothing too flashy or experimental, but easy to read, drawing your eyes from one panel to the next. A consummate storyteller, Smallwood would probably make a good director if this comic thing doesn’t pan out. But of course it will, or I wouldn’t be writing this. His panel backgrounds are full of life and motion, not to the point of distraction mind you, always just enough to make the world feel lived in. That and his attention to detail make his pages ones to linger over, to hold your breath and just dive in, swimming in them for a while until jumping into the next page. Ordinary objects placed just so, giving his worlds scale like our own.
Along with Dream Thief and Grimm, Smallwood is about to take over from previous future comic rock star Declan Shalvey on Moon Knight as of issue #7, with Brian Wood on writing detail. This is an inspired decision, as I can’t think of a better artist to come in and put his own stamp on the title. I have no fear that Smallwood will be an excellent successor for Marvel’s latest hit, and that he is a future comic rock star. Next week I’ll bring you another.