Showing posts with label Jim Aparo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jim Aparo. Show all posts

Pop Focus: The Aquaman art of Jim Aparo

Just a simple tribute this week to one of my favorite comics artists and his work on a perpetually underrated character.

Yes, Aquaman is a pretty silly concept - an underwater king who can command sea life with telepathy. On "Entourage," he became a running joke. And he's frequently the target of jabs by comic fans and other pop culture fans, as well.

But, in comics, he's enjoyed some great, nicely illustrated runs. Ramona Fradon and Nick Cardy were among the SilverAge greats who penciled his adventures. But the Aquaman I grew up with in the 1970s was portrayed by the great Jim Aparo.

Also one of the all-time best Batman artists, Aparo drew Aquaman in Adventure Comics, World's Finest and, for a time, the character's own series, throughout much of the 1970s and into the 1980s. Most of the time, he also inked and lettered his own work. Aparo's art was at its best when he did the complete job. At the same time, he was drawing Batman and myriad guest stars in the great Brave and the Bold team-up title.

Combing the sharp line of Milt Caniff in his faces and figures with dynamism required in superhero comics, Aparo's art was intense and dramatic, always clearly conveying action and moving the story along. Here's a look at some of that work.

Jim Aparo

My favorite Batman artists: Jim Aparo

If I had to pick just one favorite Batman artist (and who would want to have to do that?) I'd likely go with Jim Aparo.

Aparo was the longtime artist on the Batman team-up book, The Brave and the Bold, which was a great bang-for-your-buck (or 25-cents) when I was a kid. Not only did you get Batman, but a guest star from the wider DC Universe. Along with fabulous Aparo art, you'd generally get a cool script from Zany Bob Haney, known for his sometimes wildly imaginative/loopy plots.

Aparo was an incredibly prolific and talented artist. He took the realistic Neal Adams-style Batman and made it his own, oftentimes doing his own inks and lettering to boot.

What captivates about his art, I think, is the intensity. The faces of Aparo's characters express so much emotion with their furrowed brows and anguished mouths and those little "emotion action" lines emitting from them (take a look at any Aparo-illustrated story and you'll get what I mean).

His story-telling and panel flow was so smooth -- a lost art today when many artists are great at drawing amazing pictures, but poor at portraying action and helping guide readers through the story.

Aparo was so prolific that he got taken for granted. He was one of the great artists of his era, but we all got so used to his frequent, excellent work that we didn't give him as much credit as some of less-productive peers.

That's changing as more and more of his work is reprinted and we can see his great art not only on stories featuring Batman, but also the Phantom, Aquaman, Phantom Stranger and the Spectre. DC published a hardcover collection of his Batman work, "Legends of the Dark Knight: Jim Aparo Vol. 1," earlier this year.

 Here are some samples of Aparo's Batman work:

Great comic book art: More Jim Aparo

I love this sequence from Phantom Stranger #10 of a nasty fellow who has just literally scared his nagging wife to death by placing a rubber crocodile in the swimming pool. The facial expressions, sound effects and motion lines tell you all you need to know about the violence occurring "off-camera."

Great comic book art: Aparo "twitches"

I've always loved Jim Aparo's art. His Brave and Bold was a favorite of mine and, for my money, he's one of the best-ever Batman artists: Right up there with Dick Sprang, Carmine Infantino, Neal Adams and Marshall Rogers.

His graphic storytelling was dramatic and easy to follow. His figure work and use of blacks and whites was superb--hearkening back the great newspaper strip art of Milt Caniff, Alex Raymond and others. Much of the time, he inked and even lettered his own work--great stuff.

But one thing I never paid much explicit attention to until recently was Aparo's deft use of lines to express emotion.

Sure, lines are often used to evoke motion and speed in comic books. But look at Aparo's art and you'll see lines meant to express a character's emotional frame of mind: anger, surprise, disappointment, excitement, disorientation.

These lines don't show what a character is doing--they express how a character is feeling.

For lack of a better word, I call them "twitches."

Aparo did it all the time, and he did it so well. It's crystal clear how these characters are feeling. And conveying that sort of emotion with lines on paper is pretty remarkable.

Offhand, I can't think of many other American comic book artists who do/did this sort of thing. It's something manga artists use a lot, but seems rare in American comics.

Yet another example of what made Aparo such a master, and an underrated one at that.

Here are some example of what I'm talking about, all from DC Comic's "Showcase Presents the Phantom Stranger Vol. 1."

The perfect Batman

Three more from the late Jim Aparo, who will be greatly missed:

Aparo at Charlton

The late cartoonist was rightfully acclaimed for his work on Batman, Aquaman, the Phantom Stranger and others at DC. But he got his start in the late 60s, early 70s working under the great Dick Giordano at Charlton. Here's a gallery featuring some of his cover work for the publisher (images from the utterly wonderful Grand Comics Database):