Pirate Tales

By | Tuesday, April 29, 2008 Leave a Comment
Richard Becker was an art student in the mid-1970s and became a painter after being influenced by the likes of Howard Pyle and N.C. Wyeth. Beginning in the late 1980s, he gravitated towards the theme of pirates and he's become one of the most prolific artists to work on the subject. In 1992, he started his own publishing company, Black Swan Press, and produced eight issues of Bloodthirsty Pirate Tales. Unlike many pirate-themed comics, Becker's were primarily accounts of real pirates with special features on weapons, ships, etc. of the time. In 2002, he revived the idea for two issues of Pirate Tales.

Both issues have the same basic structure. They open with a lengthy story; have a few shorter, illustrated, informational pieces; there's another, shorter comic story; they have a text piece discussing piratical pulp novels; and the books close out with a few pin-up pages. Most of the material is written and drawn by Becker, but some of the pieces are by the likes of Dick Swan, Spain Rodriguez, and Dave Matsuoka.

Becker's background in painting is evident throughout the books. Although printed in black and white, his painted pieces are attractive and have pretty solid layouts. Although he does have a distinctly different style than Pyle or Wyeth, their influence is evident.

Becker's pen and ink pieces -- the longer, introductory stories -- don't fare quite as well. His individual panel layouts work fairly well, but his page layouts hamper some of the panel-to-panel readability. It's sometimes difficult to follow how the text on the page is supposed to be read due to occasionally unusual panel distinctions and poor balloon or caption placements. Further, the illustrations themselves -- while executed well in and of themselves -- are a bit overly fussy for reproduction as a comic book. I suspect many of the fine lines would get lost were the issue shrunk to a "normal" comic size instead of the larger magazine size it is.

I think, though, that the biggest weakness in these books is that Becker could use a stronger editor. There wasn't anything obviously bad with his writing, but there were a few instances where there were noticeable (to me) changes in the style of dialogue, so characters didn't seem consistent. I also noticed a number of errors in punctuation that, in at least two instances, made understanding the text much more difficult than it should have been. The stories were readable and generally enjoyable, but they could have been much more powerful with a slightly different approach.

The comics have a cover price of $7.00 each, and I paid $6.95 for mine. For that price, I can't say I recommend either of the books. Worth taking a look if you find them in a bargain bin, though. Personally, I'd prefer seeing more of Becker's paintings and his Pirate Art Book might be worth grabbing.

Becker recently released the graphic novel Blackbeard the Pirate and regularly does a one-page comic called "Captain Scurvy" for Pirates magazine. I haven't seen the graphic novel (which reprints his Blackbeard stories from Bloodthirsty Pirate Tales) but the comics are fully painted pieces and are mildly amusing.
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