Magic Johnson, The Immonens & High Moon

By | Wednesday, July 28, 2010 Leave a Comment
I'm not a big sports fan, generally speaking, but I'm familiar enough with most professional games that I have a good understanding of the rules. And I do have a deep appreciation of those athletes who have honed their physical skills to levels that many people can barely comprehend. But about the only time I really watch sports is when there's some kind of social event I feel the need to attend for reasons other than watching The Big GameTM. For example, my boss throws a Super Bowl party every year and I go not to watch the game, but to get in some extra face-time with co-workers who are not-infrequently higher on the corporate ladder than I am.

It's in that basic context that I found myself watching the NBA playoffs in early 1991. It was the Lakers versus the Bulls. Magic Johnson versus Michael Jordan. Game one of the playoffs. The game had a lot of energy -- even for a basketball game -- and the two teams were pretty evenly matched. The score remained close throughout much of the game. Towards the very end of the fourth quarter, the Bulls had control of the ball. They were on their half of the court. Someone (I don't recall who) took a shot and the ball bounced off the backboard. The rebounded ball found its way into the hands of Magic Johnson. He took a quick look at the clock and saw there was less than 15 seconds left in the game with his team ahead by a single point. And Johnson did something that amazes me to this day.

He bowled the basketball down the length of the court.

Everyone chased after it, of course, but no one could reach the ball before it rolled out of bounds on the far side of the court. Johnson prevented even the possibility of a rival player from knocking the ball out of his hands. He ran down the clock to almost nothing preventing the Bulls from all but the slimmest possibility of scoring. (His timing was a tad off and the ball went out of bounds with two seconds remaining in the game.) He secured his team's win with one of the most unorthodox moves seen in professional basketball.

What amazes me about that event is that it shows a phenomenal understanding of the game. For Johnson, it wasn't about being a superior ball-handler or jumping higher/farther than anyone else, it was about knowing the game of basketball so completely that he developed -- on the spur of the moment -- an unheard of move that did exactly what was needed to win the game. It wasn't particularly graceful or visually impressive; it didn't display his physical skills in any way; but it DID showcase his almost intuitive knowledge of the game as a whole.

That impresses me more than being able to do a flying slam dunk from half-court or never missing a free throw ever. To know your subject matter that well and use your brain to service the end result in the most effective manner possible... well, it impresses the hell out of me, that's for sure!

You see that in comics, too. I called out Stuart and Kathy Immonen and the High Moon team of David Gallaher, Steve Ellis and Scott O. Brown because their work, collectively, displays that same type of understanding of comics. Their work may not have the flash/glitz/whatever of an Alex Ross or an Adam Hughes or whomever, but they regularly display a deep understanding of the medium of comics. Of how someone's eye flows from panel to panel and page to page. Of how different visual effects (color, line styles, level of detail, etc.) can impact the emotional tone of a work. Of how the words and pictures work in concert to compliment each other, and emphasize thematic elements of the story. Of how even the very format can be changed to take the best advantage of the distribution method.

I just wanted to give a shout-out to these guys because, although they're certainly well respected in comicdom, I think it's not consummate to their level of expertise. I think their works -- even the ones that receive high praise -- are vastly under-rated, and I'm always somewhat disappointed that they're not more popular than they are.
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