Artist Self-Portraits

By | Wednesday, April 07, 2021 Leave a Comment
Bronze Age Babies posted a tweet yesterday simply sharing these four Marvel artist self-portraits...
I've been reading and researching Marvel comics for decades and now, and I've seen all these images before. But I don't think I've ever seen them together in such close proximity like this. And what that does is invite much more direct comparison.

Now you could study them for style and form and line quality and whatnot. But you can do that with essentially any of these artists' work. What I think we can look at here, somewhat more uniquely, is how the artists portrayed themselves in relation to these characters.

Jack Kirby, of course, created most of the characters he has depicted around himself. In his image, the characters are almost all leaping off the very page he's drawing. They're running/leaping/flying away from Jack and (primarily) towards the viewer, while Jack himself is actively working at his drafting table. Which, if you look closely, is actually floating a foot or two off the floor! Jack was focused on his work; it sprang out of him so fast and so violently, yet he himself seemed scarcely aware of what was going on around him. He's surrounded by all these action heroes -- and let me emphasize the action involved here -- as they are unleashed from his hand.

Next we've got John Romita. His focus is a little more Spider-Man centric, but more notably, the image has a very different tone to it. Things are much softer and more dream-like. Romita himself is in a daydreaming-esque pose, there's plenty of fluffy clouds from Mysterio and Green Goblin's glider, and Gwen is literally dreaming about Peter Parker... who bears quite the resemblance to John here! Overall, the figures are less action-oriented. They're surrounding him and, while he's still seemingly oblivious to their presence, they're very much focused on him. There's a greater intamcy and familiarity with all of them.

Now Marie gets back to a more action-oriented image. Her interaction, though, is somewhat removed. She's standing apart from everyone, using a more remote tool (a camera) to capture their presence. Very much contrary to John's approach above, she's drawn herself considerably smaller than everyone. It's as if she views herself as relatively insignificant compared to the characters' presences and only as someone who documents their actions. Further, the juxtopisition of the menacing poses with her "nice big smile" dialogue comes across as something of acknowledgement that for all their fervor, these characters are still fictional and not to be taken that seriously.

Finally, we've got John Byrne's piece. His text addition here makes things more explicit than the others. Unlike the previous creators, John's grown up with (most of) these characters; they're the heroes he looked up to. It less about who they are or what they do -- the others show the characters doing something to at least suggest their powers; John's cast here is just standing there -- and more about what they mean to him. The're surrounding him and looking at him with some mixture of love and pride. There's a more reverant quality to the image. They're protecting him, but in an emotional manner, not a physical one. You might note, as well, there are no villains in this image. (Well, at least, none of them were villains at the time this image was drawn!)

None of their approaches here are more right or wrong than any others. They're all great images, and there's plenty of reasons for fans to geek out over them. But beyond that, I think they do speak to the connections these artists had/have to the work they produced for Marvel and the characters published by them, and says as much about the creators' different approaches as anything else.
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