Josh's concept for UNKNOWN SOLDIER #21 is the kind of elegant story idea you don't see enough of these days. It immediately reminded me of how Will Eisner used to zero in on a single unexpected element, like an inanimate object, and turn a Spirit 8-pager into a masterpiece. Josh's "A Gun For Africa" follows a specific Kalashnikov AK-47 machine gun from it's manufacture in a 1970's Eastern bloc factory into Africa and through the many lives and deaths it comes to define. The story puts a forty year sweep of African conflict into historical context without being dry; humanizing its dreadful social impact without being preachy. I hope I did Josh's work here justice.
As many cartoonists will attest, war comics can be difficult to draw. They require lots of detailed reference and need to convey the gritty reality of human beings in wartime. This story was especially challenging, asking that the AK-47 itself not only look like the real thing but have a certain character all its own. Since the story spans three decades and many wars, It also needed to age visually.
When I was a kid, it was the DC war comics artists who set the gold standard for the genre. I like to think I've got a strand or two of their DNA in my veins, having taught myself how to draw by copying panels from Kubert, Heath and Drucker. Later on I studied with Joe himself at the Kubert School and did a number of short war stories under his editorship for SGT. ROCK. Then came ARMY@LOVE, so I haven't been shy about tackling war comics.
Besides being an extraordinary story, this particular job also allowed me to ink my own pencils for the first time in a while. Dave Gibbons famously once said that pencilling is like climbing a mountain and inking is like skiing back down. I think that explains the dynamic perfectly. I know a lot of comic book creation has moved onto the computer, and maybe rightly so since working digitally can save so much time. But for me nothing will ever replace the feel of a loaded brush gliding over a tightly pencilled line or a Hunt 512 laying in a texture. My experience on this issue of Unknown Soldier had me sensing interesting new avenues to be explored so I'm planning on focusing more on inking my own pencils in the future.
Collected for the first time in hard cover, SAGA OF THE SWAMP THING Book 2 (on sale this Wednesday, November 25, 2009 in comic book stores and December 1, 2009 in book stores) collects issues #28-34 and SWAMP THING ANNUAL #2 with art by Stephen Bissette, John Totleben, Shawn McManus, Rick Veitch, Alfredo Alcala, Ron Randall and Bernie Wrightson.
It also includes the previously published introduction by Jamie Delano (author of the upcoming graphic novel HELLBLAZER: PANDEMONIUM with art by Jock, coming in February 2010 from Vertigo). Read it here: