Two New Modern Masters: Mark Buckingham and Guy Davis

Modern Masters: Mark Buckingham cover

Out this month are two new volumes in the TwoMorrows Modern Masters interview/art book series, both by Eric Nolen-Weathington, the series editor.

The first is dedicated to Mark Buckingham, whose credits include Death: The High Cost of Living, Fables, and Miracleman. Note that he did not, as I first thought, draw Ultimate Spider-Man. That’s a different Mark B., Bagley. Obviously, I need the education this volume provides.

Neil Gaiman’s introduction starts things off with praise for Bucky’s skill and versatility. The following long interview covers the basics of his career and key works, accompanied by art either rare or representative. That’s the first 70-some pages. The remaining 38 pages, 8 of which are in color, are simply art — reproductions of his penciled pages or sketches.

Modern Masters: Mark Buckingham cover

I found myself wishing that the interviewer was a little more willing to follow unexpected paths. There’s an early comment, when discussing Buckingham’s academics, where he talks about being willing to vary his style and be a “chameleon of comics”. The very next question is “How long were you in university?” I wanted them instead to continue the discussion of styles and whether having a distinct one was good or bad. Instead, we read about how important it is to know the right people when you’re interested in getting discovered, which is true, but a different direction. (I had no idea that Buckingham was inking Hellblazer and talking about working on Miracleman while he was still in college.) The topic of style does come up again later, but in this disjointed fashion, it’s hard to follow and doesn’t get to be as meaty as it could have been. I still, after finishing the book, don’t have a good idea of how he’d describe his work or what, artistically, makes his style distinctive. Maybe if I had more of an eye for visuals, the art reproductions would better answer that question for me.

Many of the questions are of the form “and then you did (particular comic issue)” or “you used (art technique or tool) on that story”. Thankfully, the responses are more interesting than the questions, either talking about a co-worker or mentioning artistic approaches or influences. Buckingham sounds like a great interviewee, with lots of interesting stories and large chunks of response. With art on every page, there are lots of examples of his work, too.

Many of the questions are also generic, in that they could be asked of any artist: “What’s a typical working day? What do you listen to when working?” If this book is setting out to be the standard reference on the artist covered, that approach is understandable, since the basics should be covered, even if the questions aren’t specific or particularly inspired. The bits of information I found most interesting were Buckingham’s hopeful statements about getting to finish his run with Neil Gaiman on Miracleman, now relabeled Marvelman, at Marvel. (He’s more optimistic than I am, since the section starts off by saying he wasn’t even aware Marvel was announcing their (partial) acquisition of the property. That’s not a good sign when it comes to valuing the creators, in my opinion.) I also liked the stories about working with Chris Bachalo and getting in trouble with Vertigo and then redeeming himself.

I wish that these books weren’t so much “preaching to the choir”. If you already know Buckingham’s work, the chronological following of his life and work makes sense. For those of us who want to learn more, it would be helpful to have an opening section that talks about what the artist is known for, what makes his work unique, and what makes him worthy of having a dedicated book, to set the stage for what follows. As it is, these books are usually best suited to already-existing fans who want to learn more. Much of it is most meaningful for those who’ve read the stories or issues referenced, since the text assumes you already know about their content.

Modern Masters: Guy Davis cover

For that reason, I enjoyed the Guy Davis volume more, since I’d read more of his work (specifically on Hellboy-related series, but also Baker Street). Plus, the introduction here was particularly cool — it was a two-page comic by Stan Sakai!

Instead of almost instantly working on recognizable properties from big-name publishers, Davis came up through small-press publishers in … well, I’m guessing the early 90s, because there’s a remarkable lack of actual dates in this interview. That’s before he moved to Vertigo for Sandman Mystery Theatre and became known for his grotesque images and monsters.

I noticed, following the “and then I worked on this” flow, that there wasn’t much about Davis beyond what he was drawing. The interview is about career (including how they got started, early training, etc.), but I wanted to know more about whether he was holding down other jobs, family situation, the kinds of details that give a sense of the artist as a person. I think that’s just a distinction between what these books aim to do and what I’m looking for; I can’t criticize them for having a different purpose than what I want to see.

But I am going to gripe about something else. One particular art credit in the first book is labeled “Miracleman TM respective owner. Story (c) 2010 Neil Gaiman. Artwork (c) 2010 Mark Buckingham.” All of that is either wrong or just plain useless. For one thing, a work of art is copyright when it’s put into fixed format. The art and story would be copyright 1990, when it was created. You don’t put on the date you reprint it. And “respective owner” just says “we don’t want to get in trouble or take a stand on a troubled issue”. Which I understand — TwoMorrows doesn’t want anyone preventing publication of the book. But that makes the label, which is supposed to notify users of the protected ownership, pointless. These statements already appear on the indicia page, so I don’t know why they bother reprinting them per art piece.

Note that Buckingham is Volume 22 and Davis is Volume 24. Volume 23 will cover Darwyn Cooke (and thus is highly anticipated by me), but has run into scheduling conflicts that knocked it off the release list for now. (The publisher provided review copies.)

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