Tuesday, May 19, 2015

No. 19 Steve Yeowell

First Prog: 535
Latest Prog: 1902 (More Black Shuck to come? I don’t know. But we’ll definitely see more Steve Yeowell in the Prog on something or other)
First Meg: 8
Latest Meg: 357 (I’m guessing more DeMarco, PI is as likely as not?)

Total appearances: 419 and counting

Creator credits:
Red Razors, Maniac 5, Red Fang, the Red Seas, Pussyfoot 5*, Detonator X, Black Shuck

Other art credits:
Zenith**, Judge Dredd, Tyranny Rex, Devlin Waugh, Sinister Dexter, Nikolai Dante, A Life Less Ordinary,
DeMarco PI, Cadet Anderson, Black Light
Various one offs / three-offs

Notable character creations:
The Lloigor***
Jack Dancer and his crew (although Dancer himself is by far the most notable)
Orlando Doyle and Karel Toten, Dancer's main antagonists, linger in the memory, too.
Maniac 5 (the robotic casing that hides the consciousness of soldier Frank Drake is notable, if the man within is less so)
Those dangling bangs, man.
Words by Steve Moore
The Herod

Notable characteristics:
Simple lines; widescreen vistas; people looking shocked and awed; cocky facial expressions; motion; distinctive hairdos (and don’ts); great use of flat black ink – and indeed he’s more often a black-and-white artist, although his coloured-in pages are great, too; He’s worked across a lot of genres, but if I’m honest I think at heart he’s best at horror.

Oh, and he’s noteworthy for homaging his own pun twice…

The original

Homage 1

Homage 2 (and a second pun for good measure)

On Steve:
I’m just old enough to remember the first series of Zenith appearing in the weekly Prog, so I still think of Steve Yeowell as a ‘new’ artist. But he’s been on the scene for nearly three decades! Yeowell is one of those reliable artists that churns out quality work with barely a hint that he’s ever struggled to meet a deadline. So much so that for a while, he seemed to get double-length episodes to do as often as not, and still it didn’t faze him.

Weirdly, I remember Yeowell hitting the gate running with a set of cracking covers, but for a 30 year veteran he’s not actually that prolific as a cover artist. It’s possible he was experimenting more in the early days with different materials, especially paint, before settling into his incredibly recognisable and always delightful work with deftly applied outlines and brushwork – great for storytelling and stripwork, not always so suited to striking cover work.

First and foremost one associates Yeowell’s art with Zenith, a series that was hugely popular in its day and remains very much loved today, finally back in print. His art developed and improved over the first three books, but his storytelling and facial expression chops were astonishingly strong right form the off. Books I and II have plenty of action in the 2000AD tradition; Book III adds a touch of extreme horror, while Book IV pushes into more Sci-Fi territory with its incredibly realized empty city.

Zenith I - surprisingly gory.
Words by Grant Morrison

Zenith II - Bursting with action
Zenith III: veering into pure horror
Words by Grant Morrison
 But it’s a testament to his artistic prowess that Yeowell is not just known as the Zenith artist – nor even just as the Red Seas artist, a strip he actually poured more years and ink into than Zenith. Simply put, he has a unique and recognisable style that isn’t like anyone else’s, but is exactly right for 2000 AD. Yeowell has produced plenty of work for other comics (perhaps most famously on Grant Morrison’s Invisibles), and lovely it was, too, but 2000 AD feels a more natural fit.

One of Yeowell's first jobs for 2000 AD - a Neil Gaiman Future Shock
Awesome doubling-up on both character design and pose for the writer to match each one.
Yeowell blends straight-up fantasy with real-world characters so well that he has managed to straddle the difficult bridge between ‘safe’ adventure stories for children and gritty adventure stories for adults. There’s a magic to it that means adults can enjoy his strips completely unironically, with room for some of the awe that comes with a child encountering wild ideas for the first time. 

Here comes the Herod. Awesome in the original sense of the word.
Words by John Smith

Here comes a Samurai robot made of gold.
Awesome in the modern sense of the word - but no worse for that.
Words by Steve Moore

It’s a little bit old fashioned, but still works – not entirely unlike Ray Harryhausen’s stop motion effects, which are still inspiring even in today’s CGI cinematic world. Not unintentionally, I’m describing a feeling that I’m pretty sure writer Ian Edginton was going for with his sprawling Red Seas saga. Although, if I’m honest, there are times when a bit more ink wouldn’t have gone amiss to set a different tone for the various different world that Dancer and his crew find themselves in.

Vikings hordes - attack! Yeowell in hyper-detailed awesome mode.
Words by Ian Edginton

What larks, Jack. Yeowell in hyper un-detailed but still awesome mode.
Words by Ian Edginton
It’s not all swashbuckling and awe. Let us remember that Yeowell has, for the longest time, flown a flag for ultraviolence. His earliest works were scripted by Grant Morrison and Mark Millar, who love a bit of red, and Yeowell was happy to oblige, from the burnings and extra-dimensional dread of Zenith to the fistiguts action of Red Razors and the extreme bullet-count of Maniac 5. I’ve a soft spot for Maniac 5 in particular, and, given that the story is pure tosh, it’s basically ‘cos Yeowell drew it so well.

Maniac 5 not in the suit. Exposed brains are always cool.
Words by Mark Millar

Maniac 5 in the suit. Giant robots leaping out of a comics panel - also always cool.
Words by Mark Millar (likely with no apology to Stan Lee...)

Yeowell really nails the nasty tone of Red Razors here.
Words by Mark Millar again.
Yeowell coloured by Blythe
Words by Dan Abnett
Being a 2000AD stalwart, he’s had ample opportunity to lend his talents to a variety of long-running strips. Judge Dredd, obviously, but he was always one of the better guest artists on Sinister Dexter and Nikolai Dante.
Yeowell painting; more please!
Words by Alan Grant

He worked so well with John Smith’s constant demands for artistic imagination on Devlin Waugh (how would you tackle characters with names such as ‘Jack of Mice’ or ‘Jack of Knives’?) that I’m somewhat surprised they’ve not worked together again. He could slot perfectly happily into Indigo Prime, I’m sure.

If I’m honest, Yeowell’s work in recent years can have a frustratingly hurried feel. Red Fang, Detonator X, Black Shuck, and rather too much of the later Red Seas were a little underwhelming – but a share of the blame lies with the story. For all that Yeowell can still produce the goods with widescreen vistas, sometimes his foregrounding of figures leaves little room for the background details that generally mark 2000 AD as a cut above other comics, artwise. On the other hand, Yeowell is a master at conveying a lot with a little, so it's understandable. 
Glorious figure work; less exciting room design
Words by John Hodge via David Bishop

Economic style employed to amaziong effect - you can feel the rain, the period and the setting with ease.
Words by Ian Edginton

A minimalist touch used to bring out the theme of the story eloquently.
Words by Grant Morrison

Sometimes a skull in a bag says all you need to say.
Words by Leah Moore and John Reppion

The two recent DeMarco, PI stories in the Megzine were great, though. Perhaps the man is so reliable that he’s been coasting a little, and needs a proper challenge to bring out his best.

Personal favourites:
Zenith phases III and IV (Nothing wrong with the first two books, in fact book 2 is my favourite as a read, but I feel the art really came alive in the later books)
Future Shock: What’s in a name?
Maniac 5 (and 6)
Devlin Waugh: Chasing Herod
The Red Seas: Twilight of the Idols; ‘with a bound he was free’ (aka the one that brings in Isaac Newton); Chimes at Midnight (more Newton goodness); Old Gods (aka the one where they meet the Norse Gods, hewed from some delightfully textured wood)

More on Steve Yeowell
A recent interview with Multiversity Comics tied in to the the long, long awaited re-release of Zenith
Alex Fitch interviewd him for the Panel Borders podcast
Or you could dig out your copy of Megazine 257
And you should immediately listen to the two-part interview from the Thrillcast
Masterman revealed as the host for Iok Sotot, a Lloigor

*Pussyfoot 5 as a concept emerged in Yeowell’s Devlin Waugh epic; but in practice I think 3 of the titular 5 were designed by artist Nigel Raynor, who drew the first solo outing for the team.

*Zenith himself was designed by Brendan McCarthy, as were many of the other main character. According ton the recent (and excellent) Yeowell interview on the Thrillcast, Morrison designed most of the rest of the characters himself. No doubt Yeowell did come up with a fair few of his own designs along the way, especially for Boooks II and beyond.

***The Lloigor are derived from the work of HP Lovecraft, and likely some more specific description Grant Morrison, but Yeowell's end result was a stunning piece of design, don’tcha think?

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