Friday, May 4, 2018

No. 111 Lee Carter

First Prog: 1538
Latest Prog: 2058

First Meg: 356
Latest Meg: 380

Total appearances: 81

Don't mess with Uriel
Words by Tony Lee

Creator credits:

Dead Eyes*

Other art credits:
Judge Dredd
Grey Area
Indigo Prime
Rogue Trooper
Terror Tales
But, astonishingly, no covers. What?

Notable character creations:
Danny Redman & Unthur Dak (from Dead Eyes/Indigo Prime)
Uriel (the lead from Necrophim)
Young Pa Angel

Unthur Dak has been around longer than you.
Words by John Smith

Notable characteristics:
Georgeous realism. Astonishing Ugliness. Filmic compositions. An impressively grim imagination. And, something very specific in the way he draws people’s faces. They’re kind of bumpy, with fleshy jowls and rugged chins.

Carter's art mixes the spectacularly real with the offness of 2000AD.
Words by TC Eglington

Rugged action heroes who police the Grey Area
Words by Dan Abnett

I would also say, not controversially, that his work lends itself to horror, including the horror-end of the thriller genre. It's been three decades since grandmaster of macabre art Kevin O'Neill was told by DC Comics that his entire style was just too grim for children - I reckon Carter has a shot at being rejected by major US comics publishers for the same reason!

On Lee:
All artists have their inspirations, but I damned if I can spot Lee Carter’s. His work isn’t like any other comics artist I’ve come across (not that I’m some Paul Gravett-level expert on comics history, you understand). Maybe, if you squint a bit, you can see some Chris Weston in there. But that’s mostly because both have worked on Indigo Prime specifically, and also because both seem to delight in painfully detailed rendering of the human form, often merged or surrounded by some horrifically weird goings on, tinged with depravity.

With that in mind, it’s no surprise Carter’s first work for Tharg was on a Terror Tale.

No the first time vampirism has been visually compared to drug addiction, but rarely has it looked so squalid and felt so tangible. 2000AD - share it with your kids!
Words by Arthur Wyatt
I repeat, I don’t know anything of Carter’s process, but in this early work I’m pretty sure he used real-world photos – often of deliberately seedy or squalid places, presumably that he took himself – which really help get the tone right. Carter’s people, whether photo-derived or not, are very much comics-art people, with a hint of otherworldliness to their face and skin. Or maybe that’s just the vampire/drugs/death metaphors at play.

From there, Carter moved instantly to a brand new series, Dead Eyes. It followed the exploits of soldier Danny Redman, recovering from a combination of war trauma, hospitalization and indeed experimental procedures. The whole series had a palpable sense of everything just feeling a bit off, right from the opening episodes, even though they were very much grounded in the real world of contemporary England. Carter’s art is super real-world in look, as before, with causal, low-key details thrown in (especially the clothes and the pubs. Carter might be 2000AD’s best drawer of pubs).

The skin seems to hang off the bones, even as the whole thing feel dead real.
Words by John Smith

Being a John Smith tale, the offness eventually comes to the fore with stone circles, apocalyptic visions and telepathic Neanderthals. Carter keeps up the pace admirably! And all along he keeps us inside Danny’s head as he goes through various states of understanding of what the hell’s going on (see also later work on Indigo Prime).

What are they doing? Treppaning, Mesolithic style!
Words by John Smith

From there to Necrophim, a 2000AD series I want to like a lot more than I actually do, that remains pretty unique to the comic – it’s a tale of political intrigue and machination set in Hell (with occasional detours to Heaven), put together by people who presumably know the basic plot of Milton’s Paradise Lost but, much like me, have never actually read it.

At the forefront of it all is Uriel, a fallen angel (one of the Necorphim, as the story has it), a loyal acolyte of Lucifer – the ex-archangel who rebelled against God and lost, but was granted dominion over Hell. In this story, Uriel is essentially honourable and decent, while Lucifer is a washed-up half-evil but mostly selfish imbecile (one of the sour points of the overall story, for me).

Lucifer - all-around preening areshole.
Words by Tony Lee
Never mind that, from episode to episode this is all kinds of fun, starting with the character design and setting. In the halls of Hell, depravity rules. Think Clive Barker’s Hellraiser for inspiration, but Carter really shines on his demon designs – weird enough to be memorable, but not too grotesque to get in the way of the story.

IN the halls of Hell, crucifixion is an idle diversion. Who's side will Uriel take?
Words by Tony Lee
If you look carefully, there’s a constant stream of casual horror going on in the background, a bit like behind the scenes of a Hollywood film set if the likes of Harvey Weinstein were allowed to openly indulge in the evils he is accused of. In other words, super not okay in real life, but utterly appropriate for a depiction of Hell. All that said, I kind of wish Carter had either allowed himself, or been encouraged by Tharg, to go even further into the depraved stakes. It’s not as bonkers as John Hicklenton, but at times it does approach that ilk – in content, if not in style. Necrophim needs to be a bit repellent to work, and a lot of the time it succeeds.

On the other hand, this is another Tony Lee scripted series in which lots of panels involve people walking and talking. Like Jon Davis-Hunt before him, Carter does what he’s told, but apart from the character designs and background setting, he doesn’t quite manage the trick of keeping the chat pacy. 

Casual beheadings are awesome!
Words by Tony Lee
And it doesn’t help that all the characters are constantly and only aiming to betray each other, making it tough to put much emotion into the faces as the only emotion, really, is ‘I hate you and think I’m cleverer than you’. I’d say this works for ‘hero’ Uriel, and for Lucifer’s chief minion – the Spike to Uriel’s Buffy, if you like – but for everyone else it gets a little trying.

Necrophim had a good run for all that, and it certainly allowed Carter to build up his storytelling confidence. Which was brought to bear on a touch of Dredd, and some early Grey Area. A lot of classic hard-man (and woman) chin action going on! 

Don't mess with the chin!
Words by Gordon Rennie

I feel like I've seen other artists achieve that armour texture before - Adi Granov, maybe? - but it's super effective.
Words by Dan Abnett

And yes, a bit of people standing around talking to each other - but he's getting better at tackling this already. I'll admit I'm not the biggest Grey Area fan, but I do appreciate how the creators always make it feel very near future - apart from the aliens, the cars, armour, guns and of course attitude all seem as if they're just a couple of years ahead.

Look at that dining room - right out of a catalogue! And yet, the texture and everything just feels menacing.
Also, there's a spooky alien beastie in the foreground. That helps.
Words by Dan Abnett (I think?)

For me, Carter’s art stepped up to another level on his next major assignments, Indigo Prime and Angelic. A lot of this is the colouring. Again, I’ve no idea what process he uses, but it’s impressively bright and clean, and just all-around effing gorgeous to look at. Angelic is something of a Sci-Fi western****, and the landscapes are a crucial part of that genre. Scorching skies, lonely mountains, dusty towns – it’s all there, all somehow helping to make Pa Angel a more sympathetic figure than one thought possible.

Pa Angel - hero?
Words by Gordon Rennie

Extra points fro being able to draw a realistic toddler, but always keeping an eye on the rocky backdrop. Amazing!
Words by Gordon Rennie

Revving up for all-out action...

Now THIS is classic 2000AD - fill up a panel with so many weirdos they don't even fit, with no detail spread on muscle, facial expression or outlandish outfits.
Words still by Gordon Rennie

Indigo Prime is another thing entirely. Once again, Carter delivers pristine and surprisingly shiny visuals, but it’s all in service to putting the reader into another space, another place, where the weird and startling can and do assault the characters at every turn. There’s also a neat mix of characters, who are by turns overwhelmed (Danny Redman, usually), or ultra-cool, or beyond cynical. And, of course, there's the colour - such glorious colours!

Bright pink everywhere! Must be some hardcore, fun-lovin' hedonism going on.
Context by John Smith (although that'd have to be a hell of a panel description to have nailed down all those details; gotta assume Carter unleashed his own imagination on this one, too.)
And yes, that is a barrow-boy selling seal pups in the middle there.

Green, grey and dusky pink - must be an evil mad scientist at work.
Words by John Smith

Uh-oh - that pink's gone purple - things have taken a turn for the worse.
(although the dangling pig's head helps telegraph that too)
Words by Kek-W

I guess everyone knows what black signifies.
Carter shows off his facility with panel layout - something he's learned over 5 years of hard work.
So horrific, but utterly absorbing and effective.
Words by Kek-W

There was some controversy over the latest series of Indigo Prime, which saw John Smith handing the writer’s baton over to Kek-W. Not entirely by choice. At least everyone, including Mr Smith, agreed was that Lee Carter’s art was too good to leave in limbo forever. Smith may have wanted to take his tale in a different direction, but he’s a generous soul, and frankly us readers were the winners here, as the unpredictability and many levels of the world of Indigo Prime continue to be unlocked. And Kek-W doesn't skimp on the character beats either.

Let’s end with a sterling but so far unrepeated Rogue Trooper outing from the 2014 Winter Special. It’s a cracker!

Funky panelling combing with a funky, grimacing chin - it's ultimate Carter
Words by Guy Adams
And, at the time of writing this, word has recently broken that Carter is soon to be tackling Durham Red. He’s got form with vampires, signs are v.v. promising!

More on Lee Carter:
He Tweets!
(note the amazing profile picture of Dredd, with characteristic bumpy Lee Carter chin)
He's on Deviant Art!
(where I pulled some of the better panel images from)
A super-early interview on Thunder Chunky, from his pre-2000AD work in the small(ish) press world. Top quality even then!
A review of Dead Eyes in Starburst
(from the Indigo Prime collection)

Personal favourites:
Dead Eyes
Indigo Prime: Perfect Day, A Dying Art

And finally…
There’s surely more than one Lee Carter in the UK. But might this piece of reader art from the early 90s be the work of the same man? It’s pretty damn good for fan art!

Foolishly, I did not make note of the Prog number this came from.

*OK, so technically this series ties in with an older one co-created by Chris Weston. But frankly the setting, tone and indeed all but two cameo characters, this is all Carter.

**Carter drew the entire series, but Simon Davis painted the first cover, and I wonder if he had a hand in the basic angel/demon design..?

***Yet another test case! Clearly, the look of Pa Angel and his ‘family’ was long established by Mike McMahon, but this series is just enough of a re-invention, again in terms of tone and setting, that it sort of feels fair to call it a ‘creation’.

****Gordon Rennie loves a classic western, one suspects.

No comments:

Post a Comment