Sunday, November 11, 2007

Original Art Stories: Alex Saviuk's Phantom

I've always admitted that I like Alex Saviuk. He was one of Marvel Comic's unsung and as such under appreciated artists of the 1990s, a role that he also served at DC in the 1980s. There was nothing spectacular about his art, he wasn't a flash merchant on Spider-Man like Todd McFarlane, but he certainly wasn't a hack pumping out sub-standard art to make a living. Alex was, and still is, a solid, dependable artist, and no matter what the character, from Green Lantern to Superman, from Iron Man to Spider-Man he gave it his best shot. In what would become his longest, and best remembered run, he began drawing Web Of Spider-Man in 1988 with issue #35 and remained on the title, with few exceptions, until issue #116 in 1994. It was a good run on a popular title of the time and helped enhance Alex's reputation. He then moved from the book proper to the newspaper strip, Spider-Man, where he remains to this day.

His comic book career stalled when he was asked to launch a new Spider-Man title. As Alex recounts it;

"My tenure of Web was over in 1994 when they asked me if I’d be interested in launching a new Spider-Man book called Spider-Man Adventures, which was based on the animated television project. Again it seemed to be a financially sound move because comics were selling so well in the early ‘90s that if any kind of a book came out, particularly a Spider-Man or an X-Man book that was a number one, they usually did very well in sales. So I figured that was definitely a step in the right direction, because it would be a financial boost to us. As it turned out, it made some money but this was in about 1995 and comics were starting to go into a spiral downwards in terms of sales.

"In the early ‘90s the market got over saturated with the holographic covers, the mini-series, the number ones and for some reason or another someone decided, and I don’t know who, that comics were going to be the next best investment to Microsoft stock. So you had all these people going out and buying 50 copies, 100 copies of a number one title, and comic shops were in their glory. Amazing Spider-Man would be selling 500,000 copies a month. Web was selling 200 to 250,000 copies a month. They had those Jim Lee X-Men’s with four different covers coming out four weeks in a row for X-Men number one and you had four million copies in sales. Todd McFarlane was selling a couple of million copies of his Spider-Man number one comic. All of that was going on and eventually the market got saturated with too many books and things started going downhill from there."


Downhill is the right word - he hasn't drawn a regular book for Marvel or DC since his last issue of The X-Files in 1998. However his removal from the comic book mainstream opened the door for a new career for him with an old friend of his: The Phantom.

"At that particular time my mainstream comic book career was over. I tried to go to DC, I tried to go back to Marvel and see about getting some work from those two companies, even Dark Horse, but I wasn’t successful at all in getting any work from them. I had to go back to my advertising roots and start doing storyboards for the ad agencies."

"Just recently in addition to the advertising work I got in touch with Ulf Granberg in December of 2003 and sent him some samples. He saw the samples and in within a day he got back to me and was very interested in working with me in doing an Egmont story. So that’s how my first assignment for the Phantom came on. They have scheduling seminars once or twice a year at Egmont and I know that I’m slated to work on one, if not two stories for 2005. I’ve also been approached by Moonstone Comics to do a Phantom story for them. I have a script here which I’ve done the initial layouts for, so I guess there’ll be a Moonstone Phantom of mine coming out in spring or summer.

"I’ve just met so many nice people throughout my lifetime, with comics and just recently with the Phantom. So many people, I didn’t realise how many people were still involved with the Phantom, especially Australia and Europe and we have a select amount of people, I guess, that are still fans here in America. Or maybe there are more than we actually think but considering we just have it in the newspaper strip, and there aren’t really, except for Moonstone right now which is publishing a comic but their schedule seems to have, instead of coming out bi-monthly I think as they’d hoped, I think they more or less come out on a quarterly basis, or maybe even a little bit less than that depending upon how the artistic schedules and the printing schedules go."


Of course Alex had drawn the short loved Marvel title, Defenders Of The Earth, back in the 1980s. That title also featured the Phantom, so the obvious question was how it felt coming back to the Phantom after drawing him all those years ago.

"When I first got to do the Defenders of course I was excited because, as I said, the Phantom, Mandrake, Flash Gordon. The Phantom basically had the same look that I grew up with. I grew up looking at the Sy Barry newspaper strips when I was a kid living in New York. When I saw the Defenders Of The Earth Phantom and saw that he didn’t have his guns and he didn’t have his striped trunks, they said “Well it’s a futuristic version and because the Phantom now has this so called ‘power of ten tigers’ at his command he doesn’t really need guns, because he gets the strength of ten tigers, and the stealth and speed to fight his enemies,” which wasn’t exactly my idea of the Phantom but still, visually speaking, he had the purple costume, the belt, the mask, the skull cave, so there was still enough there for me to enjoy working on it.
Regrettably the book came to a close so quickly having only done the four issues. I’d always had a love for the Phantom over the years. I’ve collected the comics, all the Gold Key issues. I’m missing just a few of the King Comics and a few of the Charltons. I’ve got all of the DC’s and all the other versions that have come out since and now that I’ve been working on the Egmont series, they sent me four years worth of Fantomen, so over the course of about a week and a half I had about 100 comics coming to me in the mail. [laughter] Unfortunately I couldn’t read any of them, but it was great looking at the artwork because they do have some really fine people working for them. Just the thought of working on the Phantom again got me excited, especially since I had spoken to Dick Giordano over a year ago also and he told me he was doing some work for them and that I should possibly get in touch to see if they needed any other artists. The rest is history as far as that goes."


The art you've been looking at is the original art for the cover to The Phantom #1420, as published by Frew here in Australia. Most Frew issues would feature full colour art on both the front and back covers of the comic book, and as this issue featured Alex's story, The Phantom - Man or Myth? (it originally appeared in the Swedish Fantomen Nr.11/2005), Frew commissioned Alex to provide the art, which he did. About a year after I interviewed Alex (back in 2004) he decided to sell the colour art to this issue. I made a run at it via eBay and managed to snare it for a (then) more than reasonable price. What struck me when it arrived is how Frew decided to mute the colours somewhat. Alex's original (which he coloured) is somewhat brighter than the published version, as can be seen in the scans. Not that I mind the published version, but the original seems to work better for me, but different strokes I guess.

Alex's Phantom art is increasing in value, and rightly so. The art is fairly hard to track down as Alex managed to hold onto the bulk of it, but every so often he opens the vaults and places the odd item on eBay. This week saw him place the original line art up for sale, you can find them here and here. Bidding hasn't been as frantic as I thought it'd be, it's early days yet, but already the bids are over what I paid for my coloured versions. And there's probably a good reason for that.

I know a lot of people don't consider coloured art to be 'proper' original art. In this case the original artist has done his line art, printed off his copies and done the colouring. The latter art was then scanned in and sent to Frew, not the original line art. In effect, in this case, the colour art is the published version, not the line art. The line art might be considered to be the real art, and with good reason as it all started from there, but the colour art is closer to the final version. I'm not sure that Frew even saw the line art. I'd love to make a serious run at both of the covers, front and back, but I doubt I'll be able to afford them right at the moment, still stranger things have happened.

I'll again throw it open to the world at large - which cover is more desirable? The original line art, or the colour art? Both were done by the same artist, one was used for the eventual cover, one wasn't. I know which one will sell for the most - the original line art - that's a no brainer, still it does raise the question.

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References: Alex Saviuk interview. Feel free to pop over and read the whole thing. There's art galore there as well.

Deep Woods web-site. Sadly defunct now, but still full of decent information.

Plus Alex drew
Air Wave back in the day for DC. Air Wave wasn't the best character or concept that DC ever had, but in Alex's hands it was a load of fun. So you can't not like a guy who took that character and made it both enjoyable and memorable!

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