Saturday, December 20, 2008

Happy Birthday Dave Simons

One of my best friends in the comic book world is having his birthday today, Saturday, 20th of December, 2008. Dave Simons! Unlike some people I do know what to say about Dave as I've already said it. A while back Bob Shaw took over representing Dave for art sales and commissions and he had me whip the following text up. So, without any further ado, here's my thoughts on the life and times of Dave Simons.

The wind was howling, rain was thumping and an ominous "DOOM! DOOOM! DOOOOM!" shattered the air and caused the ground to shudder as Dave Simons was born in a half ruined castle that sat upon a wind-swept crag. Howling harpies crouched upon the dilapidated battlements and goblins, ghouls and specters crept thru the darkened dungeons. Dave Simons always wanted to be a comic book artist and that's exactly how it ended up for him. "I always wanted to do comics since I was about eight years old," says Dave, "so I started making a point of drawing something every day. I figured if I just kept doing that, then eventually I'd get better at it." Growing up in New York, Dave attended the now legendary workshops run by Marvel artist John Buscema. While attending class he became friends with two up and coming artists, penciller Ken Landgraf and future Marvel inker, Armando Gil. Landgraf was able to help Dave land his first published work, which consisted of mainly commercial illustrations. Not wanting to rely on others to forge a career, he soon began to look for other options. Dave and Armando formed an alliance and friendship that continues to this day. Approaching then Marvel editor, Rick Marschall, at a convention, Dave was able to get his samples seen and assessed. At the time Marschall was overseeing the black and white magazine line for Marvel and was always on the look out for artists who were young, hungry and capable. Dave was assigned the duty of inking the first issue of the Howard the Duck magazine. From there he was assigned a fill-in Falcon story, inking, with Armando Gill, over Sal Buscema pencils, which marked his first work for Marvel proper.

Dave was then assigned a number of jobs, both penciling and inking. He managed to produce high quality work over artists such as Gene Colan, a daunting task for any artist, let alone a young up and comer. "Gene Colan was always my favorite penciler to work on," says Dave today. "That was like a match made in heaven because a lot of people didn't understand Gene's shading. I thought 'this is great, this is a great jumping on point if you're gonna do black and white stuff'." Dave soon rose to become of the premiere inkers of the 1980s, with his fine line and highly detailed work. Always in demand, Dave provided inks over a virtual who's who of classic Marvel artists of the era, including the aforementioned Colan, along with Keith Pollard, Ron Wilson, Frank Miller, John Buscema, Marc Silvestri, Greg LaRoque, John Romita Jr, Ed Hannigan, Walt Simsonson and more. Books that he inked include titles such as Thor, The Thing, Marvel Premiere, Night Thrasher, Iron Man, King Conan, Dr Strange, Star Wars, Star Trek, Thundercats and several others.

Dave's tenure wasn't just limited to inking. He penciled titles such as the Spectacular Spider-Man, Team America, What If, Marvel Comics Presents, Bizarre Adventures, Red Sonja, Web Of Spider-Man, King Conan, and provided cover art in the form of both pencils and inks to books such as Power Man & Iron Fist, Ghost Rider, Darkhold, Machine Man, Kull The Conqueror, Marvel Team-Up, Marvel Two In One, Crystar, Moon Knight and many others. "Penciling, if you're doing it right," says Dave, "is a much tougher gig than inking. Even though I usually liked to know what was going on, with inking you don't necessarily have to be involved with the story. With penciling you have to be intimately involved with the story because you're the one who's bringing the writers work and intentions across to the readers, as to what he's trying to communicate there. You have to think of the drama, the camera angles, and the composition, make sure you leave room for the word balloons, all those sorts of things."

Perhaps Dave's best known Marvel work was his run on Ghost Rider, which saw him first inking Don Perlin and then joining up with Bob Budiansky to create an art team that sadly was all too short lived. Working with writers Roger Stern and then J.M. DeMatteis, Budiansky and Simons provided some of the best art that the character, and title, has ever seen. "The only speed bump we hit in this whole thing was when Dave Simons, who of that team is the unsung hero, left," Budiansky recalled recently. "He used to come to the office dressed in leather. I mean, this was not an act, he'd come dressed in one of these black leather, zipper jackets. I don't know if he also wore leather pants. He might have worn them. But anyway, the point is, he knew how to ink leather, which was really important for Ghost Rider. So when he left the book we never really were able to replace that look that he gave the book. The rest of the team was all somewhat saddened by his departure." The highly detailed and rendered look that Budiansky and Simons were able to give the character was mirrored when the character was relaunched in the 1990s.

He still recalls his Marvel days with a certain amount of fondness. "One thing I had a lot of fun doing was the one issue of Team America," Dave recalls. "I did one issue where I penciled and inked, it was Ghost Rider vs. Team America and that was pretty fun." Dave also penciled a variety of pin-ups used for the Savage Sword of Conan magazine. "Once I got into doing the Conan stuff it was pretty fun for me because, hey, it's Conan!" says Dave now. "I even co-wrote a Savage Sword of Conan. I started to see how my pencils would look inked by someone else. I penciled King Conan and Geoff Isherwood inked it. I did some work on Red Sonja and Vinnie Colletta inked me on that."

Dave eventually left Marvel for other pastures and in the early 1990s he crossed companies to DC. While there he worked on books such as Deathstroke The Terminator, Spelljammers, Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms where he inked Rags Morales. "I liked the combination of me and Rags Morales," says Dave, "He has that Frazetta thing going on and I was hip to that and tried to bring that out a lot." While at DC Dave also worked on a number of cartoon based books, such as Cartoon Network Block Party and Roger Rabbit at Disney.

Dave left the comic book industry as a full time artist to concentrate on other ventures. He moved into animation where his skills as a storyboard artist came to the fore. He provided storyboards to such shows as Captain Planet, Exo-Squad Masters Of The Universe, Zula Patrol, Psi-Kix and Maya and Miguel, the latter for Scholastic. Recalls Dave today, "The list of shows I've worked on is certainly longer than the list of comic books that I've worked on at this point." He has also developed his own co-creating, notably the Beastball Saga which he created with Sebastian Mondrone. He also managed to straddle television and comic books when he first worked on the animated show Courage The Cowardly Dog. Dave subsequently worked on the DC comic book during his second stint at that company.

Today Dave works on the occasional comic book and concentrates on producing high quality commissions for an appreciative audience. His work is sought after by original art collectors and he is one of the most reliable and dependable in the highly competitive market of commissions. He also works for companies such as Rittenhouse, producing trading card art for various sets, most recently he provided the original art to hundreds of sketch cards for the Women Of Marvel set and is working on similar sketch cards for the forthcoming Fantastic Four set. Dave is widely known for his wicked sense of humour, his sharp wit and intelligence. Recently Michael Netzer said of Dave, "His rebound from a difficult health situation and the indifference to its creators of a corporately driven comics industry, have not succeeded in felling the spirit of Dave Simons, who remains full of cheer, wit and grace, as we'd always known him to be. The alluring array of his work, testifies to his art as remaining a highly recommended commodity for comics art collectors and aficionados." In two sentences Netzer managed to capture the essence of Dave Simons, an artist's artist.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAVE. Many, many more to come.

1 comment:

Tim said...

Happy Birthday Dave, from one ex-Coastie (USCG) to another!