Friday, March 04, 2011

Original Art Stories: Zeck Month Part I: J.M DeMatties & Mike Zeck's Captain America

Welcome to March 2011, which, for those who read this blog will mean Mike Zeck & J.M. DeMatteis month.  In the coming days and weeks, I'll be taking a look at some of the duo's best known work, through the eyes of artists, writers and collectors alike - so if you have something you want to share then drop me a line.  Also there'll be plenty of original art, including some art that you might not have seen before in it's purest form, so keep checking back, and often.

Now, on with the show!  Before J.M. DeMatties and Mike Zeck worked on Kraven’s Last Hunt they enjoyed a run on one of the most iconic of all of Marvel’s characters – Captain America. This run was notable in that Mike took the character of Captain America and changed his visuals. Previously most artists had drawn the character as muscular, albeit on the slim side. Zeck created a muscular, massive Captain America of truly heroic proportions and in doing so ensured that his rendition would remain totally unique. Zeck’s influence has been felt since he left the character and his run remains a firm favourite both amongst fans and professionals alike.

Captain America isn’t an easy character to write at the best of times. As a hero that comes straight from World War II and wears the flag the temptation to make him a right wing caricature is a trap that many have fallen into both before and since. However J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Zeck, ably assisted by inker John Beatty, managed to bring Steve Rogers and his alter ego, Captain America, up to date with the world of the day, with a focus on how difficult it is for a man out of time to adapt to society without being isolated. DeMatteis spent as much focus on the supporting cast in Steve Rogers life as he did with the villains that Captain America fought, bring back the best aspects of the original Stan Lee-Jack Kirby run of the 1960s.  Recently I asked Mike Zeck how he came to be assigned as the artist for the title and the impact that it had upon his career.

Mike Zeck on Captain America
I was a long time fan of Captain America so I more or less lobbied for that book when the penciling chores opened up. The pressure would have been trying to live up to the art that had come before, since I was still struggling to improve as an artist. I also lobbied to bring friend and fellow Captain America fan, John Beatty, on board as inker, and once that happened, I think we both improved and had a reasonably good run on that title. Seems like a year never goes by where I don't revisit Captain America in some manner... commissions, recreations, pinups, etc. Entering my fourth decade now of fans requesting Captain America art, so more than a few folks must remember those issues fondly.

Captain America editor Mark Gruenwald and assistant editor Mike Carlin were supportive and complimentary so that made life easy. They were also kind enough to forward to me all mail that was sent to the Captain America Letters Of Comment page, so I got a good taste of fan reaction as well. Obviously fans who took time to write were more often than not pleased with the book, so I suppose I was somewhat shielded from whatever negativity that might have been floating around. It wasn't like I could just jump on the internet and read reviews in those days.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

COMING VERY, VERY SOON...a cast of many, including DeMatties and Zeck, reflect upon the story that is Kraven's Last Hunt...

3 comments:

Edo Bosnar said...

Loved the DeMatties/Zeck run on Captain America - it's probably my second favorite run on that title. But I think it's worth noting that the groundwork for bringing Cap/Steve Rogers "up to date" and creating that supporting cast was laid by Roger McKenzie and, especially, Roger Stern (in what is my absolute favorite run, i.e. the Stern/Byrne issues). It is, however, a testament to both DeMatties and Zeck that they captured the look and feel of what went before and ran with it.

Mike P said...

Wow, great idea and great article, Daniel! I really liked Mike's rendition of Cap (and not just because he shares my first name!). For me it surpassed Byrne's to become one of my top five.

I never noticed the more muscular switch but now that I think of it, you're right (other than Kirby's run, especially the "Madbomb" art, where Cap was also bulkier). Very observant.

IMO, the inking really helped propel the art into "great" status; whoever spotted blacks really added gravitas to the character and believability to the action; and the excellent use of lighting really "sold" the art by giving it dimension and reality.

Mike and John's art created for me that wonderful-but-scarce standard of "stylized reality" that I love so much about the true greats of the industry (and that I try to strive for in my work, even tho I'm out of Mike's class): guys that drew in a UNIQUE style but with believable art. Rather than copy models or photos to make it look like (boring) life, they were able to give life to their *own* creations.

(I'm talking guys like Kirby, Frazetta, Wrightson, Adams, Colan, Kubert, Romita Sr., Hogarth and so on; unlike much of today's hero comics where everyone tries to make it look like photographs of their neighbors wearing costumes, these guys created their own universes but sucked you in so you believed you were there. That, to me, is real Art. Not just copying nature, but making it better, bolder, cooler--and YOURS.)

My only regret is that I never got to actually READ any of the stories! I stopped when Byrne took over around #182 and never went back, even tho I bought every issue afterwards--and of course studied the art.

Looking forward to J.M. Dematteis's comments and stories; he's a helluva writer (always wanted to work with him) and I bet his insights will be as fascinating as his other work. I hope his stories are collected into ESSENTIALS so I can experience them for the first time!

Thanks,
Mike

Ben Herman said...

Captain America #278 was the very first issue of the series I ever read, and is a major reason why I became a lifelong fan of the character. So I really enjoyed being able to view pics of the original artwork from that issue.