Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Rock and the Emotional Line

At the 1990 San Diego Comic-Con, I was waiting in line to obtain a sketch from Joe Kubert. A small boy ahead of me brought a handful of comics up to the then-64-year old writer artist and asked him, "Are you Sergeant Rock?"

"No," chuckled Kubert, "I created Sergeant Rock, but I'm not Sergeant Rock."

As with many such assertions in the comics business, that was not quite true, but true enough. Actually, writer-editor Robert Kanigher created the comic book character Sgt. Rock, and Kubert did not draw the first Rock story. But Kubert created the look of Rock, his men, and his world, and is therefore in my opinion at least a creator of the character.

What brings this to mind now is reading the first two issues of writer-artist Billy Tucci's comics miniseries, SGT. ROCK: THE LOST BATTALION.

Tucci -- wisely, I believe -- opted not to copy Kubert's version of Rock or his men, and instead drew them in his own semi-realistic style.

Tucci's series is well-written, beautifully drawn, and highly researched. (He went to France to see the settings for the story in person)

But to me, it isn't Sgt. Rock.

The soul of Sgt. Rock is in Kubert's design for the character. A cartoony style, carried off by a master, conveys emotion and subtext that a photorealistic depiction of the same character cannot duplicate. The very weight of the line and crosshatching Kubert uses when drawing The Rock of Easy Company speaks volumes about Rock, his worldview, his experiences and his abilities. You know looking at him that he's battle-hardened and capable, caring and tough at the same time.

That's why, no matter how slick comics art gets, and no matter how spectacular computer-aided comics printing becomes, there should always be a place for the skilled cartoonist. Like a journeyman craftsman, the cartoonist puts soul into his or her work that no production line can match.

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