Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Hugo Awards 2014 Pro Artist

(See my notes on judging art here.)

Nominees: Galen Dara / Julie Dillon /Daniel Dos Santos / John Harris / John Picacio / Fiona Staples

Note: Six nominees because of a tie for fifth.  Fiona Staples was the only artist whose work was not included in the Hugo packet.  Fortunately, I already had a copy of Saga Vol 2 (also nominated for Graphic Novel) so I felt I was familiar with her work.

More below the cut:

Galen Dara  submitted three works – all referential to the same media work (The Wizard of Oz) – in the packet.  The work submitted is heavy on the ‘unfinished’ end of the ‘polish’ spectrum, on the interpretive end of the illustrative/interpretive range and while easy on the eyes, really only worked for me in one piece, where a green veil brought a street to life rather than obscuring it.  Looking at the artist’s website, this is one where my perception of the art might be entirely different if another (or broader) selection had been made.

Julie Dillon  submitted nine works – including two compilations of multiple works – in the packet, presenting a far larger selection of work than any other nominated artist.  Works are generally covers of novels, but covers for other works and a complete calendar were also included.  She included both SF and fantasy works, drawing on a variety of source material (European, WesternCiv, Greek myth, African) and using fairly realistic body styles.  Not overtly sexual. Very finished work, strong on realistic-to-idealized (little grit here) portrait compositions with a few scenes included.  The human figures ranged from the mediocre to the exceptional – her strength appears to be composition and background.  I was very impressed with the use of color.  Of the works submitted, Launch Point and Desert Dragon are among my favorites of all the art submitted by any artist this year.

Daniel Dos Santos had 7 pieces in the packet, at least half media related - at least, they were tie-ins that I recognized right off the bat, although I don’t think I’ve actually purchased anything that he’s done.  His work included SF (Firefly) and fantasy (Mercy Thompson werewolf novels by Briggs) as well as some not-recognized-by-me derivative works. Sci fi, fantasy and horror were all included. His work exemplifies idealized illustrative and beautified interpretation (depending on the definition of beauty) works, where the grit (if any) appears applied with a makeup brush. (In other words, his subjects did not have the same dedication to art as Viggo Mortensen playing Aragorn or any of the cast of Walking Dead.) Of the works included, I liked his interpretive piece of Firefly’s River Tam quite a lot. None of the other pieces really grabbed me.

John Harris’s submission included 5 pieces, none obviously derivative, and leaning heavily towards SF/space rather than fantasy.  It turns out that at least two of them are cover art, but I didn’t realize that until I looked into the artist’s website.  (This despite the fact that titles were included on these pieces.) Harris works in oils, and his pieces were by far the most realistic & gritty of this year’s submissions. His was the only selection of work which gave the impression of understanding an inertia equation. Of the work submitted, only one did not immediately appeal to me (Shadows in Flight) mostly because of color scheme.  I really liked both The Road to Fire with its mix of hard angles and invocations of Arabian Nights, and Downfall with its impression of a fallen giant.  My favorite, though, AncillaryJustice, grew on me more and more as I looked at it.  It does me no credit to admit to how long it took me to put together the pieces of huge space-faring vessel with non-atmospheric planetoid way too close and tiny atmo-capable ships scurrying away into the narrative of the piece.

 John Picacio had a portfolio with 5 pieces, all media tie-in, done in a stylized illustrative style and quite skilled.  The works were a mix of SF and fantasy themes.  I want to note here the exceptional presentation of the works in the packet – title, source material, etc, clearly indicated on the sample itself.  Good job. Very good job.  I also would like to note that the  figures could be far less idealized than either Dillion or Santos – El Arpa (The Harp) and Diamond Deep, in particular, showed women of non-sterotypical/fashion magazine airbrush beauty.  (In contrast, the figure in Haunters gave me a strong impression of ‘myheadispastedon’.  Overall, I preferred this selection of work to Picacio’s portfolio, but none of it was work I really connected to.

Fiona Staples was the only artist to not have a portfolio in the Hugo packet.  Nor was her major work for this year (Saga Vol 2) included.  This is lousy, bad, and wrong, and I will be taking it up with the Queen post haste.

Fortunately, I already had Saga on hand.  And I’ve just ordered the third volume.
Staples’ art is a significant part of both the appeal and the …unappeal of this outstanding series.  The art pushes past ‘traditional’ panel boundaries and insists on spreading regularly across pages.  She uses a rich variety of hues (generally more pastels than I would best prefer) and creates fiendishly inventive otherworldly creatures and people.  Grit? Beauty? Beautiful grit? Oh heck yes. She can make a villain beautiful and a hero horrific. And create two parents who resemble their adult son in completely different ways. All to what appears to be a demanding schedule.

Having said all that…Saga isn’t Kingdom Come.  Staples is normally inventive, but some of her choices are excessively pedestrian.  (The medic is one choice that I felt quite let down over.) Her portraits and landscapes are better than her set tableaus, and those are better than her spacescapes. (And her spacescapes are better than her action scenes, where the figures are pasted onto a background that does not house the motion within.) In terms of portrait style, she tends to use the comic distortion of human/humanoid figures – not as extreme as many, but still elongating legs, narrowing waists, broadening chests and using other techniques to keep the eye of the average comic reader from going “that’s not a sexy chick/that’s not a heroic guy”! (I note that the pieces that annoyed me most were multi-character tableaus of minor characters.  I suspect an effort to increase silhouette delta-V in order to facilitate storytelling.) Additionally, Saga utilizes a level of pornographic and/or destructive imagery that is excess of what most appeals to me.  (I am aware this is at least half the responsibility of the writer.  I’m still not thrilled.)

If Saga continues as it has, it’ll be among my top five comic series.  (Dark Knight Returns, Sandman, Lucifier, ElfQuest and Kingdom Come, for anyone playing the game at home.) 

I picked Harris’s portfolio for Best Professional Artist.  I will not be ranking ‘No Award’ahead of any of these selections. 

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