Monday, August 25, 2008

A Bacardi Show Birthday Greeting is in order for illustrator extraordinaire Michael William Kaluta, who turns 61 years young today.

I've used this forum to opine and spotlight a great many artists in the last (almost) six years, but of all of them, Kaluta may just be my favorite. From the first time I saw his artwork, in DC's The Shadow #2, on through his multitudes of wonderful covers and illustrations, through Starstruck and other works, I have always made it a point to pick it up and never cease to marvel at his graceful style, highly redolent of the great pulp magazine-era illustrators and even farther back than that. It has wit, style, and sexiness, and his design sense is flawless. Of course, even the greats falter from time to time, and for sure he's done figures that didn't quite work or compositions that didn't come together as well as you'd hope...but they've been few and far between.

Here's one of a multitude of pages from Starstruck that blew me away; click to see it bigger. It's a conference-call type conversation between several of the characters, that takes place about midway through the first graphic novel. Notice the varied facial expressions, as well as the details around the edges of each panel, which help clue the reader in on who's speaking to whom:


Also, here are four pages from the 1973 Shadow I mentioned earlier, and the one which certainly grabbed my attention and made me a fan. SPOILERS, if you haven't read this issue! Even though this is early on in his career, there is so much going on in these pages, as the Shadow pursues and eventually puts paid to the killer that was hiding as part of a circus- the atmospheric, moody black night sky, with tiny pinpoints for stars (and for once the crappy 70's coloring doesn't really hurt all that much), the train, which evokes a lot of nostalgia, Hank Williams, all that- it's as if Hank did the music for a 40's noir- and perched incongruously behind the locomotive engine is a giant whale, providing humor. The standoff scenes have real tension, and combined with Denny O'Neil's terse dialogue, the merciless nature of the Shadow here is underlined perfectly. This stuff hit me so hard when I was 13, and I have yet to recover; I didn't know it until a couple of years later, but this looks like it could have been taken straight from the Pulps. Obviously, click the images to see them bigger (I've taken the liberty of "whitening" the page scans a bit):

One of the biggest thrills in my life was when I got to meet the man, at a Louisville toy and game convention in 2000. He was sitting there sketching when I approached, with large notebooks full of the originals of the various DC covers he'd been doing at the time for The Spectre, Books of Magic, and Aquaman. All hand colored with Dr. Martin's dyes, he said, and they were gorgeous. Of course, I couldn't afford- he was asking four figures for them- but I did spend some time browsing. He autographed my copy of the first Starstruck graphic novel, I shook his hand and tried to relate my admiration for his work (variations on which I'm sure he's heard from a thousand different people in a thousand different places) I've met some fairly well-known people, musicians, celebrities and such, but I was never as nervous as when I first approached this man. We made some small talk, I got my signature, and then I got the hell out of there before I became one of those people who linger long after their time has come and gone. I've had a little email correspondence with him since, here and there, and he is still every bit as gracious there as he was in 2000, but I'll never forget that meeting.

Anyway, I've gushed enough. Hope you've had a wonderful day, Mr. Kaluta. Thanks for the memories, and here's to many to come.

(Starstruck page and portrait pic ganked from the website of Todd Klein.)

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