Pipeline #1038: Alan Davis’ “The Nail”

In this week’s Pipeline column at ComicBook.com, I talk about Alan Davis’ “The Nail” and “Another Nail” mini-series.  Six years apart, but so good.

As usual, I can’t fit all of my thoughts into that column, so I saved the rest for here.  This time, it’s all about the art and creation of the comic.

Why Does Alan Davis’ Art Work So Well?

Alan Davis’ art has shape and form.  His characters have depth and weight.

An Alan Davis drawing is never two dimensional, even when standing straight and facing directly at the reader.  There’s still a roundness to the characters’ body, a fluidity to the ink line, a sense of place from the way the shadows fall, and a depth that goes along with it.

They feel real because they look real even though we all know they’re an enormous stretch from real anatomy.  Those bulging biceps, those six pack abs, those broad shoulders and barrel chests — not only do most people not have those things, but those that do couldn’t pull off wearing bright red spandex with that physique, anyway.

Comics are fake; Alan Davis makes them look real — without drawing [expletive deleted] seams.


What’s With The Diagonals?

Here’s something that drove me away from John Byrne’s work in the 90s, that Alan Davis used as a tool in “Another Nail.”

Compare these two pages, the first from “The Nail” and the second from “Another Nail.”

Alan Davis layouts for "The Nail" and "Another Nail" using diagonals in the latter

See the difference?

In the third issue of “Another Nail,” the story takes place in a world that’s a bit off-kilter, so Davis goes diagonal for the whole issue to show that it’s a bit… off.  I get the idea behind the technique, but I hate it.  I’ve always hated the technique, even when used for a purpose. Panel compositions look lopsided and wrong.  Page layouts look haphazard, like panels are just thrown around willy nilly. (The example I have above it about the most minor diagonal the panels go.)

This is probably just an annoyance of mine, though.


The Lettering of Patricia Prentice

Lettering sample from Patricia Prentice from "The Nail" #2 by Alan Davis and Mark Farmer.

I love the lettering of Patricia Prentice with Davis’ art.  It feels organic.  It reminds me a lot of L. Lois Buhalis’ form, with a bit of Richard Starkings’ old hand lettering style, and maybe a touch of John Workman’s energy.

Those round balloons, those square letter forms, those floating balloons.  They never butt up against a panel border.  They’re always free floating.

Looking at her ComicBookDB.com page, it looks like she rose up the ranks of British publishing before becoming a favorite of Alan Davis’ for a while, lettering both of “The Nail” mini-series, along with his Killraven mini and some “ClanDestine” work.  Her two biggest works were lettering “Hitman” for its entire run, and a spell on Peter David/Leonard Kirk’s “Supergirl” series.

She appears to be out of comics now.  “Another Nail” actually looks to be her last work. Everything after that was reprints.  It was a relatively short career in comics, but one with a lot of highlights to it.


The Coloring of John Kalisz

There’s a big difference in the cover credits between the first and second series.  Look:

Cover credits to The Nail and Another Nail by Alan Davis and Mark Farmer

Colorist John Kalisz gets a “with” cover credit, which I think is pretty nice, and pretty forward for a 2004 comic.  At that time, I don’t think that was too common outside of CrossGen.

Kalisz deserves the credit, because his colors suit the series so well.  He can paint with bright bold colors suitable to a superhero comic, without every hiding or competing with a single black ink line.  Everything is crisp and clean. It’s not fancy, but it’s also not flat. Looking at the two books side by side, you can see how his coloring skills increased in those six years, too.  Things got a lot more technical with that experience.

Kalisz is still a colorist at, mostly, DC Comics.


In Conclusion

Anything Alan Davis does is worth reading, even fill-in issues or short-lived series that are otherwise uncompelling. I just read his run on “Wolverine” that he did with Paul Cornell a couple years back.  It was underwhelming.  Not Davis’ fault.  He just didn’t have a lot of great stuff to draw, and the story was a little iffy.  Plus, those two fill-in issues just killed the momentum of the book with some not great art.

So, there, a bonus review.

Check out the weekly column at ComicBook.com for more on these two “Nail” series, and join me in wishing for an Absolute edition!


  • JC Lebourdais April 19, 2017 at 1:11 pm

    I remember avidly anticipating this when it was first published. I agree with you that Alan Davis’ art is a treasure of the 90’s, along with Steve Rude’s. Both remind me of Will Eisner’s fluidity and elegance from peak Spirit.
    However, His writing is another story, I found the plot of these two books very mundane for a much-hyped Elseworlds series. Sad to say, ‘What If?’ books are rarely gripping, since they are out of continuity, there are no real stakes. Anything goes. Davis did much better on ClanDestine, in my opinion. I’d love to see more of that one.
    I would also greatly disagree on the praise to the colorist. What I see here is a blatant abuse of dark and brown tones that became really annoying to me, as paper quality improved in prestige format comics of that era, both from DC and Marvel. At the time, Valiant’s spectrapower felt like a true breath of fresh air, to be honest.

    • Augie April 19, 2017 at 3:13 pm

      My expectations are just lower than yours. 😉 Yup, it’s an Elseworlds, so there’s no sense of control or need to be careful. Since anything can happen, there’s a bit of the tension lost. There’s little in the way of stakes, as there would be in the “main universe.” But given all that, I look at these stories like I look at the movies — little self-contained stories featuring versions of the characters in a universe of their own.

      As for coloring — there are pages that get a bit in the mud, but the glossy paper saves them. Mostly, it feels very bright to me with lots of colors on the pages. The pages are all filled with colorful costumes, so my recollection a few days after my first reading of the book in a long time is that it’s a very bright book.

      Trust me – nobody hates the scourge of modern “realistic” coloring that leads to lost line art more than me. I throw hissy fits. This felt cleaner to me than that.

      Maybe I need to take another look, though I’m afraid I’ll hate something I currently like. Let me just fool myself, then. 😉

  • JC LEBOURDAIS April 19, 2017 at 6:31 pm

    Fair enough, might be a generational thing, I started reading comics in the seventies. We all have our weak spots; mine is Silver Age DC, you can’t really do much brighter than that. No wonder, despite plenty of talent, Davis’ take would be lost on me. Which is interesting, because mentioning Steve Rude earlier reminded me of a similar DC effort from roughly the same period, titled ‘Elseworld’s Finest’. That one I thoroughly enjoyed. Now I’m trying to jog my memory as to who the writer was. I’m too lazy to google it right now 🙂

    • JC LEBOURDAIS April 20, 2017 at 3:05 am

      See this is what happens when you’re getting old. A good night’s sleep and a 2-minute search, I found out the title of the Rude-drawn mini-series was just World’s Finest. 3 issues prestige format written by none other than Dave Gibbons. This guy’s good, he might do great things someday. This is from 1990. Apparently Elseworld’s Finest was something else entirely. Anyway, this was a great book, revisiting the golden age, in a similar way Davis was doing in the Nail. But at the time I felt Gibbons/Rude were way more successful at it. Maybe I should dig it up and reread both, I might have a different perspective on it now, in the light of your review. One of the things I like about your column, makes me reread stuff I hadn’t thought about in quite a while. Now I want to reread some early Valiant as well, I just saw they’re putting out big Archives-type volumes of the early Shooter era. Seems like those had the same effect on me that Image had on you.

      • Augie April 20, 2017 at 3:18 pm

        I know that World’s Finest book you’re thinking of. I think I might even have a trade of it somewhere. Don’t know that I’ve ever read it, though. But, yes, it sounds like we split in different directions in the early 90s. I was and still am #TeamImage. 😉 I could never get into most of the Valiant stuff. I tried a couple of series, but it never went too far from me, in part because of the “plain” art that all looked alike.

  • Matt O'Hara April 20, 2017 at 1:16 pm

    Not an quite an Absulute, but both series are being reprinted as a $40 deluxe hardcover in October.


    • Augie April 20, 2017 at 3:16 pm

      Ooh, that’s great news. Thanks, Matt!

  • JC LEBOURDAIS April 20, 2017 at 3:44 pm

    The Valiant House style was I believe done on purpose, David Lapham found his own style later (was it Stray Bullets?), so did Bernard Chang, Jimmy Palmiotti and the others, but the focus was clearly on the story. I’d hazard a guess that Jim Shooter found his inspiration from his Weisinger days at DC when most artists were advised to swipe Dan Barry. I wonder how sales were going between early Image and early Valiant. Two diametrically opposed approaches indeed.
    I’d love to read your in-depth take on plain art/good storytelling Vs flashy art/lousy storytelling someday Augie.

  • JC LEBOURDAIS April 20, 2017 at 8:17 pm

    Well, I just spent the evening rereading both The Nail and its follow-up, I have to admit that in hindsight I must revise my earlier sentiment. I confess a newfound appreciation for Davis’s writing, although heavy on exposition, the story is well crafted, nicely paced and shows true reverence to DC lore, peppered with many little nuggets of knowledge only a longtime DC reader would recognize, easter eggs that feel more than just fan service but are truly integrated to the story. The tone is indeed, as I first noticed it, fairly somber but it shows a glimpse of hope towards the end, a thing that paradoxically no DCU movie managed to capture properly so far. In a way, it prefigures how grim the DC comics universe would become in the following years, but never completely succumbs to the dark side which sadly engulfed pre-Flashpoint DC. When I think about it, I kind of understand why I didn’t like it that much in the first place, it was ahead of its time, foreshadowing pitfalls to come to DiDioLand. If it were published today, every DC fan would be cheering. I’m still not completely sold on the coloring though, especially the muddy hues chosen for character’s skin and too many backgrounds.
    All in all that was a fairly enjoyable evening and I have to thank you for it. This would make a nice movie or two. I’m going to yawn all morning tomorrow but that was worth it. I’ll reread the Gibbons/Rude one over the weekend.

  • dancondonjones April 22, 2017 at 5:59 am

    I didn’t much like The Nail at the time and I thought Another Nail was worse, so I’ve long since sold them.

    Part of me wishes I’d kept them though, just for the art. It is stellar!


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