The magnificent three dimensional panel of Serra and her hair, from Tellos #1 by Mike Wieringo and Nathan Massengill

The 90s Influences and Good Old Fashioned Storytelling Style of Mike Wieringo

Today is Mike Wieringo’s birthday. He would have been 58 (!) this year.

Every year on this date, I have a great deal of fun looking back on his art and discovering something new to talk about.

This year, rather than analyzing two more complete pages of “Tellos” #1, I found myself flipping through the comic for the hundredth time and picking out random panels that I thought were interesting for various reasons.

Let’s get to them:

90s Style Hair

Serra's hair has the trademark 90s style of shine to it.  Eat your heart out, Clairol models!

I don’t know who started this. I’m pretty sure it’s a technique that was borrowed from manga.

I’ve always been fascinated at the way artists draw the highlights on the hair with a couple of concentric circles. The colorists and inkers pick up on the cue quickly enough, and it’s immediately clear to readers, even in black and white. It’s technique that works.

I saw it the most in the 90s. Mike Wieringo used it a lot. So did J. Scott Campbell, more so in his “Gen13” days than “Danger Girl.” (I think by “Danger Girl,” he started to let the colors handle that.) Chris Bachelor in his “Generation X” days used it sparingly, mostly on Jubilee. I don’t think Joe Madureira used the technique, but he did draw some volume-filled hair styles that remind me of the style we’re looking at here today.

When I see this technique now, whether it’s fair or not, it brings me back to the mid-1990s of comic book art.

The Breakout Panel

Serra stands out from the rest of the page in her introduction in Tellos #1

I think I first heard about this from an interview with Rob Liefeld. One of the things he tries to do with his page layouts is to create a focal point. There should be one moment per page where a character jumps out at you. That is usually a large figure somewhere on the page around which the rest of the page is laid out. It’s a dangerous technique for storytelling, but when it works it can create some very memorable pages.

Wieringo experiments with it here. This is the use case for it to introduce a character — in this case, the pirate, Serra — by giving her a full body pose standing apart from the rest of the page. With one panel, we know what she looks like from head to toe, and it’s an attractive image overall. You get a little eye candy, you get a lot of information about the design of a new character, and you get a page with an interesting layout.

It’s the kind of page layout Todd McFarlane used a lot earlier in his career, though often it would be with a face in profile and the panels lined up behind the mask of the face.

Good Old Fashioned Story-Telling

This panel jumps out at me for the way everything is so perfectly staged. It’s almost too good:

Kaj is concerned about Frog Creatures

This, to me, is classic good old fashioned storytelling. It borders on corny, and you might need to suspend your disbelief temporarily to think that Koj wouldn’t hear the swords and frog soldiers so closely behind him.

His dialogue goes, “Besides, they’re just froggers… What could possibly go wrong?”

That last line means everyone reading the comic now knows that something is about to go very, very wrong. And it’s likely going to involve the frog soldiers!

Second, check out the way Wieringo frames the scene twice. First, we see Koj and Jarek pulling aside some curtains, which act as a framing device for the reader looking into this panel. The two characters, themselves, then act as a frame within that frame to draw your attention further into the panel. Your eye is drawn into the Frogsoldiers in the back, who happen to be exactly who Koj is referencing. The black background also frames them from the top, if you really want to analyze this panel to within an inch of its life.

This is comics — combining the words and the pictures to tell the full story.

Small touch worth noting: Check out the most horizontal of the swords in the background. It’s perfectly positioned to give us another overlap with the front frog soldier’s head so we can see that head’s full shape. It’s a much more dramatic way of doing it than just continuing the thin outline from around the rest of his body.

Three Dimensional Close-Up

A closeup on Serra's face looks super three dimensional to me, from "Tellos" #1

Often, in my Hyperanalysis write-ups, I talk about how using foreground, middle ground, and background to increase the depth of an image. (See, in particular, Xavier Fourquemin’s work on “Miss Endicott”.)

When I saw this panel, it jumped out at me. It’s a simple close up shot on Serra. But it felt super three dimensional to me. I couldn’t point out why initially, but I really felt like I was looking into a window and seeing layers behind it.

That’s it! It’s the layers. This is a head shot of Serra, but it still incorporates elements of foreground/middle ground/background.

That ear and the loop earring establishes the foreground. Her face is in the middle, and the hair falling behind her head creates a background.

The inks from either Rich Case or Nathan Massengill work well in this panel, also. Everything is super smooth. There’s no crosshatching or flashy stuff.

Also, specifically, Serra’s hair makes sense. That sounds like an obvious thing, but when you look at how the ink work is done for the hair, you can see just how much of its shape and shine is created by the solid black areas. If you mess up the inks on an image like this, the whole panel would go astray.

Credit also goes to Paul Mounts on colors. He nails the shadow on her face from that stray hair up front. That helps it stand out, too.

Further Reading and Listening

I also posted a podcast today, bringing back an episode from the original run of the Pipeline Comics podcast. It’s a November 2006 interview with Todd Dezago about “Tellos,” as well as some other entertaining things.

Analyzing “Tellos” #1 is an on-going Pipeline Project (TM). Here are the previous installments:

And, of course, I have a similar Hyperanalysis of the first issue of the Mark Waid/Wieringo “Fantastic Four” run together. Here are those articles:

What do YOU think? (First time commenters' posts may be held for moderation.)

One Comment

  1. I never was much into this, as I was already reading europeans and japanese creators doing the same things years before. But I understand the appeal from the american perspective. And your passion is very contagious, you’re the one who convinced me to give Erik Larsen a second chance after I strongly disliked him sandwiched between McFarlane and Bagley on better-forgotten Spider-Man stories. Despite the many storytelling flaws, Savage Dragon is an enjoyable read when you want to unplug your brain and just have a fun ride.
    To me, The Tellos art is a fun mix between Gil Kane, Jack Cole and some Masamune Shirow influences, that I’d been reading for years before that, though I don’t feel it really elevates the fairly bland story. But I just realised that you pretty much entered comics as I was moving away from them, so generational divide, probably. For an 80s kid, Brian de Palma is everything that Hitchcock was for me, only bloodier. It’s fair.