by Kevin Czap
Recently I got around to reading an issue of Static Shock I have lying around, and just watched 2001: A Space Odyssey at the Cinematheque. These two things combined led me to think about how much I love the comics of John Paul Leon. Naturally.
Reading Earth X was a pivotal moment for 15 year old me, starting to lead me from Alex Ross and Wizard magazine to harder stuff. The artwork was and is gorgeous, naturalistic, but at the same time very flat and graphic. It was photo-realistic in a very different way than Ross — this was gritty newspaper photography, grainy high contrast film (the Sin City movie versus Pi). Except it wasn’t photography, it was all cartooning! I love the flatness, the blocky spot blacks. As that one issue of New X-Men (featuring Xorn and inked by Bill Sienkiewicz) seemed to prove, his work thrives from its flatness — the airbrushy modulated colors deflate the positive qualities of the artwork, which is a damn shame. One of the things I’m still trying to teach myself from this work is economy of mark, letting open shape do as much talking as the line.
Leon is a great artist who I’d love to do a ton more books, but it’s fortunate that pretty much everything he’s worked on has been better than average at least. The cream of the crop seems to be The Winter Men, the beleagured Wildstorm series about Russian gangsters/superheroes. This comic gives Leon a chance to showcase his many strengths – solidly constructed establishing shots, mundane slice of life moments, action sequences that have a bodily weight to them, smart page layouts. All of this is given a huge helping hand by the apparent opportunity Leon had in inking his own pencils as well as the perfect color work by Dave Stewart. These two factors combined make the artwork appear more open and every page is a rewarding eyefull. Did I mention hand-done lettering (provided by John Workman)?
At the moment, John Paul is providing outstanding cover illustrations for DMZ, a title which I’ve always regarded as being one of the best designed books out there. Brian Wood is an excellent designer, and I always appreciated the sense of it that he would bring to the limited comics pages he made. Anyway, Leon is more than filling Wood’s shoes. I only wish he was taking over all art duties for the book – I would buy it up in a heartbeat. Oh well. Leon’s covers have always had great compositions, but in this atmosphere it’s really being taken to another level, perhaps aided by having more control over the whole process (I read he does the colors himself).
Here’s to you, John Paul Leon, love ya.