Lovefest – John Paul Leon

20 Jul
by Kevin Czap

John Paul Leon, Earth X #10

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.

John Paul Leon, Static Shock #3

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.

John Paul Leon, Static Shock #3

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)?

John Paul Leon, The Winter Men #1

John Paul Leon, The Winter Men #2

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).

John Paul Leon, DMZ cover

John Paul Leon, DMZ cover

Here’s to you, John Paul Leon, love ya.

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4 Responses to “Lovefest – John Paul Leon”

  1. cantocomics July 20, 2011 at 7:07 am #

    Matt–have you seen Paul Azaceta’s work (particularly on Boom! Studios’ ‘TALENT’)? He obviously drew a lot from JPL’s work to arrive at his style on that book.

    • kevinczap July 20, 2011 at 8:40 am #

      I hadn’t heard of him before but I can see the resemblance. Tommy Lee Edwards is another guy who is pretty similar, but in my opinion he doesn’t quite nail it the way JPL does.

      Thanks for the tip.

  2. darrylayo July 20, 2011 at 9:00 am #

    JP Leon is so good. I don’t know why he does not earn more work. Did you, Kevin, read his CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN run? It was so good. Aside from Wintermen, his CHALLENGERS series was the best use of his ability that I have seen. Conceptually, anyway. The stories were MEEEHHHH.

    Funny story I was thinking about JPL just before I saw this post. The universe is in alignment for good comics.

    Your point about the colors is wonderful. His stuff looks SO GOOD on unfancy newsprint. The colors are flat and faded thanks to the material. It has this Cold War, LIFE MAGAZINE feel to it that I have a desperate crush on.

    ❤ John Paul Leon.

    • kevinczap July 20, 2011 at 12:36 pm #

      I haven’t read the CHALLENGERS stuff but I really want to. Haven’t been able to track it down :/

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