I was never an Ian Churchill fan, even as a kid. I have some friends who really dig his stuff on the various X-books in the ’90s, but I never got into him. And when I came back to comics, his art was of a style that I definitely wasn’t into. It was a little too derivative of Jim Lee, but even more stereotypically Image Comics– unlikely breasts, boobsocks, stick legs, super long torsos, poor acting, etc. He was, in essence, what I didn’t like about superhero books.
Back in October, I read interview on CBR with Churchill about him doing an arc on Jeph Loeb’s Hulk. The stuff about him adjusting his style in the ’90s to be more like Jim Lee in order to get more work was interesting. I’ve heard about Herb Trimpe trying a similar tactic and not meeting with much success. I read the interview, found it a little interesting, but still decided to skip the issues. How different could the style be? It’d still look more or less like his work on Supergirl, right?
I skipped the first couple issues and didn’t think twice. I saw the cover to the second issue on a wall at the comic shop and was kinda surprised. It really, really didn’t look like Churchill’s style. Lots of spot blacks, no crosshatching, the hair wasn’t plasticky… weird. So I picked it up. That ended up being a good decision.
I really dig Churchill’s new style. He’s jettisoned a lot of what I disliked about his work and come up with something really interesting and neat. You can look at it and see some of Churchill’s flourishes. The chins are undeniably Churchill’s work, but overall, his style is something like Dan DeCarlo meets Ed McGuinness, with a small dose of Humberto Ramos in terms of character anatomy and structure. It looks good on the page, and is appealingly “superheroic” in terms of style.
I’m enjoying Churchill’s storytelling a lot more now, too. He’s still using around the same number of panels as in his prior work, but the cleaner style gives him room to make the faces more cartoonishly expressive. The figure work is better, too. There are still muscles stacked on muscles, but the lack of excessive detail makes it look cleaner, less cluttered, and more attractive.
A few artists I like have gone through serious changes to get where they are now. Chris Bachalo reinvented himself as as a monster of an artist, a guy who can make anything look good even as he weirds it up to the max. Travis Charest used to be a crappy Jim Lee knockoff before he was a master of hyperrealism. Patrick Zircher went from doing okay middle of the road stuff on Cable/Deadpool to knocking Terror, Inc. all the way out of the park with a fresh new style. (Ask Carla about his work on BLOOD COLOSSUS sometime.) With able assistance from Mark Farmer on inks and Peter Stiegerwald on colors, Churchill has managed to reinvent himself for the better.