7 Artists: Amanda Conner

July 6th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

One thing superhero comics have a glaring lack of are actual acting. For a wide variety of reasons, the emphasis in comics art is on figures. You need to be able to draw strong dudes, sexy ladies, and if you can manage to fit in surprise, anger, stoicism, arrogance, and something that kinda sorta resembles bedroom eyes on the figure, more power to ya, superstar. The emphasis in most books are on the figures and the costumes, with faces being a distant third at best. You’d think it wouldn’t be this way–Brian Bendis is fond of using reaction panels and Geoff Johns is doing a mega-arc based around emotions, but it is what it is.

Faces are extraordinarily important when it comes to acting and body language. When people say that the eyes are the window to the soul, they’re more or less correct. The eyes are probably the most expressive thing on your face, and they change shape and appearance based on how you move your face. Look in a mirror and smile, frown, glower, or whatever and watch how your eyes move around. Obvious, right? You can smile or frown with your eyes, even when trying to keep your face expressionless.

Let’s be honest here. Most facial expressions are stupid. If you ever look at someone grinning, or scowling, or screaming in terror–I mean, it looks stupid, right? The face contorts and shifts and all the muscles under the skin move around, creating hills and valleys where once were plains. Watch your friends while they laugh, especially if they do deep belly laughs. Their mouths gape open and their eyes squeeze together. (Don’t get me started on people who stick their tongue out when they laugh. I mean, where do you learn that?) Facial expressions can be movements or moments in time, and every person is different. Capturing that takes paying attention.

There are a lot of artists who don’t know what to do with a face. Ed Benes draws these empty-eyed, expressionless, hollowed out shells of characters; people who stand around with blank expressions until they get a chance to shout or shut their eyes. (Benes’s inability to draw attractive women baffles me, considering that Brazil is pretty much Pretty Woman Heaven. Go to the beach, son, draw from life.) Other artists have these set facial patterns they go for and graft onto their characters. Not Amanda Conner, though. No, she goes all-in as far as facial expressions go.

Her most recent work was a twelve issue run on Power Girl with Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti. It was the DC Comics equivalent of one of Marvel’s mid-list titles like Immortal Iron Fist. It didn’t ever really tie into the overall story of the DC universe, instead picking up and running with stories about the day-to-day life of the titular character. Power Girl gave Conner plenty of room to play around with her art, using a lot of funky body language and facial expressions to push the story along.

What’s interesting about acting in comics is the way it replaces dialogue and exposition. Shouts, grunts, screams, growls, and certain other noises don’t actually need the word balloon with “AHHHHH!” or “Grrr” or “sigh” to get the point across. Think of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” where a man standing on a bridge screams in silence. Sure, you could add some sound effects on that, preferably by John Workman, but you don’t need it. The expression is clear enough.

Conner incorporates this fact into her work, and Power Girl became one of DC’s strongest comics because of it. There are tons of scenes where grunts, gasps, or shouts would have been appropriate, but instead, all of the expression is left to Conner’s art. Power Girl biting her lower lip is an expression we can all understand. She’s angry and focused. With her eyes half closed and her lips molded into something like an “O,” it’s clear that she is sighing.

Conner’s art doesn’t stop at your usual mix of facial expressions. She runs through grumpy, happy, sleepy, bashful, sneezy, and dopey, which already puts her over and above most artists, but also throws in exasperated (my personal favorite), violently determined (as in when she scrunches her face before headbutting a monster), giddy, slack-jawed surprise, fear, bemusement, amusement, embarrassment, skepticism, irritation, and uncontrollable anger. Even that emotion that can be best surprised as what you feel when someone tells you that something was due forty-five seconds ago, that kind of “Wait… what?” feeling–it’s in there.

Facial expressions are just one part of acting, obviously. Body language counts for a lot, too. How close you’re standing to someone, the distance between your hands and your body when standing with your arms at your side, the tilt of your head, the angle of your shoulders, the way you clench your fist, and the width of your stance convey an astonishing amount of information. You can take in someone’s mood at a glance once you start paying attention to body language.

In comics, this is just additional storytelling. The more you can display in your art, the less you have to actually write. A cocked eyebrow, tilted head, crossed arms, and crooked mouth says, “Oh, is that so?” better than dialogue ever can. Tightly clenched fists and a scowl are extreme anger. Nervousness is a full body emotion. A goofy smile and eye contact says more about attraction than “You had me at ‘hello.'”

These are all tools in a comic artist’s repertoire, and Conner used them to their fullest in her run. There’s thirty-five images in this post, most of them single panels, and all of them pulled from the first five issues of Power Girl. Many of the faces reflect the same emotion (anger and surprise, mostly) but in a different way each time. I chose Power Girl as the example for a couple of reasons. First is that it’s her book, so she gets the majority of the attention. The other reason is to show that just because you’re focusing on one person doesn’t mean you get to come up with just one expression for each emotion.

What makes Conner such a great artist is that detailed and expressive faces, a glaring omission for most comic artists, get just as much care and attention as huge splashes or the carefully crafted contours of your average superheroine. Conner’s work on expressions and body language is a smaller reflection of the attention she pays to comics art in general. Conner’s art is focused on telling a story in the clearest and best possible way. If this means getting important information across via body language, rather than dialogue, so be it. If it means explaining a character’s personality by way of her facial expressions, rather than oodles of exposition and quips, so be it.

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The Cipher 06/16/10

June 16th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

amazing spider-man presents black cat #1: words by jen van meter, art by javier pulido, colors by matt hollingsworth, letters by joe caramanga, cover by amanda conner, and cover colors by christina strain.

North beach leathers, matching Gucci sweater… Gucci sneaks on to keep my outfit together, whatever, hundred for the diamond chain. Can’t you tell that I came from the dope game?

You know who I love? Felicia Hardy, the Black Cat. Up until her reintroduction in Amazing Spider-Man last year, courtesy of Joe Kelly and Mike McKone, she’d hadn’t had any substantive appearances in a Spider-book in a good long while. She’s been one of my favorite characters since I was a kid, but not for any particular story. She was in my first comic, ASM 316, but all she did there was get dissed by Venom. Not exactly a selling point. But no, I like her because she’s got a great visual, with the white hair, black costume, white gloves and shoes, and tufts of fur. I like her like I like Domino, I think. Her bad luck powers are neat and allow for some fun action, but the real key is that she’s a thief. Heist stories are some of the best stories, and hopefully Van Meter’s story in Black Cat is going to be a good one. I’m feeling optimistic. The team is pretty fantastic all around. Javier Pulido is an astonishingly good artist, Matt Hollingsworth a great colorist, and how crazy is that Amanda Conner cover? Check the preview here. Four bucks is less than optimal, but I’m curious. We’ll see how I feel at the shop.

Looking at the other stuff on my list… this is a surprisingly large week for me. Amazon-wise, Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys, Vol. 9 arrived yesterday, Ultimate Spider-Man, Vol. 11 is due in today. 20th Century Boys is kicking up now that Urasawa has gotten around to answering questions, but the last volume definitely had two scenes that featured someone going “Oh no! It’s YOU!” without actually showing us who it is. That was massively frustrating, but hopefully we’ll get to see who it is in this volume? Ult Spidey I preordered when it was cheap, and it completes the last run of Ultimate Spider-Man. After this… I think I’m out. The new stuff isn’t clicking like it should. It has its moments, but not so many that I want to keep buying it monthly. I might check out the first couple trades a few months down the line, see if my opinion changed.

Floppy-wise, I’m looking at Amazing Spider-Man 633 & 634, Atlas 2, Hellblazer 268, Heralds 3, and Unknown Soldier 21. That’s the end of “Shed,” the beginning of “Grim Hunt,” a Jeff Parker/Gabriel Hardman joint, a Shade the Changing Man guest spot, more from the Kathryn Immonen/Tonci Zonjic superstar team, and more from the sadly cancelled book about a lone soldier battling himself and others in Uganda. This is the best week I’ve seen in a good while. I’m juggling a few things, but I figure I’ll have a post on Unknown Soldier up soon. Whether it’ll be about this week’s issue (which is about the life and times of an AK-47) or the series as a whole, I’m not sure.

Other notables: Brightest Day 4 is the first appearance of the new Aqualad, Seven Soldiers of Victory, Book 1 is the first hardcover collection of the fantastic Grant Morrison-led megaseries, and friend of 4l! Ian Brill’s Darkwing Duck launches.

Oh yeah, I did a few movie reviews over at Tucker Stone’s spot. I watched four Akira Kurosawa films at New People here in San Francisco and you guys get to reap the whirlwind.

What’re you buying? What am I missing? What did you like? Check out this week’s books here. Anybody else have characters where they like the idea more than the actual execution on the page? I can’t think of a single great story with Domino, but I like her nonetheless.

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Wondercon Wrap-up!

April 6th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

If you asked me to sum up my Wondercon experience in a couple of short, witty phrases, I’d just tell you that I ate six pieces of pizza over the course of two days and that I spent more on karaoke than I did on anything even remotely comic-related.

That’s not the full experience, though. It was an interesting con for me, due in no small part to the ongoing evolution in the way I approach comics, and being a fan of comics. I got no signatures, no sketches, no freebies. I paid for three books and got one for free. I spent maybe twenty-five whole dollars at the con, a drastic decrease from the usual foolishness I get down to. I’ll get to that, though.

I left work a couple hours early on Friday to hit the con and get my pass. It was painless, with less than two people in line ahead of me. Other than my pass saying “4thletter!/Popcultureshock.com” for some reason, it was easy like Sunday morning.

I figured I’d walk the length of the hall from wall to wall, but the first thing I did at the con was find Matt Maxwell, Jeff Lester, and Heidi MacDonald chit-chatting in Artist’s Alley/Small Press. I killed some time with them for a while, talking about the con and comics, and that more or less set the tone for the con.

I spent a lot of time talking to people about comics and only attended a few panels. I stopped in on the DC Nation panel because a few friends (Esther, JK Parkin, Graeme McMillan, Carla Hoffman, Laura Hudson, a couple others) were there. It was, in a word, abysmal. They completely flubbed looking like they had any idea what they were doing with digital comics, there was a lot of “Wait and see,” there were a few “Wait until San Diego” answers… it was boring. I liked when someone asked about plans for Nightwing and got a succinct “Yeah, he’s Batman” in response, and I love that Dark Knight: Boy Wonder got announced, but it was a snoozer. I had a similar experience at the Marvel panel I accidentally attended the next day, again because friends were in effect and I had an opening in my schedule. I spent most of it poring over Darwyn Cooke’s The Man With the Getaway Face.

I attended a couple panels that were cool. The Greg Rucka spotlight moderated by Laura was a trip and well worth the price of admission. It was in a huge room, for some reason. The Boom! Studios panel was also pretty good, and Ian Brill seemed genuinely excited to be writing Darkwing Duck.

There was a Disney Comics superfan in the audience, too, who kept interrupting to ask about minutiae. At the end of the panel, I went up to say hi to Ian, and as I turned to leave, the superfan was right behind me. He was mumbling something about how we should print the Disney newspaper strips in black and white and not colorize them and something something Carl Barks. I tried to tell him I wasn’t part of Boom!, that that was the other black guy in the room, but he just said, “Yes, yes, but I think that…” and kept going. I shrugged and walked away while he was talking. I’m not getting trapped in an infinite conversation ever again, and that definitely had the makings of one.

(You ever had one of those? When someone keeps going and going and you can’t find a polite way to excuse yourself because they’re so focused that all they want to do is talk about whatever? Yeah. Infinite conversations. They’re gonna be the death of somebody one day.)

I attended the Black Cartoonists as Social Commentators panel, too. It was good, but the moderator was a little too overbearing. It was clear he had a very clear and academic formula he wanted to follow, but Keith Knight and Darrin Bell are hilarious, personable, and have great anecdotes. I would’ve much preferred to see them let loose with a conversation about themselves and their work. The glimpses we got were great, though, and if you aren’t reading either, get familiar. Bell’s story about how he was getting hate mail after hate mail before Hurricane Katrina and zilch after… that was a good one. It was a good panel.

I spent most of my time walking around with friends like Lauren Davis and Ana, digging in the various half off book booths and looking for stuff to buy. I didn’t buy much, as I said before, in part because I know exactly how much stuff is sitting on my coffee table, waiting to be read. I stuck to books I knew I’d love and get to relatively soon. This means I missed out on deep discounted hardcovers, but that’s okay. I think.
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Fourcast! 30: Last Week In Comics

January 25th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Chad Nevett on the intro
-6th Sense’s 4a.m. Instrumental for the theme music
-Review show! We haven’t done one of these in a while.
-Joe Casey and Ardian Syaf’s Superman/Batman #68
-Ed Brubaker and Luke Ross’s Captain America #602 & Sean McKeever and David Baldeon’s Nomad backup
-Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and Amanda Conner’s Power Girl #8
-Grant Morrison and Sean Murphy’s Joe the Barbarian #1
-Sholly Fisch, Robert Pope, and Scott McRae’s Batman: The Brave and the Bold #13
-Art Baltazar and Franco’s Tiny Titans #24
-And out!

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Last Year in Covers

January 5th, 2010 Posted by Gavok

When I noticed that last week was so dry in terms of releases, I got the idea of doing “This Year in Panels”, especially since I’ve only covered a fraction of 2009. I suggested the idea to hermanos, who wasn’t a fan because he can’t remember enough of 2009 to come up with a collection of panels. Thanks a lot, pot.

Instead, he suggested we do a lovefest gallery for our favorite covers of the year. I’m easy. Let’s do it.

20th Century Boys v.4
Naoki Urasawa

100 Bullets #100
Dave Johnson

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Palmiotti, Gray, and Conner did the impossible…

August 20th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

They turned me into a Power Girl fan.


From Power Girl #4, words by Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti, pictures by Amanda Conner, colors by Paul Mounts. Headbutt: heard round the world.

I’ll have something smarter on this later, but I’m wonderfully feverish and sick lately. I just wanted to put this out there, because it’s an amazing book. I’m working on a Thing in the background, something I think would tie into a look at Power Girl very nicely, but for now, I’ll just have to tease.

And sneeze.

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“Going Two Ways Without Skytel Pagers”

April 28th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

I’m looking forward to Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and Amanda Conner’s Power Girl. I dig Graymiotti’s work when they get a chance to tear things up in their own corner of things without worrying about whatever greater status quo there is. Their Jonah Hex is one of my top three books coming out of DC/Vertigo, easy. Over at Marvel, they did the sublime Daughters Of The Dragon and the very enjoyable Wolverine/Black Cat: Claws a few years back.

The latter two books are pretty cheesecake, but fun. Gray and Palmiotti give their main characters (Colleen Wing and Misty Knight in one, Wolverine and Black Cat in another) a lot of personality and manage to come up with some pretty funny funnybooks, without veering into outright comedy quip-a-minute Deadpool antics. The art helps a lot, too. The pair have an eye for talent, nine times out of ten, and Khari Evans/Joseph Michael Linsner are pretty great collaborators.

I’m looking forward to Power Girl because adding Amanda Conner into the mix is just icing on the cake. Other than being Palmiotti’s wife, she’s also an amazingly good cartoonist. Her comics look like Janelle Monae’s music sounds— just full of fun and eagerness and personality. They’re like the bit at the end of ’80s teen movies where Ferris Bueller has won, the loser got the girl, and everyone is dancing. They’re happy. And yeah, they’re a little bit sexy, too. Conner draws cute people doing neat things. That’s probably why she’s on the book in the first place.

If you put out a book that’s just Amanda Conner, Philip Bond, and Cameron Stewart trading pages on art, well, you’d have a hit. Doesn’t even matter what it is, I don’t think. I’d read what they draw regardless. Not liking Amanda Conner is like not liking air, only worse.

DC’s blog “The Source” (no benzino) recently posted two new variant covers for Power Girl #3 and #4 by Guillem March, artist of the upcoming Gotham City Sirens. March is a pretty good artist, but not really my thing. These covers, though, are emblematic of my main problem with more than a few books in DC’s line right now.


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2 Legit

April 22nd, 2008 Posted by david brothers

One of the Women in Comics panels at NYCC seemed kind of off to a lot of people. (Shot of Jenna Jameson in that one that may or may not be sfw?)

How do the ladies creating comics do it? They’re constantly blowing us away with the most outrageous and provocative titles. Jenna Jameson (Shadow Hunter), Colleen Doran (Distant Soil, Reign of the Zodiac), Amanda Connor (Birds of Prey, Painkiller Jane, Lois Lane ), Louise Simonson (New Mutants, X-Factor, Superman) and special guests reveal why they know what Fan-Boys want.

Yeah, Jenna Jameson is the odd man out there, so to speak. She’s got one comic under her belt, which she is credited with creating, rather than writing, so I can totally understand the consternation. If anything, I’d pay cash money just to see Louise Simonson talk. I’d pay extra if we could get a “Walt’n’Weezy Hour” where they just tell stories.

But, I kind of feel like the fan-based hostility toward writers or creators from outside the medium has run its course. It’s gotten stupid in its fervor. Case in point– Steve Bunche wrote a panel report on the Women Who Kick-Ass panel, which was subsequently reposted on The Beat.
Here’s a bit of it:

Billed as a sounding board for women in the funny books biz, the panel garnered a bit of controversy for its placement of former adult film star Jenna Jameson among the likes of Colleen Doran, Louise Simonson, and Amanda Conner. Jameson, a funny and intelligent speaker, is quite lively in her own right, but her presence was guaranteed to detract from the other panelists and attract a legion of devotees of “one-handed” cinema, many of whom couldn’t have cared less about the creative process of comics and paid their admission fee in hopes of worshipping at Jameson’s tenderloin flick altar. I have absolutely no problem with Jameson’s porn past, in fact I’m a staunch advocate of such fare, but the inherent sensationalism that comes with her simply doesn’t jibe with a panel aimed at women being taken seriously in the medium. No matter how sincere her intentions may be, the vast majority will most likely not be able to embrace Jameson in any real capacity as a creator and see her as anything other than a “tainted” woman who splayed her naughty bits on camera for the, er, amusement of folks living in a hypocritically anti-sexuality culture. Just ask Traci Lords.

Here is what I learned from the panel report:
-Jenna Jameson used to do porn.
-Colleen Doran and Louise Simonson didn’t show.
-There were more moderators than there were panelists.
-Jenna ain’t that interested in comics, no way, and probably didn’t even come up with the story for her book.

I can’t find any info on the Women Who Kick Ass panel online. All I’ve got is this report to go on, and it’s got no quality information in it. It’s got a lot of unsourced and specious conjecture, to be sure. Most of the crowd were Jenna fans, rather than comics fans? Really? It cost forty-odd dollars to get in the con for a day pass. You mean to tell me that you seriously think “about twenty or so comics enthusiasts” were the only comics fans in the audience? For really real?

Jenna was there to shill the comic “she supposedly created” is a huge claim to make– particularly when you aren’t privy to the inner-workings of Virgin Comics. A lot of their comics follow the format of (Celebrity Name)’s (Two Word Title). That’s their thing and it’s a formula they’ve worked to some success. Why throw in that jab about “supposedly created?” What’s the point? What does that have to do with the panel?

Conner’s efforts were valiant, but, for all intents and purposes, for what may have been the first time in her life, Amanda was the smart, talented, and funny wallflower in the eyes of a room full of wolves sniffing around the dance’s popular “hot” girl in a futile omega mating display.

This is the bit where I realized the post wasn’t a panel report at all. It’s a hit piece. The first paragraph is about how we don’t need a Women In Comics panel ’cause gender has nothing to do with nothing, the second paragraph is dissing Jenna’s fans and saying how she’ll be distracting, third paragraph disses the fans and moderators, fourth is dissing Jameson, fifth disses Jameson again and calls her comics illiterate, sixth mocks her movie, seventh is reproduced above and is basically a White Knight in action, eighth is dissing the audience, and then the ninth is a wrap-up that says the panel sucks.

The only paragraph I remotely agree with is the ninth one. I agree that the panel line-up was a bad idea and unbalanced. I disagree that Jenna Jameson being on the panel deserves an entire hit piece devoted to how she sucks, doesn’t know crap about comics, her fans are slavering fanboys who just want to touch the goddess’s hem (or i guess thong, whatever), and Amanda Conner got done dirty.

Conner did get done dirty, but that isn’t a good reason for the rest of that. I don’t even like Jenna Jameson and her comic is not my thing– so don’t even think that I’m just sitting here defending her. I don’t like the trend of “X person is coming from outside comics” with the subtext of “stealing jobs from worthy comics creators.” It’s crass.

I do agree with Johanna in her comment here, though.

I don’t think it’s her so much as cynicism towards famous names on comics. Remember Tekno’s Neil Gaiman’s whatever and how he had nothing to do with it besides the original concept? If someone licenses a name just to get PR value off of it, then I think readers are justifiably skeptical about that.

I just feel like the reaction is out of proportion. I’m sure that there was something funny or interesting or clever or new said on the panel. Bunche makes a big deal out of Conner’s quick wit and sense of humor (which considering her art, must be pretty awesome), but never actually gives us any anecdotes. It’s like what David Uzumeri said a while back.

What’s starting to disturb me more is the reaction to this that I see on a lot of the more moderated/respectable blogs – this conscious attempt to cut ties with the tastes of the hoi polloi and instead turn the topic to how cleverly you can savage a certain creator or book. Mike Choi is right – the switch is defaulted to “snark” all across the blogging community and everyone’s tripping over themselves to be the funniest guy to say something’s going to suck.

I’m tired of empty snark. You’re clever, you’re mean, you’re smart, you’re witty, you’re awesome, I get it– now tell me what you saw.

edit: Ragnell pointed me to Girl-Wonder’s Four Color Heroines podcast, which discusses the issue at around 12:00 in or so. I may not 100% agree, but they do make good points! Which, really, makes for a great post. Also, they just posted this new post which is all about the panel. I haven’t gotten a chance to check this one out, though, but it may warrant a followup post later!

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4thletter is for… dumb explanations

October 15th, 2006 Posted by david brothers

(I couldn’t fit “that nobody asked for” after “dumb explanations”)

Okay guys, serious question time.

Which one of you out there demanded to know what the deal was with Power Girl’s cleavage window? Stop for a minute and think.

Did we really need an explanation for PG’s window? I quite like Amanda Conner, so the PG arc of JSA Classified was very good, but I could’ve done without knowing why she has a gaping hole in her costume. Before, I’d chalked it up to being yet another side-effect of cheesecake comics. Tying it into the Superman mythos is interesting… but also kind of creepy. I liked it better when it was just “Hey, free cheesecake.” Now it’s like… highbrow cheesecake or something. Expensive cheesecake.

I kid, really.

But seriously fanboys and fangirls, we don’t need everything explained to us. If there’s a minor continuity glitch, write it off as Hypertime. Hypertime was fun, easy, and let all your imaginary stories be real ones. If your hero isn’t acting properly in a team comic, hey, it’s just a bad day! Give it two months and you probably won’t even remember that Clark Kent parted his hair on the left instead of the right or that Power Girl’s boob window is actually due to deep, introspective thought and psychoanalysis rather than, say, a tragic fabric shortage at the warehouse.

It’s just comics. We all love ’em, but sometimes, ignorance actually is bliss.

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