I owe an apology to Dave Stewart.
When I met him at the Emerald City Comic-Con in 2010, I was only really interested in collecting autographs for my Hellboy: Library Editions. Dave Stewart had no one in his line, and I spent just a few seconds shoving my books in front of him to get signed, and then wandered off to meet someone more important. He was, after all, just the colorist. And despite how much effort has been put out to educate comics readers on the important roles of inkers, letterers and colorists, let’s be honest and admit that they remain minor deities in the pantheon of comic creators. A “nice but not necessary” addition to any signing. The artist. The writer. These are the important ones.
Yes, I know. I was stupid.
It was only later that my eyes were opened to what a staggering talent Dave Stewart is, and how much more in awe of him I should have been. Two trade paperbacks I got from Dark Horse recently showed me exactly how much difference a colorist can make, and especially how much difference Dave Stewart makes when he is the one doing the coloring.
For the longest time, I resisted any non-Mignola drawn Hellboy work. I was against it by principle, and I was voting with my dollars. I have seen too many writer/artist-types get lazy or burnt-out and pass on the drawing chores to someone else, even though the product suffers greatly. So I stayed away from B.P.R.D, and tried to stay away from non-Mignola drawn Hellboy, figuring I didn’t want to support something financially that I didn’t want to see succeed. Then came Sir Edward Grey: Witchfinder, and I am just too much of a fan of William Hope Hodgins and the Occult Detective to let that pass, so I gave it a try.
To my amazement, it looked like Hellboy. Even thought it wasn’t drawn by Mignola, nor even someone attempting to imitate Mignola’s style, it looked like something that belonged in the Hellboy universe. I loved it. I tried a few more. B.P.R.D. 1947, drawn by two different artists, Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon, was even further removed from Mignola’s signature style, but the world still looked like Hellboy. Then came Hellboy: Darkness Calls, Hellboy: The Wild Hunt, Hellboy: The Crooked Man and Others, Hellboy: The Storm…all of them drawn by different artists with different styles, yet all of them looking like Hellboy.
The unifying factor of all of these books was Dave Stewart. Even more than Mignola, he made Hellboy look like Hellboy. He is the one who slathers that bright red around a world that mostly consists of neutral tones of brown, grey and green, who brings a continuity of universe to all of those different artistic styles. When Ben Stenbeck is drawing his series Living with the Dead, it doesn’t look anything like Mignola’s world. Everything is too bright and garish. But when he was drawing Sir Edward Grey: Witchfinder it was unmistakable. I am pretty sure that if Dave Stewart worked his magic on Living with the Dead then it would slide comfortably into the Hellboy universe.
The other trade that gave me a slap on the head was Dark Horse’s Conan: The Spear and Other Stories. Unlike Hellboy, I will take my Conan as it comes, regardless of who is working on it. Conan (As a comic character, at any rate. For books I will take Howard.) isn’t so attached to a single writer or artists, and many, many people have written and drawn Conan over the decades. This collection was a bundle of fill-in issues and one-shots that writer Timothy Truman had cleverly connected into tales of King Conan outside of the regular series continuity.
It’s cool. It’s good Conan, and I recommend it. But most striking was that when I read through the collection, I thought that the series had been done by a couple of different artists. When I went to write my review for it, I paged up front to see who had drawn what, and I saw only a single name. Paul Lee.
Impossible! The art was far too different between the first few stories and that last short story, and it couldn’t have been drawn by the same artist! The first half of Conan: The Spear and Other Stories looks just like the wonderful work done by Cary Nord back when he was drawing Kurt Busiek. This was the Conan world I had come to know and love from Dark Horse, and I was happy to see how Paul Lee fit into the pre-established mode. The last story, in the collection though, The Sorrow of Akivasha was completely different. It looked more like John Bolton’s painted work on Marada the She-Wolf, lush and sensual and round.
But there it was. Same artist. Same inker. Different colorist.
I spent some time flipping back and forth between the front and the back, comparing the anatomy and line-work and general style, and it was undeniable. The art was all Paul Lee, and it was only the colorist who decided that the first stories would look like Cary Nord, and that the last would look like John Bolton. Paul Lee had provided his own coloring for the last story, the one that looked so different from the standard Conan world. And as for the colorist for the first section…
It was, of course, Dave Stewart. Paul Lee looked like Cary Nord not because their art styles were similar, but because they were both colored by Dave Stewart who maintained the continuity of universe in a completely different palate than he used for Hellboy. Conan is bright and lusty and full of desert sands and armor. Hellboy is grim and colorless except for sharp intrusions of bright red. And both are that way because Dave Stewart makes them that way.
So sorry Dave. This is all the effusive praise that I should have given you when you were right in front of me, when I should have been jumping up and down and spinning cartwheels just from how exciting it was to be in your presence. I can only plead ignorance.
And yeah, Mike Mignola, a warning. I have given up my stand on not buying any Hellboy books that you didn’t draw yourself, but be careful. I ain’t touching anything not colored by Dave Stewart.