I always knew I was a John Buscema fan, but I don’t think I realized how much until I started writing this blog.
It seems like nary a subject goes by where I’m not singing the praises of “Big John,” whether it’s thanking him for designing Nova or saying what an honor it was to work with his granddaughter Stephanie. There’s no question some of my favorite comic books and those that drew me in as a fan to begin with bore the handiwork of John Buscema; in a lot of ways, I owe the man greatly for drawing me into my chosen profession.
When I was a kid, guys like Jim Lee and Darick Robertson grabbed my attention; as I grew up, George Perez and Mike McKone became more my speed. But if you group all those guys, you notice a common element of solid fundamentals and appreciation of how to infuse larger-than-life super heroes with a sense of reasonably grounded anatomy that was a benchmark of what Buscema did his entire career.
With all that in mind, I wanted to pay some much-deserved tribute to Mr. John Buscema by listing off the five works of his that resonated most profoundly with me personally.
(And I should not before I even begin that I know Buscema is forever linked to his Conan work and while I’ve admired it from afar and it’s impressive as heck, I’ve never actually read it, so I’m disqualifying it in this instance)
5. The Punisher Meets Archie
As with Buscema’s Conan, his Punisher work is a gaping hole in my reading history I hope to someday fill, but I did get a tease in this quirky little memento of my childhood. Buscema handled the strictly Punisher portions of the most bizarre team-up in comic book history and brought a professionalism as well as a grit that did not seem out of place to a story that benefitted from both. And it was pretty cool to see the Marvel Universe version of an evil Archie Andrews that Buscema dreamed up.
Obviously I will be forever indebted to John Buscema if for no other reason than he visually created my favorite comic book character of all-time and garbed him in one of the coolest costumes ever. Buscema only drew the first two issues of Nova’s first ongoing series, but he made an indelible mark on Richard Rider and his world. Besides establishing the pace for the Human Rocket as far as his action sequences and how he propelled through the air with the greatest of ease, Buscema also eased the John Romita Sr. template of portraying young people in their civilian lives admirably into a new decade.
3. Avengers: Under Siege
Due to a lot of his oeuvre being so centered around action-based characters like Conan or Thor, Buscema has a well-deserved reputation for a guy who can deliver great battles and brawls, but there’s a lot more to his talents than that, and he demonstrates this in one of the best Avengers stories of all-time, Roger Stern’s “Under Siege.” That’s not to say there’s not plenty of slam bang in a tale where Earth’s Mightiest Heroes take on the biggest assemblage ever of the Masters of Evil, and Buscema delivers more than ably on that front, but it’s the quiet moments that set this story apart and where he really makes his mark. Whether it’s the anguished reactions of his charges when Jarvis is tortured or Captain America’s somber resignation following the destruction of Avengers Mansion and his prized heirlooms, Buscema knows exactly what buttons to push emotionally and does so with tremendous skill. And yeah, the fight scenes are awesome too.
2. Silver Surfer
After many years of wanting to, I finally started reading the first Marvel Masterworks collection of Silver Surfer recently, and besides the fact that I’d highly recommend it, I also have to say it’s not tough to see why Stan Lee selected John Buscema to be the artist on the first regular series for his self-admitted favorite character. The Surfer’s not necessarily an easy character to nail, given that he is essentially a naked dude draped in silver (on a surfboard, of course), but like Jack Kirby before him and a select few since, Buscema knew how to navigate the challenges and bring Norrin Radd to life. While Buscema’s nuts and bolts anatomy works perfectly on the Surfer, it’s the care and heightened sense of urgency the artist used in rendering the character’s facial expressions that served to really illuminate the torment, melancholy and bursts of rage Lee made the Sky Rider of the Spaceways’ benchmark. When the Surfer opens up in battle, you can see Buscema come alive, rendering the Power Cosmic with relish and care, not just settling for ill-defined energy blasts, and letting it all hang out when Thor or other come to play. This work really is Buscema—already pretty darn great—at his best, running the gamut from making the Badoon the ugliest mofos in the universe to showing why Norrin Radd is so hung up on Shalla Bal, as she really does seem like the most gorgeous woman ever. Buscema’s splash pages are downright inspirational as well, from the sinister introduction of Mephisto to the iconic shot of the Surfer emerging from Galactus’ hand imbued with his power for the very first time.
1. How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way
The way John Buscema first came into my life—at least in a way I significantly remember beyond odd issues of Avengers from the late 80’s—was via Marvel’s pivotal instructional book on the essentials of cartooning. Released in 1978, “How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way” has gone through at least 33 printings at last count and served as a launch pad not only for fans-turned-doodlers like myself, but scores of actually legitimate future comic book artists. Buscema’s style was the one we all aspired to emulate, and he was more than willing to hold our hands through a series of easy-to-follow chapters and in-depth lessons that laid the treasure trove of trade secrets comic artists employed at our fingertips. I not only enjoyed the book for its instructional value though, I confess I also just loved looking at the great art contained within and dreaming of someday being close to that, if not as an artist than in some other way. Indeed, John Buscema’s art was the gateway that welcomed me into this wonderful world of comics. My mother was recently looking for a gift for my young cousin who has shown some proclivity towards drawing comics and I suggested this book; I only hope he can get even half out of it that I did and perhaps want to borrow some John Buscema comics from me.