Drawing the Classic Marvel and DC Comic Heroes
The origins of my interest in drawing came from comics
My childhood included a love for ‘60s and ‘70s Marvel and DC comics, and my ability to draw originates in part from studying the stories I read in those days. Marvel Comics offered Spider-Man, Thor, the Silver Surfer, Conan and the Avengers, with the in-your-face style of Jack Kirby, John Buscema, Gene Colan and John Romita Sr. DC countered with Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Hawkman and many more. Carmine Infantino, Curt Swan, Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson gave DC heroes a sleek, elegant look that was beautifully rendered. And then there were the guys that transcended the medium—Jim Steranko, Neal Adams, and Barry Windsor-Smith paved the way for what was to come for the next 20 years.
My favorite artists of the day were Jack Kirby and Curt Swan, respectively, but there were few comic artists I disliked. Some I didn't appreciate until I grew older, but I knew they were all good.
It had been a long time since I tried drawing comic heroes myself, so I thought I would make a few quick sketches. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed the dynamic style of art that comics offered. My purpose today is not to provide instruction, but simply to offer any quick thoughts on the drawings I made and their influences.
Mike Draws the Comics!
My thoughts on these Characters
Superman: A tight pen and ink sketch that was overdrawn, but I like it anyway. I deliberately chose to draw the face from my imagination, rather than imitate a Curt Swan face or attempt a Christopher Reeve portrait. In reality, only the costume and curl of hair on the forehead identify this as Superman. It could as easily have been Bruce Wayne, Mr. Fantastic or any other hero. I drew this while talking on the phone—a common occurrence for me and one that offers the opportunity for a nice drawing (if the conversation lasts long enough).
The Hulk: My version of the Hulk is based on Jack Kirby’s Hulk in the first Avengers comics, with a little bit of Marie Severin thrown in. I prefer a more handsome Hulk and was never a fan of the tiny head on a huge body with bulging veins look. I kept delineation of the Hulk’s physique to a minimum because it’s easy to overdraw. Shading and color gave this quick sketch depth, and I realized it is far more complicated to use normal skin colors to indicate depth and underlying structure than when the subject is green.
Daredevil: Wally Wood’s Daredevil is the inspiration for this sketch, but the style is more reminiscent of John Romita Jr.’s work from the ‘90s. It is a challenge to indicate the human form with heavy black shadows on the figure, but Wood, John Romita Sr. and Gene Colan did it well. This drawing almost felt like cheating because it isn’t Daredevil’s classic, gymnastics-oriented poses. If I ever do this again, I will try for an acrobatic look.
Thor: A very quick sketch, I sought only the fluidity of motion that comes from Thor swinging his hammer. A more complete drawing would end up looking more like a Kirby Thor. It is a lot harder to keep the perspective correct on that hammer than it might seem, which must be why Kirby and other artists chose to draw the thing from the top or the side as often as they did. I always liked Thor’s helmet when Jack Kirby drew it.
Cyclops: When the New X-Men were created, artist Dave Cockrum designed a gorgeous new visor for Cyclops. In an effort to make my drawing look a little sleeker, I used a computer program to tinker with the look. Because I like the visor so much, I resisted drawing Cyclops actually using his mutant abilities for fear of ruining the sketch. The eye-beams were among the most visually dramatic powers in comics, especially when colored red.
Green Lantern: Color didn’t help my drawing this time, but I used it to emphasize the glow of his power ring. I emulated the slim physique and dynamic poses of Gil Kane’s earliest Green Lantern art. I always liked the idea that Green Lantern wore a mask that could be found in any costume shop in the country. His ‘60s costume became cooler when the green tank top look was jettisoned in favor of the green shoulder pad look.
Scarlet Witch: It goes without saying that all comic book women are sexy and voluptuous—I was just trying to follow suit here. Except for the tiara, her costume was so basic that it’s difficult to know what to do with it, so I emphasized the extra-long gloves and tried using color to give her cape a thin, wispy look. George Perez redesigned the Scarlet Witch approximately ten years ago, making her costume much more ornate than it had been. Since I tried to draw quickly, however, the old outfit served my purposes better.
The Silver Surfer: My Silver Surfer uses Jack Kirby’s art from the Surfer’s first appearance in the Fantastic Four as its inspiration. I liked John Buscema’s skinny Silver Surfer also, but I was never a fan of the swimming trunks look, and the muscular Surfer is more fun to draw. I stuck with a tighter illustration but refrained from imitating Kirby’s use of lines to emphasize the Surfer’s shiny appearance, adding a little blue instead.
Batman: Drawn loosely with art marker over a quick pencil sketch. Two things make drawing Batman fun—the ears on his mask and the long, flowing cape. I always appreciated the dramatic poses showing Batman holding the cape in his hands, but I never mastered the ears unless the head was shown straight from the front. Carmine Infantino designed the modern Batman and Neal Adams perfected the look.
Conan the Barbarian: My version draws from John Buscema’s Conan, mostly because Barry Windsor-Smith is very difficult to emulate. Only Neal Adams rivaled Buscema’s mastery of the human figure, and nowhere was “Big John’s” expertise more evident than when he drew Conan. My drawing was fairly detailed (relative to the other pictures shown here, at least), but I found emphasizing the shadows on Conan’s figure with marker more satisfying than the pen-and-ink line drawing I started with.
The Vision: I drew and colored this in about a minute, but believed I captured the grace and movement of the figure as John Buscema did in the Vision’s early appearances in the Avengers. In those earliest comics, the Vision seemed so graceful I was reminded of a dancer—an odd attribute for an android. Green is a good color for comic heroes, and I considered any efforts to modify this costume to be failures.
Wolverine: Wolverine’s original costume was okay, but the action poses made the character dramatic in a way yellow and blue tights never could. The claws were visually very bold and dynamic, but I liked the mask best. It was difficult to draw, but when done correctly it was totally cool. In some ways, my comments about the Vision apply to Wolverine, also—he isn’t particularly handsome, making his poses and movement more important.
Sub-Mariner: This sketch only took a minute or two to draw. The pose is very dramatic, but there is very little to indicate this is actually a drawing of Prince Namor. It could just as easily be Daredevil, Nick Fury or anyone else likely to throw a punch. Except for the Golden Age Bill Everett drawings, I despised the flat-headed Sub-Mariner. There was nothing remotely regal about a flat-headed prince of Atlantis.
Spider-Man: This is a rotten sketch of Spider-Man, but no collection of hero art would be complete without him, so I took a couple minutes and threw one in. Although very imaginative and well drawn, I am not a fan of the contorted images that Todd McFarlane and his successors used to make him look more “spider-like”; Steve Ditko accomplished it without going to such extremes. If Peter Parker looked like a normal guy, so should his alter ego.
Hawkman: Was there ever a cooler mask than Hawkman’s? Because I was going for quick sketches, I didn’t bother drawing anything but the face and mask, saving myself the trouble of illustrating huge, ornate wings. Hawkman’s bare chest, adorned only by the suspenders holding his wings onto his back always made him look like a tough guy to me, even when drawn with Murphy Anderson elegance.
There you have it, my friends. I chose not to go to the old comics for reference, so please forgive me if the costumes aren’t correct. There is not much to learn from my visual trip back to the sixties, but hopefully it was entertaining enough to hold your interest. Thanks for visiting.
All artwork was created by the author. The characters depicted are created and owned by DC Comics and Marvel Comics.
To read more hubs featuring artwork by Mike Lickteig, please go to:
- At the Edge: A Painting in Words
I was recently challenged by a reader to describe one of my paintings with words. The idea was to convey the same meaning with words that I suggested through colors, textures and images. I was asked to place...
- What is Art? What is Not Art?
Recently I engaged in a conversation with a fellow alumnus of the University of Kansas School of Fine Arts, and we spent time comparing what we understood and appreciated about art, both as creators...
- Art Trading Cards (ATC), Collage and the Fear of Drawing
Ive been considering branching out into some types of art I dont ordinarily work in. I have been producing Art Trading Cards (ATC) recently, and my fascination for these tiny pieces of art have...
- An Artistic Retrospective with Comic Heroes, TV Characters, Portraits, Landscapes and More
As a writer and artist, there are few topics I enjoy writing about more than art. It is exciting to look back on work Ive created over the years and examine what I like or dislikeor ponder what I...
More by this Author
Intended as "Swiss Family Robinson in outer space" this series told the story of the Robinson family, launched into space in the distance future of 1997.
This article challenges the reader to consider what truly makes something "art". Is the end result of what is achieved through drawing or painting art? When is it not art? The writer ponders how art has...
The University of Kansas Men’s Basketball Team played in 2799 games entering the 2010-2011 season and won 2003, third all-time behind Kentucky and North Carolina. 122 of these games were played in the NCAA...