Kevin Nowlan is a modern cartoonist that is undeniably a master of the craft. "Artist's artist" is a term that's casually thrown around in regards to certain comic book art people types, but Kevin Nowlan is the one of the very select few that easily fits the description. I've narrowed the scope of this post to include a Nowlan's early work as well as a slew of covers and a very special, very cool sketch he did for me at the 2009 New York Comicon.
This here's Nowlan's bio, written by Gary Groth, in the back of Dalgoda #2, published by Fantagraphics, December 1984. Nowlan was the artists for the back-up feature "Grimwood's Daughter", written by Jan Strnad.
In regards to the convention, waiting in line for sketches and autographs is something I've never really done. I've got nothing against it at all, but it just never seemed to happen for me. A pal of mine notified me of Nowlan's appearance at the Con, but I was convinced that I would be too nervous to meet one of my heroes. "I don't do that kinda stuff, anyway." I told myself. Of course, I found myself at the Con with a few Nowlan comics, just in case, y'know, I decided to maybe meet him.
I got over my nerve wracking shyness and finally met Kevin Nowlan. I then found myself talking, not really in control of what I was saying, babbling, and probably drooling, too. Ugh, what a bittersweet moment: meeting an idol and tripping over your own awkwardness. I got over it, though, and since I happened to have a few of my favorite pieces by him, I proceeded to politely ask for autographs. These old Comics Journal covers from back in the early 80s are beautiful, fun, and rarely seen.
Following the TCJ covers are a few spot illustrations for The Comics Journal. What's interesting about these is that you can really see the Nowlan style as early as this, very sleek and streamlined.
Amazing Heroes cover painting featuring Supergirl, November 1982.
Dagger for the Kevin Nowlan Portfolio in Marvel Fanfare #18, January 1985.
New Mutants #51, May 1987, is infamously known for the amount of
hate mail it received.
. Fans apparently hated the "cartoonishness" of the drawings, despite the fact that half of the drawings were drawn in Nowlan's "realistic" style. These are all dopey terms that limit the inherent possibility of comics and I think the fact that Nowlan balances a number of different styles, sometimes within one image, is a testament to his artistic brilliance. Anyway, this criticism was coming from an audience that would soon embrace Rob Liefeld's own cartoonishness (and yet ultimately turn on him). Fandom can sure be weird sometimes.
This half page was for a sampler section in Marvel Age Annual #3, 1987. This is more of a promotional strip written by Peter B. Gillis. Too bad Nowlan never drew the actual comic from that time.
He did, however, draw the cover to Dr. Strange's first issue of his then-new series, November 1988.
Here's another Dr. Strange image from the all pin-up issue of Marvel Fanfare #45, August 1989.
Here are a few of my favorite covers, the Hulk one being especially funny and great (The Incredible Hulk #362, November 1989). According to Nowlan, a Marvel employee of editorial status who shall remain nameless held up this Hulk cover in the offices as an example of what's wrong with the industry today. "Too stylized", he quibbled. Nowlan didn't seem to get a critical break over at the House of Ideas, huh?
Aside from the few comics I had in my bag for him to sign, I reluctantly showed Kevin Nowlan my collection of ripped out comic book covers. That's right, ripped off. This may seem sacrilegious to some of you but it's a habit I developed long ago, when space and taste were common issues. I thought Nowlan was gonna think it creepy and odd. To my surprise, he thought it was normal and was even sorta flattered by it. Huh! His wife, who was sitting next to him and was extremely nice, also thought it was nice to amass such a collection of loose covers. It was mentioned that artists used to do that all the time when they found magazine art by an illustrator they liked. Huh again!
Given that, a few of the covers above and below are a... ripped. I don't do that to many artists, but I stand by my decision. Here are all of the Nowlan drawn "Strange Tales" run. Well, issue 11 was penciled by Carl Potts... and why is Nowlan spelled "Nolan" in issue 5? Nowlan wanted to divide his roles as an artist through different identities. "Nolan" and "Mundelo" were some of his nom de plumes. Apparently, this didn't go over well with the fans or the editors, so he dropped the idea.
Who doesn't love Hawkeye?
Early Nowlan Batman from Batman #412, October 1987. Do you think readers complained that his chest emblem bat had too many spikes? All in all, it's one of my favorite covers.
Written by Jan Strnad for Secret Origins #39, April 1989. This Man-Bat story shows how great of a creative team Nowlan and Strnad are.
In a letters page a few issues after this Wolverine #14 came out back in October 1989, readers expressed their disapproval of Nowlan's depiction of everybody's favorite little badass. "He looks too much like Batman! Not MY Wolvie!"... stuff like that. Can't win 'em all.
Here are some more amazing covers, totally random and totally ripped out of the comic.
From Bob Fingerman's Minimum Wage vol. 2, issue 2 back cover. Great combination of both artists' style.
Here's the doozy: I was prepared to buy anything that was within reasonable price (my pockets don't go deep enough for original art), so I purchased the Kevin Nowlan Sketchbook #3 without giving it a second thought. I was willing to pay for a head sketch, just to make the entire experience complete. "I can do a head shot for free.", said Nowlan [Paraphrasing there]. My mind scramble for a second: what favorite character of mine would be fun to have him draw?"
Hopey from Jaime Hernandez's Love and Rockets, of course! How awesome is that? I remember him saying that it was the first time he had ever drawn her. Humble beyond belief, he said "It's OK. I'll try to do a better one next time". He recalled a convention in Texas he attended with the Hernandez Bros. back ... '86? I was mildly sad that I had missed what must've been a great con just based on their panel alone, but that didn't matter much in the face of meeting one of my artistic heroes.
AS of this writing, Kevin Nowlan has inked the Metal Men story drawn by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez for DC's Wednesday Comics, has drawn a few more covers, and has a Hellboy story in the works. His Modern Masters book (Vol. 4) can easily be purchased online or at any fine comic book retail shop. The book showcases tons of fantastic and obscure art. Also, don't forget to check out Kevin Nowlan's art blog.
He frequently posts tons of artwork and thoroughly details his process.