Celebrating Comic Artists In Their Own Time – Lead Poisoning: The Pencil Art Of Geof Darrow

by Hannah Means Shannon

I’m not an expert on the work of Geof Darrow, but increasingly you can see his influence on a younger generation of comic artists now making their presence felt through publishers like Image Comics, Black Mask Studios, and those who have the perspicacity to work with a creative team driven by strong writing and a less mainstream style of art, particularly on creator-owned books.

It’s quite possible that without the work of Geof Darrow, and the way in which his art and thinking about art have worked their way through the bloodstream of comics, illustration, and film, we wouldn’t be experiencing the heyday of indie art styles that we are in the midst of right now, or at least not yet. At best, Darrow has set the tone for allowing more nuanced art styles to permeate even action-driven comics, while at worst, he has reminded enough determined artists that it is not only possible, but should be done, and they’ve threaded the minefield of the direct market enough to put their work on the stands today.

I’m preaching to the choir, in some regards, because even if you weren’t around in comics to see the way Darrow’s artwork and influence have spread until recently, chances are the luminaries you do follow are as fannish and fans can possible get about even a single image drawn by Geof Darrow.
Dark Horse’s recent publication: Lead Poisoning: The Pencil Art of Geof Darrow leans into that truth in a pleasant, funny, and even at times, outrageous way. This may be the way of the future when it comes to art books—taking a tongue in cheek approach to the reality that we have masters of the comic art form among us and ought to celebrate them in their own time.

Lead Poisoning is a unique book in the following ways: it contains only pencil artwork by an artist as known for his inks as his pencils, thereby giving the reader a full dose of one type of craft from which they might draw useful observations. It also presents images never before revealed to public as process artwork from known works like Hard Boiled and The Shaolin Cowboy, but also artwork that Darrow has created over the years simply for his own edification or for projects that never came to light. These images were simply stacks of artwork sitting around his studio, as Darrow has explained in interview. Lastly, there’s one more major way in which this book is unique that I alluded to above: masters of comic art and pop culture have gotten involved to express their fandom for Darrow’s work.
In fact, nearly every image in the book is presented with quotes and commentary on that specific image by greats like the following: Brian Michael Bendis, Frank Quitely, Mike Mignola, Kevin Nowlan, Steve Skroce, David Mack, Chuck Palahniuk, Sergio Aragones, and many more.
And the ways in which these folks present the images is truly entertaining in itself. Along with these full-page spreads, double-page spreads, or small isolated sketches, we get to hear these devotees trying to make sense of what they are looking at. The results are mixed in tone—some more serious and analytical, some ecstatic about the beauty of the work in question, some puzzled, some irreverent, all with something to say.
Chuck Palahniuk, always one to re-invent form, presents his commentary in relentless haiku. This is not a metaphor. He writes haikus to Geof Darrow. And you can’t help but suspect that his excoriating tone fits some of Darrow’s equally critique-driven images particularly well.

What kinds of images are these? Well, serene birds perched on flowers are there but rare, rather demi-gorgon monsters wielding blades and all manner of objects, cars covered in jeweled skulls, giant babies destroying city blocks, Godzilla-like creatures wearing trousers and brandishing chainsaws. Do I need to go on?
So, your reaction to the existence of this book as a reader should really be twofold: react to the fact that a book preserving the highly schematic and complete pencil drawings of Geof Darrow exists. Then react to the fact that a host of comic creators have piled in to present this curated collection to you in a second layer of devotion, humor, and wackiness.
At 127 pages, the book is one that does not drown you in the sheer number of images, but one that does invite you into each page for study and the attention to detail which the drawings definitely deserve. And it’s also an opportunity to experience Darrow’s artwork on a different level, out of the confines of sequential narrative, broken out of panels, for both you and other comic creators to think about and converse about, together.
Lead Poisoning: The Pencil Art of Geof Darrow is currently available in comic shops and bookstores, and you can also find it online.

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