Artist of the day: Carlo Barberi

As I’ve noted in the past, my son Sam’s favorite TV show is Justice League Unlimited.  The problem is, there are only a couple dozen episodes of Justice League Unlimited, and there are 365 days in a year.  This creates a gap for Sam of Justice League Unlimited stories.

This gap is filled, somewhat, by the existence of Justice League Unlimited comics, which keep coming out even though the TV show ended its run last year.  These comics, more often than not, are what I read to Sam at bedtime.

I know relatively little about the superhero comics biz, but I’m guessing that the job of “imitating the character designs of a TV show for a superhero pamphlet” is not the prime job for most comics artists.  And it often shows in the sloppiness, abrasiveness and lack of coherence in these titles, which may seem like simple product to many artists and readers, but which form a vital link to another world for people like my son.

An exception, I’ve found, is Carlo Barberi, an artist I’d never heard of before buying Justice League Unlimited for my son, but who has quickly become one of my favorites.  Click for larger views.

There’s something about the “plastic” qualities of the characters that matches the subject matter well, invites the reader in.  It’s light, brightly lit and colorful.  The poses are dynamic without being emphatic.  There’s something a little “freeze-dried” about the line that makes it fun and pliable.  And I like his page layouts; they have a fluidity and spareness of design that makes the action clear and lucid.  Look at all that blank space; and yet it doesn’t feel “blank,” it lets the reader follow the action swiftly and easily (believe me, I’ve gotten such headaches from trying to follow the action in some comic books myself, much less trying to explain what’s going on to my son).

I love this panel of Dr. Fate in his office, the camera angle, the big blank ceiling, the magical, mystical objects floating in air, the colors, and then the humor of it being sold with Dr. Fate’s petty concerns.

Even better is this page where Blue Beetle is left on monitor duty.  Bored to tears, he tries paddle-ball, trying on the other hero’s outfits (note that he’s already tried on Wonder Woman’s clothes before moving on to the Flash’s), and, finally, the purest expression of superhero boredom, googling himself.  Again, the elegance and cleanliness of the designs helps sell the action.  This page made me laugh out loud, even if Sam didn’t quite get all the jokes.

Speaking of action, here are two terrific pages.  I love how Parasite is flinging Wonder Woman clear off the page (Barberi will often have characters’ faces disappear off-panel to create tension) and how he’s tilted the camera to make the action more chaotic.  Then, at the other end of the story, the dry, unemphatic line and empty space provides an ironic counterpoint to the cataclysmic action of Steel crushing Parasite with the Daily Planet globe.


Finally, he seems to be a master at these moment-to-moment kind of exchanges.  Sometimes for comic effect, sometimes for silent, understated drama, all these exchanges leave it to the reader to fill in the blanks (no small feat in this often frantic, overstated genre, believe me).  Best of all (and I realize these are script issues, not drafting issues), all these beats work for character reasons — these beats arise out of conflict between personalities, not machinations of plot.
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Comments

28 Responses to “Artist of the day: Carlo Barberi”
  1. greyaenigma says:

    I’m suddenly tempted to make that Yahoogle page. Although I’m sure the domain is taken.

    I like the device of using a little icon to indicate who’s narrating, although the colors in Indentity Crisis also worked well.

    Both Parasite images seem to be linking to the same larger image.

  2. Comics development and your child

    When are you planning to graduate him to the DC mainstream?

    Also, how does he take to the contemporary non-Timmverse DC animated series and affiliated books?

    • Todd says:

      Re: Comics development and your child

      When are you planning to graduate him to the DC mainstream?

      I’m keeping close tabs on subject matter and complexity of plot for now. 90% of current mainstream comics are too adult in content for me, much less my unable-to-read son. Even when he’s old enough to read them, I don’t necessarily think he needs to be exposed to drug addiction, rape, murder, torture, government conspiracies and morbid obsession, which seems to eliminate most comics these days. When he’s old enough (say, 12) I’ll be happy to let him read, say, Punisher or the more mature X-Men titles. Until then, I prefer to keep the stories short, light and relatively angst-free. The JLU comics place the emphasis on character, action and moral development, all of which is present in the TV show and which keeps him interested.

      Also, how does he take to the contemporary non-Timmverse DC animated series and affiliated books?

      He hates The Batman, both the show and the comics. Just hates them. Whenever we see one of the toys in the store, he comments on how they “don’t look right” or that he downright dislikes them.

      • greyaenigma says:

        Re: Comics development and your child

        He hates The Batman, both the show and the comics. Just hates them. Whenever we see one of the toys in the store, he comments on how they “don’t look right” or that he downright dislikes them.

        I have much the same reaction. And that’s even before I take into account the banning of Batman characters from later JLU.

        drug addiction, rape, murder, torture, government conspiracies and morbid obsession

        Hour-man/Bane, …, Justice Lords, The Question (receiving), The Question (investigating and ranting), Batman. OK, I’m stretching it. Except maybe for Batman.

        • Todd says:

          Re: Comics development and your child

          Sam understands that Bane is cheating with his drug-induced strength. Hour-Man hasn’t really intruded on his consciousness much.

          The Justice Lords, as we have seen, hold a powerful place in Sam’s cosmos because they look just like his heroes but they are five degrees more ruthless. This raises profound questions for him, but the Justice Lords’ ruthlessness is different from, say, someone like the Joker of The Killing Joke.

          The Question that Sam is aware of talks about conspiracies but in the Timmverse is more like a slightly nuttier version of Batman, a dark and brooding detective who’s itchy about his identity.

          The point is not to exclude subject matter but to guide him to the next age-appropriate book so he’ll keep reading.

          • greyaenigma says:

            Re: Comics development and your child

            Yeah, I think that partly I’m trying to come to terms with just what is appropriate for kids. I’ve been in some semi-parental positions lately, and I’ve fallen out of touch with what works and what doesn’t. Obviously everyone’s got different standards and styles. I’d re-watched Watership Down recently after some people my age reported being traumatized by it; and in re-watching Justice League with an eye to this, I was surprised by how many outright (if off-screen) killings there are.

            • Todd says:

              Re: Comics development and your child

              Well, as I say, we’ve let Sam watch Jurassic Park and King Kong, but we’re waiting until he’s 7 to see Bambi.

      • ghostgecko says:

        Re: Comics development and your child

        >>>he comments on how they “don’t look right” or that he downright dislikes them.

        The kid has good taste. That show is nigh-unwatchable. In fact, I think I only sat thru one full episode (Peter MacNichol playing Man-Bat was just irresistable).

        I did notice this fellow’s work when I started getting into JLU and bought a few of the comics – mainly wanted the one with the Question. It was surprisingly good.

      • dougo says:

        Re: Comics development and your child

        My dad collected comics, and kept them all in plastic baggies away from my grubby hands, but he bought Spidey Super Stories issues especially for me when I was about Sam’s age. (Which I think ended up in baggies too when I got bored with them.) I also enjoyed ElfQuest but that was a few years later.

  3. thunder24 says:

    The absolute best of all the “Animated Style” artists was an guy named Mike Parobeck. His animated style was head and shoulders above every one else at the time. Beautiful layouts, clear and solid linework, every book he drew was a joy to read. Sadly he died from complications with diabetes 10 years ago.

    • Todd says:

      I’ve just started buying issues of Batman Adventures, against the inevitable day when Sam runs out of Justice League issues to read, so Mr. Parobeck’s work will enter our lives soon.

  4. Anonymous says:

    First off, I’d love your posts about Sam and the Justice League. They’re always fantastic and remind me of my own family growing up with comics.
    Secondly, You should check out some work by Darwin Cooke (Batman: Ego, New Frontier, and the new Sprit series especially). He got his start doing storyboards for Batman TAS, and his style is a sleek refinement on that. His stories are fantastic, and in a similar vein to Justice League cartoons. His stuff is something great.

    The Batman Adventures trades are also good Timmiverse reads. They’ve got pre-Plastic Man Eel O’Brian!

    • Todd says:

      I am currently in a major Darwyn Cooke mood. His stuff is great and I greatly enjoyed The New Frontier, although his plots are still a little too complicated in structure for Sam.

      We have one Batman Adventure trade (Rogue’s Gallery), but for some reason they’re not readily available around here. The individual issues are, however, plentiful.

  5. dougo says:

    I like how Wonder Woman’s running gait (straight arms, hands in fists, toes pointed) makes it look like she’s a majorette. Does she have that kind of spunky homecoming-queen personality in the comic?

    The Blue Beetle page is awesome. “Hunks of the JLU”!

    Those repetitious multi-panel pages remind me a little too much of The Silent Penultimate Panel Watch. Or Red Meat.

    • Todd says:

      Wonder Woman in the JLU universe is a little naive, a little prissy and a little above-it-all. She’s a princess, after all, and unaccustomed to the rough, savage ways of man’s world. Which sounds like a majorette to me.

      The repetitious panels, don’t forget, take place in the context of a much longer story.

  6. Todd says:

    Re: Comics development and your child

    Mr. Kupperman: we meet again.

    • ghostgecko says:

      Re: Comics development and your child

      Friend of yours?

      • Todd says:

        Re: Comics development and your child

        A very good friend of mine. He’s the creator of Snake ‘n’ Bacon, one of the most convulsively funny collections of comics ever created, as well as the ongoing Tales Designed to Thrizzle. I’ve known him for years and was fortunate enough to be asked by him to collaborate on a story in this together.

        • ghostgecko says:

          Re: Comics development and your child

          How about that – I bought a copy of Bizarro for a friend and have been meaning to get myself one, too (I always read the stuff I get people before I wrap it). Didn’t catch your name, but oddly enough, I found an old copy of Animato while cleaning my room yesterday with some articles on Antz.
          I’ve been greatly enjoying Thrizzle. I like that sort of deadpan, surreal, intelligent humor – his stuff almost reads like a cut-up – and I appreciate the sharp artwork. A lot of people seem to think all they have to do is write a bunch of non sequitor one liners and scribble crap art, and all those doritos-munching pothead college age blogger types will be entertained.

          • Todd says:

            Re: Comics development and your child

            Yeah, Kupperman’s a master, and has little patience for the type of comics you’re talking about, which sprout in abundance at the racks of my local comics stores.

            • ghostgecko says:

              Re: Comics development and your child

              Good on him. I’m having a hell of a time finding good indie comics that don’t fall into this kind of laziness.