Comic Artist Evolution

A year-by-year retrospective of some of the greatest comic book artists to put pencil to paper. Now featuring the incredible work of: BILL SIENKIEWICZ! 

Bill Sienkiewicz 1990: The Rock Bottom Awards card set

Sienkiewicz’s first collaboration with Alan Moore, Brought to Light, led to Friendly Dictators, a set of trading cards focusing on America’s shady relationship with brutal regimes; which in turn led to an unusual string of trading card assignments. Co-produced with the Comedy Channel, The Rock Bottom Awards was a little lighter in tone and extended its critical eye beyond politics to include the world of entertainment, but still retained wonderfully warped caricatures of its subjects. Which, as it turns out, was a little too much for one of the execs running the network at the time…

[The Rock Bottom Awards set] focused on the best and worst in bad taste. The whole concept was Peggy Gordon’s, this was back when Comedy Central was known as the Comedy Channel. The cards were to come out promoting the channel and some of the themes would be made into pilots for shows. All the people with whom we worked on the cards loved them. But unfortunately, somewhere along the way, a Head Honcho had been overlooked or bypassed in the approval process. When he saw the set, he had a cow. He was really freaked out and offended, especially by the card of Madonna pointing to her naked breast and by the image of Jesse Helms from behind doing lord knows what with his right hand while holding up a Mapplethorpe image with his left. Mr. Head Honcho though the cards were in poor taste. Well, duh. What was the title of the card set?! The set was deemed too controversial to suit their view of what they wanted the Comedy Channel to be: a warm and fuzzy clubhouse of ye goode humour. Of course, now their biggest hit, South Park, stars a singing turd, so so much for their freakout. Our stuff would have fit in perfectly NOW, but needless to say, the suits pulled out, and folded like a cheap card table. 

They were to co-publish with Eclipse, and they had big plans. They were going to promote the set on the air, big launch parties, interviews, and offer the set to new subscribers, the whole deal. Ultimately Eclipse was left holding the bag, and they decided to put the card set out themselves. The whole thing fell apart at about three seconds to twelve. I can draw some consolation that the Suit who killed the deal was axed, insensitive bastard that I am.

— Sienkiewicz, speaking with J. David Spurlock from Tales from the Edge #15

Bill Sienkiewicz 1990: excerpts from Clive Barker’s Hellraiser #2 and 3

Taking “pinups” to a whole new level, Sienkiewicz contributed these paintings to the early issues of the Hellraiser comic book series, originally published by Marvel’s Epic line.

Bill Sienkiewicz 1990: New Mutants : The Demon Bear Saga TPB cover
Bill Sienkiewicz 1990: Twilight Zone #1 cover
Sienkiewicz provided this beautifully abstract cover to this one-shot comic.
This comic featured a comic book adaptation one of Harlan Ellison’s stories from the 1985-1989 revival of the classic television series. Most ironic was the artist drawing Ellison’s story within: Sienkiewicz’s early inspiration, Neal Adams.
Bill Sienkiewicz 1990: Comics Journal #138 cover
Portrait of Alan Moore

Bill Sienkiewicz 1990: Big Numbers #3

Top 5: Lettered thumbnails, published by Pádraig Ó Méalóid’s on his blog
Bottom 5: Finished artwork published by SubMedia Magazine #1

From the outset, Sienkiewicz locked himself into a demanding and expensive artwork development process he had never attempted before: thoroughly thumbnailing Moore’s densely nuanced scripts, extensive use of a large group of models for reference, and the painted photo-realistic artwork. Keeping this up for twelve 40-page issues would be challenging under even optimal conditions. 

But between issues #2 and #3, life happened: Sienkiewicz was going through a breakup with his girlfriend, his mother passed away, as did two of his models, his main model got married and moved away, and even one of the child models went through a dramatic growth spurt to a point where he no longer looked like a child, as well as the infamous falling out with his assistant, Al Columbia. Sienkiewicz’s well-being spiraled downwards right behind the time and money. And while he completed issue #3 in a slightly different style, he had to resign the project.

I felt awful, I felt I let Kevin down, I let myself down, I let Alan down. Much later, I called Alan and basically apologized, not for what I went through, which was real life, but for how, in jeopardizing the project and all. Alan was very generous, a total gentleman. There is no acrimony with anyone, except those who were responsible for spreading the rumors.

— Interview with Ashley Wood, SubMedia Magazine #1

It remains one of his greatest regrets of his career and has often commented that “a day doesn’t go by that he doesn’t think of wanting to finish it.”

In 2011, Sienkiewicz broke his silence and provided his account of those days on Pádraig Ó Méalóid’s blog. It is illuminating and a must-read for any fan of either Sienkiewicz or Big Numbers.

Forget my Tumblr blog — see the REAL DEAL live and in person now!

Bill Sienkiewicz 1990: Big Numbers #2

Sienkiewicz continues to blend a brilliant contrast between expressionism and realism as means to tell the story. Eagle-eyed viewers will recognize Sienkiewicz revisiting a clockwise oriented layout he first used in Moon Knight years prior.

Most exciting, the readers got their first indication that this series would be transforming over the course of its lifespan: two little bursts of color, one of a Mandelbrot pattern on one of the character’s walls, and the other a subtle smudge of red on a candy bar wrapper thrown by one of the construction crew.

Sadly, the series’ lifespan was cut short with this very same issue.

Bill Sienkiewicz 1990: Big Numbers #1

*sigh*

Big Numbers was to be an ambitious 12-part graphic novel by two of the biggest and revolutionary comic book masters at the top of their games.

It left the world of full-color spectacular fantasy superheroes behind and focused instead on grayscale renderings of a set of everyday lives thrown into chaos when an American-financed super-mall is constructed in their struggling English town.

Originally titled the The Mandelbrot Set, mathematic chaos theory factored heavily into the themes Moore was exploring. The story is expertly multi-faceted, as are the diverse, richly-layered characters that populate the town.

For a story that is built on a progressive development to be unfinished is tragic. That the project itself was thrown into chaos is tragically poetic.

Although Sienkiewicz’s art is largely denied the benefit of color, it is some of the most incredible of his career. He blends his signature expressionism with a level of realism never before seen in his work, and the juxtaposition is all the more powerful because of it. Befitting the mathematical theme of the story, the perfectly square pages are uniformly set on a repeating 4 × 4 grid with perfectly circular word balloons.

It was brilliant. It was revolutionary. And it was not to last…

Bill Sienkiewicz 1990: excerpt from A1 #4: “Emily, Almost”

A1 was an award-winning anthology comic that showcased creator-owned work by some of the greatest talent from the world of comics.

As poetry alone, "Emily, Almost" doesn’t stand out from the scores of other poems of unrequited love. But once again, Sienkiewicz’s beautifully atmospheric artwork elevates the impact of the words and demonstrates the unique power of graphic storytelling.

Bill Sienkiewicz: Dazzler #29 cover art
Top: Kris Anka: Uncanny X-Men #23 excerpt

"Hey, I got that reference…!"

Screw Tumblr — see the REAL DEAL in two days!!!
Bill Sienkiewicz 1990: excerpt from Breakthrough
Here’s another deep cut:
Sienkiewicz joins a parade of comics greats, including Neil Gaiman, Dave Gibbons, Dave McKean, Milo Manara, and Moebius; to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall in this hardcover anthology filled with assorted art and short stories that touch on the aspects of the wall and the two Germanys since WWII.
Bill Sienkiewicz 1990: The Green Hornet #7 cover
Bill Sienkiewicz 1990: Critical Mass #5
With the premature cancellation of the original Shadowline titles, the remainder of the stories intended as a crossover were combined in the the seven-part Critical Mass anthology series.

Bill Sienkiewicz 1990: Critical Mass #5

With the premature cancellation of the original Shadowline titles, the remainder of the stories intended as a crossover were combined in the the seven-part Critical Mass anthology series.