Remembering Mike Wieringo

by Liana

If you're reading this blog, the reason for today's posts needs no explanation. Today, the Bad Genious takes a break from celebrating Star Wars Week to remember artist Mike Wieringo, who died one year ago. For my part, this means taking a look at his work with Mark Waid on Fantastic Four, which many (myself included) consider one of the best runs on any comic book ever.

It's pretty hard for me to talk about a comic book and not focus on the writing. Art has always been secondary to me. Usually, I only really notice it when it's going all wrong (Greg Land, Humberto Ramos). When it's all right (Gary Frank, Steve Epting), it just blends seamlessly into the story and appreciation comes second to enjoyment. 'Ringo changed that for me. Well, he didn't change it, because I still do it. But his work on Fantastic Four did not go unnoticed or unappreciated by me, not then and certainly not now.

And still, I find it hard to talk about this without focusing on the writing. I mean, Mark Waid told amazing stories. His grasp on the characters was incredible. Indeed, he brought the fantastic back to our four favorite imaginauts. So if Waid did all this, what exactly did 'Ringo do?

He brought it all to a level rarely reached in comics. He took what was bound to be a classic run and made it legendary. How do I know this? Because those issues that used fill-in artists just weren't the same. No offense to the other artists, but there was always a little sigh of disappointment when you picked up that month's issue and didn't see 'Ringo's name on the cover. They were all capable artists, but none of them could match the style, the energy, the life 'Ringo brought to the book.

I don't know how you determine what an artist comes up with on his own and what a writer instructs him to draw without seeing the scripts, but I feel comfortable giving credit to 'Ringo for imaginative details like Franklin casually blowing square bubbles (FF60) and the Thing wearing a lame Human Torch costume for Halloween (FF517). Sure, maybe Waid had the ideas, but 'Ringo put them on the page with such conviction, such wonder, that you can't help but smile.

But he didn't just do awe. 'Ringo was so great with all kids of expression. Be it shock and creepiness, like Doom presenting Reed with a freaky bugged out vision of Valeria (just before the FF's trip to H-e-double-hockey-sticks; FF61), or profound sadness, when Johnny reminds Reed (while in Heaven! FF510) that he misses Ben too.

One of 'Ringo's most amazing spreads also comes in the "Unthinkable" arc, when Doom locks Reed in an infinite library, books about magic stacked high and forever, and tells him, "This door can be opened by an enchantment a four-year-old could learn. Whenever you think you're ready to face me, come find me. Take your time. Though were it my child burning in the fires of Hell....I'd hurry." Now, I know from the extra bits at the back of the hardcovers that Waid requested Reed standing "inside a staircased, torchlit library of near-infinite size that seems to go on forever in all directions, filled to the hilt with moldering books and scrolls, dwarfing Reed in its enormity." My scanning skills (and my scanner) leave much to be desired, but I think you can get the idea from this image (FF70), even though I couldn't get the full two-page spread and had to resort the mini-image in the back of the hardcover.

Could anyone else but 'Ringo have met Waid's request? Probably. But how many of them would have done it this well? Not many.

There's one image, or sequence of images, that has stuck with me from the time I first read it years ago until today. In fact, as Dan was reading the run for the first time over the weekend, I tried to describe it to him so he could flag it for me when he came across it. It was so powerful to me that even though I can't remember what I had for lunch yesterday, I can never forget the impact those panels had on me, a girl who barely knew at the time that comic books had things like writers and artists. For me, these images capture so much of what made 'Ringo one of The Greats. The sorrow, the confusion and despair on Reed's face is so....I don't have the words to finish that sentence. I'm trying, but nothing's coming. The Thing has a hole the size of Gibraltar blown into his chest. He's dead. Reed is trying frantically to revive him.

Others (cheap Bendis joke here) try the repeating panels thing, often to no effect. But here, well, it still blows me away. You can feel Reed's devastation sink in. It's powerful, and it's my favorite 'Ringo panel ever. Who else can grab a pencil and show you that? Mike Wieringo is in a very small club. And he is missed.


KACH! said...

I was very upset when Mike died. He was one of my favorite creators & a huge artistic influence on me.

His run on FF is one of the few stories from that title that I own.


Jon Quixote said...

I think the Waid/Wieringo run on FF is one of the all-time greats. And to me, it's the model of how 21st Century property comics should be run - few gimmicks, low hype, no "changes everything!" stunts.

Just stories that push the characters in new and exciting directions, while still respecting them. And answers to all sorts of interesting questions that I can't believe I (and nobody else) ever asked before: what if one of the Four became a Herald of Galactus? What if the life of Reed's family depended on him abandoning science? How unstable can unstable molecules get?

Ringo's art was such a huge part of it. It was so inviting and bright and energetic. Even during the "dark" storylines, it worked so well. (Although I kinda wanted "Hell" to be something beyond pen & ink drawings, but hey, perfection is boring). Yeah, it was "cartoony", but it was also expressive and clear and dynamic.

What a tragedy his loss was to the industry.