By Molly Jane Kremer. I’m always puzzled by comic book fans who say they “follow writers” when explaining their reading tastes. Taking for granted the collaboration between artist and writer at the heart of most comic books seems almost disrespectful, and always makes me think the reader is more invested in the genre they’re reading (i.e. superheroes) than in the medium of comics itself. Big superhero publishers don’t seem to want to challenge that all-too-pervasive way of thinking either: over-scheduled series are shuffled through with house-style artists so often, it’s easy to see why some readers often don’t bother to learn their names.
Creators who bring their work to Image Comics—with its DIY sensibilities and completely hands-off editorial staff—often make the choice to fully share ownership of their new property between writer and artist. They also have the freedom to dictate their own publishing schedule, so instead of editors throwing a substitute writer or artist on a late book, such a choice is typically in the hands of the creative team itself (or the hands of a hired freelance editor). Typically everyone prefers to stick with work from the series’ actual creators and wait it out. It’s the logical choice, since some corporation isn’t waiting to see how the comic’s release will effect this financial quarter.
Waiting for an amazing artist to finish up a comic they have a personal stake in means the end result will always be a more impressive work of art. Such was the case with the first Rumble series, co-created by writer John Arcudi and artist James Harren with colors by Dave Stewart. It ran from December 2014 until October 2016, only consisting of fifteen issues total, the presence of James Harren on art being its major draw. A series we could see him populate with weird creatures and pepper with crazy action was a dream come true. But now that the series is continuing on without him, with David Rubín (an excellent artist himself) replacing him on pencils, what does that mean for Rumble?
Written by John Arcudi.
Art by David Rubín.
Colors by Dave Stewart.
Refresher course. Rumble is the tale of an ancient warrior god Rathraq, and the modern humans he’s befriended during his recent return to the world. Though he now inhabits the body of a scarecrow, Rathraq still uses his ginormous sword in battle (courageously or hopelessly) against the demons, or esu, that have inexplicably pervaded the city.
Bobby, Timah, and Del–his human friends–were trying to help him recover his former body, stolen and inhabited by an enemy. But just as the shit really began to hit the fan, that hulking body was destroyed, along with a whole lot of esu, and their queen. Needless to say, issue #15 left us on quite the cliffhanger.
Starting again with a new issue #1 may suggest the creators want this issue to be taken on its own terms, a soft restart held a bit separate from the past series. It’s more likely the creative team just wanted to sidestep the unavoidable drop in sales that comes with a continuing ongoing series, especially with the long (but at least scheduled) breaks Rumble has had between arcs. And despite that big “#1” on the cover, I don’t recommend jumping into this issue as your first taste of Rumble. Though over half the issue reintroduces the characters and recaps the past fifteen issues, it’s certainly not enough background to make a brand new reader care about any of the goings-on–or who these people are.
Creature comforts. James Harren’s creature design is unparalleled; his art fantastic in general. His presence was probably why many were reading Rumble. Having previously worked with John Arcudi on Mignolaverse offerings (over at Dark Horse Comics) meant Rumble’s supernatural, urban-fantasy leanings were an easy enough bridge to cross for both of them. New artist David Rubín’s art is just as stunning throughout the new issue, as it has been in his other recent outings (Ether, Black Hammer, and the recent Beowulf graphic novel). At times Rubín sidles close to Harren’s stylings, but that’s probably on purpose, not to mention absolutely unavoidable; he’s working with a storyline originally tailor-made in every way to suit Harren’s art, on characters designed by the artist himself. To be an artist on this book is to work with Harren’s toys in Harren’s specific sandbox, and Rubín has almost a thankless job on this comic thanks to all that. He acquits himself more than admirably. The comic is gorgeous.
Four stellar double-page spreads grace the issue, a couple of them within the epic reintroduction in the first few pages, all phenomenal displays of Rubín’s talent. His work is softer, less angular than Harren’s, and he lends a further… squishiness to the creature design. (Not a bad thing.) He incorporates much of the original designs into his own style, and is able to preserve the kinetic, almost frantic movement in the previous series.
Dave Stewart’s colors certainly aim to bridge the gap between Harren’s and Rubín’s differing styles, and ease the transition. Phenomenon that he is, Stewart knows to give Rubín’s art more depth in color, deeper and brighter hues; and to add subtle texture where Harren’s art needed flatter tones.
Creator-swaps. A comic book artist can typically draw one twenty-two-page comic per month (we can’t all be five-pages-a-day Jack Kirby, can we?), but often the artists on Image series work slower, more deliberately, and the stellar quality of the finished product justifies the wait. A creator-owned series switches up its talent roster rarely. The focus is (and should be) on the creators and their story, not where it fits into some greater shared universe, or characters whose main value is as intellectual property in other mediums. Superhero comics—especially in the last few years—have normalized incredibly high turnover for creative teams, to the detriment of artists more than writers. Their monthly (sometimes twice-monthly) schedule can be a monster breathing down artists’ necks, necessitating shorter arcs and often an immediate replacement—and sometimes multiple inkers or artists are tasked on a single issue, to ensure it comes out in time.
Creator-owned comics do this awkward dance less often, but it does happen for various reasons: Artist Charlie Adlard came onto The Walking Dead seven issues in, fully replacing original artist and series co-creator Tony Moore; the third arc of The Wicked + The Divine had a different guest artist for almost all of six issues—a purposeful creative decision as much as it was time off for series regular artist Jamie McKelvie. James Harren even recently stepped in for three issues on Seven to Eternity—but only as a guest artist before Jerome Opeña returned. Harren is a co-creator of Rumble, not a work-for-hire penciller (which still can and does happen at Image), and his influence is apparent on every page of Rumble #1. So it’ll be interesting to see how the series’ ownership now works out. Will Rubín retain legal rights to the series now? Does Harren’s name still appear in the publishing indicia?
Rumble as a series seemed more than anything a showcase for Harren’s kinetic art. But he and Arcudi created a story that resonated with readers, and with Rubín’s and Stewart’s help, that tradition is built upon and continued in the new series. I hope to see Rumble begin to incorporate and reflect Rubín’s presence more, but until then, this issue’s odd but pleasant amalgamation of his work and James Harren’s designs will more than suffice.
7.5 out of 10
‘Rumble’ #1 hits stores December 13.