JIM APARO 24/08/32 – 19/07/2005
Jim Aparo, my favourite comic book artist, was born 83 years ago today. Jim Aparo was the first illustrator whose name I knew and whose artwork I actively looked out for. When I was 8 or 9 I used to try to copy the way he drew faces – the blocks of shadow for the eyes, the triangle of shadow under the nose and that ink line tracing the tip of the nose (no one else ever drew a line there!), the heavy shading around the cheekbones, the mouths of his women drawn without corners, like pink bands…
The irony is that DC seems to have seen him as a second rank artist – he was given second rank heroes like The Phantom Stranger and Aquaman to work on, and when he drew Batman it was usually in the team-up comic The Brave and the Bold. In my opinion no one has ever drawn Batman better – he managed to draw him as a man, not a superman, and he made him serious – not a child’s version of serious which we get in the movies – but a serious detective doing a serious job in a flawed and dangerous world. The Three Million Dollar Sky, the Batman and Black Canary team-up Jim drew in 1973, is a great showcase for all his stylistic trademarks – his foregrounding of hands (many artists are terrified of drawing hands), his love of the low-angle shot, his skill at foreshortening, his use of crosshatching to introduce greys. For a self-taught artist his draughtsmanship is phenomenal – few could draw things better than Jim – the machine-guns in The Three Million Dollar Sky look like they can fire real bullets and his planes, trucks, cars and buildings look like real planes, trucks, cars and buildings not comic book stand-ins for the real thing.
As well as not seeing what was as plain as the black triangle under their noses ie Jim Aparo’s genius, it seems that DC’s bosses actively worked to destroy his unique style by discouraging and ultimately stopping him from inking his own work. When we finally see Jim heading up an important Batman comic – A Death in the Family – the artwork doesn’t resemble Jim’s at all – there are no block shadows for eyes, no triangular shadows under noses – he’s had to conform to a studio style and his special talent has been suffocated.
But no one could touch Jim in his heyday – no one else could make comics real in the way he could. If you look at his work on stories like Grasp of the Killer Cult (a Batman team-up with the Spectre, 1975) and The Corpse That Wouldn’t Die (Batman and the Atom, 1974) you’ll see comic book illustration at its very best – not hyper-realistic and not without errors and exaggerations, but the perfect vehicle for the delivery of a superhero story.
I could look at pages of Jim Aparo’s artwork for hours – and sometimes I do. In the unlikely event I ever get rich I’d buy up as many original JA pages as I could get my hands on. There should be a lot – he used to turn out a page a day.
So happy birthday, Jim Aparo. In this obscure corner of Australia, I raise a glass…
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