Steve Stegelin’s #SupportYourLCS: The Anatomy of a Pin-up
A silver lining during this time of pandemic has been seeing communities rise up to aid those most impacted by the economic shutdown and quarantine. Among those communities deeply impacted? Our local comic shops. Between governments asking municipalities to stay at home and Diamond Comic Distributors halting weekly shipments of new comics, comic book retailers’ Wednesday-to-Wednesday sales cycle has largely dried up. Stores have temporarily closed their doors, while others have transitioned to mail order, curbside pickup, and home delivery. It’s in this new normal where I was asked to contribute some art to an effort to #SupportYourLCS.
In short, the project is a series of pinup-style illustrations to help promote the ways you can support your local comic shop during the pandemic. The theme throughout the images is a fun one: comic characters reading other characters’ comics. The example I was given: “Batman reading the Shadow.”
I mentally toyed with different pairing as I figured out who I’d enjoy drawing. I’ve sketched Batman plenty at conventions, but he was probably too literal a subject given the example given. The more I thought about it, the more I leaned toward less and less mainstream characters and comics. I figured other contributors would likely tackle big ticket heroes like Batman, Spidey, or Deadpool, so pairing a B- or C- list mainstream character with an indie/creator-owned comic seemed all the better… And that’s how I ended up deciding on DC Comics’ Plastic Man.
Despite being much more of an indie comic reader, I’ve always enjoyed the character of Plastic Man. It’s likely due to his inherent humor and the creator-driven feel of his initial comics by Jack Cole. But what indie comic would he read? Will Eisner’s The Spirit leapt to mind, given their shared history starring in Police Comics, but that pairing was too obvious; it lacked the sort of contrast and indie comic vibe I was looking for. But what if I paired the creator-driven abnormal detective with a creator-driven paranormal detective? One who shared his same ruddy palette? Perfection.
Hence, Plastic Man reading Mike Mignola’s Hellboy.
I could make an image of just Plastic Man reading Hellboy work, but that seemed not enough. The thought of pulling in a Marvel character alongside DC’s Plas made sense. A B- or C-list Marvel counterpart, a character equally still somewhat defined by their creator’s initial vision? Howard the Duck—specifically, as he appeared circa Steve Gerber’s 70’s era comics—became the obvious pick. I wasn’t sure what he’d read, but the concept of Howard and Plas hanging out, reading indie comics together, seemed too fun to ignore. Heck, Plastic Man could be the seat Howard sits on, and Howard sitting in grumpy silence next to Plastic Man’s unbridled joy provided a nice contrast.
As I sketched that out, I realized I could bring even more into the equation. The background could be a bit of nature, but what if that nature itself was another quirky mainstream comic character reading an indie comic? And who could provide a nice shade tree for Plas and Howard than Marvel’s Guardian of the Galaxy Groot? Of course, to balance that out, I’d need to pair Groot with another quirky character from the DCU. And, in one of those weird synapse firings of the brain, the long-forgotten (but squirrel-esque) Green Lantern Ch’p immediately sprang to mind.
I still needed to figure out what indie comics Howard, Groot, and Ch’p might read, but the primary cast and composition of the image had come together. As it often does, the illustration essentially revealed itself to me once I’d started. In the foreground, Plastic Man as a park bench, with grumpy Howard sitting as far on the edge as he can as a buffer from Plas’s exuberance. In the background, Groot sits on the ground, providing cover for the “bench” and a nice shoulder for Ch’p to lounge on.
For their reading material, I decided this was a good opportunity to pay homage to the indie comics and creators who’d inspired me most along the way. Mike Mignola was already accounted for, and the idea of Groot reading Sergio Aragonés Groo (probably uttering “I am Groo!” as he did) make me chuckle. And Stan Sakai’s funny animal ronin Usagi Yojimbo seemed appropriate for an anthropomorphic superhero like Ch’p. Which left the cynical Howard the Duck, reading the similarly angry commentary of Evan Dorkin’s Milk & Cheese.
And for kicks, a little self-deprecating dig, with my old indie comic Boondoggle, laying on the ground unread next to Groot.
It was all a nice reminder of just how drawing is often like an excavation. You start in one location, with a narrow idea of what you’ll find, only to have it evolve as new directions and hidden opportunities reveal themselves. As I shared the progress on my Instagram, it was clear the image was resonating with folks. And the response from the editor pulling the project together? “Wowza.” All told, a nice silver lining and distraction in an otherwise uncertain time.
Editor, Artist, Letterer, Colorist Steve is the long-running cartoonist at the Charleston, SC alt-weekly Charleston City Paper, where he skewers politicians and criminals (and criminal politicians) alike with editorial cartoons and police blotter illustrations every issue. Steve was best known his indie comic book (and subsequent webcomic) BOONDOGGLE