When I hear the word "superhero," the image that pops into my head looks an awful lot like the way Chris Sprouse draws his characters. The clean lines, the heroic proportions, the larger-than-life action and adventure that go along with it, those are all things that Sprouse has mastered in a career that spans three decades.

Today, July 30, marks his birthday and that means it's an even better time than it usually is to celebrate his work.

 

 

Sprouse is probably best known for co-creating Tom Strong along with Alan Moore --- with whom Sprouse also collaborated on the amazing Supreme: The Return. Tom Strong is arguably the most consistently solid comic of Moore's 21st century work.

The whole idea behind the America's Best Comics line was to imagine what adventure comics would look like if superheroes had never become the dominant genre, and to that end, Sprouse designed Tom Strong as a combination of "Tarzan, Doc Savage and Superman," a hundred year-old strongman who combined those traditional pulp elements of jungle mysticism and super-science, and who flew around on a backpack helicopter and only ever spoke in bold type.

The book was notable as much for the way that it subverted and evolved those pulp tropes as the way it used them to craft an exciting adventure comic that Sprouse fleshed out perfectly, going big, bold and over-the-top at every opportunity.

Beyond Tom Strong, Sprouse also illustrated one of my personal favorite stories, Batman Annual #14's "The Eye of the Beholder," also known as the best Two-Face story ever.

 

 

Not only does Sprouse draw a hell of a Batman, but the way that he draws Two-Face in that story is great; the clean, almost cartoony lines of his usual style contrasted with the acid-scarred side of Harvey Dent's face captured the character in a way that more realistic versions --- like the admittedly awesome Neal Adams cover on the same issue --- don't quite match.

The one thing I've always said about Sprouse is that it's one of comics' biggest crimes that he was never given a long run on Superman, the book that it sometimes feels like he was born to draw --- and since Sprouse is still out there creating great work, there's still time to change that!

But rather than dwelling on what could've been, it's always worth remembering just how much great work he's done, and how consistently beautiful his art is each and every time he picks up a pencil to draw.

Happy Birthday, Chris Sprouse! Here's to many more years of extraordinary work!