The Artist’s Spider-Man: Humberto Ramos’ Exuberant Exaggeration
Humberto Ramos has been a consistent presence on the Spider-Man titles for the past 14 years or so, but he actually came to the character nearly a decade into his career.
Before tackling Spidey, Ramos worked on Milestone books, including Hardware, and numerous books for DC Comics, most notably a two-year run on Impulse with writer Mark Waid. Then he moved onto Wildstorm and helped found the Cliffhanger publishing imprint, where he produced 24 issues of his creator-owned comic Crimson with writer Brian Augustyn. It wasn't until 2002 that Ramos worked on a Spider-book.
At first Ramos was strictly a cover artist on writer Paul Jenkins and artist Mark Buckingham's Peter Parker: Spider-Man run. Ramos jumped beneath the covers to draw the interiors for issues #44-47, and in a run that had up to that point been characterized by more warmth and humor than bombast, Jenkins and Ramos' "A Death in the Family" ramped up the melodrama and the action in a story about the Green Goblin daring Peter Parker to kill him.
The following year, Jenkins and Ramos launched a new Spectacular Spider-Man title, of which Ramos drew 12 issues. It notably included the "Spider-Man Disassembled" arc, which featured Spider-Man turning into a spider-like being, and a showdown with a redesigned Doctor Octopus.
Ramos went on to work on several X-titles, and the creator-owned book Revelations, as well as a brief run on Runaways, not returning to Spider-Man until after the "Brand New Day" soft reboot in the late aughts. Ramos joined up as the semi-regular penciler for Amazing Spider-Man when Dan Slott took over as regular writer in 2011, sticking around through three arcs of Superior Spider-Man in 2013. He has drawn covers as recently as last year for the Secret Wars: Spider-Island miniseries.
The first thing that jumps out from Ramos' art is how exaggerated it is. His Spider-Man has bulbous fingers, big feet, a skinny little neck, and impossibly expressive eyes. He's also apparently made of rubber, yet angular at the same time. But the contortions aren't in a Steve Ditko style. They seem to go even further. Ramos' Spider-Man bends in a way people just don't bend.
There are a lot of semi-pejorative ways to describe that style: "Toyetic," "cartoonish," "loose." But to start, that is Ramos' style. Go back and read his Impulse issues. That's the way he's drawn for a long time, and it works for a dynamic hero who moves fast. Plus, in a lot of ways what Ramos has done with his Spider-Man art is synthesize many artists who came before him. The contortions he puts Peter Parker's body through are sort of the logical conclusion of what Ditko started. He draws "spaghetti" webs like McFarlane, but adds another layer to the detail, working with colorists to make them semi-transparent. And say all you will about his "loose" style, there's an amazing amount of detail in every cityscape or crowd shot.
Then there's the emotion he puts in a mouthless mask. His Spider-Man can look surprised or scared or determined via the change in shape of the eyes. That's something other artists have done, but Ramos takes it to a whole other level.
And then there's his unmasked Peter, who can say a lot without a word.
Ramos redesigned a number of villains, perhaps most notably the Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus, and at first glance, they're almost "animated" versions of the characters. Goblin's clothes are baggy. Doc Ock concealed his body in a huge coat and had almost pig-like features. And certainly they're more stylized versions, but there's an edge and a menace to those redesigns that you notice as you look more closely.
Plus, Ramos proved he had no problem with the classic versions of those characters in later arcs. Likewise, his Mary Jane, J. Jonah Jameson and others were all instantly recognizable, even if they were also clearly in Ramos' signature, fluid style.
Humberto Ramos draws an exaggerated Spider-Man. There's no doubt about that. But it's not just exaggeration for its own sake. There's an underlying expressiveness in his work that can sneak up on you.