Thumbnail: A Celebration of the Cars of Sean Phillips
'Thumbnail' is a new recurring feature on ComicsAlliance in which we invite our writers to reflect on comic book details that deserve a little extra attention, whether it's a favorite character, and artistic choice, or a striking page. For this installment, John Parker looks at Criminal artist Sean Phillips' unusual affinity for beautiful and realistically rendered cars.
Cars are hard to draw. As precision-engineered objects in motion, they present many challenges to artists with realistic styles; even the very good ones. More abstract or cartoonier artists get off relatively easy: they can reduce cars to their most basic shapes and adorn them with a few speed lines or a little smoke off the tires, or give them an exaggerated lean, like they're mildly anthropomorphized into runners straining for a finish line.
Artists with more representational styles have to bite the bullet and produce something that resembles a moving automobile --- and often enough, because cars are so hard to draw, something that just resembles an automobile is what we end up with. Something that almost looks like a real car, with badly-proportioned tires, or windshields at weird angles, or no bumper. A car-like idea, nearly given form.
Sean Phillips draws cars like nobody's business, with perfect proportions, and minimal lines. And they're accurate. I'm not a car expert, but it's easy enough to tell when an artist is referencing a real-world model, or just the vague impression of a car style. Often it doesn't matter, but when it happens in a story that's striving to represent reality, it can pull the reader out of the story.
Clearly, Phillips does his research. Through his collaborations with Ed Brubaker over the last twenty years, Phillips has drawn cars from several eras, and his cars area always drawn from real life, lending authenticity to the story. In the 1970s, you see Mustangs and Pintos and Cadillacs; in the 1940s, what look like old Packards and Lincolns; and they're all the proper shape, and captured in motion with flawless perspective.
In Criminal Vol. 2: Lawless --- reprinted this week --- the main car is a Dodge Charger, the same classic muscle car driven by the criminals in Bullitt. In this story it's the vehicle-of-choice for Tracy Lawless, playing wheel-man for his brother's old crew while on the hunt for his killer. There are only a few pages of car chases, but Phillips makes them count, as the Charger lurches around corners in panels that look like snapshots of reality.
Plenty has been said about the characters, the dialogue, and the atmosphere of Lawless, but what I really love about it is that freaking car. That thing is Hot Rod Racers-level awesome, and it's about time somebody said so.