Hot Streak: Chris Samnee’s Daredevil

« Oh, this is perfect . . . this is exactly what comic books are supposed to look like. » — Chris Samnee on encountering Frank Robbins‘ “Man-Bat Over Vegas” [ source ]

For a change of pace, here’s an artist in the prime of life and at the peak of his powers.

Chris Samnee, born in 1979, first caught my interest when he collaborated with Roger Langridge on Thor: The Mighty Avenger, for which he reaped the 2011 Harvey Award for Most Promising New Talent. But some of my superhero-lovin’ friends had been raving about Samnee’s work for a while.

While obviously a man of his time, he’s clearly drunk deep from the well of classic illustration, comic books and most of all, comic strips. It’s hard to miss in his work echoes of Alex Toth, Doug Wildey, Frank Robbins, Milton Caniff, Will Eisner, Roy Crane… an artistic heritage not too unlike his fellow Daredevil alumnus David Mazzucchelli‘s… fine company, plumb in that sweet spot between ‘realistic’ and ‘cartoony’, and wisely drawing from both.

As befits a first-rate cover artist, Samnee thoroughly thinks and feels his pictures through, thumb-nailing his layouts and planning his moves. Here are some of his preliminaries from The Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom (2011), for which he shared (with David Aja) the 2013 Will Eisner Award for Best Penciller/Inker.

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Cargo of Doom marks the first time ever when the character of Betty isn’t sexualized to the hilt. That’s got to count for something.
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This is Daredevil no. 9 (Dec. 2014). Incidentally, after the intrusion of bar codes on covers in 1975, followed by an increasingly hard-sell culture, the kind of elegantly spare, striking design I personally gravitate to hasn’t had it easy. A surprising step in the right direction came in recent years with the demise of the Comics Code, the introduction of digital editions and the appearance of a handful of enlightened editors (take a bow, Axel Alonso!), first at DC/Vertigo, then (as usual) later at Marvel.
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This is Daredevil no. 10 (Jan. 2015). Another example of a digital edition: compare this to a 1970s Marvel cover!
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This is Daredevil no. 11 (Feb. 2015). The Stunt-Master, seen here, first appeared in Daredevil no. 58 (Nov. 1969). It was the era of Evel Knievel and his Daredevils.
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This is Daredevil no. 11 (Feb. 2015). Hey, even more room for the art!
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And this is Daredevil no. 13 (Apr. 2015).

And speaking of inks, he sharply stands out in that regard in today’s assembly-line industry. It’s different for every artist, but Samnee loves to ink. He claims: « My pencils are just awful. I can’t imagine anybody else inking me nowadays because most of the work is done in the ink. ». I can relate.

While I greatly enjoyed Thor: The Mighty Avenger, the covers were solid but not outstanding. But Mr. Samnee’s still improving (!), and so a couple of years down the pike, and with the crucial input of colourist Matthew Wilson, a man without fear of colour saturation, we have a hot streak! And yeah, surrounding issues 8 and 14 kind of fell flat, so it’s a fairly short one. But there are quite a few quite outstanding covers outside of this subjective selection, so keep an eye out, and prepare to have it dazzled.

-RG