I love tributes to artists, and believe me, I would never speak ill of anyone who takes the time to publicly appreciate a Nora Ephron or Andrew Sarris or Tony DeZuniga or any other important artist, critic, or entertainer who has died. But the older I get, the more death I see, and the more I regret not telling, or at least not putting the thought out there into the world, how much I love an artist—while they’re alive!
So, no obituary or lengthy tribute here, but today I was reminded of how great Klaus Janson’s inking/embellishing is, from some rather humble, almost forgotten comics he’d worked on, The Defenders (’70s). I was chatting with a coworker today in his cubicle. Our tastes don’t overlap all that much, and while he’ll often put an old comics image on his computer, he never seemed to have a vast knowledge of old comics. But I noticed, next to a small pile of contemporary stuff like some Avengers vs. X-Men tie-ins, that he had three consecutive issues of Defenders comics, #44-46. I have only read maybe the first year of the original series, but my understanding is that after Steve Englehart’s run ended a few issues earlier, the book entered its long and painful period of mediocrity and then outright awfulness. I can’t speak to the stories in these issues, but having three writers credited, and those writers being Gerry Conway, Roger Slifer and David Anthony Kraft, doesn’t sound promising.
But the art really stood out, even on this yellowing, faded old newsprint from 1976. Within the haphazard Kirby covers is some really attractive work by the chameleonic Keith Giffen on pencils, but what makes it great is the effort of Janson. I just flipped through it, but nearly every panel was magical. Panels of Craftint suggesting deep, rich fabric in drapes, with great care taken to make a metal desk gleam. It could have been just drapes, just a matte finish wood desk, you know? Half-silhouettes of women with star-stuff in their hair. A master at techniques almost nobody even does anymore. Janson is, of course, forever linked with Frank Miller for his Daredevil and Batman work, but really, for Marvel in the ’70s, and Marvel and DC in the ’80s and ’90s, the guy enriched anything he worked on. Janson, I believe, is more of an educator and commission artist now, but still takes on the occasional assignment. Thank you, Klaus.