Sunday, December 9, 2007

Pete Morisi

As a young fanboy, I preferred comic art that I thought of as energetic and “experimental.” Since I only read comics by Marvel and DC, I had a limited notion of what was possible; the artists who for me best represented the “cutting edge” were Bill Sienkiewicz and Steranko. The work by Pete Morisi that I saw in Charlton comics from the ‘70s was the exact opposite; it was cartoony in ways that seemed tired and old-fashioned, and it lacked the cinematic superhero dramatics of Steranko and the innovative page layouts and unpredictable drawing techniques of Sienkiewicz. Morisi (who often signed his work PAlll) has since become a favorite - for the same reasons that I once disliked him.

We often talk about the ways that cartoonists try to create a sense of life and motion in their work. But Morisi's art is compelling because it often communicates a sense of stillness, which is after all, a key feature of printed comics. (And to highlight this stillness, Morisi rarely uses motion lines.) It's a strange approach to take, given that he often worked in genres in which readers expected tension and drama.

It looks as if his characters are posing - almost frozen - and not “in the middle” of an action:

There’s a strange disconnect between the characters’ faces and what they are saying: the dialogue conveys the drama of the situation, yet the expressions often don’t - the main characters stare off somewhere beyond the panel, disengaged from the action and from each other. This lends an odd kind of pathos to the scene:

{Note the way that the grid shifts in the above 2-panel sequence, from window panes to an angled wallpaper design.}

Morisi is a careful designer and returns to number of elements throughout his Charlton comics:
The inset panel (and he often echoes the panel with square and rectangular objects that appear within it):

Stylized shadows/backgrounds:

The panel superimposed on a black panel:

Morisi's panels and pages are well composed - there's a real sense of balance and clarity - but not in a way that seems overly clever. Here's a page that brings together nearly all of the qualities discussed above:

[Almost all of the images above are from ‘70s Charlton horror titles.] [Pete Morisi at Wikipedia]