Tag Archives: Bill Sienkiewicz

Moon Knight #26

Do you know who Bill Sienkiewicz is? If you’re reading this, you probably do. But, for the sake of asking, what do you think he thought about when he was starting his career drawing Moon Knight for Marvel Comics? What did he think about during this period of his life? Could you look at his artwork and infer? In some ways, I feel like I almost can. Like, somewhere around issues #21, #22, and #23 of the original Moon Knight series (published throughout the early 1980s), Sienkiewicz starts to draw more like himself. He starts to draw in his recognizable style, and he starts to flex that storytelling muscle. He takes this leap that’s artistic and personal. He’s worked hard for it, and it connects with the readers he’s talking to. He’s found an effective way to be creative. 

On the other hand — I have no idea what Sienkiewicz was thinking about. No one does. He probably doesn’t even really remember himself. Maybe he has a pretty good idea. Maybe he can sense something familiar. But even then, it’s probably all impressions or pretty faded memories. I don’t know that thoughts, the way they happen, can exist once they’ve moved on. You tend to fill in the gaps to make the whole thing coherent, and that isn’t actually what went on. Either way, Sienkiewicz’s Moon Knight comic books, the later, last few ones that he drew right before taking on his next Marvel assignment, feel real to me. They feel immediate and like something is happening. They are totally made by a person.  

Here’s an example of what I mean:

Just take 10 seconds and look at that image. Whether you think it’s ugly, goofy, or not worth your time. Just realize that’s a real drawing in the world, and someone spent a lot of time on it. They’ve spent a lot of time throughout their lives trying to draw that image that way. It required their sustained progress, month-to-month, year-to-year. They’ve had to really want to do this. And most likely, the motivation or idea to do so, to want to draw something like this, came from another human being. It came from someone who drew their own odd, colorful image in a comic book about a superhero, or a gangster, or an adventurer, and that oddity got into the reader’s blood. Then sometime in the early 1980s, Bill Sienkiewicz drew this picture because at some time in the past Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Neal Adams, Jim Steranko, or whoever-it-was did the same thing, and Bill Sienkiewicz was affected by it.  

That, as far as I can tell, is a conversation. That is finding something shared in a specific thought and wanting to respond with an interpretation all your own. This is happening in superhero comic books, a corporate place of nonsense, or at least it was at one point in time. Today’s superhero comic books are in a different conversation. It’s a broader one, more directed at the issues of our world, and the editors and writers are trying to throw these pop-cultural versions of heroism at problems we real people cannot address, to comfort us. To make us feel less alone in our overwhelming concerns and some of our fears. To, at times, offer a bit of blind hope or a simple remedy. And that’s fine; I can’t get mad at that because the superheroes have always responded to what ails their time, whether it’s Hitler or drug addiction, or the AIDS crisis. They’re there for that. They make good bandaids. And even though bandaids fall off, they still serve a purpose. They make us at least consider a solution, or recognize that something is wrong. Otherwise, why would there be a bandaid there? That’s what superheroes are. They are their own way to write about and see the real world, as any sort of fiction is. 

Moon Knight #26, where the following image (shown again) was published, is a story about violence and child abuse. It’s called “Hit It.” It’s about something Bill Sienkiewicz had direct experience with, unknowingly to the story’s writer, Doug Moench, as he typed the script in push to meet a tight deadline. Moench says so in an interview he did in 2006 with the then-Moon Knight writer, Charlie Huston. 

MOENCH: The reason he told me he went so crazy on the book. He said to me, “I, first of all, drove a dagger in his heart and then exorcised his demons by writing that story.”


MOENCH: Because he had been abused as a child.


MOENCH: And that’s why he went nuts and turned a seven-page thing and blew it up. It was his way of working out these demons. He said he felt so much better by the time he was done, and he was more proud of that than anything else in his career.

I mean, maybe Doug Moench is livening up this account of what happened, but the basic fact that Bill Sienkiewicz took a seven-page script and turned it into 20-some pages of full artwork, a full issue, all because the story about child abuse hit a personal nerve. That he cared so much for an assignment for a comic book called Moon Knight — That’s interesting. That’s what people can do. They can find something real and purposeful in the things that are trivial or even products. And maybe, yes, placing such a focus on this corporate intellectual property, SuperHeros™, is a brain drain. Maybe it is, and I can’t disagree, completely. But maybe it’s also our small way and chance as participants in the world to turn things around? I mean, we can write and draw the superheroes and actually do something with them that is artistic and thoughtful. Is that perverse or pathetic to believe or even want to try? It could be. But would you rather someone attempt that interesting thing, like making one of these comic books into something worth seeing, or would you just want to roll with the script and continue to publish and see something subpar and hollow?     

When Bill Sienkiewicz felt heavy and found trauma he’d rather not have, he made a comic book that showcased the talent and ability of people, their potential for good. It isn’t a story meant to teach a lesson, so much as it offers perspective and nuance, which hits harder. And not only that! It’s also interesting to look at, has style, has energy. It’s something you want to read. 

Again, this image:

The text captions, written by Doug Moench, are rhythmic. They connect the character, Moon Knight, to the liveliness of the world around him. “Cats in windows … Money itching to change hands.” The character is a part of this scene. Another element of the city. Bill Sienkiewicz draws this sweeping, graceful presence connected to a cape, high above a night-time mess. “Always, always blood to be spilled” down below in those streets. And Moon Knight looks light as a feather.  

That visual characterization tells you who this guy is. He’s a lunatic at ease in the debris. Comfortable with extremes. Bill Sienkiewicz presents him with style and composition. From a perspective anchored at a point that extends beyond the character. It encompasses what the image really is. It’s about those two buildings in the background, their yellow-lit windows. The people inside, having dinner and TV. They see what we see. They look at this image of a costumed man gliding through the sky, and recognize something. They see that the world is crazy.

Bill Sienkiewicz decided to show this part of the story in this way. It’s his conceptualization and guiding hand that portrays it. He is communicating to a reader. And the communication of this idea, visually — that the world is kind of wild, and beautiful, and what the fuck — when that image is complemented by thoughtfully written prose … It is an example of people saying something through an art form often doubted. In a genre that’s super nerdy, corporate, and Disney-fied. But doing it, nonetheless. 

There were real people who created, wrote, and drew these products to make a middle-class living, on insane deadlines. Competing with each other. Making stuff up! These creative types evolved from a single point of origin. A guy who did it first — A central, defining artist, who laid the ground rules and instigated copycats, and then summoned new, working artists. People who grew up reading as fans. They took over the business, slowly. But first, they had to learn the ropes via the standards of their time. Or steal from the best, their tricks and flourishes. All for a paycheck. To keep the machine revving and running. Because comic books are a business, and it’s run by people.

In the interview I referenced earlier, Doug Moench doesn’t describe an orderly, kind work environment or job. Instead, he says this about how Moon Knight #26 was published:

MOENCH: Eh … let me tell you how that thing got written. Bill had blown it up. The editors had screwed up on the deadlines. We can name names – Mr. Dennis O’Neil – had screwed up so badly he’d forgotten to send a whole issue out to the other penciler who was going to do a fill-in issue or something. He discovered that my plot was buried on his desk. Meanwhile, Bill was going nuts on “Hit It.” And Bill brought it in and it went from a potential reaction of “Oh my god! What do you think you’re doing taking this seven-page backup and blowing it up to a full issue” to “Thank god there’s a full issue here.”

HUSTON: So at that point they didn’t care about content. It was something they could run.

MOENCH: That’s right. And so he called me up and said, “I’m going to ask the biggest favor I’ve ever asked any freelancer in my life. Can you get on a bus and come to New York right now to script here so we can get it out by 7 tonight by special courier.

HUSTON: Oh my god.

MOENCH: I said you gotta be kidding me. I’m in Pennsylvania. “Oh, please, please, please. My job’s on the line …” So I wound up scripting that whole thing in this tin closet. It was the only room they had open at Marvel. They had me crammed into this tiny little room with a typewriter. I did it on the fly right there, right out of the typewriter. Thankfully it was a stream of consciousness style. I’d never written anything faster. And they were literally ripping pages out of the typewriter and taking them over to the bullpen to have it lettered right on the spot. You asked me what the reaction was, and I don’t think there was any reaction other than, “Get this out by special delivery.”

Doug Moench describes making Moon Knight #26 as a gig. A fun one, in ways, I’m sure. But a job, and jobs suck. And you totally cheat at your job sometimes. Why wouldn’t you? You’re not a machine. You can outsmart the apparatus — The company you work for and what’s expected. You can find cracks in the cement, if only by luck. That’s how Bill Sienkiewicz got a chance at something superb. He had it in him to give luck something back. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Moon Knight, Review

Rob Liefeld died for us

photo (2)

Granted, so much of Bill Sienkiewicz’s work on The Shadow is the fact that it’s he who does it, but unlike Elektra: Assassin, which was published only a year before, The Shadow isn’t painted by the artist. Sienkiewicz strictly supplies pencils and inks, approaching the assignment in a fashion more typical of work-for-hire commitments. Where Assassin bleeds some sense of artistic dedication, The Shadow, while still quality stuff, isn’t as individualistic. The artist handles two-thirds of the work, and the third, and (in Sienkiewicz’s case) crucial step is trusted to someone else.

This someone could have really dropped the ball, colored this thing like any other book on the stands, but Richmond Lewis, colorist behind Batman: Year One and David Mazzucchelli’s wife, didn’t. A painter herself, she comes at this thing with a particular intuition. She’s conscious of Sienkiewicz’s use of blacks, and knows how to work against that in order to attribute color to them and enliven a field of depth in his drawings.

The above image (though poorly photographed) is possibly a cheap example, but is a clear encapsulation of this. Sienkiewicz starts us on the left side of the panel, steeped in solid black, focusing on the Shadow, but it’s Lewis’ hot pink that moves the eye away and over, revealing a character in the background, opening the image up and shifting our focus. It’s the concisest their collaboration can be summed up, showing Sienkiewicz set the ground work for her to capitalize on.

By 1987 other comics were colored with such craft, but this work on The Shadow shows artists still staking a piece of the coming frontier. It’s interesting to see this amount of thought spurred by advances in technology and the companies’ investment in printing. The script on this book, at best, feels like the work of very trying young writer. It has attitude and energy, but is unnecessarily dense. Yet Lewis and Sienkiewicz ease it, give it charm, and despite the flaws have it come across as a special project. You forget the obvious attempt it made to revamp a Pulp hero and look on it to experience the thing only they can create.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Countdown to Dark: Moon Knight in Hulk Magazine

The year was 1975, and Moon Knight’s future was not very clear. Created as a villain for the comic book series Werewolf by Night, Doug Moench and Don Perlin designed the character to simply supply conflict for an issue or two. Nothing more, nothing less. His stint on the printed page after that was relatively short, appearing in only a couple of other projects, most notably Marvel Spotlight numbers twenty-eight (28) and twenty-nine (29) where he battled the very conventional Conquer Lord. The character for the most part did not have a big game plan, and Moon Knight was simply expected to just fade away as a long-forgotten blip in the Marvel Publishing Pattern. Ralph Macchio saw something though.

At the time, 1978, Macchio was an assistant editor to Special Projects Editor Rick Marschall. The team was working on the forth coming HULK! magazine, and Macchio was put to task finding a back-up feature to go alongside the publication’s main showcase. Ideas of Namor the Sub-Mariner and Shanna the She-Devil mulled over in Macchio’s head until he came to the conclusion of Doug Moench’s second-tier man of mystery Moon Knight.

The rest is history as they say because HULK! led to 1980s ongoing Moon Knight series, which led to some excellent comics work from both Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz, which then led to future Moon Knight stories and the character’s existence in this very day.

Cover of MoonKnight: Countdown to Dark Collection

But the HULK! issues had to happen first. Without them, Moon Knight is still the throw-away villain with limited purpose and future. Those HULK! issues were Doug Moench’s chance to really tell the character’s story, and reading those comics with that thought in mind provides you with a solid understanding that this could have possibly been the last Moon Knight story. The character was then and still partially is a risky endeavor to pursue as his existence does not match that of Batman or Superman. No one (except for me) is clamoring for Moon Knight comics; it would be easy for the character to get lost in the shuffle due to his lack of popularity. The character is a C-lister, and Ralph Macchio wanted him to be the second-stringer in the back of HULK!. For all Doug Moench knew though, Moon Knight could have been at the front of the magazine, staring as the main feature because reading those stories certainly shows quality rather than a feeling of something mashed together to fill page space.

The stories carry a quality of literature in how they subtly suggest while presenting a plot that is actually pretty simple. If you look at an author like Hemingway, he writes short stories in a style where not a whole lot happens. The majority of the writing and purpose of the story is the setting or internal conflict or ambiguous lines of dialogue.  Now, while I am not completely comparing Doug Moench to Ernest Hemingway, because I do not necessarily feel comfortable doing that, I do see a few similarities between these Moon Knight stories and say Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories when it comes to showing little while alluding to more.

Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River,” which is the conclusion to his Nick Adams saga, basically provides an account of Nick hiking through some grasslands and ascending up a hill where he then camps and eventually finds a river and goes fishing. That is the plot, and it is not a whole lot, almost bare minimum in the events department. Moench does this in his own way, a way that is certainly only fit for comics. Stories like “The Big Blackmail” and “Countdown to Dark” do have eventful plots, but when these plots are held in a context of comic book plots they are not really that outgoing. The plot for both of these stories, as they are connected, is Moon Knight stopping a terrorist plot and then having a final battle with a big, bad villain. That is pretty standard for super-hero comics, and these comics, on the surface, read like they are just going through the motions of bronze age practice.

So, both of these plots are almost boring and certainly could appear as repetitive to selected audiences, but what is important is what is being said underneath as the authors provide subtle indication for larger themes. “Big Two-Hearted River,” even though a fishing story, goes a bit bigger as Hemingway describes the environment of the river, the way the fish live in it, how Nick reacts to it, and how the swamp appears dark and placid further along the way. These small indications are the clues to the theme and invite the reader to think, but they are not necessarily placed in the forefront of the text as instead they are briefly mentioned. The Moon Knight stories pull the same trick. At one instance Moon Knight is at battle with Lupinar, The Wolf, carrying on in true comic book style, yet suddenly the fight stops leaving Moon Knight in a moment of looking at what had just occurred, muttering the words, “I see. But I don’t want to.” This happening takes place over three panels, pretty brief, but the nature of how that moment stops you has an affect, bringing about feelings of what is really going on with this character. The moment though is completely surrounded by the traditional plot.

This design for a story packs such an impact I feel because it creates this feeling that the comic almost knows more than you do. The comic presents itself one way, but really underneath the dressing there is a whole other side to it. There is also this really cool aesthetic value to that idea. I like looking at these stories as pulp adventures because of how romantic and dated they can feel. And not dated in a bad way, saying that the comic does not work today, but more in terms of it feeling from a certain era. The swashbuckling and pattern they spotlight are so very bronze age, but underneath it all are themes and ideas that could work in almost anytime. The ideas of not knowing who you are and wanting yourself to be a certain way are timeless as they are very true to the human experience.

Page of “Night Born Ten Years Gone” by Bill Sienkiewicz

And that is the Moon Knight character. He is a costumed adventurer in some classical sense, but beautifully does Doug Moench show that the super-hero can face conflict from the inside and that these characters as concepts can really say much about us. He provides Moon Knight with the three identities of Jake Lockley, Steven Grant, and Marc Spector and pits them against each other to show the inability to choose an idea of a life.  Marc Spector, assuming that is the real, base identity of the character, makes choices as to what role he is playing at different moments. Is he Lockley or Grant? That is up to Spector, or is it? The identities seems to almost dictate themselves as each role has its own abilities, and according to what needs done Spector has to assume the specific roles. It is like he does not even have the choice because for the character the job of Moon Knight needs done, and the job of Moon Knight needs done because the character is driven toward a sense of wanting better for himself.

Take a look at the character’s origin: a former mercenary hired by a committee of men to make a hit on a werewolf (man). The character was a villain, and Marc Spector knows this about himself. That is why he becomes Moon Knight; Moon Knight is Spector’s opportunity to be something better and not just a soldier working for pay. Being Moon Knight brings about a sense of mission and higher calling. He is still a soldier, but he is a soldier concerned about ideals rather than self. Except Marc Spector does not always go away. “Night Born Ten Years Gone” is a great example of this as Marc’s brother, Randall, basically goes on a killing spree because of the wrong done to him by Marc Spector. This is the past catching up with the character, and it is a past of violence and wrong that he cannot escape. Marc Spector, and the old life he used to live, is a part of him – it IS him – and it only brings problems as Randall’s free-for-all leads to the stabbing of Marlene, Moon Knight/Steven Grant’s lady.

Really that is only one of example of many to suggest Marc Spector’s restlessness with himself. Look back to “Countdown to Dark” once more as Moon Knight defeats Lupinar, The Wolf by killing him. Lupinar does aid in this as he does throw himself upon the sword, but the act of that occurrence even being written suggests the troubled past Spector cannot escape. The blood spill and reaction by Moon Knight, “I see. But I don’t want to,” says to me that the character knows who he is at heart, the mercenary, but he does not want to be that. Even the way “Night Born Ten Years Gone” ends continues this trend as Moon Knight cannot save his brother Randall who ends up impaled by a tree. The true, classic super-hero would have saved the villain, allowing him to be punished accordingly, but Moon Knight does not save Randall. He lets him die. It is sort of this weird takeaway for the character. He tries to be the good, blue-blooded American hero, and for the most part does an alright job, but at the very end of these missions his hopes of saving the day are ripped away from him as the blood is spilled and he is reminded of his questionable past.

It is this idea of not being able to escape from who you are, no matter how much you desire to be someone else. That to me is Moon Knight. The villain who wants to be the hero. I think there is certainly an element of a man who does not know what he wants, but the ultimate point of Moon Knight is facing the truth of who you are.

A very Marvel idea, if I may say.

Doug Moench lays this all out in six back-up stories, and he completely defines his character, taking him from two-dimensional villain to 3D bag of internal struggle. Moon Knight was no longer a throwaway.

Cover of HULK! Magazine #13

And how about Bill Sienkiewicz? I, with my ability as a writer, do not even have the vocabulary of words to express how I actually feel about his work here. For one, it is early Sienkiewicz where he is clearly channeling Neal Adams. I think anyone can say that; it is not hard. I can add though that I feel this stage of Sienkiewicz is actually perfect for these stories because they fit that idea of the traditional look and feel. Ok, maybe Neal Adams is not so traditional of a comic book artist. His work was a game changer, and it certainly carries its own identity. When compared to the Sienkiewicz we now know and love though, Adams is certainly more traditional. I just like how the styling of the artwork goes along with the styling of Moench’s writing: traditional yet subtly more. Because of HULK! magazine’s printing privileges, as it was in “SUPER COLOR” which was proudly stated on the covers, the artwork carries with it a bit more depth and life. The work has shadows, and as simple as that may sound, it adds a lot. It may look traditional at first, but the shadows bring out a bit more. They bring out the questions and the grayness – a point certainly mirrored by Marc Spector’s own character.

Moon Knight was not guaranteed a long running shot. The character was designed as a throwaway, not necessary destined to have his whole story told. But the chance was offered, and Doug Moench seized the moment and gave his character purpose. Looking on it now, The HULK! stories had to be right otherwise who knows where the character may have ended up?  Who knows if Moench and Sienkiewicz would have gotten together? Who knows if anyone would care about this character?

Luckily, The HULK! stories are well-crafted. Some of my favorite comics, to be honest.


Filed under Moon Knight