Posted April 18, 2005 by MAK, Editor-in-Chief

Fighting American

A commission unlike any other, imagine the opportunity to combine rare unseen pencils with the talents of Stephen's best inker and one of the best color artists in the industry.

While browsing Comic Art Fans a little more than a year ago, I noticed a Fighting American: Dogs of War cover that I had never seen previously. What intrigued me about this piece was that I had never seen a published version of it, although the inside front cover backgrounds of the Dogs of War miniseries had an image that looked eerily similar. Being aware that the series had never been wrapped up due to Awesome Entertainment's premature folding, I was hopeful that this image was an unpublished cover to the conclusive issue. The owner was quite kind in helping me obtain this piece and, upon receiving it, I was amazed to find that the notation indicated that it was to have been published originally as the cover to Issue #1. This made perfect sense considering that the Dogs of War Preview had a pencilled cover that was later reprinted and inked by Batt for the first issue.

Needless to say, my excitement consumed me to the point where I pondered as to what the image may have looked like had it passed through the editorial phase and indeed been published as the cover. Thus, my first quest for a commission was born. The first challenge would consist of choosing a suitable inker for the project. My criteria for this choice would primarily consist of finding someone who was well versed in Stephen's detailed pencils, narrowing the field down to Marlo Alquiza, Stephen's longtime Prophet inker, Matt Banning (aka Batt), the then-current Fighting American co-illustrator, and Joe Weems V, the inker on my favorite illustrations of Vampi #12 and Soul Saga #6. Upon consulting with several other fans of Stephen's art, I narrowed the choice down to what would have originally been my number one as well, the immaculate style of Joe Weems. Christian Lichtner, co-founder of Liquid! and Stephen's co-plotter on Soul Saga, pitched in with his praise regarding Joe's inking style, mentioning Stephen's own preference for Joe as his primary choice for inking duties.

I contacted Joe after seeing his original art auctions from his New X-Men run with Marc Silvestri. Despite his busy schedule commitment, Joe was kind enough to accept this difficult task and appeared genuinely excited to be illustrating over Stephen again. After a few months, Joe delivered an intruguing prelim that stayed true to Stephen's original detail, fixing only the female character's wandering left eye. Subsequently, Joe followed with the final version, a stunning presentation that featured some of the most detailed inks I had ever seen Joe produce. Among the highlights are the incredible detail present in Fighting American's dress and the background character silhoutte and the superb focus on the character's shield.

Click picture for close up view

Original FA pencils
Original pencils

Blue-line FA inks prelim
Blue-line inked prelim

Blue-line FA inked commission
Blue-line inked commission final

The next task would consist of getting the inked piece professionally colored. I had originally considered Liquid! because of the company's work on Soul Saga, but upon consulting with Joe and looking back on Stephen's published art history, I realized that my favorite final colored piece over his art was Vampi #12 by Steve Firchow. As luck would have it, Joe had the contact information for his studio-mate and passed on my request. Steve was quite gracious in taking on the commission, and upon receiving some character reference files, delivered an astonishingly stunning final art presentation. My main requests were met with absolute perfection: the delicate yet prominent shine around the character and the glare off his shield, buckle and forehead; the presence of numerous blast marks on the bullet holes and the separation of the background star from the female character's coat collar; the delicate and beautiful skin tone on the female character's face as well as the slightly blue eyes with green irises that remind me of a special person in my life; and finally, special background detail for the smoking silhouette. Steve delivered all of these features with his trademark potent coloring style that eschews ubiquitous highlights and light spots in favor of dramatic color detail and wisely chosen glares that spotlight the most important features on the piece.

Click picture for close up view

Color commission backgrounds
Initial backgrounds

Character fillings
Character fill-ins

Final color commission
Final color commission

I would like to thank Joe Weems and Steve Firchow for taking the time out of the busy schedules to work on this commission for me. It is an incredible sight to behold the final versions and to experience first-hand the original comic art process. I welcome you to see the step-by-step coloring process for this piece courtesy of Steve Firchow in the following slideshow:




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