Cold, Dispassionate Critique=Miracle Grow for me

General / 15 July 2021

It looks like a couple of weeks back, I spoke a little too soon regarding moving on to the next stage of my portrait learning process!  I am learning that this is to be expected on any path of learning and discovery!  As they say, ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’.   Further, it’s really impossible for me to truly ‘see’ how far I am from a goal in art until I actually do the work necessary to get there.

I’ve needed to spend the last couple of weeks continuing to work on those Reilly method rhythm lines rather than moving on to the planes.  Two specific issues were pointed out to me in my critiques that have been holding my work back from really improving a lot over the last year or so.  My proportions need work, and my linework also demonstrates a need for a lot more practice.

I cannot stress enough how beneficial subjecting oneself to cold, honest, dispassionate critique can be. I’ve been of the opinion lately, that I can only really rely on myself for thoughtful critique.  I absolutely must critique myself as objectively as I possibly can.  But the inescapable truth is that even if I can somehow remain perfectly objective about my work, there is no substitute for the critical eye of someone who has already been down the road I travel.  God bless those who have been generous enough to be honest with me about where I’m at.    

Critique that isn’t specific enough is less helpful, but nonetheless useful in its own way.  It can alert me at least to the presence of a problem, even if I must then seek specific guidance elsewhere.

If at all possible, I highly recommend to anyone who is serious about improvement, to find a community of artists who know what you are tying to accomplish and who have already accomplished it.  Seek others who are willing to help you by being honest with you about what they see in your work.  Particularly in an online environment, ultimately each artist must make their own judgments about which criticisms are most valid.  I have found though that amongst artists, those of us who know how difficult this can be, it isn’t always comfortable to stick one’s neck out to point out a weakness in someone else’ work.  When someone does that for me, I really have to pause and take it seriously.

My focus since my last blog has been on being as accurate as possible, and creating clean, consistent linework.  Below are a couple of before and after images. The effect is maybe kind of subtle, but that’s really what portraits, and achieving likeness are all about!  

This will be the basis of my overall process.  I will do many more of these as a basis for constructing the planes of heads.   I’ll check back soon with more progress!


  


  



I explore the Planes of the head

General / 29 June 2021

Well….as promised, I am back to report my progress.  As I’ve feared..it looks like my new mentor has ‘tipped’ and now he’s got a sort of a web based quasi-art-school! I can’t fault the guy for trying to make a buck, (God bless him!) and I still want to learn!  (Inner hipster...you shut the hell up!)  At any rate, at this point I’m taking any opportunity to finally figure this shit out.  


So, about 3 weeks ago I was spending a couple of hours per day drawing these simplified heads from various angles and applying the Reilly method rhythm lines.  Over the last 3 weeks I’ve been taking really nicely lit photo references of male models ( because of their chisled, easy to identify features),  I’ve been laying the rhythm lines on top of the reference directly, then I’ve been re-drawing my rhythm line sketch free-hand next to the original reference like so….





In the process, I’m doing a couple of things.  One, I’m building my powers of observation in that overlay process.  I’m getting clear in my mind as to what I’m actually seeing,  Next, as I build that freehand version of the sketch, I’m working the mental muscle that allows me to measure more accurately visually.  I know that there are purists who feel that something like this could be a waste of time.  I’ve read William Maughan’s ‘Drawing the head’ and Andrew Loomis’ ‘Figure drawing for all it’s worth’, I’ve taken a few figure drawing classes, hell, I’ve been to art school!  Maughan as of the writing of his book back in 2004 felt that only drawing from life is valuable. All I can say is that after doing all of that, doing this is teaching me something more still.  This is taking some of the mystical randomness out of the process for me, and I think it’s going to improve my ability to draw from life. 


Last week I felt that maybe I was ready to move on from this stage in the process, as I had already done maybe 20 of these.  Apparently not quite good enough!  During online critique it became clear that I should keep at it.  My sense of three dimensions is pretty solid (I’m a sculptor at heart)  but my ability to translate that to 2D by hand, using the illusion of perspective drawing while maintaining proper proportions still needed work-so I knocked out maybe 20 more.  I’m feeling pretty confident about what I’ve gained as a result of that additional work. As a bonus, I’m seeing some nice improvement in my line work.


For Father’s day my wonderful family purchase for me an Asaro head.  If you’re not familiar with what that is, it’s a simplified model of a human head broken down into its most basic planes on one side, and a slightly more complex representation on the other side. 




Now I can look at the essential planes of a human head and I can be aware of what they are, and where to look for them.  It’s a lot to take in at one or two sittings, but I spend a little time just picking this thing apart mentally every day. I’m starting to memorize it.


Although some of the planes are a little exaggerated, what this model does for me is that it allows me to see how specific planes of the head will be affected by specific lighting conditions.  


Loomis starts with an egg shape and starts to break it down from there with a few simple lines.  That’s all well and good (for me anyway) until I have to actually render it.  There are a few planes-especially around the cheekbone and jaw that have confounded me.  As always, as it turns out,  there’s somebody who has had this very problem and has done the work.  My thanks to John Asaro  for taking the time!  


Did you know that if three spheres of different sizes are all lit in exactly the same way, that the largest one will be the brightest???  I didn’t either!!  John Asaro explained that along with I’m sure some other fun facts in the DVD that came with the head.  That one blew my mind so I needed to just shut it off and process that. Incredible!    


Now armed with Asaro head, I am working from those basic rhythm lines, using those as landmarks to lay in the planes of the specific head from my photo reference like so:



Between the planes and the rhythm lines that I used to create them, I’ve already got a really good sense of the form that I’m going to be painting later. Already in the sketch of the planes I’m starting to see a likeness to the subject and even a lot of the emotion that is held in the particular orientation of the head and features. This strikes me as a highly logical and analytical approach that I’m going to find highly repeatable.  All of this adds up to what I’m really working toward...the ability to paint a solid, reliable, likeness on demand.


So much for this week!  I think creating these ‘planes’ sketches is going to occupy the next couple of weeks.  I’ll report back with what I’ve learned!  After that I will be spending some time on line-weight.  See you then!




If Nothing Changes....Nothing Changes.

General / 07 June 2021

Hi folks,

It’s been a while since my last blog post….and since my last addition to my Artstation portfolio.  I’ve been doing a lot of portraits and concept art over the last year.  It’s been a lot of fun, and I feel that I’ve been growing in my art, but as I look around at some of the work that I really admire, there seems to be this kind of chasm between where my work is, and where I want it to be.  Shocker, right?

A couple of things I’ve noticed in the artwork that really inspires me:  Really nice, confident, gestural lines.  Yes, there’s a lot of energy and life in those lines, but also, there is a brilliantly refined deliberateness.  Together, the two create an astonishingly sexy effect.  The second thing I see when it comes to portraits, is an accuracy and fidelity of likeness that I have yet to achieve.

I’ve spent a good amount of time focusing on the anatomy of the head, and anatomy of the body in general.  I learned about perspective and shading in art school- how to draw heads in perspective boxes, etc.  I’ve done a few online courses, going back again and again to the very basics of drawing and color in an effort to find that illusive something. 

Then my wife suggested I try a mentorship of some kind.  That got me thinking.  I know that there are a number of artists that I admire who offer some form of art mentorship via Patreon.   So, I’ve decided to become a Patron of one of these artists.    Apparently, a lot of people want to be learn how to make portraits like this guy (Angel Ganev).  This is NOT appealing to my inner hipster!  He’s tipping.  I sense a sell-out on the horizon!  He’s got a pretty nice actual course laid out though that doesn’t assume a lot.   That’s good for me! Even though I’ve been at this (drawing/painting/sculpting/pixel pushing) for more years than I care to admit, I’ve found that my best bet is to maintain ‘a beginner’s mind’.   I am clay in your hands, master!  Teach me!!

What has happened so far…

In the early going so far I’ve learned some photoshop basics.  I know that a LOT of digital artists use Photoshop, but I’ve been pretty exclusively a Procreate guy, mostly because it is so freaking awesome on my ipad, and I take that everywhere.  I do however have a tablet monitor on my PC and a Creative Cloud license ( I know… I’m an over-privileged piece of shit!) .  So now I’m learning how to actually use some of the brush settings and all of the incredible advantages of Photoshop like being able to lock layers so that I don’t accidentally start drawing only to discover after 15 minutes that I’ve been working on the WRONG LAYER!

I’m also learning a little bit about how far I’ve drifted from some of my basic art skills and how to get back ‘in line’ (see what I did there?).  One of the first exercises has been to ‘build up’ lines.  In order to do that, I have to draw over the same line over and over again.  Well, that isn’t going to happen drawing with my wrist the way I have been for the last couple of years (Ok, most of my life) . I am rediscovering the power of drawing with my shoulder (that I learned in art school, where the guy literally stood over me with a stick!). With this fundamental tweak, it is now possible for me to do, what was impossible only a week ago.  My Shoulder is a MUCH more capable drawing device than my wrist.  I must somehow learn to keep the ‘wrist weasel’ at bay!

I have been told this by no less than a dozen art teachers.  What’s the saying?  When the student is FINALLY ready, the teacher appears?  As hungry as I have been for knowledge, I have been resistant to certain pieces of advice for some reason.  I won’t spend 15 minutes doing it the RIGHT way, but I’ll spend countess hours correcting my jacked-up painting!  DON’T be like me.  I’m 52 years old and learning how to draw finally.

As they say however,  If nothing changes, nothing changes… I am committing here today publicly before God and anyone reading this, while I can still draw breath, I am going to draw with my flipping shoulder!!

Along with my mechanical fixes I am now beginning to look at the form of the head even more analytically.  I’m taking a geometrically uber simplified version of a head, I am looking at it from various angles and working to draw what I’m seeing exactly.  I’m doing this in a simple line sketch using what’s called the Reilly method.  





The Reilly method breaks the head down into a few basic landmarks and connecting ‘Rhythm lines’.  Tying this new knowledge back to drawing heads in boxes is starting to give me a better framework for finding the landmarks of the head.  It’s allowing me to approach the process in a more orderly way.

In addition, drawing this basic head 30-40 times from different angles has really begun to cement in my mind the basic geometry of the head.  I literally now SEE something different than I used to when I look at somebody’s face! This very basic form study also allows me to train my eye with the fewest possible distracting minor forms.  After all, we always want to work from the most general of forms, to the most specific.  A drawing should look good throughout the process as the good teachers say.  This has been a good indication to me that my process has needed some adjustment!  My anatomical sketches have looked pretty decent throughout, but my portraits, not as much.

My goal over the last few weeks has been to secure a very confident generality to build on.

My journey continues!  Next I’m moving on to finding these rhythm lines in photographic reference.  I’ll report back soon!


It Came to me in a Dream

General / 10 May 2021

Hey folks,

It’s been about a week since I’ve posted anything.  I went into a little bit of a funk.  I seem to have these every now and again.  I’ll have a really nice and productive week.  I’ll have created and posted some new work maybe every other day for a few weeks in a row, and then suddenly the wind vanishes from my sails, and I’m adrift.   I don’t even want to LOOK at any artwork or even watch a tutorial.  I’m done with Art during that time, and I have to spend my free time sitting in a recliner watching old seasons of Survivor or worse yet, ‘Fear the Walking Dead’.  

Being a middle-aged artist and encountering some of the new challenges that come along with that, I’ve sought some counsel.   I’ve started reading this book titled “Hidden Blessings” by Jett Psaris.  It’s a really interesting exploration of some of the mental and spiritual changes that occur as we all start to hit this milestone in the journey of our lives.   One of the areas in which reading this book has built some increased awareness for me is in the realm of dreams, and ‘dream-work’. 

My dreams generally tend to be of the un-remarkable variety.  Dreams in which I show up to a college course for the first time on the last day having missed the entire course…on exam day. Stuff like that.   About a week ago however, I had maybe the first dream I can recall ever having that actually had a completely new ‘creature’ in it. 

In this dream, I’m in the basement of the house I grew up in.  It’s completely dark, and I can sense that there is something moving in between the floor joists, the gas pipes, plumbing, etc.   I happened to have a flashlight in my hand that I now switched on and pointed up.  This extremely creepy, pitch black creature with a humanoid head, but no mouth, no ears, and no nose… only eyes, is revealed, slithering and floating between the pipes as I am desperately trying to track it with the light so that I can see if it turns toward me.  That was essentially the whole thing.   I woke from this nightmare and was inspired to create a digital painting of what I saw. 

The author of Hidden Blessings contends that dreams are one of many ways in which our souls speak to us.  According to the author, dreams are a bluntly honest language of visuals and feelings that are meant to help us to grow spiritually-or to get unstuck from a rut we may find ourselves inhabiting.  The gift of this particular dream was perhaps to provide me a glimpse into a paranoia that perhaps proceeds from my childhood roots.  There has to be definite significance to the fact that the creature had only eyes.  The resulting painting was a truly haunting image that seriously creeps me out each time I look at it.   In the short term, the dream offered me some needed inspiration to get back to what I really love doing! Maybe that’s at least part of the point?  The subject matter that I connect with on the most personal level (even if it’s a deep personal fear) can somehow provide the fuel to get me moving forward again.  I hope you enjoy the image!

Mortal Kombat....it's not bad!

General / 24 April 2021

Hey folks, so it’s Saturday morning, I woke up early and watched Mortal Kombat on HBO Max.  I’ll start off by saying that I’ve been a fan of the Mortal Kombat video games since the first time I dropped a quarter in one of the original arcade cabinets way back in 1992.  The game was cool.  What was interesting about it back then was that you had these roughly photographically realistic fighters that you could make fight each other.  Then what was really cool was that somebody on this new thing called the internet discovered that if you were playing as Sub-zero (the blue ninja with a cool freeze power) and you won, at the end of the fight if you hit the right combination of buttons, Sub Zero would rip the guy’s (or gal’s) head off.  Awesome.

Mortal Kombat 2 was innovative in that they began to create a history and mythology-a story- behind each of the fighters and how they related to each other.  Super cool!   Of course, the main story line that I think captured most people was the bitter hatred between Scorpion and Sub-Zero.   This is brilliant on so many levels.  First and foremost, it’s lazy ingenuity at its finest….Hey guys we need seven fighters and we’ve only got six.  Well, just make the blue ninja yellow and call it a day!  Awesome!  We’re done!  Adding the elemental feud between the two really ratcheted up the drama!

They touched on this in the first film in 1997 (which I also loved by the way!) I’m embarrassed to admit it, but when I saw that MK dragon intro for the first time, and then watched the letters M-O-R-T-A-L-K-O-M-B-A-T whiz past my head like Shuriken with accompanying flying steel sound to form the title of my favorite game…I got a little choked up.  Mortal Kombat to me has always represented time wasted with my buddies mailing in an entire Saturday afternoon hanging out playing MK2 on my Sega Genesis.  The needling when one of us would get a 3-4 match winning streak going would sometimes come to actual, albeit short-lived bitterness, but the laughs were priceless! A number of my art school sculpture projects involved the MK dragon in one way or another. (I’ll post and link to one of those)  Hell, I even painted a mural of the MKII box cover art in my room during my college days…super cool!

Anyway, this film-that I had very LOW expectations for really struck nearly all of those notes again.  There will be no spoilers here, I will say only that my curiosity about the bitter relationship between ‘the laziness ninjas’-Sub Zero and Scorpion, was satisfied.  For a video game film, I found the performances to feel very right for the material.  The casting choices and the script, along with nearly all of the dialogue were spot on.   One thing I would beg of makers of action films going forward…for God’s sake…never again include the line, ‘…a little help?’   From a visuals and effects standpoint, I thought that the visuals did their story-telling job exceptionally well.  The art of some of the incredibly talented folks who display their work here on Artstation, undoubtedly under incredibly demanding timelines, brought this world that has meant so much to me in my 20s, to beautiful, believable life.

If you have ever been a fan of Mortal Kombat, I highly recommend this film. It is a LOT of fun!  Take your buddies!

Reading ‘Salem’s Lot’ in 2021

General / 22 April 2021


I’ve just finished reading Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot’ for the first time ever.  I’m a huge King fan from my teen years (right about when this book was published!)  I’ve never liked vampires or vampire stories. Maybe there’s a little too much terrifying truth in them? The evil of vampires has always struck me as evil that gets right to the point.  The vampire says, ‘I want MORE than my fair share out of existence, and I will take everything you have and callously murder you to enjoy it, and by the way, the more that hurts you, the more I will get off on it.’   When you boil it down to it’s most basic truth,  this is what every human evil is all about.

From the standpoint of the vampire story, ‘Salem’ being a 42-year-old paperback, there’s nothing here that I haven’t seen built on in some other story written since.  I’ve seen many houses built on the stinking cellar that King created here.  A cellar he masterfully built with rocks hauled over from the ‘old country’.  What did happen as I read about Hubie Marsten, Richard Straker, Kurt Barlow and their encounters with the people of Jerusalem’s Lot, was that I listened for the creaking sounds in my personal attic, and started sniffing for that rotten smell from the basement of my own psyche.  I started to consider what these stories say about people.  What about us, gave birth to them?

It occurred to me that the ‘disease of vampirism’ is a lot like any addiction or obsession.  In particular, I considered the vampire’s trait of being invisible in mirrors.   Why can’t vampires cast a reflection in a mirror? The fact that they do not, was one of those things that I’ve accepted at face value as part of the lore, but why that particular trait?  (Forgive me if this has been answered in one of the ‘Twilight’ stories or other vampire lore I haven’t read!)  Having been throughout my life, someone who is prone to addictions and obsessions, and having spent countless hours amongst folks with similar issues, this starts to make a little sense.  

Obsessions and addictions take piece after piece of one’s soul as payment (for what?) until the original person is no longer there, and what is left in that person’s place, is nothing.  Still alive, but for all intents and purposes, dead.  The ‘what‘ can range from momentary distractions and simple pain avoidance, to seeking of greater and greater pleasures, fleeing the sense that we are nothing more than ordinary, to ultimately trying to flee our own mortality.  The payoff is always the same, the promise of escape always proves to be empty.  

The weapons used to overcome the call of evil are always the same.  They’re the symbols of holiness.  Symbols of self-sacrifice, Symbols of turning away from selfish pursuits and losing oneself amongst relationship with the rest of humanity.  Leaning into that mortality and that which we share with everyone else, always causes the evil corruption to flee, or whither in the light and warmth of real connection. 

In my art is one place where I feel that perhaps the two can exist together.   The relentless obsession is there.  My own flight from being ordinary. Albeit without costing somebody else their life!  Along with that relentless pursuit though comes a humble giving of something back.  I sometimes wonder what I am really adding to the world if I consume my hours in creating the most excellent artwork?  What is in that besides Accolades for myself?  My own sense of accomplishment?  Affirmation, that the countless hours spent scribbling meant something to somebody? 

Then I think of the flowers sprouting out of the ground this spring morning, the beautiful landscapes in places as lush as Wisconsin, and as arid yet equally beautiful as the rocks of the southwest.  I think of the squirrel that I watched go bounding across the lawn that is mine for now…and I think maybe just living, doing what I do, amongst it all as part of it all is enough.  Each part provides a little beauty and a little joy to the whole thing.  I humbly hope that my work results in adding a little bit to that magic too!

I’ve linked to a piece I created this week.  (In my own relentless pursuit of improvement!) I’m working at capturing some emotion in facial expressions, and better modeling of the anatomy of heads, faces, figures, etc.  Please take a look and leave a comment! 

This is Negan???

General / 06 April 2021

Negan is far and away my favorite character on ‘The Walking Dead’.  My daughter and I watched the latest episode “This is Negan” last night after looking forward to this one for months.  I'm sorry, I can't buy this interpretation of Negan's backstory. Where is the animal magnetism and alpha male charisma? Where is the demonstrated moral flexibility to get what he wants? Where is Negan’s built in need to control people at any cost? Maybe Negan did coach baseball, but couldn’t that be an after-work hobby? Maybe he could have had a roofing company or been a contractor or been a leader in some other evil enterprise like that, that involves a lot of conniving and ruthlessness.


Maybe Negan would hire illegal immigrants, then not pay them what he promised and threaten to have them deported if they complain.  He’d then laugh about it with his buddies that work for him, (Negan is also pitting these hand picked nasty but weak willed guys against each other so that they don’t get together and challenge his authority.) Negan buys the beer, he owns the company, he owns the truck and he makes one of the lackies drive, etc.


I’m thinking that the writers of these shows likely face other considerations and challenges that we in the audience know nothing about.  No fault to them!  That doesn’t stop fans like us from coming up with ideas that seem right to us!  I think to myself, "Ok smart guy, you don't like that story, what kind of story would you like?"


Here’s an idea for an expository scene that came to me as I thought of what kind of backstory a character like Negan might have:


Negan is just getting done demoralizing one of his illegal employees at a job site.  The man goes back to work mixing concrete with his blistered hands as Negan looks on and grins as though he had given the poor man a raise.  Negan's buddies sit in the cab of the company truck snickering and drinking beer while the profusely sweating immigrants toil in the hot summer sun building a garage.  That’s when a couple of 10-year old boys who live in the neighborhood wearing baseball caps walk over and ask the clearly in charge Negan if his company would sponsor a little league team.  One of Negan’s men, feeling the effects of drinking Negan’s cheap beer barks a drunken ‘Get lost!” .  Negan stops, turns to the truck,  points the sledgehammer that he’s leaning on at the heckler in the truck and says grinning,  ‘I’ll be with you in a minute...  Don’t you go anywhere.”.  Negan then turns back to the 2 boys, and with magnanimous flourish tells them that he’d be delighted to sponsor their team.  He finds out where they practice and promises to be there to watch.  He says he wants to know if these two are the sluggers they look like.  He's sure he will be backing a winner. The boys leave on cloud 9, giddy with excitement while the homeowner’s smoking hot wife has been watching this entire scene unfold.  She smiles at Negan who gives her one of those 'I'll be seeing you later..." Negan grins.   Then he turns his attention back to the truck.  Now that the boys are out of earshot, Negan humiliates the loud-mouthed crony with one of his patented bizarre speeches.  The kind that might make sense coming from a decent person, but are pretty awesomely confusing coming from this monster. Negan finishes by telling him that he needs to get the hell out of his company truck which is for "Homeowners' Saviors" employees only, and to go walk his jobless, broke ass home. 

I’m starting to explore creative writing via a group called ‘shut up and write’ through Meetup.com.  You hang around on a zoom call with a group of other writers and you just write for an hour in each others' silent company.  There are groups from all over, usually about 4-12 people attend a group.  These happen all different times and days of the week.  One of the groups I attend has a highly dedicated group leader who takes the time to prepare really interesting prompts, and timed exercises that build skill!  This one has breaks during which we share out writing with each other and offer encouragement.  It’s another great creative exercise. These meetups have proven to be a great way for me to explore another creative outlets during the pandemic.  I’m hoping the groups remain as strong beyond. 

I started to explore creative writing as a means of making my art more interesting.  Fan art is fun, but for me, I think I could find real joy in drawing characters from my own stories and maybe even find an audience for that work!   I’d love to hear about what some of you are doing to get outside of your own well-trodden ground of drawing, painting, pixel pushing, what have you!  Do you have some other passions that you indulge in order to keep it fresh?  Leave a comment!  All the best to you on your creative journey!

ROM - What draws us?

General / 05 April 2021

The other day I was thinking about subject matter for another illustration.

Like a lot of kids my age, I got my start scratching the art itch by trying to emulate the drawings I saw in Comic books. (I sometimes call them graphic novels today, because it maybe maintains just a little bit of the illusion that I'm a well adjusted middle aged guy, rather than a boy who has refused to grow up entirely!)

Enter ROM. Back in the summer of 1980, I could be found at 'Tosa Pharmacy in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, annoying the store clerk by rifling through all of the comics on the spinning wire rack. You had to do that, because unlike the comic stores I frequent today, there just wasn't the real estate on that rack at 25 cents per, to give each title it's own basket. So, sometimes the latest issue of John Byrnes' masterful Fantastic Four , might be hidden behind (egad!) some Archie comic or other. During one of these treasure hunts I came across a cover that immediately caught my interest. It was 'ROM the Space-knight' Issue #3. I had heard of ROM, but through a toy ad in another comic. At that time, there was some marketing experimentation with creating a toy, and then creating a comic to support the product, rather than the other way around ala 'Star Wars'.

ROM was one of two titles like this that Marvel was putting out. The other was “Micronauts”- based on a REALLY popular toy in the late 70's. The actual ROM toy was neat because it had flashing red LED eyes and made some cool electronic sounds. He had a few attachments that you plugged into him , and then those would light up and make their own cool sounds. The three attachments were the Neutralizer, the Energy Analyzer, and the Translator. Apart from the lights and the sounds, ROM was a really lousy action figure. His head was comically out of proportion with the rest of his body. He had maybe 4 points of articulation, he was one color. One. This ugly metallic gray. I don't believe ROM was a huge seller, but I get the sense that Parker Brothers had a significant initial investment in the toy and were pretty motivated to make it a success, thus the Marvel comic.

Marvel took Rom seriously. The cover of ROM issue #3 was drawn by Frank Miller. It portrayed a ROM that had a family resemblance to the toy, but  was clearly re-imagined by somebody who understood what made a cool looking hero. In a dynamic pose, full of movement, ROM was using his  ‘Neutralizer' on a DIre Wraith. The Neutralizer appeared to a bystander, to shred its target and turn the wraith to ash, but it was in fact opening up a portal to another dimension called Limbo. Limbo is a construct similar to the Phantom Zone in Superman comics. It's a prison that holds the wraiths forever without forcing the Space-knight to commit murder in order to rid the galaxy of these treacherous beings.

ROM had me from the first read.  Apparently ROM is from a planet called Galador.  Galador was home to a highly advanced culture that valued science, art and music and peace above all.  However they were not to be F-d with.  At some point they were infiltrated by a race of beings who could change their shape at will.  They used this ability to infiltrate and enslave cultures throughout the galaxy, until the day they tried it on Galador.  The Galadorians got wise almost immediately and -starting with ROM, the first to volunteer- began enlisting their young men and women to fight for their home.  Galadorian science had discovered how to physically graft someone to indestructible cybernetic armor, making them into fighting machines that the Dire Wraiths were no match for.  Each Spac-knight had his/her own individual customized armor and weapons.  ROM’s armor has the appearance of polished chrome.  He doesn’t have to carry anything because his armor can- in an instant- summon his equipment from hyperspace!

Amongst Rom’s tools are his Neutralizer which I’ve already described,  His Energy Analyzer, that he summons when he has a hunch that some Wraiths are masquerading as people and needs to be sure,  and finally his ‘Translator’.  I think I saw him use the translator once or twice as he hunted Wraiths on different continents and worlds.

ROM could see things that others couldn’t see.  Ahhh the paranoia.  He could see these creatures for what they actually were ( evil deceitful creatures bent on domination and enslavement)  beyond what they appeared to be (a watchful drugstore clerk or a teacher handing out detentions maybe).   It explained so much!  Ha!

Thinking back on it, part of the tragedy of becoming a space-knight is that you get this cool armor, but you also forfeit your humanity.  Unfortunately, the Wraiths managed to kill all of Galador’s scientists at some point while the Space-knights were away and now those young men and women found themselves stuck inside of this armor.   I thought this was a really poignant allegory, as America was beginning to grapple with the way veterans of America’s Vietnam war were left.  After answering the call to fight for a world they were told was slipping away, they too were left scarred by a reality they couldn’t un-see.  They too were misunderstood by American culture and found themselves mostly alone. 

That’s a pretty astounding accomplishment for a comic that existed purely to promote a toy.  Of all the comics I’ve ever collected I only have the entire series of one.  ROM made a run of 75 issues.  As a tribute to the creative spirit of creators Sal Buscema, and Bill Mantlo  I offer today’s Illustration…

ArtStation - ROM-Spaceknight of Galador, Ryan Paul