A story of artistry — and generosity.
Last month, I posted our annual celebration of the late, great Marshall Rogers, timed to his birthday. (Click here. You’ll be glad you did.) Central to this year’s salute was a look at Rogers’ rare Batman newspaper strip, which was inspired by a care package sent to me by 13th Dimension reader Bill DeSimone. (Click here. Cool stuff.)
Well, it turns out Bill has one helluva story to tell about Marshall Rogers’ art — and the thoughtful generosity of his top-flight inker Terry Austin. I’ve invited him to tell it here. Read on. — Dan
By BILL DeSIMONE
My favorite page of Marshall Rogers’ art comes from the last issue of the Steve Englehart run (Detective #476, Page 14), the climax of their Joker story.
Batman has chased the Joker across fire escapes, over rooftops, to a building under construction. They’re both high up in the girders when the Joker sprays acid at Batman, bringing us to the page in question.
Now, in reading conventional comics, your eyes go to the top tier of a page, you read left to right, next tier down, left-right, and so on. On this page, Rogers completely disrupts that flow, but all the cues of where to look next are in the visuals:
At the top left, Batman makes “a sudden desperate lunge” away from the acid. Instead of the next action happening on the top right, his body is diving toward the left. You follow the direction of his dive and now Rogers pulls his camera back, so you see the Batman standing safely on a girder. In the background is the silhouette of a bridge, which you follow directly to the right. The bridge stays in the background; in the foreground you see lightning strike the Joker.
The girder the Joker stands on is attached to a cable; follow the cable to the upper right, and Rogers pulls the camera back again, with an upward angle. You see the silhouette of the Batman, and the girder that the Joker just fell off, wobbling in the rain. Follow the direction that Batman is looking, down to the lower left, and Rogers swings the camera angle again to above and behind Batman, watching with him as the Joker falls to the water. Follow the Joker’s fall, and the last image on the page is the splash of Joker hitting the water.
Notice, there are really only four panels on this page: Top left, “Sudden, desperate lunge—.” The small, horizontal rectangle with Batman, the bridge, the lightning and the Joker. The larger rectangle, with Batman watching Joker fall. And the biggest panel is the actual page, as the splash is the same panel as the top right.
The scan here is actually from the Shadow of the Batman reprint from 1985, signed by Rogers at a con in 1986. When I mentioned the above to him, he said, “yep.” I jotted down some notes at the time, and he also said: “Comics must get more visually attractive to compete with other forms of entertainment. Six panels a page, a different scene each panel: what worked when comics started was successful because people rarely saw television or movies… the success of Simonson’s Manhunter showed me there was a place for the kind of comics I wanted to do.”
Another note about this. After the Keaton Batman movie, the Museum of Cartoon Art in Rye, N.Y. (since relocated) had a big Batman event. Keaton’s costume was there, batarangs, comics, original art, etc. I noticed a few pages of the Rogers/Austin art from this run were there, but not this page.
Not long after, I met Terry Austin at a con. I asked about the page and if he was interested in selling. He didn’t remember but said he’d check. A few weeks later, I got this oversized envelope in the mail, clearly with Austin’s handwriting on it:
Inside was a full-size copy of the page and the note you see in the picture.
Not quite the same as the original art, but still cool — and still on my wall:
— For the MARSHALL ROGERS Index of stories and tributes, click here.