Everything and the kitchen Sienk…
“I can look at current guys who do comics now. I can look at their work, I can see their mistakes and I see a human doing it and somehow to me it’s art. Then I’ll see something that’s really well drawn and well painted and by all rights should be considered art, [and] it leaves me cold”
– Bill Sienkiewicz
Greetings from the desert fellow CBSI members. This week’s One Year Later installment will feature the past, present, and future of one Boleslav William Felix Robert Sienkiewicz or better known in our world as Bill Sienkiewicz – pronounced (sin-KEV-itch). Culturally, this means Son of the Son in Polish. The week of February 8th, 2017 brought us a mesmerizing look at Kingpin #1 1:50. On the surface it seems bland, however with a closer look, one sees the unique attention to detail. Simplistic, yet filled with a distinctive quality that immediately resonates beyond the norm. What brought on this ability? How does he incorporate reality into his work? On the other side, why do some vacillate their opinions of his work based on one cover to the next? This all will be covered with the contents of this article. Let’s get started shall we?
Bill Sienkiewicz was born in Blakely, Pennsylvania in May of 1958. At 5 years of age his family moved to New Jersey where he began his early roots of art with influences such as Curt Swan’s Superman and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four. As a young adult he received his education from Newark School of Fire Arts. It was here he began his trademark style of blurring the lines between media, and combining a number of different techniques. Bill elaborates on this: “I feel like the more tools you have in your arsenal, the better you’re able to convey a specific sort of idea, or meet the reader or the viewer in a way that isn’t standard cookie-cutter, taking them by the hand. I love to, and I do, presume a certain level of intelligence and involvement on the part of the reader. The idea of doing something that gives them enough information that they can fill in the rest, and bring their own personal experiences to it as a dialogue, that, to me, is of interest”
It is always great so see how a person with this God given ability processes life. Here is an example of a simple trip to the tool store for Mr. Sienkiewicz “ I can’t walk into a Home Depot without going into the paint section or the polymer section or even lighting or appliances, and finding something, some way, some vehicle that I can turn into something to do with storytelling or art. It’s like one big box to play with, and I’m having so much fun that even on the worst day, when I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing or I’m really struggling, it still can’t be beat”. That’s fascinating isn’t it? It’s like peeking into his brain Being John Malkovich style. I don’t know about you in Home Depot, but I am usually just trying to A: find the aisle my item is on and B: get the Hell out of there to check that off the list!
Alright, let’s take a look at the early years. After art school Bill showed a portfolio of his work to then DC art director Vince Colletta. Not too long after that, with help of Neal Adams and Marvel’s Jim Shooter, he was drawing Moon Knight and The Hulk. Shortly after this, while drawing New Mutants, he began to experiment with paint, collages, and mixed media – more to come on that later! His own first writing credit was for the painted story Slow Dancer in Epic Illustrated in 1986. He then wrote and illustrated the 1988 mini series Stray Toasters for Epic Comics. Here are both covers as reference.
This started the memorable runs on Elektra Assassin and the graphic Nnvel Daredevil: Love and War collaborating with Frank Miller. Followed by six issues of The Shadow. Another fascinating look into his mind when approaching one of these fan favs: “Let’s say Elektra is thinking of herself as a little girl. Rather than illustrating it as a sequence of events, the idea would be to create one scene very simply, as if a five-year-old girl actually drew it. I might use a quill pen and light strokes so Elektra looks airy and elegant, or do the same portrait with a slab of charcoal. But by changing up the approach to drawing the character, I can better convey what is on the character’s mind in a subconscious way.”
Okay let’s look at this mixed media art I spoke of earlier. This is something Bill continues to employ in a lot of his work. In visual art, mixed media is an artwork in which more than one medium has been employed. One of Bill’s most famous work was a book titled Voodoo Child: The Illustrated Legend of Jimi Hendrix. Some of these panels are mind blowing!
In addition to his work in comics, Sienkiewicz has also worked in numerous other media, especially in the music and trading card industries. His artwork has been published in magazines including Entertainment Weekly and Spin. Furthermore, he worked with writer Martin I. Green to produce the children’s book Santa, My Life & Times. Sienkiewicz has also illustrated cards for the Magic: The Gathering collectible card game. Finally, it’s always interesting to learn about what an artist’s favorite work is of their own. Let’s hear from the man himself:
“The title of this piece is Are these the Lips I remember? The piece is part of a campaign for MTV Network that ran in Rolling Stone magazine. It’s a 40”x46” mixed-media piece. This is a favorite for several reasons. First, it was entirely mine; both writing and illustration. I usually work with different writers on projects, so this was a treat. There were different artists and writers who were asked to be a part of the campaign—Robert Crumb and Stephen King, among others. Second, it allowed me to embrace and combine two of my favorite art forms: comics and illustration. Third, I was able to approach the piece with a variety of techniques, such as collage, distorted xerography, and acetate overlays. I used an early digital color copier to achieve certain effects and distortions in the various “lips” panels. I painted one original version of the lips and modified it throughout”
I think that’s a good way to close this piece. Many of us may look at that art and say – Of all his work, this is his favorite…really? I feel that’s what makes this man a genius. His complexity for the simple things. Bill’s artistic influence is riddled throughout today’s work including now a television series Legion based on his work in collaboration with Chris Claremont titled New Mutants. Other nods include Sam Kieth’s The Maxx, Ted McKeever’s Superman: Metropolis, and Dave McKean’s Sandman covers who also worked on Arkham Asylum. See below as the similarities are striking.
There are many more titles he has been a part of and frankly I could write all night about his endeavors. Yet, I felt it was better just to give a broad stroke, however I encourage others to seek out his work or filter it thru Khoi who was on Bill’s bandwagon a long time ago!