No Longer The Man In The Middle
“I have always seen DC as the big, red, yellow, and blue heroes, with Batman thrown in there for contrast. Not that Marvel's guys are super-subtle, but Marvel's designs do seem to be somehow more…down to earth. I don't want to say realistic, because I don't like realism, especially the way it has sort of wrecked superheroes for me nowadays, but the colors and textures tend to be a bit more varied and less saturated. Marvel characters just have that edge, and DC characters have that Crayola purity. I know that folks will say that DC is much “grittier” and realistic now, but I actually prefer the do-gooding crayons. I hate the dark tone, ugly colors, and repugnant characterization of a lot of modern superhero comics”
No Longer The Man In The Middle
Greetings from the desert fellow CBSI members. Those comments above are very detailed, and have a lot of thought put into them. After researching a great deal about this man, I understand why he has those feelings. My hope is after reading this piece, you too will see somewhat how his mind works. We have not looked at an Artist spotlight for quite some time.
This is the perfect instance to visit the popular Josh Middleton as this week marks the one year anniversary of the beautiful Cover B for Aquaman #26. I realize many will state they have liked him for years and own tons of covers, etc. However the more mainstream group within CBSI and others really started taking notice when this AQ #26 dropped at our LCS. In celebration, let’s look at Josh – including his art style, personal beliefs on comics, and perhaps some underviewed work he has completed over the years.
Josh’s career started in 2000 on the comic Meridian as a penciler for the now defunct Crossgen. After six issues he then worked with on a creator owned series titled Sky Between Branches. However, was only able to do a preview issue. Ironically, this is where he began to do both pencils and inks.
Here is Josh on the subject:
“Really, all I wanted to do was draw an earthy, fairytale-world and do it all myself. I had a lot of big ideas, probably too big for my abilities, and not a lot worked out. After I did the preview book, I found myself in constant fits of false starts and agonizing over the story. I was just trying to find the heart of a little fable about lost love and wanting to believe there is something more than this”
It was in 2003, working with Joe Quesada on the title NYX, that Josh began to experience some success. He was the artist for the first 4 issues. At that time, a little known character named Laura Kinney albeit in a different persona was introduced in her first comic as a underage prostitute. The story revolves around homeless Mutants living in New York City. It was very dark in content dealing with many depressing subjects. This was a short lived series, however gave birth to one of the hottest characters of the modern era.
We all know the 1st cover picture, but for some newer folks, here is the first few panels. There are some that are not included in this piece due to their mature nature.
In 2004, John signed an exclusive agreement with DC Comics. His first line of work was the mini series Superman/Shazam: First Thunder. This story follows the first meeting between Superman and Captain Marvel (Shazam). While Superman must stop members of a cult from stealing an ancient artifact from the Metropolis Natural History Museum, Captain Marvel must defeat giant robots rampaging through Fawcett City.
When the same cult attempts to steal an artifact from a Fawcett City Museum, Superman drops by to lend a hand, and teams up with Captain Marvel against an all-new threat.
In addition Josh created covers (#4 – #14) for Vertigo’s American Virgin. Here are a few examples:
In 2009, Mr Middleton took a break from comics and went to work for Warner Bros. Animation as character designer. He was quickly noticed, thus getting a promotion to art director for the then new at that time Green Lantern: Animation Series. He worked very closely with Bruce Timm on this project. Wow this business is sure incestuous right?! This was the first CG series WB produced.
Interesting comments from Josh on this project:
“One major problem from an art direction perspective, with Green Lantern: The Animated Series and anything Green Lantern in general, is the overabundance of green. It can be difficult to come up with nice color palettes when everybody and everything in the scene is glowing green. Matters were not made better with the introduction of Red Lanterns, as we now had the world’s weirdest Christmas to deal with.”
Here are some pictures of the landscape design he created for the show. You can see him tinkering with the colors for perspective
In 2011 Josh re-joined the comic world refreshed. In addition he is more tenured, and had a better idea of what he can contribute to the industry. One new artistic method he started was to paint directly. He studied original painters, but learned himself on the computer.
“The more obsessive part of me loves it, but I do get a little tired of the somewhat clinical experience of coloring on a computer and really want to cut loose with actual paint, even if I genuinely love the sort of brushless, perfect finish I can get in Photoshop.”
Let’s look more into Josh’s artistic mind. It is important to understand why he takes specific approaches to his work. Middleton often does the complete artwork for the pieces he works on, pencils, inks and colors, again more in keeping with European and independent comics than the normal approach of major American comics companies, which is based on a team model.
Josh starts with small thumbnail sketches, working various concepts before the final image. He generally pencils in either graphite or non-photo blue and inks traditionally with a brush and pen. He then does the color work in Photoshop, sometimes using Corel Painter for additional effects.
Here is Josh describing his style:
“If it is a commercial assignment, then I probably have some elements I must include in the composition, so my sketching process usually starts with those general puzzle pieces in mind. I don't always have the luxury of time to doodle, so I have to work out a lot of drawing in my head before the pencil days, which is often the case with comic book work. If the work is purely personal…”
Alright let’s get back to some of Josh’s commercial work. In 2011 – 2015 his production was somewhat sporadic working on titles such as Batman Black and White, Sword of Sorcery, Wonder Woman, and Catwoman. As a reminder again, Josh not only did cover art as he worked as a penciller, colorist, and inker.
This is another nice pick up here for those completists of his work:
In was in August of 2016 that Josh began his run on Aquaman. There also has been some brilliant Batgirl covers the last year that have really shined as well. Within the last year we have seen many collectors start to pick up older covers that are listed in this article, or can be found via Inigo’s amazing cover s google up older covers mentioned on this article. In addition, there is a brilliant cover checklist created which is on the comicbookinvest website that was created by Inigo (which can be found here).
I will end with the very cover I spoke about to begin this article Aquaman # 26 This amazing piece of art featuring Dolphin truly is a culmination of all the aforementioned styles and techniques applied by Josh. In full disclosure this is one of my favorites of his along with his Monsters of the Month themed Catwoman # 35. We just don’t see colors used like that applied very often at all within covers.
Here are some final sketches and commissions you may not have seen before:
Well that’s all for this week. My hope is there was something learned new from your time spent reading this article. It is very encouraging to see talent like Middleton’s used more within comics. There have not been a ton of consistent runs in recent years that have moved the needle for collectors like AH!s Wonder Woman or Catwoman. Josh’s Aquaman just might be the next one that someday we will all look back on and wished we had a few more of in our PC!
Bravo Josh, you stand as man on your own, not one in the middle!