“Fire breathing dragons swarm in sweltering skies, spewing flame on innocents below; charred and brittle corpses, blackened evidence, I am enraged, I am afraid, I am forlorn”
Bo Hampton, who’s a fine artist, created Lost Planet 30 years ago, and Eclipse printed it in 1987/1988. I assume it never got collected because Eclipse went under not too long after that, but now it’s between two covers, in a nice hardcover from IDW for 30 dollars. The biggest difference about this book is that the original was in color, and now it’s in black and white. But that really shouldn’t be something that keeps you from checking it out, as I’ll explain.
There’s nothing about the story of Lost Planet that makes you want to run out and get it, although the story isn’t bad. Tyler Flynn is a typical 1930s treasure hunter who accidentally finds a gateway to another dimension in the Andes, like you do. When he gets there, he fights the villain, Zorrin, and the villain’s minions, and discovers that several people – including famous ones – have already gone through the doorway (Hampton writes in the introduction that he was fascinated by people disappearing, so he gave them a place to go). He meets Romney, a young lady with a mysterious mission, he has to find a wizard who will help him get back to Earth, he has to battle with several different creatures. It’s very boilerplate stuff, although Hampton does make Romney capable of taking care of herself in her own right, which is nice, and he makes one of the villains a recognizable person, which is unusual. But otherwise, it’s a standard adventure story, the kind you can find anywhere. It’s fun to read, but fairly forgettable.
(As an aside, I wonder why so many of these adventures are set in the 1930s. The first reason is pretty easy – the 1920s and ’30s were the golden age of pulps, so it’s easy to set stories then, because they “feel” authentic. However, it’s deeper than that. The 1930s are right before the world’s innocence was shattered, to a degree, in World War II. Sure, the Great War was horrible, but it was horrible because of the scale of the killing, not because the killing was targeted on ethnic groups. There had been targeted massacres before – the Turks slaughtering the Armenians, Russian pogroms against the Jews – but the Nazis were, unfortunately, really good at it. So the world couldn’t go back to a pre-innocent time, and adventures like this set after World War II might seem crass. Authors ignore the Japanese aggression in China, of course, but that’s not surprising. The men in these stories are also either old enough to have fought in the war, so they’re haunted in some way without being associated, again, with genocide, or they’re slightly too young to have fought, so despite the horrors of the trenches, they crave adventure. The 1930s also offer a time period when we had technology that we recognize and understand to be an impressive achievement, but not to the point where putting that technology against “primitive” cultures would be a completely unfair fight. Flynn uses some of the technology he brings along with him, but he’s also susceptible to magic or good old-fashioned arrows. The 1930s are a time when we knew quite a bit about the world, but people still got lost in jungles or other such places. After World War II, this became increasingly difficult. Finally, it was a time when men could still be manly, but they could be aware enough of injustice, sexism, and racism that it wouldn’t be too out of place if they were a bit enlightened. Most men, no matter how enlightened, would still be dismissive toward women or minorities in the 1800s and having one who is not would be jarring. In the 1930s, it’s not quite as strange. Anyway, those are my theories.)
No, the real reason to get this book is because of the artwork. In the introduction, Hampton writes that he used “Craftint Duo-Shade paper” to ink the book. That paper was rare in the 1980s and is no longer being made. “The Bristol board paper had, embedded within the surface, a single- and double-tone line-hatch pattern,” Hampton writes, “which was brought out by painstakingly brushing a foul-smelling chemical over any area that required shading.” Most comics fans have seen this, especially if they’ve seen older comics – this was used in the 1950s by such greats as Al Williamson, Roy Crane, Alex Toth, and Wallace Wood – but, obviously, it had fallen out of fashion by the time Hampton used it. It sounds labor-intensive, although I’m not sure if it is or not. Hampton used the original negatives of the art, which the colorist, Tom Littlejohn, had kept, which made Hampton happy, as his original art had faded over time – a byproduct of using the Craftint paper. I imagine today that artists can use computers to simulate the effects, because you can still see it, and it’s a beautiful way to create a comic. If you go to this link, you can see some of the colored artwork (there’s some on other pages at that forum, too, plus a shit-ton of cool Eclipse and Pacific comics, so don’t get too lost!), which retains some of the effects Hampton got from using the paper, but the black and white really brings it out. In movies, black and white is often simply to create a contrast between the two tones, with the shadows’ stark blacks providing a moral opposite to the well-lit whiteness. In comics, “black and white” can mean a lot of subtle shading, which is one unique aspect of the medium. Hampton does some terrific work on the book, and it’s by far the best reason to get this collection.
Here’s the second page of the book, where we meet Flynn as he’s in a bit of a pickle:
Look at that beautiful panel. We get the black in the deep background, to add that nice sense of foreboding to the night, while in the foreground, the natives’ torch lights the scene. Hampton uses the paper to create the flame, ditching the holding lines and just adding some touches in the middle of a white mass, making it feel more like flickering flame. The shadows on the trees around the site are done with the brush, as well, making the shadows ethereal, as they constantly change. The natives are well-lit by the fire, so Hampton uses regular pencil lines for them, while Flynn and his poor companion (the one with the arrow sticking out of his neck) are in a bit of darkness, so while Hampton still uses solid pencil lines, he also employs more black chunks to shadow them. Note that the clothing of the dead man is brushed one way, so the diagonal lines slant from upper right to lower left, while the lines on his skin (and Flynn’s) are slanted the opposite way, upper left to lower right. I assume that this is created simply by the way one brushes the paper, but it’s a neat effect to contrast the two different materials (clothing and skin, that is). Hampton also uses the brush to create patterns on the dead man’s vest, making them look a bit more organic. For contrast, here’s the panel (along with what’s beneath it) in color:
Littlejohn did a fantastic job coloring this book, as you can see. The effect of the paper is lessened just a little, and the black and white provides a bit more contrast, but it’s still very nice. The colored version makes the book a bit less stark, as you can imagine, but it looks nice.
Here’s another terrific page. Hampton uses the lightning flash to light Panel 2, which means he drops the holding lines from the side of the mountain to create a starker contrast with its still-dark other side, while Flynn is constructed of black chunks and negative space, which is neat. In Panel 6, when he goes through the portal, Hampton uses the effects of the paper exclusively, as I wonder if he even drew anything in that panel with a pencil or just inked the figure as it passed through the flash of bright light. It gives us a superb impression of something weird happening, as well as partially obscuring our vision, which is of course what happens when you look into a bright light.
I just wanted to show this to show that Hampton is pretty damned good without the Craftint paper, too. We get some evidence that he used the paper here, but on Romney’s hair specifically, it appears to be just traditional pen, which still works quite well. Her jaundiced look is heightened by the left side of her face in shadow, adding to her distrust of the situation. What situation? You’ll have to get the book to find out!
I’m not sure if the shadows in Panels 1-3 are a result of Hampton using the brush on the paper, because you’ll notice they’re Benday dots, which I assume you can get from brushing the Craftint paper, but I’m not an artist, so I can’t say for sure. Using this technique means that we can still see everything that’s happening in the panels, but there’s still plenty of shade. For the rest of the page, Hampton uses more traditional pen and ink, but he does use the black chunks to good effect.
As I noted, the story of Lost Planet is nothing special, but it’s still a neat book to look at and appreciate, because Hampton obviously put a lot of work into it. The story is fine, and fun to read, but the art is something special. If you want to see more of it, use the link below! You know you want to!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆