This series of posts is about comic book artists whose work I like. The normal pattern is that I talk about the artist’s career and mention when I started enjoying the work and include various images by the artist. However, in this case, the text aspect will be a little lighter than normal because, unfortunately, there isn’t a huge amount of ongoing series or different mini-series to discuss.
Dale Keown is a Canadian artist who started working in the industry in 1986, drawing various comics for Aircel, such as Samurai and Dragon Ring. He would do various covers at other companies, such as Malibu, before getting his first Marvel work published in 1990, Nth Man: The Ultimate Ninja #8. This would lead a few short months later to the work for which he is still rightly remembered: The Incredible Hulk, written by Peter David.
A quick digression: The Incredible Hulk series wasn’t a high seller before David’s run, and there hadn’t been many notable long runs by a creative team on the title (John Byrne managed only six issues about two years prior), so nobody wanted to write the book, which is why it was given to someone with minimal experience writing comic books (David had worked in Marvel’s sales department, while trying to get writing work on the side). However, David took the series and made it his own, mostly because nobody in editorial cared what he was doing, and made it a critical and commercial success over the course of his 12-year run. He made the Grey Hulk an interesting character, but it would be when the Green Hulk re-emerged and the integration of all three personalities into the Merged Hulk that the book would take off, and it was at this time that Keown started drawing the title with issue #367 (the integration issue would be #377).
David has said that Keown was one of three artists whose art most closely matched the visuals in his head (the others were George Perez and Leonard Kirk, although personally I think that Gary Frank should be in that roster), and I have to agree – Keown’s art suited David’s script to perfection, as well as suiting the Hulk perfectly. Keown’s art had always displayed a strong influence of John Byrne, but doing a regular title allowed Keown to outgrow that phase of his artistic career. He has an ability with comedic character reaction (very necessary with David’s witty scripts) on a par with Kevin Maguire, but his super-ripped, massive, hyper-muscular Hulk was even larger than life than normal. The artwork was dynamic, sexy, sharp, fun and entertaining – the perfect superhero comic book art. The combination was the right artist at the right time and the only shame was that there were occasional fill-ins during his 30-issue run that would turn him into a fan-favourite.
Keown would transfer his success, like many artists at the time who made their name at Marvel, to a creator-owned series at Image: Pitt, the story of a human/alien hybrid that had been genetically engineered to be a killing machine, and who looks like a more vicious, nose-less Grey Hulk with claws and a ponytail (and chains – chains were very popular in the 1990s …). The comic did well enough (there was a Hulk/Pitt crossover comic, written by David) but it seems to have led to unproductive years for Keown – there would around 25 issues of Pitt over the course of 6 years – and it required returning to mainstream comics in the early 2000s to see Keown drawing comics regularly again, providing covers but also interior artwork for The Darkness at Top Cow and reteaming with David on a Hulk title, Hulk: The End. He would even provide art for a Darkness/Hulk one-shot and a Darkness/Pitt mini-series, which seems appropriate.
Keown’s recent work seems to be providing covers for Marvel, which are always good to see, with occasional foray inside the covers, but it would be great to see him drawing interior artwork regularly again. It doesn’t even have to be the Hulk, even though that would be great, and it would mean that there would be more to write about in this overview and he wouldn’t be associated solely with the Hulk any more.