Kevin Nowlan is one of modern comicdom’s unsung greats. He has served as both penciller (inked by others and inking his own work) and inker (inking others and himself) – but primarily the former, inking over his own pencils. Nowlan has referred to himself as a “finisher” and has even done his fair share of coloring and lettering. He is known for his lush cover illustrations, and is inarguably one of the few artists who can be called a true ‘artist’s artist’. Any visual artist or illustrator can behold Nowlan’s work and appreciate his mastery of the pen and brush in his inked work, whether over his own pencils or in tandem with others’. He is considered a master of the various aspects of comic production, from “design to draftsmanship to dramatics”, to quote Mark Chiarello, from Batman Black and White.
Nowlan’s style is noted for its jagged expressionism and elegant line work, which has made him distinctive in the field. He tends towards a deep chiaroscuro style with high contrast blocks of black ink and his style has proven most compatible as an inker for comics legends Bernie Wrightson (on Batman: Hidden Treasures) and Mike Mignola (on Hellboy and BPRD). Nowlan seems to always brings out the best in his collaborators. He and Mignola especially have enjoyed a very simpatico collaboration. Their Hellboy and BPRD covers have been design masterpieces. Also, Mignola wrote a Hellboy one-shot, “Buster Oakley Gets His Wish”, for Nowlan to pencil, ink, and color.
My first exposure to Nowlan was his work for Marvel Comics, on his beautiful covers for The New Defenders, early issues of Wolverine, and illustrations for original Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe. From there, I fell in love with his work on Moon Knight and Doctor Strange (the latter my favorite Marvel series at the time). For the most part, though, I lost track of Nowlan’s output for several years, though his excellent work for DC during this period (which included The Outsiders, Superman vs. Aliens, Superman vs. Aliens 2, and Superman: Distant Fires) caught my eye from time to time. It was during this period that Nowlan partnered with newcomer Joe Quesada on pencils in what proved to be the big break for Quesada (of late Editor-in-Chief at Marvel) – the early Azrael storylines on Batman.
In recent years Nowlan is known for co-creating Jack B. Quick with Alan Moore. The character appeared several times in Alan Moore’s Tomorrow Stories under Moore’s America’s Best Comics imprint. His most recent and exciting project is actually the resurrection of a long-delayed, unfinished graphic novel for Marvel. Featuring Man-Thing and originally entitled “Screenplay of the Living Dead Man”, the project was penned over 20 years ago by the late, great Steve Gerber. After Gerber’s death, Nowlan’s interest was renewed and he refocused his energies and began finishing the project in his spare time. Nowlan is currently painting the book, which was confirmed by Marvel to be a a stand-alone graphic novel. What little I have seen of it ranks among his very finest work.
Nowlan has rarely remained on a regular monthly title for long but his signature style has remained in demand on numerous one-shots, mini-series, and cover illustrations, hosted by a variety of publishers. Kevin Nowlan is an absolutely outstanding all-around artist and craftsman who richly deserves a prestigious spot in the the Inkwell Awards’ Sinnott Hall of Fame.
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