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Bill Sienkiewicz

AKA Boleslav Felix Robert Sienkiewicz

Born: 3-May-1958
Birthplace: Blakely, PA

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Cartoonist

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Extraordinary comic book artist

In can be said that in the world of mainstream superhero comic artists, most practitioners are working on a variation of an archetype established by Jack Kirby. And why not? The man was a master of his medium: his characters were drawn with dark, thick lines, dressed in fantastic costumes covering realistic musculature, and set in active poses. The old adage, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," has long applied (and to some extent, still applies) to the superhero comic market.

Sienkiewicz's methodology was more akin to, "if it ain't broke, break it anyway and start anew". Sienkiewicz has worked for a variety of comic companies, including the "Big Two" -- Marvel and D.C. Sienkiewicz started his career fairly incospiciously, drawing one-off issues of Fantastic Four and The Uncanny X-Men for Marvel; and yes, his work was very much trenched in the Kirby tradition. However, the world of comic artists is probably weighted in favor of mediocre artists; Sienkiewicz obviously did not fit into this territory. His art was excellent from the get-go, albeit a bit run-of-the-mill.

In 1980, Marvel gave Sienkiewicz his own series to pencil, chronicling the adventures of the supernatural superhero Moon Knight. The series floundered, and Marvel was forced to sell Moon Knight directly to either comic book buyers or comic book stores; major sources of distribution such as book retailers and grocers were unwilling to stock the book. This came as a bit of a blessing in disguise to Sienkiewicz, as he was now given greater artistic freedom. His art style was already beginning to evolve (his Kirby-esque figures were gradually transforming into the sketchy, almost ethereal, characters that have become a Sienkiewicz hallmark) but Marvel's decision to directly distribute Moon Knight gave him the ability to experiment a bit with mixed media. Collage, oil painting, and even smatterings of photography were beginning to line his work.

Sienkiewicz continued to pencil for Marvel. His work on the X-Men spinoff The New Mutants is generally considered to be the pinnacle of the series. With writer Chris Claremont he created Warlock, one of the most inspired-looking heroes to grace the pages of a comic book -- in fact, no one has since been able to pencil the character with the same manic grace as his creator did. With Frank Miller he produced what is probably his most reknowned work, Elektra: Assassin. The comic was stark, moody, well-written, and surprisingly violent and sexual for a Marvel series, but most importantly it was completely hand-painted. The series is now considered Sienkiewicz's calling card, and is generally considered the high-point of his career. Since then, Sienkiewicz has become a freelance artist, doing work for Marvel's rival, D.C., producing his own critically acclaimed series Stray Toasters, and doing commercial advertisement work. Among his clients are The RZA, Ronnie James Dio, and Spin Magazine.

If one wanted to make a case for comic art being elevated to the same status of high-art, one could do no better than nominating Sienkiewicz for the position. His manic, whimsical, ethereal characters still manage to be better grounded in reality than the bombastic machismo of artists like Rob Liefeld, or the cartoony manga-homages of Joe Joe Madureira (as an aside, perhaps it's unfair to place those two artists together; the latter is talented whilst the former is patently not). Perhaps not obvious to the layman's eye, Sienkiewicz's style is clearly derived from the abstract artistic stylings of Wassily Kandinsky. Compare Sienkiewicz renditions of Warlock to Kandinsky's pieces "On White II" and "Composition VIII", and suddenly the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall together. Both of the Kadinsky pieces utilize startling lines, coupled with circles that almost convey a schizophrenic mood -- not unlike Warlock's frantic mechanical outline and psychotic eyes.

    University: Newark School of Fine and Industrial Arts, Newark, NJ

    Kirby Award 1987 for Elektra: Assassin
    Marvel Comics

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