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The Opus list

Opus 16-30


16 The Drinking Song of Earth's Sorrow, 1984, Eclipse.

In Opera. Also in The P. Craig Russell Library of Opera Adaptations vol.2 (see Collections).

A 4-page story adapting a song for orchestra by romantic composer Gustav Mahler. Russell shows a man committing seppuku (Mishima again ?) to illustrate this song written in XIXth century Austria. Not the most obvious of choices, but the resulting collage is intriguing enough.

17 The Insomniac, 1971-84, Eclipse.

In Night Music 2 (color), 1985, Eclipse.
Available in the collection Isolation and Illusion, 2003, Dark Horse Comics.

18 Unto this World, 1984, Eclipse.

In Opera, also in The P. Craig Russell Library of Opera Adaptations vol.2 (see Collections).

Another short adaptation of a song by Gustav Mahler (see Opus 16), this one is done in colored pencils, and the dream-like ambiance of the strip fits the sorrowful text.

19 Jungle Book - The King's Ankus, 1984-85, Eclipse.

In Night Music 3, 1985, Eclipse.
And in Jungle Book Stories (see Collections).

This is the first adaptation of one of the Kipling stories entirely drawn by Russell. Mowgli, accompanied by the serpent Kaa, discovers a jeweled dagger which will serve as a McGuffin to teach the young man the folly of Man's greed. Apart from the fact that Mowgli looks like one of the most beautiful boy ever drawn, I particularly admire the way Russell manages to make us believe in talking animals : they are drawn very realistically, except for the dark lighting that is Bagheera, and they come alive through their body language, their proud ways and their non-human code of honor

20 Eine Heldentraum, 1985, Marvel.

In Epic Illustrated 33.
Reprinted in The Ring of the Nibelung Book Four: Götterdämmerung 2, 2001, Dark Horse Comics.

From Hugo Wolf's setting of a Goethe's poem, this short opus shows a dreamer despairing of the real world, a world so devoid of the colors and joys of his dreams.
The reader will notice that the main character is modelled after the same guy as the first Siegfried version and the hero of Breakdown on the Starship Remembrance.

21 Pelléas & Mélisande, 1985, Eclipse.

In Pelleas & Mélisande 1-2 (Night Music 4-5), 1985 and Opera (see Collections).

Based upon a play written by the symbolist Maurice Maeterlinck and set to music by Claude Debussy, this is the story of the love between Mélisande, a young woman married to an aging prince and Pelléas, her young brother-in-law. The story uses a lot of foreboding, and Russell's art, being without his more extravagant sides, slowly brings the reader to the realization that the love between the two youth is doomed. Romantic, yes, and very, very bleak in its view of the human condition.

22 Elric - The Dreaming City (2nd version), 1986, First.

In Weird of the White Wolf, the second Elric paperback published by the now-defunct First Comics.

A summary of the Opus 10.

This might be one of the most beautiful sequence ever drawn by Russell... Salomé dances for the head of the prophet Jokanaan.

23 Salomé, 1986, Eclipse.

In Opera (see Collections).

The first adaptation by Russell of a story by Oscar Wilde, set to music by Richard Strauss. Probably one of the best works of Russell - and it is not easy to choose ! Salomé might be a femme fatale, but she is a highly complex one. She's definitely not the slut she's been described as, but rather a pure-minded maiden who falls in love with Jokanaan, a crazy prophet who has forsaken the pleasures of flesh. And who would like others to do that as well. Everybody knows how he will lose his head to the girl, but Russell's version gives us a terrifying example of the wrath of a spurned woman. Russell, now in complete control of his art, shows us in 32 pages the madness born of love which engulfs Salomé. She will fall prey to the anger of men, who can not accept her asocial behavior, but the powerful meaning of her rebellion will fascinate artists for twenty centuries.

24 Batman - Robin 3000, 1986-92, DC Comics.

Two 48-page prestige format comics in the Elseworld series.

A science-fiction story set in a future world where the current Batman is killed, and the then-Robin takes over his mission to rid Earth of its alien conquerors. I must admit not liking that one very much, even if the art is quite nice, especially with the cartoon robots populating this world.

PCR's comments:

Unreleased in its original form, this work was later published as Robin 3000 for DC Comics.

The Story of Tom Swift 3000/Robin 3000 or: It Seemed Like A Good Idea at the Time. It was around '85 or '86 that publisher/packager Byron Preiss approached me with the idea of a book for young teenagers based on the old Tom Swift series of books updated (all the way to the year 3000) and presented as a series of graphic novellas. He was producing it for Simon and Schuster, the publishing house that also had the rights to the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boy books which they were planning to relaunch. Tom Swift would tie in with an eye to the comics market. Oboy, Simon and Schuster! I was impressed. Now, most of my friends in Kent were in or associated with the English department at Kent State University. My being published by companies like First, Pacific, or Eclipse meant nothing to them. Marvel had a certain cachet. But Simon and Schuster? Eyebrows were raised. I admit it was a part of the seduction like being asked to the dance by one of the 'cool' kids... you hardly know the person but everyone else is so impressed. Anyway, after just having finished adaptations of works by the likes of Maeterlinck, Kipling, and Wilde I thought it would be fun to draw a space opera with all the sorts of hardware and futuristic backgrounds I had not drawn since Killraven. A lark. "You know...for kids."

I should have taken it as an omen when, shortly before I was ready to begin, my model broke his arm. I found someone else and got all my research photos. There was a short series of delays, I forget why, and by the time I was back to it my original model had his cast off and I started over, feeling embarrassed having to tell the other person I wouldn't be using him after all. I had never worked on a project in which the script was being re-written in the course of drawing it. I also had never had to deal, albeit second hand, with such a hands-on art director as I had at S & S. I would send in pages to Byron who would take them to S & S, and then relay to me the needed changes. The most notorious came at the coloring stage.

Speaking of coloring, let me digress for a moment. I learned some valuable lessons on this project. One was never to be rushed into inferior work. Early on, after a number of pages had been inked Byron told me he needed a couple pages colored immediately for a presentation, at a book fair or what I'm no longer sure, but he needed them almost over night. He sent me photostats of two pages that I was to color on. Coloring on photo paper is notoriously difficult and Michael T. Gilbert and I had evolved an elaborate system of air brushing and frisket paper overlays to successfully deal with it. But now there was no time for such an approach. I hadn't even begun to think of what color schemes I would be using and I hadn't the several day 'warmup' in which one finds their coloring 'legs'. I told Byron I didn't think I could do it justice under the circumstances but he assured me it made no difference, the important thing was that we have something, anything to show. I produced it and it looked as smeary and uninspired as you might imagine. I sent it off. Days later, I was imformed that S & S had serious reservations about my coloring the book. All previous examples of my coloring seemed to count for naught in the face of these two photostat pages. Lesson-people will only see what is immediately in front of them so don't let yourself be bullied into producing less than your best... for whatever reason.

But back to the coloring on the book. As I was ready to start I told Byron I intended to color Tom's hair brown. I'd done enough blonds and wanted some variety (I'd even been called on it in some review—too many blonds). Byron said that was fine with him, he didn't want any "blond-haired small toothed nazis"(!). I still remember holding the phone out and looking at it. Blond-haired small tooth nazis? Well, there goes the state of Minnesota. I let it pass. But we both got our comeuppence when, after completing the coloring and sending it in we were informed that Tom Swift had to be a blond. The art director hath spoken. Has anyone ever tried to repaint watercolor? I had to go in with a tiny brush dipped in bleach and slowly leech out the brown color and then go back in with a pale yellow. Yes, Tom Swift IS a bleach blond.

I no longer remember all the revisions, but towards the end an odd thing happened to me. I was working on the climactic battle, a scene which to this day I'm proud of only because it was so complicated in its action, choreographing many characters engaged in actions both individual and simultaneous. Just figuring it all out and making it flow from panel to panel was a real challenge. But I started to feel a pressure in my head—like when you are underwater. Budding hypochondriac that I was, I was convinced that it was high blood pressure and a stroke was imminent. Went to the Doctor. Blood pressure was fine. She told me not to work so hard. Gave me sedatives. I achieved a very smooth inking line.

So... it was finally finished, 58 pages and a cover designed by Steranko (an 8 by 11 xerox layout that looked like he tossed it off in a matter of minutes and was absolutely spot-on in its dynamics and composition. I followed it exactly). Nothing happened. It was slated for S & S's Spring schedule. It was slated for S & S's Fall schedule. It was slated for Spring. Then Fall. Finally it was slated for bupkis! S & S was not going to be publishing graphic novels.

Lesson #2: Just When You Think You've Covered Everything IN The Contract. Theres always a provision about the return of original artwork, usually within 60 to 90 days of publication. This is what I had in my contract with Byron. But what happens if they don't publish? There it sits, in the publisher's (or producer's) drawer. We (Star*Reach and I) asked for it back... no dice.

Finally, some five years later, Byron took it over to DC Comics and pitched it as an Elseworlds book. Tom would be re-incarnated as Robin in the year 3000 and new material would be added to incorporate Batman and bracket the story. And why is this guy running around who is now called Robin but is not dressed like him? Um... 'cause he's undercover... yeah, that's it, he's undercover, thats the ticket. So I called back my 'Tom' model, now married, a daddy, and a good 25 pounds heavier and drew the new 18 pages and produced a new cover for the second volume—my Wally Wood/EC Comics/Sci-Fi homage.

And thats how a sweet little sci-fi nostalgia romp became Robin 3000.

25 Jungle Book - Red Dog, 1987, Eclipse.

In Jungle Book Stories (see Collections).
First published as a comic-book, 1988, Eclipse.

The second Kipling story illustrated by Russell in which Mowgli and his wolf-clan fight against a band of wild dogs. A bitter tale which sees close friends of Mowgli die in battle, it is as beautifully illustrated as the previous one. The deaths of many animals, be they killers like the dogs, are never glorified. They are only shown by Russell in all their horror and necessity for those who want to survive. The jungle is definitely not the Garden of Eden.

26 Ariane and Bluebeard, 1988, Eclipse.

One 48-page prestige format.
Reprinted in The P. Craig Russell Library of Opera Adaptations vol.2 (see Collections).

Adapted from the opera by Maurice Maeterlinck (see Opus 21) and Paul Dukas, this is a new version of the classic fairy tale of the man with the six wives. This version is very different from the Perrault story. In Maeterlinck's version, Bluebeard does not kill his wives nor does he die; his wives, despite his brutal ways, stay with him, and Ariane leaves them to their fucked-up relationship. As usual, Russell uses a combination of realism in his figure-drawing and almost expressionism in his coloring. He doesn't explain the characters behavior, but rather, he exposes their acts and leaves the interpretation to the reader. No armchair psychology here.

27 Human Remains, 1989, Eclipse.

A 31-page story in Tapping the Vein 1, an anthology adapting Clive Barker's short stories in comics.
Also in Clive Barker's Tapping The Vein, 2001, Checker Group Publishing.

Probably one of Barker's best short stories, certainly one of the weirdest and also one the few with gay characters. A meditation on time and identity, it focuses on a young prostitute who finds himself replicated by a living statue. The thing is, this man is vain, obsessed with the passing time which robs him of his beauty, and thus of his identity. The statue becomes more and more human, yearning for normality, leaving the original with less and less to define himself. What will become of the young man ?
Of course, Russell's depiction of the handsome man is perfect. But more than that : this is one of the few times he does not work from a fairy tale or an opera, but rather from a contemporary story. And it makes one wish that could happen more often. As solid in storytelling as any other work by Russell, but also with a beautiful use of shadows and almost monochromatic scenes - the latter being a constant of Russell's work. The intimist scenes in flats are particularly striking : the quietness of the blue ambiance is in stark contrast with the inner turmoil of the characters.
Definitely one of the most powerful works of Craig Russell.

28 The Magic Flute, 1989-90, Eclipse.

Three 48-page prestige format comics, also published in one paperback.
Collected in The Magic Flute, 2003, NBM Publishing.

Based upon Mozart's opera, this is the highly symbolic story of love caught in the middle of the battle between light and darkness. Not being particularly interested in Mozart's opera, I can't say anything about Russell's interpretation, apart from the fact that this is probably one of his most realistic-styled works. And not once does the reader think that this looks too much like a photograph, which Russell works very often from. Anyway, the comic book itself is as reader-friendly as the other opera adaptations, and one can enjoy this story without knowing anything about Mozart's work.

29 From Beyond, 1994, Heavy Metal.

In Heavy Metal May '94.
Available in the collection Isolation and Illusion, 2003, Dark Horse Comics.

An adaptation of a story by H.P. Lovecraft, this short and not so sweet tale was originally to be published in an anthology on Lovecraft edited by Steve Bissette. It didn't happen, and the orphaned story found a home in Heavy Metal.

PCR's comments:

Art and adaptation by P. Craig Russell. Color by Digital Chameleon.

I was an omniverous reader of H.P.Lovecraft in my teen years, so I was excited when approached by Steve Bissette to provide an adaptation of one of his stories. It would be for a collection being assembled by Steve that would incorporate previously published material (Wrightson's Cool Air, some Richard Corben) alongside newly-commissioned work.

The reasons this project never came to fruition are so convoluted that even as I tried to follow Steve's explanation in The Comics Journal, I became hopelessly confused. It boiled down to, as Steve told me over the phone, a 'clusterfuck'. Several years later it was printed in Heavy Metal.

While chronologically the first, it was actually the second story to be colored by Lovern. I'd like to try my hand someday at another, or several, HPL stories.

30 The Golden Apples of the Sun, 1992, Bantam Spectra Book.

In The Ray Bradbury Chronicles Volume 1.
Included in the Best of Ray Bradbury TPB, 2003, I Books.

As the title suggests, this is a comic version of a short Bradbury story. A spaceship travels to the sun to carry away a small part of the blazing star, mostly for scientific purposes. The text has a strong mythical undertone, which makes the reader forget for a moment the physical impossibility of this trip. I must admit that this not my favorite work of Russell, by far. It's well done, but a bit bland for my taste.

PCR's comments:

P. Craig Russell's contribution to this volume of "authorized adaptations" of Ray Bradbury stories was the art and adaptation for "The Golden Apples of the Sun." Story by Ray Bradbury. Adaptation and art by P. Craig Russell.

The Golden Apples of the Sun by Ray Bradbury held a special place in my heart. Bradbury was another of my youthful passions and Golden Apples was the first comic story I attempted. This was during my Junior year at the University of Cincinnati several months before I took time off to work in Dan Adkins' studio. It was a dreadful adaptation of course, I hardly knew where to begin, but I loved the material and so jumped at the chance when offered it by Byron Preiss some 20 years later. I was especially keen to try my hand at it as Bradbury is one of the most difficult of authors to adapt. There is so much poetic and evocative, actionless prose that the temptation of many is to put everything in great blocks of copy. It's all so beautiful that every cut line bleeds. One of the most successful in the six volume series was Dave Gibbons' "Come Into My Cellar", a really wonderful and inventive use of page design/panel layout. Fresh and original. Anyway, looking back on it, I feel very positive about this adaptation. There are panels I would redraw, of course, but I think I was able to capture and dramatise Bradbury's prose beyond merely cutting and pasting chunks of copy. This was the last story of mine in which I did the coloring before starting my collaboration with Lovern Kindzierski.

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