When I first started reading X-Men comics, Jim Lee was making his marks on Uncanny and Marvel was a few months away from dropping the adjective-less X-Men, a book that went on to sell millions of copies. With Lee’s departure, my young mind unquestionably felt as if the art style of the X-books took a hit (although I have come to appreciate and honor the contributors that followed with each subsequent reading). A slew of great artists has left their mark on the X-books in the decades that followed, but Chris Bachalo has produced so many iconic images for the line that he stands on a pedestal of his own.
Thus, it’s fitting that the second book in Marvel’s Monograph series of artbooks follows up the previously released instalment on Art Adams, the other X-artist in the merry mutant’s creative pantheon. These books, priced affordably at 20 bucks, give a decent overview of a specific artist’s work for the publisher. While still sporting a soft cover, the book is larger than your average Marvel trade with thicker paper to boot. Getting a larger print to some of Bachalo’s most iconic spreads was a joy, allowing you to really analyze the implausible lively detail Chris has developed in his style over the years. Seeing some of his early Generation X work, already exaggerated and comical, next to his more recent work shows just how much he has developed as an artist while retaining his core style. He likely has imitators, but to see one of his works is to immediately connect you to the creator; you are left with no doubt of the pencil’s origins when presented with a piece by Bachalo.
As beautiful as the colors often are, the book also highlights some of his plain pencils and inked lines. It’s in these images that you can see Bachalo’s love for comics coming through. With every image, you feel gleeful exuberance and subtle character radiating from the page. Even when his work takes on a dark or violent edge, it still feels fun and accessible to a general audience, a capacity few can demonstrate.
As an added bonus, each section of the books has reflections and thoughts from Bachalo himself; things he was trying out at the time or external forces placed on his work. I was actually shocked to read that near the end of his run on Generation X, Marvel asked that he reign in his style as it was getting too “cartoony” for their taste. In my eyes, it seems like his work has only gotten more animated in the years since! He notes one of his favorite issues was written for Grant Morrison during his New X-Men run. We learn that Morrison provides a rough outline of the story and lets the artist improvise. The issue turned out great, and it’s a fine reminder that as great as the narrative direction envisioned by the writer, it’s the artist that gives it life on the page, and that is something Chris Bachalo has done in spades.