Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

February 24, 2010

Comic book art on display

Ceredo-based artist provides pieces from his collection for HMA exhibit


CEREDO, W.Va. — Ceredo resident Beau Smith remembers a playground discussion from his childhood.

“One kid said, ‘When I grow up, I want to be an astronaut.’ I said, ‘When I grow up, I want to write comic books.’ Even my fellow third-graders looked at me like I was looney,” he said.

But Smith was far from looney.

Now, he is a successful comic book writer with at least 22 years of experience who has written for big-name companies, including DC Comics, IDW Publishing, Image Comics, Dreamwave Studios and Dark Horse Comics.

This month, a portion of his collection of comic book illustrations will be on exhibit at the Huntington Museum of Art.

The 33-piece show will be open Feb. 27 to May 30.

Smith said he selected 90 pieces and worked with the museum to whittle down the exhibit further.

“I wanted to show people the difference variations for creating art for comic books,” he said, adding the exhibit will contain thumbnail, which are loose drawings of figures; blue lines, which are sketches made in blue pencil that won’t show up when copied or printed; and splash pages, which are layouts that convey a major event in the story. Many of the pieces reveal how artists and writers work when creating a comic book.

“Even the most die-hard comic book fans don’t get to see this,” he said.

On April 11, Smith will lead a gallery walk, during which time he’ll explain to viewers the significance of various pieces and what role those pieces played in the creation of a comic book, as well as relate anecdotes about the artwork.

“I’ve been very fortunate that most of the artists I’ve worked with I’ve gotten to know real well,” he said. “Some of them are really good friends, even though we’re spread all over the world.”

Comic book art hasn’t always been considered museum worthy.

Smith said during the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, comic book artists whose work is highly valued today did not consider themselves artists and their work was not treated as art.

“It was a job to them,” he said. “When the first generation started getting into the business, going from being readers to being in the business, they knew the value. They knew they were dealing with one-of-a-kind pieces. That added monetary value but also a value of worth and creativity as original art work.”

Smith said by the 1970s, the value of comic book art had grown and it continues to grow.

“I bought a piece by Jack Kirby and Don Heck, a Marvel, in 1983 and paid $50 for it,” he said. “If that were to be sold today at auction or on eBay, whatever, that would be $10,000 to $20,000.”

Smith also has created original comic book characters, including Cobb, Beau LeDuke, Parts Unknown, Primate, Wynonna Earp, Maximum Jack, Courting Fate, Lost and Found and Cossack. And he’s written comic books based on movie and television characters, including Jack Bauer of the Fox television series “24.” The comic book, published by IDW Publishing, is called “Cold Warriors.” Some of his dialog has been used on the television series.

“That was part of the contract,” Smith said, adding while he had to be true to the character and the series, he was given some freedom in “Cold Warriors.” He set the story in Alaska and added new characters and background.

“As a writer, it was a real treat,” he said, adding he’s a fan of the television series.

Smith said he hopes for a big turnout for his gallery walk and to view his exhibit.

“Whether you like comic book art, it’s great to bring kids to,” he said. “Comic books really haven’t been for kids for the last 20 years.”

An exhibit of original comic book illustrations from the collection of Ceredo resident Beau Smith will be on display at the Huntington Museum of Art’s bridge gallery from Feb. 27 to May 30. Smith will lead a gallery walk at 2 p.m. April 11. The museum is at 2033 McCoy Road in Huntington. For more information, call (304) 529-2701.

LEE WARD can be reached at lward@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2661.