BF Awards 2011 - Best Artist Independent: Gabriel Rodriguez

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Truly great art is a hard thing to come by, and after the story is over, it only leaves the reader wanting more. This year fans were practically spoiled by Craig Thompson’s beautiful Habibi, Duncan Fegredo’s dark and epic Hellboy: The Fury, Mike Huddleston’s wild Butcher Baker: The Righteous Maker, and Nate Simpson’s gloriously detailed debut with Nonplayer. But one Indie artist’s pencils impressed us above the rest: Gabriel Rodriguez on Locke and Key.

Joe Hill writes the magical horror tale Locke and Key, and he constantly reminds people that the story is only as good as it is because of his close collaboration with Rodriguez. The artist influences the writer and vice versa; an attribute that many mainstream comics lack and therefore suffer in quality. The quality of Rodriguez’s work has remained consistent since the first issue and he has never shown any hint of dipping. The idea that such great artwork could remain so consistent is staggering because it is just so good.

Being a horror comic, the setting is vital to creating the proper tone. The main setting is Keyhouse, an old family manor with large grounds and a seemingly innocuous well-house. Rodriguez makes the house as big a character as any of the occupants living inside it. There are large rooms with dated furnishings, and a whole slew of doors. Just the sight of a keyhole is enough to stir up excitement in any fan of the series: is it normal, or will it open up to something strange and fantastical?

In this year’s Clockworks, the Lockes find a key that sends them back in time to explore Keyhouse during the Revolutionary War. This allows Rodriguez to take us down into caves beneath the house, revealing a macabre door emblazoned with a thousand eyes that opens up to a world of demons. Readers only get a peek inside, but the imagery forms a terrible sight not easily forgotten. You’ll have to read it to see what happens to the poor goat that gets pulled inside. We can still hear the bah-ing in our nightmares.

Attempting to solve the mysteries of Keyhouse are the Locke children. Kinsey, Tyler, and Bode are as lifelike as any character in a live-action movie. A quirk of Rodriguez’s style is that everyone has slightly larger-than-normal eyes. This might seem strange at first, but it allows each character to express deep emotions. You can see it when fear returns to Kinsey’s eyes, when Bode is up to no good, and when Tyler is beginning to lose his mind. The thought and care put into each image is highly impressive, and nothing less could produce a story so tight and tense.

Our own Jason Clyma reviewed an issue of Locke and Key: Clockworks and said, “Each panel and page is incredibly detailed and well drawn, quite possibly on the verge of perfection.” That is high praise, and Rodriguez has earned it.

Full list of the 2011 Broken Frontier Award winners

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