Sometimes, when doing research to discuss these magnificent creators that we feature on our site, I run across something — a sentence or a quote — that sums up exactly what I’m trying to say. In this case, Duncan Fegredo’s Twitter account provided exactly what needs to be said about the underrated artist and the effect that his work has had on comic readers familiar with his work: “Manipulating your emotions through art since 1988”. As someone who still has a visceral reaction to everything from his early Vertigo works almost 30 years after their publication to his most recent releases, I have to admit: there is no more accurate way to put it.
Born in Leicester, England, Duncan Fegredo found his way into comics the way many comic creators tend to: by going to conventions and making some solid connections. Thankfully, one of Fegredo’s connections happened to be Dave Thorpe, of Captain Britain fame, whom he collaborated with on “Repossession Blues” — a comic strip published in an issue of the short-lived, much-missed British anthology Heartbreak Hotel.
This small but significant connection lead to Fegredo working on the 2000 AD spin-off Crisis for Fleetway Publications, before diving into the international market via DC Comics imprint Vertigo, where he brought Kid Eternity back to life — see what I did there? — with bold colors and fully-painted pages working from a Grant Morrison script. He also worked with Morrison’s contemporary Peter Milligan, creating three indescribable projects with an alphabetical progression: Enigma, Face, and Girl, as well as painting covers for Milligan’s ongoing series, Shade the Changing Man.
Also noted during this period was his work on Kevin Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob series from Oni Press, and covers and interiors for Judge Dredd Megazine and 2000 AD. In recent years, he’s arguably become known to American audiences for a substantial period collaborating with none other than Mike Mignola on a host of Hellboy stories, including becoming the premier artist on the books.
This incredible body of work — impressive even when made into a comprehensive list — is regularly delightfully overwhelming to behold, often rendered through dip pens, bold inks, and emotive brushstrokes that give his art a feeling of movement that is often lost in the creation of comics. Fegredo’s natural deftness with a brush, whether it be traditional paintbrush or more inventive tools to create his signature texture, does all but pull the image out of the page itself, transforming it into a living thing — an idea that may seem disturbing in some instances, but makes the effect of the work as a long-form story all the more of a sensory experience. The inherent, unavoidable, flatness of a printed page doesn’t seem to stop Fegredo’s work from inviting you to touch it and feel the various textures at play.
In this same vein, it’s more than fair to call Fegredo’s work “busy” — a word that is so often used as a dig at comics art; instead, when used to discuss Fegredo’s art, it becomes nothing but complementary about his frenetic, lively line and the energy it holds, a testament to the emotional response it evokes. That “busyness,” honestly, is something that could be marked as one of Fegredo’s biggest strengths in his earlier career, and remains part of what makes his work stands out among the crowd even now. Seemingly driven by the pacing and content of the narrative — often lyrical and overwhelming in its own sense, if we’re talking Fegredo’s most notable partners in crime of the early 1990s, Morrison or Milligan — Fegredo’s artwork commands the story at a palatable rate, forcing the story to come together; even if that coming together is marked by a violent paint splatter, a deeply distorted figure, or a wash of black inks.
Above all else, Fegredo’s work makes inhuman concepts feel at their most human; messy and flawed in all the ways that make it something beautiful. Enigma, is of course, a perfect example of this practice as work as the series seemingly shows Fegredo learning from himself as the story rolls along — as Milligan’s enticing lyricism unfolds, so do the harsh and erratic lines of Fegredo’s inks, creating a more steady image as the protagonist Michael Smith comes more into himself.
A great deal of my love for comic art has come from growing up around the work on Duncan Fegredo. Between navigating the complex lines of Enigma, fawning over the brush strokes and color combinations of Kid Eternity, being horrified by Face, relishing in the deep inks of Hellboy, or studying the crevices of Judge Dredd’s helmet, my life within comics has had few spots in it that haven’t included being a fan of Fregredo’s brand of messy, calculated chaos, and it has been made all the more beautiful — and delightfully overwhelming — as a result.