I was scanning the original comic art listings on eBay several months ago (as I do just about every day) when one in particular caught my eye. A seller had a lot of seven (!) pages from the 2003 Warren Ellis/Colleen Doran graphic novel Orbiter for sale for a surprisingly low opening bid. I marked as an auction I wanted to watch, but I assumed it would end for a price that was beyond my financial reach. A few days later, to my surprise, I noted there had been no bids, and ultimately, the auction ended without anyone taking a single stab at the listing. When I see a plum item such as that one end without bids, I sometimes make something of a Hail Mary pass, contacting the seller of the unsold item and offering to buy it, either for the minimum price or maybe even less. To my elation and surprise, the seller agreed to sell it to me for the minimum opening bid he’d listed!
Furthermore, I was able to negotiate an “add-on” to the order. Whenever I acquire a new board or boards, I always see if the seller might have other, more affordable pages of comic art on which he or she might accept an offer. When paying for shipping for pages (which can vary typically from $15-$32 from the U.S. to Canada), I always want to get the best bang for my buck, as adding extra pages to an order rarely leads to an increase in the shipping costs. I hit the jackpot with this particular deal, I was able to get another six pages of original comic art for another $100 US. While none of them were primo pages, it was a great bargain on top of what was already a great bargain. Click here to see my full gallery of Orbiter pages in my larger ComicArtFans gallery.
The Orbiter pages (remember, seven of them!) knocked my socks off when they arrived. They were unlike other boards in my collection, as they were smaller than the typical 11×17-inch pages that are the standard. The meticulous, realistic linework and the inky-black borders on the pages gave them a painted look. Doran, best known for her creator-owned series A Distant Soil as well as regular work on DC titles over the years, has always boasted a softer style, but she brought a much rougher, more intense look to her figures and backdrops for this sci-fi/horror book that suits the tone of Ellis’s story nicely.
Now, Orbiter is far from the best known of Ellis’s or Doran’s works in comics, though it’s still in print even 13 years after its original release. It was originally released in hardcover, but a softcover edition followed (and the art seller threw one in with my order). Furthermore, DC also offers it in a package book that also includes Ocean, another sci-fi piece written by Ellis with art by Chris Sprouse that was originally published as a six-issue limited series. If Orbiter is still something of an unknown quantity for you, here’s my original review, from my previous comics review site The Fourth Rail (anyone remember that?) from April 2003…
Orbiter hardcover original graphic novel (Best of the Week!)
Highly Recommended (10/10)
DC Comics/Vertigo imprint
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Colleen Doran
Colors: Dave Stewart
Letters: Clem Robins
Editors: Will Dennis & Heidi MacDonald
Price: $24.95 US/$40.95 CAN
The disappearance of Space Shuttle Venture and her crew marks the beginning of the end. The American Space Program is shut down as a result, and it’s paralleled by a dark cloud looming over the whole country… maybe the world. When Venture returns 10 years later, though, manned only by her commander, the government gathers together a trio of experts to solve the mystery of her disappearance… and the bizarre, organic compound that now coats her exterior and interior walls.
Doran’s artwork is quite the surprise. She’s known for her soft, detailed style, and while the detail remains an important element in her work on this graphic novel, she instills a slightly more angular, harsher quality in her linework here. It works incredibly well, given the darker atmosphere and tension that Ellis maintains through the script. At times, her work on Orbiter reminded me of David Lloyd’s dark style, sometimes with detail that would rival John (Planetary) Cassaday’s artwork. Dave Stewart’s muted colors reinforce the creepy aura looming over the story quite well too.
The only aspect of the visuals here that didn’t sit well with was the poor production quality to be found on the two pages featureing Ellis’s heartfelt foreword. The yellow font isn’t as crisp against the dark background. Thin hyphens are lost altogether, and it made it just a little difficult to read. Fortunately, that’s a minor point in an otherwise beautiful package.
Orbiter reminds me more than a little of Ellis’s Planetary, as it’s about a group of specialists trying to solve a fantastic mystery. The difference here — and what makes this graphic novel stand apart as something truly special — is that the specialists are far more real, small and vulnerable. Their excitement and fear makes it easy to relate to them, makes it easy to imagine oneself in this dark near-future.
The greatest strength of this story is how is slowly but surely shifts in tone, from one of foreboding and danger, to one of hope and adventure. Ellis surprises the reader with what is essentially an optimistic story, about rising above ourselves, about risk.
Though it was a horrible tragedy, the destruction of the space shuttle Columbia earlier this year serves as an important context for this story… one that enhances Ellis’s message. In the wake of seven unimaginable deaths, it would be easy for American — for the world — to turn its back on space exploration. In many ways, we already have. In recent years, the space program has been about looking back down at the planet rather than to the stars. Ellis reminds us to look at the universe beyond our atmosphere with something more than detached scientific observation, but with a sense of wonder and curiosity.
Now, back to the boards themselves. All seven of the pages are signed by the artist, which is always a nice bonus. Of note is that the seven-page lot includes four sequential pages – pages 34-37 – and as a collector of original comic art, I’m always pleased when I’m able to get a sequence of pages together. The scene features an attempted video-recorded debriefing of a suriving and traumatized astronaut. Doran did an excellent job of instilling the video-screen panels with a quality that distinguished them ever-so-slightly from the other art in the book.
A seven-page lot at a great price is a fantastic get for a collector. That being said, there’s also zero chance I’d ever be able to collect all pages of original art from this graphic novel, so I don’t know that I really need seven samples from the book in my collection. So while I’m definitely holding onto the four consecutive pages, the other three — pages 70, 85 and 98 — are ones with which I’d be willing to part. If any one is interested, drop me a line to discuss a reasonable price.
Follow Eye on Comics on Twitter.