I had the Transformers Big Looker Storybook "The Battle for Cybertron" when I was a kid. Norem's paintings are burned into my psyche. I watched the Transformers cartoon religiously back then and when I was confronted with Norem's work I remember being stunned. Norem had introduced a style of rendering the robots in a way that felt so tangible compared to the flat cel animation. I could feel the metal hulls on my fingertips. Norem cut his teeth as an illustrator creating dozens, perhaps hundreds, of images for men's adventure magazines back in the 50s, working in gouache at the time. In the 80s he got a lot of work creating paintings for toylines, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe most notably. But he did work for Hasbro's big lines, G.I.Joe and the aforementioned Transformers. But with He-Man he defined not just the brand's identity, but the imaginary world any kid when playing with the toys would enter as well. I wonder if what Norem felt doing work for these toy companies, after doing work that contained WWII heroes gunning down Nazis in Moroccan opium dens, sexy unfaithful wives hiding lovers from their husbands, or high-seas crises handled by bare-chested sailors. Now doing work that was geared specifically for kids. If he had any qualms there's no evidence in the illustrations whatsoever. They are created with the highest level of passion. To me, and this may sound completely ridiculous, but his paintings for the Visionaries picture book are up there with any celebrated artwork from the 20th Century. There is a tinge of detachment from Norem in these pieces. Like he wasn't fully invested in them. But, to my eye, this makes them all the more interesting as a result. The compositions are spare to the point of being strange. The color palette also veers into puzzling spaces. And most of all his applications of the paint feel slap-dashed, almost careless. Instead of this reading as lazy, to me, it feels incredibly confident. A master who can't be bothered anymore and is simply executing his craft without even being conscious of what he's doing. It's like painting nirvana.


Benjamin Marra is the creator, writer, and artist of the comics NIGHT BUSINESS, AMERICAN BLOOD, and TERROR ASSAULTER: O.M.W.O.T. (One Man War On Terror), all published by Fantagraphics. Acclaimed writer Grant Morrison chose Marra as a collaborator on the first issue of the relaunched HEAVY METAL Magazine. Marra had two serialized webcomic series appear on adultswim.com. His most recent book is JESUSFREAK, written by Joe Casey and published by Image Comics. In 2016, he was named one of the Art Directors Club's Young Guns. He illustrated the cover of American Illustration 35. In 2017, he was nominated for a Grammy Award for his album art of Wayfaring Strangers: Acid Nightmare, a collection of obscure 1970s post-Age-of-Aquarius Heavy Metal.