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CSBG Archive

Cronin Theory of Comics – Good Art Better Transcends Bad Material

Another “problem” I have had looking at writers to feature for the Month of Writing Stars is that there are a number of writers that I like a lot who have somewhat of a spotty reputation because they worked on terrible projects. However, the artists who worked on those projects tend to escape unscathed in the critical opinion, because it seems that it is a lot easier for a good artist to transcend a terrible project than it is a good writer.

It seems to me that the mainstream writers who are on the lower tier than the (let’s say Jason Aaron because I used him for the last one – do note, though, that these things are always changing – the hot writer of today was usually the “I’ll take anything you have!” writer of yesterday) Jason Aarons of the world, they have to take pretty much any assignment given to them, so they end up pulling some awful assignments that end up being bad because the material is so weak. And they end up being knocked for not “saving” the project while the artist is just that artist who drew that awful comic by that writer.

So just keep that in mind if I happen to pick some writers this month who have some pretty bad comics on their resumes.

21 Comments

And, like you said before, writers work on more projects, and they don’t have much control over the look of the final product.

You remember that Top 50 writers thing from a couple years back? 48 of them have done at least one comic story I’ve really liked AND one comic story I’ve really hated.

I find it fascinating when a writer whose work I love is paired with an artist whose work I at the very best could take or leave. HELLBLAZER: HAUNTED comes to mind, though there are any number of examples. Still: Warren Ellis was top of his game when he wrote that one, yet the arc was absolutely average. Apologies to John Higgins, but I have often wondered if he was the right artist for the job.

On the other hand, perhaps the story was just not that good to begin with. And that’s the rub — I really can’t call it.

Though it is possible for an artist to be hurt by a working on a bad comic. For example I think that Jim Lee’s reputation has been hurt by All Star Batman and Robin. It didn’t destory him but it did lower his profile in the comic community. The 100 best runs lists featued no Jim Lee.

Case in point: Batman: Hush and Superman: For Tomorrow

Both are very poor, but sold well because Jim Lee is a highly regarded artist.

And I stand by my opinion that Batman: Long Halloween/Dark Victory would barely be remembered if not for Tim Sale. In fact, Jeph Loeb has been very fortunate that he has been able to work with such talented artists.

Though it is possible for an artist to be hurt by a working on a bad comic. For example I think that Jim Lee’s reputation has been hurt by All Star Batman and Robin. It didn’t destory him but it did lower his profile in the comic community. The 100 best runs lists featued no Jim Lee.

I totally disagree here. All-Star Bats continues to be a top seller whenever it (sporadically) comes out. People like Miller, people like Lee. Some (like me) like both. The only reason people think Jim Lee has been “hurt” is because the general Internet smark opinion of it has been negative. But that doesn’t stop the book from being a consistent top seller.

And while I’m a huge fan of this blog, I wouldn’t take the CSBG top 100 runs as gospel — mainly because Lee has never really illustrated any runs that writing-wise are universally accepted as “great.” Sure, his art gets praised, but I don’t think Lee’s art has ever been matched by writing of the same quality. X-Men, WildC.A.T.S. — solid, but not comparable with a lot of good stuff out there.

Fair point, as long as this month’s writing stars doesn’t feature AJ Lieberman or Bruce Jones.

“And I stand by my opinion that Batman: Long Halloween/Dark Victory would barely be remembered if not for Tim Sale. In fact, Jeph Loeb has been very fortunate that he has been able to work with such talented artists.”

While I agree that he’s good about picking out collaborators… as far as those two go, Long Halloween especially seems to be one of those comics that everyone, fans and non fans alike, just love. I know that my copy’s been loaned out about twenty times since the Batman Begins DVD with the first issue as a bonus came out, and everyone comes back with the same response: that it’s a great story.

Again, to each their own, but that one’s pretty much critic-proof at this point due to popular acclaim, and usually that acclaim goes to the writing.

Anyway, sure, every writer will have a couple of stinkers in their CV. I mean, like we were talking about earlier this week: Bill Willingham is one of the best writers in the industry when he’s on Fables, but put him on a Bat-book and the most positive emotion I’d be able to generate at this point would be extreme scepticism. .

I think Long Halloween & Dark Victory suceed because of four factors:

1) Tim Sale. Even a good house-style artist (e.g. Jim Aparo, Graham Nolan) wouldn’t have made the series stand out. Loeb’s plots aren’t great, but Sale’s imagery is unforgettable.

2) Loeb gets the reader inside Batman’s head, and he does a good job with the character relationships.

3) Greatest Hits + Year One. All the villains (rendered beautifully by Sale), and a Batman at the beginning of his career, add up to a fun reading experience.

4) The mysteries are fun, even if the resolutions are lame.

“Case in point: Batman: Hush and Superman: For Tomorrow
Both are very poor, but sold well because Jim Lee is a highly regarded artist.”

Agreed that For Tomorrow was garbage.
But Hush was a very entertaining story, althought the ending was lame.

All Star Batman and Robin…. even Lee cant save that one.

Again, to each their own, but that one’s pretty much critic-proof at this point due to popular acclaim, and usually that acclaim goes to the writing.

I definitely recognize that The Long Halloween has sizable acclaim, but I still can’t wrap my head around why a story that makes Batman out to be a bad detective (it takes him a whole year to “solve” a mystery that apparently, according to the last page, he does not even solve correctly) and contains too many swipes from The Godfather movies, Goodfellas, and classic Warner Bros. gangster films became so popular. The acclaim for Sale’s art I can buy, but Loeb’s writing overall …ick. As Mike Loughlin pointed out, I do believe that had Sale not drawn The Long Halloween it would have been added to the large pile of disposable Batman mini-series.

Anyway, I just thought it was funny that Mike Loughlin says that the resolution to the “mystery” in The Long Halloween is “lame” and I AM FeAR says that the ending of Hush was “lame.” That pretty much sums up what I feel about Jeph Loeb’s writing. My opinion about The Long Halloween aside, I think in general Loeb’s work would be far less regarded if he collaborated with artists of a lesser ilk.

All Star Batman and Robin…. even Lee cant save that one.

But opinions about the story aside… it remains a top seller whenever it comes out, which proves Brian’s point — people are willing to overlook bad writing if the pictures are “purty.”

‘Course, some of us sickos actually LIKE the Goddamn Batman… but I’m in the minority, methinks.

Omar Karindu, back from an Internet Thogal ritual

January 4, 2009 at 11:32 pm

Of course, the real problem with many fans’ love of The Long Halloween is that Loeb gets much credit for Harvey Dent’s emotional arc in it…which is in fact an expansion (as Loeb cheerfully credits in the TPB introduction) of Andy Helfer’s Post-Crisis Two-Face origin from Batman Annual #14.

The new elements Loeb adds to that story are, frankly, the least impressive bits. And since both Year One and Batman Annual #14 turn up in wholesale scenes in TLH, it seems much more a case of Loeb having a bunch of good material by other writers and a rather gimmicky and undercooked story of his own bolted on and around that prior matter.

Omar Karindu, back from an Internet Thogal ritual

January 4, 2009 at 11:34 pm

‘Course, some of us sickos actually LIKE the Goddamn Batman…

Oh, I can get liking it ironically, or for sheer “balls to the wall” gonzo, but ASSBAR isn’t going to survive any particularly rigorous critique on the aesthetic merits beyond the “I liked it ’cause it’s nuts!” argument. I get that, I really do, and I have stuff I like for similar reasons, but I have to admit that Frank Miller’s been doing this act for so long I’m a bit bored with it. It’s not as if anyone read much Hunter Thompson after the Nixon book, either.

It’s not as if anyone read much Hunter Thompson after the Nixon book, either.

Well, I did and I thought his ‘Hey Rube’ column had quite a few highlights (especially when he got political) and Kingdom Of Fear was a good read as well. That being said, I was born after Watergate so everything I read from him I read after Nixon but the Nixon book was the first I read.

By the way, you’ve exactly described why i do like ASSBAR but I understand why people can be tired with it. It’s very far from groundbreaking.

I think both writers and artists can be assigned to the wrong projects…

Bruce Jones was completely wrong for Checkmate… He may be brilliant on something like Hellblazer, who knows, but because he was responsible for the ill-fitting Chimaera story in Checkmate, he’s going to be tainted for a while…

Humberto Ramos was wrong for Wolverine, but brilliant (in my opinion, and I fall into the ASBARTBW-buying group, for what it’s worth) on Revelations from Dark Horse a couple of years ago (and ironically the writer completely escapes me!)

It comes down again to really sloppy editorial decisions…

Bruce Jones was completely wrong for Checkmate…

Why does Bruce Jones continue to get work at DC? This is his recent resume:

* 7 issues on Nightwing, critically ridiculed and terrible sales
* A Vertigo series, a “reimagining” of Deadman, which lasted only 13 issues
* A reboot of Mike Grell’s Warlord, which lasted even less (10 issues)
* The final six issues of Greg Rucka’s Checkmate
* Three mini-series: Man-Bat, OMAC, and Vigilante. The events of Man-Bat were ignored in the main Bat-titles, the new Vigilante Jones created has since been replaced by another new Vigilante, and the OMAC character introduced in the mini-series had no further appearances. All three had rather low sales and did not spin-off into any other titles.

Add to that the currently-running The War That Time Forgot, which has terrible sales.

I mean, there must be other writers out there, right…?

Lets also try to keep in mind that one person’s Superstar is another person’s Person to Avoid.

I can’t think of a single story arc in any title that I’ve gone, “Wow, Jim Lee’s art really saved that.” I can’t even think of one that I’ve thought, “Wow, Jim Lee really drew that well.” I’m just not a fan. I’m the guy who is reading ASBAR and thinking, “Jim Lee is lucky Miller’s writing is good enough for me to overlook the art.”

A lot of people like Ed Brubaker. I turn down books when I see his name on them. I like Peter David, but I have some friends who ridicule me for it.

Every writer is different, and everyone’s tastes are different. I’m looking forward to seeing what all Brian likes whether or not I agree with him.

Theno

“Why does Bruce Jones continue to get work at DC? I mean, there must be other writers out there, right…?”

Possibly he has an exclusive contract with DC which means they have to keep him working for the duration of said contract? It seems to be the “in” thing today, getting exclusive contracts so you can get the benefits packages from the corporation.

Brian:

While there is some level of disproportionate criticism towards writers than artists, I tend to find that it’s more commonplace that fandom isn’t even aware of the writers at all, outside of the handful that those in the comics media promote.

It’s because as a storytelling medium comics are thought of by most people as good or bad based on the quality of the story. Lee isn’t blamed for Hush because he doesn’t get a co-writing credit and the comic wasn’t made using “The Marvel Method” that gave people like Ditko and Kirby equal role in producing the actual plot to writers. Often when people mention what were bad stories they also complain that good art was wasted on them, or that they only sold when the art was good. Of course, there are also those who dislike Morrison’s run on NXM because the can’t stand the inconsistent art.

“Of course, there are also those who dislike Morrison’s run on NXM because they can’t stand the inconsistent art.”

Of course, there are also those of us who dislike Morrison’s run on NXM because the stories were crap. Well crafted, prettily written crap, but crap nonetheless.

I’m confused about how something can be well-crafted and prettily written and still crap.

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