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CSBG Archive

Comics You Should Own – The New Mutants #18-31

Well, that’s an odd collection of issues. Why those, you ask? Read on!

The New Mutants by Chris Claremont (writer), Bill Sienkiewicz (artist), Glynis Wein/Oliver (colorist), Tom Orzechowski (letterer, issues #18-28), L. Lois Buhalis (letterer, issues #21, 24-25), and Joe Rosen (letterer, issues #29-31).

Marvel, 14 issues (volume 1, #18-31), cover dated August 1984 – September 1985.

SPOILERS below. Not too many, but I guess I spoil the final arc. These comics are 25 years old. That’s just the way it is!

If we accept the proposition that 65-75 per cent of the “goodness” of comics is the artwork (I think we can agree on that, right?), then it stands to reason that good art should outweigh good writing, and that superb art should overcome mediocre writing. Some writers have such a strong authorial voice that they can reverse this axiom to an extent, but for the vast majority of comic book writers, the artwork can enhance their writing to the point where readers can forgive its excesses. With perhaps no writer over the past 35 years in comics is this more evident than with Chris Claremont, whose writing rarely changes but is looked at differently based on which artist is illustrating him. And in no instance is this more evident, perhaps, than with New Mutants #18-31, the brief stint when Bill Sienkiewicz, of all artists, was taking Claremont’s scripts and visualizing them. Claremont had worked with great artists before this run and would again, but none were as avant-garde as Sienkiewicz was, which makes this slightly-longer-than-a-year run on the junior mutant book a somewhat awkward and even ramshackle masterpiece, with more tension between writing and art than almost any other mainstream comic book has ever seen. It makes reading these issues a strange experience and makes us appreciate far more the way an artist translates scripts and turns words into pictures. It’s a skill that is often unappreciated by readers and also, sadly, by editors, but is something we should all try to understand if we want to read comics to their fullest.

Sienkiewicz was still firmly entrenched in the world of superheroes when he started drawing New Mutants, even as his style moved beyond what many people considered (and still consider) standard superhero art. His final issue of Moon Knight, the series that made him a star, was in early 1983, and the next step in his artistic evolution was this series, which is in some ways more experimental than Moon Knight but in some ways is an attempt by Sienkiewicz to fit into a more standard superhero book. Moon Knight wasn’t a superhero, he was a vigilante, and Sienkiewicz wasn’t called upon to draw too much in the way of superpowers (even though he showed he could do it, if he had to). With New Mutants, he was. And, unsurprisingly, he excelled. Not only that, but he was able to balance both the wonder of superpowers with their necessary dark side, without bludgeoning the readers over the head with it. Sienkiewicz’s mutants were kids, learning how to use their powers, not always in smart or effective ways. Many artists have tried this over the years, but because of Sienkiewicz’s style, he was able to do it almost effortlessly and therefore in a more disturbing fashion.

The tone of the series shifts noticeably in Sienkiewicz’s first issue, which begins a three-part story about Danielle Moonstar’s search for the Demon Bear that killed her parents. The bear had been part of New Mutants mythology from the beginning, and I have to believe that Claremont finally addressed it because of Sienkiewicz coming on the book. Here are a few drawings of the bear, pre-Sienkiewicz (Bob McLeod, from issue #3; Sal Buscema, from issue #17):

Here’s how Sienkiewicz first shows the bear, plus Dani’s brief battle with it:

The difference is almost unfair to McLeod and Buscema, but it signals a huge paradigm shift in the way artists could show superheroic adventures, even more than when Sienkiewicz was drawing Moon Knight. That title was a Direct Market experiment, never terribly popular, while the mid-1980s was when Claremont’s mutants were on top of the comic book world, even if this was the junior title. Sienkiewicz turned a cartoony and non-threatening bear into a terrifying mythological creature, haunting Dani’s nightmares far better than it had, as we see from the famous first page of New Mutants #18:

The Demon Bear arc is unsettling because Claremont gives Sienkiewicz a plot that is far darker than what we had seen previously on the book. When Tom Corsi and Sharon Friedlander are attacked by the bear, Sienkiewicz simply gives us a panel with giant teeth, two terrified faces, and horrified shrieking (with Wein providing the necessary red coloring to give it a greater impact; see above). We don’t see what happens to Corsi and Friedlander, but we don’t need to – Sienkiewicz provides the bare bones and lets our imagination run wild. The final issue of the arc, “Badlands,” goes even further into the insanity of Sienkiewicz’s art, as the mutants battle the bear in an alternate dimension, with Tom and Sharon transformed into hellish avatars and Dani’s life hanging in the balance. Those readers who thought Sienkiewicz couldn’t handle a battle royale in the fine, superhero tradition were wrong – he gives us a fight that is fluid and dynamic but also twisted and perverse, climaxing with the return of Dani’s parents, who had been transformed into the bear (by a mysterious force that Claremont, typically, doesn’t explain). In this arc, Sienkiewicz shows that his skill at creating larger-than-life monsters is as strong as ever, but he also shows that, like on Moon Knight, he can excel at the quieter moments, too. Interestingly enough, his New Mutants look more like teenagers than they had before, even if we wouldn’t necessarily believe Sienkiewicz could be as subtle as that. He does a good job showing how awkward the teenaged years could be, as the kids often look their age even as they try to pretend they’re grown-ups. This adds to the tension of the book, something that is often lacking with the other artists on the book, who go too far in one or the other direction. The only place Sienkiewicz falters in this regard is with David Haller – Legion – who’s supposed to be a teenager himself. Claremont never quite explains David’s predicament – we get a bit about his childlike mind being trapped in an older body, but it seems that refers to his autism and his “mental” age not corresponding with his actual age, which is of a teenager, rather than some weird, mutant-y explanation. Either way, no artist is ever terribly comfortable with Legion (partly because no one dares mess with Sienkiewicz’s hair style, for some unknown reason), and Sienkiewicz does what he can with him.

Sienkiewicz, of course, is notable for his amazing design work, and that’s abundant in this run. Obviously, the bear is impressive enough, but issue #18 also introduces Warlock, the “techno-organic” alien whose presence in the X-books had long-ranging and occasionally idiotic consequences. Sienkiewicz’s Warlock is a true alien being, part machine and part organism, and it’s rare that the artists that followed him were able to blend those two aspects as well as he did. When Claremont leads into the Cloak and Dagger story in issues #23-25, we get, in issue #22, Rahne dreaming a fairy-tale dream in which those two characters appear, albeit in altered forms – Cloak is in black armor, while Dagger is almost ethereal. The opening splash page of issue #24, while not as famous as the one that begins the run, is as effective – Roberto, corrupted by Cloak’s power, is simply a black blot with a horrifying face, looming over Moira MacTaggart and an unconscious Charles Xavier. Colossus, who was absorbed into Roberto’s cloak, faces Kitty Pryde and the woman he fell in love with in Secret Wars (the book remained anchored to Marvel continuity despite its look), and both dramatically turn to dust in eerie fashion. Legion’s mindscape, with its amalgam of Beirut and Paris, is a tour-de-force of comics art, an astonishing mix of some multimedia presentation, excellent attention to detail, Duo-Shade, and nauseating coloring (in the best way possible) by Oliver. Even the final arc, which is hampered by a tie-in to Secret Wars II and looks a bit rushed, features the grotesquerie that Karma has become and some stunning visuals. Sienkiewicz creates characters that look real and then sets them in a world gone mad, which heightens the horror of what they’re experiencing. This is most evident, of course, during the Legion arc, when Xavier and his charges must enter David’s mind, but Sienkiewicz does this throughout, with panel-breaking and reshaping, sound effects that become part of the drawing and occasionally feel like nails on a chalkboard (notably when Warlock screams in issue #21, which we can almost hear), and Oliver’s splashes of brightness to jar the mood (Dani’s thoughts of the bear in issue #18 are colored bright red; the first appearance of David’s multiple personalities are bright orange). Even when Sienkiewicz is drawing some “normal” scenes, such as the slumber party in issue #21, he manages to infuse it with his own sensibilities. The panel where the older teens are about to jump on Rahne to put make-up on her is a nice example of this – Illyana and the non-mutant girls are packed together on the left side of the panel, looming largely in the foreground, while Rahne sits, small and mouse-like, on a sofa on the right side of the panel, a bit further away from the reader, perspective-wise. Between these two opposing forces is white space, emphasizing the “conflict” about to erupt. Sienkiewicz takes chances in the art, even more than just his iconoclastic pencilling. In issue #26, he draws Emma Frost with little hearts floating around her face when Empath tries to manipulate her emotions. It’s silly, but it works. Throughout the run, we get touches like this that make the art more expressive than your usual superhero art, pushing the storytelling further than readers had seen in mainstream comics before this and rarely see even today.

And then there’s Claremont. I have a feeling that many reviews of mutant books for a two-decade period could focus a great deal on the art and then move on to the writing with the phrase “and then there’s Claremont.” Claremont is a polarizing figure in the world of superhero comics, mainly because under his stewardship, the X-Men became the dominant seller in comics for a decade or so. Claremont’s achievements are impressive, but that doesn’t change the fact that reading his comics from a distance of years and all at once is a bit torturous, and no one would blame readers for skipping some chunks of it. If you’re a new reader, Claremont gets you up to speed in almost every issue with what the characters can do and what their position within the vast universe is, but that becomes oppressive when you read more than five or six Claremont issues in a row. His dialogue is stilted and far too expository, his characterization tics are fairly stereotypical (usually in a positive way, but still stereotypical), and his love of subplots often gets out of hand. (In one of the funniest out-of-control subplots in mutant history, Illyana shows up to fight Warlock in issue #21 after teleporting away earlier in the issue, and she’s dressed in a spacesuit and clutching a strange rifle. Claremont gets around to explaining this in issue #63, after he had left the comic as writer. Marvel needed to bring him back as guest writer to tell readers why on earth Illyana showed up that way.) The fact that he changes Tom Corsi and Sharon Friedlander into actual Native Americans is oddly insulting, and while giving us a character with autism is interesting in 1985, before it became a widely-known affliction, the fact that he seems to lack basic knowledge about autism, schizophrenia, and multiple personality disorder (implying that all three are the same) is annoying. On the other hand, Claremont can plot exceptionally well, and while he often overwrites, he also gets out of the way of his artists, allowing them to go nuts a bit. The issue-by-issue scripting of any Claremont book tends to be a bit of a slog, but he gives us a tense story about Danielle confronting her personal demons (issues #18-20), a slumber party and a new character, Warlock (issue #21), an overly long but gripping story about two young people wrestling with a terrible choice (issues #22-25, in which Tyrone Johnson and Tandy Bowen must decide whether to become Cloak and Dagger again), a terrific psychological drama in which Charles Xavier must face Legion, the son he didn’t know he had (issues #26-28), and the confrontation with their lost teammate, Karma (issues #29-31). Plus, there’s the continuing subplot of Magneto and Lee Forrester, which leads to Magneto taking over as headmaster of Xavier’s school. Any way you slice it, that’s a lot of good content, and if the details are occasionally mediocre, Claremont packs a lot of plot and interpersonal relationships into these comics. In that age of “compressed” comics, this kind of stuff wasn’t unusual, but Claremont’s trademark was to heighten the soap opera without backing off on the action, and these issues hum along. I mentioned the tension between the writing and art above, and this is where it comes in – with many other artists, as talented as they might be, Claremont’s scripts almost pushed the reader along, putting the art completely in the service of the soap opera. He tries that with Sienkiewicz, but Sienkiewicz forces the reader to stop and consider the individual panels, because there’s so much going on beyond the basic machinations of the plot. That becomes a problem because it’s then that readers will notice Claremont’s writing a bit more, which is not always a good thing.

One thing Claremont was always very good at was moving the plot along to new places – he didn’t keep the characters running in place. This was a time when comics could still indulge in the “illusion of change” that is so necessary for their success, before readers became cynical and “knew” characters would come back from the dead, and it’s also before the companies became so terrified of change, as well. Claremont was very good at allowing his characters to grow and change, and when it came to the New Mutants, this was even more in evidence, as they were teenagers, who change rapidly anyway. It’s not in evidence as much in these 14 issues as it is in others, but Claremont changes Corsi and Friedlander (for the worse, it’s true, but still – the changes remained part of the new status quo), brings back Dani’s parents, introduces Warlock, introduces Legion (he first refers to David in issue #1, but these issues first show him in all his flourishing power), allows Magneto to grow more “human,” and even changes Alison Blaire’s status quo a bit. In later issues, the New Mutants would change even more (first when Claremont was writing them, and then after Louise Simonson took over), but part of Claremont’s focus on plotting means figuring out ways to keep things fresh. He did this by forcing his characters to change, and it’s oddly refreshing re-reading these comics years later, knowing that these kids are constantly being challenged and that those challenges will help mold them into different people. It’s Claremont’s enduring legacy – he loved changing his characters, and even though they didn’t always work, they make reading his comics in chunks (if we can ignore the heavy-handed scripting) weirdly exciting.

Sienkiewicz decided to leave after issue #31 (he inked a few issues not long after, but that was the end of his involvement with the book), as he moved on to his next masterpiece, Elektra: Assassin. Claremont continued writing the book for a while before giving way to Simonson, and the book continued pleasantly along its way, never again reaching the artistic heights of Sienkiewicz’s run but never becoming less than an enjoyable comic. A succession of artists followed Sienkiewicz, from Steve Leialoha to Jackson Guice to Bret Blevins, before issue #86 came along with its artistic stylings of Rob Liefeld. So there’s that. I’ll take Sienkiewicz. Marvel has released this run in two trade paperbacks, the “classic” volumes #3 and 4 (the second one contains the Karma story from issues #32-34, which are a nice coda but which I haven’t included here because you only need to own them if you really, really need to find out what happened to Shan), the first of which contains the first annual, which I haven’t read. I honestly don’t know if the single issues are cheaper to get, but the Classic volumes are printed on nicer paper, although I don’t know how well Sienkiewicz’s art transfers (I’d say well, but I don’t know, do I?). If you’re wondering exactly what the hell was going on when the stylized art of Bill Sienkiewicz was paired up with the meat-and-potatoes scripting of Chris Claremont, New Mutants #18-31 shows you. It’s a weird but wonderful brew!

As you may know, the archives are just sitting there, waiting to be perused. So peruse!

73 Comments

i loved this when it was coming out! It was different from anything else at the time. It could be sublime or very disturbing, depending on the art. Great stuff!
DFTBA

Tom Fitzpatrick

March 29, 2011 at 4:23 pm

I remember having this run back in the 80′s and enjoyed it for two reasons only:

1) Sienkiewicz. Man, how could anyone not get hooked on this guy after this run, will always be beyond me!

2) Claremont. Had a reputation for his ultra-long sub-plots (that could take years to tie-up), but with this run, he tied up several plots that ran from the New Mutants # 1.

Course, I stopped reading NM after Sienkiewicz left the book. NM just wasn’t the same for me anymore after that.

This was mind-blowing for me at the time. I had just transitioned to fifth grade. A few months earlier, I had finally gotten into comics with X-Men and the Micronauts and then Power Pack #5. (This was after a few early run-ins with those weird Gold Key/Whitman comics, particularly Flash Gordon and this.)

X-Men and the Micronauts piqued my young interest in comics and was the first time I realized full-force that these were characters with “deep history.” It wasn’t ’til we hit a rest stop on a road trip that I was able to pick up Power Pack of a spinner rack. That was the book that hooked me in full. I went a couple months reading those books (and whatever I could scrounge from a convenience store that was a forty-minute walk from my house) and my mom noticed that I was reading the same stuff over and over again. She took pity on me and remembered a hole-in-the-wall comics shop she had seen recently.

As a special trip, she took me there and my mind was blown. I picked up the first two issues of the X-Micronauts miniseries, a random issue of Micronauts, and the first four issues of Power Pack. I was like a whole man for the first time ever. Power Pack was really where it was at for me, but the X-Men thing intrigued me even though I didn’t really understand it. My mom was able to swing another trip to the store a month or two later and I was able to pick up an issue of New Mutants (which I got because of their involvement in the X-Men/Micronauts mini). It was issue #21.

Moving from June Brigman to Bill Sienkiewicz was like taking one’s means of stimulation from cupcakes to peyote. I didn’t understand it at all. I didn’t know why everyone looked so weird. And this was the introduction to Warlock issue, so you’ve got a pretty non-human-looking thing tearing away at the foundations of what I thought about comics art (built on a bedrock of, what, a few months’ experience). I’m not sure exactly why I continued to get New Mutants after that experience (both new issues and every back issue), but my old collection shows that I did. Perhaps it was the opening scene of that issue, with the girls and their slumber party and the whole mystery of the idea (I was a fifth-grader with one younger brother and no female friends in a neighbourhood with no girls, so the concept was mind-boggling for me).

In any case, when I finally got to see the Demon Bear Saga (I love that a three issue arc was a saga back then) a few months later, I think I finally understood what I was looking at and why. The latter end of fifth grade and then the bulk of sixth grade saw me drawing demon bears on all my brown shopping-bag book covers for school and on desks and on arms. In sixth grade, I would have fully expected my first tattoo to be Sienkiewicz’s Demon Bear.

Noooooo. Unclosed hyperlink! How dare you!

By the way, huge props to Glynis Wein/Oliver for the colouring on the book. The wrong colour treatment could have seriously diminished Sienkiewisz’s work (evident even in the pages you put up here). So yayifications to her!

Sorry to be the discordant note, but it was precisely Bill Sienkiewicz’s art that drove me away from New Mutants, a title I had been a fan of from the beginning (and I wasn’t the only fan so affected.) Not to say his style doesn’t have merit, but going from the simple-but-effective style of Sal Buscema to Sienkiewicz’s what-the-hell-is-going-on-this-panel style was just too abrupt. I could see him fitting on, say, some of Marvel’s Epic Comics line titles, but not here. By the time he was gone, I had lost interest in the series.

I guess I have to disagree with a lot of this, starting with your opening premise. Writing is much more important than art. A bad story with fantastic art is a bad story, and nothing can change that. Whereas a great story with lousy art can still be pretty good (unless the art is completely indecipherable).

And I’m sorry, but I still don’t get all the admiration for Sienkiewicz. He did do some very good art, but also some very, very horrible art, and unfortunately, he always seemed to mix the two together. His art in this period was very messy looking, and I get the impression he couldn’t tell the difference between what worked and what didn’t.
I really hated when he took over the book. Sal Buscema’s art on the series was possibly the best he’d done (it was much better than what he was doing on Hulk or Rom around that time). I think the characters looked more like kids in his issues than the did in Sienkiewicz’s (but it was other artists years later who were bad at getting the apparent ages right.)
I hated the Legion issues the most. I think the art was the least clear in that story, and the writing was definitely the worst. (Though you can’t blame Sienkiewicz for that. I’m sure the story would’ve still been bad if Buscema had drawn it.)
As time went on, Marvel had many artists far worse than Sienkiewicz, which does put these issues into a different perspective now. But I hated the art then, and I still don’t like it much now.

Woo hoo! I just picked up issues 18-20 (for 2 bucks total, I think), and just wasn’t sure if there were more Sienk. issues before that. Now I know! So obviously, not having read them yet, I skimmed the post.

But I think Sienk’s great, but I can see where Sijo would be off put by it. And I think Mary’s probably right, that Bill DIDN’T know what “worked” or didn’t yet. That is what happens with experimentation. Bill probably could have cruised on his Neal Adams style for many years, but I’d much rather we had Stray Toasters than years of that.

OK, need to find the rest of these issues now.

Quick story that’s been told elsewhere: I presume that it was while Bill was on NM that he did a poster of the team. Marvel asked for one, and what Bill did was put the team in one corner of the poster, then filled the rest of the poster with a twisting huge version of Warlock. When it came into the offices, everyone was stunned by it, but, according to Jim Shooter, didn’t know how many the thing would sell. To Marvel’s credit, they apparently DID offer it for sale without asking Bill to radically change the thing. Man, I’d love to have that poster…

I know this isn’t the part of the column you’re wanting to “hear” comments about, but that McLeod panel from #3 had me laughing harder than anything I’ve seen in a while. I assume the next panel was the Demon Bear being led off in handcuffs by the police, shouting that he “would’ve gotten away with it, too, if not for those meddling kids!”

Seriously, it’s a bear in a mask. What did she think it was?

D Eric Carpenter

March 29, 2011 at 6:51 pm

Sienkiewicz (yes, I copied and pasted it, I never could spell it) flat out opened my eyes to comics art.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Perez. I love Ordway. I love great comic art in a more standard vein. Until that run in New Mutants, though, I had no idea what was possible in comics. I won’t go on long, but Sienkiewicz absolutely blew my teenage mind at that point and opened my eyes to a wide range of comics art.

I remember getting these off the rack and hating it. I kept buying them because I liked the characters even though I despised the art.

Then, a few years later, I went bak and read them again and it was like a switch had tripped in my brain. Suddenly this was amazing… actual ART.

And no, I had not done a lot of drugs int he intervening time.

D Eric Carpenter

March 29, 2011 at 6:56 pm

After reading other comments, I’ve got to add: not everything Sienkiewicz has done has impressed me. I found his Elektra work to be incomprehensible.

But for me, when he’s on, he’s fantastic.

I disagree with the opening premise, as well. I follow several writers no matter what book they’re on. There’s only 2 or 3 artists that can get me to buy a book solely based on their art, and even then I might not if the writer is someone I don’t like. Obviously great art can make a bad story seem better. But I feel like a great story can more easily overcome bad art than great art can overcome a bad story.

As to Sienk, his artwork actually kept me away from this title when I was younger. Looking at the pages you have here I definitely like his artwork more and appreciate what he was doing, but I still wouldn’t say I’m a fan. It’s just not my thing.

i totally agree with the opening premise. The art makes a huge difference for me when i read a story. i won’t for long read a crappy storyline, even if the art is amazing. However, the effect of bad art on a great story almost always drives me away from the comic.

The only exception was when Paul Ryan became the artist on The Flash & i actually stopped buying The Flash for months, but as i worked in a comic shop, once they went into the $.25 bin, i picked them up. i still wince at the art even today. Bad art will chase me away from even my favorite writer & character.

By the way, this run on New Mutants was, is, and always will be some of the greatest stuff of its time, or any other time for that matter.

DFTBA

I have to say that although these issues of NM were better than the ones preceding them, that’s damning them with faint praise. New Mutants was just an awful comic from the beginning. The art was OK. I really liked McLeod and Sal Buscema was his normal solid self, but the writing was just soooooo bad. These issues were made interesting art-wise by Sienkiewicz, but overall the story just did nothing for me and I was gone from the comic as soon as Sienkiewicz was. What really annoyed me upon re-reading them was the absence of letter pages from the series. I think I sold all of my copies a few years back, but I’d guess that they only ran a letters page in maybe 3 of the first 20 issues, which just wasn’t done at the time. I wonder if the letters were mostly negative and they decided to run an extra ad instead? The printing process surely didn’t help Sienkiewicz’ art. It was very murky and indecipherable in some places.

I agree with your proposition! But I also understand people that don’t, people come to comics for different reasons.

And Sienkiewicz is amazing. I became such a big fan of his that I learned how to spell his name correctly just from punching it into ebay searches so often.

I liked Sienkiewickz better when he was less impressionist, back in Moon Knight. His avant-garde style only emphasized the already tiresome melodrama of Chris Claremont scripts. And his storytelling was mediocre at best, which also played badly with the Claremont style.

Add me to the list of those who stopped following NM at the time. It didn’t help that it was at that time that the (failed as far as I care) attempt at rehabilitating Magneto happened at that time as well.

Come to think of it, Claremont never quite managed to write more than a single monthly at a time really well..

Still is to this day the most fondly remembered books. It grabbed me and challenged my sensibilities and never let go. I went back picked up the the earlier books. I stayed on and finished the series out but none of the other runs had the magic that this particular run had.

At my core, at least as far as superhero comics go, I’m more an art guy than a writing guy.

Because sometimes – sometimes – superhero artists can surprise and challenge me, and I don’t think mainstreamy superhero writers really can – I’ve just read too many of the damn things to be surprised. (At least with the industry the way it is RIGHT NOW.)

And picture art is simply more immediate and visceral than text.

So, yeah, these are my favorite X-comics. And Sienkewicz is my favorite superhero artist ever.

Nice article. :)

I DO think it’s weird they stuck him on the X-Babies, though, rather than Daredevil or something else more historically avant-garde. I know that the Sijo’s of the world would freak out.

Interesting note: Sal Buscema was STRONGLY influenced by Seinkewicz, and changed his style quite a bit in the years after the picture you posted.

Well, obviously everyone who disagrees with me is wrong. WRONG, I say!!!!! :)

I too once thought that writing is more important than art, and even if you still think that (which is fair), I can’t agree with you, Mary, who says it’s “much more.” At most I’d go fifty-fifty. Comics is a visual medium, after all, and while I don’t want to get into it here, over the years I’ve noticed that art is much more important than I ever gave it credit for, even though I approach comics from a writing standpoint. Like Jazzbo, I often follow certain writers, and it’s rare that I would do that with an artist, but that doesn’t change my mind. When even Alan Moore’s and Grant Morrison’s writing can seem like crap when their artist sucks (I challenge anyone to think Moore is a great writer based solely on the middle issues of Marvelman, which featured atrocious Chuck Austen art, and why does Morrison’s Batman work seem a lot better when J. H. Williams III is drawing it than when Tony Daniel is drawing it?), we have to consider how important art is. There are some writers whose own artwork is poor and their writing overshadows it, but when it’s a team, the art tends to be more important. As I wrote, Claremont is the classic example. His scripting is often painful (his plotting much less so), but if John Byrne or Bill Sienkiewicz or Paul Smith or John Romita or Alan Davis or even Jim Lee is drawing it, it looks a lot better than if Mary Wilshire or (sorry) Sal Buscema is drawing it. I don’t have anything against Buscema, but Sienkiewicz is so much more accomplished than he is that it’s not even close. I don’t doubt that a lot of people dropped the book when the artist switched. Sienkiewicz is definitely an acquired taste. But he’s also far beyond Buscema in pretty much any quantifiable artistic measurement.

Ritchard: Dani was dreaming about the bear, so she dreamed that it was wearing a mask and then she ripped it off. But yes, that’s an odd panel.

Mark: Yeah, I first saw Buscema’s work when he was drawing Spectacular Spider-Man in the late ’80s (I think?), and he was definitely more influenced by Sienkiewicz then. Even he knew Sienkiewicz was better than he was!

funkygreenjerusalem

March 30, 2011 at 2:06 am

I guess I have to disagree with a lot of this, starting with your opening premise. Writing is much more important than art. A bad story with fantastic art is a bad story, and nothing can change that. Whereas a great story with lousy art can still be pretty good (unless the art is completely indecipherable).

I have to disagree – but a few years ago I would have agreed, so I totally get where you’re coming from.

Good writing is great and all that, but it’s the art that tells the story, and if it’s not happening, it can drag a good story down.

Good art can, and regularly does, lift up a mediocre story and make us think highly of it – there’s been many a story I’ve re-read and realised the story itself was nothing special, it’s the art that lifted it.

Morrison’s writing is good on Batman RIP, but the art brings it down.
But then a few months later, the same writer, but with a master artist, excited the hell out of me with B&R #1, with a story that wasn’t all that spectacular, but that comic is just a fantastic read.
(Then compare what happens when you get a horrifically poor artist on the next book – it dragged a great read right down. Where does the construction equipment that takes down Red Hood come from Tan? WHERE?)

Or take Thomas and BWS on Conan – it’s an entertaining enough book, if you like that sort of thing, but then BWS becomes BWS, and the exact same writer and artist have suddenly taken it to a whole new level – and it’s only the art that changes.
Something like Amazing Spider-Man, with it’s rotating artists, but same writers, also helps highlight this.

As I wrote, Claremont is the classic example. His scripting is often painful (his plotting much less so), but if John Byrne or Bill Sienkiewicz or Paul Smith or John Romita or Alan Davis or even Jim Lee is drawing it, it looks a lot better than if Mary Wilshire or (sorry) Sal Buscema is drawing it.

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I brought the X-Tinction Agenda trade on a laugh once.
I never understood how Jim Lee got so huge so quick on X-Men, until I was reading that book.
He did the first chapter, but then after a few issues of Liefeld, Yaep and Stroman, to suddenly get a Jim Lee drawn splash page – with Wolverine and Psylocke leaping forwards… it was instantly engaging and exciting.
And all the issues drawn by him read much better than any of the others.

To go off of MarkAndrew’s last comment, didn’t Sienkiewicz ink/finish some of Sal Buscema’s stuff around the Spider-Clone saga? I KNOW that Sienk. was inking/finishing some issues of Spectacular Spider-Man, I just don’t remember who pencilled them.

And while I do agree with the premise that the art is more important than the story (maybe not AS much as you say, but at least 51/49 art over story), it is interesting that it’s writers, but not necessarily artists, that I follow from project to project. Obviously here at CSBG, a lot of us dig Morrison, Moore, and so on, but I can’t think of too many artists that I’d pick up no matter what, like I do with writers. Even Quitely, who is awesome, I don’t know that I’d pick up his (sort of announced upcoming) work with Millar. Because I don’t like Millar’s stuff, for the most part.

I was never a big fan of the New Mutants, so the title of your post brought a smirk to my face – to me, there’s probably no issues of the series that “should” be owned. But as a loyal X-fan in the early 80s, I dutifully followed the title, until precisely somewhere in the middle of this run you like so much. It just became too tiresome. I found Claremont’s writing increasingly uninteresting and convoluted (bringing Doug Ramsey in as anything more than a supporting character was a big mistake, and Warlock – god, don’t get me started), and Sienkiewicz’s art, much as I like it, wasn’t helping. In fact, I’d go so far as to disagree with your basic premise and say that it was making matters worse. So I generally agree with Mary, Jazzbo and a few others…
By the way, watch out for the blanket statements about who’s a better artist. There’s some of us who think Sal’s a better comics artist than Sienkiewicz…

As much as I do like Sienkiewicz, Sal Buscema has him beat by a country mile in storytelling.

I’m struck by how huge the contrast is between this artwork and the pared-down style that Kevin Nowlan got savaged for using on the book– partly because I remember getting used to this lush and rich art, and being completely put off by Nowlan’s in #51. When I look at 51 now, it’s engaging, interesting, fun; but in my mind’s eye at the time the look of the book was Sienkiewicz’s (even though he’d left it more than a year before!) and I couldn’t understand what the hell had happened.

funkygreenjerusalem

March 30, 2011 at 5:32 am

As much as I do like Sienkiewicz, Sal Buscema has him beat by a country mile in storytelling.

Just using the art here – Sienkiewicz makes that bear real scary, and Buscema doesn’t.
So Sienkiewicz is getting my vote for story telling!

Obviously art and writing have equal claims to importance in contributing to the final product, but I think Peter David said it best when he pointed out that without the writer there is no story, period.

A thousand times, yes. I first discovered this run as a child with the “Badlands” issue sandwiched between two other books in a supermarket 3-pack.

Needless to say, it was a disturbing, challenging, find that not only opened my eyes to comics as art but the power of art in general.

It continues to affect me and my work to this day.

Sal Buscema is a clearer storyteller than Sienkjiewicz, but Sienkiewicz makes a comic exciting. The actual art looks amazing, and the post-modern panel layouts are far more interesting than Buscema’s Comic Book Art 101 approach.

Case in point: New Mutants fans might remember issues 1-17, but *everyone* remembers the Demon Bear Saga.

Sienkiewicz is one of my 2 favorite artists, and I’ll take jarring but engaging over clear but basic every time.

For what it’s worth, I’d say it’s 51/49 in favour of art over writing.

Greg,

I agree with you about the slipshod use of the term “autism.” The comic was done was pre-Rain Man (which, despite its flaws, at least gave people some indication of what autism could look like), but Legion’s muddled diagnosis was annoying. At least Claremont can take copmfort in the fact that even Alan Moore got it wrong in Swamp Thing.

One thing right with the character, however, is Bill Sienkiewicz’s use of body language. Legion’s jerky movements and odd posture resemble those of some of the students I’ve worked with. Even if the portrayal was off, Sienkiewicz gets props for making it more believable.

I’d say art is definitely most appreciated, especially by younger kids, but writing is actually more important. Thus art will generate more sales, but writing will make a book more memorable.

I can think of a lot more books that had great writing and bad to average art that became classics than I can think of books with great art and bad to average writing that became classics. The only exception I can think of is Jeph Loeb, who’s Sale collaborations had aggressively mediocre writing, but aped so many of the trappings of good writing and ripped off so many good stories that it actually feels like good writing until you really examine it.

So I’d say when it comes to generating short term sales, art is more important. When it comes to generating longevity, writing is more important. I mean look at Morrison’s Doom Patrol and Animal Man. Richard Case and Chas Truog are competent and all but the art was not the draw on those books. Yet they’re considered classics.

It’s funny but for me, the original Claremont/McLeod The New Mutants was the only time I ever regularly bought an X-Men book. I loved it. It combined teen book, mutant book and superhero book in a great package (and plus didn’t saddle me with X-Men continuity with new characters I loved). I’m still quite fond of it. My patience was tested when Illyana joined the team, but honestly Sienkiewicz joining was the reason I gave up reading it as a teenager (I gave up somewhere during the Demon Bear story). It was gorgeous art work but it was the equivalent of taking a good hamburger and trying to turn it into a gourmet meal. There are lots of people who like gourmet burgers, but I honestly liked just having my delicious fast food and resented this capitulation to make it better for its own sake.

It also didn’t help that Sienkiewicz’s style and the way comics were printed in ’84 combined to make it look incredibly muddy.

@T. – I think you’re setting up a false divide between “writing” and “art.” The goal of comic art should be “storytelling” and for me, I can’t elevate Animal Man to a classic because the art and writing are not on the same level in communicating the story. I can’t even read Morrison’s Bat books and lost interest in his X books because no matter how grand the writing and concepts are, the partnership with the artists is so inconsistent.

On the other hand, Claremont/ Sienkiewicz on New Mutants, particularly the Demon Bear Saga, is a partnership that completely benefitted the story they were telling. @Graeme – A uniform McCleod or Buscema burger may have had the pickles, meat, and bun but Bill’s storytelling told that story in a way that resonated. Illustration style, character design. panel composition, and the delivery of information per panel; it’s not art for art’s sake – it IS the story. I still feel dirty and possessed for having read it.

My pull list for the NEW MUTANTS is

Vol 1 #s 5-31
SPECIAL EDITION #1
Vol 1 #s ANNUAL #s 1-2
Vol 1 X-MEN ANNUAL # 9

Edo: Well, obviously, since I’m stating that these are comics you SHOULD own, the ship has sailed on not making blanket statements!

Gavin: Wait, a WRITER said a writer is more important? What a shock!!!!

Mike: Yeah, I thought you might chime in about Legion’s autism. As you know, over the past few years I’ve paid far more attention to this sort of thing, and it bugs me that people don’t do some fairly simple research. I don’t know how much literature was available to Claremont in 1985, and I suppose I have to give him some credit for not being completely off base, but it still bugs me.

Good comments, everyone. I’ve already gotten an idea for a post from re-reading these issues. Now I think I have another one!

Tales of the Boojum

March 30, 2011 at 10:00 am

Thanks for giving us another look at these, Greg. I’m with the minority here when I say I didn’t much care for Sienkiewicz’s art at all at the time. Looking at it again, I can appreciate what he was doing. I still don’t love it, but, much like the Ang Lee Hulk movie, I can appreciate it.

This stuff came out at a time when Dark & Broody and Grim & Gritty were all the rage, but it wasn’t a good fit with the New Mutants. To my mind, Sienkiewicz’s style would have been more appropriate to a character who spends a lot of time in dark alleys or maybe some sort of Dr. Strange versus Nightmare storyline or something. Mostly, I tolerated it and was glad when his run was over. I can’t tell you how great it felt to pick up Special Edition #1 and see the New Mutants drawn by Art Adams complete with Popeye and Bluto cameos and the kids frolicking on the beach. That’s literally the difference between day and night.

That said, I spent so much time disliking Sienkiewicz’s art overall (and the fact that poor Sam’s head always looked like the tragic twisted offspring of a broom and an anvil) that I’d forgotten just how awesome that four-page sequence of Dani battling the bear was. So, thanks for that.

@T. – I think you’re setting up a false divide between “writing” and “art.” The goal of comic art should be “storytelling” and for me, I can’t elevate Animal Man to a classic because the art and writing are not on the same level in communicating the story. I can’t even read Morrison’s Bat books and lost interest in his X books because no matter how grand the writing and concepts are, the partnership with the artists is so inconsistent.

That may be true for YOU, but there’s no denying that Morrison’s Animal Man is considered a bonafide classic primarily based on the writing, even if you yourself can’t personally stomach the art. Look how many people worship that Animal Run on this blog alone.

Also, the problem you have with your argument is that Bill Sinkiewicz’s New Mutants is not an example of a stellar artists paired with a mediocre to competent writer. Chris Claremont is a very above-average writer, even if you don’t like his scripting most can’t deny what a great plotter he was. So you’re comparing Animal Man, a book with a great writer and merely competent artist, to New Mutants, a book with a great writer AND a great artist. Doesn’t work.

“Well, obviously everyone who disagrees with me is wrong. WRONG, I say!!!!! ”

In this case, that is completely true. I wish I could steal half the people’s lunch money in here for being no taste havin ass nerdarios.

Writing vs. art: Good art can hide mediocre writing (as T. pointed out with Long Halloween), and vice versa. While Sal Buscema has been getting love from some people on this blog, the reason Englehart’s Captain America and Avengers runs are fondly remembered has little or nothing to do with the art. Similarly, we all remember Steve Gerber’s Defenders and Man-Thing runs because of how odd and innovative they were, not because of the visauls (excepting some fine Mike Ploog art on the latter).

Most great comics have good writing and art, but I find it hard to think of one being more importaant than the other in most or all cases.

@T – fair enough about my personal preferences. I still intend to give Animal Man another look, especially with an eye on how the art carries the story. In that instance, a mundane approach to the art may even abet the underlying themes.

funkygreenjerusalem

March 30, 2011 at 5:39 pm

Obviously art and writing have equal claims to importance in contributing to the final product, but I think Peter David said it best when he pointed out that without the writer there is no story, period.

Ok, but without an artist, all he’s got is a prose free list of actions and dialogue.

What good is that to anyone?

I’d say art is definitely most appreciated, especially by younger kids, but writing is actually more important. Thus art will generate more sales, but writing will make a book more memorable.

I would have said that younger people, or people newer to comics, would think writing is the most important part, as that is what they are used to from other mediums, but it’s actually the art that is key.
Much like how a good director can make an average story/script into a great film, whereas a great script won’t become a good film in the hand of a mediocre filmmaker.

I can think of a lot more books that had great writing and bad to average art that became classics than I can think of books with great art and bad to average writing that became classics.

You’ve obviously never heard of a fella by the name of Jack ‘The King’ Kirby!

I can see what you’re saying though – I think the cause may be that a good artist is going to leave a book with average writing, to team up with a better writer, whereas a writer with an average artist will stay on to finish their story, therefore, we get more classics with good writing and poor art, than with great art and poor storytelling.
(Also these days, the best artists can’t seem to hit a deadline to save their lives, so aren’t on as many issues of anything).

The only exception I can think of is Jeph Loeb, who’s Sale collaborations had aggressively mediocre writing, but aped so many of the trappings of good writing and ripped off so many good stories that it actually feels like good writing until you really examine it.

His collaborations with Ed McGuiness are ridiculously fun, despite being average stories.

You’ve obviously never heard of a fella by the name of Jack ‘The King’ Kirby!

I’ve never found Jack Kirby’s stuff, even the stuff he scripted, to have awful writing. He was always at the very least a superb plotter. And unlike many people, I actually don’t think his scripting is bad at all.

His collaborations with Ed McGuiness are ridiculously fun, despite being average stories.

We’ll have to agree to disagree then. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen Loeb write an average story, only mediocre at best. And nothing I ever read from him was fun.

Sorry, it’s more like 60/40 writing over art. I reread Joe the Barbarian #1 recently and it’s still a bunch of empty calories. It still doesn’t inspire me to keep reading. Lots of mid-level ’70s series drawn by journeymen like Ross Andru, Dick Dillin, Rich Buckler, Irv Novick, or Sal Buscema got me to buy the next issue, so they were better comics. The writing sold them, not the art.

I agree with those who say they can appreciate Sienkiewicz’s innovations on this run without necessarily loving them.

Changing Corsi and Friedlander into Indians WAS a bit creepy and insulting. And confusing. I mean, they could’ve been members of a federally recognized tribe before they were transformed, since membership isn’t always based on genetics.

And it’s not clear if anyone would accept them as Indians because of their appearance alone. Latinos sometimes decide to emphasize their indigenous side, but Indians don’t always accept THEM. Latinos and Indians may have similar looks, but their cultural histories are different.

I suspect most Indians would treat Corsi and Friedlander with wariness, as outsiders. Despite their outward appearance, Corsi and Friedlander would have to prove themselves over time. They’d have to shed their Euro-American ways and start thinking like Indians.

I guess it depends on what you’re looking for.

Again, I’m an art guy.

I don’t care (much) what happens to the characters. They’ll eventually revert to something recognizable – no big whoop.

I don’t especially care about fictional universes per se. If you’re basically a fan of continuity the writing is gonna be more important. (And there are probably other pro-writing arguments, too.)

What I care about is World Building. Or, if you prefer, physicality. And the artist has the final say on how the world works, what it looks like, how the characters move and interact in it, and how it works. The writer (in an abstract way) determines what happens, but you’re seeing the artist’s view of the world. Art can work immersively for me in a way that text can’t.

funkygreenjerusalem

March 30, 2011 at 7:27 pm

I’ve never found Jack Kirby’s stuff, even the stuff he scripted, to have awful writing. He was always at the very least a superb plotter. And unlike many people, I actually don’t think his scripting is bad at all.

His plots aren’t bad, but boy do McGuffins come across as McGuffins – I just find he’s a bit… one issue will be an epic, then the next very pedestrian (in terms of plot, not actual comic).

I love his scripting – it’s just not good scripting.
It works with the dynamism of his stuff, but wouldn’t go anywhere else.

We’ll have to agree to disagree then. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen Loeb write an average story, only mediocre at best. And nothing I ever read from him was fun.

His Superman stuff is fun.
Well, the one’s popping up in the DC 100 Page Spectaculars are.

I get what Mark is saying (and Greg), and I respect it. But I’m totally a writing guy. To me, it’s more like the writing is 60% of a comic, and the art is 40%. I think it depends on each person, really. I am not a very visual person. I am an introvert that will probably remember the emotional resonances I felt at a party much more than what the house was like, what the people were wearing… Of course, absolutely hideous art can impact me (sorry, I can’t fall in love with a morbidly obese woman, even if she has a very interesting personality), but good art with mediocre writing is souless to me.

I also think Claremont was more skilled than people give him credit for at tailoring his writing to the artist’s strengths. New Mutants and Excalibur were very different comics, almost diametrically opposed. I also will always mantain that Claremont’s reputation for overwriting isn’t that deserving. Most of the writers at his time did the same, it’s only that Chris was more interested in inner characterization than most guys in his time, so cue the ultra-long internal monologues.

The only thing Claremont is castigated for that I think is completely deserved is his omnipresent fetish for mental and body transformation, and mind control/influence most of all.

I’ve said it before (check out my post on Claremont’s entry in the top 50 writers poll), but barring Alan Moore, no writer in comics history has ever been better at tailoring his stories to the strengths of his artists. Between this run, the Excalibur stuff with Alan Davis, The Wolverine mini-series with Frank Miller, various annuals with Art Adams, the Life-Death stories with Barry Windsor-Smith, the outback X-Men with Mark Silvestri, and the splash-page-athons with Jim Lee, few writers have ever completely understood how to make artists look good the way Claremont did in his prime.

I think a good case could be made that in the 8 or 9 years between the end of the Claremont/Byrne era on Uncanny, and the start of Sandman, Animal Man, and Morrison’s Doom Patrol at the end of the decade, the three big-two runs that most influenced the industry and helped push the envelope of what mainstream comics could be were Moore’s Swamp Thing, Miller’s Daredevil, and this New Mutants run.

And for those that don’t think Sienkiewicz has truly made a mark on the industry, look at Dave McKean, Ashley Wood, David Mack, Jae Lee, Sam Keith, Ted McKeever, Kevin O’Neal, Eddie Campbell… Essentially any comic book artist relatively working in the mainstream and not utilizing a style derived from the Kirby/Ditko/Buscema/Romita/Kane/Adams way of drawing super-heroes is working within the parameters created by the post-Neal Adams clone Bill Sienkiewicz. The latter half of his Moon Knight run and these New Mutants issues are the absolute ground zero for all super-hero artwork that is stylistically left of mainstream. It’s influence is simply incalculable, and this work played an enormous role in the new-found maturity comics attained throughout the 1980s.

Billy the Sink was the Velvet Underground of comic book artists.

And much as I love Claremont, my biggest complaint on him is his obscene overuse of the phrases “with all my heart,” and “body and soul.”

Whenever someone professes love in a Claremont comic, they profess it “with all my heart.” And whenever someone feels something in a Claremont comic, they feel it “body and soul.”

But still, the man could pretty much do no wrong between about 1977-1990, and few people in any artistic discipline ever have a prime that lasts fourteen years, so I’m really just picking nits.

Once again Greg, as a guy who doesn’t much dig the super hero stuff, and not to mention wasn’t even born yet when this run came out (December ’85, baby!), I appreciate the work you put into these articles. I love me some Sienkiewicz art, but if it weren’t for your articles, I’d be skipping over this entirely, just like I had previously done with Elektra: Assassin. So seriously, thanks.

Billy the Sink was the Velvet Underground of comic book artists.

I get the comparison, but I think Sienkiewicz, for a time, was actually one of the most popular artists in comics (during that 1982-1986 period), while the Velvet Underground were never popular during their heyday (just, as you are referencing, everyone who did like them was inspired to form a band).

I also think Claremont was more skilled than people give him credit for at tailoring his writing to the artist’s strengths. New Mutants and Excalibur were very different comics, almost diametrically opposed. I also will always mantain that Claremont’s reputation for overwriting isn’t that deserving. Most of the writers at his time did the same, it’s only that Chris was more interested in inner characterization than most guys in his time, so cue the ultra-long internal monologues.

I don’t think it was just the overwriting but also the repetitive stock phrases he used. Like Third Man pointed out above, there was all the “with all my heart,” and “body and soul.” There were also phrases like “Your choice, your funeral,” “Ah’m nigh-invulnerable when ah’m blastin’”, “focused totality of my psychic powers,” “no quarter asked, none given,” “Yum!” and so on and so on. A few stock phrases aren’t bad, but he would load them up each issue and I think that’s where a lot of the overwriting accusations come from.

Well-said, Third Man. And, beyond the obvious influence of the aesthetic of his linework and design (infusing silver age pop heroics with a balance of natural and abstract anatomy told with raw, expressionistic, energy) it’s harder to measure the impact he had on creators in opening up the page and affecting the form of how a story is told.

I think back to the trapeze sequence with Nightcrawler teaching Cannonball how to fly and I, at the time, hadn’t before encountered a superhero artist who so deftly used comics to break down human moments or reach widescreen scope on the same page. Now, to my mind, others, like Steranko and Bernie Krigstein, pushed the genre art to a point of abstraction that Sienkiewicz melded with a cinematic realism.

Sienkiewicz is the Jimi Hendrix of comics, although I can see where the VU comparison would come from.

I like Claremont’s better X-Men comics, but let’ s please remember that the books were written plot-method, not full script. Some artists had more input than has been mentioned. Byrne was even credited as co-plotter, and Claremont used to complain about how Jim Lee changed his stories. I think the reason Paul Smith X-Men comics read very differently than Dave Cockrum or JR Jr X-Men comics is that he involved he was a different type of storyteller. Frank Miller’s fascination with Japan probably has more to do with the events of the Wolverine mini-series than anything Claremont wrote. Alan Davis Excalibur comics flow nicely from Claremont/ Davis issues, leading me to believe he was involved in the plotting. Claremont’s presence in the Sienkiewicz New Mutants comics is almost negligible; the words take a backseat to the visuals.

Claremont was good at tailoring comics to his artists, but sometimes they tailored the comics to themselves just fine.

funkygreenjerusalem

March 31, 2011 at 5:30 pm

I get the comparison, but I think Sienkiewicz, for a time, was actually one of the most popular artists in comics (during that 1982-1986 period), while the Velvet Underground were never popular during their heyday (just, as you are referencing, everyone who did like them was inspired to form a band).

So he was The Sex Pistols then?

Holding the mainstream hostage, loved a lot yet very vocally hated, inspiring all who saw his stuff?

I’ve said it before (check out my post on Claremont’s entry in the top 50 writers poll), but barring Alan Moore, no writer in comics history has ever been better at tailoring his stories to the strengths of his artists. Between this run, the Excalibur stuff with Alan Davis, The Wolverine mini-series with Frank Miller, various annuals with Art Adams, the Life-Death stories with Barry Windsor-Smith, the outback X-Men with Mark Silvestri, and the splash-page-athons with Jim Lee, few writers have ever completely understood how to make artists look good the way Claremont did in his prime.

I agree. For all the complaints people make about the amount of narration and dialogue Claremont puts on a page, it could vary greatly from artist to artist in those days. A Dave Cockrum and a John Byrne script could look pretty similar, but they were VERY different from a Sienkiewicz and a Windsor-Smith script.

And I have to say, I think the writing in the pages you’ve picked here, Greg– with the possible exception of the last one– is pretty stellar. Sienkiewicz is one of of those artists that can get Claremont to up his game.

@ Mike Loughlin

I understand your logic in each individual case, and there’s probably a lot of truth to each individual case. However, if every artist that works with a given writer ends up turning in their best work, at some point you have to just accept that it’s not coincidence and the writer deserves some credit. After-all, each of those artists has worked with several other writers, and yet not necessarily reached the same artistic level they reached with Claremont penning the scripts.

@ Brian

Good point about the VU comparison. That’s the trick with Billy- He was by far the edgiest artist working in the mainstream at the time, but he was so impossibly talented that he broke through to mainstream stardom anyways. So how ’bout Radiohead? Or the Clash? All three started as just another clone of something (Neal Adams, Nirvana, Sex Pistols), quickly found their own identity as the edgiest thing around, and then became superstars anyways, without having to ever compromise their artistic vision. Kid A reaching the top of the charts and/or The Clash playing Shea Stadium both seem akin to Billy’s mainstream breakthrough on a Claremont-penned mutant book.

But anyways, to summarize: I really believe Bill SIenkiewicz is the single most influential post-1980 comic artist. Not necessarily the best (though he’s certainly in the conversation, and certainly not the most prolific. But in terms of historical importance, influence, and degree of “mattering” (for lack of a better term), it’s pretty difficult to argue for someone else. Frank Miller and Jim Lee (for better or worse) are the only other two I could even picture being legitimate candidates. Again, not arguing taste here; if you like Byrne, or Perez, or J.H. Williams better, I’m certainly not telling you you’re wrong. But in terms of who has left the biggest stamp on the industry since the end of the bronze age, Sienkiewicz should be the title holder.

New Mutuants #18 was one of the first comics I bought when I started collecting. It wasn’t until years later when I started buying back issues that I realized how dramatic the art change was when Sienkiewicz took over.

The thing that drew me into the book was the way the main characters walked the line between reality and surreality. They tried to be normal teens, but the moments where they could were few and far between. The Demon Bear Saga remains to this day one of my favourite story arcs.

Upon re-reading the series, I realized something else that happened with issue #18. The book (IMHO) stopped feeling like a spin-off, and started feeling like its own title. The addition of Warlock seemed to help remove the team from their normal lives. And, Cypher served well to both re-ground them and also to replace adult maguffins.

If I were to try to bring a non-comics reader into the world of X-men (particularly the portion most often portrayed in animated series and the movies) I would start with Dark Phoenix, move to Demon Bear and Warlock’s introduction, then to the Asgardian Wars followed by Fall of the Mutuants, and end with Inferno. Then let them borrow anything in between that they want to fill in gaps of, “What was going on here?”

Theno

I have to agree with Sijo here (which seemed to be the first sane comment here). He MIGHT have drawn a nice bear over there, but just take look at NM #30 and NM#31 – the man has simply lost it. After that I can honestly say that he did not left NM, they kicked him out.

randypan the goat boy

May 25, 2011 at 7:50 am

I have to be honest here, the art in any comic story is just icing on the cake. A great story makes all the difference to me. You can have a story so good that it makes you unable to close the book with the worst art imaginable and it will still be a great book….WITHIN REASON OF COURSE…Could you imagine reading the Watchmen or the Dark knight if the artist on both books was fred hembeck…let that sink in for a minute. take yout time i will wait here….Ok now do thge opposite and have a suck comic with poor writting lets say…force works for example. If you put frank quietly on the art of Force works you still have a fly infested sack of horse shit…but isnt it pretty? just my opinion though…I could be wrong

Jonathon Riddle

July 13, 2011 at 11:42 am

There’s a reason I have scores more comics in my apartment than prose novels, and that reason is the visual aspect of comics. I love visual stroytelling and I love the collage effect comic pages can have. I bought these issues of New Mutants only because Sienkiewicz drew them.

After reading this article, I’ve begun to see what you mean about Claremont’s writing. He has incredible consistency in his long span as an X-Men writer, but my enjoyment of his stories hinges much more on the artist depicting them than I ever realized. I couldn’t stand those issues of X-Men where Kitty Pride re-imagines her team-mates as knights and demons in a magical kingdom. I hated Lockheed and found the idea of a cute little pet dragon in a mutant book infuriating. If that’s what I wanted to read, I’d look for a comic that was SUPPOSED to be about knights and demons and their cute little pet dragon in a magical kingdom! Even so, one of my favorite comics of all time is New Mutants 22. In that book, Rahne Sinclair re-imagines her team-mates as knights and demons in a magical kingdom. Same writing, different artists. And what a difference it is!

Just read this article for the first time. I don’t believe I have ever once bought a comic for the art alone. Ever. And yes, while I would always prefer great artwork, I will buy a comic with stick figures if written by Alan Moore and I bet I’ll like it. Great writing can almost always overcome mediocre art.

Kev: If the writer is a great one, sure. Claremont, however, is not a great writer. He’s a good plotter, sure, but not a great dialogue guy. And as I pointed out above, Chuck Austen drawing an Alan Moore story makes the writing seem worse. The great thing about comics is that the great ones have a good balance.

Always loved Sienkiewicz, always loved Claremont—and in this run everything comes together perfectly.

[...] followed up with an attack by a monster that is an inky void that reminds me in a positive way of the Demon Bear from Bill Sienkiewicz’s run on the New Mutants. The monster is in fact a personified nightmare, which is a neat idea and an example of the [...]

@Ritch,

Funny thought on that panel. On a related note, is it me, or does that ghost bear in the Buscema panel look like it could be defeated with Hostess Fruit pies?

Personally, I was always a bigger fan of the Liefeld era of the New Mutants…
BWAHAHAHAHAHAAH

I bought these books back in the day (showing my age). I don’t think that his style was suited for superheros? Coming from Bob McLeod’s clean lines, Sienkiewicz felt like a chaotic, nightmare, psychedelic trip.

Sienkiewickz’s art was mind-blowing when I read this New Mutants run as a teen back in the 80′s, and it reads even better now that I have some mileage on the clock. I’m sure I’ll eventually sell off most of my collection, but I may never let these Sienkiewickz issues go — they really are *that* good.

[...] por el artista Rob Liefeld, y el escritor Fabian Nicieza. Hizo su primera aparición en el cómic The New Mutants Issue #98 en febrero de 1991. Desde entonces, se ha convertido en uno de los personajes más [...]

[...] brilliantly by the amazing Bill Sienkiewicz. I’ve been a huge Sienkiewicz fan ever since New Mutants #18 arrived in my mailbox and blew my 14-year-old mind. His run on New Mutants is still one of my [...]

[...] followed up with an attack by a monster that is an inky void that reminds me in a positive way of the Demon Bear from Bill Sienkiewicz’s run on the New Mutants. The monster is in fact a personified nightmare, which is a neat idea and an example of the [...]

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