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Taking no chances: Mainstream superhero comics need a kick in the butt

I spend a lot of time coming up with provocative titles for my posts, you know! How’s that one?

If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been reading a lot of old comics recently, and it just so happens that I read Moon Knight and The New Mutants fairly close to each other, which meant I got a double-shot of Bill Sienkiewicz artwork, which is never a bad thing. It’s very interesting to see the progression of Sienkiewicz’s art until he reached a point where he simply got too bizarre for mainstream superhero comics, because there were several points where he could have stopped evolving and had a long career in superhero books. But he kept challenging himself and the readers, and soon he was far beyond the mainstream. But we got some very keen comics out of it while it lasted! (As always, click the images to embiggen them.)

As I mentioned in the post about The New Mutants, I’m struck by the fact that Marvel allowed Sienkiewicz to get his hands on an X-book, because the mid-1980s were when Chris Claremont was really in a groove, mutant-wise, and these books were big sellers. So someone like Sienkiewicz drawing it was a shock to many people, if the commenters on my post about the title and some of the letters Marvel published back in the day can be believed. My point is that Marvel and DC would never allow someone like Sienkiewicz near a comic like that today. It would be like letting Sienkiewicz draw Avengers Academy or Batgirl. As much as I’d love to see that, it’s simply not going to happen.



(Both of these examples are from New Mutants “volume 1″ #27)

Many people are okay with that. I’m not, and I’m going to tell you why (of course I am!). Superhero comics have become much more stale over the years, both in the writing and the artwork, and it is, I believe, one of the many, many reasons why they’re dying on the vine. I should make something clear, though – by “stale” I don’t mean, necessarily, “bad,” especially with regard to the art. The art in superhero comics is tremendous, as artists have become much better at their work, inking has become much cleaner, and coloring has leapt forward by a huge magnitude. While some readers might bemoan the lack of thought balloons and the “compressed” comics of the old days, writers have made strides, too, trusting artists to show emotion more than having characters emote vocally (or through thought balloons) and writing much better dialogue (for which we probably should thank Brian Michael Bendis, even if he tends to overdo it a bit). If you pick up a random superhero comic in 2011 and a random superhero comic from 1987 or 1974 or 1962, the modern comic will almost always look better (simply because the production values are much better, not necessarily because the art is better) and will probably read more like “literature” as well. Whether that’s a good thing or not is up to you, but unless you’re a hopeless nostalgist (I’m looking at you, Bill Reed, with your love of comics’ scent!), I don’t think you can argue that point (feel free to do so, though – we’re all friends here!).

But they’re still stale. It’s probably for a number of reasons. Corporations tend, by their nature, to become more conservative as they get “older” – they find something that works and stick with it. The readership of superhero comics likes comfort, as if Uncanny X-Men is a pair of slippers they can put on and relax in. Marvel and DC are interested in squeezing every last penny they can out of a shrinking fan base, so they try to make all their comics similar. None of these reasons are “bad,” per se, but they do tend to make writers and artists follow a template about “how to create superhero comics.” There’s also the fact that the diversification of the market in the 1980s and onward means that creators can be experimental at independent publishers or even Vertigo and “go mainstream” in superheroes. There’s not a lot of incentive to be absolutely bonkers in mainstream superhero comics, I will agree.

That is, unfortunately, part of the problem. Mainstream superhero comics are precisely the place to go bonkers, I would argue. This is a world populated by gorgeous people wearing spandex, possessing wild powers and fighting a lot. Marvel’s attempts at “realism” notwithstanding (as John Seavey pointed out recently, all the shit that happens in one year of Marvel time would cause massive psychological damage among the “normal” human population of the Marvel U.), the superhero universes are unbelievably crazy fucking places, and far too few writers and artists embrace that. I have nothing against making superheroes “realistic,” but that has become the norm, and it takes away from the glorious possibilities of the genre and the medium. For every comic that is truly batshit insane, there are dozens that are “realistic” and dozens more that think “batshit insane” means Nazi ninja vampires. Yawn. Wake me when you get an original idea.

“But Greg,” you say, because you enjoy talking to a computer screen, “artists don’t all look alike! Why, there’s your Steve Eptings and your John Romitas and your Stuart Immonens and your Yildiray Cinars and your David Finches and your Yanick Paquettes and your Salvador Larrocas and none of them look particularly alike. Have you been smoking the crack again, you superhero-hating godless Commie?” Well, you might say that. But you would be foolish! You see, I’m not talking about art styles – I agree, artists these days have many different styles, and even Marvel, which seems to have more of a “house style” than DC, embraces many different kinds of draughtsmen (and very few women). Art styles come and go. I’m talking about experimentation within the styles. Panel layouts. Panel placements. Perspective. Color. Distortion. Different media. Different implements. Changing styles to change tone. These things still occur, but they occur so infrequently and almost arbitrarily that it’s as if the artists do some things by accident. There’s a lack of boldness in the way comics are designed, and all of these people are talented enough to do things differently. It’s frustrating that they don’t.

I see you’re still not convinced. Well, take a look at the panels of your favorite superhero comics. Peruse Gavok’s “This Week in Panels” posts over at 4thletter! Check out the panels I scan every week. There is a lot of good art on display, I must say. But a lot of it is still normal-looking superheroes doing normal superhero things, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, there’s also a lot that could be done with superhero books that artists are simply ignoring. There’s very little in superhero comics that makes one gasp these days, except for perhaps at the technical ability of someone like, say, Tony Moore to draw really fucking well. On one level, that’s great, but it still feels a bit hollow, as if someone like Tony Moore could really expand the way we look at superhero comics, except no one’s asking him to.

It wasn’t always this way. Of course, superhero comics have mainly been bland in terms of innovation and a great deal of the experimentation in comics was done by independent creators. But the very fact that Marvel was not the “establishment” back when it decided to stop publishing romance comics and jump back into the superhero fray in the early 1960s meant that the creators at Marvel had a bit more free rein to go nuts. Once DC saw that it sold, they too allowed their creators to go a bit nuts. So we got Kirby. We got Ditko. We got Steranko. We got Starlin. We got a bunch of creators who were willing to go further than their predecessors had gone, challenging themselves and their readership to keep up. Mostly, of course, it didn’t work. Books got cancelled, DC imploded, and everyone retreated. Then we got Alan Moore and later, Morrison. And we got the Image guys – who, as much as they might get berated today, once again forced readers to adapt to their style. We got Sienkiewicz and his artistic imitators (most of whom have never worked on superhero books). We got Frank Quitely and his astonishing panels in We3, which everyone seems to love but no one copied (or at least used as inspiration for their own innovations). All of these creators, whether successful or not, forced readers to deal with a new way of reading and processing comics. Their contributions have been co-opted by the mainstream and refined. I don’t mind that in the least – in fact, I celebrate it. But that doesn’t mean today’s creators shouldn’t figure out ways to push the envelope in their own ways.

(From Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #135)

Trust me, it's Kirby. Ask Mark Evanier if you don't believe me!

I don't have any Ditko Dr. Strange, so I had to steal this one off the Internet. Sorry!

(From Strange Tales #166)

Dang, Steranko is cool

(From Captain Marvel #28)

No one can resist the Time-Mind Sync-Warp!

(From Spider-Man #1)

Hate it or love it, this was a HUGE stylistic shift in superhero comics

(From We3 #2)

Nobody even TRIES shit like this!

If we look outside the mainstream, we see plenty of artists having a lot of fun and going a bit nuts. Artists are stretching perspective, annihilating panels, twisting point-of-view, coloring the pencils in exciting ways, experimenting with different kinds of pencils and brushes, and we get some absolutely dazzling comics. We get artists who are obsessively detailed and artists who are wildly abstract. We have artists whose work looks like it flies through the pages and artists whose work looks like monolithic sculptures. What’s frustrating is that so many of these artists could work on superhero books – not every “independent” artist can work on superheroes, I admit, but many can. But because their work is a bit “different,” they never get a look. That’s a shame, because they could easily infuse superhero comics with the same energy that a Steranko or a Sienkiewicz brought to them. It’s definitely harder for a writer to be as flashy as an artist, but it would be nice if a writer challenged the readers the way a Morrison still can (when he wants to). The fact that very few writers have tried to do what Joe Casey did in the final issue of Codeflesh is kind of sad.

Readers react against this kind of thing, because most readers prefer the familiar in their superhero comics. I’ve mentioned before that the guy who works at my comics shoppe, who reads a LOT of small press books, absolutely hated Girl Comics and Strange Tales because he doesn’t think many of those artists can draw superhero comics very well. That’s too bad, but it’s not an uncommon belief. I’m not advocating that Marvel and DC suddenly hire Ben Templesmith to draw Green Lantern or Avengers (well, I am, but I know it’s never going to happen). It’s the smaller titles that bother me. Did anyone at DC really think that the latest iteration of Doom Patrol was going to sell like crazy? And when the sales started to slip, did they really think keeping a fairly bland superheroey artist like Matthew Clark on the book would help? Why on earth didn’t someone at DC say “Fuck it. Let’s hire Tom Scioli to draw the final five issues”? I know it’s a different time and all, but back when DC hired Grant Morrison to write DP, they didn’t keep Graham Nolan on art (and I really like Graham Nolan, mind you). They brought in Richard Case, whose weird style matched Morrison perfectly. The new Doom Patrol was doomed anyway (ha!), so why keep Clark and Ron Randall on the book? Go nuts, DC! Even a book on life support these days can’t stray too far outside the mainstream. I absolutely loathe the final few issues of the early 1990s Moon Knight book, but whoever was hiring back then deserves credit for letting Stephen Platt go batshit insane:

(From Moon Knight “volume 3″ #55)

I pass no judgment on this art whatsoever!

Marvel and DC are desperate to sell comics, but they do nothing to make the comics sell better. Our very own 3 Chicks talk about this all the time with regard to finding new audiences, but I’m coming at it from a slightly different perspective. Yes, the Big Two should figure out how to get a bigger audience. One way I think they can do that is to allow some of their superhero comics to, you know, actually look different. I mean, Namor: The First Mutant is selling like shit, so why not let hire James Stokoe to draw a few issues? Would it really do any poorer with him than with Ariel Olivetti? Sales on Superman are dropping like a fucking stone, so why not call up Steve Pugh and his paintbrush to come in and shake things up? Titans is not only selling poorly, it’s a terrible comic, so bring in Stephanie Buscema and tell her to go nuts on it. If you look at The Beat’s sales numbers (not an exact science, I know), you see so many books that ought to be cancelled it’s just sad (including very good comics that I read, but this isn’t about quality, it’s about numbers). I very much doubt letting some wacky, brilliant artist draw some issues would matter, but at this point, it wouldn’t fucking hurt, you know? (Of course, some of these creators wouldn’t want to work on those books, and that’s cool. I certainly love the fact that a lot of artists choose to stay in independent comics these days. I’m looking at this from a business perspective, which is always a bit iffy when we’re talking about the people who run DC and Marvel.)

(From Orc Stain #6)

Ariel Olivetti shouldn't even be in the same conversation as James Stokoe

(From Shark-Man #3)

Motherfucking SHARK-MAAAAAANNNNN! Steve Pugh is awesome!

(From Girl Comics #1)

How wacky would a Titans book be if it looked like this?

My sadness with mainstream comics extends to coloring, too. Coloring has become much, much better over the decades, and comics today are far brighter and good-looking than they’ve ever been. But colorists are also fairly predictable, and it all has to do with “realism.” Colorists are artists as much as pencillers and inkers are, and they have a great influence over the way the final product looks. One reason why the past few issues of Detective Comics have been so good is because Francesco Francavilla colors the books so well – the coloring is not “realistic” at all, but Francavilla uses blues and reds (and a combination of the two) to set the tone of the comic, and it works beautifully. Consider Dustin Nguyen, who’s a wonderful artist but becomes even more astonishing when he paints his own pencil work, like he did in Batgirl #18. And to be fair to Yildiray Cinar (whom I mentioned above), in Legion of Super Heroes #9, he and the colorist, “Hi-Fi,” do a marvelous job transitioning from “normal” pencil work to a more painted look. Lots of artists color their own work in independent books, but when they reach the mainstream, I assume it’s too time-consuming for most of them. Perhaps the division of labor means that colorists who didn’t actually draw the comic are scared of stepping on toes and “ruining” the vision of the penciller. More likely, the Big Two encourage colorists to color the books so that they look “realistic,” which is of course ridiculous when we’re talking about superhero books. Colorists should be encouraged to use their colors to create moods and contrast characters. The best ones do this subtly, which is nice, but it would be nice to see colorists go a bit wild too.

(From Detective #874)

So moody!

(From Batgirl #18)

How difficult can this be?

(From Legion of Super Heroes #9)

It's CRAZY, man!

I still love superhero comics, even though I have lots of problems with them. It seems like superhero comics just aren’t doing what they could, and in a comics world that is losing readership, I wonder why companies aren’t encouraging at least a bit more experimentation with them. Instead of endlessly cancelling and relaunching comics, why not try something different? If that means listening to Kelly Thompson and her co-conspirators, fine. I have no problem with that. My idea is just something different, but it’s still different from what we’re getting. As usual, I have no idea how the Big Two make decisions about what gets greenlit and why certain titles keep getting published or not, but if you look at raw numbers and even anecdotal evidence, it’s obvious that DC and Marvel need to find new audiences. If they don’t want to get new readers, at least they could try to lure back the vast number of readers who have abandoned superhero comics for whatever reason. This is only one way they could. It might not work, but hey! whatever they’re doing now certainly isn’t working, either!

132 Comments

Stephen Platt going “batshit insane” looks pretty timid next to some of that other stuff you posted.

Marcus Vitchell

April 18, 2011 at 5:15 pm

Steranko was a mad man! One of my favorites ever.

Bill S (I never get that name right) had a great run on New Mutants, but it was back when the idea of an additional mutant book was an experiment and not a guarenteed moneymaker. I loved his super expressive, hyper impressionist take, and it’s even more distinctive after you’re subjected to a few decades of interchangable 90s artists and go check out the back issues.
Mainstream hero comics have definately hit a rut. There’s a relative wave of sameness affecting each of the big two, and I’d love to see someone like “the new kirby” just break out. I can even think of the last new artist that made me sit up and go “wow”

Marcus Vitchell

April 18, 2011 at 5:19 pm

as an aside, I remember when Mike Mignola did an issue of X Force, and judging from the letters page, you’d have thought he gave Stan Lee cancer.
Ugh,I had a point to that,but then I realized I just copped to reading X Force. sadness.

The greatest mystery to me is how when most of the major superhero movies came out, the current incarnation of the comic they appeared in was so convoluted that a new reader would be left scratching their heads and wondering what the frak was going on.

When the audience walks out of the Captain America or Thor movies, there should be a rack of comics in the lobby that star the standard, basic version of the character.

Instead, a new reader inspired by the movies will have to seek out their local comic shop, only to be left saying, “What? Bucky? Who? Why is the costume wrong? Where is Steve? Asgard is in Oklahoma? Thor wears thermal underwear? The Red Skull is a girl? Hawkeye is a fat ninja who let some chick steal his name? T’Challa is Captain America AND Daredevil? Yeesh!”

That’s why I only buy comics with the word “adventures” in their titles anymore.

And get off my lawn!

Yes, Greg. YES!

I started thinking about this very thing while checking out the new Heroes for Hire. That book could not possibly be more bland. Like you say, that’s a pretty bad quality when your cast involves super-powered martial artists, cyborgs, elite mercenaries, and mind control.

Marvel and DC seem to have resigned themselves to their fates and are just pumping the dwindling fan base for every cent they can. They could be expanding and building, though! They could be carving new niches in history! They could be leading the charge in demonstrating why comics are such a unique medium!

They’ve become like Hollywood, recycling the same tired stuff over and over. Maybe that’s why the movie industry has finally become invested in comics. They recognize their kin.

Actually, Mutt:

Spider-Man developed organic web-shooters to match the movie.
Iron Man was EVERYWHERE when his movies came out.
Steve Rogers is going back to being Captain America in time for the movie.
Thor’s movie costume resembles his current one.

And I got a free comic with my ticket to the first X-Men movie.

Oh, and Blade was re-styled to resemble the movie.

I want to make out with this article.

@The Mutt, in extension of Apodaca:
Not only are the comics always made to match the movie, but it’s silly an unnecessary. Why does the current, monthly incarnation need to match? New readers don’t start with singles. That happens when they get impatient between collected editions. They should let anything happen in the monthly titles but keep classic stuff in print that matches the movies, which they also do, but should let it stand on it’s own without making the monthly comics more of the same.

Interesting read. I’m one who thinks when you reproduce a panel or page, you should credit at least the title and issue from where they originated. Where are the Steve Pugh and Stephanie Buscema pages from? Maybe I overlooked it, but I’d like to check them out.

“Make no mistake about it: This is TERRIBLE art. But it’s absolutely insane, which has its charms!”

If you are going with the view that art is totally subjective and you are willing to accept things that break with tradition, then why would you say sometyhing so needlessly insulting about a page that is no more technically flawed than many of the peices for which you offered unqualified praise?

There are some really interesting points made here, but that comment just comes off as pretentious and condescending.

What is the second to last page from? I really like the art. Skimmed the article and couldn’t find the source, but I may have simply missed it.

Sorry, Mr. M and Pandawolf. I updated it.

Well, AJ, maybe I AM pretentious and condesceding! I changed it, though – heck, I bought the comics, so at one time I must have liked the art!

“Marvel, which seems to have more of a “house style” than DC”

Really? I feel like there’s a way bigger range of styles at Marvel than DC, which seems to have a serious push for artists of the Jim Lee/Image/Wildstorm style, like that dude who they made a big deal out of signing who does that GL book that kinda sucks.

At least people still get Sienkiewicz to ink things.

Oh, and some of the artists Marvel gets to draw their anthology books really could go for some more work. The Basilisk story in that Age of X book comes to mind.

more Nathan Fox!

No mention of J.H. Wiliams III? His layouts and art are absolutely amazing.

“Sorry, Mr. M and Pandawolf. I updated it.”

Thanks…now I know what to dig for at my LCS.

That Moon Knight page is ugly.

“If you are going with the view that art is totally subjective and you are willing to accept things that break with tradition, then why would you say sometyhing so needlessly insulting about a page that is no more technically flawed than many of the peices for which you offered unqualified praise?

There are some really interesting points made here, but that comment just comes off as pretentious and condescending.”

There’s a lot of technical flaws in that Moon Knight page that the other pages don’t have, and you know what?

Fuck that. Being nice is for bitches. Comics need someone to be pretentious and condescending or you’re going to get nothing but bad books written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Paco Medina.

Williams*

Dang typos…

All the best-looking comics right now are colored by the same folks who are drawing them. Francavilla, Irving, Huddleston… Coincidence?

More later once I have time to read rather than skim.

Marvel has a wider range of different artists with different styles, but some of them aren’t that great to be honest. They had some guy who looks like he’s drawing a children’s book follwing Ramos and another artists. All of whom have different styles.

I met a guy who loved Greg land’s stuff. Really.

I remember the 90s. That even with people copying Jim Lee or Rob Liefeld’s stuff there was great stuff. Jae Lee started doing Namor and the story was different, the character was different and had different style art. Great fun stuff coming out of J. Scott Campbell who was new. I like Mainstream stuff, but even that can have some great new style.

I loved Todd McFarlane’s stuff. He stuff was fun and adventurous. Great stuff. Took Spider-man to a whole new visual level. Comic books could be a little more visually adventurous. True. But you do sacrifice story telling sometimes. I was read Ultimate Avengers verusus the New Ultimates. I was a little confused in a couple pages by Yu’s otherwise great art. But a writer can pick that up and explain a little.

I remember when Splatt was the hot new artist on the last few issues of Moon Knight, then he went to work on Prophet by Liefeld and we never heard of him again. He’s not Todd McFarlane, no matter what people say. Nobody drew like Todd, but Todd.

I’m completely with on this one, Burgas.

@Adam Kirby
GL artist Doug Mahnke? Just curious. I couldn’t read the book if you paid me, but that dude has made some pretty great stuff in the past.

jjc and Amber Waves: I can’t mention everyone! Nathan Fox is tremendous, and Williams III is really the only person drawing mainstream superhero comics who does what I’m talking about. And he doesn’t do a ton of work, unfortunately.

Adam: I think you’re thinking of Tyler Kirkham, who’s not very good. I hope you’re not talking about Doug Mahnke!

@Apodaca

You’re the punk who pissed on my fence! I’ll cane you!

Seriously, though. It hasn’t been so bad in the last few years, but if you go back further you’ll see what I mean.

And you got a free comic? Bastich!

I was just putting in a general request to the powers that be. Maybe a Fox run on Wolverine with Aaron.

I guess I just prefer clean and boring to experimental and artistic with me not being able to tell where parts of characters end and begin. The coloring examples I’m much, much more in tune with. I think those are some excellent examples of setting a specific mood and tone without distorting the characters.

I hereby proclaim “planting my adamantium truncheon where it will hurt the most” the Sensational Dialogue Find of 1993.

I agree with pretty much everything you say here, Greg, except for the omission of Frank Miller when discussing experimentation in mainstream comics.

“Adam: I think you’re thinking of Tyler Kirkham, who’s not very good. I hope you’re not talking about Doug Mahnke!”

Yeah, definitely Kirkham. Mahnke rules though.

You know what else rules? Emma Rios on books that get promoted a lot, like Osborn was for awhile, and I’m sure with Spencer on it, they’ll push Cloak and Dagger too.

I’m having trouble getting started on my article comment; I want to say that I’ve read your assessment twice, now, in an attempt to work out what I want to say. I guess, first off, I agree with you. Second, I guess that’s my problem: I agree with you because this is a pretty obvious criticism. I don’t want to get snarky and respond in a “no duh” way, though, so I hope none of this comes off that way. I just don’t think looking towards the Big Two (or Big However Many) for innovation will ever really deliver (at least as applied to their corporately-owned properties; things like Vertigo and Icon are another story).

I guess it just seems like this criticism is sort of like asking a major record label to take more chances with rock and roll or hip-hop. Monetarily, they have no reason to, which doesn’t make it morally right, of course, but it seems hopeless to ask these guys (the hypothetical whoever-they-are People In Charge) to make decisions based on anything other than money. Sure, over the years, they’ve made some amazing decisions (the aforementioned Bill Sienkiewicz, J.H. Williams, Frazer Irving, and Mike Mignola, along with other favorites like Walt Simonson or Skottie Young), but those sorts of people are always going to be buried in a mass of whatever sells.

So, I don’t know. Maybe we need someone to perform a magical ceremony to raise humanity’s consciousness so that they’re willing to engage critically with things that are new and different. Maybe this is all related to Steve Niles and Robert Kirkman and the push for bigger support of independent titles of all genres. I’m just not sure that pointing out that the mainstream isn’t taking chances is going to do much to fix the problem.

(But, once again, that probably wasn’t the purpose of the article. I hope I’m not being a jerk.)

Exactly what i try and preach everyday!!

“as artists have become much better at their work,”

I don’t buy it. We have more artists that have grown up reading comics, but it seems like there are quite-a-bit fewer classically trained illustrators who can draw *anything.* Case in point – The EC bullpen vs. any ten artists working at Marvel or Image right now.

But other than that I completely agree – but from a different angle. I’d like to see more interplay and give and take between comics and the other visual arts – painting, sculpture, multi-media gallery art, performance art.

(And I’m also interested in sequential gallery-type-art, just to be fair.)

It’s kind of odd that Bachalo gets runs on X-men every few years. But then I guess it usually isn’t on Uncanny.

I absolutely agree with this article, Greg has brought up an excellent point. While yes, art has come a LOONG way and there are many many pretty looking artists working in the industry today, there needs to be much more of an artistic push on lower selling titles.

I mean the majority of books that get canceled these days have very mediocre and boring artists. Heroes for Hire’s artist is bland, the artist who followed David Aja on Immortal Ironfist was bland, Avengers Academy’s artist is boring, Spider-Girl’s artist is mediocre, Power man and Ironfist’s artist is…well you get the point. I dont understand why Marvel and DC dont go outside the box for these lower sellers and get an artist that really pops out and looks different and unique? Whats the worst thats going to happen? The book will get tremendous critical acclaim? Look at Greg Rucka and JH Williams’ Batwoman run on Detective Comics. Yeah, the book’s sales weren’t exactly stellar but the book received IMMENSE critical acclaim and Williams is a superstar artist now because of it. Its true that the writer needs to actually write a good story for a book to be good, but if you at LEAST have an amazing, innovative looking artist on a book like Spider Girl then maybe it wont get canceled 50 times over and over.

Andrew McDOnald

April 18, 2011 at 9:31 pm

Definitely should’ve shown some of Hickman’s art/graphic design fusion pages.

Mike Deodato.

I’ve no real idea how comics work and might be talking out of my ass here, but my impression is that artists get hired by editors, and editors today just don’t have the freedom to hire hot new independent artists on low selling titles.

The kind of experimentation Greg Burgas is calling for has happened in the past, and does still occur here and there even today. Legends of The Dark Knight was a Batman title founded on the idea of getting a new artist for each arc, and there was a lot of wonderful art in that book. But LoTDK editor Archie Goodwin was a legend in the industry. He could call anyone and they’d pick up the phone. Mark Chiarello seems to have similar reach today, since he’s put together stellar art lineups for projects like Black And White and Wednesday Comics. But your average editor on a low selling series doesn’t have the social network of Mark Chiarello or the reach of Archie Goodwin, and even if they did find a hot undiscovered talent they probably couldn’t get them approved by the higher ups.

From the corporation’s perspective the objective is to have artists that are just good enough to sell the book. Any more talented than that and they’d have to pay them more, or lose them to a rival company.

writers have made strides, too, trusting artists to show emotion more than having characters emote vocally (or through thought balloons)

Many people claim this, and I’ve always felt this was a crock. Writers took thought balloons, and put them in boxes instead of clouds, and called them narration captions instead of thought balloons, but they’re exactly the same and they have all the same faults. Especially at DC, where the “emo noir” narrations really run rampant.

Also, I’d argue today’s writers are flashier, but I don’t know if they’re better.

Great piece, Greg.

On a technical level, everything in comics seems better and, yet, I like them less. It is hard to put my finger on why, but a lack of ambition is certainly a factor.

I agree wholeheartedly with this article. It’s odd to see that–in terms of really pushing the medium’s boundaries–there are very few artists (or writers) that are anywhere near the level of Eisner or Kirby. Those guys saw the potential in comics. Just look at what Eisner did with the Spirit logos. You NEVER see that today.

I feel like a lot of this comes from an underlying sense of inferiority. Whether it’s conscious or not, creators are thinking “I’m only doing comics” and don’t feel like that is worthy of the dedication and meticulous planning necessary to really utilize the advantages of the medium.

I was talking about this in a thread on the CBR Superman forum recently. I feel like if you’re going to tell a story in comics, you need to make sure it’s a story that you only tell (or tell the best) in comics. You need to have the medium of comics in mind while creating, or else you really aren’t respecting the legacy of comics, and you aren’t living up to the potential of the art form. Comics are an art and should be treated that way. Comics, more than any other medium, are limitless. There’s very little, if anything, that you can’t get away with. There aren’t the budget concerns or the time restraints or genre tropes that bind other media in comics. So with that in mind, I feel like comics should always be a “go big or go home” type of medium.

If you aren’t going absolutely batshit insane with comics, you aren’t fucking doing it right!!!

That third paragraph should say “…you CAN only tell…”
That’s what I get for not proofreading!

Oh yes, thousand times yes.
I read many types of comics, American, European, Japanese, artsy indie and popular mainstream and everything in between. Including comics from superhero genre.
However I read very few top sellers of both Marvel and DC. I don’t read Spidey, Superman, Avengers, JLA, regular Batman (Batman does have plenty of interesting offshoots though) because those are the titles which don’t take chances on the comics as a form. They might be comics for people who love the superhero genre, but they are less often comics for people who love comics.
More interesting things happen in lower sellers, those are the places to find the more offbeat approaches to art and writing and those are the titles I might want to give a chance to. (The problem with this is of course that I read only trades (pamphlets as a format are the shellac discs of comics, they have some aesthetic appeal but are impractical and ultimately unsatisfying), those titles do have a good chance of getting cancelled any time due to poor sales, and in several the attempt to push the sales includes high-profile characters making an appearance or tying the title to some big crossover event. Which of course is pure poison for me because I don’t want to read those crossover events, I want more or less self-contained titles.)

And yes, coloring is a huge factor. I open a random book, the first thing I see is the colour palette.

Davey Boy Smith

April 19, 2011 at 1:12 am

I remember when Wes Craig penciled Guardians of the Galaxy a while ago, and people responded to him as if he’d drowned a kitten or something.

As the author points out, too many superhero titles currently being published are bland beyond belief, and I find many colourists’ work to be horrible, as well. Luckily, Image publishes many diverse-looking titles as opposed to the Big Two.

I encourage everyone to name (superhero) artists and colourists they are currently smitten with. I’m totally enamoured with Chris Samnee’s art, really enjoyed the aforementioned Wes Craig’s work, believe Sarah Pichelli will do amazing things on Ultimate Spider-man, think Emma Rios’ art on Osborne is the bee’s knees, am of the opinion that Martin, Rivera, Pulido, the Fiumaras (Max and Sebastian) have been giving us great takes on Spider-Man… I could go on and on.

Still, I also enjoy artists that are simply solid draftsmen, e.g. Epting (FF looks amazing), Lark, and Weeks (Something can stop the Juggernaut is worth buwing for the art alone).

James Boulton, who posted in the comments above, does some great, unconventional art for “Breakneck”, the superhero series he is working on with writer Mark Bertolini. You should check that stuff out.

I also love the stuff Frazer Irving’s been doing lately, for Batman & Robin and now for Xombi. To me, part of what makes his work so exciting is it doesn’t feel like any other superhero comic on the stands.

Tom Fitzpatrick

April 19, 2011 at 5:17 am

Looking at all the art, must be like tripping out on LSD mixed with peyote.

Working in homicide for many years at Gotham City, seeing Gordon smile would be a shock to the system.

I’m not sure if I totally buy this argument.

First, I think mainstream publishers HAVE tried to take certain artistic risks in recent years. You say it’s hard to imagine a “Sienkiewicz on New Mutants” moment today but I don’t think it’s all that rare. Marcos Martin is now a regular artist on The Amazing Spider-Man! Stuart Immonen, who is more traditional but still very dynamic and has an unmistakeable style, is the regular artist on The Avengers. Alex Maleev gets regular gigs at Marvel (including some of its blockbuster books) as well.

The bigger issue is that I’m not sure big risks would actually help sell books. Superhero comics have become kind of a niche that (sadly) caters to a pretty institutional, conversative market. There have been so many books in the last 10-odd years with quirky, odd, interesting art or writing that have been summarily dumped by the comics community. Peter Milligan and Mike Allred on X-Statix, Dan Slott’s She-Hulk, Abnett/Lanning’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Pak/Van Lente’s Incredible Hercules. Jason Aaron on Ghost Rider. Despite getting awesome critical reviews and doing very interesting new things, people in comics shops rejected them. A Wolverine & Deadpool book drawn in the flattest house style would outsell any one of them.

And this has been true even when creators have crossed over from interesting, odd, “small” books into the mainstream. The successful long-term creators seem to be the ones that can adjust the unique parts of their work to fit the tone of the company. Brubaker on Captain America doesn’t “sound” like he does on Criminal. Same with Kieron Gillen, Matt Fraction, etc.. The books that can really sustain weirdness are the ones where the brand is so strong that people will buy it DESPITE the risk-taking — the various BND iterations on Spider-Man, Morrison’s X-Men, Aaron’s Wolverine. And that’s awesome because it at least keeps the medium sort of fresh and provides a showcase for some cool, interesting talents, but we shouldn’t confuse ourselves as to what’s driving the sales here.

Bottom line, the medium needs fresh blood and creativity, but the market doesn’t actually reward that. Under the circumstances, I think the Big Two deserve credit for taking the risks they have.

I think if you’re talking about crazy art, you also have to take deadlines into account. Nothing makes people more insane with rage than their favorite superhero book being delayed 4 months because Phil Jimenez has to draw the population of the entire state of Texas on each page. Part of the appeal of these superhero books are the fact that they are out (supposedly) every month. It’s probably harder for an artist to take a lot of risks when that will require more time and thus chance missing deadlines, which probably doesn’t get them paid. I could be way off base here as I’m not an artist, but hey, two cents.

Interesting article, but…Bendis made comic dialogue better and we should thank him for it? The guy who repeats words and phrases in a way that would (and should) embarrass a 1st-year Creative Writing student? The guy who gives everyone the same voice, which is his? The guy who spends all his time writing superheroes, but can’t be bothered to learn how any of them have ever actually spoken? This is the guy we should be thanking for “better” dialogue?

Seriously, what roofies has this guy slipped into his comics that people believe that?

Greg:

‘embiggen’? I believe the word you’re looking for is ‘enlarge’.

I think Yildiray Cinar’s copic marker sketch style is even better than the work he traditionally gets published. It looks like that last panel you show from LOSH#9. So maybe that’s not painted by Hi-Fi; it could be Cinar scanned the original art, printed out the panel and hand colored it, scanned the hand colored verison in and they photoshopped it into the art file for production. In any case, I keep nagging him to get someone to let him do an entire book in that style.

RE: “We got Frank Quitely and his astonishing panels in We3, which everyone seems to love but no one copied (or at least used as inspiration for their own innovations).”

Which he emulated from guys like Sienkiewicz and Mike Golden and Moebius and Starlin and McFarlane and a couple dozen others I can name. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking or innovative about Quitely’s layout designs, Greg.

RE: Doom Patrol & Matthew Clark:

“Did anyone at DC really think that the latest iteration of Doom Patrol was going to sell like crazy? And when the sales started to slip, did they really think keeping a fairly bland superheroey artist like Matthew Clark on the book would help? Why on earth didn’t someone at DC say ‘Fuck it. Let’s hire Tom Scioli to draw the final five issues’?”

Why? Maybe Keith Giffen likes working with Matthew and wanted to keep the creative team intact to the end. Or maybe Matthew’s consistency and dependability earned him the right to stay on? Or maybe given the various health issues Matthew’s endured since 2006 when he suffered a heart attack at age 36, DC wanted to try to do right by him and keep him working on a monthly so as to keep his health insurance current through the end of his contract with them, without screwing some other artist on their payroll out of work?

Speaking of Matthew and tying it in to your whole theme of experimentation, Greg, he experimented with Fumetti and drew Mxylpltyk in a Calvin and Hobbes homage and did some other things deviating from his ‘fairly bland superheroey’ style in ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #638.

“I wonder why companies aren’t encouraging at least a bit more experimentation with them.”

Because experimentation leads to deviation from the norm for the intellectual property and makes it more difficult to market in other media. And DC and Marvel are more interested in IP control than they are artistic merit.

@jidasfire: I completely agree with you. I can never understand why he gets credit for writing “realistic” dialogue.

You should have gone with the other Brian, Greg. Brian Vaughan has a much better ear for dialogue.

Embiggen is a cromulent word.

I love the article! You’ve got great examples that back up your points so well! Other artists you could have thrown in there were Adams, especially his work on Deadman (that was all about experimenting) and even Aparo. I’ve seen some cool pages from his Aquaman run.
The one thing that I had a problem with was Todd McFarlane. So he was a fan favorite in the past but I can’t see him as an innovator of the comic medium, in the sense that he pushed the medium further to uncharted creative territory. He was an innovator all right, but of hack work. Having a flare for making pretty lines is not the same thing as understanding the the nuts and bolts of how comics work and creating a new visual language.

I want comics like you’re calling for Greg, but I don’t think taking these kinds of risks is going to save the mainstream superhero comic. There’s a market for things that are “weird” but it’s not the mainstream. The last decade of mainstream movies has proven that there’s a huge market for superhero stories, but none of those superhero movies were innovative or broke the mold of the typical superhero comic or big budget action movie (maybe The Dark Knight for its allegory? or this new one Super which I haven’t seen).

The mainstream audience will always prefer the familiar.

Man, I guess I should never go to sleep. I’ll probably miss some responses, but here goes:

Aaron: Don’t worry – I didn’t think you were being a jerk. Perhaps this is self-evident. I think it’s still worth saying occasionally, though.

Mark: You’re right, but here’s the thing: It seems to me like there are more good mediocre artists – if that’s not oxymoronic – today then there used to be, even if there aren’t as many geniuses these days. I haven’t seen as much older comics as you have, of course, but while 1950s Ditko could kick the crap out of many artists working today, a lot of the grind-it-out artists just don’t seem to be as good as the mediocre artists today. The level of mediocrity is higher? Is that a good way to put it? But it’s unfortunate that so many artists today know only how to draw comics. One of the reasons why Josh Hagler’s The Boy Who Made Silence blew me away a few years ago is because he’s an artist in other media who decided to try a comic. It was pretty freaky!

T.: Sure, narrative captions have replaced thought balloons, but 30 years ago, you’d be hard-pressed to find any superhero comics that didn’t have thought balloons. These days, you’re much more likely to find a superhero comic that doesn’t have narrative captions. So while they’re still around, there’s been – in my view, without statistics to back me up – a de-emphasis of thought balloons/narrative captions.

James Boulton (and John Lees, who pointed it out): That art does look very cool. Thanks for showing it!

NS: I understand what you’re saying. I do appreciate it when DC and Marvel let their creators try something new, I just don’t think it happens often enough. Marcos Martin, as great as an artist he is (and he is), is fairly traditional. Alex Maleev is a decent example, but I suspect he only gets work because Bendis has clout. You’re right, though – risk-taking doesn’t usually translate into sales. But as I point out, when you’re about to cancel a book anyway, what’s the harm?

Marc K: Delays are a pain in the butt, but most “traditional” artists can barely do five or six issues in a row anyway, so it’s not like that’s too much of an issue. I don’t expect radical artists to be speedy, and that’s fine. I mean, I could rant about the serial nature of comics publishing, but I won’t. I will restrain myself!!!!

jidasfire: You can hate Bendis all you want, but I don’t think you can deny his influence. I’m not arguing one way or another (I like some Bendis comics and dislike others), but when creators in the industry try to emulate him, he’s influential. There’s a difference between “influential” and “good.”

Louis: “Embiggen” is a word from The Simpsons.

You’re just trying to bring me down, aren’t you? Re: Quitely – even if he emulated others, no one else is following up on it. It seems like they would. I mean, sure, everyone is influenced by someone, even Kirby.

I don’t know the reasons why DC kept Clark on Doom Patrol. Does Giffen have that much clout around there, considering how they treat the characters he helped make famous? Does DC care about someone “earning the right” to stay on a book that is dropping readers? If they like Clark so much, couldn’t they put him on a bigger book and, again, let someone weird come onto Doom Patrol? Beats me. All of your reasons are plausible, sure, and there are extenuating circumstances to all of them. If my Matthew Clark example offends you, substitute JSA: All Stars! I am glad that Clark has done some experimentation with style, because his regular style is bland. Competent, but bland.

I still think a lot of people are misreading what I wrote. Personally, as I pointed out, I’d LOVE to see some wacky art on the top sellers, but I know it’s not going to happen. As you and several others point out, Louis, DC and Marvel have a bottom line, so they’re not interested in creating comics that are art forms, just mass entertainment. I’m fine with that. If that means Frank D’Armata smoothing out anything that makes the various artists who work on Captain America distinctive so the book has a uniform look, so be it. I very much doubt, however, that DC and Marvel are looking to market every single one of their properties in other media. Maybe they are, but they don’t. “Oooh, Mommy, I want a Man-Thing lunch box!” “Let’s go see that Power Girl movie!” Wonderful dreams, sure, but ridiculous realities. I don’t care if they want Green Lantern and Batman and Iron Man and Thor to look comfortable. I’m talking about comics that already aren’t selling. Is another reboot with the same sensibility really going to stick this time?

Man-Thing lunchbox? Schwing!
(“Schwing” is not a real word, but a reference to the nineties’ existential noir drama Wayne’s World)

I agree that superhero comics from Marvel and DC is where creators should be letting loose, not being reined in. With comics sales tanking, it only makes sense to go bigger and crazier, to try to bottle that lightning at a more furious pace. Joe Casey brings this up in the backmatter for Butcher Baker #1– a comic, by the way, that looks better than 99% of Marvel or DC’s output right now (because Huddleston has the room to go nuts)– comics is this mad, powerful medium we fell so deeply in love with, but we’re allowing to slip into mediocrity. Superhero comics blew our brains out the back of our heads when we were younger, but now, audience turnover in comics no longer exists, and we’re stuck with diminishing returns. Why not recapture those lost feelings by making superhero comics brasher, bolder, wilder, more experimental?

Superhero comics are “safe,” which means, of course, that Superman and Batman and Spider-Man will never be canceled, will outlive us all. They should be the most creatively inventive, visually exciting comics on the stands! Yes, once in a while we get a big splash on ‘em, like Morrison and Williams on Batman or any issue of Spidey Marcos Martin draws (he’s Marvel’s best artist/visual grammarian right now, and he’s pretty much just aping Ditko. What does this tell us?). Superhero comics are using staid comics grammar, when they should be constantly pushing the envelope– I mean, the Mylar bag.

I get that creators think they need to follow the Soderbergh method– make an indie picture for yourself however you want, and then do a big studio project to put food on the table– but with much more minimized risk in the world of superhero comics, they should really have more leeway to make things interesting. Death to commodification.

I could keep going, but I’ll shut up now.

(I think DC has more of a “house style,” however, than Marvel. Marvel tends to steal the guys with more intriguing styles, and DC relies on a pretty large studio/contingent of Brazilian guys whose styles are quite similar. I expect Sean Murphy to be poached by Marvel any minute now and put on Spider-Man or something for a big arc, whereas DC is hiding most of his work in a drawer (aside from Joe, of course. (Parentheses!)))

@ Greg Burgas:

… that DC and Marvel are looking to market every single one of their properties in other media. Maybe they are, but they don’t. “Oooh, Mommy, I want a Man-Thing lunch box!” “Let’s go see that Power Girl movie!” Wonderful dreams, sure, but ridiculous realities. I don’t care if they want Green Lantern and Batman and Iron Man and Thor to look comfortable. I’m talking about comics that already aren’t selling. Is another reboot with the same sensibility really going to stick this time?

Marketing 101 tells you that there are three types of people in relation to any product:
1. Actual Customers
2. Potential Customers
3. Everyone Else

Your target market segment for your product is the biggest possible slice of group #1 and #2. You do not care about group #3. For some products, it might be better to actively antagonize people in group #3. However, my feeling is that both Marvel and DC have done a poor job both segmenting their markets and differentiating their respective brands.

The second point is fairly obvious and more directly relevant to your piece. Both of the Big Two chase the same creators and sell their lines in highly similar ways. Most of the artists mentioned on this thread have done a ton of work at both houses. Kirby and Ditko founded the Marvel style, but later created work for DC. Heck, DC owns more Ditko heroes than Marvel. Starlin broke in with Marvel and later worked extensively at DC. McFarland is the other way around as are Javier Pulido, Marcos Martin, Steve Epting and Michael Lark. Of course, the artists also switch titles with remarkable frequency. It all sort of just … blends together.

That is why the first point matters. Marvel and DC have segmented their comic businesses in such a way that the only Potential Customers they are chasing are current Actual Customers of the other. This is, of course, profoundly stupid.

The first problem is the perilously small size of the comics market. Estimates peg the number of total number of DM customers at around 300k. Big 2 titles go on cancellation watch at around 25k. That means niche titles have very little room to breathe. If less than one comic reader in ten is following them, then they are on their way out. If the economics of the TV business were like that of the comic business, then shows like “Modern Family” would be in trouble and “CSI” would be cancelled.

The second problem is that the loyal Actual Customers of your competition are your worst sales prospects. Look at the intensity of any DC character vs. Marvel character thread on this blog. That is a huge amount of sales resistance. Why bother beating your head against a wall when you have a better chance selling to a random person of the street?

I agree with the general sentiment of the article, but I don’t know if things were in general different in the 80s. I recently happened to read a big batch of random Marvels from 1987, and sure: guys like Simonson and Sienkiewicz drew some of them. But nine out of ten times the artist would be Al Milgrom, Bob Hall, Tom Grummett or someone like that.

(A recent artist I really thinks makes some eye-catching crazy stuff in the mainstream is Aja, who unfortunately seems to be very slow).

Superhero comics are dead.
It doesn’t matter what you do with the art, when only semi-retarded, middle aged fanboys are ever going to pick them up and look inside.

Oh, and the Steve Platt page is just shitty, incompetent art. Comparing it to Kirby, Ditko, Steranko, etc. is like comparing chocolate with shit, cause they’re both brown.

Good christ. Madmike has achieved the impossible — made me feel like Little Mary Sunshine in comparison.

The bottom line is that mainstream superhero comics are afraid to experiment, but the bottom line is also the reason. The Big Two can’t afford to experiment with their mainstream books, because they’re holding on to the few readers they have left. They can’t risk alienating their audience in any way.

I’ve been rereading Todd McFarlane’s ASM run in the UK Astonishing Spider-Man reprints for the last few months and I’ve been surprised by how much of it I really like (even though I detest the way he draws any human who isn’t a fully-costumed Spider-Man).

If there was a Spider-Man or Batman book with McFarlane designing the page layouts and drawing the hero and buildings, and literally anyone else filling in the rest, I’d buy it in a heart beat.

Oh, and somebody other than Todd writing, of course. That goes without saying.

One of the best articles I’ve read on CBR.

Stale, bland, boring, predictable. That’s the standard today.

Greg:

Ah, a Simpsons reference. Lost on me, sorry. I only ever cared for Groening’s Life is Hell strips.

“You’re just trying to bring me down, aren’t you? Re: Quitely – even if he emulated others, no one else is following up on it. It seems like they would.”

Not trying to bring you down, no. I just think if you’re going to praise Quitely’s design work (if you truly feel it’s that dynamic and experimental), you should be able to find a better example than the overly praised WE3.

But why would you assume that such a design would be something everyone would follow up on? You’re servicing the story you’re telling; how often would that sort of page design work, and would you really want artists trying to force it just to create a trend? Wouldn’t that minimalize the effectiveness of the design?

“I don’t know the reasons why DC kept Clark on Doom Patrol. Does Giffen have that much clout around there, considering how they treat the characters he helped make famous? Does DC care about someone “earning the right” to stay on a book that is dropping readers? If they like Clark so much, couldn’t they put him on a bigger book and, again, let someone weird come onto Doom Patrol?”

Like I said initially, they might not have wanted to put him on a ‘bigger’ book at the expense of another creator just to let ‘someone weird’ come onto DP. For that matter, why does DP have to have ‘someone weird’ on it in the first place? Because it was a Vertigo title once upon a time?

“If my Matthew Clark example offends you, substitute JSA: All Stars!”

Heh… you’re aware that Freddie Williams is a friend of mine and used to be a satellite member of my old online studio, pre-DC fame, yes? I’ll certainly admit I find his all-digital work not to be to my liking in comparison to his traditional pencils, and I can understand why some fans are non-plussed about his work. But, he meets his deadlines and doing all digital makes him more cost effective than other creators, so…

“I am glad that Clark has done some experimentation with style, because his regular style is bland. Competent, but bland.”

*shrugs* Like many artists, Greg, he does what he’s asked to, how they want it done.

**********************

entzauberung wrote:

” I recently happened to read a big batch of random Marvels from 1987, and sure: guys like Simonson and Sienkiewicz drew some of them. But nine out of ten times the artist would be Al Milgrom, Bob Hall, Tom Grummett or someone like that.”

o_O

Tom Grummett wasn’t even in the business in 1987. He broke in in 1989, and at DC at that.

Al Milgrom… yeah, if you read a slew of West Coast Avengers, you’d have had Al. But that’s about it as far as his pencils in 1987 as I recall. *Maybe* he did an arc of Hulk, because I think he wrote 4 issues that year?

Bob Hall… I can’t think of much of anything he did in 1987. Remind me, please.

I just think if you’re going to praise Quitely’s design work (if you truly feel it’s that dynamic and experimental), you should be able to find a better example than the overly praised WE3.

But why would you assume that such a design would be something everyone would follow up on? You’re servicing the story you’re telling; how often would that sort of page design work, and would you really want artists trying to force it just to create a trend? Wouldn’t that minimalize the effectiveness of the design?

We3 is easily the most visually important and inventive comic from the last decade– from the big two or four or so companies, at any rate. And sure, maybe copycats would make it look less special, much in the same way Citizen Kane ain’t no thang to those of us who weren’t there to see its tricks invented for the first time, but the idea of introducing clever comics grammar is for future artists to learn from you, copy you, riff on you, and then, transcend you.

@Kyle Garret: I think the existing audience is mostly inalienable at this point. Marvel and DC have a lot of latitude to experiment with their core titles, not because the audience craves high art, but because sales on the flagship titles never change.

Look, the average fanboy is a total philistine. That’s why in the BND era, you would see dozens of complaint letters railing against the art of Marcos Martin (“Bring back Paolo Siquiera!”). But the fact that many or most ASM readers find Martin’s art unappealing has no bearing on sales, because the way the current readership is stratified, they’re going to buy it anyway.

The companies understand this to some extent, which is why Dick Grayson is the star of “Batman,” Mon-El was the star of “Superman,” Bucky the star of “Captain America” and so forth. But they don’t take full advantage of it to branch out artistically, as they should. I remember when Thor: The Mighty Avenger was cancelled. My reaction was “Of course it’s cancelled. Because they called it ‘Thor: The Mighty Avenger’ and set it in the Tobin-verse.” Had they called it “Thor Number Six Hundred and Whatever” and added a few pages to explain the change in status quo, it would not have been cancelled, and would probably have sold just as well as the current Fraction/Ferry run.

Actually, I’m making it out to be harder than it is. No additional pages would be needed to explain the change in status quo, provided Axel Alonso or Tom Brevoort or whoever assured readers on Newsarama and CBR that an explanation was forthcoming.

This is why I always get mad when I see Marvel or DC launching a quirky title with no built-in readership to support it (such as THUNDER Agents). Because of course it’s going to tank, and then the companies can point to that as a way of justifying their artistic conservatism.

Bright-Raven:

I said “or guys like that” to sort of summarize “marvel house style of the late 80’s”. My point was that by random sampling you were extremely unlikely to get explosive/inventive art in the vein I gather Greg is talking about, and these were the guys that showed up in my head to exemplify that.

Bob Hall did Psi-Force, a couple of issues of the Avengers plus the “Emperor Doom” graphic novel in 1987. Tom Grummett was a mistake, I meant Tom Grindberg who did some X-work at the time.

I think there are a few more superhero artists who take chances besides just J.H. Williams III. Irving, Burnham, David Aja when he’s doing stuff, Dustin Weaver, even Chris Bachalco. The problem is that these artists (somehow) usually fail to shift units, so creative hiring is financially unsound.

“Ah, a Simpsons reference. Lost on me, sorry. I only ever cared for Groening’s Life is Hell strips.”

Not really relevant. I didn’t recognize the reference, but I still saw that it was obviously a joke, and not an error.
If you come across something so blatantly incorrect as to clearly be deliberate for some, likely jokey, reason (as “embiggen” so clearly is), and then think it’s a real mistake and seriously offer a correction, there’s something wrong with you.

I don’t really want talented artists wasted on “mainstream” books that I don’t give a shit about. It’s a shame that we don’t see Stuart Immonen on more things like Secret Identity or Nextwave, instead of working on Fear Itself. I get that it’s probably better (short-term anyways) for his career financially, but I’d rather see him going ape-shit on books that I’m actually interested in, where has the freedom to do whatever the hell he wants. Same with guys like Quitely and Williams III, I’m very happy to see that their careers have kept them from simply being the standard, toned-down superhero guys that WIzard would feature prominently in their top ten every month.

Greg, you just summed up a lot of my problems w/ Big 2 super-hero comics. It’s not just artists; remeber when Peter David had the Hulk become a leg-breaker in Vegas? When Alan Davis and Walt Simonson injected a bit of fun into Excalibur and FF, respectively? When JLI was one of DC’s flagship books? Quirkiness and originality in the Big 2 didn’t extend to all or even most Big 2 comics, but there was more variety and flavor in the past.

After the disaster of the mid-’90s, the Big 2 improved the heck out of their comics. If we’re not at or past that point yet, we’re close. It’s sad, but almost no mainstream super-hero comics offer anything new or different. If sales continue to slip, maybe we will get the next Starman, Black Panther, or Aztek. Hell, I’ll settle for the next Thunderbolts or JSA.

Bill Reed:

“We3 is easily the most visually important and inventive comic from the last decade– from the big two or four or so companies, at any rate.”

So why didn’t it sweep the Eisners? You do remember that Quitely didn’t win best penciler/inker cleanly that year- he had to split it with John Cassaday. Nor did he win for best cover artist, and the book wasn’t even nominated for Best Publication Design, nor did it receive any special recognition awards. And the series itself did not win best limited series that year, either (NEW FRONTIER won). Nor did Morrison win best writer that year for it (Geoff Johns won).

It didn’t even get a single nomination in the Harveys that year.

And neither Morrison or Quitely got any love from the CBG Fan Awards that year, and CBG otherwise didn’t even have a category for the series to be nominated in let alone win, so I’ll give it the acknowledgement that it MIGHT have won had their been a category for best limited series…. nah, I take it back – it would have undoubtedly been beaten by NEW FRONTIER, just like it was everywhere else.

Sorry, but historical fact. And no I’m not saying Darwyn Cooke was anything spectacular / better. Just telling you that’s who won.

As for the most visually important comic of the past decade, I’m sure far more critics would give it to ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY by Chris Ware. I know, I know, that’s not Big Two (or Big four, but you did say ‘or so’… where do you draw the line to include / exclude it, Bill?).

entzauberung:

“I said “or guys like that” to sort of summarize “marvel house style of the late 80?s”. My point was that by random sampling you were extremely unlikely to get explosive/inventive art in the vein I gather Greg is talking about, and these were the guys that showed up in my head to exemplify that.”

I see. Interesting. Funny, 1987 was Jim Lee’s debut in comics on Alpha Flight. Todd McFarlane’s debut on Amazing Spider-Man and Erik Larsen was on Spider-Man as well. Whilce Portacio was doing Strikeforce: Morituri. The whole influx of the next wave of popular creators that fomed Image came into Marvel in between 1983-1989.

The guys you’re talking about I thought were mostly from the 1970s being phased out by 1987-88, mostly.

And thanks for the refresher on Hall. I remembered him going into editorial at Marvel in the mid to late 80s, and the last work I’d remembered was his Squadron Supreme stuff in 85-86.

Jack Norris:

Sorry, I don’t see the context of why he needed to make an ‘obvious’ joke of it. It’s not humor if it has no context. For all I knew, Greg wrote the piece while very tired and put ‘embiggen’ in because his brain couldn’t bring the proper word up. It happens. Just like I used “mostly” twice in the same sentence in the post above because it’s 3:30 AM and I’m not entirely awake.

But I’m glad you ‘got it’. Have a cookie.

Stealthwise:

Funny that you bring up Stuart Immonen. The only thing I want to see out of him is more Shockrockets, but I’m certainly in the minority there. (He’s doing decent work on his Marvel stuff, I just don’t care that he’s doing Marvel stuff.)

Maybe that’s part of why Greg’s commentary here blows my mind a bit. Why would I want the “weird” artists who are doing their own cool shit I like farting around on corporate comics? I’d rather have them doing their own thing, typically. I don’t buy Todd Dezago or Craig Rousseau’s Marvel work, for example, but if and when they ever put out new PERHAPANAUTS I try to get it.

I’m not a huge fan of Tom Scioli, but I get the appeal of his work. But why wouldn’t you want him doing his own stuff, rather than some Marvel / DC character book?

“Well, who would you put on the Marvel / DC comics, then?” *shrugs* If I was going to go with “weird”, I’d go back and hunt down the indie guys from the 80s and 90s who’ve never had a turn at the Big Two and who got shoved out of the indie market by Image in the 90s and let them have a turn, because I find many of that old work by them to be superior to the stuff being produced today. But I have to be honest – if they have to work within the confines of the editorial structures at the Big Two, I don’t think they’ll fare any better creatively. I think a lot of this editorial micromanagement and event storytelling and other publishing schedule structures is a significant contributor to the weaknesses of today’s books, probably far more so than the skill levels of the creators themselves. A lot of today’s talent seems to be working at least a partially compromised level in comparison to what they’re capable of.

Another example of going crazy would be Howard Chaykin on AMERICAN FLAGG!

Interesting point about today’s comics being more “literary.” Perhaps true, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing.

An analogy for old comics vs. today’s comics is a six-minute Looney Tunes cartoon vs. a six-minute music video. The former is bright, talky, with simple line drawings and easily followed by a child. The latter is dark, complex, mysterious, with scads of sophisticated art direction and cinematography.

The music video is arguably more literary. And a child raised on music videos might think they’re “awesome” while Looney Tunes are “stupid.” But we know better, right?

I’m guessing most pop-culture critics would say the cartoons are the superior work of art. That they’ll stand the test of time better and be remembered longer. The same applies to traditional comics with their “unliterary” thought balloons and compressed style.

@Louis B-R —

Not that I really have a dog in this fight, since I find Quitely rather overrated (though not nearly as much as the guy who wrote WE3), but as I’m sure you’re aware, your “So why didn’t is sweep the Eisners?” paragraph doesn’t really mean much.

I mean, someone’s already brought up CITIZEN KANE. Why didn’t it sweep the Oscars? Etc. etc. etc. Was it any less important & influential a film because it didn’t?

Rob Schmidt –
I think you’ll find modern videos that will be remembered as well, same goes for old cartoons that will be forgotten.

Louis: You’re killing me, man! I actually like Freddie Williams’ art quite a bit. Substitute your own low-selling comic from now on!!!!

You’re right, of course, that I would much rather see these artists working on their own stuff than superhero stuff, which has tended to suck a lot of the fun out of weird creators. It’s a shame that so many creators can’t make a living doing comics unless they head into superhero comics, because it’s hard to fight against the prevailing culture. It’s sad that Jamie McKelvie, who has drawn less than five issues for Marvel (I think), has probably made more money doing that than on 13 issues of Phonogram and 4 issues of Suburban Glamour, but that’s the way it is. I certainly am happy to see creators I like doing things that are outside of the mainstream. This is more about what companies might do to kickstart readership. They’ve known for years that they’re losing readers, yet they continue to do next to nothing about it. If they were more open to new ways of creating comics maybe they would gain some readers. I very much doubt they would lose even more readers!

Greg:
“They’ve known for years that they’re losing readers”

Depends on your perspective. If you go by Diamond numbers, sales have gone down the last three years or so. But according to http://www.comichron.com/yearlycomicssales.html single issue sales in the American market rose every year between 2001 and 2007, while trade paperback sales quadrupled.

Daniel Bailey:

“I mean, someone’s already brought up CITIZEN KANE. Why didn’t it sweep the Oscars? Etc. etc. etc. Was it any less important & influential a film because it didn’t?”

No. But CK’s influence was felt almost immediately in films. There’s a definitive “before CK” type of cinematography, and an “after CK”. There has not been and will never be a “before / after WE3″ movement, because there’s nothing that Quitely did in that comic that hasn’t already been done before.

Ah, a Welles reference. I only ever cared for his early “voodoo Macbeth” and late wine commercials

I remember when Keith Giffen was still new on Legion (Great Darkness era), and doing his “Neal Adams” style, he started doing something I had never seen before — bands of color NOT separated by black lines.

Here’s a fair example: http://www.comics101.com/comics101//news/Comics%20101/209/giffen%20legion.jpg

That was totally new to me, and blew me away. Especially on top of Giffen’s art then.

I have to admit, when he started aping that Filipino guy, and going all “9-panel grid with lots of blacks and photostats of panels,” I started losing interest fast.

J.

Greg:

“Louis: You’re killing me, man! I actually like Freddie Williams’ art quite a bit. Substitute your own low-selling comic from now on!!!!”

Cool that you like Freddie’s work. Just wish you could see his ‘old school’ stuff. Maybe if you look up some of the RPG art he did for Palladium years ago…

I don’t pay much attention to what the sales numbers are on books today. I mean, Randy Zimmerman can get 97-100% sell-through on a 10,000 copy print run in one county of one state of Michigan for his comic newspaper FLINT COMIX, but before he went to his current efforts and tried to play by the rules of the Direct Market between 1997-2005, he often couldn’t even get 1,000 copies through Diamond on a national level. So it’s obvious that the Direct Market and comics fandom is completely effed up on an infinite number of levels.

So I don’t think getting the “weird” guys, indie or not, is really going to make any significant difference to help sales, Greg. If anything, I think that it’ll hurt sales, because what mainstream comics fans want is new stuff dressed up in the familiar garb, and today, why would you give the corporate new stuff for them to make all the money on when you can own it yourself – as long as audiences will give you a chance.

Jay Tea:

Are you referring to the sky in that example? Was that Keith’s idea? (Not saying it wasn’t, it just seems more of the colorist’s choice than the line artist’s, and I don’t know if Keith was doing his own color then though he certainly could have requested such a thing.)

Brilliantly written, from the talk about style, I can’t agree more.

I have the same complaint about comics and Hollywood. Everyone at the top wants to play it safe and is not willing to take a chance. So what do they do? Cannibalize each other. If it works for one company we will do it too.

These are the parasites, the non-thinkers. I can tell you how many covers I saw with almost every superhero on a building gargoyle, in the rain w/lightning in the background. I bet I can walk into a store now 10 years later and still find one or two. Then someone will come along with an idea they would never have the balls to try and when it hits “we have to do it too! and keep doing it till we run it into the ground and then we can reboot it!”
parasites.

I wish I had a dollar every time someone came to me with the “Next Ninja Turtle Idea!” What were we doing before ninja turtles? and what was the next big hit after ninja turtles? anyone?(answer later).

It was done by two independent artists who didn’t have a director trying to screw them up. Look at Citizen Kane, considered the greatest movie ever made. Why? Because Orson Welles had complete creative control over it.
So when one can’t work with in the system (like myself) they create something on their own and then everyone goes nuts over it. See Rocketo. incredible book, one guy.

Hollywood is the same, if someone does a sci-fi movie, all do a sci-fi movie. When no one was doing gladiator movies one comes out and then they all have to do one. Then they think it’s the new trend and you have to end up drawing Taz as a gladiator…….parasites, they loot and steal.

I am doing my own story on Captain America. No editors, just me. Written the way I think he should be done. Not politically correct.

I have combined Cap’s legend with fact and myths to create what I feel is a very original story.
please feel free to take a look. http://captainamericagroundzero.blogspot.com/

I would really like to ask you for a review.

by the way the answer to the turtles was …..Barney, before Ninja turtles?……….cabbage patch dolls.

Yeah, Louis, the sky. And while it might have been the colorist, it was so consistent and so much an integral part of the art in other examples (that was merely the first I found) that I give the credit to Giffen for it.

Also, in Legion 294 (final chapter of Great Darkness), there were a lot of effects where the artwork was drawn purely in single-color lines. I especially remember a red-on-yellow Highfather before a silhouetted Darkseid, and a magenta screaming Supergirl’s face across Darkseid’s head. That HAD to be Giffen’s work there.

OK, found the panel I really should have shown — sixth image down here.

http://comicboxcommentary.blogspot.com/2008/10/keith-giffen-on-supergirl-it-came-from.html

THAT one should have been the example, not the closing splash from LSH 300.

J.

Awesome! Love the visual aides to really illustrate what the difference is here. I had to blog link it at my own blog since I love it so much.

Basically, I am reminded of this everytime I watch a new superhero animated series. There are amazing things happening with superheroes displaying feats of power and dynamism in such shows and comics, as a visual medium, could also be doing these things. There is a choreography of panel-to-panel movement that is simply missing from comics, ranging from a lack of tilting camera angles to extremes of focus/perspecitve and more. Comics have become so writer-driven and script-created that the art of visual storytelling and graphical metaphor itself is simply missing.

In fact, I wonder if going full-script is really behind a lot of this. Doing the old Marvel-style method of writing would naturally lead to a lot more artistic expression and would really separate the wheat and the chaff of visual storytellers.

Nice rant. It’s the kind of thing that keeps me awake at night. I definitely think that talents are mismatched by the Big Two a lot of the time. Like Marvel putting Bryan Hitch and Steve Epting on FF – that’s the kind of book I want ZANY artists on, not realistic ones, no matter how talented. That’s the kind of book Marvel should be putting a talent like James Stokoe, Paul Maybury, Gabriel Ba, Tony Moore or Micheal Oeming on! I’d be remiss not to point towards the awesome stuff they do do:

http://img823.imageshack.us/img823/6812/dd001covcol.jpg
http://img97.imageshack.us/img97/1050/asm63900320033.jpg
http://img16.imageshack.us/img16/3361/asm63600360037.jpg
http://img31.imageshack.us/img31/2033/1272307084371.jpg
http://img215.imageshack.us/img215/6479/29980274.jpg
http://img713.imageshack.us/img713/6311/shappening.jpg

I’m definitely not in agreement with the idea that Marvel has more of a house style than DC, though, if anything I’d say it was the other way around, with the majority of artists DC pushes being either a poor man’s Jim Lee (like Tony Daniel & co.) or a poor man’s George Perez (like Ivan Reis & co.) But then I’m an unrepentant Merry Marvelite, so I know I get illogically defensive about stuff like that.

There is a reason editors don’t switch artists anymore. It’s the same reasons books run late and we don’t have fill-in issues waiting in desk drawers and every story has to be 4-6 issues long. Collected editions.

Comic companies are in an awkward spot right now in that they want to switch to the new (trade paper- and hardbacks) but they won’t give up the old (single issues).

Employees (editors, writers, pencilers, inkers, colorists, letters) are tasked with delivering an end product: a 120 page comic that will sit nicely on a bookshelf with uniform trade dress in time for the lead’s movie. But instead of asking for that, the employer (publishing company) will ask for a five issue miniseries (or a five issue run in an ongoing title), begin publishing it that way a year before a movie so that the collected edition is ready when the movie is out.

Because the push is having a consistent single story in attractive packaging, companies want the same set of employees from start to finish. This means that rather than take a chance and inject new blood into a faltering title, the safe bet is to let that one run its course and then try again from scratch.

But that’s wrong, there are fill-in issues constantly. The Flash and Detective comics have has fill-in issues recently. Detective actually has a horrible amount. I collect that book for Dini/Nguyen, dammit!

…at last.
The Sienkiewicz pages and rhe Kirby collages spare any discussion..
I hope some people have finally understood why I’m beggibg for Claremont and Sienkiewicz teaming again onto NEW MUTANTS FOREVER, or why I want to see Sam Kieth working onto DOOM PATROL – or a ROBOTMAN solo title- and an HOWARD THE DUCK ongoing..

I would like to see more experimentation on titles (low-selling or otherwise), but the only caveat I’d add to that is making sure these guys are storytellers. Most of the examples given above seem to have that capability (though putting Stephanie Buscemi on Titans? Really?), but I can think of one example that still annoys the crap out of me. Simone Bianchi took serious risks with formatting on Astonishing X-Men, but it just got horribly confusing and I felt like I was reading a page covered in inky mud. Still, to whoever spoke about Mignola on X-Force – I googled an example of that and it looked awesome. We need more of that, I think, in the industry.

if we are trying to find some reasons why authors aren’t experimenting, it is first

– BECAUSE THEY DON’T KNOW : some are good to draw everything, but picturing is something else and that ain’t always asked in comics (the ones who can and dare experimenting…are just doing it ANYWAY. Think about Paul Pope, or Kyle Baker. Even Matthew Clark who doesn’t, but at last is trying) and also because of the computer-colouring fashion of the year / proof of quality ( as every photo-realisms) mentality : fact is people want to see BEAUTIFUL things more than ever, and absolutely not WEIRD things, partly because Vertigo’ editors had loose their focus, and credibility, to the point some talented artists like Teddy Kristiansen, Marc Hempel and Ted Mc Keever are almost “persona non grata” in the Vertigo titles ( see what they’re currently publishing : school-posters books and so-called noir fictions that are supposed to pound your ass, except they’re as pathetical than unbearable…SWEET TOOTH, I ZOMBIE, HELLBLAZER and HOUSE OF MYSTERY are tasting Vertigo to me..) so now WEIRD and EXPERIMENTAL almost mean SCAM today, which lead us to my second point :

– BECAUSE WE DON’T ASK THEM, for some of the reasons I’ve quoted. Arguing the condition of the today market is a false argument : with the amounts of video-games, comics for all-ages, the Big Two could certainly allow them selves almost what we’d call some “prestige titles”, which won’t be commercials success, but to make peace with critics. Maybe Bill Sienkiewicz onto NEW MUTANTS was a “prestige” choice, as maybe was X-STATIX by Milligan and Allred. What we tend to forget, is that some editors are less mercantiles we could think…we could see here and here one or two tryings, like Brendan Mc Carthy onto DR STRANGE…Sometimes this is the audience that doesn’t want to evolve, they want to be surprised, but not too much, it could be at worst the whole excuse for the industry for over-recycling themselves…

I would hardly surrender the argument the whole audience isn’t trusting the experimental field of comics (or or two cartoony audacities isn’t what I’d call experimenting) and want to be reassured …which isn’t especially a good sign..

Jay Tea:

Looking that your reference, unless someone has the original page to prove otherwise, I would say that was likely an acetate overlay with Kara’s face drawn in red ink placed over Darkseid’s form, purposely shifted over to magenta in the printing process by order of Giffen and/or the colorist. Such technique was common in comics up through about 1996-1998, when the computer coloring took over and everybody started going over to digital files, because to do overlays like that, you have to shoot the original art with the overlay on it, usually in a separate plate from the original art. It’s a cost prohibitive technique though, especially nowdays where everything is shot from digital files and not the original art, and that’s why it’s not something you commonly see in comics today.

Who cares what they do with art? All Marvel and DC comics are written by talentless fanboys masquerading as professionals and they all have absolutely no idea what they should be doing; so it really doesn’t matter what the art looks like if the stories are all a bunch of idiotic, fan-driven soap operas which make no sense whatsoever and appeal to no one but idiotic fanboys. Make no mistake about it, people like Jack Kirby and Will Eisner were true Artists who achieved what they did because THEY CREATED THEIR OWN CHARACTERS and WROTE AND DREW THEIR OWN STORIES. No one working at Marvel or DC is even REMOTELY in the same league as Greats like that. FORGET MARVEL AND DC. THEY SUCK! — and will probably soon stop publishing new comics altogether, considering how bad their sales are. The only people in modern comics who have anything worthwhile to offer are writer/artists like Jeff Smith, for example, who create their own worlds. Corporate fanboy hacks, on the other hand, are not even worth anyone’s ATTENTION.

I don’t know if it counts as mainstream but CP Wilson III art on stuff of legends is pretty stunning visually. I have a couple sketches by him and was lucky to see him finish a commission somebody requested of the Jester character of the series as a Sinestro Corps member.

I enjoyed this article and the discussion it’s spurred. I didn’t read every response, but I was surprised no one mentioned Jock. His art is mind-blowing-amazing. Especially what he did in Losers and Green Arrow Year One. I like a lot of Bendis’ work, and I do think he has a flair for dialogue. The Oral History backup stuff he’s doing has some great character-specific dialogue… [ MOONDRAGON (regarding Hellcat): “The woman had a costume. That’s it. Just a costume. And, I suppose, good intentions.” ] That was spot-on and had me laughing out loud. That said: Terry Moore is the master of dialogue. Even characters that come in as supporting characters for one scene are completely truthful.

P.S. I f***ing LOVE that Moon Knight page posted in the article.

Holy shit, this Louis dude is the worst type of obnoxious shit talking old ass nerd that makes me want to punch someone through the internet. There is literally not a single thing about the comment from April 19, 2011 at 3:24 pm that isn’t obnoxious bullshit, from the “the demo was better” mentality of the Life is Hell comment to the “don’t you know who I know on the internet?” comment is seriously the WORST.

Now now, there’s a lot of us old ass nerds lurking around here.

I will say, though, that I was way more into his early, lesser-known blog comments.

I think Marvel & DC’s response to this concern is to take what they consider “calculated risks” with projects like Strange Tales and Wednesday Comics, in which the point of the project is the “edgy art”. I don’t know why they can’t take risks with art in regular ongoing monthlies. I’ve never seen a case of such a thing happening where readers were alienated by “weird art” to the extent that it hurt the sales of a mainstream title. I think it only improves the title’s reputation.

This is the most interesting thread, you think of more examples and you have to come back to it.
Especially the tie-in to Hollywood. Are they really going to tell Spider-man’s Origin AGAIN?
I can see if they don’t get it right, but Sam got it right. they are still stumbling with the Hulk. And the Superman returns effects……effects were great. Too bad Christopher Reeves’ movie didn’t have them. That movie got it right too. Granted Lois could have been better looking too, they got that right in the ‘Returns’ one.
Ok, Dare Devil, and the Fantastic Four all three of those movies. For Pete’s sake CGI the THING.
Marvel was going to kill Thor off and The Incredibly talented God in his own right Mr. Walt Simonson took that book to #1 over night. WHY? Great Story! Great Story telling and Knowing the character.
I think this is were the internet will really bring forth some real talent. As Hollywood’s big studios had to learn that little studios that could do movies like the 300 were really a force.

captainthundercats

April 23, 2011 at 7:50 pm

So…. I agree with the idea of grabbing an artist and letting them go nuts on the tail end of a run. It might get some buzz for the artist (i remember people going nuts for Platt for a second) but if you are a solid indy artist, aren’t you working when you get that call? These books are being canceled quickly these days, there is no lead time to bring in someone new. So many artists cant do monthly these days (Tony Moore not doing Venom#3) why have a low selling late book.

Marvel has a house style? Who is it derived from?

Quietly might not be doing things that haven’t been done before, but he is doing those thing better than anyone else today (or whenever it was that he had something new come out).

Movies: Marvel mines a lot of the looks that they have in the books and has designers make that happen, WB has designers look at what is in the books and “make it work for movies”. I think WB looks at these ideas as thing that need a good amount of work before they get to the screen and Marvel sees that the ideas are all in the books and just need a tweek. Cap looks so much like Hitch drew him in Ultimates and the Green Lanterns all look like Alpha Lanterns without the face modification. The movies that are coming out of Marvel Studios are easy sells for me after Iron Man (and Iron Man 2 for all of it’s flaws) but the words Chris Nolan DIRECTS has a lot more impact to me than Chris Nolan produces.

I think comics are in the same place they always are with artists, a few are great, some are good and most are okay. Where those artists fall are up to the individual reading the books. Example, I love Immonen and don’t love his work on Fear Itself. It isn’t bad, it just seems stiff if you look at it vs. say, Nextwave. That said, he is doing a major high profile book that will hopefully sell lots of trades to people that don’t know much of his work. They might love it. You have to make choices based on the type of work you are doing. Right or wrong, that is what we are seeing and because we know so much about what these people have done, it is hard to just give them space to do what they are doing.

Ork Stain is a cheep Vaughn Bode comic. That guy has better in him.

Lastly, why does no one talk about Cursed Pirate Girl as a look that might be something they would want to see more of?

As it develops that people are more interested in superhero movies than comics (a lot of non-collectors I know love iron man movies for example but don’t care about the comics) I think the innovation will come.

I’ve thought for a few years now that since there seem to be so many multiple books about certain characters being put out, why not take one of the lesser selling ones and give it to a “non-traditional” creative team? I think a great example of this was when Marvel gave X-Statix (or whatever it was called at the time) to Milligan and Allred. I could have cared less about the rest of the X-books but I bought that because it was something different and I happened to like both of those guys. Pick one of the lesser selling titles, let someone go nuts with it, and see what happens. If it draws in some new readers – great! If not – the publisher really hasn’t lost anything since there are still other books out there featuring that character. A good recent example (which wasn’t really even that “experimental”) was “Thor, Mighty Avenger”. Great book that unfortunately got lost in the shuffle for some reason. Sure it got cancelled but Marvel still has 3 or 4 Thor books on the stands and some of us got to enjoy something a bit different for a while.

Whilst not as wild as some of the stuff on here I’ve loved that Giuseppe Camuncoli has gotten quite a few gigs recently at both Marvel and DC. I was reading Hellblazer and Daken anyway but I loved that his art suddenly seemed to appear from nowhere in two of my favourite books and really capture the atmosphere of those titles.

I hate a lot of the artwork in modern superhero comics, probably because Sienkewicz on New Mutants and Simonson on X-factor were two of the most influential periods of my young comic book reading life and spoiled me. I’m really not a fan of the Lee/Liefield style either so you can imagine I stopped reading funnybooks for quite a while (apart from a few vertigo books).

I love JRJR too since his stints on Daredevil and Star Brand. I recently caught some of his early style on Spiderman and I love that even though he started off more traditional he had the courage to adapt his style and change it up into something more distinctive and stylised.

Has anyone ever done a list of artists who started off with one style and then shifted to another partway through their career? I know there are a few but I can’t call them off the top of my head.

A very inspiring article, I should say. :)

But there is also the kinch that certain things just don’t fit in a certain comic. I suppose the solution would be to make sure that now and then you have a story in just the right title where experimental art would be appropriate.

Some comics are not meant to be experimental, they are simply meant to entertain, and be simple, clean, and above all, supremely clear pieces of storytelling.

So I suppose we simply need a few more ‘weird’ superhero books. Defenders, Doom Patrol, Warlock, or perhaps an all-new title, like TIME VARIANCE, or perhaps JUSTICE PEACE. Multiversal omni-action at its absolute finest. ^^

And HEY! I’m still waiting for Bill Reed’s reply on the whole colouring-thing! As an aspiring colourist, I actually feel a bit offended here!

I would like to know what he means by the best artists being the ones that colour themselves? In all of the examples above, the classic guys that pushed the envelope, not a single one of them was coloured by themselves, but by little old ladies with exacto-knifes in a sweat-shop.

Excellent examples of colouring in the example tho, with the reds and blues. However, it should be noted that the colouring should serve the artist, and the story. If the story has no logical reason for every panel to be duo-tone, or if the artist really does pencil in a very realistic way, then why the heck should the colourist come in and ruin the whole thing with experimental colouring??

Most pencillers I know would beat the sh*t out of me, if I did that.

Or maybe not… since I’m the writer as well as colourist on the few comics I’m trying to complete…

Best piece you ever wrote, Burgas

Yup, the images you chose go a long way to making your case for you. Can’t help but look at the images from recent Hercules and Heroes for Hire there, and wonder why they should look so relatively dull and boring. It must be down to this realism (as in, naturalism) kick that has really taken hold on superhero comics, for very little good reason. realism was never the point, surely. realistic drawings of men in tights just look…silly. and all standing around in their underwear looking all grim. Silly!

I miss the kind of antic reinvention that, say, Juan Bobillo brought to She Hulk. And just look how they’ve managed to grind down Tan Eng Huat, who was a revelation on Doom Patrol when he started out. I have to assume that is fan mentality (the ‘too cartoony’ squad) and similarly fandom riddled editorial policy that has done this. the wider world is quite rightly not so interested in comic books that don’t look like comic books anymore. end this arrested development and lets have more images to make you gasp and wonder.

@predabot : JUSTICE PEACE OH YEAH !! Especially since Warren Ellis and Juan Jose Ryp are doing more and more Marvel works these days..

I had been a reader of The New Mutants from the very first issue when Bill Sienkiewicz eventually took over as principle artist with issue #18. His Danielle Moonstar “Demon Bear” painting on the cover, and the illustrations inside that issue forever altered the way I looked at comic books, and what I felt I could begin to expect from comics as an art form.

After taking in Bill’s…[ahem] ‘electrifying’ work on Elektra: Assassin, I then gradually began to notice the projects of other non-traditional comic book of artists, like Dave McKean (Cages, Sandman), Kent Williams (Havok/Wolverine: Meltdown), Jon J Muth (Havok/Wolverine: Meltdown, “M”), Ted McKeever (Metropol), Marc Hempel (Breathtaker) Simon Bisley (Lobo, Batman/Judge Dredd: Judgment on Gotham), and others whose names escape me in the heat of the moment; I’m in Arizona near the pool at my apartment complex (Haha).

It’s clear that this post has attracted a nice number of responses, and I only skimmed through most of them. Still, the problem that I really see with superhero comics isn’t the lack of artistic diversity. It’s still just the overwhelming number of superhero comic books themselves. For me, it calls to mind that line of dialog spoken by the lead character in the animated film Ghost in the Shell: “Overspecialize, and you breed in weakness. It’s slow death.”

Much more than the art contained in comics –– which to me is still very diverse –– I think it’s the lack of diversity in themes and subject matter that shows the biggest problem with comics today. Superhero stories are comic books completely synonymous. And though I wasn’t alive to see most of them on the stands, I still do lament the significant losses romance comics, and all the others with themes that covered the gamut; from humor, crime and horror to tales of the supernatural, fantasy, science fiction and war.

Whenever I read manga, which is fairly often, I find that part of the draw is the diversity in story content as much as incredible art that they contain. One of my favorite titles to this day is Sanctuary, the long-running Japanese yakauza story. I have all 9 volumes of the Viz graphic novel, and give it a re-read every few years. And, sadly, I can think of little in the history of American comics that compares to it, visually or thematically.

Adam:

Freddie’s a friend and a former studio associate, and Matt’s a friend as well. I didn’t appreciate either of them being mentioned as guys who were replaceable with ‘weird’ artists, just because ‘hey, their book’s not selling well enough and you’re going to cancel them anyway, DC, so let’s just fire the creators and leave them without work so the guy I like over here can make some more money…’

It’s not what Greg meant to come across, but across it came nonetheless. You have to keep in mind when you’re talking about replacing any creator, it’s personal, Adam. That creator is a human being with a life and likely a family to support. If someone online started posting that you deserved to be fired off your job because your employer’s product or service wasn’t making enough of a profit to suit them, you’d be offended. So it is with creators. The only time you should ever say a creator doesn’t deserve / need a specific assignment is when they either aren’t meeting their contractual obligations due to negligence, or they already have established gainful employment / assignments elsewhere that should be financially stable enough to support themselves and their family. It’s got nothing to do with whether you personally like the work or not. You have the choice not to buy, after all.

Now, where as to Greg’s plea for more experimentation — I’m not saying we don’t need some “experimentation” at the Big Two. We always need experimentation in the art form. But there’s a whole lot of culling the herd of redundant titles and creators – mostly writers, but certainly artists as well – that has to happen first.

Every wave of ‘experimentation’ in comics art and writing was caused by an upheaval in the entire structure of the comics hierarchy. Ditko and Steranko and Eisner and those guys in the 1950s and 1960s were dealing with the upheaval of the comics market due to the Senate hearings with Wertham and the underground comics culture beginning to take shape. The 1970s and early 1980s were a time of upheaval in comics due to the fall of newsstand and the rise of the Direct Market. The late 1980s, early 1990s came the rise of the speculator market and wild spending by Marvel’s ownership, the formation of Image Comics – and all of that created a huge backlash and set back for our medium creatively in spite of the many excellent works we saw produced, because the reality is Image forced the fair majority of truly original and innovative guys in the independent scene right out of the market by their business practices, and Marvel and DC followed suit battling them for market share by expanding their lines far beyond reasonable levels and defining their entire publishing structures to “events”. Today, we’re very much repeating the same problems we had twenty years ago during the rise of the speculator market. The main difference is, we’ve become so insular and expensive as a market in the interim, that there isn’t going to be a mass outside audience to swoop in and buy millions of copies to create inflated sales margins this time. No matter how damn many movies we make. And while we all “know” this in the industry, and we “know” we have to start looking down a different path, listen to what Tom Brevoort and Axel Alonso and Dan Didio are telling you – they don’t know how to break out of this pattern, because at the end of the day, this is the structure fandom and retailers are supporting. We are the serpent eating our own tail.

Greg, bless him, thinks that experimentation with the art on the corporate characters will garner new audiences. I’m sorry, but I don’t think it can in this market. The expense of our market makes it so harsh for even those of us who hopelessly love comics to buy extensively, so that we’ve all become a whole lot more skeptical and cynical in what we choose to support because you practically have to hit the pitch out of the park every swing to make it worth the money we’re investing. Even our best and most beloved creators don’t have that kind of batting average, I’m afraid, no matter how delusionally faithful their fans are to them.

We – the publisher, the creator, the retailer, and fandom alike, both individually and collectively – each have to step back and take stock of ourselves and just what it is we truly want from this medium we call comics. We’re at the cusp of another major upheaval and there are all kinds of signs and directions and we’re pretty damned scattershot in our ideology today. Digital Comics and technology vs. print. Floppies Vs. Tradewaiters. LCS vs. Online shopping. Price points, formats, distribution wars, downsizing / closures of publishers, running away to other media and bringing other media to comics to try to ‘validate’ our art form. And pointing our fingers at one another the entire time (yet never having the sense to point the finger at ourselves, because we’re all of us to blame).

We may as well be sloshing around in quicksand for all the good we’re doing ourselves, Adam.

Now, is there a vine to grab ahold of and pull ourselves out? *sigh* I hope so. I truly do.

casual comics reader

April 24, 2011 at 10:22 pm

There’s two types of comic art for me. Acceptable and unacceptable. Rarely have I been distracted by a single page I thought was “beautiful”. I like some artists better than others, but I’d never buy any one book just for the art.

Oh, and Joe Blough needs to go play in traffic. Pretentious punk.

I skimmed through this post, but think I got the jist of it between the comments and what I did read.

Remember when Marvel did reboot X-Force, and the hate letters in the letters column? For Mike Allred, who’s got a great “clean” Silver Age-y style? People were pissed because it wasn’t “their” X-Force anymore. (There were, however, probably about an equal number of people who loved the new direction, and in fact started picking the book up because of Milligan/Allred).

I think one thing with Sienkiewicz is that he had established himself as someone who could hit deadlines, so that he could be given leeway to try a new style. He was also the best of the Neal Adams clones, so he had a marketable style to fall back on. And I assume at that time Claremont had the clout to say that he wanted to try something different. (But man, even without embiggening the New Mutants pics, look at all them words! Christ, Claremont wouldn’t shut up sometimes, huh?) And as we saw from a recent Legends column, Sienkiewicz was complimentary to Shooter about a story Shooter had written, so being “in” with the EIC probably helped too.

I get Louis saying that bringing in some other artist to take over from someone else is poor form because that person is human and has a career. On the other hand, if the book isn’t selling, and the company wants to keep doing it, shouldn’t something change? And that something might need to be the artist.

I’d say, though, why not encourage artists on low selling books to start going nuts with design and layouts and so forth. Let a guy on a book that’s starting to tank start doing weird shit, and maybe the buzz will come back on the book.

Another thing is, WHY do certain titles exist? You bring up Namor as a poor selling title — why the fuck is there even a Namor book? Who thinks Namor is going to sell well anyway, especially since there’s not a whole lot of promotion being done to push it?

Another interesting thing is that your main point is that superhero books need a kick in the ass, but your examples of old time comics that did weird shit aren’t exactly superhero books, per se. Jimmy Olsen, Dr Strange, Nick Fury, Captain Marvel/Thanos stuff — it’s got a lot of the trappings of superheroes, but they aren’t strictly speaking superhero books. Maybe that’s the key, some of the “odder” things can have more oddball design and art.

Overall, I’m in the camp that if creators are going to go nuts, they should do it in creator owned books, so they reap more of the benefits. However, since way too many creators are getting sucked into the big 2, they should start going nuts.

I really think there are artists that the big two take risks with:
as one poster stated, Alex Maleev at first on Daredevil was crazy idea….and yet we got one of the best crafted comics of that decade (if not all time).

DC- has always taken chances with artists- JH Williams comes to mind, look what he has done with a fairly new character.

I really think that now more than ever, there are people trying new things in the comic medium. Look at all the image titles- Non player, Chew….the artistic styles are so dynamic and so different….There seems to be a new wave of talent…it’ll be a matter of time before more and more unique styles are implemented in main stream superhero comics…I’m sure of it.

Just to dip my toe in the conversation, the Avengers Academy example is one that came to mind recently. It’s a book that is illustrated in a perfectly competent, direct, manner but in a style that doesn’t seem to reflect the content or tone. I like the concept and writing but feel (in vain) that it needs its New Mutant/ Bill Sienkiewicz moment. If not on low selling or tentpole titles, then at least a “youth”-oriented book should have the energy and anxiety and experimentation that Greg is championing. See: Bachalo on Death and Generation X and Skottie Young’s brief, bright, run on New X-Men. See also: Manga (even the formulaic stuff is less “safe”)

That said, it’s heartening to see Marvel promote cartoon craftsmen like Francavilla, Samnee, Martin, and Paolo Rivera on high profile books.

I was going to go into a rant, but then had a better thought: DC had a very successful franchise going at Cartoon Network with Justice League Unlimited, and other titles. They brought the man responsible for that huge success on board their comics ostensibly to build upon that success. They then tied his hands behind his back so tightly he eventually started voicing his unhappiness and they kicked him out of their sandbox. They feel so bound to their history they have lost the next generation to manga as they struggle to appease an increasingly inflexible and demanding audience who will only continue to get older, and thus get smaller. What will they do when that audience starts dying off?

I knew that there was something missing from today’s super-hero comic artwork, and I have not been able to put my finger on it until now. Thank you so much for writing this article- I hope Marvel and DC take note and see that us readers agree.

You went the whole article without showing J.H. Williams III’s Batwoman! Shame. Now THERE is a man who changes up his styles.

Someone mentioned it above, but when Skottie Young came on board as the artist on NEW X-MEN, I immediatley jumped to the New Mutants/Bill S. watershed moment. Sadly, Young only got 7 issues out of NXM before it got rebooted as something shitty and boring.

Another newer artist that I think has a really unique and quirky style is Roland Boschi, who was fantastic as the artist on Jason Aaron’s GHOST RIDER. I can’t believe that guy hasn’t gotten more work from Marvel.

Roland Boschi was awesome. I’d love to see him or Gabriel Hernandez on Avengers Academy.

Fire all writers who can’t draw! :-D

[…] Taking no chances: Mainstream superhero comics need a kick in the butt […]

When I saw the title of the article, I inwardly groaned. But when I read the article, and saw the examples, it convinced me. After a moments reflection, I’m a little less convinced. I think the landscape of comics is changed since the 80s early 90s, so that the weird, wild artists, aren’t getting a chance to take over for a more staid artist on a long-running C-list title, because there are no long running C-list titles anymore. These type of creators are brought on boutique projects like Girl Comics, or Wednesday comics. Or they get things like the Brendan McCarthy Spider-Man/Doc Strange miniseries, or the Kaare Andrews Spider-Man: Reign miniseries, or the Tan Eng Huat Silver Surfer series, or series that become limited when they get cancelled, like Thor: The Mighty Avenger.

Chris Samnee’s art on that is maybe not the best example, because he’s very straightforward, not really “weird” but he is at least unique…

There is something to this article, though… I think Mike McKone’s work on Spider-Man is the epitome, of the technically proficient, but staid work the article talks about. Maybe rendered styles of computer coloring create a bias for realism? The focus is all on writers these days?

For the past four years, i was an aspiring draftsman trying to break into Marvel comics—a very difficult goal to say the least, no matter the talent or potential you present to them. Their might be other considerations that factor in on their final decision on who they would want to work on their books–but the apparent mediocrity that sits fat faced on the shelves is a disdainful and glaring reminder how far out of touch the editorial boards, in both companies, is in saving the industry from inevitable stagnation.

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