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Year of the Artist, Day 195: Rob Liefeld, Part 4 – Orion #8

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Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Rob Liefeld, and the story is “Deadend” in Orion #8, which was published by DC and is cover dated January 2001. Enjoy!

The back-up story in Walt Simonson’s Orion #8 is five pages long, and in it, Jeph Loeb tells a quick story about Mark Moonrider and Big Bear fighting against the “insidious” Mantis. It ties into the longer epic that Simonson is telling, but it’s not very satisfying on its own. It does, however, feature Liefeld drawing and Norm Rapmund inking, so I thought I’d show a few pages to see what was going on with the art. Sound good?

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Unfortunately, two of the pages I want to look at form a double-page spread, so you’ll just have to click on both sides to see it more clearly. Liefeld’s layout is pretty good – Big Bear punches Mantis into the panels on the right side of the page, and the rough panel borders over there make the fight seem a bit more frenetic. Liefeld still loves his pony tails, as Moonrider’s swirls beautifully from the back of his head. You’ll notice a few things that are different from Liefeld’s early 1990s heyday, though. His figure work is more restrained, much more in line with his pre-fame work than what we saw on X-Force. All three characters are fairly proportionate, although Big Bear and Mantis are good and muscular. Liefeld still oddly has some issues with perspective, and we see Moonrider in the final panel sort of floating above the ground, but that’s not a deal-breaker. We also see what happens when Liefeld doesn’t ink himself. In the close-up on Big Bear’s face, we see that Rapmund/Liefeld still uses too many lines, and the shape of Big Bear’s mouth is very odd, but the rest of the page is inked pretty well. While Moonrider has high cheekbones in the final panel, the line isn’t too severe that his face looks emaciated, as we’ve seen in the previous few days. The way Rapmund inks Mantis’s clothing in the big panel is interesting, too. Rapmund uses thicker blacks – they’re not too thick, but they’re not just lines – which keeps Mantis’s outfit from being baggy, as we’ve seen over the past few days, and makes it look sleeker. That small change makes a big difference. Sherilyn van Valkenburgh, who colors this, is more restrained than the coloring we saw in the early ’90s work, and flatter colors always seem to help Liefeld’s art be more restrained as well (we’ll see an example of more modern colors tomorrow). There’s still plenty of Liefeldian touches, like the drool spraying from Mantis’s mouth when he’s punched and the rigid folds in Moonrider’s … apron? what are those things called? … but overall, it’s a pretty good double-page splash.

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This is a busy page, but it has to be, as the story is so short. Liefeld manages to get a lot of information on the page without being too confusing, even though that means we get some close-ups where either his or Rapmund’s lines are more obvious. Rapmund/Liefeld doesn’t quite cross-hatch as much as Liefeld did back in the day, but there’s really no need for so much on the faces of Moonrider and Mantis. Like with the other characters, it ages them, which makes the art look more bizarre than it should. Liefeld continues to draw mouths strangely, as we see in Panels 2 and 6 – Moonrider’s lips stretch in ways that don’t look natural. For some reason, colorists don’t like making the lips on Liefeld’s characters distinguishable from the rest of their faces – van Valkenburgh is not the first to do this – so the mouths look more like gaping holes in faces, which is not a very good image. Interestingly enough, we still get good inking on the clothing of the characters, so that neither Mantis or Moonrider looks like they’re wearing baggy shirts and pants. That’s progress, but there’s still the excessive hatching on the faces.

My theory is always that Liefeld takes on too much work and rushes it, which makes him sloppy, but here, he has only five pages to do, and he doesn’t need to ink things, so this art, while not as good as his very early work, is still much better than his work in 1990/1991. The balance still tilts too far to excess, but less than we had been seeing during most of the 1990s. Tomorrow I’ll check out the most recent Liefeld comic I own, and we’ll see what we can see. Of course, you could always check out some archives to celebrate Bastille Day!

27 Comments

Cankles. Cankles everywhere.

uck. when are you gonna get around to chuck austen?

rdsthebarbarian: That’s too true, although I guess the fact that they’re wearing boots makes it a bit less annoying? :)

s!moN: Don’t tempt me! :) I actually own so little of Austen’s artwork that it would probably be pointless. And Austen’s art, while bad, isn’t quite as distinctive as someone like Liefeld. I really do think that Liefeld could have been good, while Austen just seems like a journeyman. Featuring Austen would be like featuring Al Milgrom, and I have no interest in that.

What? No Captain Agent Fighting American #1? With disappearing/reappearing furniture, clothing and limbs?

Nytwyng: Sorry! As I mentioned, after giving up on Liefeld in the early 1990s, I simply didn’t buy his work, so I missed his mid-1990s craziness. I figure just showing a bit of it from X-Force was enough! I own this almost by accident – I wanted to read Orion, and didn’t know he drew a back-up story, and tomorrow’s entry was part of my big Buy Everything From The DC Reboot thing. So I really have no sought out Liefeld’s work in over 20 years, and while I did buy Secret Origins and Hawk and Dove just for this series, I really didn’t want to get his mid-1990s stuff for it.

Stephen Conway

July 14, 2014 at 2:34 pm

Feet!

Man, this was a disorienting thing to have in Orion. Come for Walt Simonson, stay for Loeb & Liefeld?

You just mentioned Chuck Austen in the same sentence with affable Al Milgrom, average penciler, good editor, good writer, inker extraordinaire. You trolling, man?

Anyways, this is passable and readable; heck, if there were fewer hatch lines, and better noses and teeth, it’d be good. Liefeld needs an inker. The guy who was working in his Kirkman project did a good job of unliefeld things

Stephen: I know!

buttler: The back-ups in Orion were pretty cool, though, even if, as you put it, this one was a bit disorienting!

Kabe: Sure, Milgrom was great at a lot of things, but we’re talking strictly about penciling. You said yourself that he was an average penciler. Austen is a horrific writer, but his art is just kind of mediocre. Nothing eye-meltingly awful, but certainly nothing great. So yeah, I compared them! Not as anything but pencilers, though!

I remember that when I read this story in 2001, my first thought was “Mark Moonrider, Big Bear and Mantis all have exactly the same face.” Even in a story that is only five pages long with just a mere three characters in it Liefeld could not be bothered to try to differentiate between the them.

I got a strong Shatterstar & Stryfe vibe from looking at these pictures. I don’t think that was intentional.

Looks as if someone had some Joe Kubert propped up on his drawing table, doesn’t it?

Even a pared down and restrained Liefeld draws people with lopsided eyes and tiny noses.

I’m not sure if Liefeld or Whilce Portacio or Jim Lee are responsible for the Scribbled Panel Borders! but sweet merciful Jesus who art in heaven, those things became a standard 90′s trope in a heartbeat.

In the 90′s when Valiant decided to scrap everything interesting about their universe and just try to be like Image, those panels started showing up and you just knew the party was over. 22 pages of nothing happening but grimaces, pouches, and scribble borders.

To be fair they had some cool Mignola influenced art by Tommy Lee Edwards on late-late-era Secret Weapons. And Grey did some cool stuff on Magnus near the end. But on a whole they just walked around the bullpen with a Bart Sears portfolio saying’ “THIS!” to people.

Greg, I am surprised as well that you skipped Liefeld’s Captain America (now with GGG breasts!) as it is a buyer’s market for those poor books. There really should be a Speculator’s Dream Day where comics fans all get together and hold a paper drive to collect as many issues of shitty comics and have them recycled, there by leaving the speculators who really hung in there rich, as now there would be as many copies of Heroes Reborn as there are of Action Comics #1.

It’d do the Earth good.

David: Well, as Ben pointed out, once Liefeld found a face, he liked using it! So it might not have been intentional to remind you of Shatterstar and Stryfe, perhaps Liefeld couldn’t help it.

I Grok Spock: That’s a good idea, although I don’t know if we should reward speculators!

I knew I had enough Liefeld from his most egregious era, so I really didn’t want to spend any money (or time) tracking down the Youngblood or the Captain America or the Fighting American stuff. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Sorry!

Burgas, Milgrom’s Spectacular Spider-Man was pretty damn good; he had a wonderfully Ditko style.

I really like Milgrom’s pencils, but I totally get that most people find it pretty unremarkable.

After the last few days, these pages actually look pretty good. There’s backgrounds and everything!

Simonson’s Orion run was fantastic. I picked up all the issues in bargain bins. Quite the steal. They really should release trades of this. Especially since it was only 25 issues, they could collect the whole thing in just a handful of volumes.

kdu2814: I bow to your knowledge. All I’ve seen of Milgrom’s actual penciling has been solid but rather dull, but I haven’t seen his work on Spectacular Spider-Man.

Jazzbo: I don’t know why DC doesn’t do a big Omnibus of the entire series. It seems like it’s the perfect size, and it’s a superb comic. But what do I know? :)

Arthur Adams may be the most influential comics artist of the end of the 20th century. Liefeld, Lee, McFarlane, and others all draw from his style. Unfortunately, what they draw tends to be a buttload of sketchy little lines creating an unconvincing illusion of depth; a hollow Image, if you will

brian the brain

July 15, 2014 at 5:24 am

@Neil Kapit

I am not a fan of anyone you listed (except for Mignola) but I think Mc Farlane had his style and was a a bit of an innovator, probably the more solid and professional of the Image guys. Jim Lee is still regarded as a good artist (by DC fans at least) but personally I don’t like that mainstream american comics style with the “cool” factor included so I never liked him. But Mc Farlane wasn’t super clean, or plastic-like, he was a bit exagerated but cool imo.

That’s much better than a lot of his modern work. It keeps the dynamism of his early work that he has largely lost.

You didn’t want to spend time or money finding a Liefield Captain America/Fighting American/Youngblood issue? Walk into a comic store. Reach into the $.25 bin without looking 5 times. You are practically guaranteed to get one of those issues. Solves the time problem and the money problem, but unfortunately not the ‘wanting to gouge your own eyes out’ problem.

Now that someone brought up Bart Sears, are you going to feature him at some point?

Steve: Yeah, good point. But maybe I didn’t want to gouge my eyes out!!! :)

I hadn’t thought of Sears, which is weird, because I’ve thought of a bunch of other artists. I’ll have to add him to the list and see if I can fit him in.

Jeff Nettleton

July 15, 2014 at 11:11 pm

You mentioned flat coloring aiding Liefeld’s art. I would go so far as to say that the colorist did the lion’s share of the work to make give Liefeld’s art any depth whatsoever. I’ve seen some of his originals, in black and white, and they really lack dimension. The colorists added dimension with the computer color gradients. It helped the figures (since he couldn’t be bothered with backgrounds, usually) “pop out” of the page more. I once read that you can really tell the good artists from the bad by how their work looks in stark black & white and Liefeld is the perfect example (while Gene Colan is the perfect example of a penciller who was so good the inker really was almost superfluous).

When he appeared in that 90s Stan Lee video series, Stan remarked about how Liefeld never seemed to join lines, or even carry a single line through a figure. To me, that’s a sign of an artist who is not confident in his linework and needs to fudge his figure detail to make it work. I have gone through stages like this in my drawing, though it improved with practice. I really think that Liefeld could have developed into a much better artist with a strong mentor. McFarlane has gone on record about learning a lot from Dick Giordano, while at DC, and John Romita, while at Marvel. He ignored a lot of their advice, in regards to storytelling (in my eyes, at least); but, his layouts and figure work showed great improvement from his earlier stuff until Spawn.

Jeff: You can bet that I’ll get to McFarlane, so we’ll see what’s up when we get to him! :)

LouReedRichards

July 16, 2014 at 10:59 am

@Jeff Nettleton

Yeah, that’s been my experience with art and artist. I’d much rather see a competent artist put down a simple line and leave it as opposed to all the madness of the “Image Guys” with crosshatching overkill. Thousands of little thin anemic lines that signify nothing except useless detail and the artist’s insecurity.

I’m not a fan of David Finch, but I at least appreciate that, while his style is over the top busy and overly-rendered his lines at least have some “life” to them, they have a thickness and an internal consistency that Liefeld and a lot of the other classic Image guys art lacks.

That said I’ll take a reductionist Toth or Mignola drawing any day of the week over the “more lines make it better” art style.

It’s easy to say all of that of course, in practice it’s much more difficult. In my own work I struggle with putting a paint stroke down and leaving it, not going back and trying to make it “better”, which at least 80% of the time actually makes it worse.

Jeff Nettleton

July 16, 2014 at 5:18 pm

@LouReedRichards
My few attempts to do anything with a brush were disasters (mostly inking, though a couple attempts at using poster paints). It’s one of those areas where I really think I need an instructor, but haven’t had the time or drive to take a class. Pencil was more natural, for me. I’ve tried pens but I do better with a commercial writing nib pen than a professional art pen, dipped in ink. I never could get a technical pen to do much either. Really, I did better with writing instruments. Maybe it was just being used to them.

I agree on the Toths and Mignolas. It took Hellboy to really appreciate Mignola, though I was beginning to with Fafhrd and Gray Mouser (with Howard Chaykin , at Marvel/Epic). I saw bits and pieces of Toth, but really discovered him through animation, when I fell in love with Space Ghost (not realizing I had already seen his work on the first season of the Super Friends). I caught Space Ghost and the Herculoids in a later re-run, on Saturday morning, in the late 70s and was awestruck at the look and action. Mike Parobeck was another, especially on Batman Adventures. At first I thought his stuff looked really simplistic, until I realized how well his stories read. He wasn’t as heavily rendered as John Byrne and George Perez; but, man, could he tell a story and his speedsters zoomed across the page (possibly better than Infantino’s). I was really sad to read about his death, as he was really starting to come into his own. Matt Wagner is another in that area. I watched him at a convention create paint “sketches,” using colored paper and paint markers. They were amazing and minimalist. He would choose the right color of paper, then create the essential details with the paint markers. I watched him use a red sheet and turn out an image of Captain Marvel and wished I had had the ready cash to get one of those (spent too much on back issues, earlier on).

“We also see what happens when Liefeld doesn’t ink himself. In the close-up on Big Bear’s face, we see that Rapmund/Liefeld still uses too many lines, and the shape of Big Bear’s mouth is very odd, but the rest of the page is inked pretty well.”

Worth noting that Liefeld has admitted (boasted?) several times that even when he’s had others ink his work since 1993, he still inks the faces himself – he was never happy with how they looked at the hands of others.

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