Who’d win in a fight between Superman and Spawn? How the f*ck old is Cable? And what in the holy hell is a Megatron? When the tough questions arise, Panels on Pages will gather the facts, but it’s up to the PoP!ulation to draw its own conclusions. So come on… Riddle Me This!
A while back, Mary Staggs looked at the issue of undervalued comic book art as posed by Ron Marz. There are a couple of interconnected points here, let’s begin with the basic thesis, paraphrasing Marz:
Comic book artists in general are under-appreciated
Specifically, Marz suggests that too much of the credit for a good issue is given to the writers when a book is reviewed. And for those unfamiliar with the man, Marz IS a writer, so this isn’t some “poor me” whining, but rather genuine concern for his brothers-in-arms. Every comic you read should be a balance of good art and good writing, and failure on either front risks taking you out of the moment and spoiling the enjoyment for you. Why, then, does it seem writers get more credit than the artists who shoulder the burden with them?
I’d argue that this stems from a sort of cultural bias. When you read a “real” book, there’s no artist to credit. You focus on the story as told by the writer. When you watch a television show or a movie, you may note how attractive the actors are or the details of the special effects, but much of the visual content is taken for granted and instead the writing, acting, and directing are lauded or alternately called into question. So, when we crack open a comic book, we focus – as we’ve been unconsciously trained to – on the writing. Usually it is only the truly terrible art, so bad that it disrupts the flow of the story, that garners notice.
So, then, is the lack of criticism the highest praise we can give an artist; does the fact that we never even considered their work – and therefore have nothing bad to say about it – somehow translate into a five star rating?
Let’s move on to thesis number two…
Art is subjective and – therefore – polarizing
Good writing has a few simple hallmarks: show, don’t tell; create characters your readers care about – villains they hate, heroes they empathize with, etc; tell your story in a way that makes sense. Follow these simple rules, and you’ve got a functional narrative. Beyond that, sure, there’s style at question. But successfully hitting the aforementioned high notes will usually get you a solid B rating across the board; that extra bit of panache is the difference between whether you’re liked or you’re loved. For artists, it’s a very different story.
A competent artist knows how to draw the human form reasonably well. Moreover, they can put together page layouts that have a natural flow to them. That level of competence will get you roughly a C. NO one will complain about you, but no one will rave about you, either. Here’s the problem though; for an artist to get noticed – to TRULY stand out – they have to develop a unique style. The problem is that the subjective nature of art means that one man’s A+ is another man’s F-. Look no further than John Romita, Jr., Chris Bacchalo, and Guillem March: three superstar artists with vastly different styles. JRJR is one of the best known/loved artists in the industry, receiving some of the highest profile assignments, yet I for one can’t stand his work. Bacchalo is right up there alongside him, but I find his panels too often muddied by excess detail in the foreground; his forms too cartoonish. And March? His exaggerated sexuality and deliberate facial expressions never cease to wow me, yet he constantly comes under fire for his artwork being “unrealistic” or “hypersexualized.” To the former claim, I ask “Did you forget you’re reading comic books?” and to the latter I say “Yes, and…?”
The simple fact remains: to get attention with your art, you have to take risks. You’ll be beloved by some and vilified by others, but at least you’ll be known. Which brings us to my final point:
Too many good artists are being overlooked
Paco Medina. Tom Raney. Charles Paul Wilson III. You’ve probably heard these names. Maybe you’ve even seen these artists’ work. But there’s a million miles between these names and the Ethan Van Scivers and Leinil Franci Yus of the world. Why? What holds good artists back in this business? And why do names like Greg Land and Rob Liefeld show up on so many more – and higher profile – covers? Can they really sell more copy with traced porn stars and nipple pouches than some of their more talented compatriots?
Exposure is an issue, I suppose. A good writer can put out a handful of books in the course of a month; a good artist seldom more than one. So between reading some modern noir, a few super hero books, and a handful of more offbeat comics, I might stumble upon the same writer two or three times across multiple companies and genres. Finding a particular artist, however, means reading that one book a month that he or she is working on; if it’s not from a company I’m familiar with or focused on a character I read, then I may never become familiar with the artist in question. Kenneth Rocafort is a perfect example: before Red Hood and the Outlaws, he’d provided the art for Madame Mirage and a handful of other Top Cow books (such as Velocity, to be featured this week as a Hidden Gem). Good books, sure, but fringe books to say the least; two of them “Hidden Gems.” I’d argue that an approximate 90% of comic readers (and that’s being conservative) had never seen his artwork before the launch of the new 52, and Red Hood is still FAR from one of DC’s top titles, meaning this incredible talent still isn’t getting the exposure he deserves.
And THAT, PoP!ulation, leads us to the question at hand, so riddle me this:
How can great artists get the recognition they deserve?
Great art is the right of all sentient beings. Optimus Prime said so.