Comics and the Diminishing Role of Artists in a Visual Medium

Brian Michael Bendis’ “Avengers”.

Geoff Johns’ “Green Lantern”.

Jason Aaron’s “Wolverine and the X-Men”.

When you see people talk about some of today’s greatest and most celebrated runs in comics, it’s quite often only the writer who gets mentioned, even though each of those books wouldn’t have been the same without people like David Finch, Ivan Reis and Nick Bradshaw. We’re living in the Era of The Writer in comics, a time when the quality of comics – in my opinion – is at an all-time high, with art that astounds and thrills — yet there may never have been a time in comics where being an artist is more thankless or minimized.

It’s not just in the marketing for collections at the Big Two, but in reviews and in page rates and in length of runs and many more things. Comic artists have been devalued to the point where you could argue public perception is of them as almost secondary creators, and certainly fungible ones in the comic creation mix.

But why is that? How did we get to a place where these storytellers who make comics comics are the sidekicks, and what can we do to make things better?

Comic Art Throughout History

Once upon a time, you’d see artists take on legendary runs, with people like Jack Kirby becoming synonymous with books like “Fantastic Four” when they carved out uninterrupted runs of pure creativity like he did for 103 issues. Lengthy, banner runs on books for artists used to be more the norm, not the exception like when you see Mark Bagley and Salvador Larocca stay on “Ultimate Spider-Man” and “Invincible Iron Man” respectively for years.

Length of work isn’t everything though, and it often wasn’t about that so much as it was about an artist redefining a character or team. Looking back, it wouldn’t be outlandish to say you read “Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man” or “Jim Lee’s X-Men”, because in that period, artists occupied the place writers do now. Even though they both had prominent writers working with them in David Michelinie and Chris Claremont respectively (for a time, at least), few will look back on those times and think of anyone different.

And nothing can be shown as a better example of how powerful artists used to be in comics than one singular event: the creation of Image Comics in 1992.

Featuring the aforementioned McFarlane and Lee, as well as Erik Larsen, Rob Liefeld, Whilce Portacio, Jim Valentino and Marc Silvestri, arguably the seven biggest artists at the time (and one writer in Claremont) broke off from Marvel and started their own creator-owned driven publisher to towering sales and roaring success. Books like “WildCATS” and “Spawn” were such enormous successes thanks to the artistic giants that fronted them that, at least for a time, Image had greater sales than DC Comics did.

As a massive X-Men fan, I went from thinking the X-Men were the coolest to WildCATs were. Not because they were (they weren’t), but because Jim Lee was the awesomeness equivalent of Transformers, Ken Griffey, Jr. and The Goonies to me at the time, and that is saying something. I would have followed him to the edges of the Earth to read his comics, and it wasn’t just me, but legions of readers who couldn’t get enough of the Image founders work.

Things were going so well that artist rates were going through the roof as well, as Liefeld recently noted that he was paying Stephen Platt $40,000 an issue for “Prophet”. While that was most definitely an outlier in terms of rates, it means that the valuation of artists then was much different than it is today.

And Then Everything Changed

I’m not going to pretend that comic artists have forever been considered the preeminent part of the comic equation but in the past decade or so, it really seems to have taken a turn for the worse.

I’m not sure when everything changed, but at some point, comics became a writer driven industry, and this time more than ever before.

You had your aforementioned major runs being emphasized by writer and not artist (see: Bendis on “Avengers” and Johns on “Green Lantern”), you had Marvel’s unveiling of the (short lived) Architects* moniker (comprised of five writers in Bendis, Aaron, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction and Jonathan Hickman), and you had books no longer having an emphasis on a consistent artistic presence, all pushing the marketing weight and reader interest onto the writers and their plots rather than the overall storytelling that writers and artists combine to create.

Artists are, for better or worse, faced with a public perception of being the lesser of the two most prominent creators, especially on Marvel and DC books.

There are a lot of reasons why this happened, and for the purposes of naming those, let’s break out a numbered list, shall we?

1. Marvel’s Double Shipping

Marvel, likely in response to DC’s New 52 (but perhaps inspired by the success of “Amazing Spider-Man’s” ‘Brand New Day’ initiative), started double shipping books every month like it was the way it always was. Because two issues were coming out every month and because creating the art for comic is such a grueling, time consuming activity, rotating art teams have become the standard at Marvel.

Let’s look back at some of the big Marvel NOW! launches for evidence of this:

  • “Uncanny Avengers” with John Cassaday!: 4 (delayed) issues
  • “Guardians of the Galaxy” with Steve McNiven!: 3.1 issues
  • “X-Men” with Olivier Coipel!: 3 issues

Since then, all of those books have swapped artists on a fairly regular basis, and while that may have been the plan all along (and their switch may have been necessitated because all three artists are considered slow), it still feels disingenuous that these books are marketed as new titles drawn by these top name artists. It’s like a movie being marketed as shot by Emmanuel Lubezki, but part way through he’s replaced by someone else entirely (not to diminish the contributions of Daniel Acuna, Sara Pichelli and David Lopez on those books).

With Marvel double shipping, their titles are rarely given the ability to have a consistent artistic presence, and they are certainly unable to develop a visual identity as Marvel rarely matches styles when the books continue past their original artist.

2. DC’s House Style

I’m not sure if there is a nastier, more derisive term in comic art that you can use than “house style.” To say an artist is following a house style is to say that what they are doing is following what everyone else at a publisher is doing; crafting a homogenous, “unified” look that has the connotations of meaning “boring” and “uninspired”.

Yet you could make a really great argument that DC’s New 52 is one of a definitive house style fitting into a specific artistic niche, with exceptions like Cliff Chiang’s “Wonder Woman” work and Greg Capullo on “Batman” standing out. Matt Wilson at Comics Alliance goes into this at length (well worth a read), but the rather Wildstorm-inspired look to their books creates an environment that is lacking in artistic expression, preferring their creators to fit into a box rather than dynamically explode out of it.

Not only that, but when they do have great artists working on a book, because of DC’s adamant “no late books” policy readers are often given guest artists or fill-ins that bring down the overall quality of the issue, as this reader found out when he was excited to read “Action Comics” #27. Aaron Kuder, the regular artist on that book, is the reason I buy that title. That issue had Kuder and two other artists (who were, in their own way, trying to emulate his style) working on it. It made my reading experience significantly worse, and led to me dropping the book.

When a publisher who consistently takes 30% of the marketplace in terms of sales isn’t looking for anything besides art of one specific style, this severely limits the ability for great art to be created for the masses.

This would be a good point to mention that while Marvel does rotate artists regularly, they do bring in very interesting and diverse artists to their books, and it makes them all the better for it.

3. Static Sales Means It’s A-Okay!

So Marvel is swapping artists like we all hopefully swap clothes (regularly and with at least a little thought) and DC is pushing art of a rather homogenized nature on us in the New 52. That has to mean sales are directly affected, right?

That’s where you’d be wrong.

Even with a down month coming in January, comic revenues are more than 50% higher in this January versus the one that hit before the New 52 came to pass. The industry, sales wise, is as healthy as it has been in forever, even with the perpetual turmoil of artistic teams on books.

For a more micro example, let’s look at two Marvel books. Let’s start with the sales of “Captain America”, a book that featured an artistic legend in John Romita, Jr. for two issues (note: all sales numbers from Comichron):

Sales from issue #9 to #14

Even though issue #9 and #10 had Romita art and the ones that followed had either Carlos Pacheco or Nic Klein on them, sales for this book stayed relatively static, especially when factoring in the standard drop that comes with being a monthly comic. The masses don’t realize this, but there is a pretty steady depreciation that hits monthly titles, and that’s all we really see in the sales here.

Sales from issue #33 to #39

Up next, you have sales for “Wolverine and the X-Men”. This has been a consistently great book, with rotating artists who fit well together tonally and stylistically and who happen to be fantastic visual storytellers. Yet, even though these issues have three different artists on them, the only thing that bumped orders whatsoever is the two issue jump for “Battle of the Atom” tie-ins.

Meanwhile, if you take a look at one of the most high profile writer changes in comics from 2013 – Robert Venditti taking over for Geoff Johns on “Green Lantern” – would you believe that Venditti’s first issue actually sold thousands more than Johns’ final issue? Sure, Johns’ one was $7.99, but a jump in sales when switching from a superstar synonymous with the character to a much less known creator is astounding no less.

So what’s my takeaway from this?

When it comes to retailers ordering and customers pull lists, it seemingly scarcely matters who is drawing the book. Granted, orders have to be in from retailers three months ahead of time (and artists sometimes switch between order time and release) and most customers pull based off title rather than writer OR artist, it’s still very interesting that sales do not fluctuate depending on artist.

While this doesn’t concretely say that who artist is doesn’t impact sales, it certainly gives publishers ammunition when it comes to negotiating page rates (more on this later) and support in the idea that rotating art teams work just fine.

4. Because The Internet

The funny thing about the internet is giving everyone a voice didn’t necessarily make everyone writer-centric comic readers, it might have just revealed the way we always were. Whether you’re talking about reviews on sites like ours or comic talk on social media or forums, the emphasis is almost always on the writing.

A new book is announced? Here’s twenty interviews with the writer and none with the artist!

People’s minds are blown by “Ms. Marvel” #1? G. Willow Wilson’s @ mentions are blowing up, but hey, you guys, Adrian Alphona is on the Twitters too.

One of the many example as to why Adrian Alphona is a huge part of Ms. Marvel

Hell, even controversy ignores artists, as the infamous Image Expo photo that was used to show the lack of women and people of color on stage could also have been used to show the predominance of writers as guests.

Clearly, artists don’t get the rep writers do online, and since the internet might as well be the pulse of the comic industry (even when factoring in that internet hype rarely matches sales), it’s indicative of how they are perceived overall.

As such, it’s a weird Ouroboros sort of causal relationship as comic sites want to create content that readers desire, and what they desire is content about plot and writers.

I’ll take you behind the curtain for a second at Multiversity. Not to toot our own horn, but we do a pretty good job when it comes to artist interviews compared to other sites I’d say, as we have our yearly Artist August feature where we talk to an artist every day for the entire month, and we also have our regular Artist Alley feature. We love featuring our favorite artists, and we keep our focus on them consistently.

But of our top twenty five most read interviews of 2013, only two were primarily with artists.

In fact, a three year old interview with the actress who played Catwoman in porn parody “BATFXXX” managed to generate more traffic than any artist interviews.

So what’s a site to do? When it comes to content generation for sites like ours, the name of the game is data driven content, so most sites can say with that backing of site metrics that they shouldn’t interview artists.

It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about interviews or tweets (where tagging a writer in a limited character message could prove more valuable, as writers often have a larger following than artists) or reviews which bury artistic comments to the bottom of the piece. In our society where traffic and mentions are more desirable than quality, balanced content, it is easy to see why things like this happen, even if it wildly unfair for artists.

What This Means for Artists

We’ve established that artists, for a number of reasons that are certainly greater than four, don’t have nearly the profile or the esteem in comics as they used to, but in a more personal sense for each and every one of them, you have to wonder what this means.

Obviously there is what we’ve mentioned previously, in that artists get less respect than writers in the press and that their perceived fungible nature leads to shorter and less iconic runs, but there is a much bigger negative for artists that isn’t often mentioned.

The big point, and the really concerning aspect of all of this, is that the depressed valuation of artists could negatively impact their ability to make a living in comics.

Much of this article was actually triggered by a discussion led by artist (and occasional writer) Sean Gordon Murphy on Twitter. Murphy said:


Many artists jumped into the conversation, as people like Ryan Ottley, Bryan Hitch, John McCrea and more commented, and it led to some really fascinating insight about how and why this is happening.

Murphy posited that 50% of creators live around the poverty line, and while we can’t say whether or not that’s true, factually you can say that sales have boomed, and anecdotally rates for artists have not matched that increase by any means.

There are many reasons for this (for example, Portuguese artist Jorge Coelho wondered whether or not globalization in comic art has driven down rates), assuredly, not all of which are associated with the diminished role of artists in the industry.

But it’s hard to imagine that isn’t a major factor.

All of this could lead many new, talented artists away from the field of comics to other, more potentially lucrative directions, because if page rates are staying stagnant or decreasing and the recognition isn’t there, then why would they want to enter the field?

What This Means for Readers

I’m going to let you in on a secret about comics.

Both the writer and the artist are the storytellers.

It’s not like artists are trained monkeys who create art purely by instruction from writers. They’re dynamic creators in their own right, and I imagine if one writer gave the same page to ten different artists, you’d get pages drawn in ten different ways.

What makes a good comic such an incredible thing isn’t a writer and an artist doing their jobs separately with no real connection; it’s two storytellers working in lockstep to bring a story to life.

As artist Dennis Culver said very well in laying out his work on “Edison Rex” last year, “I have an excellent collaboration with Chris Roberson on Edison Rex and if you could see our process, I think you’d be hard pressed to say where the writing ends and the art begins. Ask Chris, I am OPINIONATED about the story but Chris is the same about page layout and design. And I think that makes for a better comic.”

That type of collaborative work isn’t something many readers even realize is happening.

When I think of my favorite comics at the Big Two, it’s impossible to separate them from the writers and artists who worked on them. Mark Waid and Alex Ross on “Kingdom Come”. Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale on “Batman: The Long Halloween”. Mark Waid and Humberto Ramos on “Impulse”. These are books that work because of how the artist and the writer brought the story that they were telling to life, and they just wouldn’t be the same without either piece of the puzzle.

Page from Astonishing X-Men #1
Even though comics are admittedly in better shape today than they were when those books were released, I have to wonder if they couldn’t be even better. Because of the way artists are devalued and perceived as fungible in many instances, we may be getting completed stories, but ones that favor punctuality over being the right person for the job.

I mean, when I look at “Astonishing X-Men” from the mid 00’s, it is hard to imagine that book even existing in today’s industry. I love that comic, and it’s because of Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s abilities as master storytellers. That 25 issue run took the better part of 5 years to complete, and it was worth every second of wait in my opinion.

Who would have drawn it today in this double-shipping world? Cassaday surely would have only lasted an arc, and we’d likely have seen a number of artists complete the rest of it, making the series less than it could have been.

Because of the way artists are valued today, I personally believe that comics are just that: less than they could be.

Don’t we as readers want comics to be the best versions of themselves?

I certainly do.

For a Better Future

2,600 words and a lot of sad faces later, I do think the future is brighter for artists than it has been recently. As they say, awareness is the first step to change, and awareness on this subject is certainly at an all-time high. With people like David Brothers writing fantastic pieces on the subject and artists themselves being more vocal than ever, the public eye is ever watchful, and people are doing what they can to change the tune of this story.

Saga art from Fiona Staples
Creator-owned comics and crowd-funded ventures like Kickstarter continue to give artists the ability to become a more integral part of the comic equation, with creators like Fiona Staples and Nick Pitarra becoming artistic luminaries in recent years thanks to their work on books outside the Big Two. With the onus being on the creator in this realm, we can see long, quality runs on books like “The Walking Dead” from Charlie Adlard and “Invincible” from Ryan Ottley without constant fill-ins or rotating teams.

It refocuses the power of the artist, putting them back into a place where they aren’t just an assembly line worker, but a primary storyteller with every bit as much emphasis and impact as the writer.

But all of that doesn’t mean things can’t get better.

A lot of that falls on Marvel and DC embracing comics as both an artistic publishing houses and as businesses. While I’d say that one is doing better than the other when it comes to this, they’re both complicit in the minimized role of artists.

As for us, the readers, critics and reviewers? I challenge all of us – Multiversity included – to do more to emphasize the importance of artists in comics. Some say that it’s simply harder to write and talk about what an artist brings to the table, but just because something is hard doesn’t mean that makes it okay to not do it.

There are so many examples of great artistic criticism and features in comics that you can look at to get a better idea of how to do things, and there are even graphic novels like Scott McCloud’s seminal “Understanding Comics” that help arm you with the information and vocabulary you need to properly talk about art in comics.

Comics are an amazing art form, and there is so much to love and share about them in today’s visual, meme driven world. We can’t forget the people who make some of our favorite moments – like Yorick’s last, great escape, or Herr Starr’s cavalcade of hats, or earning the power of love – our favorite moments with their art.

It’s on us, as much as it is on anyone.

Let’s help bring artists back to the forefront, one article, tweet or review at a time.

Stay tuned for a follow-up piece to this, looking at what reviewers and critics should look for when they’re writing about comic art.

*Editor’s Note: Chris Arrant noted in the comments that Marvel did have Artist Architects

About The AuthorDavid HarperDavid Harper mainly focuses on original content, interviews, co-hosting our 4 Color News and Brews video podcast, and being half of the Mignolaversity and Valiant (Re)visions team. He runs Multiversity's Twitter and Facebook pages, and personally tweets (rarely) @slicedfriedgold. By day, he works in an ad agency in Anchorage, Alaska, and he loves his wife, traveling and biscuits & gravy (ordered most to least, which is still a lot).

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User's Comments
  • Reggie

    Bill Finger wasn’t an artist, he was a writer.

    • David Harper

      Annnnnd I’m drunk. Thanks for that.

  • Chris Arrant

    I don’t disagree with your overall thrust, but one correction: Marvel announced artist Architects at C2E2 in 2011.

    I wrote about the role of artists in comics here:

    • David Harper

      Thanks for sharing Chris, although I don’t think the specific timing of the Architects deal was necessarily a factor. I was just linking for the purpose of sharing its concept, not timing. I’ll take a look at your piece!

      • Chris Arrant

        No, my point is that the Architects also included artists — not just writers. I think you overlooked the artists Architects, John Romita Jr., Mike Deodato, Stuart Immonen, Salvador Larroca, Humberto Ramos, and Mark Bagley

        • David Harper

          Oh! Sorry, I missed the word “artist” before Architects there. Somehow that announcement escaped me. Thanks for that Chris. I’ll get a note added in.

        • Tyler James

          Yes, but where was their “artist architects'” awkward group photo?

  • gaviinnansoong

    I think it places me in a certain past generation when I say I’m still an Artist>Writer guy. What I mean is I will be quite happy with a book with stunning art and average writing but can not stand a book with average art and regardless of how good the writing is… No matter how much I try. The magic is obviously when both fire on all cylinders. I hate to see runs broken up with fill-in or replacement art… I’d rather wait and have something complete and for the ages

    • Mark Tweedale

      A single writer and artist on a book is a beautiful thing. It brings all these subtler elements into play you just don’t get with switching artists.

  • Jason A. Quest

    For a long time *both* writers and artists were considered just cogs in the machine, rarely credited on the stories they produced.

    I also think it’s a bit misleading to point at the early 90s as an example, because that was when artists were *disproportionately* credited, and writers were treated as an afterthought. Some of the shift away from that is simply the industry coming to its senses and recognizing the importance of writing again.

    • David Harper

      Oh, I agree with that entirely. I was just pointing to that as an example of the current situation not always being the case. I wholeheartedly admit that we’re better off with both on equal ground. Very good point, Jason.

  • Tyler James

    Great article and breakdown, David.

    In addition to your solid points, I think output is a big factor. Justin Jordan writes a thousand comic book pages a year…no artist can match that. Likewise, the bigger named writers, and hell, most of the up-and-comers, have at least 2-3 books they’re working on at once, if not more, while artists not named Riley Rossmo work on just one.

    Name repetition = name recognition = stardom, and the biggest writers in comics have worked on 5-10 times as many comics as the biggest artists. That’s a real advantage…especially in our short attention span, Google-indexed world of today.

    That’s a reality that won’t be overcome any time soon.

  • quinn

    I try to avoid Marvel and DC as much as possible because of many of the situations you described in your article.

    Thor God of Thunder is a great example. I stayed with it during the Esad Ribic first issues and then I dropped it once Ron Garney took over.

    Same with Uncanny Avengers, I stayed with it until they started playing musical chairs with the artists.

    Marvel and DC have pulled this crap so many times I don’t even care if they announce a great sounding new series. I’m considering not even checking out Warren Ellis’ Moon Knight, Kaare Andrews’ Iron Fist and Mike Allred’s Silver Surfer. At some point, the pathologically ADHD editors at Marvel are going to swap out Declan Shalvey or Mike Allred. Kaare Andrews will most likely hand off to a new artist in order to stay on the grueling monthly schedule. I’m just sick and tired of Marvel pulling this crap – and I’ve decided I’m not going to take it anymore.

    While I’ve enjoyed Azzarello’s Wonder Woman, it really bothers me when someone other than Cliff Chiang does the art. The series has suffered from it. If Chiang had done every single issue, this Wonder Woman run would be truly legendary. However, the substitutions have diminished it to being a really good read with occasionally great art.

    I’ve finally decided to stop buying monthly issues and trade-waiting instead. I think that the comics companies should stop the monthly grind and only put out regular original TPBs WITH ONLY ONE ARTIST DOING THE ART. It would be better for everyone involved.

  • Jeremy Carrier

    What I’ve done is something SavageCritic reviewers do, start labeling comics Artists first, Writers second. Kirby and Lee, Aja and Fraction, Samnee and Waid. Its something to just get in the groove of remembering HEY, this is a visual fucking medium, these are the guys doing most of the heavy lifting here. Bendis shits out six decompressed books a month, and his great artists like Immonen and Pinchelli spend a lot of time and money working on one.

    I will say this though, for shorthand and talking about s specific run, I always use “Writer name”‘s *title here*, when there’s multiple artists. Ennis/Dillion Preacher, sure…but the last volume of Daredevil has had over half a dozen great artists on it. For simplicity sake, everybody refers to it as “Waid’s Daredevil”, not “Waid/Rivera/Martin/Pham/Rios/Samnee’s Daredevil”

    And you know who’s even less appreciated? The fuckin’ inkers! The colorists! The letterers! Where would Simonson be without John Workman’s letters, or how much is its Klaus Jenson that contribed to Frank Miller’s classics Dark Knight Returns and Daredevil, or can you you imagine All-Star Superman without the incredible colors of James Grant? But its always “Simonson’s Thor(despite Sal Buscema drawing 1/3rd of it)”, “Claremont’s X-Men”, “Morrison/quitely’s All-Star Superman”.

    I’m ranting now. Fuck it. Good article.

    • Matthew Garcia

      First time I ever noticed a colorist in comics was when I picked up “Selina’s Big Score” and Hollingsworth’s name was right in the title with Cooke. And it’s kind of sad that a Google search provides just a handful of interviews with Hollingsworth and like no YouTube videos.

      Point being: I agree with you that colorists are undersung. Without Matthew Wilson on Wonder Woman, for instance, the art styles would be so drastic to be detrimental to the book. Same for Jordie Bellaire on Zero.

  • Motown Buddy

    Good article. I like to look at Jason Aaron’s current Thor run, and even Fraction’s Hawkeye to an extent. Aaron’s Thor is NOTHING when Ribic isn’t on the title. Like, it’s screwed, Ribic should be getting a whole lot more of the credit for that… undoubtedly he does get a lot, but I just hate how Aaron gets all the praise when really without Ribic it isn’t that good, in my opinion. Same goes for the Aja-less Hawkeye (talking pre-Annie Wu Hawkeye… and really her issues are kind of a different story); if the first three issues didn’t have the Aja art, and were just drawn by the artist of issue 4 and 5, I highly doubt it would have had as much success as it does now. (Though Aja does seem to get ALOT more cred then Ribic.)

    Young Avengers, however, gives McKenzie a ton of the credit; it was as much his book as it was Gillen’s. It’d be good if artists could get more credit for series, especially when so many good ones have been instrumental in making average writers like Bendis so famous. Like, look at all the artists on EVERYTHING Bendis does, for crying out loud! Any average writer could write for Marquez, Immonen, or Pichelli, and it’d still get over-the-top reviews and good sales because everyone loves good freakin’ art. Just sayin’.

  • Jorge Coelho

    I would only add that my nationality is portuguese. Great article!

    • David Harper

      Oh jeez. Sorry about that Jorge! That is fixed. And thanks!

      • Jorge Coelho

        no worries, thanks for the good work!

  • randomshane

    The 90s, sure the Image artists were huge, and artists were at the forefront…in a less than great time in comics.

    I like the equal billing aspect, no need for one group to over shadow another, like when someone mentioned colorists, inkers, the letterers, the creative team in general is what makes a comic. A good team makes a good comic.

    As for the Big 2, kind of bashing? They employ a lot of artists, they give them money for work and there seems to be a lot of work. Then when those artists get big, they are free to move into creator owned work and it helps that their names are bigger then if they just tried to jump into Image – which seems to be a rare case, rather then the norm. Same goes for writers, Image usually lets the big names do big hyped books. Nothing wrong with this but people seem to forget and say to hell with Marvel & DC.

    • David Harper

      I agree with your first sentiments, and I definitely don’t want any group to overshadow one another. It takes a team to fully realize a great comic, and I hopefully didn’t make it seem like I thought otherwise with my piece.

      As for Marvel/DC, I actually love a lot of their work (well, Marvel’s) and applaud them for employing plenty of great creators, but I still think they do their part in minimizing the value of artists. I’m not trying to throw them under the bus, but I do think they do that to themselves quite often when it comes to handling of artists.

      • randomshane

        I would agree that writers are getting the headlines, say the quarterback role. It should be better balanced, I don’t see the trend as going downhill. Maybe, downhill compared to the 90s,

        I tend to be the type that would rather read a great story with shabby art as opposed to amazing art and an unreadable story. I find a book like Daredevil, which is referred to as Waid’s Daredevil run, but I think he knows and the public (saying educated public seems pretentious) but those people know it’s more then just Waid. If the run 1-35 has been amazing because of the writing, and because of the artwork despite there being several different artists.

  • gkoultoura

    In Marvel’s defense, they also ran two seasons of “Young Guns” promotion for their artists, way before they did “the Architects”

  • Mark Tweedale

    While I agree with the points above, there are some others I’d like to add.

    Firstly, I don’t think writers are king. Properties are, especially in the case of studio-owned superheroes (though certainly not exclusively). What I mean is that most people buy a Batman comic because it’s Batman, not because it’s written by Scott Snyder. And what Scott Snyder means to the average Batman reader is… continuity.

    When a new writer comes into a series, there is often some change to the history of the world or the characters. As long as the writer remains the same, readers can usually assume every issue written by that author is still 100% valid.

    Sadly, having the one artist on a comic, especially over a long time period, is a rare luxury. And when a new artist comes along there is very little, if any, communication between artists. What this means is that visual continuity is only valid as long as the same artist is on the series.

    I’ve often heard it said writers are like screenwriters while artists are like directors, cinematographers, set designers, costume designers, and actors. Imagine what a TV show would be like if every couple of episodes it was redesigned, changed its tone, and recast its characters.

    With the rise of the importance of continuity, so has come the rise of the writer, but it hasn’t translated to the artists. So of course readers devalue an artist’s contribution when that contribution is constantly being visually retconned. Take a look at Wayne manor or the Batcave for example. These are two major locations linked to the main character. They are going to be seen again and again throughout the series. In terms of visual storytelling, these locations are goldmines. It gives the artist the ability to externalise internal character aspects.

    So let me ask you, what does Bruce Wayne’s bed look like? Is it a fourposter? Does it have a headboard? What colour are the sheets? And if a scene was in Dick’s room and not Bruce’s room, would you immediately know the difference?

    These things matter. They are a part of the artist’s toolset and they are cut off from them. It’s the reason why a comic like Saga is so much more exciting to me, because the artist doesn’t have one hand tied behind her back.

    With release schedules the way they are, it’s mostly not viable to have the same artist drawing every single month, and even when it is viable, I fnd the design of the comic suffers for it. The practical solution, as I see it, is to foster communication between artists. Have artists read all the scripts for a series they are working on, even if they aren’t the artist on that particualr arc. Get artists to design as a team, to establish visual touchstones present in the work of all the artists involved.

    A monthly comic series is not just a team effort between writer and artist, it’s a team effort for all the artists involved. How can they work together if they aren’t communicating, and using a shared visual language to tell stories?

    I’m a big fan of Mike Mignola’s stuff, and one of the reasons I think his universe is so cohesive is because while he’s involved with the writing of everything, he’s also deeply involved in all the design. He doesn’t get his stable of artists to draw like him, he casts them like actors for a role, picking someone with the right visual language for the story being told, and he gets the artists to create model sheets of characters, monsters, locations… and then all of them are coloured by Dave Stewart.

    Do you know who designed Johann’s new suit in B.P.R.D.? It was Guy Davis, Mike Mignola, Tyler Crook, and Duncan Fegredo. Four artists, and one of them was also the writer. Virtually all the designs in Mignola’s world are touched by more than one artist, and major monsters and character usually have about three. This visual continuity takes work to achieve, but it frees up the artists to be far more specific when placed in contrast to an arc handled by another artist.

    Whew! OK, my second point, and this is the big one, is spoilers.

    Spoilers make people click on articles. Who is Paul Bettany playing in the new Avengers movie? I bet you already know the answer to that question because you clicked the link to an article about it last week, or you read the answer in a headline (because some news sites have no shame at all).

    And that’s why interviews with writers get more hits. They have access to the furthest reaching spoilers. It’s cynical, I know, but most people reading these interviews don’t care at all about the writer’s process. Shut up about that! They just want to hear what’s coming up next in the comic. Tease an upcoming plotline, that’s what they want.

    Artists can do that too, but in a much more limited capacity. Most artists, don’t know much about what’s coming down the road, especially on studio-owned properties. Writers signed on for the long haul have the ability to tease a plotline that may not eventuate for even a year.

    People read interviews with writers because they want news, to be teased, and for spoilers.

    • David Harper

      There is a lot to talk about on this, but I do want to note that I did say “most customers pull based off title rather than writer OR artist” in the article, so I was noting that point as well. I do pull Mike Mignola-all at my local shop, but I might be the only person who does that. Properties do supersede writers and artists when it comes to sales, at least on Big Two comics.

      And agreed on spoilers, to a degree. I can say a trip into our Analytics is a fascinating insight into what readers look for.

      • Mark Tweedale

        Yeah, I’m only speculating on what the analytics might say. But I’m pretty sure anything teasing a future plot or character development will have a spike in hits.

  • Jimmie Robinson

    Good article and good subject. I like your points and historic perspective, as well. There are also good points in the comments section. As a writer & artist on my books (with Image) I seem to ride the fence and my output is low. I can only do so much when I have to draw the book at the same time. Also, I’m not an A-list talent like (fill-in-the-blank), so when people talk about my work it’s often just about the book… in general. When I’m doing interviews sometimes I’m just called the “creator of…” rather than the “artist of”, or the “writer of.”

    But that’s the POV from my little corner of the sandbox.

  • Adam Joseph Drici

    I think there are a couple of additional factors at play here.

    1. The decreased emphasis on artists at Marvel and DC may be an intentional response to the Image exodus in the 90s, where top artistic talent received so much attention that they left and took a big chunk of sales with them. Giving writers top billing may be a hedge against that happening again.

    2. Comicbook movies have proven to be extremely lucrative, especially for Marvel. As they continue to put more movies in the pipeline and to develop television shows, the comics themselves can increasingly be seen as the R&D department for storylines. To the corporate owners, writers represent far greater potential revenue than artists in the IP they produce, which is in turn reflected in their marketing and publishing practices.

    3. As a culture, we aren’t as visually literate as we are verbally literate, and it seems like the average comicbook reader still tends to *look* at what’s on the page as a picture rather than *read* it as art. The good news is this is starting to shift now that technology puts design at the forefront of more and more of our daily lives, and the tools to create and communicate visually become more widespread and easier to use.

  • James Romberger
  • Unexpected Dave

    I think the key, as you said, is that scheduling demands have made it almost impossible for a single artist to keep up with a title over a long period of time. The disruption not only affects the look of the comic, but it also limits the ability of an artist to contribute to the long-term plotting of a title. The system used by the Big Two has turned the artist from a creator to a hired gun.

  • Holden

    A big part of the problem is how Marvel and DC make most of their books. You always hear a writer saying that they pitch ideas. Image does not do that, the writer and artist pitch a book together and it makes all the difference. Marvel and DC should not take ideas from just writers, they need to make a community out of the people they have working for them. There needs to be creative cohesion from the very first stage of development. You don’t hear about the artists at Marvel’s yearly summits.

  • josh

    It is much harder for a good writer to break into the comic industry than it is for a good artist. I think that might be a factor in the level of respect writers get. Also most people buy comic books to read them, not just to look at the pictures. I respect what artists do, but to try to put them on the same level as the writer they work with is like trying to put a screenwriter on the same level with a director.

    • sketches

      Downplaying the artist in relation to the writer is more like saying the screenwriter outweighs the entirety of the rest of the production team put together. Director, actors, cameraman, concept artists, costume department, everyone.
      Pretty condescending IMO.

      And here’s a bottom line in terms of contribution: If you can complete your script in a fraction of the time it takes me to draw it, you haven’t put as much work in.

  • carriertone

    I agree with your points to a large extent. This is a great time for comic fans, with both the writing and art,
    including coloring and lettering, being at an all time high in terms of
    quality, but it’s true that the kudos are not delivered equally, and
    it’s time that changed. Comics are a team effort, and it’s time that was

    I am a senior correspondent for, and while I tend to interview more writers than artists, I try to balance that with my weekly artist feature, Future Comic Rock Stars, focusing on up-and-coming or undiscovered talent, as well as artists with a smaller dedicated fan base that are about to break into the big time. There are so many insanely talented creators working right now, and I try to give every one of them credit where possible.

    Thank you so much for your insights. Hopefully more fans/journalists will take them to heart, and make this wonderful industry that much more inclusive.

  • Osvaldo Oyola

    This is the second really well-written article I have come across here in a short time (I know, that is kind of damning with faint praise, sorry!) – but wanted to encourage you guys to keep it up. This kind of analysis is sorely needed in a world of comics-related sites that essentially just promotion arms for the Big 2.

    • David Harper

      Hey, I wrote the other one so I’ll take that faint praise! We try to work more analytical pieces in as much as we can, but I have to admit, they’re pretty exhausting. Still, it’s our goal to keep it up, and thanks for reading!

  • Mike Pascale

    Very interesting, well-researched, cogent and thought-provoking stuff, David.

    Definitely some valid points, but it’s really on a case-by-case basis. The writer of the article is ignoring marquee names like Frank Cho, Adam Hughes and of course Alex Ross, who still command huge numbers (both page rate and sales). Frank Cho just raised $150K for a new art book via Kickstarter campaign. Haven’t seen any such campaigns for Bendis, Johns and Aarons books of scripts.

    And last I checked, conventions, including Comic-Con, still have Artists Alley, not Writers Alley.

    That said, most readers I know–and sadly, media types too–always mention the writer’s “story” when they talk about or review a new or great book, not realizing there would be no “story” without the storyteller, i.e., the ARTIST. The penciller is either mentioned as an afterthought or ignored completely.

    So…maybe it’s like lead guitarists in rock ‘n’ roll in the 21st century. The pendulum has swung away from guitar gods of my era and more toward the vocalists.

    But it will swing back on both…and watch out when it does! 😉


  • Lisandro Di Pasquale

    Check the list of names you have drawing the digital first books at DC, they are mostlt from Argentina, no one knows them outside their country and they don´t move a finger to promote them. Marvel keeps rotating artist sooooo much that sometimes the quality of the art on flaghship titles makes you want to rip your eyes out of your sockets. Image it´s fine, they are creator owned, the can do watever they want, and to be frank the have the better looking books most of the times. I don´t buy phisical comics, I just download them and my only criteria when doing so is “Who´s drawing it”. I just dont care for writers and their pretentious stories. And just so you all know, I have a blog where I interview artists, it´s meant to work as a point of reference for future artistist that don´t have access to any sort of material. I live in Uruguay (google it) and I make tons of interviews and I even translate material from english with the artist´s permission, that way I have material from Becky Cloonan,Tony Daniel, Greg Capullo and Joe Madureira. I invite you to take a look and get frustrated, because it´s all in spanish, but hey, not everything in the workd it´s made for you people. I also draw and give classes, and been trying to work for the big two for a long time. They won´t take me, but they make Liefeld a millionarie, so go figure. Good note BTW.

    • Henry Martinez

      Yes, Marvel seems to have an artisitic trend going now, much like they did in the 90’s with the “Image” look. Trends die. They never seem to learn that. A better ideas perhaps would be to have a “house style” but also give the smaller books to some risk-taking teams, to give the reader something to get excited about and you never know where those book might go!

  • Mark Tweedale

    Sean Murphy talks a little bit about this in his most recent journal post on DeviantArt:

  • theeldiluvianwarrior .

    Wow, this is an amazing article, one of the first articles about comic books I’ve read in a very long time. First off, we need to take money out of the equation, I know that’s the primary factor driving the big two and it will be there primary downfall if they continue to look at it this way. We say it is not practical to have the same artist working on every issue of a given title, but this is only the case because it’s money that is the primary focus.
    We need to drop the 1-month standard turn-around and let each artist determine their own rate of production, I think that is the only way to bring respect back to the artists, because it will bring real art back onto the seen, instead of the generic ‘house style’ crap that’s being churned out nowdays. Of course better artists will draw in more readership and more respect. Not to sound like an asshole but most of the art I see coming from the big two looks generic, boring and talentless. Because they are having artists rush to meet deadlines and not giving the time they need to produce real gems. That’s why I hate comics, because everyone’s stuck on this monthly production bullshit which is not practical if you want to produce great art.

    • Steve Morris

      I think that’s a little patronising to the art of cartooning. There’s no such thing as a “real” art. Art is subjective. I’d rate someone like Katie Cook or Roger Langridge right up there as some of the best artists around.

  • theeldiluvianwarrior .

    I think the industry needs to be split into two sub-industries. One with stories accompanied with fine-art and the other with stories featuring more cartoon/graphic art, because art in itself is too broad of a medium to be crammed into one industry called comic books. Comic books themselves can be broken down into various sub-categories, the very concept of combining a story with visual artwork is more powerful than the comic industry realizes, because everyone has fallin into a repetative creative process, driven more by money than creativity. It can be done in more ways than the comic industry itself would permit on a regular basis. All you ever see most of the time in comics is the standard 6×10, 22 page book, with art done in pen&ink, color or black and white, traditionally or digitally. That in itself greatly limits the potential this medium is capable of, which I believe is limitless. Give creators more freedom (especially Marvel and DC) and they will be given more respect.

  • Bryan

    The very concept of combining words with visual artwork is more powerful than even the comic industry itself realizes. Everyone has fallen into a repetitive creative process made popular way back in the golden and silver ages of comics, which became profit-driven, and which I believe reached its climax in the 90’s. We’ve forgotten that this medium could be done in more ways than Marvel and DC have made standard (6×10, 22 pages, with art done in pen&ink or color, traditionally or digitally) that in itself greatly limits the potential this medium is capable of, which I believe is limitless. I think every one has become jaded in terms of what ‘comics’ could actually be, and what they are capable of. We’ve lost a creative spark, and with it, what artists (and the printers who bring their art to the masses) are capable of.

  • Scott Radtke

    Dear artists, one word: Unionize.

    Everyone in Hollywood has a Union. An artist does 90% of the heavy lifting and gets 10% of the name recognition. Writers can write on multiple books in a month (and get paid) while art is time consuming, and you’re busting serious ass if you can put out one book and a cover or two. It’s time to force the issue.

    • Henry Martinez

      Not happening. Every time someone stepped up to try this (Neal Adams for example) they were abandoned at the last minute or asked not to “stir the pot”. Too many are afraid of never getting work again.

    • Shimmy

      If an artist wants better pay / fairer working conditions, they simply have to pick the right career path. Choosing to go into comics is something you’d only do for the love of it, as it’s well known the pay isn’t great and the workload is tough.
      Personally, I don’t want to have to fit in with any union, though I am a freelancer.

      • Dana

        Yeah, keep telling yourself that. Every time workers find an industry where they can make decent money, the boss-men at the top figure out some way to take more of a cut. Wealth-building is an extraction industry and we’re all the mine. And wind up just as devastated in the end when they’re all done with us.

        Some of us happen to have better things to do than keep chasing the next big thing. Because THAT gets in the way of doing what we truly love and are truly good at doing.

  • Jay Barnett

    Here’s an idea: on old Marvel books (X-Men books in particular) the credits would read something like: “Chris Claremont Bob McLoed” and beneath the both names “Writer-Co-creators- Artist.”

    When/why did that practice stop?

  • Drew Bradley

    I blame one person, and one thing for the current state of comic artists.

    The person is Bryan Hitch. Remember how late nearly every issue of Ultimates was? At the time, there seemed to be a large number of unhappy fans who were saying (at least where I was reading) that they’d prefer a fill in artist over a six month wait for the next issue. Now, when the last issue finally came out, it sold tons of issues – the wait didn’t seem to stop anyone from reading it. BUT! That situation brought two things to Marvel’s attention. First, the delays destroyed any kind of continuity between Ultimates and the rest of the line. The events in the forever-on-time USM couldn’t tie into Ultimates. Ever. Second, every month Ultimates didn’t come out, they lost the potential money they would have earned if it did. Looking back now, Millar and Hitch’s run was great, and the constant visual is a great bonus. Then? Fans hated it.

    The thing is the resurgence of events. Because a big event has lots of tie ins, they must come out on time. Delay one book (remember Civil War?), and the whole line is affected. This goes back decades – Infinity Gauntlet switched artists halfway through to avoid a delay. This filters out naturally into other books. Daredevil #8 can’t be delayed because #11 crosses over with Punisher in a few months. Hence, a fill in.

    Money is the goal for Marvel and DC, not high quality art. They’re not worried about creating lasting runs to reprint for years, because most books won’t reach that quality regardless of the stability of the creative team. Comics, for good or ill, are not a lasting market. A retailer once told me customers only come into his store for two things: Books from this week, and books from the 70s or earlier.

    Companies like Image, Dark Horse, and IDW don’t have rotating artists because they (mostly) don’t have interconnected universes, and because they *are* going for quality material. Strong back catalogs are essential for smaller publishers because so much of their market share comes from the bookstore venues.

  • Toboe

    I don’t think Cassaday, McNiven, and Coipel were the best examples of Marvel’s double-shipping policy, given that Uncanny Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and X-Men are among the few titles that do not double-ship. They’re more of a reflection of Marvel probably not willing to take the risks that came the delays of Ultimates or Astonishing X-Men.

  • Milenko Tunjic

    Cool article, I got myself detached from the comic industry a while ago, and it was great to read where it stands at the moment.
    I would just like to throw in another bit, from the artist’s point of view. Over all, I am reading about petty rates and gruelling schedule and it is hard to understand why would anyone submit to it. People must be loving what they do.
    Fortunately, for an artist, there are so many other avenues to pursue which would be considered “easy money” compared to this, such as Concept art, illustration and storyboarding, that pay much better rates and demand much lower output.

  • Nicolas Papaconstantinou

    I think maybe a big chunk of who gets major credit comes down to who did the pitching, pulling together of initial story-elements, and who does the lion’s share of the promotional stuff?

    It’s incredibly reductive to write off Bendis’ input, for example, when as much as many might think he just spewed out all of those scripts, he maintained a consistent – seriously, it pissed people off, but it was consistent – narrative throughline across Alias, Daredevil, and years and years of numerous Avengers books.

    There are also problems with your use of Image as an example early on, because it omits a lot, and early Image really only serves to show what happens when ego starts to overbalance on either side of the writer/artist equation – notably, Chris Claremont WASN’T one of the people who jumped ship on Marvel – iirc he, Peter David and other writers were on the receiving end of a lot of bad feeling as the artists who formed Image tried to claim a disproportionate amount of credit for certain creations – he didn’t actually write anything for Image until he did a handful of WildCATS issues when they’d been going for two years – approximately the same time that Todd McFarlane’s Spawn started using “writers”, for issues that people still remember as exemplars of that book decades later.

    It was approximately the time that the initial Image artists realised that maybe writers did a bit more of the “heavy lifting” on the actual storytelling than they’d considered.

    In fact, Image pretty much created the idea of “house style”, as it stands in the modern era of comics – few of the founders went more than a few years before handing off art duties to artists who would have to wait a few years before they’d really get to try out their own styles. If we want to talk about the anonymity of artists in comics now, it might be worth looking back at the studios those guys set up.

    Image are pretty great now, especially on the subject of creator-owned comics, but often those early days are seen through a haze of happy memories during the time that “comics went bad”, without considering that they were at the center of it.

    Did Adrian Alphona not get any attention for Ms Marvel, as you suggest? That is a damn shame – his work on it is pretty incredible – but that G Willow Wilson is getting asked all the questions about that book isn’t really that surprising… The reason people are talking about it is that it’s about a young, female Muslim, and as the female Muslim writer of it, I’d expect her to have more to say about the themes and content than the artist.

    Rather than asking the questions of writers/artists: “Who do you think gets the most credit?” “Who do you think does the most work?” a more scientific way of examining the whole subject of who gets the most coverage might be “Which of you prefers talking to strangers about what this comic is about?” and “Which of you has more stomach for pitch/editorial meetings?” I don’t see that come up so much when this is discussed on Twitter.

    Your point that great comics tend to come out of a good collaboration is a good one. But I think when people talk about this, there are always a lot of assumptions made, a lot of confirmed bias, and a lot of correlation taken as causation. And the only people talking with any actual knowledge are generally the ones with specific axes to grind.

    For eg, in the Twitter conversation you cite, most of what is said is supposition, and any writers taking part in the conversation suggest that any stagnation/drop in rates is happening to writers too – but that doesn’t get included in wrap-ups like this one.

    You also suggest that comic sales are booming, but based on what period? Anecdotally we keep hearing that the opposite is happening, but there do seem to be more titles on the shelves.

    And the conversation is always framed with the idea that there was a time when artists where held in higher regard, or treated better. But when was that? It seems like creators on both sides have been getting screwed forever, and misidentifying the issue probably only really serves publishers.

    I think the truth is probably a bit less sinister – a book gets associated with whoever the publisher thinks is more likely to sell it, and the readers associate it with whoever’s work they feel the greater influence of. I’d be very surprised if John Cassaday complains that he didn’t get top billing with Warren Ellis on his first major work, or Joss Whedon on his second, because Cassaday isn’t daft – his art is amazing, but Ellis and Whedon at that point got more eyes on his work than would’ve been there otherwise. As much as Bryan Hitch gets (and deserves) equal billing on The Authority, his first work on those characters were a few issues of the already in-progress Stormwatch – a book that had had mediocre critical and sales success until Warren Ellis turned up and turned it completely on it’s head. People turned up for Hitch’s first take on Midnighter and Apollo because Ellis was writing that book.

    There are plenty of unsung artists AND writers working in comics. And both DC and Marvel are the shape they are now having been “run” by artists for a long time. I bristle whenever the question of credit/worth comes up – not because these aren’t important questions – artists, inkers, colourists, letterers, writers, editors – all make important contributions to a good comic – but because it always – ALWAYS – ends up coming down to confirmation bias and boosting one role at the expense of the other.

    • David Harper

      Personally, I think that the whole creative team should get credit. I don’t think I was suggesting that artists get more credit than anyone else, it’s just – in my perspective – artists are perhaps valued less than they used to be. It’s cyclical, sure, but I’m just suggesting that a bit more collaborative credit is needed.

      I wasn’t trying to bring down Bendis in any way, or anyone else, and I’m not really sure how that came up. I simply was stating that it’s a bit weird when books get exclusively associated with the writer, and not the artistic partners that helped make that magic happen.

      Additionally, I think you’d find that a stunning amount of people don’t realize that comic artists are not just production artists, effectively.

      • Nicolas Papaconstantinou

        Oh, I managed a comic shop for about six years, so there’s not an awful lot that surprises me about the things that people think! 😉

        To be honest, a lot of the stuff I was responding to up there was as much the discussion your post has triggered off here, and things that recur whenever this debate flash-fires across Twitter, as they were responses to the specifics of what you said in your post.

        I’m grateful for anyone who wants to write long-form critical writing about comics that isn’t just snark, so what you’ve done here is good.

        Where I HAVE taken issue with what you’ve written, it’s with the supposition and theorising that is then used to support definitive statements. I’m as guilty of writing based on what “feels right to me” as anyone else, but have the luxury of not having anyone really reading me, but done methodically like this, on a subject that tweaks people’s confirmation bias as hard as this one does, if I see issues they bother me.

        Most of your arguments are probably solid, but in some places you fall back on innuendo and interpret really slim anecdotal evidence in a way that undermines them, unless someone already agrees – I think you’re sincere about wanting the whole creative team to get credit, but in the piece you definitely fall on the side of artists, by effectively silencing writers – giving them no objective voice and taking the anecdotes of artists at face value.

  • gordon

    This article is one of the few that discusses one of the biggest problems in comics today–the devaluing of artists. I’d add several other factors to this change. Most editors in comics come from a writer’s perspective and therefore talk and relate more to writers. Artists go in the back seat. With editorial changes happening so rapidly at the big 2, the writers are often late with scripts and gives the artists less time to do a thorough job on each issue. Because books are running late, editors often turn to foreign studios to put together a complete issue (pencils, inks, colors, sometime lettering) in a quick way, which tends to have many hands working fast and generically to meet deadlines. Computers hurt some artists–the computer inks often lack variety and richness and relying on programs like Google Sketch makes some backgrounds look like cliches. And finally, most comic critics come from a writer background (some would say wanna be writers) and mostly ignore the art part of comics.
    Working as a professional artist has gotten harder this decade. The internet has an artist competing with anyone in the world with a scanner and the net. (Writers tend to need to write in English to compete for jobs.) So my fear is rates will stay depressed for artists and the good ones will drop out for economic reasons–and comics will get worse and harder to sell. After all, most people who buy their first comics are attracted to the art on the cover first–and then the art inside. Only rewarding writers may lead to a diminished market made up of want to be writers and die hard fans. And that’s not good.
    Gee, would it be so bad if some of the super hero books would just have some attractive heroes, ugly villains, decent story telling and a little humor? Sure would help me as a reader!

  • Scott

    my personal opinion: ottley is the man.

  • JuanNavarro

    Hmmmm, I’m on the fence about this, no that it’s wrong, I think it’s great and shows people want good comics and all the examples you’ve listed are spot on but i look at some books that should be DOING WAY better, like Staczynski’s Twilight Zone and to a certain point, the new She-hulk run where the simplicity of the art might be holding it back (I dig it,but all I’ve heard is complaints) and some books, like Thunderbolts which were doing a great, and then art went downhill. If you read them, they were good STORIES, but the visual story telling aspect of it, not only the artistry but the sequentials, went down, and all you hear are customers complaining about that. I think when the wo flow perfectly it works. I know you’re not trying to Diminish artists, but some of the books you mentioned have some of the best Sequential Artists out there working too, and in making comics (I do that too) that is a big symbiotic relationship where really a team bounces stuff off each other constantly.
    Not disagreeing though, it was a great article, I just think it reflects more that people want substance more than anything.
    Though in sales and at cons, you coulda fooled me.

  • Shawn Skvarna

    Maybe it’s just me being an artist/graphic designer who’s a fan of comic books, but I have always been more drawn to any comics I read because of the art first, the writer second and the character/property third. Case in point, I started picking up the New 52 Batman because I saw Greg Capullo was doing the art in it. For me, Capullo is a nostalgic favorite of mine since the days when he was on X-Force and then Spawn. In the case of Batman, I had never read Batman monthly so I didn’t read anything that Scott Snyder did on the character to that point, plus I was always more of a Superman fan, so Batman for me might be cool, but never a go to. After almost 3 years on that book, I am still reading Batman regularly based on that creative team. If they left the book I’d probably have to see who’s taking it over to wonder if it warranted checking out. In the case of Scott Snyder, I did end up checking out The Wake because of his name, but also because Sean Gordon Murphy was attached and I fell in love with his art because of Joe The Barbarian, his collaboration with Grant Morrisson.

    Sometimes the changing of artists to meet deadlines can work for the best, like when Mark Waid took over Daredevil and Marcos Martin was the artist. Then it eventually changed hands to one of my favorite artists right now, Chris Samnee, and I couldn’t be more pleased to see him doing a monthly book nearly nonstop. In other cases, the mere 3 issues of X-Men Olivier Coipel worked on, it made me stop buying the book very quickly.

    Sadly, in other cases, if I love an artist and want to keep following their work, I stick with a book even if I don’t really care for the story. Case in point, Ivan Reis on Justice League. I can’t say I’m ecstatic about the Justice League title ever since the New 52 hit, but it did have Jim Lee and then Ivan Reis on board so I got sucked in. That book never clicked for me, feeling like it was quickly put together to showcase what the hope for the relaunch was but without really having much substance or reason for being other than it’s the big guns of the N52DCU showing up. While Jim Lee and Ivan Reis really brought the book to a level that, visually, appealed to me, I couldn’t really tell you half of what’s happened in that series because my interest is beyond low. I hate being an OCD completist like that.

    For me the artists are the gateway drug to discovering the writers, not vice versa most times. Through Alex Maleev’s art, I discovered Brian Michael Bendis on Daredevil. Through Carlos Pacheco and Ivan Reis I learned who Geoff Johns is. Heck, through Jim Lee and Marc Silvestri I learned who Chris Claremont is. Is that always true? No. Through Brian K. Vaughn I learned who Fiona Staples is and am I ever glad I discovered her work.

  • OneAndOnly

    I think it’s a little easier and simple to explain. Great visual storytelling can be outsourced, great English language writing cannot be. Thus there are fewer great writers than there are great artists (accounting for perspective).

    Also, comic book artists have always been very adamant about being work-for-hire and essentially laborers (like electricians, brick layers, etc). Whereas writers have historically worked on residuals, advances and patronage.

    So it’s partly the artists’ own faults for wanting contract X, but it’s also just the natural progression of the living in a global society where some things can be outsourced and other things cannot.

    And that’s not even getting into all of the digital progressions in visual art. The last technological progression writers had was the invention of the word processor. Artists and musicians, et al — you don’t need to know how to play an instrument anymore in order to be a hugely successful musician; you don’t need to know how to draw in order to be a hugely successful artist.

    Writing? Ain’t much changed in that.

  • Ralph Anthony Rags Morales

    Take it for what it’s worth. One of the nicest things said about me on Action was that I clarified Grant Morrison’s often difficult meandering storylines. I take that with a sense of pride. If you give 2 artists the same script, you’ll have 2 different stories, depending on the artists strengths. And, believe it or not, artists add things that aren’t written. The shoes exploding off Superman as he launches himself into space going after Brainiac in Action 8? My idea.

  • Gerald Dean

    Love the article.
    But the US comic market is not ready for the grown-up treatment. Is getting there, but the fans are still demanding “More of the same, please! More Batman or Spidey like stuff, please!”
    I have all my money on the smaller publishers, like Avatar, Image, Dark Horse, etc
    But we still need a figure that will give flesh to the Art-driven experience, like Miller did with the Dark Knight, or like Will Eisner had been doing for the past 30 years before his passing away.
    When that figure arises, it will have to be able to fight against the market forces, and the changes of tides. Then and only then will the US Comic market will have graduated into the big-boys club.

  • Jamie Bautista

    Could a story exist without the artist? Yes it could. The comic script itself, not yet drawn, can be read and appreciated by a reader (and editors have to often read it that way too). The story can be turned into prose also, or adapted into another medium with another type of visual artist (like a cinematographer or 3D animation artist) with output looking similar if existing, corporate-owned characters are used.

    If you have an artist without a script or concept or plot, what would he or she draw? They would have to tap into the “writer side” in them to get a comic started.

    Makes sense that writers would be featured more now that storylines and properties drive the marketing. The writers construct the events and storylines (you don’t see artists going to editorial conferences to coordinate their art styles, layouts or backgrounds with other artists, do you?) so they are the best ones to talk about the storylines to the press. The press themselves are writers and perhaps have an internal bias in featuring writers also, being able to converse on matters like plot, conflict, character, etc., more than talking to an artist asking about perspective, linework, color theory, etc.

    For superhero comics at least, we are in the age where comics are actually read and their storylines used a inspiration for other media (e.g. movies). So naturally writers are now on top. It’s a switch from the 90s where comics were seen more as art objects what were collected but not opened from their polybags, so the art on the covers were often the only visible thing of value seen by a reader/collector. I don’t know if it’s right, but I think the shift in emphasis is understandable given the circumstances of the medium and the industry.

    • David Harper

      A story COULD exist without the artist, sure, but then it wouldn’t be a comic. I get what you’re saying, but I think you’re kind of making the point of the article with that opening paragraph.

  • ScottK

    design has become commodified in a lot of fields. The artistry gets reduced to a ‘skill’ and in a supply and demand world where there are lots of skilled people, the ‘art’ becomes a commodity. That’s what pushes the need for innovation. Frankly I don’t see much innovation in Marvel-style comics. I see great visualization skills, but who is pushing the envelope with new visual ideas, design and styles? For the most part, there is a consistent visual vocabulary. It’s not an an industry interested in new visual languages. In that context, the ‘art’ becomes commodity and the work goes to the lowest bidder. If we want more cred, we must look for bold ways of innovating with new visual identities.

  • nilgravity

    Seems like this article misses the point of the long term lessons. Artists have been put on the back burner in large part because most books of the Image era were all style no substance. Get the Daredevil DVD and watch Men Without Fear featurette to see how far back this trend started and why it started.

  • Michele Witchipoo

    So this explains why six months ago, a writer putting together an anthology (in which no pay was offered) dismissed artists, claiming the writers were more important than the artists. Always thought it was equally important between both the writers AND the artists.

    In all, great article.

  • Mickey Logan

    I don’t understand the criticism of a “house style”. Marvel and DC used house styles when the greatest artists of the medium were distinguishing themselves (and note I use that term deliberately). “House style” does not mean that the artists did not have liberty to be creative and make their drawings their own. It simply means that the art will be accessible and consistent.

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