Multiversity 101: Who Needs Artists Anyway?

Last week, Marvel gave a bunch of teases for a few of the upcoming creative teams for their Marvel Now! relaunch. This week, they’re going to confirm those creative teams and provide us with context for it all, including interviews with the writers of the book to help give us insight as to what we should expect to see in the upcoming relaunches. Today, I’m going to say: “Wait, just the writers?”

(Also, for the first time in Multiversity “history”, I’m going to offer Suggested Reading Music in the form of Johann Johannsson’s “Part 1/IBM 1401 Processing Unit,” to which much of this was written.)

Scott McCloud

There is a certain stigma that is present within the comic sphere of culture. Despite being a visual medium, for whatever reason we’ve all collectively put the weight of any given comic on the shoulders of the writer. It makes sense, I suppose; it’s usually the writers spearheading the comic series we all know and love (or something like that), and they are the ones writing the scripts, hitting those keys on keyboards in the right order that put the words in the mouths of the characters. When we sit down to enjoy our weekly pulls, we’re reading these comics, right? You don’t read pictures. That’s silly!

And yet, if it weren’t for the images present in any given comic, it wouldn’t be a comic book. If it weren’t for the artist, what characters would the writer’s words come out of? I’m sure anyone reading this site right now can tell you this, but a comic book is defined by its use of sequential art. The superheroes, the zombies, the high drama — all of that is secondary to the fact that we’re being told a story through images that follow one another in a given order to tell a story visually (and for an even more thorough definition, you can read Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics”). Without all those pictures you’d just be reading prose.

So with Marvel’s big linewide revitalization coming up, why is it that none of the artists get their own Q&As? When other websites feature exclusive articles and interviews about any of the new titles, why is it only writers who are stopping by to chat? It’s probably for the same reason that only a small handful of DC’s New 52 books haven’t seen creative change-ups or some form of musical artistic chairs: because the artists are disposable.

Ok, now let’s back it up here for a second. Before pitchforks are raised, allow me to justify the statement a bit and explain what I’m getting at here. Like in baseball, I’m about to give artists three “strikes” as to why they come second to writers for Big Two comics in the year 2012.

Fabio Moon

For the first “strike” against artists, it just happens to be “easier” to write a comic. Yes, comic books are a visual medium, but when it comes down to it, it’s a lot easier for a writer to stay with a book than it is for an artist (with specific relation to the third “strike,” which we’ll get to). I’d dare say anyone can do it: you (yes, you) could stop reading this article right now and go and write a 22 page comic about Wolverine if you had the mind to. It might not be very good, sure, but you could probably do it. However, you couldn’t go and draw a 22 page comic about Wolverine in that same amount of time and have it be even remotely good. Cursive said it best when Tim Kasher sang “we all know Art Is Hard,” and they weren’t even talking specifically about any form of illustration; comic artists have to work at completely different schedules than writers for the pure and simple fact that the job is, on many occasions, much more difficult. Between layouts, thumbnails, blue pencils, regular pencils, inks, backgrounds, flats and colors, an artist needs more time than the writer to get the work done on time. They aren’t afforded the same luxury of waking up in the morning and deciding to work on Book X instead of Book Y because most artists making comics for a living simply don’t have that luxury. That’s “strike” one.

(This wasn’t always the case, of course. Jack Kirby, King of Comics, illustrated multiple books at the same time. But comics today aren’t comics then, and outside of a select few, you aren’t going to find many artists on multiple titles at once. A few, yes (like Mike Norton, who is drawing three comics by my count, and Riley Rossmo, who is a veritable machine), but not many — and again, we’ll get to the why of it all in “strike” three.)

The second “strike” against artists, and this is the more relevant one to the whole interview critique I just threw out, is that they aren’t the writers. When interviewers and/or fans want to talk to the creator of a comic, they want to talk to the guy who can tell them exactly what Wolverine’s upcoming motivation is, or what the future has in store. The average artist of whatever Wolverine book is being produced probably doesn’t have as strong a connection to the character as, say, someone like Jason Aaron, who has piloted the Wolverine ship for some time now — and with multiple artists, to boot. Aaron has simply spent more consistent time with the character than the artists he has worked with, and inevitably he will have spent an even longer time with the character whenever he finishes telling Wolverine stories.

On that same thread, Aaron’s time with Wolverine offers up the perfect example of how the “creative team” usually just means the “launch team” — or, in a more pessimistic tone, it means “here is the writer of the book.” Aaron was at the helm of an ancilary Wolverine title called “Wolverine: Weapon X”, which eventually dovetailed into a new “Wolverine” #1 (with Renato Guedes). When the former title was initially advertised, though, it was billed as “a new ongoing series from the critically acclaimed creative team of Jason Aaron and Ron Garney“. By issue #6 of the book, Garney was no longer the main artist of the book, and did not return until issue #11 for the third arc. The final issue of the book, #16, was also not illustrated by Garney, although he did provide the cover. That’s not much of a team, now is it? For those who bought the book to see Aaron and Garney (and who wouldn’t, with how awesome the first arc was?), that’s kind of a raw deal at best. At worst, it’s fairly misleading.

Of course, if you look outside of Marvel and DC, however, you don’t see this problem (like with so many “problems” that Big Two comics have). Your given creator-owned series will have a writer and artist working in tandem as co-creators, where the work is evenly distributed between them and you could talk to either/or about the nuances of the book for just as insightful answers. “Chew” is still Jonathan Layman and Rob Guillory; “The Legend of Luther Strode” will still be Justin Jordan, Tradd Moore and Felipe Sobriero; “Fatale,” “Criminal” and “Incognito” will always be Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips; and the next volume of “Resident Alien” is going to be Steve Parkhouse and Pete Hogan. If you want the skinny on what’s going to happen in the future of the titles, you can talk to more than just the writer. Sure, a fan or interviewer might prefer to talk to the writer, but it happens considerably less. Look at “The Walking Dead,” for example: Charlie Adlard has been drawing that book for 94 issues now, and he can talk your ear off about the title just as much as Kirkman could. Not only that, but with Image’s “Morning Glories” both Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma can talk at great length about the intricacies of that title, offering up two very honest and personal reactions to their work. I hate to sound like a self-promoting bummer over here who only links to Multiversity articles, but I doubt we’ll see any interviews with Greg Land that are half as detailed as the one with Kieron Gillen, and that’s kind of a one-sided shame. Land’s thoughts on the upcoming character redesign, for example, could hold just as interesting a discussion, as he’s the one who has to realize all Gillen’s madness into a visible reality.

Adam Kubert

So, fine, folks like Aaron are the captain of the vessel USS Wolverine, mighty beard flowing in the wind, and folks like Chris Bachalo and Nick Bradshaw (rotating artists on “Wolverine and the X-Men”) are simply shipmates, with everyone else being assorted members of the crew. Insert Given Big Two Situation Here, rearrange as need be. It is therefore more interesting, both to the interviewer and the potential readers, to talk to someone like Aaron about all the creative nuances, assorted themes and future plans for any given Wolverine book he may write simply because he’ll probably be the one around the longest. Or, translation: there are more potential hits in talking to him than there are any of the artists on that title, because the artists are apparently just here to draw and move on — and I say this during a month long celebration of artists in the industry here at this website. “Strike” two!

(And yes, feel free to critisize us for taking a month to celebrate artists when we should be doing it year-round. For the record, we do try. And of course I’ll add that yes, this “don’t talk to the artist!” stigma isn’t always the case. In fact, Kieron Gillen recently launched Decompressed, a new podcast featuring him discussing the craft of creating comics with creators, and the fourth episode featured Matt Fraction and David Aja of “Hawkeye.” This is me hopefully proving I’m not trying to pick on Gillen by any stretch of the imagination with the above link, as clearly he recognizes the problem just as much; it just happens to be the handy link available.)

The third, final and arguably the most vicious “strike” against artists in Big Two comics is the schedule. DC Comics was notorious for late issues (especially with folks like Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns and Jim Lee, the “big guns”), and as part of their New 52 relaunch one of their mission statements was “no more late issues.” What that has meant so far is that every now and then, you’ll buy an issue of “The Flash” that was solicited to be illustrated by Francis Manapul and has interior art by Marcus To; inherently not a bad thing because To is great, but that’s the Russian roulette game they’re playing. If one artist can’t make it, a new one is brought in as fast as possible to keep the product flowing. Meanwhile, Marvel is double shipping the heck out of their titles as a way to supposedly cater to the demands of fans (read: take back market share by producing more books year round), and that pretty much negates the possibility of a consistent artist on a title. It’s plausible for a writer to pump out issues at a quicker pace, but an artist needs more time (see: “strike” one); doing multiple issues a month on some of these books is just not going to happen. Since these books aren’t made at the pace of the creative team any longer but rather to the whims of supply and demand, the one who takes the longest gets left behind.

(There are exceptions to that rule; people will wait for a book by Grant Morrison or Mark Millar, for example. I once asked Tom Brevoort on his formspring about why something like that is allowed, and he explained that for an entertainment industry to function properly certain talents are given exceptions to rules that others aren’t allowed. This may be different now in the post-New 52 era, but there’s an addendum to my initial comment.)

Of course, this can lead to problems of its own. As part of Joe Casey’s Random Q and A with Comics Should Be Good, he recently said in regards to his “Uncanny X-Men” run:

There was no consistent artistic vision to my stint on the book, which  even in that bygone era of “Writer-driven” comics makes a big goddamn difference. Besides which, here are the artists I specifically brought to the X-party: Sean Phillips, Ashley Wood, Eddie Campbell, Javier Pulido. Compare that list to the artists that editors teamed me up with, without my input: Ian Churchill, Ron Garney, Aaron Lopestri. To me, those two lists are as stylistically different as night and day. Now, you can argue that the editors had more ‘mainstream’ tastes and that I had more ìalternativeî tastes, but I know which type of artist I work better with. I didnít stand up for myself the way I’ve learned to since then, and the book suffered because of it. Obviously, theyíre all skilled artists, but it’s rare that I’ll have that real, lasting, creative chemistry with artists that editors hook me up with (even when I get along with them, personally).

So since the artist can’t match the pace or the particular vision that Marvel or DC has for the book, they’re replaced at the drop of the hat for someone that will. The New 52 at DC has been particularly egregious of this, with artists (and writers, to be fair) leaving or being replaced on books immediately after initial launch, but this helps the quality of the product none.

And yet, are delays really so bad? With absolutely no malice intended, it stands worth mentioning that Casey has several books coming out right now that are heavy with delays. I can’t even remember what happened in the last issue of “Butcher Baker!” That being said, whenever a new issue of “Haunt” finally comes out, how awesome is it to see all the new Nate Fox art? That’s worth the wait easily. And did you read “Godland” #36? Nailed it. That was an incredibly fun read, and I’ll happily wait another three years for the finale if that’s what it takes (heck, we waited that long for “Planetary” to wrap up.) Of course, Casey also admits those delays are his fault, at least in the case of “Godland,” but I’m sure you understand where I’m going with this.

So there you have it: artists have the more difficult job, they apparently have less to say, and they can’t do as much as the writer can. Artists are therefore more “Expendable,” and not in the cool Sylvester Stallone fashion. Three strikes, you’re out!

Hawkeye Page 6 by David Aja politely borrowed for example from previously linked Kieron Gillen's Decompressed

But here’s the catch: for me personally, the reason I’m buying a book like the aforementioned “Hawkeye #1″ is because Matt Fraction is writing it and David Aja is illustrating it. Knowing that David Aja is not drawing issues #4 and #5 because he needs to “get ahead on schedule” is a bit of a bummer. “Hawkeye” #1 is a book that worked so incredibly well because of the synergy of Fraction and Aja, and Aja’s talent brings just as much to the table as Fraction’s vision for the overall series arc. Again, if you ask me, I’d rather wait two or three months for a late issue of “Hawkeye” illustrated by Aja then an on-time issue not illustrated by Aja, because when I put down my money for a pre-order of this series that’s what I’m hopefully (read: foolishly) banking on being the norm.

So call me cynical, but I can’t help but wonder how long these “creative teams” will last for Marvel Now!. Marvel is doing a good job of making comics that will have big hype to them, just as DC did, but I don’t think it’s unfair to question the validity of it all. We live in a day and age in which quantity seemingly reigns king, and that’s the death of the “team” element. I’m happy to read a comic by Rick Remender and John Cassaday, but in five years (assuming he writes this comic for five years, I guess) it’ll probably be looked back as “Rick Remender’s run” as opposed to “Rick Remender and John Cassaday’s run.” Why not just call it what it is right out the gate, then? Why the false pretense? “Uncanny Avengers” by Rick Remender, featuring art by John Cassaday. That’s not as sexy when making a buzz line for USA Today or Entertainment Weekly, but at least it sounds more honest.

Of course, there is a flip-side to this situation, which is only fair to talk about. In an episode of our old show Spoiler Alert, Rick Remender said (and I’m paraphrasing here) that when you’ve got a book with multiple artists on it, you often get a much more interesting final product. Certainly that’s true for a book like “Uncanny X-Force;” while Dean White has kept the colors steady throughout, that title has seen guys like Jerome Opena, Phil Noto, Esad Ribic and Billy Tan on the book, all adding different takes on the characters and their adventures. It’s beautiful to look at “Uncanny X-Force” now and how it has progressed since launch. Even in Remender’s creator-owned epic “Fear Agent,” we saw two rotating artists with Tony Moore and Jerome Opena up until the final arc, which also featured Mike Hawthorne. Similarly, Marvel’s “Daredevil” has been an astounding achievement in art so far; Paolo Rivera, Marcos Martin, Chris Samnee and now Mike Allred? Hot damn. That’s a fantastic team, and as someone who has been a public detractor of the book’s writing, I certainly have nothing but nice things to say about the art.

And yet — not to keep harping on a single notion, but does anyone else wish Jerome Opena had stayed on the book since issue #1? And that he was still illustrating the book? Issue #28 had Julian Totino Todesco on board, and it looked great, but you can’t help but wonder what the book might look like if Opena was still on it.

I should also note that the “shifting art team” element is in no way a Big Two exclusive. Dark Horse announced their new Conan book as a series by Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan, and by issue #4 Cloonan was on a break and art duties were filled in by James Harren. On top of that, Wood’s creator-owned series “The Massive” will see Garry Brown replace Kristian Donaldson as the artist, only four issues in. Take these books and look back at the Big Two, where Marvel has “Invincible Iron Man” by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larocca which, outside of just two issues, has had the same creative team since launch in 2008. Conversely, DC has “Green Lantern,” which has been Geoff Johns and Doug Mahnke since 2009, also outside of two “special” issues. So it’s not Big Two exclusive, but is simply something more prevalent at the Big Two — and when you see the reasons for the lack of consistency across the board, when you pick apart the how’s and why’s of it all, it becomes much more disheartening action from them.

You never know, though. A few months down the line when we’re looking back at whatever changes Marvel Now! has brought, I might have a serious case of foot-in-mouth syndrome. I’m willing to take that bet.

Mr. Tim, from Our Valued Customers

So, with the clear understanding that this is not me trying to hit Marvel or DC on the nose with a newspaper, it stands as noteworthy that artists deserve so much more of the praise when comics are great than what they are getting. For every interview with whatever writer of whatever book, there should be a matching interview (schedules permitting, of course) chatting with the artist about their process, their evolving techniques, their views on structure and panel layouts, etc. Sure, Writer X thought up Idea B, but it’s the artist of that book that realized it all, and as brilliant as a guy like Alan Moore is, books like “Promethea” or “Watchmen” wouldn’t be nearly as groundbreaking if it weren’t for the talents of JH Williams III and Dave Gibbons, respectively. And while it’s more obvious when you pick up a creator-owned title, certainly there are those of you who — like me — bought yet another copy of “All Star Superman” when it came out in Absolute edition just because you simply had to own the larger versions of those Frank Quitely pages. This “art stuff” matters just as much, if not more, than the dialogue and the themes.

Considering the importance of the artist to a medium defined by sequential art, it’s perhaps time we as a collective reconsidered how we treat the talent and, perhaps, gave them all a bit more credit. That’s why we have Artist August here at Multiversity. Well, that and alliteration.

About The AuthorMatthew MeylikhovOnce upon a time, Matthew Meylikhov became the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Multiversity Comics, where he was known for his beard and fondness for cats. Then he became only one of those things. Now, if you listen really carefully at night, you may still hear from whispers on the wind a faint voice saying, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine is not as bad as everyone says it issss."

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