Have Comics Become More about Writers than about Artists?


Newsarama’s making an unclear claim that comicdom today has become more writer-centric than art-centric, but without stressing clearly whether merit plays a part in any of this:

 

Jurgens got it, because Romita got it. Jurgens quickly made some changes, and everything was right as rain. Problem solved.

The problem today? Both that kind of contact, and that kind of solution to a problem many wouldn’t even recognize exists, are gone. Because by and large, both art directors and even editors with artistic chops are gone from the comics landscape.

Make no mistake: Whereas comics is story plus art, in 2022, “story” primarily means the writer’s story.

“The way this industry works, typically the writer has that bigger role in shaping the storyline and direction of the book,” Jurgens says. “That’s not to take anything away from the artist; and clearly I’ve worn both hats, sometimes at the same time. But mostly it’s the writer in that role.”

 

Trouble is, most mainstream writers today are such ideologues, with Jurgens tragically joining the category long after his scripting became irrelevant, that it makes little difference whether it’s become a writer’s medium; it’s all for naught based on poor quality, and editorial mandates resulting in the same. Why putting “story” in quotations can sum up the problem pretty easily to boot, since what story do most superhero comics really have now, apart from being written as woke propaganda?

 

The main reason is man-hours required. It’s often said it takes a writer 12 seconds to type “A thousand soldiers come rushing over the hill” and it takes an artist 12 hours—likely more!—to draw it. And in today’s world of pixel-perfect reproduction and fan demands for enhanced realism, artists cannot keep up with a writer’s pace.

“In a two-year run on a book, a writer is going to be there every single issue,” Jurgens says. “In this day and age, artistically, that is incredibly rare.”

That’s reality, one way or the other. But there’s also a choice companies such as Marvel and DC have made, which is to eliminate art directors, and at the same time, editors are skewing more and more toward words rather than pictures. It’s creating a brain drain. The pictures may be prettier and more spot-on real than ever, but are they telling the story?

 

I’m afraid even that’s questionable at best. When Axel Alonso took over as Marvel’s EIC, quality of illustration took a turn for the worse, for the sake pleasing SJWs. So what’s their point? Some of the character designs were not only ugly and juvenile, they were made to look like they were switching between masculine and feminine in ways not unlike some of the worst Rob Liefeld art, which took away much more from what could’ve been, had better writers/artists/editors been in charge.

 

And what’s all this balderdash about “fan demands” for enhanced realism? I don’t demand realism in every way, nor do I consider surrealism a bad idea either, so shame on them for putting words in the mouth of somebody who was discouraged from reading mainstream Marvel/DC years ago. All this obsession with “realism”, which translates more as a demand for increased violence, is exactly what ruined comicdom. Oddly enough, one of the writers quoted for this article is somebody who later contributed in the negative after once doing so in the positive:

 

“I think maybe 20 percent of artists in comics today really get storytelling,” says Mark Waid, a longtime writer and editor, currently also the publisher at Humanoids. Waid is sympathetic to the plight, both from the artist’s and the editor’s point of view.

“There’s really not any time from an editorial standpoint with the grind, to teach artists storytelling,” he says. “They don’t have time to teach a guy how to tell a story like Alex Toth, Chris Samnee, or Howard Chaykin. I think we’re past the point of being able to teach people that. The best they can hope for is that the arm looks right.”

 

Or how about the feet, recalling Liefeld’s dreadful interpretations? IIRC, wasn’t Samnee one of the artists Waid employed for his Daredevil run a decade back? One which was uninspired, and mired in divisive politics, so this pretty rich coming from Waid. Still, how fascinating he says there’s no time to teach artists how to illustrate a talented story on their part. Surely that’s not a telling sign of what’s gone wrong? Maybe even a clue to what’s wrong with a corporate structure? Of course, even some universities are to blame for teaching their subjects to embrace directions laced with mediocrity instead of inspiration and admiration. That’s why you see so few artists following in the footsteps of famous contributors like John Buscema and Gil Kane today. Why, similar complaints could be made about the animation industry, that they don’t draw inspiration from these notable artists either, seeing how childish some character designs in US cartoons are as well. And you wonder why that too could be in such a dismal state of affairs.

 

Newsarama also quoted Chaykin, who’s teaching about art himself:

 

“The editorial staffs at the majors are staffed almost entirely by writers, who have little or no narrative sensibility, who know little of what a narrative picture means in the context of a page or a panel,” Chaykin says.

A main symptom of that disease is that, by and large and rightly or wrongly, comics today is frequently seen as a writers’ medium, with the artist subservient to the writer’s vision. Chaykin believes this to be the case (and let’s give him some room to roam):

“I do,” he says. “For a number of reasons. One, the artists have allowed the situation to evolve in this way. They have allowed the writer to become the alpha. Two, the reading of the general public and comic hobbyists—which is where most comic writers come from—is diminished. My cohort came in with a broad, liberal arts education, which included the classics whether you liked it or not. We read the Western canon. We widely read fiction, we saw every movie. We had no relativist idea. The new generation—and by that I mean anyone between the ages of 20 and 60—has been reading YA fiction for entertainment, and they are satisfied by this. What I mean by that is what they’re demanding of writing is serviced by purple and melodrama.”

 

Amazing he’s willing to admit YA fiction’s had a bad influence on comicdom, and there’ve been only so many writers from that field who were hired by the Big Two based on their writing background alone, not because they comprehend the medium. As a result, the products could be seen as what they truly were: publicity stunts, and that’s become a most atrocious approach for years now.

 

But alas, Chaykin doesn’t seem to care one bit that today’s “liberalism” isn’t like that of yesteryear, and is more influenced by extreme socialism than before. Refusal to recognize liberals can make considerable mistakes is why nothing will improve. And then, look who else was interviewed:

 

Alas, there are hurdles to overcome, including history, language, and the chicken/egg problem of who gets paid, and how much. Tom Brevoort, senior vice president and executive editor at Marvel addresses the history.

“It’s always kind of been true,” Brevoort says. “Even at DC, there was a split in responsibility between the writing and the art. We think of the editor as kind of doing everything, but Julie Schwartz was kind of workshopping the writing, and he had some say over who was doing the art, but those assignments were really handled by Sol Harrison and so on.”

A massive change—for the good—happened at DC in 1966, when artist Carmine Infantino became the company’s editorial director, and later publisher. Infantino brought in top artists such as Joe Kubert, Joe Orlando, Dick Giordano and more as editors. By the late ’70s, Marvel was hiring artists such as Carl Potts and Larry Hama as editors. An editorial synthesis of writer and artists existed, and gave rise to new writer-artists such as Dan Jurgens and more.

Alas, things started to drift. Brevoort, who studied illustration at University of Delaware, is trying to get some of it back.

“We do a reading circle with the younger editors every week,” he says. “We read, dissect, and discuss both current and older books. And when I say ‘older,’ I don’t mean ancient, it’s 2006 or whatever, and it’s amazing to see how many reactions are, ‘This stuff is heavy. It’s slow. It doesn’t pace the way I want it to. There are too many words. The balance is off.’ There’s a weakness there of a skill set. A lot of editors today don’t have the artistic training, or maybe even the language to discuss some of this stuff effectively with their artists.”

 

Again, pretty rich coming from somebody who’s part and parcel to mainstream’s deterioration, seeing as Brevoort was involved in editing and crafting garbage like Avengers: Disassembled, House of M and Civil War. And all this after he’d actually once overseen finer fare like Kurt Busiek’s Avengers run, and the Fantastic Four by Chris Claremont and Carlos Pachecho until 2002. Even if Brevoort’s claiming there’s arguments rising of mid-2000s stories being too slow and wordy, that rings hollow if he doesn’t admit he was at least partly responsible, as he worked with some of the most infamous writers who brought that situation about, like Brian Bendis. As a result, how can we be certain Brevoort really regrets all the disasters he contributed to? House of M, for example, did not have to be, yet they went along with it, all for the sake of turning Scarlet Witch into a madwoman in ways far worse than seen in 1990, following the story where it turned out her 2 children with Vision were just energy constructs. And now, look where that’s led to in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. An utter atrocity.

 

I should also note some 80s comics could have a pretty sizable word count, but the difference is that back then, most writers knew how to make it amount to something. In contrast to today’s very drawn out stories by writers like Bendis, which, as I’d once noted before, could be very padded for the sake of trade formats.

 

Waid thinks—and Chaykin largely agrees—that today’s status quo is a whipsaw back against the formation of Image Comics.

“Now because of Grant Morrison, Brian Bendis, and people like that, it’s pulled back to what looks like a writers’ medium,” Waid says. “What that does, I fear, is it sometimes makes the artists, very creative people, feel less invested in the story. And if they feel less invested, there’s less of them in the story. It becomes, de facto, more a writers’ medium.”

It’s certainly not all doom and gloom, and the tide may be changing, with more artists sitting in editorial seats.

 

That depends where. It’s not happening at the Big Two, and I don’t expect this to change overnight. And by the time it does, which is slim, their businesses are bound to close, leaving nothing but a lot of terrible art and writing behind. All which could’ve been prevented had certain formats been changed, and the publishers not been run by conglomerates in the long run. At least Waid seems to admit, surprisingly enough, that Bendis and Morrison weren’t a good fit for the medium in mainstream. But if he wouldn’t object in the mid-2000s to how they were allowed to deconstruct superhero creations as terribly as they did years ago, this is coming rather late.

 

And even if the artwork was better than it is in the mainstream now, it can be very validly argued that, without good writing, the art can end up crippled in its effectiveness. There were some 90s comics where this was sadly the case, like the 3rd Green Lantern volume as written by Ron Marz, where Darryl Banks’ art was certainly competant, but couldn’t compensate for all the pretentiousness coming as a result of throwing Hal Jordan under the bus in such a repellent fashion as seen in Emerald Twilight. Even the art seen in the Spider-Man franchise during 1995 couldn’t overcome how embarrassingly bad the setup for replacing Peter Parker with Ben Reilly was. So it’s not a good idea to think all would improve if artists had more of their say in storytelling. If editorial mandates like those that ruined comicdom by the turn of the century dictate how mainstream superhero fare is to be written, more as political/social justice propaganda than genuine entertainment, that’s the main reason nothing will work.

 

 

Originally published here


Avi Green

Avi Green was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. He enjoyed reading comics when he was young, the first being Fantastic Four. He maintains a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy of facts. He considers himself a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. Follow him on his blog at Four Color Media Monitor or on Twitter at @avigreen1

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