Robot 6

How artists’ contributions to the creation of comics are overlooked

Watchmen co-creators Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (Photographer unknown)

Since the dawn of the medium, comic books largely have been the creation of writers and artists working hand-in-hand to produce the characters, stories, titles and universes you follow each week. Recently, however, lawsuits by comic creators against publishers — and sometimes other creators — have raised the question of where, when and how a comic is truly created. Are they the product of the writer, with the artist simply tasked to illustrate the story based on instructions laid out in a script or outline? Or is it a communal effort, with writer and artist both providing unique contributions to the creation of the character and setting, each serving as a storyteller in the planning, coordination and draftsmanship of the actual comic pages? In recent years, comics have become a writer-centric medium, for better or worse, but artists continue to play a crucial, if sometimes overlooked, role in the design of characters and transformation of the writer’s scripts into, you know, comics.

In an interview with ICv2.com, Howard Chaykin relayed a story about how an unnamed writer views an artist’s contribution as “absolutely nothing to do with the creative process in comics.” “I am of the belief that the artist does 50 percent of the ‘writing’ in comic books,” said Chaykin, who’s worked as a writer and artist for decades. “I think the guy is plum crazy. It staggered me in its limited understanding of what comic books are about.”

Some might see this as referencing the ongoing dispute between Jack Kirby’s heirs and Marvel over the ownership of characters he created or co-created, but what Chaykin is getting at isn’t ownership. He’s speaking solely in terms of crediting the writer and artist equally in the creation of the book. He uses another comic currently in the headlines to make his point.

“[Watchmen is] always being referred to as Alan Moore’s Watchmen, as if Dave Gibbons had nothing to do with it,” he said. “But the sensibility of that book would have been an entirely different experience if someone besides Dave had drawn it, and I don’t think that Dave gets near the credit and props he deserves. I think that it is important to acknowledge the fact that comics is a visual narrative medium in which much of the ‘writing’ is provided by the artist who visualizes the material.”

The “who” that Chaykin mentions in calling Watchmen “Alan Moore’s” isn’t aimed solely at publishers, but at the world at large: creators, press and fans. Think about this: Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman. Is it accurate to attribute the series solely to Morrison and discount artist Frank Quitely? Sure, it might be shorthand to refer only to the writer, but it’s an idea that can, and does, get perpetuated to increase the perceived stature of the writer in the work and diminish that of the artist.

I’ll admit that sometimes it’s not easy to give proper credit to a work. Writers have generally have longer tenures than artists on continuing series, making it difficult to correctly attribute the larger work to a single artist. How would you credit Uncanny X-Men in the 1980s? It’s easy to call it “Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men” given the number of artists who worked on the book. But honestly, were those artists superfluous, or did they each make contributions that made the work as a whole better?

In most cases, the attribution of a comic solely to the writer isn’t made intentionally to overlook the artist. Publishers, fans and the press are each guilty of falling into this trap. Take, for example, this interview with writer Rick Remender about Uncanny X-Force published last week at Comic Book Resources. In the original version of the article,  no artist is mentioned nor credited in the captions below the images. In the course of writing this piece I made the CBR editors aware, and they’ve since corrected it, attributing covers to Jerome Opena and interiors to Mike McKone.

When I asked CBR Executive Producer Jonah Weiland about this situation, he was upfront. “It was simply an oversight,” he said. “A mention of the artist absolutely should have been made, and once you brought it to my attention, it was fixed.” He went on to say that it’s a common problem in the comics press, and CBR has editorial guidelines in place to prevent oversights like this from happening regularly.

“Too often when a comic writer on a comic is interviewed, the focus becomes squarely on him or her. Sometimes, we — CBR and the comics press in general — get so wrapped up in what’s being said about the story that we forget there’s an artist that brings that story to life,” he explained. “When we’re focusing on a specific storyline, our policy is to always include the name of the artist. This is especially true when we have interior pages for the comic being discussed — if the artist isn’t mentioned in the body of the article, he or she should be mentioned in the captions beneath the artwork. It’s part of our editorial guidelines and style guide. Likewise, if an artist is being interviewed, the writer of the book should be mentioned.”

Weiland is the first to admit that CBR “sometimes drops the ball on this,” and he doesn’t want to give excuses. “Giving full and proper credit in our comics coverage is something we constantly strive to be on top of and if we miss it, we appreciate it when our readers point out our oversight,” he said. “The contributions artists make with comics is equal to that of writers and we must, as an industry, ensure they’re not overlooked or taken for granted.

Ryan Ottley, Robert Kirkman and Cory Walker (Photo by Jonah Weiland)

As I said earlier, it’s an easy trap to fall into. Take this press release from Robert Kirkman’s Skybound announcing a new Guarding the Globe series. In it, Kirkman is credited as the sole creator of Invincible, Guarding the Globe and other properties when in fact they were co-creations with artists like Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley, among others.

Is it merely an innocent oversight? Surely. Walker is listed as co-creator and co-owner in every Invincible publication since day one, and several previous press releases Skybound and Image have listed Walker as co-creator. I reached out to Skybound, Image Comics and Walker to speak about the press release and the perceived trend, but each gave no comment. I did, however, speak with Image Comics’ co-founder Erik Larsen, a vocal proponent of creators’ rights, who offered a possible explanation.

“I think it’s just a matter of expediency and simplification,” he said. “The writers control the properties in most cases. The ideas start with them. It’s easier and less cumbersome to say ‘Robert Kirkman’s Invincible shows up in Buggy Justice #3′ than ‘Robert Kirkman, Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley’s Invincible …’”

He does admit that in the instance of the press release, and as a general rule, it’s not “necessarily the right thing to do.”

“The artists are full creators, and I know I do take offense when I see ‘Stan Lee’s Spider-Man or Stan Lee’s Fantastic Four,’” Larsen said. “But I must admit — I’m as guilty of saying it as anybody, especially given that the writer is frequently my point of contact.”

Why are artists most commonly the victim? What if the oversight went in the opposite direction, giving deference to artists in the shorthand attribution: Jack Kirby’s Avengers. Cory Walker’s Invincible. Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man. Remember, this isn’t attributing ownership but merely creation.

Regardless of who’s credited, the question becomes whether this tendency is even an issue. Some of the people I interviewed argued that it’s not, and this is merely an attempt to sensationalize innocent mistakes and lump them together with contested legal issues. But I’d argue that even if these are mole hills rather than mountains, it’s still a trend with ramifications. When oversights are published, they can perpetuate the inaccurate crediting of creations that could lead to subsequent readers-turned-writers to carry it forward into their own works. Historians call it “book wheel authority” or the “knowledge cycle,” where information is iteratively repeated and passed as fact whether it is incorrect or not. It’s the same reason some persistent rumor have been accepted as fact until an actual accurate account of the information is brought forward.

Pulling back from those nebulous questions, artist Cully Hamner posted his own grounded vantage point on the contributions of the artist. Remember, Hamner is the co-creator of the Red miniseries that spawned a hit movie, and he wrote and drew the comic-book sequel. He also redesigned DC Comics’ Blue Beetle, for which the publisher has repeatedly given him credit in the character’s subsequent appearances.

“Young artists take note: You are doing more than filling a shopping list,” Hamner stated, in reference to the Chaykin interview. “It is as much your job to create the story your reader ends up reading as it is the writer’s. You are partners.”

Hamner directed his quote at the artists, but the tendency to credit writers over artists in the creation of comics is a trend that is carried out, mostly subconsciously, by creators, publishers, press and fans. I’ll be the first to admit I’m guilty of it as well: in an interview about Star Wars: Blood Ties – Boba Fett Is Dead for Newsarama, I failed to even bring up artist Chris Scalf. I only realized my mistake while writing this article today; it’s a lesson learned and hopefully a lesson I’ll remember next time I talk about comics.

To borrow from the principles of the Twelve-Step Program, at the end of the day if we can come together and admit the problem of recognition of artists’ contributions to comics, it’s the first step to solving the problem.

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Comments

55 Comments

I usually refer to the writer when he’s the sole creative force for most of the run. Waid’s DD has gone through 12 issues, and has seen half a dozen artists(Rivera, Martin, Kano, Checcetto, Pham, and Samnee). When I’m just speaking about the series in general, I always say Waid’s Daredevil and everyone knows what I’m talking about. I think that says better then “I highly recommend the current Daredevil series by Waid, Rivera, Martin, Kano, Checchetto, Pham, and Samnee!”

I also think colorists don’t get named enough, either. Uncanny X-Force, for example. Those Jerome Opena issues wouldn’t look half as good if Dean White wasn’t coloring them. Opena is hella talented, but seeing his work without White is like night and day.

Chris Lorenzo

May 3, 2012 at 1:23 pm

I tend to refer to the artist and writer as a single entity. For example, if asked, i would recommend reading the “Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four”, the “Claremont/Cockrum” and “Claremont/Byrne” X-Men, and the “Morre-Gibbons” Watchmen. If it takes two people to create the work then they should both get mentioned. I do tend to list the writer first and I don’t know why. It could be taken further such as the “Englehart-Rogers-Austin” Detective Comics or the “Claremont-Byrne-Austin” X-Men but that just sounds very cumbersome.

There are a ton of well written comics out there, that didn’t get a chance because the art was subpar and most readers will not cut through subpar art. It’s simply the way of the world.

talmidge mcgulliger

May 3, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Just curious but what do you think the comics community, both pros and fans, think if steve ditko came out and said all the things Allen Moore said but for Spiderman?

jonny nature

May 3, 2012 at 1:51 pm

Anyone who believes that the writer is the sole creator (or even the top contributor) has never drawn 24 pages of art for a comic book! While a writer may come up with concepts, characters and situations the artist is the one who is relied upon to tell the story visually. If we were talking about films then the writer would stay the writer but the artist would be the director.

If I correctly recall an exchange I had with a comic creator a few years ago, even the Library of Congress snubs the artist, listing the writer as sole author of a particular work. Which is absurd when you consider that the strength of, say, a children’s picture book leans heavily toward the art. And personally, as far as comics go, bad art will kill even the best written story and great art will elevate a hack job, but I’ve never encountered a comic where the writing/story redeemed substandard visual storytelling.

As a writer whose drawing skill is maybe on par with Neil Gaiman’s, I admit being guilty of this. It’s awkward when older dealers know the artists of the older comics better than I do. Many longtime fans ignore the writers. Image was huge like that back when they got started. I didn’t know until fairly recently that people like Alan Moore and Steve Gerber had been writing them when all anybody ever mentioned were Rob Liefeld, Marc Silvestri (two of my least favorite artists), and Todd McFarlane.

Charles Ranier

May 3, 2012 at 2:07 pm

oddly enough, when you talk about movies the reverse is true, generally they forget the writer(s) and concentrate on the people who brought the visuals to life.

@Talmidge: Steve Ditko has already done that. Years ago, in fact. Only he did it by publishing essays through small press and not through the comics news media. His book is called The Avenging Mind, and it came out in 2008. Here’s more info: http://fourrealities.blogspot.com/2008/05/avenging-mind-by-steve-ditko.html

@Jason: Great point about colorists.

I usually mention only the writer for brevity. I mean no disrespect or not wanting to credit the artist, it is just that the “Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Lan Medina, Steve Leialoha, Craig Hamilton, Todd Klein, et al Fables” is a bit too large for me. Because of this, I just say “Fables” or “Fables written by Bill Willingham”.

Another problem already solved by manga, as in usually there is only one creative force, but sometimes when two people work on the book such as a writer and an artist they come up with a single pen name to put under the title. I really hate it when an artist jumps ship on a book but shit happens, long running series should have the same creative team throughout the run maybe some fill in guys here and there but we can let giving full credit slide a bit cuz they are just filling in and likely not designing characters or making story suggestions.

Also Brandon Graham fixed this problem in Prophet by adding Simon Roy’s name to the writing credit since he as the artist was guiding the story so much.

Oh one other thing about manga is even the writer must draw layouts of the story even if they are stick figures… the artist can then cleaning them up into more finished layouts for the editor to see… comics shouldn’t have scripts just COMICS! (Even if they are super crude stick figures)

:)

On the other hand there are plenty of writers who were never given proper credit for their creations so the sword does cut both ways.

Few people realize, or remember, that Jack Kirby didn’t create Captain America; Joe Simon produced a sketch of the character first with almost all of the essential elements (credit where credit is due: Kirby did make the shield round). Bob Kane’s original conception of Batman was so silly it would probably have been forgotten had writer Bill Finger not suggested a few changes that altered the costume into one that has been essentially unchanged for 70+ years.

In the ’90s artists dominated the field so much that many fans couldn’t tell you who wrote the stories in which Deadpool, Cable, and Venom first appeared though they will be able to rattle off the names of Rob Liefeld and Todd McFarlane off the top of their heads. And for the record it was Nicieza, Simonson and Michelinie. respectively.

In some cases the artist’s name is the first thing that comes to mind. In much the same way Alan Moore’s name trumps Dave Gibbons’ on Watchmen, Alex Ross’ art is the first thing that comes to mind when mentioning Kingdom Come or Marvels (and Waid and Busiek’s scripts are no less things of genius than Gibbons’ pencils). Jim Lee’s artwork was the entire reason for the meteoric popularity of Hush and it is still more associated with him than Jeff Loeb.

It’s great to see the Auteur Theory of Comics discussed (although you don’t know it!) – Arlen Schumer has created an informative presentation using the work Jack Kirby did with Stan Lee of Martin Goodman’s Marvel Comics as the ur-example.

http://www.arlenschumer.com/home/260-auteur-theory-of-comics

It is frustrating to see comic art presented in the press without any credit to the artist(s). Even worse is when the only credit is to the company, as if there were no human hands involved in making that picture.

Scott, those artists you mention were also writing their comics at the time. I think this focus on writers being the only creative people getting a PR push is hurting the overall sales and appeal of comic books. Art is the primary commercial tool when it comes to getting readers to try a new book and in luring in new readers. It appears to me that the big Companies are afraid to give PR push to artists because they are afraid they’ll lose control of the audience (as happened during the early 1990′s) so much so that in many cases artists are being hired for books and characters they don’t fit. The right art can strike a chord with people instantly.

At a time when movies are doing comicbook movies as these visual spectacles the comics themselves have become devoid of that.

JWCarroll’s right that in the 1990′s (and in some other eras too) the sword cut the other way, but I definitely believe that as of right now writers tend to get more credit than artists.

Patrick Zircher’s made this a personal issue ( http://www.606studios.com/bendisboard/showthread.php?190273-This-has-to-stop ) and I can’t say I blame him.

A particularly egregious example of a book with the writers’ names in huge font and the artist’s name in a tiny one:
http://comicsworthreading.com/2010/08/04/troublemaker-book-2-preview/

I’m generally with Moore on the subject of Watchmen prequels being a terrible idea and his contract being an unfortunate one. But yeah, we DO need to remember that Gibbons is an equal co-creator.

And while there have been times when Moore has been very generous to his artists (for example, giving his share of the Watchmen and V profits to Gibbons and Lloyd), there have also been times when he’s shut them out and refused to allow reprints of their old work (like 1963).

I know it’s an unpopular standpoint, but it’s pretty telling that the only side of this debate comes from the artist side. People have spent decades talking about how much credit an artist may or may not deserve, but the writer’s contribution has never come into question.

If the debate is between “Robert Kirkman created Invincible” or “Robert Kirkman & Cory Walker created Invincible,” then there’s very little question about where the primary contribution comes from. From there you’re effectively trying to quantify how much the artist helped.

The problem is that if you say, “X Writer created this book,” people sometimes finish that statement in their head with, “and Y Writer was a replaceable monkey with a box of crayons,” which isn’t the case and I doubt very many people believe that it is.

RegularSyzedMike

May 3, 2012 at 3:14 pm

It’s always perplexed me, the tendency to focus on the writer instead of the artist in comics. I simply won’t pick up a comic if the art isn’t to my liking…doesn’t matter who wrote it.

There are always exceptions, though, and I think Watchmen falls into that category. The art was good but the part that blew everyone away was the story and the depth of the characters. I personally give that one a pass.

Mark Waid’s DD is another exception, but I think that has more to do with Marvel marvel a prime offender of the “artists don’t matter” tradition. They are notorious for switching up artists with completely different styles to the point where it ruins the story. To me the prime example is the destruction of the Nova Corps in Annihlation. They handed off an epic climax to someone who was NOT capable of delivering and it looked like garbage!

But yeah…it would seem like a no-brainer that the artist should be emphasized over the writer in most cases.

I think that it’s probably worth remembering the extraordinary range in terms of what artists are asked to contribute. Consider on one hand a circa 1965 Stan Lee plot “outline” for an issue of the Fantastic Four, and on the other an Alan Moore script with detailed panel by panel breakdowns.

In either case the artist is contributing value of course, and potentially quite a bit of value beyond mere “illustration” of someone else’s story depending on how much conversation there is before or after the plot or script is written.

All of which basically says that artists are always important, but sometimes a writer may be much more important. And sometimes he or she may not! Which, unfortunately, leaves us without any hard and fast rule and requires judgment calls. Hopefully people put real thought into the judgments they make about the relative writer/artist contributions to a given work. (And if they don’t, hopefully the internet calls foul when necessary!)

Let’s go with that, for now.

Matthew Southworth

May 3, 2012 at 3:42 pm

@Dan Coyle’s comment “it’s the way of the world, there are a ton of well-written comics out there that didn’t succeed because of subpar art”…that proves the point right there. If the art is so important that it can override a good story, then clearly an artist deserves equal credit (and/or blame). There are plenty–THOUSANDS–of poorly-written comics that got by purely on the art, too.

Someone else above commented that “this argument is only coming from the artists’ side” and I think that’s silly. While I’m a published comic artist, I have a degree in playwriting and have been writing comics on the side, and I think anyone can see that the artist’s work is extraordinarily significant in comic books. To say that the artist doesn’t deserve equal consideration is ridiculous; however, I can see how people fall into the habit of saying “Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta” even when that is obviously the work of two people, as is All-Star Superman, Claremont and Byrne’s run on the X-Men, and Kirkman and Adlard’s Walking Dead (I know Tony Moore did the first arc but think at this point it’s fair to say K and A are the primary forces on it).

Thanks for writing this. Properly crediting people who work on comics is very important and often is forgotten. It gets even harder to perfectly credit all involved when you include inkers, colourists and letterers in the mix. They do very important jobs too, the Thing got his rocky look not from Kirby but the book’s inker (who I can’t remember). Letterers are very important, and are often ignored, since the only time lettering gets noticed is when its bad, a good letterer’s work should fit the comic seamlessly. And colourists are doing more and more work, with many colourists doing the inking, colouring, and letttering digitally. Comics are a collabrative work and we often forget that.

As I go through the world meeting comic book artists and comic book writers, I usually think “what a thoroughly well-adjusted, normal, modest human being” when I meet artists. And I often think “what a totally deranged, and possibly paranoiac, raging egomaniac” when I meet writers. Extrapolate, and you’ve probably got the answer to this issue.

When you are artist X and can make the amazing, the uncanny, the incredible, concrete in a reader’s hands, writer Y is possibly going to feel rather threatened and more than a little neurotic about his part of the process, and subsequently play its importance up. It’s easy to write “As if from nowhere, an alien armada materializes over New York”. It then takes a whole day to draw a page bringing this short sentence to life. Years, if you’re Travis Charest (boom-boom!).

And remember, the people crediting the writers are journalists and critics, themselves writers, and therefore find it easier to relate to the writing constituent of the comics creating process. Writers are also prone to self-mythologising and very witty (and ergo, make good copy); compared to artists (as I previously said, usually modest individuals), who, while usually just as witty, prefer to let their work do the talking for them.

These are some glaring generalisations there, and I can think of loads of exceptions even within my own address-book, but its something to be going on with while I sleep this one off.

OK, first of all, it’s ironic that this comes up when I go to conventions and can mostly only find artists to sign my stuff (I do go to a smaller convention, but still.. I can ALWAYS find tons of artists, not so many writers).

Second of all, I’ve not met anyone who buys a book solely because of the artist. Yes, an artist helps create the story and often times helps create the character and give them life, but the worst story in the world cannot be saved by the most beautiful art. However, even with art that is not to your taste, you can sometimes stomach it and read a beautiful story. Though there are artists that can ruin even that because of their inability to convey certain things like feet or backgrounds or faces that don’t look constipated.

Third, there is no talk of the contribution of inkers, colorists, or letterers. It’s known that sometimes with the right inker and colorist, a comic suddenly looks better than it may have been under the normal artist. It’s also amazing when a great letterer can really get into the character and make the words work for them (I can never not think of Todd Klein when I think of letterers anymore.. I just can’t).

Finally, I wanna point out that someone earlier mentioned Manga has this all fixed, well.. not exactly. While a manga is typically given to one creator or creators, they’re not the only artists that work on the book. There are a small group of ghost artists that help make it come to life. They’re often very good at copying the style of the main artist. Do you really think that one person could crank out that much story and art in a single month?

I go back and forth, for example for the recent Animal Man run, I honestly don’t even know who the writer is. I picked up the book because of Travel Foreman. Same goes for any book Tomm Coker does, Tommy Lee Edwards and In a way I now feel a little dirty about it. However the reality is I buy comics predominately for the art, I don’t even count on the story to satisfy but I can tell right away if the art will. There are cases where I feel there are specific teams, like Millar and McNiven, Bendis and Maleev. When people as a team go from project to project I start associating them together, Brubaker and Phillips. I suppose I don’t read enough articles to notice a trend about artists getting the shaft, it in no way changes how I look at these books. Just today I picked up Age of Apocalypse, because De La Torre really hits the spot for me, once I get around to the story I hope thats good too. Sometimes I think it’s also an issue of how recognizable the style is, for example anything Templesmith does, well I associate with him, unless Warren Ellis is writing it and then I think of it as a team. I also saw in the comments someone mention the colorists and I completely agree, I’ve bought books and many times been blown away by the tone and mood of a book only to realize it was José Villarrubia.

Mike Leonard

May 4, 2012 at 1:04 am

I think people associate a writer with a title a little more than the rest of the creative team because writers tend to stick with a particular comic for longer lengths of time, so they become the constant in the creative team. I imagine for artists it’s far easier to get burnt out doing the same gig and want to try something new because of that — I can imagine there’s a far lower threshold for drawing Batman in multiple panels for twenty-odd pages every month than writing it.

Also noticed that no one gave any credits to the editors’ contributions. They’re often pretty crucial to a quality story, because they’re the only ones who can tell the writer ‘no, try that again, but do better’, or ‘try something different, what you wanted to do isn’t working’. And they guide everyone else through their own parts of the creative process and act as quality control. In many cases they assemble the creative team in the first place, picking the best combination from a pool of freelance talent.

Comics are mostly a collaborative effort, unless you’ve got someone who can do everything themselves. Good creative teams have to gel and come together as a unit, because if they don’t, the partnership won’t last long, even if the paychecks are steady and good.

As a clever individual above noted: it is the complete reverse of film wherein the director (analogous to comic artist) gets SOLE credit for authorship and the screenwriter is an actual footnote. Please try to find the “screenplay by” credit on a movie poster.

The problem in mainstream comic books is simple: the writer is the driver. The writer (and nowadays, the editor) is telling everybody else what to do. Then the team executes that plan. Long from the days of Jack and Stan. Very few mainstream comic books are driven by their artists. Very few even have a sole penciler. For that reason, you cannot claim that the cartoonist is the sole author. Often, the artist is merely an illustrator, a facilitator.

Sorry.

Even Invincible Iron Man or…uh…”Invincible” are intensely driven by their writers, and those series are fortunate enough to have a single artistic voice throughout their run (early change-over in the art duties of “Invincible,” i know)

It’s gratifying to read this, relative to the idea I have been promulgating the last year with Kirby Museum Director Rand Hoppe, The Auteur Theory of Comics (read it complete at: http://comicbookinterviews.com/2012/03/article-the-auteur-theory-of-comics/), and is gaining some traction here! So all those interested should join us at the San Diego Comicon this summer, during the Auteur Theory of Comics panel & presentation (based on my essay) I’ll be doing with Rand, “Hand of Fire” Kirby bio author and leading comics historian & academic Charles Hatfield, and John Morrow (of The Jack Kirby Collector and the TwoMorrows line of comics history publications par excellence–and who’ll be publishing my Auteur theory as a 16-pg verbal/visual essay in this fall’s Kirby Collector #60–a special Fantastic Four issue, so it’ll be the perfect tie-in–as well as a full-color stand-alone piece for Rand’s Kirby Museum)!

Gary Edwards

May 5, 2012 at 5:34 am

Whoops. I think you mean Chris Scalf, not Schalf

Howza’bout Wolfman/Perez’ New Teen Titans. That combo always seems to get equal billing for their best-selling run?

It’s not always simple, of course, but it seems like it’d be mainly a case of “primary creative force.” In other words, would Project X have existed and be as great as it is without the writer, artist, colorist, whatever.

Something like the Lee/Kirby FF? Seems like it’s pretty impossible to think that it would have been half as great without Kirby or Lee on the job (and it certainly seems like the comics lost a lot when Kirby left).

Watchmen? I think Gibbons’s contributions are important but lesser than Moore’s. There would have been no Watchmen without Moore. I could see it without Gibbons (again, not to say his contributions weren’t important, but I just think Watchmen is “more Moore” than a 50/50 thing.

Speaking of Ditko, though, it seems like there’s a lot of the reverse going on with his Charlton stuff … hardly anyone remembers the writers’ names (of course some of them were pseudonyms for Ditko, but some were not), and yet you have to think they contributed something.

This may be an over-simplification, but I liken the dynamic to that of a person wearing clothes. The writer creates the core of the character, or the person, while the artist dresses them up. I’m not trying to suggest that an artist contributes nothing to the process, far from it, but if the substance of the story isn’t solid, the book will fall apart.

Personally I always look back to the 90′s, where certain artists got too full of themselves, thought their art would be enough to carry a book, and we had some (in my opinion) HORRIBLE books getting published. All style, no substance, and as far as I’m concerned negatively impacted the industry for years.

I won’t buy a book if it isn’t written to my liking, regardless of how good the art is. I look at it like this: it doesn’t matter how nice a house looks if it’s termite ridden and the foundation is falling apart.

Again, I am not trying to discount artists and what they bring to the books. When you get a good pairing of artist and writer you get the strongest of both parties. In the end though, the writer creates the souls and voice of any book.

Its a visual medium, how can the artist not be part of the creative process. Many of the books I buy or try are based on art. I tried the new green arrow book based on the new art, didn’t care for the writing and dropped it. Had it not been for the artist I’d have never looked twice a it.
That said not all artists can be writers, not loving detective comics at all right now :(
Nice article.

I feel I can really only speculate or assume on how little or much either artists or writers add to how I would be to read any comic. Adding to even eachother’s works and functions.

‘Though I’ll be reading some stuff wrong, or artists might have saved any writers on their initial good intentions, because what would writers know anyhow?
Or would initial writing concepts always amount to being way better, if only artists wouldn’t have tried taking on the chore of doing the art to it?

I’d say if only writers really should take all the credit to any of the concepts or ideas and the whole of the narrative and any delivery, then still it will be the artists who visualize it all, as if artists are the voice to the story in comics. Because in comics the pictures end up being what words may be for prose – there’s simply no other way of slicing such.

Maybe I’m gullible, or just so positive it would be sad, but I kind of like to think there will be both artists and writers at least sort of decent at their jobs. Or I will never buy another comic in my life again. And that’s a promise. So it might only mean so much. Phew.

Well, on the other side of the coin. Why do artists get co-creator status when they are simply drawing what the writer told them to? I mean, its the writer that comes up with the story and plot and direction, and they can replace the artist at anytime. I believe Warren Ellis actually brought this up. Heck, even look at Watchmen. Thats Alan Moores brain at work. He just got an artist to draw it. Or Grant Morrisson. He usually has his characters sketched out to go with his stories. Just throwing it out there.

Well Spike, will such always have to be the case ‘though?
Would writers or publishers merely ask any artist purely at random, just for firing them again as soon as they’d get the chance?
Would that always have to be how it is on any comic? Or even just Moore or Morrsisson their comics?
I’d say such would actually never ever be the case.

So artists would always matter, likely as much as any writer on anything, even if it’d be Moore or Stan friggin’ Lee or any such. Or more potentially, since comics are comics.

Writing will be nice. Especially if any good. But even excellent writing can’t be all what would be making comics surely. Even Moore or Morrisson would readily agree on such. They’d have to be.

Maybe it’s because of when I got into comics, but for me and my gang it was always the artist we looked for and seldom even knew who wrote the book. It was Barry Smith’s Conan, Gene Colan’s Daredevil, Gil Kane or Romita’s Spider-man, Kirby’s FF. I couldn’t tell you who wrote what book in those days, but I could sure tell you who drew it. Recently I’ve really enjoyed Quitely’s Superman, Hitch’s Ultimates and Cassaday’s X-Men but now I could also tell you who wrote them, so I guess I’m getting better at the credit.

PatheticNewGuy

May 5, 2012 at 12:38 pm

I understand your point but if the art is crap I won’t pick up a book regardless of who the writer is. The clearest example for me is most of Dynamite’s comics. I look at that heavy inked art with it’s terrible computerized coloring and can’t imagine reading all that tedious exposition which is probably there to make up for such weak art in the first place.

You could have made the analogy that the director is giving WAY too much credit for a film when the real power is the producer/studio head who hires and fires the guy in the first place. IMDB doesn’t even list the producers on the main movie page and they are the ones fronting the cost of the movie.

It’s safe to say that unless you’re in the know the creative process is a mystery to most people so giving credit to one person makes perfect business sense.

Artists who provide a defining look for an era project like George Perez did for TEEN TITANS, Cockrum/Byrne for X-MEN, Cockcrum/Grell for LEGION, Bolland for CAMELOT 3000 are equally important as the writer. I know I wouldn’t have read WATCHMEN if Dave Gibbons hadn’t drawn it and given it its cinematic imagery

Artist usually only get noted when they create something that redefines the medium the character or becomes ultra popular (Adam’s Batman, Steranko, Byrne, Ross the image crew).

And in few cases when certain art style is perceived as being essential to the story (Adams on Batman as opposed to Moore and Adlard on the walking dead, the issues that were not done by Neal during are ignored).

Funny thing John Romita gets more credit by creating the distinctive Spiderman poses, than Ditko for the character in general, the phrase “Romita’s Spiderman” is very common in the comic world.

You’re sort of arguing the point here. An artist should only be credited with creating something if he/she has some stake in the intellectual property, or the actual creation of that property, just like a scripter isn’t a creator per se if he’s merely writing scripts for an artist that has created the characters for which the writer is scripting. Sure, what Marvel is doing to the Kirby estate is a crime, and I don’t think anyone would fail to acknowledge that besides Marvel’s suits, but that example is a deplorable exception and not the rule, not to mention Kirby’s integral role in the actual creation of most of Marvel’s properties. Stan Lee has admitted he was just writing dialogue over the pages that Kirby was illustrating sans any sort of script.

Also, the discrediting of talent goes both ways. Plenty of publishers, fans, and artists voice an opinion that “anyone can write, so who needs writers.”

You’re saying that because the writer is the sole “stake” of the property, he or she should get all the billing? The artist usually has to do concept sketches of many characters, create environments on the fly, plus direct the camera angle with lighting to set the mood, do retouchings or most importantly get the writer’s point with character acting and subtle body language. The artist carries the visual load to dictate the look, feel and direction of the written effort.
We don’t need to be lazy and credit only of one of the creative team for “business” sense or whatever. Many people who don’t read comics think that it was Stan Lee was the sole crator of the Marvel Universe. Let’s give proper credit to both writer and artist. I think Claremont and Byrne’s X-men sounds great as does Levitz and Giffen’s Legion.

I am of the DIY school. I encourage artists to look towards the new paradigms of creating and marketing your works. It seems like a new era is dawning and we can look away from the old dinosaur traditions.Artists should and can write and you writers should hunt down some ink as well.You are in for a surprise if you think drawing well is easy. This new age is also seeing a lot of people using technologies as crutches. People eating up others creative work is despicable. Please support the independent creators.

I’ve known a few artists and I’ve known a few writers- but I think the wrong query is being asked.

You look at people that changed the industry, and there’s an amazing amount of both visual and written artists- but at the end of the day, it’s an industry that has editors. They call the guys back and simply say ‘You can’t put X next to Z. I may have removed Y, but you still can’t do it.’

I’d say ‘Why do we put up with mass produced hype monsters?’, ‘why do we not support more independent artists?’, or “Why bother with prima donnas that have made it but don’t want newer blood taking their place dominating the market?”

I don’t think it’s a simple black and white thing when it comes to giving credit where credit is due in comics. Clearly in many cases many artists have more clout with fans than some writers. Jim Lee has a following that makes any book he’s working on a hit regardless of the writer. I’m pretty sure the only reason most people are buying AMERICA’S GOT POWERS is because of Bryan Hitch’s art and involvement not the writer. So at least from a fan perspective artists are a big factor.

Yet at the same time I don’t think most fans understand just how much an artist has to do with how well or badly a story can turn out. Many fans say it’s the writing that keeps them reading a book but I can think of many cases where an artist left a book and even though the writer stayed the book took a dip in quality. If you have Rob Liefeld, Frank Miller, Mark Bagley, and Bryan Hitch all draw the same script you’re no going to get the same exact story. It’s the artist that actually tells the story. It’s like giving a movie script to Christopher Nolan, Spike Lee, or Tim Bourton and thinking you’re going to end up with the same movie no matter which one does it.

I think the writer usually gets the most or only credit because we’ve been programed to automatically think the person who created the concept should get the credit fot the project and we tend think the writer always came up with all the elements before hand then found a writer after the fact to simply follow what the writer thought up but that’s not always how it works.

Frank Martin

May 6, 2012 at 6:09 am

I have full understanding of how the storytelling, provided by the art team of course, can change my perception of the history. I have seeing some good script get destroyed by bad artist’s storytelling and I know by experience that you can’t polish shit — shitty scripts I mean.

This is an old question and I guess it is up to the relevance of the writter/ artist itself. Never in my child/ teenage life I’ve said “Mark Waid’s Kingdom Come” (sorry Mark, I swear to God you are my favourite comic book writter ever) just cause when I was a child what impressed me more was Ross’s artwork. And then I re-read it some 15 years later and BOOM (see what I did here?), it is Waid’s Kingdom Come now. I mean, who knows whoever writtes the stuff Manara draws? I sure dont. I’m in merely for the eyecandy.

Its like on the movies. Mostly it is “Director’s Movie”, like Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. But sometimes you have someone like Stephen King and then it becomes “Writter’s Movie”. Even weirder, sometimes its all about the actor. Like, I have no clue on who does the writting and directing on Mission: Impossible. Well I remember some names, I know the guy who like’s pigeons did one of the movies but what Im sure is: Its Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible. See? Its all about the relevance of the person and his influence on the book/ movie series as a whole.

Though no one cited it, I wrote about this very issue a few years ago:
http://hoodedutilitarian.com/2010/08/the-crisis-of-the-collaborative-cartoonist/

Probably few will care, but I will no longer accept commissions to draw comics by other writers, even though I loved interpretive cartooning and tried my best to serve the scripts I drew. The problem is caused by publishers who increasingly promote the writers and diminish the artists involved, and it is worsened by the writers themselves, who are happy to take more credit than they deserve. In my case, Peter Milligan had no problem that his name as credited much larger than mine on the cover of Vertigo’s Bronx Kill and my name was only added alongside his on the spine because I raised holy hell when I saw that Vertigo was only crediting the writers on the spines of the Vertigo Crime books. This bad publishing policy and and egotistical writer attitude is all over Vertigo, I believe it began with Neil Gaiman and continues through people like Milligan, Warren Ellis, etc. Hopefully more artists will wake up and stop taking less than their rightful half of the credit but as for me, I don’t hold out much hope for the future of collaboration in comics…I am out of the mainstream when I had barely begun a career, as it were.

To me, there is no comic without the artist: it is that simple.

For years, I gravitated to artists first and slowly I discovered the writers too. For me, a comic has to have great art and story/characterization to get me to pick it up, much less stay with a book.

Right now, Ostrander and Duursema will have my $ for the duration of this Dawn of the Jedi series (more than this initial arc?). They are making Star Wars exciting and viable.

I will give Guice and Brubaker another shot with Winter Soldier, as I love the character and like Guice. I have confidence that he will mix his style up a bit to make the story easier to follow in subsequent arcs.

And as long as Marco Checchetto stays with Greg Rucka on the Punisher I will read that series as well.

The artists make the visuals come alive and they are equally important to comic creation. Great art always hooks me into a book, especially one I’ve never read.

Without the art it’s prose, not comics or graphic novels or sequential illustration or whatever fancy label people want to apply to the medium. Credit should always be given where it’s due. The work and creativity is not always an even split so it has to be worked out on a case by case basis. Anyone who honestly thinks that a writer is more important than the art team needs to look at Batman and Robin. All written by Grant Morrison but the arc with art by Philip Tan is not on the same level as Frank Quitely’s arc or Cameron Stewart’s because he’s not on their level in terms of story-telling.

There are many books that are meant to be really good but that i find completely impregnable due to art that i don’t like. The best example i can think of is Sandman. Tried reading it and it seemed like an unenjoyable chore. Whereas something like Hellboy which has solid writing is elevated to being one of my favourite comics due to consistently breathtaking art that looks like nothing else on the shelves.

Cartoonists seem like the way forward; that all too rare breed of all-round creators like Mike Mignola, Darwyn Cooke, Jeff Smith or Bryan Lee O’Malley. Either that or tight teams that work almost from one mind like Morrison / Quitely, Brubaker / Phillips, Bendis / Oeming or Ennis / Dillon.

Hugo Sleestak

May 6, 2012 at 10:20 pm

This is a prejudice that is in the air that we all breathe – and not just in comics. It’s cultural, historical, and pretty much universal. In western culture, at least, words have always been much more important and more acceptable, intellectually, than pictures. Even in the multimedia world we inhabit now, we simply don’t have the vocabulary or the mindset to deal with the issue.

When I was a kid, you were told not to read comics, and that you ought to be reading “real books” (books with either fewer pictures or no pictures at all). Now that we have grown up, we focus on the writing and if we think of the artist, he or she is like a summer stock actor in a Shakespeare production. The writing remains. You can always find another Hamlet. It’s just a weird thing.

Hernán Carreras

May 7, 2012 at 4:57 am

This is funny… in Argentina, france and others country… it’s de opossite, the artist is THE CREATOR and the writer it’s mostly overlooked.

I think saleswise artists aren’t overlooked. Frustratingly so for someone who cares a hell of a lot more about the writers. Writers very rarely carry sales like artists.

But if I had my way I’d probably be reading a series of weekly prose stories by top notch writers in an interlocked superhero shared universe that spanned 40 years.

Unfortunately, that’s not available, so comics are the next best thing for me. But I rarely notice art unless it gets in the way. Obviously that’s a personal thing though. To me, the art is just a delivery system for the story, but again, personal thing.

I think in my entire life I’ve purchased a comic for the art once, and that was a Crossgen Chronicles issue because I wanted to see Perez on the shiny paper drawing a bunch of pirate ships.

I think in general, whenever we get in an era where the artist is given storytelling priorities we get things like early 90s Marvel or Image or, hey, a lot of the current DCnu, which I find pretty frustrating and unappealing.

BUT AGAIN, this is just how I feel personally. I understand that the delivery method matter, and for people with different interests and priorities, it’d matter a lot more. I’ve educated myself on the process over the years and I honestly get excited when I hear that the artist and writer are actually collaborating (like Wolfman/Perez on Titans for instance).

When I read that an writer is e-mailing an artist about scenes or talking on the phone while in the writing process, that seems a much healthier and interesting exchange than just sending a script. I think it happens rarely. Heck, with a lot of comics these days, the aritst and writer can’t even speak the same language, it seems.

Frank Martin

May 7, 2012 at 7:01 am

Yeah we are all so cool and we say BOTH creators must be credited. Well books arent made by two people you know? I mean mostly. But we choose to draw the line at the penciller, fuck those other guys.

“Oh but you cant say Writter’s, Penciller’s, Inker’s, Colorist’s, Letterer’s, Editor’s Book, way too much time. Its on the credits already.”. Indeed.

Xforce is a great book, its sure to be Remender’s book. But the line is draw over that, we’ve got to say the penciller’s name. Or can I choose any other guy besides the writter? Cause if I can I choose to say Remender’s and Dean White’s X-Force. The way I see it Dean is way more relevant for this particular book than the 16 guys who have pencilled it so far.

So we can be cool and dumb and for some stupid reason draw the line at the penciller or we can go case by case. Which is way less dumb and the reason we already go that way anyways.

The reason both creators are credited, is that its their vision that takes center stage and they, sorry to use a sports term, quarterback the creative team. While the book is in planning stage, the writer and artist do the bulk of the work. It is after the writing and pencillers, the others get to show off.
Also with the bulk of the credit, comes the bulk of the blame. Writers and artists tend to get the shaft on that. Nobody ever says: Richard Starking’s lettering made Book X a bad story.
In a professional news article about a new book release could read: The new Superman creative team as of issue nine will be acclaimed writer Chris Roberson and superstar penciller Steve McNiven. Veterans inker Dexter Vines, colorist Peter Steigerwald and letterer Richard Starkings round out the creative team. Doesn’t take too long.
In a run review, with 3 pencillers could be: Writer Rick Remember’s arc “Apocalypse Redux:ZZZ” X-Force is bolstered by the distant styles of Jerome Opena, Robbi Rodriguez , and Mike McKone. However the coloring of Dean White adds a vision of unity that lets each artist be his own but keep the art unified.

Frank Martin

May 7, 2012 at 3:34 pm

… therefore, he is to be credited.

Would that be true for every single book he does? Surely not. In this one it is.

@Ran Not that you are wrong, you’re just not all that right. You choose to make a rule, the penciller and the writter are the most important people so they should take the most credit. Yeah sure, till you get someone like Alex Ross to do the painting and then screw the penciller, hes just doing layouts anyway. “Oh but this isnt very common” again, right, and never will be common. I mean, why should one bother when he’s preliminary segregated to a secondary position on the creative team anyway?

You’re making this needlessly complicated. Then it would be the art team of Doug Braithwhite and Alex Ross., of course. And I did say in news articles and reviews, that all creative personel should get credit, but the writer and art team get top billing.

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