Robot 6

The Middle Ground #109 | Do what you want to

Sorry, Rob Liefeld and Mark Millar.

I’m tempted not to explain that, and just leave this week’s column there, but I think there may be a word-count issue to deal with if I did. Also, it needs some explanation, I think, because it’s more to do with my prejudices and faults than anything else, and it’s always good to air those kinds of things publicly, he lied.

Here’s the thing: I was reading the Ed Brubaker interview with Tom Spurgeon from this weekend — if you haven’t, you really should, because it’s wonderful stuff — and when I got to Brubaker explaining his reasons for leaving Captain America after nine years, I had one of those, “Oh, there’s that other shoe dropping” moments. “Partly, it’s the beginning a shift from work-for-hire to books I own, instead,” he said. “I hit a point with the work-for-hire stuff where I was starting to feel burned out on it. Like my tank is nearing empty on superhero comics, basically. It’s been a great job, and I think I found ways to bring my voice to it, but I have a lot of other things I want to do as a writer, too, so I’m going to try that for a while instead.”

I read that and I thought, yes, that’s what I was thinking about last week, and now finally a really big name writer at one of the Big Two has come out and said that they’re moving on because of creator ownership, even though that’s not actually what he said. (What can I say? It was early in the morning, and my reading comprehension was low.) And then, just minutes after, I saw David Brothers respond to the question of what Rob Liefeld’s “ultimate legacy” would be by writing that he’d be remembered as “one of the best idea men in comics and a trailblazer who helped force the comics industry to at least pretend to be better than it was,” and there was this moment of dissonance and realization.

Liefeld has never really worked for me, as an artist. His aesthetic is too busy, too angry — all those lines, all the frenetic action that seemed explosive in the wrong way — and, to be honest, I was too old for him when he first came on the scene; he took over New Mutants and did X-Force when I was reading Animal Man and Sandman and Doom Patrol and sniffing, snobbily, at the X-books as an entirety. Because of that initial dislike, I feel as if I’ve never really given him his due as the inspiration/moving force/shit-stirrer behind the creation of Image Comics, which has ultimately proven to be a force for good in the industry, if not the revolutionary “everything will be different after this always” force that it seemed as it started.

Reconsidering Liefeld made me realize that I’d had exactly the same attitude toward Millar, in a strange way. Millar is the big-name creator who’s turned his back on Marvel and DC for creator-owned work, the guy whose books consistently outsold the majority of the other superhero books who decided, “Nah, I want to do this for myself.” And, simply because I didn’t really like what he came up with afterward — and, I suspect, because what he came up with afterward didn’t seem like a significant shift from the company-owned super heroics he had been doing before — I feel like I’ve never really given him his due for stepping up and deciding that he’d rather own his own characters and have the freedom to follow his muse wherever it takes him instead of relying on the structure and characters of universes created decades before he was born.

There’s been a snobbery, unconsciously, toward both creators, a weird (and accidental) discounting on my part about the importance of both men — at the time, at the top of their commercial games — giving up what could’ve easily been lucrative careers at Marvel or DC for the sake of doing what they wanted, and being able to control their own creations and work. Because I didn’t like it, and thought that it wasn’t significantly different from what they’d already been up to, I didn’t give them the credit they deserved for going it alone and inspiring other people to do the same, forgetting that “doing what you want” doesn’t have to mean “doing what I want” in order to be worthwhile.

So, sorry, Rob Liefeld and Mark Millar. I doubt I’ll be picking up Youngblood or Kick-Ass anytime soon, but I’ll try to be a bit more aware of how important they are in the grand scheme of things, nonetheless.

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I’d love to see someone make a cogent case for how Liefeld has elevated the comics industry. Simply saying that he did is meaningless without explaining how he did

I have kind of the same problem with both these guys. I haven’t liked what they do, so I tended to treat them with a lack of respect in general. Rob Liefeld will always be the guy who uses super-exaggerated anatomy, loves killers, and thinks a gun isn’t big enough if it isn’t bigger than the person holding it. Millar will always be the guy who prizes style over substance and tries to be over-the-top to hook readers, rather than genuinely entertaining. But those are just my opinions of their work. Thanks to you, I’ll try to consider their impacts on the industry separately from my perceptions of the quality of their works.

Millar’s impact on the industry, if he’s had any at all, has to do with his comic ideas being used in the Avengers film.

Liefeld’s impact has nothing to do at all with the content of the comics that he wrote and drew. Instead, he can probably be known for being just one in a group of creators who struck out and formed Image

Conversely, they both arguably have had a negative impact on the content of comic books. One for writing dumbed-down, shock stories, and one for popularizing a terrible artwork style and spawning clones who draw in that same lamentable style

I was surprised to see Graeme McMillan wrote this. Then I thought for a moment and decided that he has become a better beat writer with more substance these last few months. Not to be dismissive, but I often found his articles to be second hand reporting with a few extra question marks tagged on the headline. Nice to see that seems to be changing.

Keep it up Graeme.

I will always give Millar respect for the closing arc of the 2nd volume of Swamp Thing. Not genius, but when I first read those stories, they were extremelly entertaining.

Liefeld’s art is disgusting. But I guess it’s a case of respect the mission if not the man.

What’d Mark Millar contribute to the Avengers films? Deciding that Nick Fury should look like Samuel L. Jackson? (Ultimate Nick first appeared in an issue of Ultimate Marvel Team-Up by Bendis. I guess he was a black guy there, but the Jackson design came later.) Renaming the Skrulls as the Chitauri? Meh. The film Chitauri looked like the comic version in name only, didn’t they? They were basically generic aliens that could have easily been called Kree, Badoon, or wuzzle-wazzles.

“the importance of both men — at the time, at the top of their commercial games — giving up what could’ve easily been lucrative careers at Marvel or DC for the sake of doing what they wanted, and being able to control their own creations and work [...] I didn’t give them the credit they deserved for going it alone and inspiring other people to do the same”

I don’t get it — sorry, Graeme! Frank Miller did this before them. Paul Chadwick did it before them. Alan Moore did it before them. Mike Mignola did it before them. Howard Chaykin. Steve Ditko. Jack Kirby. Neal Adams. Wally Wood. Kyle Baker. Rick Veitch. et al. et al. et al. Granted, not all of these guys were at the “top of their game” when they left Marvel/DC, but still. Good on Millar and Liefeld for pursuing their own careers, but let’s not get carried away by making them out to be trail-blazers — those trails were blazed a long time ago.

Nobody draws giant, asymmetrical background pecs like Liefeld

Fellow, Jones. I think what Graeme’s getting at is that both were wildly successful at it in their eras and proved to their peers and fans alike that independent was a way to make a sustainable income/float a career.

Oh, if it’s just about that small generation/cohort, okay then — thanks brother Jones!

(Incidentally, I’d add Hal Foster and Milton Caniff to my list — although not working for Marvel/DC both of them left mega-successful gigs on corporate-owned “properties”, at the height of their popularity, so they could own their own work, and their later careers were — to say the least — very successful, especially for Foster)

Mark Millar used to be my favorite comic book writer.

The real problem, though, lies in the fact that now that Millar is off in his own Millarworld, he has no constraints. He’s free to publish every stupid idea that pops into his head without first refining it or even deciding if it’s actually a good idea. So that’s what we have now: pure unfiltered Millar. And it sucks.

Liefeld has no talent at drawing things from most angles.
That said, I’ve been told he’s a nice guy to work with/for… still, his “art” is atrocious.

Yes, other people blazed those trails beforehand, but that doesn’t make Liefeld’s path any less important. I was directly in Liefeld’s target audience when X-Force was going on, and he knew how to make a comic. Jim Lee had a cleaner superhero style, but Liefeld was the king of exciting looking pages, edgy characters, and high stakes fights. I still have fond memories of that first year of Liefeld’s run on X-Force, even the sideways issue.

I know that the go-to Rob Liefeld punchline is “lol feet,” but that’s as stupid as boiling Claremont down to bondage fantasies and bad accents. He created/co-created a bunch of characters, a few of which are absolutely crucial to Marvel’s status quo and bottom line today, and all of which were in the perfect style to hook a kid like me and crawl up inside my brain.

And then he left at the very top of his game, and I followed him, McFarlane, and Lee (specifically, I was a Spider-Man/X-Men kid) to Image and Brigade, Wildcats, Youngblood, and Spawn. I didn’t fully understand the political nature of the move, but it immediately opened my eyes to a world beyond Marvel & DC and the idea that you should own what you create.

Sure, Kirby and them left and did their own work too. Honoring Liefeld doesn’t diminish their impact. Those battles were and are still being fought, and Liefeld and the gang followed in the footsteps of their forebears and did it even bigger. They did it in a way that was impossible to ignore, even for me as a kid who had limited access to comics and even more limited access to comics news, and they did it in a way that tweaked the noses of their former paymasters.

Musicians are still fighting bad contracts. Prince having gone public with his contract issues doesn’t make Killer Mike any less of an inspirational figure for making it a point to own his own music and such.

I like what Graeme said above. I think a lot of people discount Liefeld and the rest of the Image cats because they don’t like his art. Which is silly. I’m not half as fond of Liefeld’s work as I was back in the day, but Youngblood is an idea that was so ahead of its time that it’s barely even dated. These guys were hugely influential, especially when you look at specifically post-Image creators like Robert Kirkman, the guys who grew up on their comics and how they approach the business. But you can’t deny their influence, not at all.

Yikes–still lots of hate. I am not a Liefield fan, but if I had to pick one thing he did to change the industry it would be his role in Image. I think what Millar has demonstrated is the capacity to remain an individual creator able to make the next leap in the entertainment world on their own terms. To independently find financing for film projects, for a comic creator, is unbelievable. I suspect that many would like to have the control, influence and money of a Millar.

I am a Millar fan—always have a soft spot for my ancestral Scots.

@david brothers ” I think a lot of people discount Liefeld and the rest of the Image cats because they don’t like his art. Which is silly”

No, that’s not silly at all. Comics, perhaps more than any other form of storytelling depends HEAVILY on the artwork. If the artwork is bad, poorly executed, it doesn’t matter how strong the writing is it will have failed to communicate it’s intent.

The artist (especially when working from another’s script) must work hard to bring those written words to life on the page. They not only need to convey the writer’s intent but they must also be able to steer the readers throughout each panel, each page.

If the artist can’t do this, it’s not just the idea of not liking his art. Leifeld throughout his career failed miserably at this. Especially when you compare him with the other talents that were working through the 1980′s in the 90′s.

I’m not fan of either creator but strangely I’m buying Youngblood (because I’m starting to burn out on the Big Two and skipped it outside of #1 back in the 90′s) and Hawkman (love the character but didn’t like the first few issues). As long as Liefeld isn’t doing a majority of the art, I’ll give it a shot. I prefer Liefeld over Millar because Liefeld still has a sense of fun to his work whereas Millar is just about the shock factor. Beyond the fact that it seems like Millar just writes to get things greenlighted by movie studios, he takes something and puts a dark twist on it and that’s not my cup of tea. I can’t say that he hasn’t been successful with it.

A couple of years ago, I flipped a switch a switch in my head and dropped the reflexive anti-Liefeld thing. I think I saw a kid, like some dang amateur undergrad at SVA saying something like “oh my GOD, imagine of someone said I drew like Rawb Liefeld. I’d KILL myself!” Something along those lines. I was just walking by. And at a glance of the kid’s portfolio, Rob Liefeld is such a better artist and draftsman and cartoonist than this student was.

I suddenly found myself almost enraged because it hit me: Rob Liefeld wasn’t a real artist, he was a slur, a boogey man that art teachers scare art students with so they’ll do their homework. He has had a very successful career, despite his obvious shortcomings and yet people who have never amounted to half of his abilities assume themselves to be his betters.

Since then, I backtracked a LOT. No more sly dissing is permitted around me from people who use him as more of a curse word than a creator who can be critiqued. Because criticism is one thing but the blanket assumption that someone should be denegrated relative to oneself is a really nasty idea and one counter-productive to critical insight.

I just want to echo Mr. Brothers’s comments above, and also add that I think the dismissive attitude toward the original Image guys comes as a result of the twenty-year remove from them “jumping ship” to form Image. Looking back now, I believe many view their decision as a safe bet, which greatly diminishes the gamble they were making. It was a big deal, and popular opinion was that Spider-Man or X-Men or X-Force – the characters – were what made these artists superstars, not their personal style/talent.

And those people were proven wrong, but that was never a foregone conclusion.

chris

Yeah, I’ve been thinking that, while this is a great time for creator-owned comics, we haven’t had anything like the Image Exodus. There are plenty of A-list guys at DC and Marvel doing creator-owned work on the side, and there are midlist guys (Langridge and Roberson, off the top of my head) who’ve left the Big Two entirely, but I can only think of two A-listers who quit Marvel and DC: Kirkman and Millar. And Millar publishes his creator-owned stuff through Marvel.

Brubaker’s still doing Winter Soldier for the time being, but he could make three.

@Richard J Marcej: I’m not going to be Captain Apology for Liefeld in this thread, but you’re missing the point. No one here is saying he’s the GOAT. It’s not even about his art, but more the fact that people use their distaste for his art as an excuse to ignore his accomplishments. They forget that he was in the right place, at the right time, with an extremely marketable and exciting style, a loyal fanbase, and friends who were similarly high profile and brave enough to step away from a sure thing.

So, cool, you don’t like his art. I used to, but I’m not into it these days. But your opinion of his art is irrelevant, because he’s still an Image founder, and that’s what this conversation is about.

Liefeld is the Dave Sim of action adventure comics. Young, brash, willing to go against the grain of mainstream publishing and do his own thing. Yeah, Cerebus is a classic and a great achievement while Youngblood isn’t, but that doesn’t change the fact that Liefeld and the rest of the Image founders made the comic book market way more hospitable for creator owned action comics. Hell, it’s possible that without those Image guys who are regularly derided, we wouldn’t have Hellboy! I’m glad we live in a world where “independent comics” means more than just Dan Clowes and Chris Ware.

Sure, I don’t like his art either but the way that fanboys trash it out of hand while lapping up the likes of Ed Benes and David Finch is pretty funny.

Also if it wasn’t for Liefeld, the new Prophet, Glory and Bloodstrike wouldn’t exist so… yeah.

@Lugh

If you think Liefeld and Finch are comparable, you don’t know much about drawing

Heck, just look at the cover for Hawkman 10. Look at that mouth – the teethe and gums – they don’t even seem to have any spacial relationship

That’s just the latest example. One of my favorites was the arrow with a grenade on the tip, fired through a window, yet the resulting hole in the window was only big enough for the shaft of the arrow to have traveled through

Good luck

Sure, ignore my actual point to gripe that you like an artist I don’t. That’s fair.

@Lugh

You said “fanboys trash it out of hand” when in fact many cogent and concrete criticisms of Liefeld’s many failings as an artist have been made hundreds and hundreds of times on the Internet

You dismiss all of those valid artistic criticisms as the ravings of “fanboys”, and then compare Liefeld to Finch – which, to repeats, shows that you do not know a ton about drawing

And yes, the fact that after 30+ years of professional experience, he still cannot draw a set of teeth and lips that look like they are somehow connected is indeed an objective failing in being able to draw basic anatomy – and it is not just the result of an “energetic and kinetic” style

@david brothers: I don’t want to get into a back-and-forth thing here on the comment section but I was SPECIFICALLY responding to your line (which I copied and pasted on my response) “I think a lot of people discount Liefeld and the rest of the Image cats because they don’t like his art. Which is silly”

If you were talking about an artist’s style, then yes, that would be silly. But you didn’t say that. His art is not specifically just style. His art is his craft. His craft is visual storytelling. And that’s two entirely different things.

Look, I can give a damn about one artist to the next. I have no stake in their career, I don’t gain or lose anything from how well they do or don’t. As a reader and customer when I purchase a form of entertainment, whether it be a ticket to a movie or an issue of a comic, I expect professional work in their craft. Leifeld’s art has shown from day one that his craft is wanting. He doesn’t show the basic structure of anatomy or panel layout or scene setting.

Asking for professional work from paid professionals isn’t too much to ask for, is it?

Let me try this one last time:

People have a habit of ignoring or diminishing the contributions of Rob Liefeld (and others) to the comics industry because they do not like how he draws comics.

Regardless of our differing tastes CommentMan, I was saying what Brothers said.

Also let’s be fair, Finch can’t do that either. In fact his art style is basically “shit Jim Lee”

I forgot to put this in but the fact that you care more that Liefeld can’t draw teeth than his considerable creator’s rights contributions is telling. Yeah those creators you mentioned earlier were seminal to the movement, but Image’s contributions were making indie comics legitimate for a mainstream audience. No one had the blazing white hot success they did, especially with kids, before.

@Lugh

I can probably agree with that (making indy appeal to a wider audience). Why didn’t you just say that in the first place

PS – I’m not a Finch fan either. But at least he can draw 2 legs the same size – heh

Oh, I think the snobbery towards both is pretty conscious.

I think the simple fact that he’s remembered more for innate inability to draw anything resembling an ACTUAL proportionate human being than his ‘contributions’ to the comic industry says more about his career than anything else.

Sure, defend Image all you want. But that does NOT erase the fact that Image has actually done as much harm as it did good. Between the various lawsuits popping up everywhere, robert kirkman’s bloated ego (if his SKYBOUND imprint is any indication), almost 90% of the titles being nothing more than movie pitches and of course the unsettling presence of Liefield, that’s plenty good reason why I (and some others) avoid Image like the plague.

And I think I speak for myself when I say that we need a new generation of creater-owned comics that are actuallly COMICS.

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