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.