Go Hug A Comic Book Artist

The topic is always lurking nearby. If comics are being discussed then this question isn’t too far behind. It is hanging in the air, waiting to be wielded by fans as both a secret handshake and as a method of judgement. “Do you read comics for the writing or the art?”

Listeners and readers are often surprised by my answer to THE QUESTION. I love a well written book but it is the art that elevates a story from interesting to entertaining. The writing is the seed but the art is the fertilizer that allows the story to go to the next level. In fairness, I think the question itself is a bit wrong. You really need both writing and art to be working together for a story to take off. A well written script without good art is like a really nicely put together kitchen table. A carpenter would probably enjoy looking at it, but good luck trying to get a layman to appreciate the craft. Great art without a story is pretty to look at but doesn’t satisfy me.

The marriage of the two is crucial, but I do think that artists have been getting the short end of the stick recently. In my own personal experience with the internet comic book fan community I see an overwhelming focus on the writing, or what is perceived as the arena of writing. There is pretty easy explanation for that bias. I think it is easier for us to imagine what the process of writing is than it is to imagine the process of drawing. That isn’t to denigrate comic book writers. Writing good comics is hard. It is just an easier jump of the imagination for most fans to see themselves writing.

Personally, I could see myself writing a script. I kind of have an idea of how comic scripts work. Please note that in reality I probably have no idea how scripts work, but we are just dealing with my armchair hubris at this point. I have absolutely no idea how to draw or where to even begin with creating a sequential work of art. Watching artists draw is akin to magic for me. The process of going from a blank page to a comic book page is just short of nuclear fusion in my eyes.   Art was never my strongest subject and I was a long-winded kid. Words were always going to be weapon of choice. I don’t think I am the only comic fan that perceives writing as a more attainable reality then art. Let’s also acknowledge the fact that a lot of fans think they could work in the comics industry.

That perceived closeness to the writing process means that fans feel more comfortable analyzing writing. As a podcaster, I feel more comfortable talking about writing.  I work in an audio medium. It is far easier for me to talk about the plot of a book than it is for me to explain the art with words. In listening to myself speak you would think that all I really care about is the plot of the books. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I just don’t have the proper vocabulary to talk about the art that I love so much.

Art has much more subtle effect on the reader. The artist is a collaborator even if they make zero changes to the script or have zero input into the story. If the storytelling techniques of the artist are working then you should flow through the story at the pace that the writer wants. If the artist is capturing the characters and the moods correctly then well written dialogue should work with the scene. A writer can put as much emotion as they want into the script but it is up to the artist to communicate that emotion. It seems the hardest work for the artists simply goes into making sure that we the readers don’t see the seams of the story. The writers are playing with our emotions but the artists are both making the strings and hiding them.

The lack of art vocabulary doesn’t just sit on the praise side of the scale. Criticism suffers from it as well. I often hear cries along the lines of “Spider-man doesn’t talk like that” or “Batman wouldn’t talk to Alfred that way!” It can be easy to spot when a writer doesn’t quite seem to get a character. The words stick out like a neon sign. When an artist isn’t pulling his weight it can be just as subtle as their success. You don’t often see an artist just straight up draw Batman incorrectly. What you do see is sloppy storytelling. A nagging reflex to flip the page back to understand the action is a reliable sign of this shortcoming. An urge to giggle when confronted with an emotional scene can be sign of mismanaging the mood of the scene.

We often think of artists for the more flashy elements of their style. It is the Cover Fetish that fans suffer from. I like a great cover but covers never seem alive to me. One of my favorite current artists is Skottie Young. His covers are always clever and fun to look at, but I always prefer the interior work that he does. The same goes for classic artists like Joe Kubert, Carmine Infantino, Darwyn Cooke, Jack Kirby etc., etc. They have done iconic covers but when I think of their style, I think of the interiors. That is where the real magic is happening.

I guess this is just a plea to the rest of fandom to make sure and appreciate the insides of those comics that they love. Really think about why you love the art that you love and why you  avoid the art you dislike. Even if you think you read comics for the writing, appreciate that the reason you dig the writing is because the art has succeeded. Everything that your favorite writer has written has been filtered through art. Even creators who write and draw their works have to mesh the two different sensibilities. In the end, I think we all read comics because of the writing AND the art.


 

Tom Katers is walking through the internet giving out life lessons. 

Comments

  1. I do agree there needs to be a balance of both, but if I had to pick it would be the writing. There are a lot of artists I like, but I have never picked up a comic for an artist, while I gravitate to wrters and folloew what they do and hope they have good artists. (I’ll read almost anything by Robert Kirkman.) Like Masada said, I can take a great story with not-so-great art. But it can’t be horrible, like I said, there needs to be a balance.

  2. I can take a great story and crappy art.

    I cannot take a crappy story with great art.

    I’m definitely starting to appreciate the art of comics more and more though; nevertheless, the above still applies.

  3. When buying comics the writers tend to be the reason I start or stop reading a title.  That being said, the reason that I love comics is for the art.  Without the art, the comic is just a short story.

  4. How the heck did you post a reply before the first post? Impressive!

    I like both, if I just liked writing, why the hell would I be reading comics?  There are writers I’ll follow (Cornell, Kirkman, Fraction, Remender) there are artists I’ll follow (Allred, Jock, Tom Fowler, Tony Moore) and there are writer/artists that I’ll follow (Cooke, Lemire, Alex Robinson).

    I definitely started off liking the writing but now I’m pretty close to 50/50 possibly with the art edging writing out slightly.

     

  5. I am a bigger fan of writing.  I think I’m a bigger fan because I feel closer to it, because I feel like I could do it.  what’s really funny is that after taking a drawing course in college, I think I appreciated art less. things like cross-hatching stood out to me more simply because I then knew what to call it.  I think listening/watching iFanboy really helped me appreciate the artists that take things to a higher level more.  Understanding Comics also helped me gain a greater appreciation for art.

  6. I would say I am a follower of teams. Like Azzarello & Risso, Brubaker & Phillips, Dillon & Ennis. I think that the best way for someone to get into comics & have a great time reading is to really find a book where the writer & the artist really click for. I believe that really is the best way cause they really are pretty equal to each other in value, writing & art, but when the right writer temas up with the right artist, great can turn into phenomenal!

  7. I think SpiderTitan comes closest to my view.  It’s not always clear where the writing ends and the art begins, or vice versa.  Great art/writing teams connect in a way that goes beyond the two defined roles.

    And let’s not forget about colorists!  They can make or break a book–really!

    All that said, thanks to Thomas Katers for giving us pencil-pushers and ink-splatterers some props. 

  8. @Peterkrause Inkers too!  Not a knock on Mahnke but the pairing of him an Alamy is a clear case of the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

    Matthew Wilson is a colourist who will sell me on a book if I was on the fence.

  9. I appreciate both equally, I think, but for different reasons. I get most of the story from what the writer’s laying down, just because of how I read (obviously doesn’t work for things like fight scenes or silent issues). But I spend twice as long looking at the art, not exactly from a "understanding what’s going on here" perspective, but analyzing it, trying to see if I can figure out what the penciller & inker were doing, that sort of thing. (Sorry, colorists, I definitely appreciate what you do, but I don’t spend much time thinking about it.)

  10. I won’t buy a book with art that i don’t like, i don’t care who writes it or how well its reviewed. I just can’t enjoy it no matter how good the writing is. I’ve passed on several very well loved books because the art is just unappealing to me. And by art i mean pencils, inks and color as a package. I’ve gotten over the fact that a lot of comic lettering is just "a different level of taste" from my graphic design, typographic aesthetic. (That being said there is some lettering in some books i LOVE that make me want to hurl)

    Yes i’ll miss out on stuff, but ultimately its about my personal enjoyment. I tend to be a very visual person and while the story is very important to me, its the art that really makes the sale, and Its easy to judge art in the store by doing a quick flip through. I don’t have the budget in my comic reading hobby to buy things that i know i won’t enjoy. 

  11. hmm, when I really analyze art, I don’t think I’m a fan of the threesome (hold your jokes).  I wish there were more books that were pencils only, or maybe pencils and inks only, or pencils and colors.  all three don’t always come together in the most perfect synchronicity.

  12. I don’t know if I properly appreciated how amazing art can be until I discovered that there are some artists I can’t stand.  I think I started out enjoying everything at least "enough" on the art level if not always fully, so I just took it for granted most art fell somewhere along the pretty good to gorgeous spectrum and didn’t engage in it as much as I did the writing.  Then I started seeing art that I didn’t dig at all, and suddenly I was more aware how really beautiful art can be.

    Before long I was paying closer attention to who drew stuff I really loved, and eventually I was even picking up a book here or there just because they were on it, where for years I only ever followed writers in that way.  Still, though, if a book is not well-written, I will drop it no matter how pretty it is, but if I am loving the story, I will suffer through a bad artist and wait for the changeover.

  13. I can’t buy a book if I don’t like the art, that’s whats keeping me from buying Secret Avengers and Iron Man.

  14. @gobo, if youn meant me, ScoprionMasada’s post was there before me. I have no idea what happened.

  15. if you are just a fan of writing there are lots and lots and lots of novels out there for ya.  and it’s a lot cheaper to buy novels than it is comics. 

    It has been said that comics are a shortcut for writers since they don’t have to spend as much time developing setting and other stuff and allow the artist to put that subtle info in, (alan moore is an exception, I’m sure there are others too that like the sound of their own type. ..) it can be harder to write a truely emotional setting than it is to just draw or paint one or have one drawn or painted, just saying "the character walks through a long lonely desert" doesn’t give the reader the full deepness to the emotion the writer might want to portray, but showing it over a few panels or a big spread might. and if comics are a shortcut for writers then it’s the "long cut" for artist, telling a story that conveys an emotion or theme over several pages or even issues is a lot harder and more work than doing one singular image to do that same thing

    Comics are what they are because of the art and eventually, no matter how good the writer is, they start telling the same stories over and over and over again, comics are crazy canibalisitic like that, artist do it too, but then people yell about copying but that’s another diatribe.  

  16. I think Darwyn Cooke wrote in some intro to a book that if you think of comics like a movie, the writer is, well, the writer.  The artist is the casting agent, every actor, the set designer, the sound designer, the lighting guys and every other role.

    Director can be both the writer and the artist.

  17. The more I write, and the more I analyze comics in iFanboy, the more I appreciate artists. If you listen to old shows, I never talked about artists, and now, they’re starting to be the thing that attracts me to projects.  A good comic book artist is a singularly special thing.

  18. I think I’m a writing guy, but I’ve started to notice how important the art can be to the story. I think I’m at a point where I can tolerate weak art if the writing is exceptional, but can’t tolerate weak writing no matter how good the art is.

  19. I think I’d say that my priority is storytelling, and while that’s more closely and obviously tied to writing than to art, bad art can ruin a good script (though if I’m interested enough in a script, I might put up with it anyway, like I might watch a movie with cheap production values or a TV show with lousy acting if I like the story enough). 

    I will say that if the story is just not there it’s awfully hard for an artist alone to make something I’m going to care about beyond looking at it and saying "that’s pretty".  I can think of exceptions –Cliff Chiang’s work on that JMS ‘Brave and the Bold’ issue about Barbara Gordon transformed it from a premise I was dubious about toa finished issue that affected me emotionally).   And we shouldn’t discount the many times that important "story" decisions are made by artists.  I believe Gibbons came up with the nine-panel grid for Watchmen, for instance, and pretty much all the early Marvel stuff resulted from Stan giving a story summary and the artist going to put it together. 

    But I guess my perception now is that most books are much more scripted, and creative teams put together in assembly-line fashion (as opposed to a true collaboration), so it’s harder for an artist to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear than it used to be.  I think that perception, at least, explains the prominence of writers over artists today.  But maybe it’s a misconception and artists have more storytelling input than I think they do.  Thoughts?

  20. I’ve always been a person for the writing, but I’ve grown to appreciate the art more and more the longer I read. At first I didn’t really care about art, and thought that a good story warrented picking up a book, and considering it good. Now, I look at how the art is just as much part of the story as the writing is, but in a bit of a different way. Now I’m not going to say that I’m balanced between the two, I still edge toward writing definitly, but I have came to understand why the art merit’s a book just as much as the writing does.

  21. I haven’t read the article yet. I will I promise. But I have to say writing. However if there is anything that X-Factor Secret Invasion has taught us it is that the Art is needed in the comics medium. Without good art the best writing can seem like utter crap.

  22. After a long week of making comics and a great week of reading comics I can say both are equally important. The beauty of comics is that it’s a beautiful mixture of writing and art. Some people can draw, some people can write, and some very talented people can do both. Artists spend a whole month laboring over twenty two pages with beautiful results, and a lot of comic writers write multiple titles and spend a week or more on each. We’ve lived in a world where it’s all about art and we’ve seen books that are all about writing, I want to live in the world are both equal and equally appreciated.

  23. Definitely the art! Perfect example:Hulk, loved McGuinness!! Loeb?(ehh)–Thor, Copiel! JMS(so,so)

              

  24. my pick would USUALLY be writing in that i would more likely pick up a well written book with mediocre art over a mediocre story with good art. However i would agree with tom and @davewienlgosz that it is not something you can look at completely independently, for example GREAT writing would probably not keep me on a book with art i HATE the same as GREAT art will not get me to buy a book with writing i don’t like. For me really strong writing OR art can carry the other to an extent (with my bias being able to stand mediocre art more so than mediocre writing) but if either is really weak the whole thing falls apart. Two example stick out from my reading this week, strange science fantasy (i grabbed it off the rack cuz it caught my eye) by scott morse was BEAUTIFUL to look at but the writing did nothing for me so i will not be picking up any more issues, and Avengers Academy was a great story but the art was just serviceable (to me) yet i love this book and plan on reading it for awhile .

  25. okay, comic books aren’t comic books without the art. period, end of story.

    So the question is, does comic art allow for bad writing to be more acceptable? Would Spider-man work as a young adult novella?   There are some very well written young adult sci-fi books and adult sci-fi, horror, action books. 

    Okay, this is going in the wrong direction, the question Tom asked wasn’t what is more important to the medium of comic booking but what keeps readers reading the books. But I’d say that the "ART" of a comic book is more than just the "drawings" it’s everything combined, so the "ART" is the untangible aspect of comic books that makes images work with the words and if that "ART" is done well then the writing and drawing are really not separate things and "bad" writing are just decisions that you as the reader disagree with. while bad art could be a lacking of skill that can’t be hidden by anything. Like a bad portion of a story can be made up for later on in the story. 

    on a side note, do writers put in the sound effects???  cause wow, sometimes they can be great or totally offputting.  

    one of these days I’ll stay on topic . . .   sure  

  26. On the contrary, I can spot bad anatomy, poorly drawn characters, bad choises point of view angle, and rocky if not terrible transitons. But that doesn’t take me out of the story as a bad dialog does. Nor does a Perfectly drawn comic atrackme as much as a really well written one. From listening to the POTW podcast i shocked me how much you guys are pulled out of the story because of bad art.

  27. @LostArtist- as far as I know, sound effects sometimes come from the writer and sometimes come from the letterer

  28. @gobo Thats actually an example I’ve thought of myself, damn, didn’t know Cooke thought of it first. But yes, a great artist(just like a great director) can turn a good script into a great comic, at the same time a bad artist can turn a good script into a terrible comic.

    I’ve always been more of an art person since Im an artist, but I do often read some of the work of my favorite writers even if Im not into the art. As long as its halfway decent I can survive it, but bad art really can break a book sometimes.

  29. I would say writing most of the time. 

    However, my interest in INVINCIBLE sometimes wanes, but I stay on for Ottley and FCO.  

  30. It was always writing for me until I started writing myself. Now it’s art, all the way.

    Two words: CHRIS. SAMNEE.

  31. @EbonPinion – YES!