Our Heroes, Their Art

Like many of you, I was quite affected by the news of Michael Turner’s passing on Friday. I did not find out here on iFanboy I went to my comic book store to pick up this week’s stack, and the owner told me. He was so bummed that I didn’t understand what he had actually said the first time around, he was that upset.  

I was deeply touched by the circumstances his death — I am the same age and mortality never seemed so invasive — but the subsequent response from the comic book community really got me thinking about the various relationships we have with our books and relationship the greater comic book community has with comic book creators. The way people have responded to Turner’s passing, with such feeling and personal investment, reminded me of how music fans respond to the passing of a singer or musician — and it is quite inspiring, to be honest. One possible reason for this deep reaction is that the artist is sharing something deeply personal with his or her audience, and the audience subconsciously reacts to that communication in a similar way. In Michael Turner’s case, he was sharing the way he describes reality, the way he expresses the emergence of emotion and the passing of time. When he drew someone who was scared or shocked, he was putting himself in the emotion, in a way: that’s how his emotional spirit described that feeling, that moment. The eyes don’t draw themselves; the moistness in Kara’s pupils or the pursing of her lips was Michael feeling that emotion, his hand reflecting that turmoil through his pencil, giving it our eyes, sharing it with our selves.

I think we can agree that comic book artists, overall, are incredibly underrated. They have to balance the demands of a commercial enterprise with their own struggle to deliver work they can be proud of, that will stand up to the scrutiny of thousands of eagle-eyed, hyper-critical fans. Can you imagine the pressure that an artist must feel when they are told, “Oh,yeah, can you help us with a few covers for the new Justice League?” The opportunity to share your vision, to add your take to a legacy, to go and draw heroes that have defined a generation’s view of the good that Superman represents, the power that Wonder Woman embodies, the brooding genius that is Batman — it takes a special person to step up to that task. Comic book artists, you just can feel it, do this because they LOVE the work — the sheer amount of art they put out, month after month… well, it’s staggering to me. I mean, I love to draw, but to be able to produce the kinds of pages our best comic book artists put out…it is a kind of genius that I don’t think most “art people” really know (or, sadly, care) about.

So, we have the comic books artists… and then we have the fans. Comic book fans are an interest
ing bunch (again comparisons to music fans come to mind) we have this expectation of being able to “own” the interpretation of a certain character, we can’t seem to help it. After all, each of us has a different voice in our head when read the speech bubble next to Superman, next to Selina, next to Matt Murdock, right? We expect the art and writing to consistently support those voices in a way that inspires us to let ourselves get emotionally attached to the story’s stakes. If there is a disruption, it upsets this very tenuous balance. How many books have we discussed where we’ve had to add some kind of caveat, “Well, the art was okay but the story’s really good?” If there is an imbalance, we have to work harder to enjoy the story… and no one wants to pay $3.99 to work. Give us a few panels and we’ll all value different aspects more than the other. Of course, I realize, we are invested in comics. We spend a lot of money on these stories so it is, I guess, natural for us to feel that we deserve some kind of fulfillment specific to our own expectations. We like something, we tell everyone. We don’t like something, we tell everyone else. At first, I was surprised to see the number of people who have left comments and forum postings making it clear whether or not they liked Michael Turner’s art after expressing their regrets. I mean, really, does that matter?

And, of course, it does. The relationships we have to the characters that the writers voice and the artists reveal are, in many ways, forever. The creators will move to different books but the characters endure. The creative team listed in that little box at the beginning of the story is more than just the writer, inker, colorist, penciller, letterer of the book — it’s the reader as well, which is why the sessions at Comic-Con can get so emotional, so personal. When I look at a page of Supergirl that Michael Turner did, I am very much animating his images, I am adding motion to her flying, volume to her laughing, agony when she’s crying — I am actively invested in his art. Reading a comic is like watching a movie: the audience member endows whatever he or she is feeling onto the actor on the screen. “Here’s looking at you, kid,” means nothing without the story and relationships and time leading up to that line, same with a comic book. Comic books, like the community, are deeply interactive.

When I got back into comics, I went to the store, I got my books, I checked with the owner to see if I should be reading anything else for the week, then retreated to a cafe and drew while I read. It was not until many years later that I started to understand how powerful and engaging the comic book community was, and how intertwined the community is with the actual merchandise. I mean, I have dealt with crazy “user bases” before (I’ve used a Mac for a very, very long time), but I think the comic book fanbase is even more intense. It’s always fun to catch those cameos of other artists, podcast logos and store owners — what other artistic medium has that kind of communal give and take?

Being in comics and being into comics are two sides of the same coin, two partners in a continuously evolving relationship. It should be interesting to see how our community grows and changes as comics adapt to changing times, as online comics continue to take hold, as the concept of comic “books” change and, as all of us, the creators, the readers and the characters continue to grow and learn from each other.

How about you? What books and creators do you feel a personal bond with, if any?


Mike Romo is an actor in Los Angeles.  He’s very much looking forward to Comic-Con in San Diego, where he’ll be asking for a few sketches.

Comments

  1. Firstly, great article.

    To answer you questoin, I guess I feel a bit of a bond, or enjoyment with the people that worked on the DC animated world and have since moved into comics, that being Paul Dini and Dwayne McDuffie. Those cartoons are such a huge part of my childhood, to me those are the voices of the characters, and writers I feel a strong pull for. If they’re working on something I will pick it up, with out question. As far as artist, I go back again to childhood, and who’s art was grabbing me in comics as a kid. For me it’s Niel Adams (namely Niel adams Batman) old issues I would find in comics stores or whereever and just dig those puppies out. Also Perez, one of those artist who I knew I liked before I knew his name. 

  2. Great article!

    As Jurassicalien points out, I feel a "kinship" to those artist i grew up with in comics, Like Neil Adams, Perez, Carmine Infantino, and Jack Kirby. When I was younger I hated Kirby’s style, but as i have matured, I love it and appreciate the ‘artistic’ merits of his talent. Many (most?) disagree with this , but i follow artists more than writers, probably because i am more of an artistic/visual person. If i can’t get past the art, the story will never get me there. Some of the best writers in comics today are hurt by poor artists (and of course vice-versa). Fill-in issues ruin it for me. Give me a late book over a fill-in any day. Comics magic occurs when you get that rare pairing of perfect artist and perfect writer…more rare than you would think. (There’s another article/story idea for ya!)

    …oh and Dave Sim. People may dislike him for his politicks, etc. But Cerebus was the first "independent" book i discovered and realized there was a whole new world of comics out there besides the big two.

    MT: RIP!

  3. Great article. The passing of Mr. Turner was a shock but his work will speak for him for a while.

    To answer the question, I have always felt more of a connection to the Marvel writers morso than DC. That said I think the duo of JMS and JR JR on Amazing Spiderman is a comic that I connected with. The 9/11 issue brought more to the table than any comic for a long time. JMS has a way of bringing the reader into a comic and pushing the boundaries each and every issue (See Thor especially). As far as artists are concerned, Mr. Quesada has always been the one who draws the comics the way i picture them in my head.

  4. I guess I feel kind of a bond with Jason Aaron because being someone relatively new to comics he was the first writer that I was into before he started to really make a name for himself. I picked up Other Side when it first came out which was a few months after I had just gotten into comics, and then of course started to read Scalped with issue #1. Now Jason Aaron is on his way to becoming one of the bigger names in the industry which is awesome.

  5. Beautifully written, Mike. Just an amazing tribute.

    I guess the first one that comes to mind is Brian Bolland for The Killing Joke, but especially that one panel of The Joker after he climbs out of the chemicals, clutching his hair and laughing uncontrollably. It’s beautiful and terrifying at the same time.

    Another is Pia Guerra’s work on Y. Consistantly good, often touching, but nothing has ever had me bawling (in entertainment, that is) quite like the way she drew the grape scene in the final issue. The level of skill it must take to create a still image that envokes an entire scene in your head, and brings such an emotional, physical response just staggers me.

    Once again, Mike, stunning piece. 

  6. This was great, Mike.

     Being an aspiring comic artist, who by coincidence, was inspired to do comics by Michael Turner’s art in Supergirl, I was sort’ve connected to him in a sense, I always wanted to see what he was working on or what covers he’d be doing next. I really grew fond writer-wise, of Jeph Loeb, but strictly on his DC work. He has this connection with them that I think we all do and it just adds to the feeling of the story you’re being given. My other connection artist-wise, would be Jim Lee, this guy gave Batman a new feel for the ages, just like Miller, Adams and Kane did when they did their Batman’s. Being a huge Batman fan, I was overjoyed to have gotten Loeb and Lee on a batman run, which is still in my opinion, in my top 5 batman stories to have been told.

  7.  Artiscally, TerrY, Moore,  Mike Wieringo, Darwyn Cooke, Tim Sale,  Mike Allred, Allison Bechedel Steve Epting.

    I love writers, like BKV, Brubaker,Wood etc. Mike was right (as usual). The comics medium creates such a wonderfully integrated expierience  for reader and artis. Far too many artistists and writers bear their souls on the page without ever realizing the tremndous impact ther efforts have on those of us who love it. There is some itch that a good comic stratchess, a joy that no other medium can provide.

    The great tragedy is those artists who depart never realizing their impact. God, I love comics

  8. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Great, great column, Mike. 

    I guess, for me, the easy answer is Mike Mignola.  I relate to his love of lost stories, of world mythology and storytelling styles.  He does a geat amount of research, but also brings something of himself to the table.  I love BKV’s sense of humor and I always feel that he picks stories that really appeal to me conceptually.  Those "Damn, I wish I’d thought of that" moments.  And Geoff Johns always writes from the heart, and his passion for characters and character growth reallyhits home. 

    As for art…Marcos Martin, Jim Rugg, and Pia Guerra.  I love that 60s style of indie looking art, really focused on the characters themselves.  More emotionally resonant than bombastic and explosive.  Ooh, add Stuart Immonen to that list.  

  9. I definitely connect with Alex Ross’s work in Marvels and Kingdom Come.  For some reason Frank Quitely really resonates with me.  Joe Madureira back in the day on Uncanny X-Men when I was in middle school was the first time I can remember really sitting up and taking notice of an artist.  Mike Wieringo was the next one when he was doing a Spidey, Hulk, and Ka-Zar story in one of the Spider-books from around the same time.  John Romita Jr. was one of the first artists whose storytelling ability I really appreciated, and the first bare breast in a comic that I saw was drawn by Frank Miller.  Frank Cho is another one I really love.  These guys are rock stars in my eyes, but infinitely more accessible and more down-to-earth.

  10. Good column. In terms of art, Ryan Ottley, Ariel Olivetti, and Rob De La Torre speka to me the most. All three of these artists could tell stories without words, because they know how to convey emotion in a way that the reader can conncect to and understand.

    All I can say about Turner is this: I’ve never liked the man’s art. He even seemed a bit over-rated. However, the fact remains that he made his name (one that will not be forgotten any time soon) in an industry that I also hope to make my name in. He has my respect, without a doubt.

  11. When pondering your question, I wanted to think of someone that I would be really upset if they were to pass away.  The first one that came to mind would be Darwyn Cooke.  I love his work and his interpretation of what he does.  Another would be Paul Dini.  I love his writing style, and he is one of those writers that absolutely defines a character for me.  The last one I thought of before breakfast is ready, who is kind of not a comic person, would be Bruce Timm.  He has done so much for comics with his animation work that he would be sorely missed.

    But luckily, these fine gents are alive and kicking, and I’m able to still enjoy their work.  But I think, Mike, you’ve reminded me of how I sometimes take these guys for granted.  Thanks for the reminder with your well written piece.

  12. Troy Hickman

  13. Brian K Vaughn.  That man singlehandedly drew me back into comics.  He has such a great mind for social issues and story telling.  Y the last Man attacks great issues while telling an amazing story.  Runaways really felt like hanging out with my friends.  Ex Machina is a true political thriller.  Those three series have consistently rocked my world.  Its a shame that the torch has passed on Runaways but its still an okay series.  Y: The Last Man ended amazingly and Ex Machina is still going strong. 

    Pride of Baghdad was great.  I need to see BKV do more graphic novels, hopefully with Niko Henrichon in tow. He also wrote an amazing piece on the writers’ strike that really opened my eyes to the whole thing.  The guys got talent and an eye for whats going on in the world.  I hope he makes a quick return to comics with some crazy new idea.  As a kid who would someday love to work in the industry, BKV is truly my idol.  

    p.s. If you’re in any way interested in the business, read The Escapists by BKV.  Its a lot of fun.

  14. I got into comics relatively late, I live in a place, like many others, that has no comic store, but I grew up loving the Super Friends cartoon, the X-men, Spider-man, Hulk, Iron Man and Fantastic Four cartoons, the Batman/ Superman Animated Series, the 60’s Batman Show. Having a pointy ear, first name of ‘Luke’ and the last name of ‘Batt’, I kinda had Batman, Star Wars and Star Trek(more-so Spock) thrust upon me, but I loved every second of it, growing up I resonated primarily with the Robin character, in all his itterations, I even had a Robin comic, ONE; singular! the only other comic I saw as a kid was an issue of Batman at a newsagent that had a competition to actually BE in an issue! well at least your name would be, and I thought that was just the coolest thing ever, I think I would have been about 10 years old then, there were one or two other comics I saw, but it would be another 9 years before I really saw or read another comic (actually I read about half the Xmen Series that had Cyclops be absorbed by Apocolapse and messed the final issues *shrug* guess it worked out for him).

     

    Anyway, the reason for all that is because when I went to uni, I finally moved to a city that had a comic book store, and the first day I went past, the poster outside was for Michael Turner’s run on the Superman titles, ‘Godfall’, and his work on that absolutely BLEW me away, I went straight inside to find out what it was all about, and if I remember correctly the run was just coming to an end, so the guy behind the counter told me to order the TPB and save myself some money, and thus I entered the world of obscure acronym’s and comics, my first ACTUAL comic purchase thou was the Green Lantern trade ‘Emerald Dawn’, then a classic X-men trade (I think their first fight against Magneto on that asteroid) and then the amazing collection of Daredevil by Kevin Smith and Joey Q.

    To date I think I own about 4 copies of the second version of the first 5-8 issues of Fathom purely based on the different covers…. and not knowing if I already had it, but it was ‘Turner Art’ as we called it, and was an automatic purchase by me and my mates. I have only ever purchased 2 comic related posters, both MT art, one of Aspen and a bolt of lightning behind her and one of Supergirl, I think I have a Joey Q. Wolverine poster aswell, but I think I took that from the comic store once I started working there.

    A few months after I started getting into comics, I picked up this random book that was in the back of the store claiming to be ‘probably the best superhero comic’, the first issue was okay, but I hadn’t really heard of the writer, and the art was really so-so nice and clean, I finished the first one and looked for the next one, only to find there were about 12 issues, so I ordered them in cause I could….. it really wasn’t an exageration, once Ryan Ottley came on board I was hooked, I truely think this then tiny little comic called ‘Invincible’ really is one of the best comics, and one that the store owner never forced upon me…. unlike Preacher…. which I never picked up based solely upon the art (the arseface stuff put me off), Transmetropolitan…. utterly amazing and Y: The Last Man.

     To tell the truth… I never REALLY got into any major super hero stuff until just after the ‘Dis-Assembled’ arc of books and the whole Identity Crisis books (except that Superman: Godfall arc), my monthly stuff kinda just consisted of the recently begun ‘Cable and Deadpool’, Uncanny X-Men and any Aspen Comics like Soulfire (wow!).

    I was kinda put off reading the New X-men stories solely because of the cover art, I just didn’t like the way the x-men were drawn by Frank, and at the time I had NO idea who Grant Morrison was so why would I bother picking them up, eventually I gave in and bought all something like 9 trades? and loved every single one!

    It’s funny how the people you meet at conventions turn out to be really important people and your just to oblivious to know who they are. Ya see, by the time found out New Zealand had this con called ‘Armageddon’ and I had also borrowed a mates collection and read the entire (pretty much) run of Young Justice and a fair amount of Robin back issues, and so there were some characters in those books that I just absolutely loved. Now the hows in which I discovered this convention was that I was…… I’m not sure actually, I think I was just doing a search on Michael Turner and his name poped up as a guest to this THING happened in AUCKLAND, and I was thinking to myself…. Auckland? Auckland, New Zealand? that can’t be the famous Michael Turner of Aspen Comics, the man unknowingly responsible for making me walk into a comic store 2? years prior to this point could it?! so more could I do? I clicked on the search link, and low an’ behold it was, apparently Ihad searched for just the right thing at just the right time, because he was coming to the October 2005? Armageddon, it being the start of October meant I only had a few days to organize the time off… I couldn’t so I just called in sick for 3 days and travelled to Auckland, where I would spend a large portion of that time watch Mr. Turner himself draw while chatting to the man himself, along with his associate Frank Mastromauro (Aspen’s Executive Vice President), so that was awesome….. across the isle, in a much smaller area in this little corner on desks opposite a loud comic book retail stand was this stout little man branishing a box of books that he had written, by this time the MMO (Massive Multiplayer Online Game) CoH (City of Heroes) had been out for a year or so and so had it’s comic book, the second version of which being SO! much better than the first itteration, and in this bunch of books that this guy had written were a handful of CoH Comics, along with something called ‘Kingdom Come’, a very artsy looking book that he was trying his damdest to thrust down my throat as hard as possible to which I responded with, ‘WOW! Your the guy who wrote the CoH v2 comics! so THAT’s why they were so much better’, and then I bought some signed CoH comics and had him do a little 60’s batman sketch on some cardboard with his signature on it (he said he couldn’t draw, but the page looked so barren he had to put something else on it), and I went back to pureusing the original art pages of Mr. Turner’s portfolio.
    "But Young Justice, why mention that?!", well! the final day of the convention there were these things called Panels, amazing things that you get to sit down and listen to this people talk about stuff, stuff like how Michael Turner and Jim Lee and a bunch of others used to play poker against each other, or how if your a fan on The Flash this guy had once done a little run on it, and that if you liked Impulse, well! he invented the kid and gained royalities any time he was used and all sorts of neat other stuff, and also that Mr. Waid was working on something BIG with a bunch of other big time writers that would knock our socks of, change the way comics were done and all that with a bunch of no-name characters….. well, sounded interesting, but *shrug* this of course ended up becoming what we now know of as ’52’.

     

    Anyway…. comics are awesome, and the people surrounding them are even better…. the only thing I look back to events like my first time at Armageddon and think are; 1: Why were there only 10-15 people in these panels and 2: Why did I make such a fool of myself in front of Mark Waid…. ‘Kingdom Come’ for only $40NZD! (at the time probably $15-18USD) *shakes head* WHY DIDN’T I GET IT!!!!

  15.  i miss seth fisher. i was lucky to speak with him the year before he died. i wouldn’t trade that half an hour for anything, the guy was an inspiration.

  16. Yeah Seth Fisher’s Willworld is one of my favorite books ever.

  17. hey guys–

     Apologies for not participating more actively with this discussion. Really great comments, everyone–I hope the creators out there were able to check out and see just how passionately we feel about their work. I echo your thoughts totally–BKV…amazing. He singlehandedly saved Lost while writing some of the best stories around.

     Brubaker, too, of course; I didn’t even realize what a fan of his I was until I realized how many books I had of his!  And Seth Fisher…what a tragedy. We are lucky, though, to have their work.

    Anyway, thanks for reading and thanks, honestly for your encouraging feedback!