As a long time comic book fan, I’ve been collecting for over 20 years. I’ve seen many trends come and go in the industry. When I started back in the early ‘80s, I saw books that were on their last leg. Books that were trying to recapture some of their golden age fame and glory from the ‘60s and ‘70s by pushing the limits of the comic book code, with titles like Watchmen, along with shedding some outdated costumes (check out Dazzler). But the overall focus was the writing; shitty art for the most part – but great writing.
It wasn’t until the resurgence in comic book popularity in the ‘90s that stuff started getting interesting. Art had become the new center of focus when it came to comics and we had a whole new crop of “rock star” artists. Artists that commanded huge salaries to go along with their huge egos. I have to admit. I drank the Kool-Aid too, buying scores of copies and variants and going to signings every chance I got. Jim Lee, Joe Quaeda, Mark Silvertri, Rob Liefeld and of course Todd “mother trucking” McFarlane (that’s really what people called him); all larger-than-life artists that inspired a whole generation of new writers and artists. These guys where the shit!
But just like Bell Biv Devoe and Gerardo (the guy who sung Rico Suave), their time was up. The spotlight moved, and just like that these guys were gone from the public eye. Some moved on, taking on jobs like Chief Editor or becoming entrepreneurs and heading up multi- (mother trucking) million dollar toy companies. But some just faded away, until now. Like a billboard on the way to Vegas, you start seeing former super stars’ names popping up here and there. Are these guys doing a comeback tour? Are we going to get some of that ‘90s flashback into this new comic world of reboots and multi-crossover titles? Given the current state of comics, the timing couldn’t be better.
Well, I take that back. It’s similar to seeing an old ‘90s band at your local county fair or in Vegas; things aren’t as good as you remember, or possibly even worse. An example of the latter is Rob Liefeld. The self-proclaimed “bad boy” of the comic book world. Rob gave us some great stuff in the ‘90s, like Cable, Domino and freakin’ Deadpool!
But after Young Blood and numerous other titles at Image Comics ran out of juice, what else did we get? A couple of guest spots on DC and Marvel books, which was cool, but every time I would open one his guest spots I would stare in horror at how bad the art was on each panel. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t draw all that well and he is an artist that has been doing this for a very long time, but COME ON man! He still draws the way he did in the ‘90s!
The New 52 Hawk and Dove run he is doing looks exactly like something out of Young Blood with all pointy feet and rounded guns. When I saw it I had to take a step back and think to myself, “Did I really think this was cool?” Then I remember I thought Cross Colors jeans where cool too, back in the day. Just like their lack of change, Rob never changed his art, and it was still stuck in the ‘90s time warp; never evolving, never changing with the times. To the man’s credit, he is still working and making money doing what he loves but I’m not sure if he is getting jobs due to his ego or sheer will power.
Some artists are stuck, some are just moving slowly up the comic art evolutionary chain, as is, for example, Mark Slivertri. Mark is one of those artists that was a triple threat when it came to “Rock Star” artist life style. He was good, had great ideas, and a mind for business. Plus, he got the rock star wife! I mean seriously have you seen her? She looks like one of his drawings, #coolworldwife.
His run on Wolverine and X-Men back in the ‘90s was awesome and he has created some classic looks for characters that still play very well today. And like it or not, Witch Blade, Darkness and the slue of other characters he created at Image are still going strong. But it wasn’t all rainbows and hot wives for Mark, he is responsible for one of the most cliché characters ever made. Case in point: Cyber Force.
Even when it came out in the ‘90s I knew it was a knock-off factory. The guy that looked like Cable (with a pony tail), the other Wolverine-type guy and the chick that looked just like psylocke but had a mask on! To top it all off we had to pay more for the knock-off than the real thing!
But we bought it, bought it all up, and now Mark is back doing more and more work here-and-there in the comic book world, which is cool. His work has changed somewhat, less sharp edges and less pony tails (thank God), but what can I say? Evolution takes time. Mark’s art is a nice balance; it still reminds us of what we liked about ‘90s art without reminding us of what we didn’t like.
But what about those who moved fast up the evolutionary scale like the guy in your math class that used to fuck up the grading curve for everybody else? People like Jim Lee or Joe Quesada. Hands down these guys were my heroes as a kid; Joe with X-Factor and Dare Devil, Jim with Punisher War Journal and X-Men, it was great stuff. Both artists were extremely popular in the ‘90s and would pack comic book shops when they did signings; they were ahead of their time. But they were not without their faults. The ‘90s were a strange time for comics, and even the smart kids fell victim to peer pressure. Case in point for Joe was the abstract faces and body positions; there is no way a human character should look like this:
For Jim it was lack of eyeballs. I mean complete lack of eyeballs and pupils: Jim did suffer from pointy feet but calmed it down early on in his work.
But as time moved on, so did each of their styles as artists. Joe started to realize that the stuff we as fans liked about him wasn’t the rage that was conveyed in his characters faces, but the emotion in his drawings. The One More Day run was nuts even if he did screw me out of ever picking up a Spiderman book again. No to mention I’m damn near giddy when he does a guest spot in a book nowadays. I still look through my original run of Batman: Sword of Azrael to check out his work from time to time.
Jim was finally starting to add eyeballs to his characters and stopped listening to Chris Clearmount. He in turn gave us Batman: Hush, one of my favorite stories ever and one of the best-looking comic arcs ever. True, he did do All Star Batman, which was kind of a stinker because of how often the book came out, but I blame Frank Miller for the lagging on that one. If the book was released on time I wouldn’t be so pissed about it. Also, for those who knock him for the character design on Justice League, he did that same thing with X-Men back in the ‘90s and they are just now peeling the costumes off the characters this year.
Now I know I missed some of the other artist from the ‘90s like Greg Capullo or Chris Bachalo, but those guys never really faded away. I think mainly due to the fact that they kept working. I mean you can literally see Capullo’s work evolve in front of you on paper, from his run on Cable, to Spawn and Batman, you see it change.
As for Chris Bachalo, that’s a different story just because he pretty much took the “How to draw comics” book, lit it on fire, and watched it burn, which puts him in a completely different class. Like the class where all the art kids who like Tim Burton hang out in (which was me, for the most part).
Over all you can say some of these artists are trying to make a come back, while some haven’t gone anywhere at all. You can argue that as the content and trends of the comic book world change, so should the art. But I’m not so sure about that. Artists, just like writers, have to keep up with the times and should think about their audience before putting pencil to paper. Making sure the content they provide is just as relevant to their audience as the words printed next to the art. If they fail to evolve and grow with their audience, they may see themselves being left behind. The message is simple: evolve or die.