Comic Books: Adult Eyes Make A Difference

As I stated in some other posts, the iPad renews my interest in reading comics again and in the possibility of “e-reprints” of some of the comics I once owned.

I’ve been looking at several sites today that display pages from some of the comics I had when I was a collector, back in the 1970s.

I recall back then whining with others in sympathy that comics weren’t taken seriously. That they were basically “frozen movies” or “frozen television” — basically, storyboards — and therefore worthy of serious, adult attention.

Well, seeing some of them again today again reminded me of that phrase, You can’t go home again.

See the horror after the break.

The infamous Floating Profile:

A large disembodied partial head just stuck into the side of a panel. Where do we ever see that framing in movies or TV? Extremely rarely, if at all. Yet in comics, it’s virtually a template!

Sometimes they even tried to go all “arty” with it, just making it even more ridiculous:

And then there is the Extreme Close-Up:

Two are enough. This translates to: “I can’t draw interesting-looking people who are simply talking.”

And then there’s the Cramped Panel:

Again, two will suffice. You’re supposed to be the artist. There’s no excuse for showing only bits of people — and certainly no excuse for a one-eyed woman!

And then there are things like this:

WTF? Why is the lettering covering half her (partial!!!) face?

And then there’s just the absolute failure to show any actual artistry:

Click = big

Do any of those images even remotely match the emotion of the dialogue?

And then there are things like this:

What?! That face doesn’t go with that dialogue at all! Seeing that, and the other things, made me wonder just what the hell the duties of a comic book editor were. Didn’t they have the power to say to an artist — so-called — “Look, this panel is shit. Do me a new one.”

This is what an artist can do:

Gorgeous composition and poses. You can strip that panel of its words and still understand the emotions of the police. That’s Steve Ditko at his best.

And here are two more Ditko panels, from different pages of the same story, where I did strip away the text:

Brilliant compositions and you can feel the emotion in both.

I understand now why Batman: Year One and Watchmen made impressions on me years ago. They were the products of true artists. They brought motion-picture sensibilities and novelistic techniques to comic books. They really elevated comics to an adult medium. Until those two came along, we were all wrong as kids. Comic books were for kids and they were badly done. It took me a lot more living and experience with stories to see this.

Still, there are “e-reprints” I would like to have, but there better be good previews of these things. Because I’m not putting out any money for crap with Floating Profiles and all the rest!

8 responses to “Comic Books: Adult Eyes Make A Difference

  1. You are defining “true artist” in a completely arbitrary way. And the individual panels are also taken out of context in a much larger composition of comic panels on a page.

    What are you are actually distinguishing is a matter of individual taste for “good” versus “bad” composition, rather than “true” versus “false” or “non-” artistry.

    From my point of view, the comic-book panels you point out as signifying “true artistry” are very stagnant, square, and boring compositions.

    If you use photography and photographic composition as the analogy, then the comic book panels you point to use the same bland, square composition. Whereas, the “bad” artistry examples, in photography, can be considered interesting, dynamic, emotional, and abstract compositions.

    In art, what is always “good” vs “bad” artistry comes down to:

    1. taste.
    2. point of view
    3. what arbitrary rules you ascribe to a particular form of art to signify what is “good” vs. “bad”.

    But what is bad art to some is great art to others.

    For example, Beethoven’s music use to be considered an affront to good music taste when they were first heard. Over time, they came to be considered great art.

    Compared to more classic forms of painting, Picasso could have been considered the bad, deranged work of a mentally ill person who happened to cut of his ear. But, after his death, suddenly his work rose up to the level of high art.

  2. Baloney! Batman: Year One and Watchmen both might as well be labeled something other than comic books, compared to what I saw yesterday. And what I bothered to pull out as examples are just a few. I could have easily had *30* Floating Profiles and 30 of each of the others too. And even more templated bad work. It’s hack work. When you look at Batman: Year One and Watchmen, you are seeing artistry. Let’s leave aside the text. When you look at the graphics, you are seeing emotion portrayed. There’s none of that in the hack work I showed above — except when it’s entirely missing or glaringly mismatched to the text. The three Ditko examples — and I could have used more! — stand as a rebuke to all the rest. And he *could* do interesting-looking people standing around talking — which is what comprises the bulk of Mr. A, Batman: Year One, and Watchmen. At best, the crap I cited above is *illustration*, but it’s not at all *artistry*.

  3. I don’t really care about the “artistry” debate, but the floating profile observation (and subsequent examples) cracked me up.

    I think it’s used so much in comics (and no, I hadn’t noticed much until you pointed it out) is because a) most comics are/were produced on deadline and b) it’s relatively easy to draw a profile. You’ll note that most of the example profiles show very little expression – a writer/editor could put just about any dialogue balloons next to it.

    I think deadlines explain (but do not justify) some of the other awkwardness you point out.

    Love the Ditko work! I need to look for more of his stuff besides Spider Man.

  4. Somebody who does illustration IS an artist. Maybe they’re a crappy artist. They’re still making artistic choices, even if you think those choices are shit. You’re also taking for granted the amount of work that somebody put into these works. Copy down some particularly emotional part of a script and start to compose it and SEE how many choices, artistic choices, you make.

    “You’re supposed to be the artist. There’s no excuse for showing only bits of people — and certainly no excuse for a one-eyed woman!” – This made me laugh. What is about about being an artist that involves drawing all of someone’s face? Cropping is so utterly and completely important. And yes, some of the panels you shared do it very poorly. But it’s not the cropping that’s the problem, it’s the execution.

    With that mini-rant over, the ones that made me laugh the most were the mismatched ones. I have to assume that the artist thought he was portraying something essential there, but boy, was he wrong!

  5. >>>but boy, was he wrong!

    And that’s been the point of the post all along.

  6. Needs more Rob Leifeld examples.

  7. Frank Miller’s work on Dark Knight really made comics relevant again for me. And on the other end of the spectrum, who was the guy who did the Marvel Dracula series? Gene Colan? Brilliant panel work, and a twist of the grotesque. You could easily read one of those comics without knowing the language and get most of the story.

  8. Yes, that was Gene Colan, who also did Daredevil. Some misfortune recently befell Colan and a benefit of sorts if being held for him. See posts here: