Thursday, February 23, 2006

Pet theory, but check out the links at least

I've been thinking of late how the respective big movers at Marvel and DC comics have been pursuing writers from other fields to write their wacky genre fiction. Crime writers, science fiction writers, movie directors, screen writers, bizarre social commentators. Anyone at all who can vicariously bring some respectability to the field, I suppose. Besides, it's hardly new: comics are a hybrid medium, built by a random assortment of con men, ex-pulp writers, ex-animators, failed illustrators, journalists, escape artists and assorted ne'er-do-wells.
So anyway, this train of thought continued: here they are, bringing in all kinds of writers new to the artform, some good, some bad, some I've never bleedin' heard of. Meanwhile, comic artists continue to jump ship as soon as they make their name in the medium, heading for the movies, animation, illustration, advertising, even pop stardom.

So, instead of fretting about bringing in new writers, what if commissioning editors also started trawling through the various bordering media to find new artists? Wouldn't that be cool? An outward sign that anglophone comics were a thriving, confident medium, rather than one content to ride in on Hollywood's disintegrating coat-tails.

Here's a guy who's work I first noticed doing spot illustrations for the Sunday Times Magazine, though these days I can't go into a record shop without seeing his work on the cover of another compilation CD - Jason Brooks. His work is certainly comics literate, though I note he lists much more thoroughly respectable influences on his site's bio. Anyway, the guy sure draws sexy chicks, and that'll take you pretty far in comics these days. Now this fella could definitely provide an editor with a cool, stylish cover without the leery sexism of your average Adam Hughes or Greg Horn piece (no really, as great as Dan Slott's SHE-HULK may be, could you really recommend it to a friend when it carries a cover like this? Yuk).

Just saw a link to this guy's website over at the always illuminating DRAWN blog: Robert Valley. He's done a certain amount of comic's work before (he's published the odd short piece in HEAVY METAL (which means they've been seen by approximately, uh, a dozen people), but he's working mainly in animation and storyboarding. Again, his work is cool and sexy: he reminds me of early, ABC Warriors-era Simon Bisley, with a bit of Mike McMahon's later extreme stylization. Check out the QuickTime movie on his site, MASSIVE SWERVE: it's about the size of a postage stamp, but still compelling.

As a librarian, my eye is often caught by an attractive book cover, or a well illustrated kid's book. Here's one such example: Warwick Johnson Cadwell, whose work on the book THE KING'S SHOPPING grabbed my notice. It's in a loose, sketchy style, which wouldn't look out of place alongside the work Oni Press or Slave Labour Graphics are publishing (after seeing it out of the corner of my eye, I did a quick check to see it wasn't actually by Simon Gane). A quick peek at his agency portfolio revealed he could even fit into the kind of Vertigo gigs that Dean Ormston might be offered but pass up. Plus, like Ben Caldwell before him, his name sounds a bit like mine.

And one more for the pot: Uli Oesterle, illustrator, web designer, editorial cartoonist, comic book artist, German renaissance dude. As far as I know, the guy's only ever gotten one English language gig (from Scott Allie, at Dark Horse), but his work is great. Again, I could see him doing some cracking work at Vertigo: he'd rock a John Constantine commission out of sight. I've tried and failed to procure a copy of his Hector Umbra book from German Amazon, so if anybody out there wants to do an English language edition, you're guaranteed at least one sale. And why wouldn't you? As far as I can tell, it's been reprinted in French, Dutch and Japanese so far.


RAB said...

One problem is that both the money and the professional ethics in American comics are utter crap compared to what a good illustrator can find in any other application of his or her talents. The those big-name established writers and artists who come in from other fields to do a book for Marvel or DC are solely motivated by their childhood passion for comics, and they accept deals that would be considerably beneath them in any other field...possibly because their inner child kicks in and they're dazzled by the chance to do a real live comic book at last!

But it's really only an option for those who are doing alright, who've made their money in those other fields and can spare the considerable time (and the lost earning hours) required for making comics. It's not a viable choice for the everyday working illustrator or writer with a family to feed.

This trend of established novelists and film directors and tv producers being lured into comics is personally irritating in another way. A really good comics artist who puts in the years to break into the business has the option to get into more lucrative work, but an equally devoted comics writer just gets pigeonholed with no professional reputation or income to speak of. For every Neil Gaiman or Alan Moore who moves beyond the stigma of writing comics are a thousand writers who...aren't them!

Ali said...

I have to admit that She-Hulk cover made me augh out loud.

Stray Toaster said...

Yeah, that She Hulk covers totally, erm, blows. I thought the whole Image-chick thing died out mid 90s. Maybe it hasn't. I guess I don't read as much as I used to. (New stuff, I continaully read my old ones. Any my children have recently discovered my old Pacific-onwards Groos. But I digress.)

On the subject on children's books, I particularly like Dave McKean's work (as ever, does he do bad stuff?) on the excellent 'Varjak Paw' books. Great books. Recommended. (Though again, I read them to my children, but worth it if you like his art.)

And I just wanted to say hi, I enjoy your ramblings.

Mark said...

Well, at least one of these guys probably gets as much for one book or album cover, or a magazine illustration, as an American comic book artist gets for a full issue's pencils.
I'd suspect yer man Robert Valley harbours the kind of childhood love of comics that means he might say yes to a commissioning editor offering him a chance at a special project or two, though that'd be about all: working in animation, you may be an anonymous name hidden in a lengthy sequence of credits, but the money's damn good.

And, a guy like Uli Oesterle's work will be seen by hundreds of thousands, so working in America for Dark Horse or Vertigo might be regarded as a step down (U.S and U.K. comic readers tend to underestimate just how bleedin' large the European comic industry is - it's more akin to the Japanese market in scale). A new Enki Bilal album will be expected to sell about a million copies in half a dozen languages.

Mark said...

Oh, and re: Greg Horn's covers - I was watching THE O.C. the other night, and that awful Taylor girl snuck into Seth's bedroom and was having a cringe-worthy conversation with him about asian cinema. And then he asked her something like, "oh my god, d'you like comic books", and she cuts him dead with a look, and says "comics are geek whacking material".

Yeah, well when she said that, all those Greg Horn/Adam Hughes/Frank Cho/Terry Dodson covers came to mind. Most of the books those works "adorn" are clever, funny, well-written, worthy: but how the hell do you convince anyone of that, to see past that, when the cover really is just "geek whacking material"?

Explain that one away to your partner/mother/kids/maid: "I swear, darling, I buy it for the thrilling genre action and subtextual feminist agenda, not the stonking big hooters on the cover".