Incongruous Art

January 4th, 2009 by | Tags: , , , , ,

Something strikes me as a bit out-of-sync about All-Star Batman and Robin.  Now, now.  Settle down.  I’m not trying to start anything.

What jumps out at me is the juxtaposition of the outrageous, film-noir-on-acid dialog by Frank Miller, and the finely drawn art by Jim Lee.  Although Lee’s intricate art serves the story well in large-scale panels, like the fold-out wide shot of the Batcave, it seems like the characters need chunkier lines and more high-contrast colors to have the same impact as the words.


Still, I wonder if my reaction to this is based only on the fact that this is the first time I’ve seen this type of art work paired with Frank Miller’s writing.

Does anyone think that this type of art suits Miller’s style just as well as the art we’ve seen in DKR?  Or better?

Does anyone else have examples of when an artist seems perfectly paired with a writer, or when it’s a match made in hell?

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13 comments to “Incongruous Art”

  1. Miller/Lee as a creative team is completely fascinating to me. They’re two of my top 5 favorites, and they’ve delivered a book that’s nothing I expected, but everything I love. Geoff Klock is one of my favorite writers when it comes to ASBAR, and he’s had a few good posts about it.

    I swear I saw someone else talk about this, but the writing and the art have to be an intentional incongruity. Miller’s writing a story where, essentially, Batman’s reach has exceeded his grasp and he has to come down to earth. He ended Year One on top of the world– he was Batman, Gordon trusted him, and he could do no wrong. ASBAR/Year Two is basically Batman unintentionally abusing a kid who is nowhere near as maladjusted as Batman was as a child. He has to find a balance.

    Miller keeps hammering home the point that Batman is very fallible and caught up in his own fantasy. His Batman persona is one that everyone, from Gordon to Robin to Alfred to I think Vicki Vale at one point, sees through. When a young kid sees right through your charade, well, you need acting lessons.

    Lee’s art being basically the prototypical superheroic art was an inspired choice for the project, because when you look at it, all you see is the guy who redefined superhero comics back in the day and again with Hush. DC’s house style (aka Ed Benes, sculptor of booties) is pretty much third or fourth generation Jim Lee, for example.

    So, you’re looking at a comic that certainly looks like a classic punchemup tightsnfights book. In fact, people get punched and people wear tights, so it’s at least pretty close to the generic comic format. But, Miller’s script is on every page, constantly reminding you that, no, this isn’t what you expected.

    It’s like forced cognitive dissonance. Your eyes see one thing, but your brain is like “no no no, hold up, look at that again, something’s not right.” If you don’t recoil from the shock of it, you’re going to have to see what the deal is. I had a similar experience when a friend of mine showed me JERO, a guy from Pittsburgh who sings Enka music and is big in Japan. Watching that youtube is a lot like reading ASBAR. It’s pulling you in two different directions, but given context or just critical thinking, the words and the visuals begin to make some kind of sense.

    I think that for the story Miller’s telling in ASBAR, Jim Lee was the perfect choice.

    Morrison/Quitely is a good match, as is Miller/JRjr. Daredevil: Man Without Fear is a beautiful book. Brubaker/Phillips is usually a good fit, though Incognito didn’t grab me. Mark Waid/Marcos Martin on Amazing Spider-Man was an inspired team, as was Zeb Wells and Chris Bachalo.

  2. I found Glenn Fabry‘s illustrations for the comic book adaptation of Neverwhere to be such a mismatch that I only bought the first issue. It wasn’t just that it “wasn’t how I imagined them,” because what I was hoping to find was something surprising and *better* than I imagined them, but it was such a deep disappointment. Part of it was the style, which should have been lush and full of depth and was very flat and thin and garish, and part of it was the fact that he didn’t seem to have read the novel (or even seen the BBC version) and completely ignored all the character descriptions and the scene-setting/ambience of the text – and what he replaced it with was some sort of “evil clown/techno/retro-punk” look, rather than the Clash of Centuries/Dreamtime feel in the originals.

  3. Well, Lee’s art is much easier on the eyes than Miller’s is at this point. I would love to see someone else inking Lee’s art, though. I don’t think Williams’ inking style is at all naturalistic (everything’s rendered with that same synthetic-looking linework), and I’d like to see what a more fluid inker would bring to Lee’s pencils. Someone like Dan Green or Klaus Janson or Sienkiewicz would really add a totally new dimension to Lee’s work. I don’t think anybody besides Williams has inked his stuff in forever and it’s starting to stagnate because of it.

  4. Sean Phillip’s art in some parts of Invisibles Volume 3. The Invisibles required the kind of eye-melting detail you just don’t associate with Phillip’s work. I believe he was quoted in interviews about it saying he didn’t feel the need to put everything the writer put in the script on-page.

  5. Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon worked perfectly on Preacher, in that their ideas bounced perfectly off each other and helped to engender new ideas. That’s all it takes. See Also: Morrison & Quitely, Bendis & Bagley, Alan Moore…And, Er…Anyone. (Hell, he could probably get ME to draft his next award-winning piece, purely out of his skills, and I’m barely able to grasp the idea of ‘pencil’ without pissing myself.)

  6. Oh, and I attribute all of “Neil Gaiman’s” Neverwhere (the Graphic Novel) to Mike Carey’s appalling grasp of space, style, movement and his inability to read. I can’t think of anyone else who’d translate ‘a dark face’ as ‘blackface’, or ‘big brown leather jacket’ as ‘unwieldy green-and-red monstrosity that looks as if Colin Baker threw it out when it ran in the wash’.

    Fabry is alright, in my opinion. He’s done good stuff elsewhere…while I can’t recall a single Carey work that was neither original and/nor interesting.

  7. On one hand, I’d be tempted to have Miller paired with an artist who was doing something that….that is to say…is more along the lines of what Miller seems to be writing.

    On the other hand, the contrast between “The Goddamn Batman” and Jim Lee’s trademark iconic superhero comics look is pretty delicious in it’s own way.

  8. Oh, and I attribute all of “Neil Gaiman’s” Neverwhere (the Graphic Novel) to Mike Carey’s appalling grasp of space, style, movement and his inability to read.

    Oh, was Carey the penciller too and not just the writer? I didn’t keep the one copy I bought, and every website I have seen it on attributes all the art to Fabry (a couple different people doing color, and they didn’t do a good job either imo, given how much I’ve seen good color improve really bad draughtsmanship and composition.)

  9. Some matches I loved:
    J.M. DeMatteis and Keith Giffen lucked out getting Kevin Maguire for their JLI run.
    Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely as mentioned a lot of times.
    Daryl Banks being just the guy to draw Kyle Rayner’s initial run (not necessarily the writer, but the way the character was written).

    Some matches I hated:
    X-factor’s recent experiment with Stroman.
    Day of Judgment had appropriate art for the story, but lousy writing from a young Geoff Johns.

  10. @bellatrys: No, but you can tell from the finished product – as well as most of his writing – that he puts no thought into making the pages grab the reader or even just go beyond a few grids, and that he (and, perhaps in some small part, Fabry) is all too happy to deviate in every possible way from the original book except for slapping the name “Neil Gaiman” on it.

  11. Okay then maybe Carey and Fabry go together just fine, if we consider it to be “Mike Carey’s Neverwhere” instead of Fabry illustrating Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere as I had been considering it.

    (The whole project is just bizarre – it’s not like NG doesn’t have a bit of experience writing comics, you know, *or* adapting his own work for different media, and yet what did they do? Have somebody else do a ham-handed adaptation of it that had almost nothing to do with the original except the same character names…)

  12. @bellatrys: Eh, maybe Neil decided he’d had enough with the Neverwhere project, or (unlike Carey) was too busy making money off writing his own, new ideas.

  13. Well, I’d read a couple years ago that he was interested in doing a full-length movie version of “Neverwhere” but that it kept getting stuck in development hell, so I don’t think that he’s necessarily averse to revisiting it. And in any case doesn’t explain why DC would pick (and then run with) somebody who clearly had no sense of, nor respect for, the story to write it, and someone who had apparently never bothered to read the original to illustrate it.