Hey, let’s talk about Rise of Arsenal some more!
Let’s do some math instead. According to my hyper-literate, arithmetically-impaired brain, comics are, at first glance, 50% writing and 50% art. In reality, the scales are probably tilted a little more toward 25% vs 75%, since you can look at a comic and see the art but not even notice the words, but ride with me here. I have a point and I’ll not let numbers stand in my way.
1. Good Writing + Good Art = Good Comic
2. Good Writing + Bad Art = Bad Comic
3. Bad Writing + Good Art = Bad Comic
This is a boiled down version of how I judge comics. Both halves of a comic have to work in concert to tell the story. If one half isn’t pulling its weight, then the other half suffers. A comic with bad art or bad writing is like watching a wonderfully cast movie with excellent dialogue, but with sound editing done by a three year old. It doesn’t work, it’s clashing and ugly, and there’s no reason to put up with it.
Bad writing can be any number of things. Same-y dialogue, lackluster plotting, crap pacing, or simply being boring all count as bad. Bad art is similarly varied. Unrealistic proportions are not bad by default–Chris Bachalo and Eiichiro Oda being two examples of people who twist and contort figures and it all looks fantastic–but when used poorly (read: looks like crap), it’s crap. Poorly designed layouts are another thing that can kill art, as well as being blatantly photo-referenced.
Good is easier. If you look at it and go, “I like this!” Congrats! You have found good writing and/or art! Embrace it and watch your enjoyment of comics increase!
Grant Morrison and Mark Millar are the all-time champions of this sort of thing. Morrison’s had his Batman scripts drawn by Philip Tan, Tony Daniel, and one particularly bad issue by Ryan Benjamin. The middle third of his run on New X-Men is frustratingly ugly, with Igor Kordey and Ethan Van Sciver turning in some subpar work. Millar’s the opposite. He’s worked with John Romita Jr, Steve McNiven, Leinil Francis Yu, Frank Quitely, and several other artists who deserved better stories.
Jeph Loeb sits in this strange middle ground between the two. He’s a solidly average writer, but his extreme lows (Ultimatum, Ultimates 3) were paired with artists like Joe Madureira or David Finch. When working with Tim Sale or Ed McGuinness, or really anyone who’s worked on Hulk with him, he delivers scripts that usually don’t get in the way of the art. You could make a case for the constant narration boxes being distracting, but Loeb does simple, crowd-pleasing books. If I had to pick between Loeb working with Ed McGuinness and Millar working with him, I’d choose Loeb every time.
I decided a while back that I’d stop settling when reading comics. No more paying money for things that make me go, “I like it, but.” No more suffering through sub-par art to get a Grant Morrison story. No more forcing myself to read a Mark Millar script just so I can see what John Romita Jr is drawing this month.
I’m a picky comics reader by choice. I could sit through Greg Land or Salvador Larroca just to keep up with what’s going on, but I don’t think that’s worth it. These are just stories. They aren’t so important that I have to know, and if I’m reading comics for fun, I’d have to be stupid to willingly put myself through something that detracts from that. I like comics more since I started reading fewer of them. Funny how that works out.