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The Ongoing Conversation About The Perception of Artists in Comics

August 1st, 2013 by | Tags: , , ,

There’s a conversation going on in comics right now that I think is very interesting. It’s about the role, responsibilities, and perception of the artist—mostly pencillers/inkers, but colorists and letterers as well—in the comics industry. It’s wide-ranging, and I thought it would be beneficial to gather most of the posts to date in one place, both for any journalists who are thinking about writing about it and other people who are curious, but don’t know where to start. A lot of these posts are responses to or build off other conversations.

I don’t have everything. Twitter’s a big part of the conversation, as is tumblr, but it’s impossible to stay on top of everything, especially as more voices start talking. This is just the beginning. If you see a link I haven’t posted, drop a comment below.

-Declan Shalvey, comics artist, answers a tumblr question about comics reviews before talking a bit about how reviewers talk about art.

-Andy Khouri, writer about comics, explored Brian Stelfreeze’s work on Day Men, and what that may mean for comics artists in general. He talks about how we credit artists, how we credit writers, and how basic logistics often forces artists into complicated situations.

-Dennis Culver, artist, rounded up a few tweets he made on the subject of critics, artists, and comics. It spins from how critics do their job to why artists should be considered co-authors/storytellers, and why talking about art is vital.

-I wrote about Andy and Dennis’s posts, quoting Dennis’s in its entirety, and added my own thoughts on how we appreciate artists in comics from the perspective of a fan and critic.

-Amy Reeder, artist, responds to and builds on my post and talks about what drives her to buy comics, and talks about the greater trend of undervaluing artists.

-Amy Reeder & Brandon Montclare, collaborators, discuss their experience at San Diego Comic-con 2013 and also the role of the artist in production.

-Sarah Horrocks, artist, talks about her frustrations with certain aspects of the comics industry, springboarding off this Steven Grant essay at CBR.

-Nolan T Jones, writer, takes issue with a few of Horrocks’s points and speaks from the perspective of a writer on the subject.

-Sloane Leong, artist, talks about comics industry logistics by way of a Pacific Rim graphic novel, and talks about why the assembly line method of making comics actually hurts the artform.

-Amy Reeder & Brandon Montclare, collaborators, talk specifically about the role of artists in comics, with plenty of frank talk from writer Montclare and artist Reeder on their expectations and frustrations.

-Podcaster Pat Loika gathers artists Gabriel Hardman, Reilly Brown, Declan Shalvey, and Nick Pitarra to talk about the subject du jour in a conversation that’s as pointed as it is funny.

-Dennis Culver, artist, gathers more tweets, this time discussing the economics of being a comics artist and the relationship between writers and artists.

-Costa Koutsoutis, writer, replies to Dennis Culver’s recent post about economics and discusses the effort writers put forth in creating scripts.

-Leia Weathington, writer, talks about her position when it comes to working with artists and honor. Weathington’s response was sparked by a tweet conversation that I believe begins here before fracturing all over the place. This was packaged into Storify from Weathington’s tweets by Erika Moen, an artist.

-Declan Shalvey, comics artist, discusses working as an artist in the comics industry.


Additions:
-Michael May, writer about comics, builds off a statement from Declan Shalvey and talks about why reviewers need to talk more about art.

-Sloane Leong, artist, discusses the differences in responsibility between writers and artists and looks at the various options creators have for deals.

-Paul Allor, writer, talks about writers and artists from the POV of a working & aspiring writer, in addition to talking about the ways writers view working with and paying artists.

-Paul Allor, writer, talks about the unique aspects of comics collaboration and explores ideas about the way credit is divvied up or displayed.

-Bryan Hitch, artist, talks to Kiel Phegley at CBR about working on corporate comics and feeling underappreciated, despite his history with the company and position in the industry.

-Pat Barrett, artist, talks about the New Yorker improperly crediting a drawing of Iron Man and (briefly) their history with comics.

-Shea Hennum, writer about comics, looks at the idea of visual consistency, particularly in terms of Prophet, a comic with a fistful of artists on regular duty.

-Val Staples, colorist, speaks to Steve Morris at The Beat about life as a colorist, including details on how long books take and vacations when freelance.

-Brigid Alverson at Robot 6 takes a close look at writer Jeremy Holt’s comments on Twitter about pay & artists, and the large comments section discusses journalistic standards, paying in comics, and personal experiences.

-The Beat (no specific byline) talks about writers paying artists and the varying responsibilities of each creator in the comics-creating process.

-Antony Johnston, writer, talks about the debate in general terms and the specifics of making comics, including advice for how to do better as a reader and creator.

-Amy Reeder, artist, on what artists actually do with a writer’s script, and the varying difficulties both sides have in getting work.

-David Fairbanks, writer about comics, on the idea of cheapening your art by working for free, and collaborative partnerships.

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10 comments to “The Ongoing Conversation About The Perception of Artists in Comics”

  1. […] there was a lot of online  chatter about the subject which I somehow missed. Yes it can be frustrating for us writers to not be paid but that […]


  2. I think a lot of what Shalvey’s talking about, dropping summaries for analysis, would be aided if mainstream comic critics could drop the giddiness from their reviews. A critic says “Yes, but . . .” and there’s not a lot of that in Big Two comics reviews today. I don’t pay any attention to writers who ask, apparently rhetorically, “who can resist a comic where X WACKY THING happens to Y FAMOUS CHARACTER?” Every writer I read went through that stage and moved on. If we hold critics to higher standards they will be forced to talk about breakdowns and pacing and the rest.


  3. an absolute MUST READ for this topic, Bryan Hitch’s December 2012 Newsarama interview:

    http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=42680

    Here you can best see the interplay between the art-ignorant reviewer set and one of the artist-neglecting companies it reflects. As the interviewer lobs a series of faux-sunny Wiffle-ball questions about how Bendis “informed” Hitch’s style, Hitch matter-of-factly describes a creative process wherein a money-making, reliable veteran artist for Marvel was assigned a backbone crossover book – with the same title as Disney’s upcoming tentpole summer blockbuster Avengers film! – and treated like dirt. I’d say that without Bryan Hitch on Ultimates, the current Avengers windfall for Disney/Marvel might never have happened, but he sure wasn’t treated like it.

    Newsarama asks how collaboration happened between the writer and artist, like a newborn babe wondering at the blurry world in front of it. It didn’t, says the artist.

    Hitch was sidelined and pushed out of the creative process and treated like a disposable commodity; he was not allowed any creative input into what he was creating, which was reserved for the “brain trust” of writers and their editors; he was forced to compose and draw 30-to-40-page-long Bendis-written static conversations between characters without an art-informed script, meaning he had to do almost all of the work to actually make the bare-bones dialogue he was given readable; he was not shown most of his own pages at any stage past his pencil work until the comic was finished; he was given contradictory and unclear instructions and expected to deliver on deadline anyway; he offered to stay on and finish the book but was told the artist’s contribution didn’t merit that; finally, his own project with the company as a writer-artist was pushed further and further back by Marvel until the company unilaterally abandoned it.

    Hitch doesn’t hold back, but he’s not complaining. He’s simply describing his experience of the other, more important half of the problem with art, writing and Big Two comics. It sounds like the editor-oriented process within Marvel has been replaced with a writer-oriented process, which hasn’t improved things for artists one bit. Khouri’s piece links to the Hitch article and explains the elephant in the room: critics need to write more and better about art, but they are invited to neglect their duty by the companies themselves, which make sure that in most cases, the artist’s contribution is never allowed to fill the breadth, depth or duration of the work, even when the artist offers to delay his own independent work to do so.


  4. I’m a writer (aren’t we all these days) and I’m collaborating with my brother on some comic projects. I read a comment on an earlier article about the same topic that made me think about the amount of detail I put into my scripts, particularly whether it’s enough or too much. I feel guilty about writing only a line or two and wonder if I’m being self-indulgent by writing endless paragraphs about details that maybe don’t matter. It’s probably different from person to person, but I’m never sure if an artist would prefer to be told exactly what the writer wants to see or if they want enough leg-room to do things their way. I would assume the latter.

    So I was wondering if anyone could tell me, even if it’s just from personal experience: how much detail do you like to see in a comic script? I’m particularly curious about using stage/screen directions for “camera angles” and the like. Do artists want to be told exactly how to compose a scene, or do they prefer to interpret the script as they think is best? Most movie scripts I’ve read don’t have any suggestions for camera angles, presumably because they know that’s the job of the director and the cameraman. Is it overstepping some boundary, like you assume you know better on how to lay out a panel than the artist does?


  5. @KMD: I really like the way Harvey Pekar did scripts when he was working with Crumb where it all starts with a stick figure sketch and a pack of reference material he thinks will help Crumb out. Shows a clear understanding of how space is going to be used and leaves some decision making up to the artist


  6. @kmd
    Generally speaking, it’s best to just straight up talk to the artist. Have a conversation. See what they like to draw. How they like to work. And then tailor how you do your thing to best work with what their thing is. Every artist is going to be different in terms of how they prefer to work, and what sort of relationship they want to have with the writer and a script.

    It’s best not to think of an artist as someone who is executing your vision. But as another creative equal who you can play off of. I feel like being able to listen is a big part in collaborative works.


  7. […] through to this ongoing debate about the perception of artists (chronicled best by David Brothers here); artists have been discussed very heavily throughout the past few […]


  8. A short while back I did this interview with Val Staples, a colourist, about the demands that the industry puts on him, and how little attention colours get in reviews. I think it might be worth adding to the list as well, perhaps, if you’d like — http://comicsbeat.com/interview-val-staples-discusses-life-as-a-freelance-colourist/


  9. […] much needed discussion, and David Brothers chronicles many of this round’s more enticing bits here. At this point, my $0.02 is gonna matter even less than it usually does, but I will say it’s […]


  10. […] though, thanks to the increasing ubiquity of personal blogs, Twitter, and what have you, it’s got a little out of control. Which drives me to frustration — think of all the useful things that energy could be turned […]