Post by Rick N –
“Am I so biased against writers that I think we’re 100 per cent? No. I believe we are 51 per cent.”
Those are the words of Todd McFarlane describing the balance between art and writing as it pertains to the craft of comics. He goes on to describe the process, fairly accurately I think, by which new readers are attracted to a shiny new comic on a store shelf someplace. I would have included spinner racks in that sentence just now but those days are long gone sadly.
Art is 51 per cent of that magnetic force drawing you in to a title you’ve never tried before, and story along with the art, or McFarlane says, keeps you there. Thus we have the other 49 per cent. Before you start in on that angry point-by-point email complete with footnotes describing just how McFarlane is so wrong and that everything he’s ever written reeks like a New York state landfill, let’s examine what he says.
One per cent is all the extra credit artists deserve. One per cent only matters when it comes to taxes and that passing grade in high school math you just missed. Despite the fact that comics are a visual medium probably written at a grade eight level most of the time, artists get an extra one per cent. Personally I think it’s more like 75/25. Kyle and Jim will be happy to provide you with my email so you can launch your cyber-attack after reading this.
The cover art jumps out at a reader, they pick it up off the shelf, flip through and, if the issue in hand catches their attention they buy it, take it home and read it. That’s the process by which a reader gets hooked according to McFarlane. Maybe if it’s really good they buy another. And another. Pretty soon, said buyer has 17 longboxes stacked in the basement much to the consternation of their wife, mother or girlfriend. Or, if you’re like me, you get your son hooked too and it becomes cute! Justice League t-shirts all around, ahahaha.
Anyway, by now you’ve seen a flaw in Mr. McFarlane’s logic. What about those issues of Amazing Spider-Man or Incredible Hulk or Detective that were done by a terrible fill-in artist that you have to have to complete your run? You know, the ones you patiently flipped through box after box to find at the comic book show a few years back and bought for $2 because no one else wanted them. Well, I have those too and no way would I sell them just because it looks like my aforementioned son drew a few of the panels. That would be committing the cardinal sin of breaking up my run! I’ll even go so far to say I rather enjoy Sal Buscema’s run on Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man partly because his style fit very well with the writing of Gerry Conway. Sometimes you buy an issue because you like the character and need to have it. Sometimes you buy a book to fill in gaps.
However, I would argue that without an artist who excels at storytelling, even if that style doesn’t appeal to your aesthetics, you don’t pick it up. For example, see the works of Klaus Janson, a certified master storyteller whose art is quite simple and sketchy. Yet, I will buy or read most anything Janson does because he can tell a story like few others.
Also a reader also needs to have an affinity for the character (but I’ve already blogged on that subject). A good artist will make a run-of-the-mill story entertaining. A bad one will make a potentially good story unappealing. Just look at all those fill in issues you have to see what I mean. Or as a counter-argument maybe read McFarlane’s “Spider-Man.”