It’s been said that when it comes to popular appeal of comics that “They come for the art, but stay for the stories.”
I’ll agree with that.
Classic comic art by Jack Kirby, Frank Frazetta, John Romita, Neal Adams, Jim Steranko, Alfred Alcala, Pablo Marcos, Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Tony Daniel, J.H. Williams III and many others is one of the reasons I’ve been a comic collector for almost 50 years.
But while going through my collection of more than 1,400 books I’ve acquired since 1967, I’ve noticed that writing is primary in deciding whether or not I keep a book or toss it.
For me it’s the story that matters most, not the art — as a rule.
If I don’t want to read it again and again, I don’t care what it looks like.
Flashy art without a good story in comics is the same as a Hollywood movie that is strong on special effects, but the producer forgot to hire a writer.
Does the first Hulk movie come to mind?
I believe putting story first and then matching that with good art is what is best in comics and not the other way around.
To illustrate my point, I’ll cite examples of great art work that is ruined by bad storytelling or good stories that struggles to overcome lackluster art work from the pages of Batman; the title with which I’m most familiar as a reader and collector, but I’ll point out some other examples as well.
One of the latest examples of great art, but a completely forgettable story would be Neal Adam’s “Odyssey.”
WHAT A PIECE OF JUNK!
Yes, some great Neal Adams art, but the story didn’t make sense from issue No. 1 and it never got better. I really expected better from a comics legend and was disappointed to have to cancel the title after the second book.
Another would be “All Star Batman and Robin, ” a rewriting of the origin of Robin by Frank Miller. Of course, Jim Lee’s artwork is outstanding as usual. I read that book about three times and finally decided it was not good enough for my collection and consigned it to the dollar box at my local comic store.
I can say the same about “Batman: RIP” by Grant Morrison and Tony Daniel. Junk writing accented by some great art, but not worth the $10 I paid for the hardback on sale.
However there have also been times when a great story lost some of its potential when it was mixed with bland art.
As much as I loved “Batman Year One” and “The Dark Knight Returns” by Frank Miller, both could have been much better if the artwork has matched the story-telling. For me, the art in both stories was just too “cartoony,” although I consider David Mazzucchelli’s art in Year One to be superior to Miller, Jansen and Varley’s work in “Dark Knight.”
Yes, both are classics and near mint copies exist in my collection, but they could have been better. The recent animated movie takes the art a step further and is a definite improvement.
I’m often dejected by vague, bland art that has unfortunately illustrated some of the best stories Marvel, DC, Dynamite, Image and other comic companies have produced; probably because the artists were over-worked and rushed to put out quantity over quality. Of course, sometimes good pencils can be ruined by poor inking and that may be some of the problem in some of the examples I noted above.
Some of the best comic art I’ve ever seen can be found in Creepy, Vampirella, Eerie and other Warren magazines and more often than not the art is matched by great writing. The black-and-white format really brings out the penciling, which in some cases is incredible and preferable to color in many way.
But if I don’t like the story, the magazine gets tossed or not purchased at all; Frazetta artwork or not.
I think many great stories by Stan Lee, Marv Wolfman, Steve Englehart, Denny O’Neal, Miller, Bill Finger, Jeff Loeb, Grant Morrison, Chris Claremont and most recently, Scott Snyder, have proven that good story telling will sell better than flashy art or another pictorial masterpiece tied together by a story that no one remembers five minutes after reading it.
I’ve come to the conclusion that, as much as I love good comic art, it’s good writing that keeps me coming back for more.
Story content is what’s most important to me, not one-dimensional, flash-in-the-pan graphics.
Of course, I prefer both good story and good art that can be appreciated and passed on to coming generations of comic lovers the way we love a good Stan Lee-Jack Kirby masterpiece today.
Notice I didn’t say Stan Lee-Steve Ditko. Never did like the art on those early Spiderman or Doctor Strange stories.
I’m really looking forward to the upcoming Scott Snyder-Jim Lee Superman story.
Hope they don’t let me down.
P.S. Somebody please do something with Wolverine. I miss the little fellow.