Sunday, March 08, 2009

Splash Page: Jonathan Hickman Part II

[You can read the first part of the conversation between Tim and myself at Tim's blog.]

Timothy Callahan: I think Fraction's Marvel work has suffered, just as you do. I like it still, but it's nowhere near the awesomeness of Casanova. And I would put him in a similar category with Hickman. They're both idea guys. So is Rick Remender, to some extent, but he's closer to the Mark Millar school of ideas-as-high-concept, so his work should translate fine to Marvel. And I think it's interesting to note that Jason Aaron has done some very good stuff at Marvel, and he's definitely a character guy, so he can bring his forte with him to the corporate superhero world without losing quite as much. Sure, he needs to tone it down, but he can still focus on character-based stories.

Fraction and Hickman will probably have a tougher time wedging their styles into the Marvel Universe.

Then again, they could gain enough clout to recreate the Marvel image in their manner, like Bendis has done. Or is it simply that he's a character guy and that's what made his dominance happen so smoothly?

There's also the fact that while you might think Fraction's work isn't as good as it was a year or two ago, his comics are selling better than ever now. Invincible Iron Man alone outsells any given month's worth of Casanova, The Order, and Punisher War Journal. So what's the incentive for someone like Fraction, or Hickman, or whoever, to bring something stylish and unique to their superhero work? I don't have the sense that any of these guys are phoning it in. They seem to be trying to write the best comics they can. But if they can just conservatively play in the Marvel Universe and get good sales numbers, why should they do anything else?

Chad Nevett: Critical acclaim? HA! I know, that's worthless. And I don't think Fraction is delivering subpar work by design, which is evident by reading his Twitter page or any interview with him. He's clearly having the time of his life and that's great. Hickman seems the same way. Hell, most people in comics are like that, which is great.

Bringing up Bendis is interesting, because his style isn't the typical Marvel style. Yes, he's heavy on characters (probably to the detriment of every other aspect of his writing), but he also has a very unique and distinctive style. So distinct that he never seemed like the guy you'd hand the keys to the Marvel universe to, so who knows about Hickman or Fraction or anyone else. I wonder if the only way to really play in the Marvel universe and retain a distinct style is to do what Warren Ellis does: show up for four to twelve issues, do the job you were hired to do, leave. He doesn't seem to care what Marvel wants as per its universe and, almost, recognises that he's been hired for a reason. There's a certain amount of adjustment to be made on any title, but it seems that Ellis does the minimum, but always retains as much of his unique voice and skill, because, if they wanted another company drone, they would have hired one (especially since I imagine a company drone would be cheaper). Is that a lesson younger, less experienced writers may need, do you think? To remember that their own unique skills and voice is what got them the gig, so trying to fit in may, in fact, be counterproductive? Or am I talking out of my ass? (I vote the latter.)

TC: It seems like mainstream superhero comics are like a 747, and these youngish writers with strong voices are like stunt pilots given the throttle to the big plane. But, they can't do their crazy loop-de-loops anymore, because they've been hired to fly something with a different purpose. As long as they do a decent job, nobody will really notice how good they are. But if they suck at it, they, and everyone around them, crashes and burns. Like Judd Winick or Daniel Way or Chuck Austen. Those guys shouldn't be allowed to pilot one of those superhero jetliners.

But what is it exactly that makes these Marvel or DC comics into immense, bloated 747s? Is it the company context? The burden of responsibility? The editorial influence? What?

Because I think one of the thing that makes them seem so conservative is the artistic approach. Imagine Fraction's Invincible Iron Man drawn by Paul Pope. Imagine Hickman's Secret Warriors drawn by Fabio Moon.

It seems like the perceived conservatism of their mainstream work is as much in the art -- or moreso -- than in their writing.

I guess the question is: "Would Casanova be any good drawn by Sal Larroca? Would The Nightly News work with Sean Chen?"

CN: I never considered that. The art is my biggest blindspot a lot of the time in comics since I'm so focused on the writing and, jesus, you've really got an excellent point there. I've read enough interviews where writers bend over backwards trying not to call the art in their books utter crap that I should have made the connection. Wow. The answer to your question is: no, both works would suffer immensely as a result of those artists.

This leads into the next reason why the work could be suffering: the audience. While we look at these books and see a decline in quality, partly because of a shift in writing, probably largely because of horribly mediocre (at best) art, other readers who outnumber the two of us by quite a sizeable amount, find these books to be an absolute joy, especially the art. I mean, I received one comment about my review of New Avengers #50 last week and it was on CBR's message board where a poster took great issue with my thinking that Billy Tan's art is absolutely ugly work that is incapable of depicting any sort of nuance or halfway human facial expression (put in nicer words, of course, in my review). And I couldn't help but wonder "What art is this guy looking at?" And, when I think about it, my favourite artists are never the popular ones, while the artists whose work makes me want to redraw comics with stick figures, because that will tell the story better, are fawned over. So, does it, perhaps, come down to the Splash Page's favorite scapegoat: the general mainstream superhero comic book audience? Are those bastards to blame, yet again?

TC: I think we've conclusively proven that they are to blame, and it's up to us to cry out from our ivory tower of awesomeness and demand better superhero artwork in mainstream titles! Put Becky Cloonan on Amazing Spider-Man, get Gabriel Ba to work on The Mighty Avengers. I mean, when we get Chris Weston drawing superhero comics, it's some minor Joe Casey Fantastic Four project or the seemingly-abandoned (or seriously delayed) The Twelve. Why not put him on Batman for an arc or two? Why waste Frazer Irving on a Fabian Nicieza Azrael comic when he could be drawing every issue of Captain Britain and MI:13? Pair great writers with great artists and make these comics matter, I say!

Come on, mainstream-fans-with-bad taste! Start buying good art and good writing, and join the revolution!