JimShooter.com

Writer. Creator. Large mammal.

RE: Action Comics

Questions

I received these questions from Twitless:

Twitless has left a new comment on your post “Action Comics“:

Jim, I love your thoughts on the comics industry as well as the history. I have learned so much that I feel like your blog is akin to an academic class.

A couple of minor questions though:

1) The impression I got from Gail Simone at a convention I attended was that DC comics ran things in more of a full script than Marvel did, which in my mind would make your Legion script more par for the course. Is there more to it than that? What are your thoughts about full script versus more general story working. I’d imagine your style would fit the former and discourage the latter.

2) I am interested in knowing more about why these two examples you offer in the blog entry are poor storytelling. I see where the artist deviated from your script (and conversely, where it was followed, more or less), but I would like to learn more about why these particular sequences are failures.

Posted by Twitless to Jim Shooter at January 13, 2012 1:42 PM

Answers

1) Long ago, before the mid-1970’s, everything at DC was done full script and nearly everything at Marvel was done Marvel-style, that is, plot-art-copy. DC drifted somewhat toward Marvel-style as some ex-Marvel writers filtered in. I don’t know how much full script is done by either company these days. Gail’s undoubtably right.
I write full scripts because I want my story told my way. Unfortunately, these days, many artists high-handedly ignore the script (that was approved by the editor) and draw whatever they please—adding panels, leaving out panels, changing events. Not only that, they make no allowance for the copy, which often makes for tortuous balloon pointers and/or rewrites to accommodate the pictures, because there’s never time for them to be redrawn.
In ancient days, artists working from full scripts were obliged to place the copy and usually rough-lettered it in. Worst of all, many artists these days have no storytelling skills at all, so even if they vaguely follow your instructions, they don’t do all the storytelling things that Kirby, Ditko, Ayers, Curt, Woody, Gil and almost all the elders knew to do to make the story clear at a glance. They did these things without being asked and without endless explanations (that today’s guys skip over).
Some newer artists do have a clue. Not enough.
I worked Marvel-style while at Marvel. It’s okay if you’re working with a good storyteller and a horror show when you’re working with an artist who, for example, has the climax happen between panels. No kidding. I’ve seen every kind of storytelling nightmare there is, even that. Artists totally missing the point.
2)  Some specific examples on the LSH story in question:
PAGE FIVE: Panel 6:  (the first shot of Invisible Kid.) I call for a full figure of Invisible Kid. I get a cropped figure. I ask for the setting to be made very clear. I get no background except sky. I say that some Ikonns may be seen in the background, but none close to Invisible Kid, close enough to strike him.  I get two armed Ikonns right behind him. I ask for Invisible Kid to have the bark-and-rope device in his non-ring hand, and provide a sketch of him about to slip it onto his ring hand, plus sketches so that it is absolutely clear to the artist what the device is. I get the device already on his ring hand at an angle that makes the device hard to understand. Not to mention that Invisible Kid, who is a short, slightly built guy, the youngest Legionnaire, is drawn like a ripped athlete.

 

PAGE SIXTEEN: Panel 3: Here’s the scribble I gave the artist to demonstrate the angle I was suggesting:

 

Here’s what he drew:
Similar, yes, but in the scene description I said:
“Remember also all the stuff on the Terrace—bound prisoners, various wreckage, Ikonns, Slaves, party stuff and, of course, the Central Temple. You don’t have to draw all of that, but remember that it’s there, and include whatever would logically be seen in the shot you choose.”
Looks pretty sparse to me.
PAGE SIXTEEN: Panel 4: The artist drew Ikilles talking with the wrong character. “Sadistic Ikonn” is male. He drew “Nasty Ikonn 2,” who was intended to be male, also, BTW, but he screwed that up.
The acting is terrible. Nothing about the body language suggests a “sotto voce” conspiratorial exchange. Their expressions also, are nothing like those described. And Ikilles looks very little like what Francis Manapul established in #43, by the way.
Panel 5: No snipers hinted at, the bark-and-rope device is not shown, as requested.  Cropped figures with indecipherable body language make the action mysterious.

 

Sigh.
HERE’S THE REAL TEST: IMAGINE TAKING THIS PANEL (OR ALMOST ANY OF THESE PANELS, ANY PANEL IN THE BOOK) OUT OF CONTEXT AND SHOWING IT, BY ITSELF, TO SOMEONE UNFAMILIAR WITH THE STORY.  IF THEY CAN’T GUESS THE GENERAL DRIFT OF WHAT’S HAPPENING, THE ARTIST FAILED!
NO ONE LOOKS AT THIS PANEL AND GUESSES THAT THE RED GUY IS MENACINGLY STALKING TOWARD THE SMALL AND WIMPY LOOKING KID. THE RED GUY IS SUPPOSED TO BE MUCH BIGGER THAN THE KID AND BODYBUILDER-MUSCULAR, BUT YOU CAN’T TELL THAT HERE. NO ONE WOULD GUESS.
Ahem.
Now, imagine taking a panel out of context from an early-1960’s Jack Kirby book and showing it to someone.
Complex action, clear as a bell.
Doesn’t have to be Kirby.  Any good artist will do.  Look at this acting:

 

Mazzuchelli, I believe.

How about this:

The right foot tells you he’s walking, not just standing. Gene Colan.
No matter how odd this one might seem to an uninitiated viewer, the acting is great, the expressions are perfect and clearly, the weird guy is juggling or levitating the fruit. Steve Rude.

 

Anything Russ Heath did works.

 

Will:

 

Toth:

 

Manning:

 

At worst with good artists, you need a panel or two of context to fully appreciate the event depicted. That is not to say each individual panel isn’t clear at a glance, and that a reader would easily discern what is presented therein, rather that greater meaning or increased significance is revealed by surrounding panels.
Enough of this. Regarding Legion of Super-Heroes #44, check the art carefully against the script and you’ll see how many mistakes were made, how many things were left out or misrepresented, how many things were arbitrarily or stupidly changed and how much of a train wreck the art is.

You still might not notice some things, such as the fact that the young woman seen in Panel 4 of Page Seventeen is supposed to be Light Lass. Note that the hair is wrong, her hand is mysteriously free of the ropes, the rope across her chest has become a fringe for her top and that she’s colored like an Ikonn. Which begs the question, why is her fellow Ikonn holding a gun on her? I think the alleged artist roughed in the panel, forgot what it was supposed to be, didn’t bother checking the script and finished Light Lass as somebody else.

 

And you wonder why I get annoyed….
After comparing the script and art, then give it THE REAL TEST. It’s perfectly okay to cut that issue up in order to isolate panels to show people, it’s a worthless piece of crap anyway.
You may like the story or not (assuming you have access to the entire script and can discover what the story actually is), but the storytelling, especially in the action sequences, is amateurish garbage. Sorry to say so, Sanford. But not much.
P.S. Where were the editor and his assistant while my script was being butchered? Good question. Probably out cashing the paychecks they received for the jobs they weren’t doing.
NEXT: Wonder Woman – A Review

 

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WONDER WOMAN #4 – A Review

92 Comments

  1. I hate posting so late on a post, but I've not kept up with the blog as much as I would like, and both parts of this struck true to my own experences. Last year I was working on a comic based on one of the stories I write; my first time doing a comic and I know I'm not nearly good at it yet; but by the end of the project I wanted to strangle the artist.

    There was almost NO part of my script that she adapted properly, including one page being so totally wrong, becuase she never showed me the roughs for it, that it had a panel that had nothing to do with the story in it at all. Worst of all she couldn't even keep characters on model between panels of the same page let alone between multiple pages. I was always having to tell her to fix something and even then she only half heartily did it and the finish project still so full of errors that it barely feels like my story at all. When I finally put the comic up for public viewing I also posted my script to go with it just so people could see just how different my vision was from the finished project. Not sure if I'll ever try doing a comic again…

    So yeah, I know exactly that some artists can not always be trusted to follow instructions, no matter how detailed you make them, and couldn't tell a progressive story if their life depended on it. Not sure if you'll read something on a post so old, but just had to relate my own experences on the subject…

  2. Spamalot, much? Anonymous is showing its displeasure.

  3. Anonymous

    [MikeAnon:] Hey! Even bloggers have to maintain their secret identity lives!

    Keep in mind this is the first dry spell in forever, and, let's face it, it's not like this is anyone's paying job.

    I know the problem isn't lack of topics. I haven't seen the queue, but I've heard, "It's in the queue," enough times to know the queue is pretty darn big. So there must be some pressing matters J&JJ are attending to. Patience! [–MikeAnon]

  4. Kev From Atl

    The posts are really becoming infrequent these days. Is this going to continue to be an active blog?

  5. Anonymous

    "I met John Dixon at the San Diego Comic-Con. He was looking for work. I think the big companies didn't want him because he was an older guy and they thought his style was old fashioned."

    [MikeAnon:] I've been going back through issues of ETERNAL WARRIOR, and what came to mind in reading John Dixon's work was, "My God, this guy's work is SOLID." By that I mean there was no confusion, no having to figure out what was going on — you didn't have to really do any work yourself in reading the story, as in so many comics today. You could just sit back and let his art tell you what was happening. I really didn't appreciate this back in the day. Back then I probably would have called his art "plain." Now I call it "just plain GOOD!" [–MikeAnon]

  6. Anonymous

    Why is it that a writer thinks he has the right to shut the artist out of the creative process? The artist is a creator too and wants to be a part of the creative process. Frankly the way you are acting, "it's my story and I want it done my way", is arrogant and unsuitable for collaborative work.

    If anybody should have sole rights to decide how some scene is drawn, it should be the artist, as he is clearly the expert on the visual side of things (or should be, anyway – incompetent people are a separate, unrelated problem). Ideally though the artist and writer would negotiate constantly on these things and aim at a true shared vision (or IDEALLY ideally they would be the same person).

    • If a writer is hired to write a full script, then he or she has been given primary responsibility for the visual presentation. He or she describes what is to be drawn. The editor presumably approves the writer's work before giving it to the artist. So, the writer thinks he has the right to control what is drawn because the editor gave the writer that control. I don't see that as shutting the artist out of the creative process. There's still plenty of creative process in the artist's hands.

      If the editor wishes, he or she can divide up the responsibility for the visual presentation differently — by asking the writer not to call panel sizes, angles or whatever. But, each member of the team should do the job asked of him or her. Not all comics are "collaborative works" in the sense you mean, if I understand you correctly. Ask Dave Gibbons how much control of the visuals Alan Moore had on Watchmen.

      I've written many stories working closely and in true partnership with artists. But when it's full script, it's my story and I want it done my way. Sorry if you find that arrogant.

  7. Warren Ellis just posted this interesting read up at his blog. It's about writing scripts for artists that aren't necessarily the most skilled.

    http://www.warrenellis.com/?p=13633

  8. Jim-
    A practical question about editing today. If one found him/herself hired as an asst or assoc editor today, how much room for real editing do you imagine they'd have? I mean, if they got a script or a page rife with the sort of errors we've all been discussing, do you think they'd actually have to authority to ask for re-dos? Do you think their full-editor boss would cut their legs out from under them (i.e. "quit rocking the boat, this page is fine").

    Or taken a step further–say it's the full editor getting cut down by his/her EIC.

    I just wonder if there are actually smart people in some of these positions who just find that there's really nothing they can do about mistakes and poor work they see everyday.

    • RE: "A practical question about editing today. If one found him/herself hired as an asst or assoc editor today, how much room for real editing do you imagine they'd have?"

      With regard to the big two, I don't know. Dark Horse editors still edit. Chris Warner was great. He challenged everything that should have been challenged, consulted me on everything and was of great help. His only problems were due to only 24 hours in the day.

  9. Anonymous

    @Lukas – "they don't have to be good"

    Spot on. I agree

  10. Anonymous

    Jim,

    who do you consider the top 10 artists (in order or without an order) you worked with? Also, who would fit in that list of those who you've never had the chance to co-create comics?

    David

    • RE: "who do you consider the top 10 artists (in order or without an order) you worked with? Also, who would fit in that list of those who you've never had the chance to co-create comics?"

      By "worked with" I guess you mean on comics I wrote. Off the top of my head in no particular order here are some of the best:

      Curt Swan
      Wally Wood
      Gil Kane
      David Lapham
      Don Perlin
      Barry Windsor-Smith
      John Buscema
      John Romita, Sr.
      John Romita, Jr.
      Steve Ditko
      Gene Colan
      George Perez
      Carmine Infantino
      John Dixon

      There are more who belong in that company.

      Great people I never had a chance to work with? Too many to list. Here are a few:

      Jack Kirby
      Dick Ayers
      Joe Kubert
      Neal Adams
      Dave Cockrum
      Russ Manning
      Kevin Nowlan
      Frank Miller
      Bill Sienkiewicz
      Stan Drake
      Al Williamson
      (Add names of any all-time greats not mentioned in the previous list)
      Lots of newer guys…anyone who is a great storyteller and great draftsman

    • Scott

      Jim,

      Great list.
      I haven't seen you talk much about European comics before, so I was wondering what you thought of them. Do you have any favorite French/Spanish/Italian comics?

    • Anonymous

      Do you have any memories of working with John Dixon that are worth relating? I very much enjoyed his Valiant inking/penciling. Or of Gonzalo Mayo. Great artists. Thank you.

      JL

    • Boring answer, I'm afraid. I like the usual suspects: Asterrix, Lucky Luke, anything by Giraud, Clever and Smart, Tintin and lots of lesser known strips I can't remember the names of unless I dig through my Frankfurt Book Fair box.

    • RE: "Do you have any memories of working with John Dixon that are worth relating? I very much enjoyed his Valiant inking/penciling. Or of Gonzalo Mayo. Great artists. Thank you."

      I met John Dixon at the San Diego Comic-Con. He was looking for work. I think the big companies didn't want him because he was an older guy and they thought his style was old fashioned. I thought he'd great for what we were attempting to do at VALIANT. Besides, I was assembling an over-the-hill gang anyway : ) with Don Perlin, Stan Drake, Ernie Colon, Steve Ditko, Richard Rockwell…. John did the art for Eternal Warrior #1. It's one of the best art jobs I've ever had for a story of mine. John also inked David Lapham's pencils for a while and did nice work. John was great to work with, always a professional and a gentleman.

      I didn't get to know Gonzalo Mayo very well. As I recall, he didn't speak much English, and I was too embarrassed by how poor my Spanish is to even attempt a conversation on the occasions when he came to the office. I remember that he was always very polite, very gracious. He seemed very pleased to be working with us, and I had nothing but admiration for him and his work.

      I'll write more about those two later.

  11. A friend of mine who works in television explained why TV movies are never (or seldom) good: because they don't have to be. All they have to be is marketable enough to get people to tune them in. By the time anyone has figured out they suck, the ratings are there, and it's moot.

    It seems like the comics industry is the same way: the comics are no good because they don't have to be. They have a stable albeit small audience, a roster of people who do them and do not want to put in more effort, and that's the world. What Jim did in his Marvel run was a rare case of systematically improving the product—by both creative direction and business improvements (increased benefits to attract better talent)—and growing the industry.

    However, I wonder if in today's dense media environment—videogames, the Internet, movies/TV with better FX than ever (making comics seem like still-lifes in comparison)—comics could ever again grow in the same way. I think Jim quoted $40-50 million as the investment needed to start a comics company from scratch (I'd love to see a breakdown if possible). Alternatively, for an existing company to hire Jim or someone like him to implement creative direction…first of all there is arguably no one else like Jim out there, with the CEO/writer/teacher skill set. And Jim has stated on many occasions (forgive me if I am misremembering) that the companies know where to find him…they just aren't interested. There is still bad blood over the last time he cracked the whip.

    It's funny…there are two truisms about work (as stated by David Simon re: his brilliant TV show, The Wire): no matter where you go, (1) good help is hard to find, and (2) all the bosses are assholes. We certainly have had plenty of columns on this blog about the corporate bosses being assholes. Now we are also learning how hard it is to find good help.

    Jim, if I may be so presumptuous, the cardinal sin of your career has been your attempt to be both the help and the boss! If only you had been content to be a stock-trading wheeler-dealer, or, on the other hand, an auteur writer rather than a writer/editor-EIC-labor leader. But as you said, you have your integrity. And so seasons of The Wire often end with the cop who solved the case being demoted if not outright fired… he has his honor, for however many months of rent that will pay.

    • ja

      Jim, if you've never seen The Wire series (all 5 seasons, in order please), then you really should. Some of the best drama, characters and writing I've personally ever enjoyed.

      Lukas, comic books have been on such a decline for decades. It's a miracle it hasn't fully collapsed by now. I think you're right when you say that comics creators generally believe they don't have to be good, but I believe they're starting to understand that's a paradigm that's about to change. It's impossible to ignore just how far comics sales have fallen over the years, and that we're leaning way far over a dangerous precipice, about to fall off into a terrible industry-wide collapse.

      Jim is standing in the middle of those two harshly overlapping vortexes, one foot firmly in the betterment of the industry, the other in the position of having to be the boss, which no one likes because this industry is filled with angry spoiled adult children who cry and throw a fit whenever they're told to adhere to a company's standards.

      I certainly don't agree with all of Jim Shooter's professional decisions, but I do know this: the reason he's such a lightning rod (and the reason he's so reviled) is because he's a powerful force in this industry. When left to his skills (sans the politics), Jim is able to create great things and affect significant change to comic book publishing.

      Jim, you REALLY should watch The Wire, if you haven't already.

    • RE: "if I may be so presumptuous, the cardinal sin of your career has been your attempt to be both the help and the boss!"

      Generally not by choice.

      At Marvel, I did as little writing as I could, and only when I felt it was necessary for some good reason or other. I preferred to be boss only and leave the writing to our writers. We had some good ones.

      At VALIANT, I was the "help" because, most of the time we couldn't afford to pay anyone else, and sometimes because I couldn't get anyone willing and able to do what I wanted. Roger Stern was a Godsend when he finally turned up. Several other writers didn't work out and I had to do extensive rewrites or go back to doing it myself.

      At DEFIANT, I tried to use other people as much as possible, with mixed results.

      At Broadway, I wrote with three other people as a team. It was a training strategy as much as anything. The idea was that they would learn and develop, then each of them could head a team and train two or three other writers and I'd be boss only.

      The best laid plans….

  12. I think there's another culprit that is as much to blame (I'd say MORE to blame) as Sanford…the Editor. Based on some of the things I've heard from industry friends (mostly artists) and from some of the things I've read on this blog, there are far too many comics editors out there who are "simply collecting a paycheck" even more than the artists.

    If the storytelling didn't make sense or if characters didn't hook up…where was the Editor? If someone was colored incorrectly…where was the Editor? It seems to me that there are too many "Editors" out there who are really just Production Assistants trying to make sure that all of the necessary "materials" (writing, art, etc.) are simply handed in on time (and I use the term "on time" loosely).

    I don't get the impression, based on most of the crap I've been reading, that the Editor cares about the quality of the product. Or maybe it's that they don't really understand what good quality really is? I'm sure there are exceptions and that some great Editors still do exist. I just wonder how much of a dying breed they must be.

    • Anonymous

      Yep – the lack of real editors who actually do their job is an epidemic now. The big 2 essentially have no real editors any more. And, as I've said before, the "editors" at Marvel are far too interested in being buddies with the talent to ever criticize or correct anything they turn in

      The writers and artist will get away with whatever you let them.

    • It's not just about getting away with something. Part of the job of the artist is to do what's assigned to/requested of you. Does that mean to do what's in the script or to simply do what the Editor wants? In some cases, the two may not be the same thing.

      Technically, the artist is working for the Editor and some artists (or writers) may simply not as vested in the story. It's just an assignment. In those cases, they're really just working for the Editor and I'm guessing that some Editors may simply want something turned in on time (or close to it). Sometimes it's hard to tell who really cares about these characters or the world they exist in anymore. Actually, it's easy to tell when they do care because that's when you get good comics. Obviously, they still exist but I just wish there were more of them.

  13. Payton Gauldin

    "I showed him a panel from that Jack Kirby Human Torch/Captain America book I use for my storytelling lecture in which Captain America is sliding across a wet floor and snatching a mop out of a janitor's hand."

    Please post this image and the lecture.

  14. Hi,

    First let me say that I enjoy reading your blog a lot. I haven't read the whole thing yet though, so pardon me if you already talked about DC's "Legends" #5 (from 1987, by Ostrander, Wein and Byrne), which featured Guy Gardner fighting "Sunspot" ( http://dc.wikia.com/wiki/Sunspot_%28New_Earth%29 ), a character apparently created as a 'parody' of you. I read about this issue on some blog ages ago and thought it'd be interesting to hear your take on this particular issue/character. Were there more 'comicbook versions' of you that you're aware of?

    Kind regards and thanks for all the interesting posts!

    • I wasn't aware of "Sunspot" until somebody brought it up a while ago. If people want to "parody" me, let them. I know there are other "versions" of me, to use your term, out there, and some pretty vicious, I've heard. I don't care.

    • I've always wondered about a character in Jim Starlin's "Wyrd" series. It was coming out around the same time Unity 2000 was published. It has cameos of some Valiant characters in it. I couldn't tell if one character was a parody or representation of Jim Shooter or not.

  15. Anonymous

    Dear Jim,

    Where are those amazing Will Eisner western panels from? I need to track down a copy of that!

    Warm regards,

    Pete Marco

  16. Dan

    I don't buy modern comics (except for a few characters to which I remain loyal) for two reasons: the writing and the art.

    They both suck.

    Almost nobody wants to write a story. They just want to write scenes (like Tarentino).

    Almost nobody wants to tell a story. They just want to draw posed shots.

    • Anonymous

      Dan – while I agree with you for about 95% of the comics currently being produced – there are still a few hidden gems out there

      Eduardo Risso and RM Guerra are VERY talented pencillers, who typically manage to get a comic out every month

      Garth Ennis and Brian Azzarello know how to write smart, engaging stories (that don't insult the reader's intelligence like most of today's "kewl" comics)

      -Keil

  17. It really is unbelievable that artists can butcher a script so badly, showing disregard/disrespect for the writer and the characters and blind obeisance to the almighty dollar. Sturgeon's Law in full effect! Seeing so many horrible examples of sequential storytelling makes it even easier to spot the good ones.

    Once upon a time, when I tried out for Marvel's Epic 2.0 initiative under Bill Jemas, I wrote a full script and sent it in. I didn't think of actually including reference inline in the script but often pointed out where to find the reference. Being a visual thinker, I doodled panel layouts before I committed any words to the script, preferring to visually pace out the story (using stick figures and snippets of dialogue) and script from that. Character X does this, and this detail should be emphasized, etc. Just like you, Jim, doing so gave me a sense of what could and couldn't be done on a page. Also it provided a visual rhythm, a cadence, a continuity. I could only have hoped for an artist to have seen my intent, had it been picked up.

    Man, I really need to find an artist and give some comics a go again…

    ~G.

  18. Anonymous

    "People that quote Wikipedia as an authoritative source are automatically put on mute by me."

    [MikeAnon:] Awww…look at the little John Byrne wannabe! Isn't he cute??

    Seriously, that's just pretentious. If Paul had used the second link that came up for "begging the question" on Google, he would have pulled up the exact same explanation, only worded a little differently. And because it came from the Nizkor project instead of Wikipedia, you wouldn't have challenged it — and Nizkor cites nobody, whereas Wikipedia at least cites sources and is occasionally peer-reviewed. And if you see something wrong on Wikipedia you can change it, challenge it, and/or argue your case on its forums. Go to another web site and you often just have to take their word for it and hope they aren't lying. And the same goes for some printed material, too. Just because you got it from an actual book of an actual bookshelf doesn't mean its any more accurate than what you can find on Wikipedia. So slamming Wikipedia, as if they're wrong 98% of the time, is just childish and a poor attempt at snobbery. [–MikeAnon]

    • Anonymous

      lol

      Insisting on a source that is not written by any random user on the Internet is not snobbery

      The dumbing down of society is apparently something you accept, and make apologies for. Kudos

    • Anonymous

      [MikeAnon:] Hey…what's that I see at the bottom of the Wiki entry? Could it be…SOURCES?

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Begging_the_question#References

      [–MikeAnon]

    • Anonymous

      I'm glad you have faith in the tool. I'm sorry you don't understand the differences in varying degrees of knowledge

  19. Paul,
    I don't have a problem understanding what is taking place in the Kirby panel. Granted, I can't tell you if Cap's underwear is too tight or if Bucky has an STD, but my guess is that Kirby knew it wasn't relevant to the story.

    Do you need 3 full pages of modern art drawn in a poor quality cartoon style to get the grasp of what occurred in that one Kirby panel? I don't. If you do, you should probably be buying the children's books that Golden Books published.

  20. Paul Dushkind

    Adolescents like things that are hard to figure out. It makes them feel intelligent when they do. Remember the psychedelic posters, which were like puzzles to solve.

    Jim, you're mostly right, but the older comics we loved weren't all perfect. From your examples:

    Kirby. "Clear as a bell." Not quite. Maybe this one panel is clearer in context. I can't tell who's shooting at Cap's feet. I can't tell why the second figure from the right is falling. Either Cap's shield hit him, after it knocked the gun out of the other Nazi's hand, or Bucky punched him, before he swung at the third figure from the right. Or IS Bucky hitting the third figure from the right?

    (Not to mention the many occasions on which Cap made unrealistic long leaps, which made it look as though he could fly.)

    Toth. One of the finest designers, but he sometimes oversimplified. In this Johnny Thunder page, there seem to be five characters, but it's hard to tell, when I can only see their legs. On second thought, I think that there are four characters, and that the colorist got one gunman's clothing wrong in the first panel. If that's the case, then I no longer wonder where the gunmen went, but I can't tell how far apart the characters are, or how the sheriff was able to hold onto one guy so firmly. Blame Toth if the colorist didn't understand any better than I did.

    • ja

      Paul,

      You're right about the Kirby panel being taken out of context, as it's a single panel in a comic book story that amounts to approximately 80-100 panels in total.

      But Jim's point remains solid. This panel *is* clear as a bell to me. It has at least 5 distinct things going on in the frame, which is set up like a left-to-right pan shot in a movie. You can pick nits all you wish about fingernails and belly buttons, but the overwhelming majority (about 99%, in my estimation) reads very well.

      Since you're trying to inventory more elbows and toenails by stating that you can't tell how many people there are in the page, I would say that 'concern' is best left to when you hold the whole comic book in your hand. You completely distract from Jim's point when you go off on a tangent to start counting people, instead of taking a look at the very clear storytelling that's in front of you, illustrating a specific point that's being made.

      I think your coloring critique is certainly valid. I'm bemused by the person whose leg is being grabbed has one orange pant leg, and that the other pant leg is green.

      This still doesn't take away from Jim's valid points he's making about storytelling.

    • ja

      "Since you're trying to inventory more elbows and toenails by stating that you can't tell how many people there are in the page…"

      In the Toth page, I meant to write.

    • Anonymous

      I think the main point that Jim was trying to make is what you can tell by one panel. From one out-of-context Kirby panel we can tell that Bucky is in the thick of a fight with some Nazis. Cap is somewhat removed from the fight, but is quickly coming to his aid

      As opposed to some of the modern panels above. Where we cannot tell if the 2 people in it are friends or enemies. Are they tense or are they at a picnic?? I have no idea.

    • Paul Dushkind

      There is an insulting tone to several of the replies to my last comments. I think that I made it clear that I agree with the major points that srp and Jim Shooter made, so yes, I'm nitpicking. I don't mean to be sarcastic when I say that of course I get the gist of any fight scene, which is that it's a fight scene. I probably would also get the gist of the modern fight scenes that srp decries.

      To rephrase one of my major points: Older comics also had similar shortcomings. Remember when Jim Steranko drew Captain America fighting about a dozen Hydra assassins in a graveyard? The only choreography was that they all fired point blank and missed.

      PS. Russ Heath's art is gorgeous.

  21. "I learned to get very sick of that Jack Kirby job."
    Frank Miller, 1985

  22. Rich

    Jim,

    First I want to agree with Twitless that reading your blog is akin to an academic class in comics. I am convinced that your entries, along with Eisner's "Graphic Storytelling…", "Comics and Sequential Art" and "Expressive Anatomy…", as well as McCloud's "Inventing Comics" ought to be required reading for every writer, artist and editor. The art form would be far better for it. Thank you for taking time to write it.

    I especially appreciate and agree with your comments about modern storytelling in comics, which has become virtually non-existent. I am also finding that most modern comics bore me, largely because they have become nothing more than overly and badly illustrated short stories rather than true comics. Your examples show why.

    A while back I spoke with a new comic reader who started reading comics because he loved Star Wars. Those comics were his entry point into the medium. He told me he liked the idea of reading comics, but often times he had to struggle to figure out the action in the panel and was somewhat discouraged by the experience. I had to explain to him that wasn't the fault of the medium, just the artist.

    Many years ago I was fortunate enough to take a course on drawing comics from John Severin. Our assignments were scripts with a lot of different things going on simultaneously, which he explained was the challenge that writers would often present. He preached to us about how we had to illustrate what the script was about no matter how complicated.

    I just read the first issue of Brubaker and Phillips' Fatale, which posed a different problem. While Brubaker worked hard at writing a noir story I found it fell flat and a large part of the problem lie with the art. About half the panels were nothing more than talking heads and many of the expressions didn't even connect with the dialogue. The actual comic story telling was minimal. I'm not trying to pick on the artist or writer because I think this is true in far too many comics.

    That stands in stark contrast with your examples, especially the Blazing Combat page by Russ Heath, which I have always felt transcended good story telling and became both eloquent and powerful. It's interesting to note that only the first two panels even needed words to express everything that needed to be communicated.

    The art in comics lies in the words and art working together. The art should communicate clearly what the artist should not have to explain. Conversely, the writer needs to be able to write visually, just like a scripwriter composing a film script.

    Which begs the question: If so many comics are written today in a full script format, how much of the problem lies with the writer not undertanding good comic storytelling and hamstringing the artist with a tight script?

    Rich

    • RE: "Which begs the question: If so many comics are written today in a full script format, how much of the problem lies with the writer not undertanding good comic storytelling and hamstringing the artist with a tight script?"

      I'm not sure how many comics are written full script today. I suspect it is the minority. But, your observation is right on. A script writer can torpedo the visual storytelling just as effectively as the artist. Writers who are not visual thinkers are likely to call for a character lighting his pipe while he answers the phone. That's why I do a little, usually very scribbly sketch of every panel I call for — just to make sure it can be done. I generally don't give my scribble-sketches to the artist. I don't want to micromanage to that extent. If it's a really tricky shot, or easier to explain with a scribble than, say, with a page of copy, then maybe I'll tidy up one of my scrawls and insert it into the script — usually with the caveat that it's for explanatory purposes only and not necessarily to be used literally.

      Once I called for a panel in a book that Barry Windsor-Smith was drawing that he said couldn't be done. I showed him a panel from that Jack Kirby Human Torch/Captain America book I use for my storytelling lecture in which Captain America is sliding across a wet floor and snatching a mop out of a janitor's hand. BWS looked at that, said any other artist would have taken at least three panels to convey the same information, then figured out how to draw my panel. And did so brilliantly.

      In a semi-related story, as comic book visual storytelling began to decline, in some cases, Denny O'Neill and others began doing what they called "artist-proof scripts." I think Denny coined the term. If they knew the artist was a poor storyteller, they'd build everything one needed to know into the copy. You could read and understand the story no matter how bad the pictures were. This, how sometimes resulted in panels showing Green Lantern making a giant hammer with his power ring that had a caption saying "Green Lantern fashions a giant hammer with his power ring" and a thought balloon that said "I'll use this giant hammer formed by my power ring…."

      The flip side of that one is when artists like BWS, Russ Heath and others took a lame script and — though they drew what was called for — made the pictures tell the story so well that the bad copy was superfluous.

    • Paul Dushkind

      RAISES the question! RAISES the question! RAISES the question!

      From Wikipedia: "Begging the question (or petitio principii, 'assuming the initial point') is a type of logical fallacy in which the proposition to be proven is assumed implicitly or explicitly in the premise."

    • The vast majority of comics these days are written full script. Plot-first is a rarity, usually done at the request of a particular creative team. Of course, these days you can redialogue part (or all) of a script after the art is done, which I've found very helpful in clarifying little storytelling hiccups. In some ways, it's the best of both worlds.

    • Anonymous

      People that quote Wikipedia as an authoritative source are automatically put on mute by me

  23. Anonymous

    "Do you think they deserve all those millions of dollars when they created Image?"

    [MikeAnon:] Well, of course they did. They didn't extort money from people. They sold books. They provided products that people wanted. The question isn't whether the Image creators deserved the money they got. The question is why were people so eager to hand their money over to the Image creators given the quality of their products. [–MikeAnon]

    • Anonymous

      Their art was exciting.
      Rob

    • Anonymous

      Most of their art resembled Jim Lee's, which was exciting at the time. Some were good artists (Silvestri) some weren't (Liefeld). But they all just happened to work in comics at the right time, just before it all went Kablooey. (And it perhaps could be argued that their lack of quality greatly contributed to the big "Kablooey".)

  24. Anonymous

    Hi Jim

    I would like to see you review Image artists storytelling like Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Erik Larsen, Marc Silvestri, Todd Mcfarlane, and Whilce Portacio. Do you think they deserve all those millions of dollars when they created Image?

    • A discussion of Image and Image storytelling might work in well in one of my upcoming reviews. I'll try. The Image guys created products that people bought. For a while, anyway. Seems to me they're entitled to whatever money they made.

  25. ja

    For those who were interested in previous marijuana conversations here in the comments section on jimshooter.com, there is a new report:

    http://www.newser.com/story/137231/moderate-pot-use-may-boost-lung-capacity.html

  26. Anonymous

    [MikeAnon:] By the way, if by the artist/writer on the sixth-best-selling DC book we're talking Francis Manapul, let me throw in my two cents. I think he's a great artist, a pretty decent writer, and judging from some interviews he's given, he puts a lot of effort into both jobs. I've only skimmed FLASH so far, but I'm thinking Manapul's biggest problem is falling prey to "decompressionist" storytelling. Issue #4 was practically a villain origin comic, with the Flash only making an appearance at the end. Manapul is trying to make FLASH an intensely personal, character-driven book, but the gimmick of FLASH is speed — slow down the story, and you're pretty well done. I think this current arc would have been a lot better had he turned it into a meta-arc that spanned several shorter stories that would satisfy readers in the short run while laying the groundwork for intensely personal revelations in the long run, sort of the way Wolfman and Perez did NEW TEEN TITANS back in the long ago. [–MikeAnon]

  27. A while ago, reading a comic became tedious for me, and the stories became increasingly difficult to understand. I chalked it up to my age and impatience, I thought that maybe mainstream comics were simply not written for me, and I didn't 'get' them, like the cliche of parent's music vs. their kid's music.

    But that couldn't have been entirely true I realized, now and then I would come across something that felt…nostalgic, and was just so great, like All Star Superman.

    Conclusion, the books I found tedious and hard to read were crappy comics. Like the majority of stuff today.

    It appears to me, from some professional experiences within the industry as well, that the wrong people are getting hired and there is something insidious about how the work is doled out. Doing good comics is hard and work, hard to get and hard to do, so maybe there isn't just a dwindling fan base, but maybe there is a dwindling talent pool as well. It may also be that those within the industry are protective and nepotistic when it comes to creating comics, good talent is overlooked in favor of hiring a friend or someone's friend.

    There have to be artists out there who care know the craft, no? If not, the comics industry in North America is doomed as mainstream entertainment.

    Rant over. Thanks for that great breakdown Jim.

  28. Anonymous

    I was wondering what you thought of characters that are super-heroes that use bladed weapons.

    [MikeAnon:] Please note that all the bladed superheroes you mentioned except El Aquila started out as villains. Still, good point. This is something that always bothered me about the MMORPG City of Heroes, too. The few melee powersets available in the beginning were Broadsword, Katana, Claws, Spines, Dark Melee, and Martial Arts. 4 out of 6 powersets involved inflicting bladed damage on your enemies. And since Martial Arts was almost all kicks, that meant if you wanted a hand-to-hand combat Scrapper or Tanker, you had to go with Dark Melee. There was nothing else. Thankfully it was a good set, but still…. [–MikeAnon]

  29. Jim,
    I know this question is off-topic, but you recently wrote at length about writers' use of Wolverine. I was wondering what you thought of characters that are super-heroes that use bladed weapons. Whenever I saw the Swordsman, Valkrye, Black Knight or any other such character I would think "what are they thinking? How many times can Valkrye strike an opponent with the flat of her blade? And it really blew my mind when Black Knight was given a light saber of all things. That just made him more dangerous. Sure, Swordsman's blade was tricked out with a bunch of weapons so he didn't have to actually stab anyone anymore and El Aquila could fire electricity from his, but after awhile it just seems like they are crappy fencers who can't bring down an opponent."
    Your opinion?

    • I agree, a bladed weapon doesn't make a lot of sense for a heroic character who has no intention of cutting or stabbing anyone. For that matter, anyone else notice that in Stan's day, if Thor ever threw his hammer at someone who could be injured by it, he missed. Stan and Jack fortunately came up with other uses for the hammer.

  30. It's also possible that people nowadays think the stuff they sell in Ikea is real furniture rather than the hand crafted pieces that were built to last.

  31. It should be said that the same artist is now co-writer and artist of DC's 6th best selling title as we speak.

    Is it not possible that what you think and what readers today think is good art is not the same thing? That today's readers aren't so enamored with FFIA as you are?

    • Anonymous

      That's just it. Some newer readers have been so exposed to inadequate storytellers (pencillers), that they have nothing to compare it to. Many newer readers get caught up in the "dated" aspect, when looking at older comics. They'd be well-served to look at those old comics and see how each panel communicated the story. But if they only read new comics, then they have no benchmark to compare it to besides other new comics

    • Jamie,

      I'm 100% sure that modern comic readers can't even discern who is a competent artist and who isn't. They aren't really given a choice.
      The art is crappy in 9 out of 10 stories produced. I can't make any assertions about storytelling ability because I haven't seen what the script asks artists to do. I can look at a Jim Shooter story and know the artist didn't follow the instructions. I repeatedly encounter former comic readers who all have similar complaints about modern comics. It really boils down to whether the industry wants to grow and attract both new and old readers with a quality product or downsize some more and lay more people off. If you find the work above acceptable, then I have zero regard for your taste in what's good. Plain and simple as that. Sanford robbed me of a chance for this comic to meet my standards. The editors robbed me of a chance. DC lost a customer for life. I refuse to buy another DC product until Dan Didio has been replaced. I'm not going to blame the artist. He knew what he could get by with to receive payment. I blame management and the people who allowed it to happen.

    • Also, comic sales are in the toilet and slide further down the u-bend each month. So to be the sixth best selling artist in a dying medium, where sales are a fraction of what they were when basic storytelling standards were applied, and when your sixth best comic in 2012 sells less than Marvel's worst selling comic in the 80s, well- WHOOP DEE DOO!

    • Defiant, you just put your finger on what makes me so angry about comics these days. I buy a comic book and feel cheated. Not that I buy many, but since doing this blog, I do buy more than I used to. Readers are cheated by editors, artists and writers who are supposed to be doing their job but aren't. I don't really care if it's because they don't know how. There is information out there about how to do comics and no one wants to bother to learn. They are thieves, taking money they don't earn. In what other business would they be able to get away with that?

    • Anonymous

      Yup. I just bought and read a 6-issue arc. It contained a story that could have been done in about 1 1/2 issues. On top of that, the book was late – it took them 14 months to put out 6 issues.

      After all that, whether the story was good or not is kind of lost

    • Quality is an attitude. A mindset. You can't train someone to want something better. Publishers are relying upon an artist to competently fill in the panels and tell the story when they pay the same for a page of art whether it's done well or not. The artist is going to do whatever it takes to get the paycheck faster and easier because he needs food on the table and money for the bills. Someone higher needs to be objective enough to say they expect better. It needs to come BEFORE the product reaches the consumers hands. If it reaches my hands, I'll quit buying a series. I won't quit buying issue #84. I'll quit buying issue #84 up. They don't lose one sale. They lose years worth of sales. Also, publishers have seen the statistics showing that #1 have a boost in sales. I'm not stupid enough to fall for that anymore. I'm not sure why anyone is anymore. There's a saying that goes "Trick me once, shame on you. Trick me twice, shame on me."

  32. Marvelman

    Wonder Woman's next. Yikes! Will Jim eviscerate my new favorite comic? I liked the examples too. I sometimes think Jim is overly-critical but I can't deny that it is extremely clear in all of his examples what is happening. Sal Buscema may not have been the most spectacular artist around but when he drew a panel you knew what was happening. BTW, Jim, that strange guy in the Steve Rude panel is Judah the Hammer from Nexus. Are you telling us that you've never read Nexus?

  33. Jim,

    Thank you very much for answering my questions; the in-depth analysis is invaluable. I am trying to hone my writing skills in the sequential arts medium and I find your insights very helpful. I would be just as frustrated to find my own work butchered and ignored, especially if I went to all the trouble of scripting it out in such meticulous detail.

  34. I've always read that good story telling can communicate the story without dialogue or captions. Now you know why the comics art-form is disappearing. Shame on guys like Sanford.

  35. I really liked Sanford Greene issues on your run. In fact, I would have prefered him to Francis Manapul because, despite all those "mistakes" he made, he put more caracter and bring something else and personnal to the Legion. despite all the ommissions noted, his issues were for me the more enjoyable to read: I did not feel confused at all and was able to resume the issue at the end, something I was often not capable of during other issues.
    In fact, I would gladly try something else from him, based on those Legion issues. To resume him to be incompetent based on only this is quite a shortcut.

    • ja

      A shortcut, maybe, but not inaccurate.

      It could very well be (just conjecture here) that Sanford Greene knew full well that he could get away with disrespecting Jim's script, because he knew that the editor would back him up.

      Or that he knew the editor wouldn't notice.

    • Anonymous

      "To resume him to be incompetent based on only this is quite a shortcut."

      Huh?

  36. for the un learned, like myself, could you list the complete names of the artist you mentioned, that i should know, but don't. thank you.

  37. Luckily whenever I had to deal with substandard art I've been in a position to do something about it. Case in point, an artist turned in a horribly rushed job for a short (6 pages) of all things. I paid him for his work but also told him I wouldn't be using his art for various reasons which I detailed. He didn't say much, other than admitting that he did rush the job. But he took the money. Oh, he took the money…

    Another thing I've found is a language barrier/misunderstanding when working with artists based in other countries. Many times subtle nuances written in English just do not translate well in other languages and, of course, the converse is true as well. I think part of this is the artist misrepresenting their command of the language and then using Google Translate (or some other translation program) to breakdown a script. Now, Google Translate is great in a pinch but it is in no way perfect; things are "lost in translation" as it were.

    Just to be clear, I'll work with ANY artist if I dig their work and will do my best to make things work…but it can lead to similar issues as Jim describes (i.e. pages/panels being waaay off what is scripted/written.)

  38. Ugh. Another reason I find today's comics difficult to read: the coloring. Take a look at any of Jim's above examples. The objects, characters, backgrounds, and actions are all VERY distinguishable (even the "earthy" western scene.)

    Now take a look at the scene of "Light Lass" and the Ikonn. The sky, the captor, the captive, and all the hair, are all the same color! Open any modern book, and you'll see that that is the norm. I often can barely make out what I'm looking at, other than a solid orange, or dark muted brown, or black panel of paint droppings. Get that fixed alone, and books will improve ever so slightly.

  39. Anonymous

    Truer words were never said. There are so many 'artists' in this bussiness with no clue of drawing… It's a shame they're hired over and over again.

  40. The sad thing is that I've talked to other more skilled artist that say "Oh, Sanford is a friend of mine." and have nothing bad to say about his work. I feel that he should be drawing cartoons, and nothing more. He was proud of himself for ignoring the script.

    I feel that is outside of his ability to draw better. I think he gets a paycheck and that's all that matters to him.

  41. Anonymous

    Your post reminds me of a comment I heard in the late 1970s (can't remember who said it): "Good art can save a bad story, but a good story can't save bad art." I think that I now have a better understanding of that comment. Thanks!

  42. D.F. Stout

    @MikeAnon. That is really pathetic it was drawn like that, since your description was simple and should have been basic drawing and story telling. Panel 1: medium shot. Show squirrel eating nut. Use as a establishing shot to show location. Show a little bit of road. Little bit of grass. Couple of trees in the background. Panel 2: Medium to close-up shot of squirrel. Maybe overhead, to the side shot to keep it interesting. Show the squirrels head lift up and move and show face and change of expression. Panel 3: Medium to large shot. SQUISH! Squirrel is introduced to big tire. Hello tire. lol Panel 4-9: large shot.Maybe half page or splash shot. Action shoot of the transport, soldiers, give the reader some eye candy. The proper pacing makes the scene work.

  43. Thanks for the more detailed critique Jim!
    I had previously seen a lot of what you pointed out, missed others. Verrrry interesting!

  44. Anonymous

    How is it an artist who is so obviously incompetent and really not very good to begin with get hired in the first place??

  45. Anonymous

    "I write full scripts because I want my story told my way. Unfortunately, these days, many artists high-handedly ignore the script…draw whatever they please—adding panels, leaving out panels, changing events."

    [MikeAnon:] I ran into this during my brief stint as a comic book writer. Delivered a full script, but the artist prefered to show off his detailed line work. For example, on this one page I asked for the following:

    Nine-panel grid format:

    Panel 1: Squirrel munching on a nut.
    Panel 2: Squirrel stops munching. Perks up and looks around because noise is coming.
    Panel 3: Squirrel becomes roadkill.
    Panel 4-9, all one panel: We see what killed the squirrel. It's a troop transport carrying 4 guys, etc., etc.

    So what does the artist deliver on the page?

    Small picture upper left of squirrel, BIG DAMN DETAILED HOLY-CRAP-SO-REAL-IT-COULD-BE-A-PHOTO PICTURE OF SQUIRREL in the middle of the page, small roadkill scene in upper right, and the last panel of the troop transport squashed AND SILHOUETTED at the bottom third of the page.

    I told my friend who started the company and who initially was to be the artist, "I wish you were drawing this." He said, "I draw like crap compared to these guys." I replied, "Maybe so, but you draw what I write!" [–MikeAnon]

  46. Anonymous

    Jim, would it be in poor class for me to say some artists just rush to get a page done for the check . I agreed with everything you mentioned, most action is done at a minimum.

  47. Anonymous

    That really sucks, I guess it all comes to "kids nowadays" They just done respect experience

  48. Jim – I've been wondering for almost 50 years who drew those Roman soldiers on the back of my early Marvels…and thanks to you, I see it's the one and only Russ Heath!! Thanks to you and thanks to Russ!!

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