[There is] a certain, historically informed point of view in comics, maybe a dominant one now, that comics has traditionally been art-crazy to the point that they’ve been blinded to the awful writing which often accompanied, and held back, some of the better artists’ work. It’s something I’ve probably written a bunch of times, and I think it describes a certain mindset that has existed in comics to a “T”.
And yet I’m not sure I believe this in quite the same way anymore, mostly because I’m increasingly uncertain we’ve ever fully appreciated the contribution of great comics art to comics beyond bravura displays of technique — the vibrancy and tone and feel and atmosphere of a comic that comes from the art. Leave aside Hal Foster or Wally Wood or one of today’s excellent comic book artists like Darwyn Cooke or Steve Rude, and drop the title from the spare, optional panel in a Peanuts Sunday. What’s left isn’t lush illustration, but so much of Peanuts comes through that art, so much of its unique point of view, its heart, that it makes you stop and think how much in all instances might be coming from the visual element of comics-making.
One of the most exciting things about comics is that the medium can support what seems to me like two entirely different ways of reading the form: a kind of comics by suggestion, where the comic seems to exist in some idealized state that is the sum of triggers and approximations within the work, and a kind of comics by tactile experience, where comics are more literally marks on a page that cohere on that level before being allowed to serve as abstractions or approximations of anything. I think that’s why I continue to read and find value in Wally Wood; while many artists suggest worlds with a life off the page, Wood gave life to objects on them.
He goes on to explain more about this train of thought here:
I would say in most cases a satisfying piece of illustration is already bad comics; it’s not made bad comics by bad writing. In a few cases — like Wood — I would suggest some qualities of their comics aren’t appreciated because comics generally aren’t read the way that engages what they did.
Warren, did you ever read Fires? The writing at least in the English version is almost rudimentary, almost high-school drama department, but it’s still really good comics because of how Mattotti’s art functions. Herge kind of works like that, too. Without some regard for the quality of the drawing, the entirety of the Tintin books are less of an accomplishment than the first issue of Berlin.
Or to put it another, probably highly problematic way, was Stan Lee a better writer when he worked with Kirby and Ditko, or is it a quality of their art that makes him seem a better writer on the best of those books? I would say the latter, and Lee’s ability to kind of bend to their ability is a wonderful and admirable trait, particularly when it’s obvious with work like Silver Surfer he could take point, if you know what I mean.
There then follows discussion about Tintin’s formal qualities that possibly misses Tom’s point, if I understand it correctly. But it’s very early in the morning, and I may not be doing that. Nonetheless, go and read both links to think of things you don’t often think of.