I mean, you look at Marvel, or at what’s happening with DC’s New 52 – it’s an anomaly for someone to stay on anything for very long. It’s like, they launch Wolverine and The X-Men with Chris Bachalo and then it’s Nick Bradshaw for a couple issues. Carlos Pacheco does a few issues of Uncanny X-Men and then it’s Greg Land. Who knows who will be doing those books this time next year? I don’t know if it’s done by design, but it has effectively devalued artists to the point that they’re more or less interchangeable.
I re-read Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men recently, and it was kind of depressing. He starts off so strong with Frank Quitely and they have this great thing going, and then it just turns into musical chairs. Regardless of the talent involved – and I really admire some of the other artists on those comics – I ultimately felt it undermined what Grant was doing. You look at wonderful, classic pieces of work like the Dark Phoenix Saga or what Frank Miller and Klaus Janson did on Daredevil – Alan Moore’s work with Dave Gibbons on Watchmen or with Rick Veitch, Steve Bisssette and John Totleben on Swamp Thing or the Lee/Kirby FF books – they’re not pock-mocked by rotating artists.
And everything over there is like that now. Comic book artists in particular are treated more as commercial artists than storytellers. They might as well be doing greeting cards for all the impact they’re allowed to have these days.
That’s Eric Stephenson, talking about the treatment of creators on Marvel and DC books these days. The line at the end about “artists in particular are treated more as commercial artists than storytellers” strikes me as particularly important, but I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it, to be honest. I’m torn because, well, as much as I agree that creators are storytellers, there’s also part of me that thinks “Well, they are commercial artists if they’re doing work-for-hire, aren’t they?” I understand that work-for-hire doesn’t mean that the quality of work is any lesser than creator-owned, but what I don’t quite get – or, perhaps, just can’t quite verbalize, because there’s a nagging buzz in the back of my head when I think about this – is that the idea of “storytellers vs. commercial artists” is somehow an either-or proposition. Perhaps the disconnect for me is in thinking about it from the artists’ perspective, and Stephenson is talking about from an editorial perspective? As in, “artists aren’t interchangible pieces in a machine if you’re looking for a consistent product”…? I don’t know, just yet, but there’s something there, in that line, that speaks to an expectation in the minds of editors, creators and fans that I suspect will become more of a pressing issue over the next year or so.