Sunday, 12 May 2013

Photorealism: "It's S**t"

Glamourpuss #16 (November 2010)
Art by Dave Sim
(from the 100 Hour Tour: Comics Village, 21 February 2008)
Long story short, I think that we have to get used to the fact that there does tend to be an adversarial relationship in comics between the "cartoony" and "realism" factions...

You know even back in 1994 when I MC'ed the Harvey Awards in Dallas in the years when Al Williamson was winning the Best Inker award every year for his work on DAREDEVIL over John Romita Jr., it was amazing the number of people who ONLY knew him from that work. But that's very much the nature of the environment is the unpredictability of it and the extent to which one individual can suddenly change everything -- so suddenly and so dramatically -- that you don't even notice until it's a fait accompli. The comic-book field was built, in large part, on the foundations of Hal Foster, Alex Raymond and Milt Caniff. Just about every big name in the Golden Age of comic books could be charted directly to one of those three Schools (Joe Shuster "doing" Raymond, Bob Kane "doing" Caniff, Shelly Moldoff "doing" all three, as Jules Feiffer pointed out, often in the same story). In the National Cartoonist Society it was the same. The big foot strips were really just "filler" between the jaw-dropping full page glory of Jungle Jim/Flash Gordon, Prince Valiant and Terry and the Pirates.

The reduction in size of the strips coupled with the appearance and exponential rise of the success of PEANUTS just... eliminated... the high-end guys. Stan Drake spent the last few years of his life drawing Blondie, Leonard Starr was tapped to revive Little Orphan Annie and so on...

Anyway, the problem with that is that the discussion just moves away from realism and everyone acts as if realism is inherently bad comics. And as tends to happen when these illusory consensus views take shape you find yourself being carried along with it. Oh, yeah Todd McFarlane -- MUCH better than Art Adams. Whoah, whoah, whoah. But the longer no one says anything the more the entire field slides in the other direction. I was lucky enough to be in the situation where I knew the vocal elite was going to dump on whatever I did next no matter what I did so, hey, let's go back and try something Incredibly Difficult and Challenging but Also Fun -- let's "do" or more to the point DO Alex Raymond, Stan Drake, Al Williamson.

What's odd is that it is starting to seem like I'm very far from being as alone in that as I thought I was -- a lot of guys my age are starting to go back to Mike Kaluta, Berni Wrightson, Al Williamson, Neal Adams and so on out of personal preference. Dark Horse is bringing out the CREEPY ARCHIVES, the ALEX RAYMOND book is selling well. Bryan Hitch is at the top of the WIZARD Top Ten list this month.

The vocal elite in indy comics is reacting predictably -- photorealism is s--t -- but that doesn't mean that we can't investigate if that's just them or if that's an actual consensus in the field. I suspect it's just them and that there's still a great deal to be said in trying to be as "true to life" as those of us who are interested in "true to life" choose to attempt.

Sorry I got a little long-winded there, but it seems to me that's part of the problem I'm facing and that people who share my preferences are facing. It's not just talking about what I consider the best work in comics, it's identifying how it went from the center of the field to the margins of the field and why that doesn't seem to be a particularly valid "truth" to adhere to. People will call you crazy for liking realistic artwork but, hey, don't worry about it. Those people call anyone crazy -- or s--t -- who doesn't share their preferences. That doesn't mean that you're crazy -- or s--t -- in my opinion. If you think it's the best stuff, for you it is. Changing your opinions to conform to those of a self-declared elite seems really silly to me. Life's too short.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As Dave himself said, "Interest doesn't equal aptitude." It's interesting to watch Dave pursue a realistic art style, when that is not (at least currently) where his strengths lie.

Look at yesterday's panel of Alex Raymond: the eyes uneven on the head, the nose off-centre, the grotesquely sneering mouth, the neck, the shirt, the overall stiffness and lifelessness of the drawing. Compare that to the motion, expressiveness, and life of the best parts of Cerebus.

Of course, Dave had daily drawing practice for a quarter of a century in his more cartoony Cerebus style. It might be interesting to see what his realistic artwork is like in another 25 years.

-- Damian T. Lloyd