Wednesday, May 27, 2009

How Not To Draw Comics The Marvel Way?

Yesterday while waiting for Uptown train home from work (an experience weird in of itself, for this longtime Denizen of Downtown), I was thinking about How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way. I first came accross this book in 4th grade at the Maplewood Elementary School Book Fair. I was amazed, it was like "Holy Shit! There's motherfucking books on this shit!? Fucking Awesome!" (apparently I had I cursed up a storm in 4th grade). Suddenly, I was studying this book, learning "the Marvel Way" of drawing comics. The book was incredible, teaching me my first lessons on proportions, anatomy and perspective. Lessons I apparently immeditatly forgot, but that's not the book's fault. I think the first encounter of this book is something that every American artist, from wannabes to pros, around my age would count as a seminal moment in their artistic lives. I also think this is a reason why a lot of American comic artists have fallen behind their international counterparts. Now let me explain, this is nothing against this book, which I believe really was a great help in teaching a lot of great artistic fundamentals.
This is also not a dig on American comic artists of my generation, many of who do amazing an innovative work. I'm just saying that there's a lot who are not, and while this book isn't the cause- it is in some ways the beginnings of it.
I've recently been reading The Neal Adams Sketchbook: Notes From A Master Storyteller . I wish I had read this 15 years ago. There are simple concepts that solve compostion problems that I've been struggling with for years that this book lays out simple solutions to. While The Marvel Way teaches you to, indeed, draw superheroes in the fashion of popular American publishers, it does little beyond that. That's not the book's fault, that's exactly what it advertises. The problem is, that many aspiring comics artists haven't read or tried to learn much more beyond that. As a result, we've got a generation of comics artists best suited to pin-ups done in a style canibalized from what came before it. Meanwhile, international artists are influenced by a multitude of sources, many from comics never really seen in the US, and from all types of artists and designers. The second coming of Will Eisner and Neal Adams didn't come from America, he came from Scotland. While many popular American superhero artists have been aping Art Adams for since the 80's, the Europeans have been studying Alphonse Mucha.
Actually, the biggest innovation in America's comic artists since the publishing of The Marvel Way was the impact that Japanese manga and anime artists had on them starting in the late 90's. I look at this as the beginning of us moving past recycling the influences of the past, of expanding our visual ouevre. Unfortunately, in many ways this extends to visual style only, and not to storytelling. Back in the day, the Marvel way (as in the way that Marvel actually made it's comics, not the title of the book) of drawing comics had a heavy emphasis on stroytelling, as well as style. Artists like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Romita, Jim Steranko and John Buscema (co-author of the book) would present stories in dynamic and clear ways. The tradition continued in artists like John Byrne, George Perez, Walt Simonson and many others. Then there was a long period where there weren't many new artist breaking in and leaving new quality marks on the medium. Of course there are exceptions, but many of these exceptions are older than my generation, even if their rise to prominence seems relatively recent- like Mark Bagley, Patrick Zircher or the late Mike Wieringo.
I don't mean to come off as too pessimmistic about my countrymen, as I write this of course I'm now thinking of many American superhero artists who draw from many sources of inspiration. Ethan Van Sciver combines the best of Neal Adams with the polish of Brian Bolland and a unique emphasis on design and a willingness to get his hands dirty with some nightmarish designs. Scottie Young brings the energy of cartoons and combines it with the flavor and grit of grafitti. Scott Kolins brings an innovative approach to linework almost entirely new in American comics.
How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way is a wonderful, and rightly beloved book. But the right now I'm more into How to Draw Comics the Frank Quitely, Bryan Hitch, Edourdo Risso, Steve Dillon, and Alex Maleev Way.

1 comment:

  1. ha! this book was a gem! i haven't read the neal adams book but that sounds interesting. cool website dave!

    -marshall b