It’s hard to believe in the era of Tumblr and Imgur and gifs and all that, but in comics artists seem to be getting the short end of the stick, at least in some places. David Harper takes a look at Comics and the Diminishing Role of Artists in a Visual Medium for Multiversity in a thoughtful piece that covers many bases. For those who grew up in the comics world of the superstar artist—Kirby yes but starting from Neal Adams to John Byrne to George Perez to the Image boys to Bryan Hitch and Frank Quitely, probably the last two “Superstar” artists—the very proposition that artists are not front and center in the comics world seems counter intuitive, but, it really has happened, thanks to the need to ship on time, house styles, the rise of writers and “editorial summit” culture, and many other factors that Harper discusses:
I’m not sure when everything changed, but at some point, comics became a writer driven industry, and this time more than ever before.
You had your aforementioned major runs being emphasized by writer and not artist (see: Bendis on “Avengers” and Johns on “Green Lantern”), you had Marvel’s unveiling of the (short lived) Architects* moniker (comprised of five writers in Bendis, Aaron, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction and Jonathan Hickman), and you had books no longer having an emphasis on a consistent artistic presence, all pushing the marketing weight and reader interest onto the writers and their plots rather than the overall storytelling that writers and artists combine to create.
Much of this ties into the “Coloring Book Culture” of the Big Two that I talked about a while ago. But there’s also the very real decline in income for artists and writers as discussed in this twitter thread. I’ve been asking around a bit, and comics rates aren’t much more than they were when I was an editor and that was 12 years ago. Needless to say, most thing cost a bit more than they did 12 years ago, including food, clothing and shelter, but there are more people clamoring to make comics than ever before, more of them breaking in at higher levels and it’s a buyers market.
Note well that Harper’s discussion of the suppression of artists seems to be mostly about Marvel and DC culture—although he does tag Image as being quite writer-centric, a result of current Big Two superstars—who are all writers—heading west to find a better life. (Yet it would be hard to find a bigger superstar at Image than artist Fiona Staples.) Oddly enough, in other comics realms— manga, webcomics, literary comics and bookstore comics—cartoonists, those who write AND draw, remain triumphant, and artists seem to have more cachet.
Is this phenomenon overall a good thing or a bad thing? Well, take a look at last month’s sales figures, and let’s circle back.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.