At iFanboy, Josh Flanagan brings up an issue that we often mention at BarCon:Are There Any Superstar Comic Artists Left?:
If this were ten years ago, the question would be easy. If it were twenty years ago, it would be even easier. But today? It’s tougher.
The first few names that come to mind are guys like Bryan Hitch or Steve McNiven. Those guys move units, but they’re not super huge in the marketplace anymore. John Cassaday has been away for too long, and sometimes I wonder if he’s devalued his work to a certain extent doing only covers for the last chunk of years. DC already tried to make a big deal of bringing David Finch over to do Batman, and that resulted in a Batman book that only David Finch fans buy. Anyone else even close is already working with Mark Millar.
It may be hard for you kidlings to believe, but starting with, probably Neal Adams, there were many artists who were so popular and groundbreaking that a) artists everywhere began drawing just like them and b) their names on a book meant instant sales. Frank Miller. John Byrne. George Perez. Bill Sienkiewicz. Art Adams. And, yes, Todd McFarlane and Jim Lee, followed by such folks as Joe Madureira and J. Scott Campbell. Image Comics was formed when the superstars of the moment jumped ship. Perhaps it was the rise of creator-owned comics which meant that a talent such as, say Mike Mignola, would concentrate on his own creations. Bryan Hitch popularized the “Wide Screen look” but today’s homogenized house styles—and the rise of studios and agents in South America and Europe—have made it a lot harder for a signature talent to arise and totally dominate.
There’s another idea lurking around out there: the companies don’t really want the talent to get bigger than the characters. In their most recent comments on this month’s sales charts, DC’s Bob Wayne and John Cunningham are asked about reboots vs creations:
In defending the Before Watchmen project Dan Didio expressed the traditional view of the mainstream comic book industry saying that the industry’s strength lies in “building on other people’s legacies, enhancing them and making them stronger.” How does this view square with the 21st Century comics industry when we are seeing the benefits of creator owned and controlled projects like Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead?
Bob Wayne: I think you are blurring the passion that the writers and artist have when they are working on a property as not being creative unless they have an ownership stake in the property. I think there is room for both models in our publishing plan, and certainly in comics overall. I don’t think one of them excludes the other from being successful. I don’t think that the success of The Walking Dead means that Fables doesn’t work or vice versa. They are just different ways for publishing companies, artists, writers, and creators to work together to maximize each property, and there’s no one way, no one-size-fits-all to do it.
John Cunningham: I think that there is a tendency in the way the world works now to try to view everything as an “either or.” It’s either this way or it’s that way. I just don’t think that the world works in an “either or” fashion, and I certainly don’t think that this particular question functions in an “either or” fashion. I think you see that great talent will be creative no matter what their environment. As long as it speaks to their passion, and I think that you see that in creators all over the place whether they are doing books that they own, or they’re doing books as work for hire. If you are a talented artist or writer and you bring that passion to the work, it’s going to shine through.
Wayne’s use of FABLES is ironic since it was begun under a more liberal “creator participation” model than is now offered. In an industry where “building on other people’s legacies, enhancing them and making them stronger” is seen as a job description, there isn’t as much incentive to become a game changer. At any rate, it’s also an example of who really matters at Marvel and DC these days: the writer is the guy who sells the book.
Finally, the Internet has also given consumers/readers much more to choose from. There are people out there who think Randall Munroe is a superstar artist.
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.