Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Comics and the Lack of Zero Sum Credits

The problem with the idea of the illustrator having the "artist" title on a book always has a weird feeling for writers. The big problem is that we are just as big an artist as the illustrator, and we have just as much education, and we pour just as much into the project as the illustrator. It gets weird, however, when you try to define just where the line is between who did what.

In the Old Days, Marvel Comics had their style. The writer and illustrator would discuss the story, the illustrator would draw it, and then the writer would add dialog to it. The letterer would throw in the dialog, and it would be rushed off to the printers. This would be repeated every month until the late 1970s. All of a sudden comic companies found that that could tell bigger stories if they stepped back a bit and really worried about the scripting. Thanks to powerhouses like Chris Claremont, Neil Gaiman, and Frank Miller, writers started having a lot more fun and seeing what they could do.

Understand the shift here. Prior to this the idea was just to put out a book that concentrated mostly on the whiz-bang aspects of the books; they were the literary equivalent of wrestling matches. From time to time you would see something really cool, but no one really took the medium seriously. All of a sudden illustrators had to step up their game as well, especially as European printing and coloring techniques began to filter into American comics. Yes, you can blame Moebius if you so desire. But....this is also the era when cross-overs became more frequent, so you would have editorial conferences to decide where books were going; this is the time when Marvel and DC started dividing their books into families; it made continuity easier to track.

This made things more exciting for the writer. Characters prior to this merely had to fit a certain visual look, and so teams were pretty cookie-cutter. Now, each character had to fit a role as well, and they needed to have backgrounds. The writer and illustrator had to get together to decide what everything looked like; yeah the writer was allowed into the concept meetings. At the same time, the illustrator could define the tone of the book by how he drew things and what color palettes were chosen. Thus, although the writer came up with the idea for a book, and did a lot of the footwork, the illustrator put the finishing touches on it.

This means that even as the writer stepped up, the illustrator had to do a lot more, in essence showing that comics are not a zero-sum game; as things get more advanced there is more work that needs to be split. Also, rather than clearing things up on who does what, it muddies the waters a bit more: While the illustrator takes on more of the fleshing things out role, the writer is helping with the graphic design and costume design. In independent comics, the writer also tends to do more of the marketing.

Of course, this confuses the heck out of booksellers and cover designers. This means the writer is not necessarily the author of a book, while the illustrator is not solely responsible for the drawings. The obvious solution is to call both authors, and a number of comic book companies have been doing so for a while. But it also means that it gives the illustrator a little more tie to the "artist" title, and that means that the writer has to back off a little more. So it sucks a little bit more being the writer who wants to be known as the artist...Rassenfrassen illustrators, always hogging the glory....

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