The Comic Book Artist: Responsibility, Collaboration, and What We As Readers Can Do to Give Them the Appreciation They Deserve
Disclaimer: This article contains spoilers for I, Vampire #17 and #19
Why are Andrea Sorrentino and Fernando Blanco not the two most celebrated artists at DC Comics right now?
The appreciation of writers and the appreciation of artists have fluctuated throughout the different eras of the comic industry, mostly leaning towards the writers. How long did it take for you to hear about Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby’s contributions to Marvel after knowing about Stan Lee?
An exception was 20 years ago during the Dark Age, when the artists were lent more weight. You know Image Comics and you probably know the some of the founders names: Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen, Jim Lee, Mark Silvestri, Chris Claremont, Jim Valentino, and Whilce Portacio. These men were rock stars of the industry, although nowadays some of them get more criticism than they do praise.
Whether this criticism is from their original styles having gone out of date—as styles inevitably do—or from it “popular” to despise their work depends on whom you ask. Either way, the glamour didn’t just leave them when the Dark Age ended, it seemed to leave artists in general. Stories were once again valued over the 90s version of brand management and unfortunately when most people think “story creators” the idea translates into “writer.” Novels? From writers. Soap operas? From writers. Movies? Not just from screenwriters, but directors and actors and producers. But you’re screwed if you don’t have a good script in the first place.
This isn’t so in comics, where we have a unique 50/50 collaboration between the writing and the art; a concept that is difficult for most new readers to wrap their heads around. There are complaints from many throughout the industry that artists (including pencillers, inkers, colorists, and letterers) do not get their due, often going unmentioned in reviews of their work and sometimes even being mistreated by publishers.
The fault in this is, of course, that we cannot have comics without the artists and it is rather presumptuous to credit the writers with all the decision-making when readers never see what goes on behind the scenes. Sometimes there’s a script included in a hardcover’s bonus content, but that’s still just a glimpse of what may be hours of communication. It’s especially fascinating what those hours held when fantastic collaboration produces such a work as I, Vampire.
Now, although I have referred to equal responsibility from all parties, Joshua Hale Fialkov credits much of the visual decision-making to Sorrentino and Blanco. In turn, the artists acknowledge the collaboration from all sides including colorist Marcelo Maiolo and the editors, inkers, and letterers too numerous to name here. That’s a lot of people who worked to make this comic in reality. Let’s take a look at two examples of their visual work that I found especially captivating.
The choice to put the head front and center to arrest your eyes, the shadowing around Mary’s neck and the minimalist approach on the stump on her body so the picture is grisly enough but not exaggerated. An overdose of gore may have made the panel look silly or excessive, but the artists retain just the amount of control so that the emotional punch of the scene is kept intact. The shocked expression on Mary’s face, her eyes gazing up as if still conscious make much more of an impression than butchered innards.
Transferring Andrew’s location via a literal jump between panels is the most fun movement I’ve seen in awhile. Most comics, including many pages on I, Vampire, depend merely on the traditional sequencing of panels where each holds an individual picture and the reader does the work to accept that things have changed in the borders between them. Earlier comics even had arrows to point the reader to where they needed to go next. In this page, we can almost see the movement as Andrew drops from one floor to the next. We don’t need to fill in the gap, we know exactly where he was every millisecond he fell.
These techniques are not unique; what’s startling is that they’re not used often. For all their effectiveness, it’s cause to wonder why similar moves are not standard. Since I, Vampire’s cancellation, Sorrentino and Blanco have moved on to Green Arrow and Trinity of Sin: Phantom Stranger, respectively. Yet, for all those I have heard praise the improvement of Green Arrow, most credit writer Jeff Lemire. As for Blanco, it’s likely you only just learned his name. DC Comics Co-Publisher Jim Lee is still better known for his art, most recently seen in Superman Unchained, so has the time for artists to shine truly passed?
Do we owe it to ourselves as comics readers, who want the best experiences possible out of our reading, to give the art side of the 50/50 collaboration more acknowledgment?
Correction 10/18: Fernando Blanco is on Phantom Stranger, NOT Pandora
Correction 10/19: I have attempted to extend credit where credit is due to I, Vampire’s editors, colorist, letterers, and inkers. I fear that it is not enough and I haven’t yet found a way to put in all the names without turning this op-ed into a very long list. So, I’m going to put the credit for the I, Vampire issues specifically mentioned here.
Editors: Matt Idelson, Chris D. Conroy
Letterers: Taylor Esposito, Carlos M. Mangual