To me - predictability is death.
There are a lot of artists in this business that I understand are good, but whose work often falls into a comfortable rut. When I can predict what the next page will look like and anticipate what's coming, I grow bored.
I think Alan Davis is a superb draftsman. He can draw like nobody's business. But there have been periods of time when his work bores me to tears. I feel as though I know how he's thinking and I know what to expect.
John Byrne has fallen into that category for me. I'm pretty sure that the next time he draws an explosion it will look very much like the last time he drew an explosion and the time before that. In terms of understanding the human form and knowing how to draw the bits and pieces, John has improved greatly over the years, but what's missing are the mistakes and the experimentation. In days past he would try things out and there were times when it looked as though he was taking in different influences and it made the work interesting to look at.
John Buscema has had his periods as well where it appeared as though he was sleepwalking through the assignments. Where there was no hint of life or inspiration. There were also times where John kicked serious ass. Where he stretched and experimented. John was not a huge fan of superheroes and the times when he was able to do something other than straight superheroes lead to work that was inspired. John was always a top-notch artist, make no mistake, but at times his work was lifeless.
There are a number of guys like that. Guys whose work is excellent on a technical level, but whose efforts I've come to take for granted. As cool as I thought "Marvels" and "Kingdom Come" were, I find myself being less jazzed about those treasury editions that Alex Ross did with Paul Dini. I still think it's fantastic art - don't get me wrong - but the novelty has worn off. I know what to expect. The things Alex has done when he's taken a break from his traditional style - painting over Jack Kirby's pencils or Bruce Timm's pencils are much more exciting to me than any of his more realistic efforts.
The kinds of artists whose work inspire me are artists whose work I find unpredictable - artists that don't solve the same problem with the same solution time after time.
I marvel at the work of Rick Leonardi and Gil Kane and Jack Kirby and Tony Salmons and Alex Toth and Bill Sienkiewicz and Ashley Wood because I don't know where they're going to take me. I can't predict where they're going to go and while there are constants in their work, which are the same from month to month, there are areas that are wildly different and experimental.
That's what I aspire to do. And it's a constant battle to resist doing things in a way that I've done them before. It's easy to fall into a rut and draw something in a way that I've drawn them before and there are even readers that would prefer that I draw things the way I've drawn them before. That old chestnut, "your old stuff was better" comes to mind and, in a way, the old stuff was better because the old stuff was the first time I did something not the 50th time. The trick is to constantly find a new way of making something look as though it's the first time you've done it.
I've heard that guys like Kirby and Buscema would advise other artists to "throw away their erasers" and there's certain logic in that. When you erase and fix and refine you can lose the raw edge and the utter wrongness that a drawing might have and the "happy accidents" that result from those initial efforts.
Rick Leonardi bounces around from title to title and his work evolves as he goes. I'm not always thrilled with the books he's landed on and his work on them (the "Rampaging Hulk" was a something of a mess, for example), but his sense of design and figure placement is a wonder to behold. His rendering and textures are gorgeous to behold and he has a quirky feel for figure work that fascinates me. Rick's longest run was on "Spider-Man 2099," on which he really kicked ass. Rick's jerky, awkward yet powerful figures lend themselves well to a character like Spider-Man and the end result was nothing short of excellent. Rick drew an issue of the adjective-less "Spider-Man" book after Todd McFarlane had departed and to me, having my work measured against that was far more intimidating than being compared with Todd's efforts.
Gil Kane always found quirky, interesting angles to compose his panels in. For years, Gil drew in a fairly straightforward style, but when Gil got into his 40s, something kicked in and his work exploded. Figures danced across the page, unconfined by panel borders. The compositions were often awkward and strange, but when they worked, they really worked and it's hard to imagine the death of Gwen Stacy in "Amazing Spider-Man" #121 and the follow up in #122 having any more impact in another artist's hand. Gil's fight scenes were incredibly powerful and graceful and well choreographed. When Gil Kane characters hit each other, you feel it as they spin out of the confines of the panel borders. That, and every Kane drawing is an anatomy lesson in action. This guy knew his stuff.
Jack Kirby was the king and he developed a visual shorthand that was energetic and kinetic and as powerful as all hell. Jack's sense of design and composition was like no other and he invented new ways of drawing everything from water, which crackled with life, to rocks, to buildings, which seemed to have been put together using spare parts from a hundred other buildings, to his marvelous tech that defied description. His backgrounds and machines were fascinating to behold and although there were standard close up shots that Jack would draw from time to time, everything else was up for grabs! Jack even reinvented anatomy from panel to panel. Nothing was safe! Kirby produced more characters and concepts and innovations than any ten creators and his contributions to the funnybook field are virtually immeasurable. There's a good reason this man was crowned the king of comics.
Tony Salmons is a master storyteller. He's what we call an artists' artist - a creator whose work is known and loved by artists in the field, but largely unknown by the world at large. Tony's drawn a handful of books from "Dakota North" to "Vigilante" and a smattering of fill-ins and back up stories. His work is quirky and raw and engaging. His figures are chunky and his women are knockouts. Tony is back at the board producing new work, which will blow you way (I got a glimpse of it at the San Diego con). I can't wait.
Alex Toth was another master. And one of the few geniuses this field has had the privilege of having had contributed to it. Alex was a master at using black and his skill at composing panels and using shadow was without peer. Alex knew how to tell a story like no other and he was obsessed with finding clever ways of doing his job, often scrapping his efforts and obsessively trying again and again even though any one of his passes would put other artists to shame. Toth made an effort to keep things simple. His work often looked cartoony and simplistic, but the thought put into these compositions was astounding. With a few lines he was able to say so much and his pages were masterpieces.
Bill Sienkiewicz started off as a Neal Adams clone, but quickly found his own path as he found other influences to infuse into his work. He brought in a level of expressionism and madness that make his pages both frantic and fascinating. He took the "New Mutants" in a direction I'd never have thought possible. His pages are scribbled on and splattered with ink and scraped with a blade and cut up and pasted together. Painted pages have wallpaper attached and computer components taped on and odds and ends glued into place. His drawings are an explosion of textures and shapes. Bill innovates and his imitators are legion. He's as unpredictable as they come.
Ashley Wood is astounding as well. His work shares similarities with Sienkiewicz, but he goes off in different directions. I find his work to be similarly engaging and unpredictable. His women are astounding and his design is superb. His color choices and compositions are amazing and I can't get enough of his work. Ash drew "Automatic Kafka" for Wildstorm and "Hellspawn" for Image Comics and a number of books over at IDW.
These are just a handful of guys whose works continue to amaze and inspire me. There are, of course, countless others that I could have (and perhaps should have) added to this list.
I'm trying, I really am, to be that kind of artist, but all too often I find myself settling for the safe and the expected. Whenever things start getting too conventional I'll make an effort to take things in a different direction…to be the kind of artist that might inspire somebody else.
But damn these guys have set the bar high…