PIPELINE: THE LETTERS COLUMNThanks to an extra push from Jonah on the publicity front and good word of mouth past that, I can honestly say that last week's Pipeline2 is the most-read column I've written while here at CBR.
I did receive quite the flurry of e-mails since then. So I'm taking this column out to delve into some of them, partially because there are more points to be made, but also because I like running a letters column. =)
Response has been varied, but mostly positive. There are those who seem to be following my line of thought completely. They're the ones who, like me, started reading comics around the same time when Rob Liefeld was just coming up through the ranks. They generally agreed with me. Others were outraged that I'd waste my time and energy on such a hopeless cause. It seems to be almost a generational thing.
Here are a couple of bits of e-mail received here at Pipeline Central in the past week. (If you don't want to read this reaction, you can skip to the second half of the column, which includes a pair of Liefeld-related reviews.)
The first comes from Ben Herman, fellow MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS letterhack back in the day, and long-time PCR reader:
"What Liefeld needs is a firm editor. Not a "yes-man" or a friend, but someone who understands the importance of quality work and deadlines, who could focus Liefeld's energies, make him adopt a discipline. Maduriera and Campbell, who you also cited, could use such an editor, as well.
"Because unless Liefeld focuses and disciplines himself, or allows someone else to make him do so, he is going to continue to be someone with unfulfilled potential and disappointing work."
That's a great point. Many have attributed Liefeld's success in the HAWK AND DOVE mini-series to Karl Kesel's inks. I don't know how valid this is, but given his track record, it doesn't sound completely baseless. His best work in NEW MUTANTS and X-FORCE was done with Fabian Nicieza, who is currently putting the collective population of the state of New York through college with the royalties he made off the 9 books a month he was writing for Marvel in the middle of the boom years. ;-) But it was Nicieza's sharp writing and ear for dialogue that moved that book along. The ideas were there and could actually be seen!
Ricky Cruz, from the excellent Comics and Animation Forum over on CompuServe, writes:
"I'm not a fan of Liefeld, never have been. I remember his work on Marvel mostly and I can honestly say I didn't buy a book from Image when they began-- wasn't interested -- but I did when Alan Moore did Supreme. Still do.
"So to read this letter, coming from the perspective of a person that "lived" and witnessed the whole Liefeld "career", so to speak, to one that didn't (like me) I found it -- fascinating."
Thanks, Ricky. I'm glad I could outline the perspective of someone who actually was 'in the middle' of all this. It seems much of the constant drumbeat of criticism about Rob Liefeld comes from people who never were fans, or who always were outsiders, only popping in now and then for a cheap laugh. I thought the Liefeld fan's perspective needed to be told.
Michael Thomas gets the award for the most bizarre perspective on the issue, by combining a couple of different Pipeline topics of late:
"You know how John Byrne just has a hard time "getting it" and Rob has comic book professional ADD?
"Well, here's my thought. The two need to collaborate.
"Working with someone like Byrne would show him the kind of discipline you need to push out product (even dreck like the Spider-Man: Chapter One debacle). Byrne's always been able to keep deadlines, excepting whatever quality issues we're talking about.
"And Rob would show Byrne that comic book telling does have to overly thought out. Everybody's origin does not have to be updated and reworked and holes filled and villains and heroes origins coincide, blah, blah, blah. Whatever happened to Byrne's assertion that words don't need to a part of the story, that he wrote and drew an entire story without words? Maybe some Byrne cinematic spreads like we used to get with X-Men and some Fantastic Four issues.
"Rob's ideas have always been better than the actual product we see and Byrne can write.
On a similar note, there's an interview with Scott Lobdell over on the excellent "Meanwhile..." e-zine. Lobdell discusses a few points of comic book storytelling that I think mesh well with this letter. For example, why do comic fans obsess over silly little details that we just don't give a damn about in real life?
James Mercel writes of Liefeld:
"I was really drawn to his work early on. Yes his characters were exaggerated, but it's a comic book. Almost everyone's characters are exaggerated (Look at the breasts Balent draws on Catwoman.). The vitality and energy in those early pencils was what drew me in. I gave Awesome a chance, mostly because of Moore, but that won't be enough to keep me."
There was a zombie thread on USENET once about this topic. When does a style become poor anatomy? Not many people in comics draw real-to-life characters. Hell, nobody does in the superhero world. If it's consistently off, does that make it part of a style? And how can you say, "Oh, he knew the rules ahead of time and so can break them?" How do you truly know that?
Finally, we have our professional response. This is from Keith "Freak Force" Giffen:
"I have never had problem one dealing with Rob and would work for him again in an instant. Everyone seems to think that creators no longer working with Rob are angry with him for one reason or another. I can't speak for anyone else, but that is certainly not the case with me."
This seems also to be borne out by the lack of acrimony from creators who were released during the last bankruptcy proceedings. Rob was kind enough to let them out of their exclusive contracts without a big hassle.
Remember that "Meanwhile..." website I mentioned up above? There's a massive three-part interview with Giffen located in there in which he pulls no punches on everything from LEGION and LOBO to VEXT and DOCTOR FATE. Fascinating stuff. It's nice to see someone in the industry not playing politics for a change.
There were some other letters I'm not printing, mostly for redundancy's sake, and partially because as much as I enjoy the ego boost, I don't want to turn this column into one giant pat on the back. Thanks to all of you for your kind words. There are other letters I didn't print because I didn't get to them in time to ask for permission. For the future: if an e-mail you're sending to me is OK to print here in the Pipeline pages, let me know somewhere along the line. I don't care if it's with a quick P.S. or with a Marvel-like "OK To Print" across the top. I'm not going to print every letter, but at least that'll give me the option. Thanks!
A COUPLE OF REVIEWS
I really enjoyed CABLE #73 from Joe Pruett and Rob Liefeld. It was one of those infamous nostalgic rushes for me. There's a page early on when Boomer gives Cable a big hug that's pure magic if you were around for the formation of X-Force and were a huge fan back in the early days. There are those cuffed jean shorts again, and the wisps of hair in front of everyone's faces. Yes, a lot of the figure work is awfully stiff. Several characters look as if they've had steel rods shoved down their spines to keep them from bending. The lack of backgrounds is almost frightening. Once the first panel establishes the location, the characters float through the rest of the scene. Even in the early X-Force days, Rob used to draw odd geometric designs inside of high-tech fortresses to denote backgrounds. I kind of miss those.
But there's also improvement in the art. I can't be sure if it's Lary Stucker's inks, but there are more facial differences between characters than there used to be. You actually see the bridge on Cable's nose. Liefeld's wacky page layouts are still there, and I don't mean that in a negative way. The last page is pretty neat, with two close-ups and a couple of figures drawn in the border on the left.
If you, like me, were a fan of the early X-FORCE issues and Rob's original run on that series, this issue is well worth picking up. I'm going to work towards filling in that gap now in my collection.
I also looked through X-FORCE #4 before writing this column. I mentioned it last week as being one of my favorite comics of all time. Given the unforgiving nature of time, I thought my opinion might water down a bit looking at this issue this week for the first time in years. I surprised myself: it's still pretty darn good. Not only is it good for all the reasons I remember it for, but also for one big one that surprised me: Liefeld knows how to lay out a page when an issue is drawn sideways! It's a skill many artists can't seem to figure out today. Jim Lee is the last one to give it a try over in DIVINE RIGHT. It was a mixed bag. Some pages worked. Others just looked too wonky. But I credit Lee with the experimentation.
Liefeld kept his layouts simpler. Aside from a couple-too-many double-page splashes, I think he has the knack to draw a series like this regularly. The left-to-right motion is all there. The panels are easy enough to follow. The eye isn't easily distracted by panels out of order. It's good work. Check it out.
WHAT'S IN THE PIPELINE FOR NEXT WEEK
I'll be back Tuesday with more reviews of books I picked up in San Diego, as well as a couple you've seen in your comics shops recently.
Amazingly enough, there's also more to be said on some topics which have sprung up from this column, but I don't want to burn you out. Next week's PIPELINE2 will focus on my solution to the X Universe. What's my solution to revamping the X universe for Marvel? And, most surprisingly, why there aren't enough mutant titles!