Pipeline: Pipeline2, Issue #13: An Open Letter to Rob Liefeld

Fri, September 3rd, 1999 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

OPEN LETTER TO ROB LIEFELD

Dear Rob,

Please don't think me a complete backstabbing weasel. It really was great to meet you in San Diego. It wasn't a faked or forced smile on my lips. I wasn't thinking, "Oh, won't this be a great story to laugh at?" I wasn't planning some clever retort as soon as you were out of earshot again.

The truth is that, yes, you've been a terrible disappointment for a long time now, in your work and your work ethic. You haven't been able to stick to a single book for longer than 3 months, with the exception of CAPTAIN AMERICA, which was taken away from you for reasons that still make no sense. The book was on time and sales were up. If Marvel thought you were making them look bad with the book, then they should have fired John Byrne off SPIDER-MAN long before now.

When you are in charge of your own destiny, however, things become a mess. This year alone, you've been the regular penciller on CABLE, ROB, and RE: GEX. The latter is particularly harsh, since that was the one you claimed the greatest allegiance to.

But now it's September and we've seen three complete issues from you on those three series. I'll accept for the moment that CABLE was an issue caused by Marvel Comics. It's the X Office. They've been screwing things up for years now: schedules, characters, plots, creators. That wouldn't be too big a pill for me to swallow. But RE: GEX is published by you. ROB is being published by your own company. Why can't either of them make it to press?

Notice I haven't even touched on the quality of the art yet.

Your strength lies not in the art, oddly enough, but in your ideas and enthusiasm. Tempered by an editor and a scripter, you could do some wonderful things. Those latter issues of NEW MUTANTS and X-FORCE were wonderful. Fabian Nicieza did an excellent job keeping the characters interesting and lively. The editors managed to squeeze a complete issue out of you every month, with the help from some uncredited guest inkers and the exception of one ghosted issue, which was admitted to the next month. Sort of. But that's Marvel's fault.

I remember reading an interview with you in COMICS SCENE magazine about Youngblood before the title hit the stands. There were all sorts of wonderful ideas you had behind the characters and the setup for the team and the situations they were going to get in. But very few of them actually showed up. Story was not important and took a back seat to showing powers and fights.

I started collecting comics in 1989. My early favorite creators were Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, and yourself. I loved NEW MUTANTS and even X-FORCE. X-FORCE #4 remains, to this day, one of my favorite books of all time. It had that cinematic feel to it. It was done sideways and had a cool coloring process for the time. Your art was fun.

Between you, Todd, Ron Lim, and Erik Larsen, I learned to draw comic book characters. I can still fake up a superhuman character pretty well. It's not good enough to land me a job, and I've never had the patience to sit still long enough to become an artist.

I fell back on my writing. That's gotten me somewhere now.

But after you left to form Image -- a terrific and bold plan and one that I still salute the original 7 Founding Fathers for -- it seemed that things came unglued. Rather than sticking with your book, you created a studio. You filled it with artists whose art, in the end, all looked alike. Heck, one of them had even ghosted that issue of X-FORCE for you. I was worried about it at the time. When a studio gets set up, it becomes a business completely and the art side of things gets lost. Of the original Founding Fathers, only Erik Larsen is still publishing without setting his own studio up. Valentino is gone to the front office and hasn't produced a book of his own in over a year. Todd McFarlane's multimedia empire requires him to publish about a half-dozen books a month all of a sudden. Jim Lee sold his studio to DC and Marc Silvestri sold his to Hollywood.

YOUNGBLOOD #1 was a joke, although I was still too big a drooling fanboy to notice it at the time. I was still thinking of that CS interview to realize that very little of it was down on paper. I looked forward to seeing all of that stuff, but never did. YOUNGBLOOD became an action movie instead of an interesting character-centric story. The art then started to sag a little before YOUNGBLOOD #4, which by your own admission was a complete revitalization of your art, thanks to Danny Miki's inks.

If you had somehow picked a single concept and stuck with it, there would still be people picking apart your art or cracking jokes behind your back. But they'd have to respect your vision and your ability to hunker down and get the work down. Look what's happened to Joe Madureira and J. Scott Campbell. They were once at the top of their game. Now they're an industry joke because they can't get more than 4 issues of a single series out in the course of a year.

I recognize the fact that this is not an industry that rewards sticktuitiveness. The only way to get press is to be doing something new every couple of months. But there are other ways. Pick a book and stick with it. Going with the more autobiographical book might even make some new fans for you. But even if it's just RE: GEX -- just do it. (Apologies to Nike.)

Stop making excuses. Stop going Hollywood. Stop accepting every deal that comes your way to do a different book. Stop stopping.

Please. For those of us who have fond memories of your earlier work. For those people who'd like to see an industry with people of vision. For an industry needing new ideas and projects to get excited about.

You've managed to surround yourself with some pretty amazing talent. Looking at the recent past, we've got Jeph Loeb, Ian Churchill, Brandon Peterson, Alan Moore, Chris Sprouse, Jim Starlin, Keith Giffen, and more. Right now, Ian and Jeph are all you've got left. Moore is kind of iffy. Rumor has it Starlin is already off SUPREME.

This is most people's idea of a dream line of books. But it's not working. Sure, the bankruptcy -- when the investors pulled out -- was a major setback, but Awesome has been up to the same tricks ever since restarting. We're paying full price for a book with half of a story and then half a book full of promotional pieces and advanced looks at other books. When a reader pays $2.95, he or she is generally expecting about 20 pages of art and story. And that consumer would like the book to show up sometime around the point it was offered, not months later.

This is all easily fixed, actually. You can pick a project and stick with it. Encourage all your other talent to do the same, even if it's just by way of series of mini-series. Get the stuff out there. Make it worth our dollars.

The sad thing is that it may be too late. You've probably already turned into the Dan Quayle of the comics industry. Heckled and belittled at the start, ignoring the fact that you weren't the only one capable of the occasional screwup, the industry slapped a label on you. No amount of backtracking or changing can fix that now. Maybe it's over.

That would be a damned shame.

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