One Fan's Opinion: Issue #54

Fri, September 8th, 2006 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Erik Larsen, Columnist

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So, I've been doing this now for a year.

It's been fun, but there have been times when I've put my foot in it.

I was talking to a few guys in the office over lunch and one of them said to me something like, "as much as you might want to talk to people as a fan, the guy on the street is never going to treat you like a fan because you're in the business and you've attained a certain amount of success." He went on you say, "You can't get away with saying things the way a fan might because people look up to you as a professional."

And he's got a point.

If some fan goes off about some creator and tears into them, another fan might agree or disagree, but in most cases his words won't be pulled out of context and circulated around the net. They won't end up on message boards and blogs and quoted for years to come.

Like it or not, part of comic book fandom is the cult of personality. Part of the reason you might like a creator's work is because you like the creator as a person. If a creator criticizes another creator - even even if his point is valid - he's perceived as "attacking" that creator and if a fan is a fan of both - he often feels the urge to take sides.

At one point I'd made some comments about a creator's work that made the rounds and (as my lunch buddy put it) "you could almost hear your sales falling."

Sigh.

And the weird thing is, a number of fans jumped on my case after they thought I stepped out of line and said things like, "How dare Erik Larsen criticize that guy? He's not a 10th the artist he is."

Sigh again.

First, I never claimed to be "better" than anybody and second, why is it okay for a person that really knows nothing about art to judge the relative merit of my work when it's not okay for me - a guy who's been making a living drawing comics for nearly a quarter of a century - to do the same? Why is he more qualified to pass judgment than me?

There's no winning that one, I'm afraid. Just as there's no defending myself in this forum when I'm attacked in other forums. If you're reading this first, I'm always perceived as the guy starting the fight.

So, now what?

Do I continue this? Can I continue this? Is this worth doing?

If I turn this into a big love fest for the funnybook field, won't that wear thin after a while? I mean, yeah, I love comics, but I don't love every comic book I read. I don't know that I can gush about something new each and every week. And I think you'd get tired of reading it if I did.

I know of a few guys at Image who've given me grief for not using this forum as a pulpit for preaching about all the great Image Comics out there. And I love Image Comics! But the thing is, I think that gets Old and there's something about a publisher plugging his own books that just doesn't sit right. It's hard to swallow the sincerity of a guy flogging his own wares.

When Fantagraphics started publishing comics, it was hard to read a Fantagraphics review in a Fantagraphics publication and believe that it was unbiased. Same deal when Wizard started publishing comics. Were we to believe their own hype about their own books? And I'm not saying that the books Fantagraphics put out (or continues to put out) are or were bad. On the contrary, I think Fantagraphics puts out some outstanding comics, but when they crossed the line from reviewing comics to publishing them, it was difficult to accept that their reviews were going to be unbiased. Same deal with Wizard.

Same deal with me.

And I love Image Comics! I love what we do! As far as I'm concerned, we've never had a better line up! When the new Image Comics arrive at the office, I tear into them like a man possessed! I'm the first guy to read through jpegs of upcoming issues or read the print outs of books getting ready to be sent off to the printer. It's the best job in the world to be able to see this stuff all come together, but I know if I start crowing about all the cool books we've got coming out that I'd be greeted with a dismissive, "well, of course he'd say that - he's the Publisher - he gets paid to say that."

(And I don't - not really - I get paid for other reasons).

If I turned this column into a succession of raves about Image Comics, I'd wear out my welcome pretty quick, I have no doubt.

Instead, I've opted to, as best I can, talk to folks as I'd talk to them in person. Fan to fan, as it were.

But that doesn't always work.

I forget that I'm the Publisher and sometimes I say things that come back to haunt me. When I'm trying to help out some guy whose book doesn't have a clear hook that readers can immediately recognize and grasp, he might get all bent out of shape because I'm not supporting him! I'm not supposed to criticize - I'm supposed to read and love everything.

The thing is, I don't think of criticism as a bad thing. I think of it as a good thing. If you read something and care enough to analyze it and come up with suggestions that might help improve it, how is that bad?

If I point out that an artist doesn't understand how to use bleeds properly and that often he bleeds pages on all edges with no regard to what pages are next to each other and that too often his pages look as though they should be read as though they were double-page spreads because panel borders are butting each other - and that artist can read my words and adjust his work so that his pages read better - how is that a bad thing? My comments aren't meant to hurt necessarily, but to help! When I go off on a tear about artists that over-render to the point where they're spending the last 45 minutes of effort on a page destroying the work that they spent their first few hours drawing, I'm not doing that maliciously.

A lot of artists surround themselves with guys that love them. These suck ups spend all their time telling that artist that they're "the best they've ever been" and honestly, I don't think they're doing these guys any favors. You don't learn from praise - you learn from criticism. And if you're unwilling to listen, you're unwilling to learn and if you're unwilling to learn you're bound to stagnate and if you stagnate, your work becomes boring routine to look at and execute.

I never thought of myself as wanting to teach particularly, but time after time I find myself teaching some newcomer about composition and perspective. You'd be amazed at the pros who don't know what a horizon line is or how to use it. I had a young artist say to me once that he didn't want to learn perspective or anatomy - that his fans liked him now and if he changed they might not like him anymore.

That guy's not working as much as he used to.

I enjoy writing these things. It's a place to dump my old stories and bellyache and tell a friend about a book that has caught my eye and sing the praises of under-appreciated or overlooked talents.

I don't expect you to agree with me all the time. Hell, I don't agree with me all the time!

I just wish folks would cool it a bit and not get so caught up in who's saying what. Forget that I'm a Publisher. Forget that I write and draw "Savage Dragon." Forget that I worked on "Spider-Man" and the "Punisher" and the "Doom Patrol" and the "Defenders" and the "DNAgents" and "Sentinels of Justice" and "Megaton" and "Nova" and "Wolverine" and "Aquaman" and all the rest and simply converse with a fellow human being that enjoys a good funnybook as well as the next guy.

A fellow fan.

And, barring that, I hope they'll go into their local comic book emporium and buy a carload of fine Image comic books because, damn, damn they're swell and if I didn't think so, I wouldn't be publishing them.

But most of all, I'd like to be able to talk to you about the comics I read and enjoyed and the comics I've read and not enjoyed quite so much. And I'd like to engage in some honest and frank discussions about the merit of whatever strikes me on any given day.

And if you find yourself in a comic book outlet any time soon, I heartily recommend checking out Drawn and Quarterly's excellent output - in particular the two volumes of "Walt and Skeezix," which collect early "Gasoline Alley" strips. And when "The Mighty Skullboy Army" finally reaches stores from Dark Horse, do yourself a favor and snap it up! I've read it and it's awesome! Support Oni and "Scott Pilgrim," in particular! Buy every collection of Jack Cole's "Plastic Man" that you can get your hands on! From Image, you can read pretty much anything without fear of it sucking, but I enjoy "Gdland," "Invincible," "Rocketo," "The Walking Dead," "Strange Girl" and "Fell" a whole awful lot. I know, I know, you're not supposed to love any of your children more than the others, but that's not always easy. It's hard for me not to plug "Savage Dragon." It's been a joy to work on for the 14 years I've been working on it and it continues to make life worth living for me.

I'm going to keep doing this a while longer and I hope you keep coming back to listen for a spell. Feel free to drop me a line if you feel like sharing a story of your own or tearing me a new one. I might just learn a thing or two - and that's a good thing.

But that's just one fan's opinion - I'm willing to concede that I could be wrong.

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