Friday, April 24, 2015

Computers: When Good Artists Get Lazy

Seriously.  It was terrible when computers started doing all of the lettering and soon billboards, soda cans, posters, and signs in comic books, rather than being hand drawn, were left blank and filled in later with extremely poorly done computer fonts that often exceeded the space allotted or failed to fit the perspective of the drawing.  It was just terrible.  But then artists started to avail themselves of the capabilities of computer assisted drawing.  Sometimes, the results were amazing.  Sometimes the results were subtle and you would never know a computer had a digital hand in the art.  And then there are times when the computer was abused to a point where an otherwise truly amazing artist just got so lazy they became an embarrassment to their body of work. That might seem a bit harsh, but just keep reading and you'll see what I mean.

Salvador Larroca is a Spanish comic book artist who came into prominence in the early 2000's and made a big splash with his semi-comical, yet at times edgy style.  He was hot property for a good 8-10 years and in that time he really made his mark on the industry.  For my money he redefined the look of Marvel's First Family when he relaunched the Fantastic Four during the Heroes Return retcon.  Just take a look at this awesome cover from that run

Great stuff, yes.  So imagine my dismay when he would later have his turn at the Invincible Iron Man during the big, boring, yearly Marvel Crossover event "Fear Itself."  Dismay, you say?  Yes, dismay. Because somewhere between 1999 and 2011, the computer took control of Salvador Larroca and poisoned his work.  See, the computer allows you to easily do things that were once difficult and usually resulted in messy work.  Now, the same messy results can be achieved, but with significantly less effort. And when you are on a deadline and your editor is pushing you for pages, it can be all too seductive to just let the computer do the work for you.  This, in turn, can make a good artist lazy.  (All of the following images are taken from Sal's run on Iron Man circa 2011)

The most glaring evidence of this kind of unfortunate sloth is the repetitive image.  Why draw panel after panel of characters talking and doing things, when you can just draw one image and then copy and paste it into several panels?  That's the hallmark of good, sequential storytelling, right?

It's easiest to do this when one character is standing still, talking.

Ok.  To be fair, he added a couple of forehead lines in the second panel to show that he's determined, or something.

But what if people are talking and I need to add in a character?  Won't I have to redraw then whole scene?  Not necessarily...

With a little photoshop level magic you can just add in the new character and keep going.

Ok, so I can do that, but suppose I need that character later, not just in the next panel.  Surely the computer cannot help me with that?
Not so fast.  Just because you won't see the character until several panels later, or heck even the next page, doesn't mean you can't just copy and paste.  Take a look:

See!  Even though Pepper, drawn to look exactly like Nicole Kidman (indubitably the result
more computer help), appears here in panel three of the first page and won't reappear until panel 1 of the next page (with about 6 panels of action in between), doesn't mean we have to redraw her.  Oh no, we can just cut and paste and have the colorist adjust the lighting.  Then we can add the Sandman in the background and viola! a whole new panel!  What?  Are you saying it is highly unlikely that Pepper would be in the exact same position, particularly that hand, after several seconds, or maybe minutes, of action?  Pshaw!

Ok, ok.  So that's all well and good for talking heads, but the same thing cannot be applied to action scenes.  Those have to be drawn panel-for-panel every time.  You can't cut corners there.
But wait!  Yes you can!

In Sal's defense here, he is kind of going for a thing where Iron Man elbows Doc Ock in the head, and then we pull into the shot and are then shown an X-ray to demonstrate the damage caused by the impact.  But that's only a partial defense, because the copied panel is really unnecessary to pull off the device.  So, the copied panel is either filler to pad the issue, or it's just sloppy storytelling.  Either way, it's just lazy not to redraw the panel.  Pulling in closer to the action could reveal greater detail, if you redrew it.  Cut and paste just makes it a throw away.

So if you can cut and paste panel after panel with the help of a computer, you might only have to draw 8 or 10 pages of a 22 page comic, and then cut and paste the images wherever you need them. And if you are only going to draw 8 or 10 pages, you will be able to really knock those pages out of the park and make them amazing, right?  With all that time the computer is saving you, you can pour everything you've got into those pages and really wow the reader.  Right?  Well...

I'm not saying Pepper's legs, the pizza boxes, the bottles, and the entire background, are phoned in this panel (along with almost every background in every panel of the comic)...oh wait, that's exactly what I'm saying.  Come on.  That's just pathetic.

And then there's this:

Can anyone explain Tony's upper anatomy in this panel?  Maybe if he's Animal Man and he's channeling a dog of some kind, this makes a modicum of sense, but otherwise, what in the holy hell is going on here?

This is the same super start artist who did this X-men cover:
and these pages

and you are asking me to accept that this is the same level of work?  Not even close.  Not even remotely close.  And, it honestly looks like the computer is to blame.  While it can be a valuable tool, it can also be sorely abused and can result in really great artists coming across as extremely sloppy.  I still love Sal and I love his work, but whatever happened on Iron Man is not representative of his capabilities and I believe reliance on the computer is at least partly to blame.

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