Thursday, January 7, 2010

At the risk of sounding like a jerk... A frank confession

If you thought "Why I hate Manga" was honest and revealing, get ready for this.

At the risk of sounding like a jerk, I'm really not that big of a fan of the work of Steve Ditko. Or Jim Aparo. Or Neal Adams.

I know some of you out there just gasped in horror. And that's okay. I also hate the band RUSH... but let's focus on the topic at hand.

I mean no offense to the gentlemen I just named (or the memory of, in the case of Mr. Aparo), I've just never understood why so many of my peers love their work so much.

In the case of Ditko, while I love his early Doctor Strange work and I am a huge fan of the first run of Spider-Man, I always feel his people are a little.. weird.

And he seems to ink his own work a lot. I'm not opposed to that, but some artists are great pencillers who should NEVER be allowed to pick up a pen and/or brush. For instance, he did an early issue of Iron Man which was inked by Don Heck (I think?) and it looked WAY better than his Spidey work.

Mr. Ditko also designed some of the butt-ugliest costumes in comicdom. Electro, Mysterio, Mr. Doll...

And don't get me started on some of his Charlton work. I can't read The Question. I mean, sure, "The Fountainhead" by Ayn Rand was entertaining- mostly, but I couldn't live my life by it. And I wouldn't base a superhero on a philosophy of self-interest.

In the case of Neal Adams:

Coming from advertising and a very strong draftsman, Adams brought a new sense of design to comics in the 1970's. His "Long Ears" Batman would go on to influence a whole generation of comic book artists as did his unconventional storytelling style. Adams use of unusual panel layouts and figures breaking panel borders or even becoming panel borders would be admired and imitated by dozens, maybe hundreds of artists. Most of whom could not pull it off. In no time, every hack kid was trying to show how cutting edge he was by abandoning the standard 6-panel page. Well, you know something? You have to master the rules before you break them.

So, I guess that I not only don't really care all that much for Adams' art (Though I DO sincerely admire his skill.) I also despise the sweeping influence his art has had on comics ever since.

Although the makeover Adams gave Green Arrow back in 1969 almost makes up for all of it.

And now, Aparo. Jim Aparo, after Neal Adams is one of the best-remembered Batman artists of the 1970's. He also served as the primary Aquaman artist of the decade. His work was competent and effective, but not terribly exciting. At least on Batman and Aquaman. His work on books like The Spectre and Phantom Stranger was actually quite nice. When I discovered his work, however, in the late 1980's, I was appalled by how stiff and flat his figures were. How much he seemed to be "phoning in" his work. Everyone had the same ears, every hairstyle was similar, everyone's clothing was cut out of date and out of fashion. I used to eagerly read the issues of Detective Comics drawn by Norm Breyfogle and then, sadly, read Aparo's Batman, wishing someone else would draw it.

where's the storytelling here?

To be completely fair, toward the end of Green Arrow's 1980's series, Aparo did some of the most interesting art I had seen out of him in years. But I will always remember him as the mediocre Batman artist who made Robin's death so forgettable.

Please, don't judge me too harshly. It takes me no time to sit here at a desk and criticize the artwork of three masters of their field. It took these men years to perfect their art. They have all accomplished what I have not. But don't misconstrue this as sour grapes, either. I just get tired of hearing folks sing these artists' praises and having to nod politely for fear of being ostracized.

And if Steve Ditko or Neal Adams want to call me an asshole, that's fine. It's nothing personal, guys. Your artwork will always be remembered. I'm just one guy who doesn't dig it.


  1. "I used to eagerly read the issues of Detective Comics drawn by Norm Breyfogle and then, sadly, read Aparo's Batman, wishing someone else would draw it."

    OMFG! Me too! Aparo is like the Dave Berg of DC Comics. Trapped in a time and place I'm completely unfamiliar with. He did a shitload of work though, I think.

    That having been said, I thought Ditko's Mr. A was a hoot. But, of course, I live a philosophy of self-interest. I used to have this magazine-size issue of Mr. A, but I have no idea what happened to it (going to Google "Buy Mr. A").

    Oh yeah--I remembered this about halfway home from your house the other night. Gene Colan. I think he's underrated. He's one of those I didn't appreciate until fairly recently. That was all I was going to say.

    Rush sucks.

  2. Disagree quite strongly on all three artists, Aaron. I was reading comics when Adams came on the scene, and almost every reader gaped in astonishment at his layouts. It's not his fault if those who tried to mimic him failed miserably. Ditko was terrific, and don't forget that it was his redesign of Iron Man's outfit (in that Mr Doll issue) that stuck around forever. The Question series is remarkable for its attempt to explain a political philosophy in the context of a superhero comic. Is it a bit didactic and overbearing at times? Sure. But it's head and shoulders and armpits above everything else Charlton was putting out at the time.

    The bit you show of Aparo is certainly not his finest hour, but what about the opening to Deathmask from Detective #437? Definitely one of the great sequences of the 1970s.

  3. Dr H.: Ah, Gene Colan. You know, you said something about how you sometimes regretted that the "Essential" editions weren't in color- Colan's work on Tomb of Dracula actually reads better in black and white than the purple-heavy, faded color of the original 70's printing.

    Pat: As to Adams, let me say this. It's not ONLY that I dislike Adams' imitators (although I can see why my essay would suggest that). I think it's that I associate Adams' style with the then new movement in comics.Adams is so often paired with Dennys O'Neil that I think of them as one creative force. O'Neil took some of my favorite characters and made them "heavy" and "dark". Speedy on smack?? Green Arrow a radical?-Well, okay, the guy dresses like Robin Hood, it wasn't much of a stretch there. And he killed Robin. Schmuck.

    As to Aparo and The Death Mask. I've read it. It was fairly dynamic, but I HATE the design of the death mask itself. Again, no matter how good he was in the 1970's, I will always remember him as the guy who drew terrible Batman comics in the 80's. Even in the 70's, I've read one where Millionaire Bruce Wayne is watching TV in his luxury, penthouse apartment on a 10" set on a roll-out TV stand?? And always lounging around the house in his bat togs, sans mask?? yuck.

    Sorry, Pat, we'll have to agree to disagree on this one :)

    Nice piece on the Doom Patrol today, BTW.


  4. Oh! I'm also torn on the Iron Man red/yellow costume. It's gorgeous, but I really think, in hindsight, that the clunky, gray suit was a lot quirkier and gave Iron Man a less generic look. I love the red/yellow armor, as a design but I think the big, grey suit just says "IRON Man".

  5. But you will admit that Neal Peart is a heck of a drummer, right? :)

  6. R/E: *sigh* If I must. Just tell Getty Lee to shut the Hell up.

  7. And you haven't mentioned how these three could draw female figures but not faces. Those Aparo lips always made me cross. I personally loved Adams and liked the energy Aparo brought to the above. Ditko was always interesting to me as his style was so different from the norm and his females were...ok
    Thanks again for a great discussion.

  8. C'mon, Aaron, you can't really be blaming Adams for O'Neill's plot developments (all of which were approved by Mr Silver Age DC himself, Julius Schwartz), can you? And let's not forget who really killed "Robin" (aka Jason Todd); it wasn't Denny O'Neill but the kids and adults who called that 900 number. Although in fairness it should have been obvious what would happen.

    BTW, is your real problem with Ditko his Objectivist side? I note that you specifically mentioned the rock band Rush as well. What do they have in common? Well, they both pushed Ayn Rand's work into other media.

  9. Pat: No, I'm not blaming Adams. I'm just saying the stories and the artwork are so intertwined (as they should be) that it's all one thing. Look, I'm just voicing my preference. Is Adams a very talented artist with a great sense of design? Yes. Do I enjoy his work? Not all that much. It's just me. Sorry.

    As to Objectivism- While I do think Objectivism is a little shaky, it's only relevant to the premise of the Question. My main thing with Ditko is the often unfinished quality of his art. As to Objectivism and RUSH... I just had that mentioned to me this evening at a party. No, the reason I hate RUSH is that I find Getty Lee's voice analogous to nails on a chalkboard.

  10. Pat:

    "And let's not forget who really killed "Robin" (aka Jason Todd); it wasn't Denny O'Neill but the kids and adults who called that 900 number. Although in fairness it should have been obvious what would happen."

    It really SHOULD have been obvious. Everyone called in to see if DC would really kill Robin. No-brainer there, sorry Denny.

  11. Aaron, I have to admit that as the years dragged on, Aparo's art looked more and more jaded and indifferent. But (this should be a real treat for you, with Adams backup stories) check out Aquaman 50-52--swipes galore, but a fascinating collision of Adams and Colan. Was this because of Colan's Submariner? On the other hand, I find Ditko's work generally apalling when someone else inks it. How about his pre-superhero fantasy and horror (especially at Warren)work, though? Gorgeous examples abound in the Blake Bell book.
    As for rush, I'm with ya, brother.

  12. Neill: Actually, I will have to (sheepishly) agree that Ditko's monster work was really very nice.

  13. It is hard to examine Neal Adams' comic book art with a purely objective eye. For my own self, I have a Pavlovian twitch that is not Adams' fault at all.

    Since they began printing comics to this week's current new issues on the stands, the publishers have the slightly greasy marketing policy of getting a Star Artist to do the cover while having a completely different artist do the interior work. However, it was never so blatant for me as during the Silver-Bronze Age when DC had Neal Adams do 90% of their covers. Sometimes the interior artist had the chops to live up to the cover, but often the interior was drawn by Bobo the Baboon.

    Perhaps Adams' style was so dynamicaly distinctive, that it clashed with the interior art and stuck in my brain. At any rate, there is a tiny part of me that associates (totally unfairly) Neal Adams art with being ripped off.