I find it all kinds of ironic that Big Rob Liefeld is back drawing a Hawk and Dove series, but that isn't enough to actually buy the bloody thing....
Rob Liefeld and his silent murderings
Originally posted September 7, 2010
Nobody can hold a grudge quite like comic people, but it’s interesting
to note that there really still is some genuine hatred of Rob Liefeld
out there in the greater comic community. Any time he pops up in an
interview or profile or message board post, he still manages to rile up
people, even with the most innocuous of appearances.
A lot of it
is nothing more than a real distaste for his dodgy anatomy and poor
staging of characters, and it’s hard to argue with that, while his
business practices and habit of announcing books that never showed up
also didn’t win him any fans. Rob had the smugness of youth, a style
that spawned endless imitators and was the most visible person in an
extraordinarily successful comic company – how could anybody like him?
for a while there, Liefeld really was one of the most popular artists
in the industry. Twenty years on, it’s easy to forget the explosive
impact of his run on New Mutants – which included the introduction of
Cable and Deadpool – he single-handedly turned Marvel’s most mediocre
mutant book into something genuinely fresh and exciting that kids
started reading again.
Me, I had been driven off all of the
X-books, mainly because I just didn’t have the money to buy them,
shortly after the Inferno storyline, but soon came running back because I
was 14 and the prime demographic for Rob’s style. I even stuck with
X-Force for a year or so. The first issue of that lamentable series
remains one of the best selling comics ever, despite its almost total
lack of any artistic merit, and it’s still a weirdly modern comic, so
eagerly did it piss on the legacy of John Romita’s Marvel.
couldn’t match costumes or body shapes in every panel he drew, but he
was still a breath of fresh air. I first saw him on the New Mutants
annual that tied into the Atlantis Attacks series, and I remember
genuinely enjoying his kinetic and crazy art, hoping for more.
when Marvel used to actually put a bit of effort into these things, New
Mutants annuals of the mid-to-late eighties were awesome, with terrific
Art Adams and Alan Davis art, but the regular New Mutants series
drifted after Inferno and was hampered by fill-in artists and a bored
Bret Blevins. Which was a real shame, because Blevins’ enthusiastic
style had settled the comic for a while.
Then came Liefeld and
the comic was new and shiny and interesting again, and using the power
generated by Marvel’s top talents thinking for themselves, he used his
position and following to produce Youngblood #1, which was bloody
And it didn’t get any better – those issues of Brigade
and Bloodstrike and those other terrible titles he put out quickly
soured his name in comic circles. Wizard magazine stopped kissing his
arse and started making fun of him, and by the late 90s, Liefeld
sneering had become a frequent sight in comic shops all over the world.
New internet communities beat his work with iron bars and left it crying
in a ditch on the edge of town.
And they had a point – the
comics Rob made at Image and Awesome and Extreme were largely execrable.
There was the shining bit of brilliance, like Alan Moore’s sharply
effective Supreme stories, but most of those comics now sit in quarter
bins all over the place, hiding the good stuff in an avalanche of
Liefeld’s name still has some heat, especially with
the recent bizarre explosion of interest in his Deadpool creation, but
he has lost the vast majority of the popularity he once had. His recent
Armageddon comics have alienated more of the obnoxiously agnostic
section of comic reading, and people have long memories of broken
promises and lacklustre results.
But if there is one reason to
really criticise Rob Liefeld and his comics, it’s because they murdered
the dream of artistic freedom in creative ownership.
and Liefeld destroyed, more than anything else, was that artistic ideal
of creative freedom – that if creators were given the opportunity to do
their own work, it would result in better comics than ever before.
until Image made its debut, the likes of Dave Sim had been arguing this
for years, and even tentatively approved of the new venture, only to
see that ideal shrivel up and die.
There had been so much earnest
discussion on the connection between intellectual freedom and
storytelling quality, and when artists actually had the unprecedented
power they had been denied for so long, they went on to create the same
In fact, it wasn’t just the same old shit, it was also
the worst of the same old shit, regurgitating ideas, recycling concepts
and falling victim to plain old laziness. All those long ‘80s nights in
convention hotel rooms, creators blitzed on the minibar and discussing
the concepts of creative freedom and what it really means, man. It often
led to nothing more than a horrible hangover and a genuine
dissatisfaction with the entire medium, but there was passion there in
these long ago arguments.
Read comic magazines from the late
eighties and it’s there in every article and interview – a genuine
optimism that things are going to get better and that creator rights
would lead to a new golden age of comics. Still high on the 1986 buzz
and creator recognition in the real world, a bill of rights was produced
and everybody that was interesting had something wonderful lined up.
knew that even with creative freedom to produce any damn thing the
creator felt like, there was always still going to be genre trappings,
but 1980s comics like Grendel and Zot and Nexus and a dozen others had
shown that superheroes could still be done with love and care and create
stories with genuine emotional resonance.
Image killed all those
discussions stone dead. All that effort and all we got was Brigade #1.
It would have been sad if it hadn’t been so absurd. The drive towards
creator control had produced some of the finest comics the medium had
ever seen, but also resulted in comics that were worse than worthless,
doing incalculable damage to the industry as a whole as the speculator
bubble built and burst.
The fact that many of the Image founders
went on to produce their own studio sweatshops also didn’t help matters,
but it was the comics themselves that put the dream of a new comic
utopia, of creators unshackled by any burdens producing lovely work for a
mainstream audience, down like a dying dog.
Comic magazines that
have a mainstream focus have stopped talking about this kind of thing.
In interviews with current creators, the only time the issue of creator
rights comes up is when somebody like Mark Millar talk about getting
more money from the studios for an original creation than anything he
could produce for Marvel.
Of course, there are still some
incredibly good creator-owned comics being produced every week, but the
idea that the biggest comic company in the world – and Image got pretty
damn close to that title early on its life – could support creator
rights and produce good, thoughtful comics, is no longer an issue.
that’s a bit of a shame. It’s too easy to hate Rob Leifeld because he
can’t draw feet, or because his influence resulted in the ugliest comics
known to man. I still have a fondness for Rob, but there is a part of
me that genuinely blames him for the death of a noble idea, his actions
and artwork pulling back the entire medium.