20 June, 2008

Who cares if Rob can't draw?

Rob Liefield is a comics creator and publisher who engenders mixed feelings in the comics world. On one hand, he is respected as an entrepreneur - despite acrimonious relationships with most of his commercial partners - on the other he is seen as an obnoxious creep.

Lots of spleen, in particular, has been vented about Liefield's poor drawing skills, as evident above (and many other places). However, plenty of comics illustrators, with less commercial and greater artistic sensibilities than Liefield, are not brilliant draughtsmen. They are not pilloried and nor should they be.

Rob Liefield had great success with Marvel Comics and Image Comics (which he co-founded) and I feel that something about the way he is viewed typifies a kind of schizoid self-loathing at the heart of comics culture.

It seems intolerable to some people that Liefield can be a commercial success without being a creative one. Liefield himself has readily admitted that he was in the right place at the right time:
"I'll be the first to tell you that we [the Image collective] were never the best artists. We were never the best at anything, but just like a song or a band or whatever, we caught on and we toured rigorously." [Wizard Magazine via Wikipedia]
Liefield sees comics not as a cultural medium (like Scott McCloud or perhaps Alan Moore), but as a sector of the publishing industry, which hires 'talent' and produces 'product'. Both are true. There is a publishing sector which caters to teenaged boys. It may be critically derided, but it is a commercial 'fact on the ground.'

Perhaps Liefield represents a stereotype of comics as juvenile, power fantasies (or indeed of comics creators as juvenile fantasists), that is embarrassing. Perhaps it reminds many of us that we once shared those fantasies, that secretly we still do or that those fantasies reflect the larger fantasies of modern capitalist culture.

In any case there are bigger fish to fry than Rob Liefield.