31 May 2012

DOING IT RIGHT

I really like putting faces to the names behind our books. When I was reading comics as a kid, I often had no idea what any of the writers or artists who created my favorite comics looked like. There were illustrations of Stan Lee and other editorial figures every now and then, but it wasn't until the '80s when Jim Shooter started running the occasional photo in Marvel's Bullpen Bulletins pages that I really started to see the people behind the scenes.

Now you can see almost anyone you want, 24 hours a day on the Internet, but I think giving people a glimpse into the working lives of so creative people is a neat idea. This month's "Experience Creativity" ads cover almost the entire spectrum of comic book creativity: Jim McCann is a writer, Rus Wooton is a letterer, Nathan Fox and Ryan Ottley are artists, and Richard Starkings is both a writer and a letterer. (And an artist, actually – you should get a sketch from him next time you see him at a convention!) 

As with so many of the photos we've run since the beginning of the year, there's a lot of variety in this month's images, but what's really interesting is how they each do what they do, the contrast between the old school pen and paper approach and up-to-the-minute technology: You've got Jim and Richard working out story notes in their notebooks, but Rus, Nathan and Ryan are all working digitally on their computers. Even more interesting (to me, anyway) is the fact that even though we're looking at Richard as a writer, scribbling onto his notepad, Rus directly benefits from Richard's influence as a letterer, because Richard pioneered digital lettering with Comicraft back in the '90s. Meanwhile, even though Nathan and Ryan are both hard at work on their computers in these two shots, neither of them are exclusively digital. In fact, the vast majority of Ryan's work is still done the old fashioned way.

No matter how they do what their individual jobs, though, each and everyone of them is clearly doing it right, because the one thing they all have in common is the exceptional quality of their work. Jim first made a name for himself as a writer with Return of the Dapper Men, but he's currently writing an incredible new series called Mind the Gap. It's illustrated by Morning Glories cover artist Rodin Esquejo, and if you haven't had a chance to check out the first issue yet, you should seriously drop what you're doing right now and go find a copy. The second issue is out soon. Nathan, I've written about before, because along with Joe Casey, he's responsible for making Haunt one of the most consistently surprising books on the stands right now. They took over the series #19 and immediately transformed into something completely different from the series creators Todd McFarlane and Robert Kirkman had envisioned, and it just gets better with each issue.

Ryan Ottley and Rus Wooton actually work together – Ryan is the artist behind the best superhero comic in the universe, Invincible, and Rus letters it. Something else that joins them together – and I actually don't think I've told either of them these, mainly out of sheer embarrassment – is the fact I didn't think either of them were right for the book when they started. That wasn't because I didn't like their work. In Ryan's case, Invincible was originally drawn by series co-creator Cory Walker, and I was a huge, huge, HUGE fan of Cory's work. I still am. When he chose to step aside from the book after the first handful of issues, I was convinced that was the end of Invincible. I told Robert I just couldn't see the book continuing to much success without Cory's artwork – the idea of replacing him was just unfathomable to me. Ryan was just starting out at the time, too, so I was comparing Ryan's work to Cory's, and I just didn't get how it was going to work. But work it did, and within issues, I was calling Robert up to sing Ryan's praises.

It was a similar situation with Rus: Robert Kirkman had been lettering the books he wrote since he started publishing through Image, and I was really impressed with his abilities. Often when writers letter their own work, "serviceable" is about as good as it gets, but Robert had a real eye for it. When he told me he'd grown too busy to handle the lettering chores himself, I was disappointed. But he brought Rus on board, and Rus took the style and approach Robert had established for his books and give it a real polish. He's been lettering Robert's books every since, and just as the fan in me looks at the likes of Cory, Ryan and The Walking Dead artist Charlie Adlard as fairly indispensable, I can scarcely imagine how their books would look without Rus...