Pretty, Fizzy Paradise

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Art vs Writing: Why I Review the Way I Do

Over at Dick Hates Your Blog, Dick Hyacinth makes a good argument for discussing art with reviews and it got me thinking...

Now, I rarely write actual reviews, I prefer to go with my immediate emotional reactions: "That was funny!" "Hey, cool!" "That sucked." that sort of thing. Even so, I almost never discuss the art.

This is a failing, I know. A review of a comic that doesn't discuss the art really is an incomplete review. In my case though, my only real excuse is that I don't notice the art.

That sounds odd when put in writing, I'm reading a comic book of course, but I'm a very story-oriented comic reader. I pay attention to plots, character development and dialogue, especially with regard to what came before and where the story seems to be going. And I'm not saying that the art doesn't play a big part in the first two, but I rarely notice the art for its own sake.

If you put two issues of a comic in front of me, I can tell you which artist's style I prefer but generally I couldn't tell you why. Most of the time, I don't even think about it in terms of art. I DO have a grasp of reality, so I know that they're only drawings on paper. But in general, I'm too wrapped up in the story to look beyond that. This is probably a little stupid, but, I tend to think of the drawings like actors. It's usually "Wow, for a playboy millionaire, Bruce looks kind of ugly." Or, "Kyle's looking pretty today." Or "Yeesh, Guy looks haggard."

I admit, I'm one of those philistines who get really bored in art museums unless the art seems to portray a story. I'm not a huge fan of cubism, for example, because I tend to not understand what the heck is going on or what I'm seeing. A lot of modern art is the same way for me. I like tapestries though, for obvious reasons.

Part of it's also that I really have no background in art. I can't draw a straight line. I have absolutely no real artistic skill whatsoever. (Much to my dismay, as I'd taken three years of high school art classes to try to fix that). I'm not a very visually oriented person. I recognize names better than faces. That sort of thing. While I can say "I like this" or "I don't like this", rarely I can say why. And I don't tend to feel comfortable criticizing on the basis of art, because I wouldn't know the first thing about what I'm talking about.

In contrast, I fancy myself a writer, so I can talk with a bit more confidence about plot developments, characterization, dialogue, pacing, that sort of thing. But basic panel construction, perspective, visual symbolism...even if I do notice, it's pretty beyond me.

The only time I ever really mention the art is when something about it starts to pull me out of the story. Like for example, my many complaints about the shininess of Phantom Lady's breasts in Freedom Fighters. (Though, I've backed off some. Since there are other women now that aren't drawn that way, I've concluded that it's simply "the way she is."). Or, the embarrassing fact that I've never been able to get through Dark Knight Returns because I can't abide the way the figures are drawn. Billionaire playboys are not meant to look like gargoyles.

So, while this is kind of cheap, all I can say is that in the end, my lack of comment on the art is intended to be the highest compliment I'm equipped to give: "It fit with the story." It's the best I can do.

I sincerely hope no one who comes to PFP is coming for intelligent or insightful art critiques, because you're really not going to get any here. I'm sorry. :-(


  • At February 16, 2007 7:19 AM, Blogger Flidget said…

    I have a B.A. in Art History and am currently taking my Masters in an Art subject and I still don't care much about the art quality in my comics. I've got a short-list of writers of whom I'm pretty willing to read any comic-book they care to write but nothing like that for any of the artists.

  • At February 16, 2007 9:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Why is anyone paying any attention to "Dick Hates Your Blog"?

    He seems to think it's so pathetic to create a blog commenting on comic books...yet he's got a blog commenting on comic book commentators.

    By his definition, shouldn't the "pathetic" level for that be exponentially higher than our level of patheticness?

    In other words, Kalinara....keep doing exactly what you're doing...without worrying about what Dick thinks about your blog.

  • At February 16, 2007 10:58 AM, Blogger SallyP said…

    I tend to go in the opposite direction, in that I focus on the art. But that may be because I love to draw. You love to write, so it makes sense to stick with your strengths.

    Speaking of art...the first three pages of GLC #9 are all essentially the same thing, starting out with a hand at the top of the page, and ending with a facial shot at the bottom. All without a word, but REALLY packing a heck of a punch! God, I love Gleason.

  • At February 16, 2007 12:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    "I sincerely hope no one who comes to PFP is coming for intelligent or insightful art critiques"

    Personally, I read PFP for intelligent or insightful comic book critiques (entertaining too). Since comic books are a story telling medium, thats the way the art should be "reviewed" as it pertains to the story.


    PS Try reading Dark Knight Returns imagining all the voices sounding like the cast of the Adam West series. Its a vast improvement.

  • At February 16, 2007 1:16 PM, Blogger R.Nav said…

    Well.. the art has to be really, really mismatched for me to be bothered about it. There's times where it has, and there's times when I don't even notice while others are complaining about it.

    This applies just to styles, if there is a scene out of place, like.. oh a Nazi speedster running through a mother & child, then well.. yea. It distracts me :D

  • At February 16, 2007 5:02 PM, Blogger Mr. Allison Blaire said…

    I have trouble getting through stuff like Dark Knight myself but for diffeent reasonsSeeing all those panels and words jammed on one page makes me dizzy. Kinda like when I look at COIE. I must be a little comixlexic

  • At February 16, 2007 5:24 PM, Blogger Spencer Carnage said…

    Comic is not art! Its comics!

    And Dick, well......Dick would be much better if he actually stuck with the whole "I hate you" schtick without all the back pedaling he does in the comments. If you're gonna hate, hate!

  • At February 16, 2007 5:47 PM, Blogger Derek said…

    Seriously, you could have written this post just for me.

    I, too, really couldn't care less about the art. I like some styles more than others, but I'd be hard pressed to make any real distinction. (Aside from photorealistic art. I really don't think it works for comics.)

    I suppose the art is half of the medium, so I sort of feel like I should pay more attention to it. But I can't force myself to care.

    I also only notice the art if there i some sort of sever mismatch to the characters or story. Like your Bruce Wayne gargoyle or the vixen Miss Martian.

    So, no need to apologize for your blog. We come here because we like what you're doing, so just kep up the good work!

  • At February 16, 2007 7:22 PM, Blogger RAB said…

    "I sincerely hope no one who comes to PFP is coming for intelligent or insightful art critiques."

    I'm only here because I was told there would be donuts.

  • At February 16, 2007 8:38 PM, Blogger Denyer said…

    Likewise, I tend to skim over art in reviews... unless it's awful (usually by more objective measures such as proportions, modelled physics -- Pat Lee, for instance. Hack. Liar and fraud, too, but first and foremost technically incompetent.)

    You could try skimming somewhere such as scans_daily where really bad art tends to be held up for people to pick apart, if you want to get a feel for particular artists who tend to draw physically impossible contortions.

  • At February 16, 2007 11:20 PM, Blogger Jason said…

    While there are certain artists whose books I will buy solely for their work (Darwyn Cooke, Michael Lark). Mostly, I'm buying my comics for the story. So unless the art is awful, I don't notice it so much.

    However, there are some artist's work I prefer as "Art" than as comics. tructh be told, I have a hard time reading Kirby-drawn comics. But, I love looking at his are. I have both of the Marvel Visionaires HC's and I look at them a lot, but I don't think I've actually read the stories more than once.

  • At February 17, 2007 9:39 AM, Blogger SallyP said…

    You can have a beautifully drawn book, but it has terrible writing, it is a failure. Oddly, you can have a wonderfully written book, and if the art is poor, it is still a good book.

    On the odd occasion, you get both a beautifully written and drawn book, and then it is just magic.

  • At February 18, 2007 3:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    ...What about fifty-year-old billionaires?
    Billionaires who let themselves go a bit after giving up being playboys ten years earlier when their adopted son died?

  • At February 18, 2007 5:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I will read a well written book with art I don't like before I will read a visually pleasing book with poor writing.

    In other word, I agree with you that the art isn't of primary importance (unless, of course, it makes my eyes hurt, like Michael Turner or Frank Miller).


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