28 October 2009

How to Draw Comics the Liefeld Way

There was a time when I used to want to be a comic artist, and among my inspirations was one Rob Liefeld. Don't get me wrong: I didn't think he was good. No, I was astonished even then by how bad his drawing was -- and I could tell this by just flicking through his 'work' before buying something a bit more credible in the Forbidden Planet -- and was convinced that if he could make a fortune from something so egregiously bad, well, surely I could make at least a living.

Obviously, things haven't worked out that way, and as the years have passed my scorn for Mr Liefeld has faded along with my ambitions towards being a comic artist. You forget, after all.

Until tonight.

There's a lovely post on Crooked Timber today entitled 'The Dark Depths of Comics History', pointing to the odd 1990s phenomenon of Marvel Comics swimsuit issues. Yeah, I know. Look, don't blame me. I'm an ardent admirer of Sturgeon's Law. It highlights a detail of a drawing in which lush inking and subtle colouring are cleverly deployed to disguise the fact that the actual drawing is terrible:
'Where exactly is either his left shoulder or the left side of his chest? Did his shoulder just sort of give up on becoming an arm and then the arm tried again, launching itself out, a bit below, where the intercostals should be? I could stare for hours. It’s like a cross between a Japanese sand garden and a fancy butcher shop.'
It's quite special, really, but the post itself is utterly trumped by the comment thread which leads, by some comic book variant of Godwin's law, to the pit of excrement that is Rob Liefeld's artwork.

Here, for instance, is Rob's take on Captain America -- and I hope both Joe Simon and Jack Kirby were dead by the time this was drawn, as this sort of thing just shouldn't be allowed. One of the commenters, Gareth Rees, sizes it up and drily remarks that 'Liefeld’s Captain America is the result of merging two different perspectives into one picture: his shoulder is seen side-on, and his chest at an oblique angle. It’s the same kind of distortion used to get the buttocks and breasts of female characters visible at the same time. It’s a technique that goes back at least to the cubists.'

This drew the response that 'It’s not just that, but part of his back is visible as part of the side-on angle, and his other shoulder is missing from where it should be given the chest angle. You’d have to tear his torso in half to force it into that pose.'

Good, eh? It gets better, though, as Gareth Rees has linked to a marvellous site dedicated to 'The 40 Worst Rob Liefeld Drawings'. Now, I'd say they're not so much the worst Liefeld drawings as a representative sample, but what the hell, they need to be studied. I've hardly been able to breathe for laughing since seeing them, and given how my life has been the last couple of months, that's quite an achievement.

It's still beyond me why anybody bought this stuff, let alone why they bought it in such massive quantities. Baffling.

Take this beauty, for instance, number 16 on the list, of which it is entirely fair to say:
'How many teeth are in a mouth? Like a billion, right? I’ll just draw a billion, all the same size and shape.

All of the characters on this page are in the same room. Not that you’d know that, given the way Liefeld draws the majority of his backgrounds. Where most artists would include, say, details of the room or an actual background, Rob uses groundbreaking techniques like, DAGWOOD’S HAIR! HORIZONTAL LINES! CURVES! And CROSSHATCHING!

Seriously, if that establishing shot weren’t there you’d think these people were all just kind of abstract concepts. What are they, in a wind tunnel? Who gives a shit, get back to people holding swords.'
I know, astonishing, eh? And this isn't even close to being the worst piece of Liefeld art there. No, you need to see his reluctance to draw feet, his inability to draw hands, his obsession with really big guns that rest on clenched fists, his tendency to draw women standing en pointe if their feet must be shown at all, his fetish for pouches, his perplexing theory of shadows, his prediliction for drawing freakishly endowed men, and his utter ignorance of female anatomy. The last point, apparently, is easily explained:
'The most important thing you need to know before reading about all the terrible things Rob Liefeld has drawn is that he has never seen or talked to a woman in his life and has no idea what they look like or how their bodies operate. If you asked Rob Liefeld to draw a diagram of the uterus he'd put on a pair of gauntlets and punch the shit out of your chalkboard. This is how the man operates, and though I know it sounds like a lot, you have to believe me. I don't want you looking at the stuff he's drawing and think he's a conscious adult male with a creative job who can and has influenced the minds of young artists. The man is a pair of blue jeans with a face. He has on a backwards cap, and when he turns it around, it's still backwards.'
Seriously, it's priceless. And that's just his drawing. Because he wrote too...

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