Character

Delegation of Tasks

To be fair, much of the reasons toys, and movies, and video games have such great designs is because they hire people like this just to come up with the visuals:

Doug Chiang © Doug Chiangart: Doug Chiang © Doug Chiang

This guy did designs for the new Star Wars movies! He probably worked on something good as well… (If your wondering, after the above post, why Lucas didn’t tap Nirasawa for designs there, I share your befuddlement.) Look at all the thought that went into this machine, and yet, it’s really quite a simple concept, fleshed out perfectly. I particularly love all the guide lines he uses to balance the image. He tries, in vain, to explain what each is for in his excellent design book, but ultimately the intuitive artist should be able to see visually what they accomplish in terms of form. I can’t exactly explain them either. They are like those loose strokes your art teachers used to try to force you to start with to get “the gesture of the pose.” Swoop, swoop and done: now just fill in all those pesky details of surface anatomy and shadow. Well, it’s true. If you don’t get the stuff in the right place, the details are for naught. And here, you can see how Chiang makes sure he has a workable and pleasing shape with those construction lines before he gets into all his awesomely anal details of tank treads and elbow joints. Something needs to stick out this way, this way and…this way. Center of gravity — here. And gravy.

Well, the monthly superhero penciller does not have time to even tweak until he gets the right shape. He can’t even get this far…

Doug Chiang © Doug Chiangart: Doug Chiang © Doug Chiang

Let alone this far…

Doug Chiang © Doug Chiang

art: Doug Chiang © Doug Chiang

But with designs like this in the zeitgeist, are we comic readers really supposed to be afraid of Skrulls?

One of the two major event comics of the summer involved green-skinned aliens with lines on their chins. Is this Babylon 5?

Now I genuflect at the altar of Kirby more than the next guy, and I’ll certainly defend his work as timeless to literary critics and high society art snobs, but I think he would honestly be disappointed that his ideas, even his toss-off designs like the Skrulls, are still being trotted out verbatim time and time again, mutilating the carcass of a long dead horse.

Kirby lived in different times. Not simpler, but certainly ones in which technology was not so pervasive. Kirby’s smartest realization is that we would have no idea how the technology of advanced alien cultures would operate, superior work should be inconceivable to us, so it should be drawn as baffling geometric shapes with no concern for function. That’s gutsy and artsy on so many levels. He created the future.

Now artists are recycling a past he tried to see beyond. Kirby was so restless he would change costumes from page to page; you cannot possibly tell me he would not be bored to tears by the lack of innovation in the field he helped to reinvigorate. I can’t even imagine he’d be flattered to know the Skrulls were the hits of Summer 2008. “The Skrulls? God, with the chins? Tell me they’re not still wearing purple jumpsuits. You know those colors were just the villains-get-secondary-colors-so-as-to-contrast-with-the-heroes’- primary-colors editorial mandate, right? Bruce Banner was not actually supposed to be the sort of swinger who wore purple pants. I wanted him grey, anyhow. Stan said it was too ugly. Too ugly! I showed him with Orion!!! Even Iron Man he turns gold!”

Kirby the design innovator would not be welcome in comics today. The creepy “don’t change my beloved childhood toys” nostalgia would have no use for him. He’d be helping to design those thousands of individuated Taurens I vicariously watched when Sean T. Collins posted a video he vicariously enjoyed from a tribute march in World of Warcraft. Everything appears customizable in that game! How Jack would love to draw a new bull-headed character for every player (I know that’s not how it works)! “I don’t have to keep reference sheets?” “No Jack, just throw the old drawing away and see what you can think of next!” He’d be appalled that comics were trying to compete for children’s dollars in the age of a googleplex of perfectly designed Pokemon with men in spandex.

I have given excessive time to science fiction/superhero/fantasy design in this category, not because I think more new comic artists should keep mining those spent shafts, but rather that these books rely on visual inventiveness, and yet display such a paucity of creativity! And with each new graphic card for computers or pixel-upgrade for Blu-Ray comes a slew of gorgeous design that make use of this, making comic book creatures and heroes look even more shoddy in comparison.

Here’s a suggestion for the beginning of a solution: reassign the division of labor in comics. There is absolutely no reason, despite the presence of geniuses like Kevin Nowlan and Klaus Janson, that penciller and inker should be separate people. However, that does not mean I approve of the new time-saving trend of scanning in pencils and coloring over them. (Don’t even get me started on how much effort on the part of Joe Madureira was wasted on The Ultimates…) I merely think the guy who envisioned the art, probably has enough skill to finish it. In art school, I would bet he or she was forced to actually do so. Perhaps even with a brush similar to the ones inkers use! I am always baffled when I see a page of meticulously tight pencils. If Travest Charest could really imagine all of that detail, and knew where he needed every single line you see in the finished page, am I to believe he didn’t have time to ink it, or that he can’t figure out how thick to make bounding lines?

I am willing to accept, however, that the person who can perfectly layout a story, and depict the action, and stylishly create mood, and do every other thing covered on this site that goes into creating the art of a comic page may not be the world’s greatest fashion designer. Perhaps he or she can’t invent realistic-looking techie gadgets. An industrial designer might have a better time with that.

The Japanese division of labor seems a little more intuitive. There, the artist whose name is on the book is really more of a director. In his charge he has a legion of assistants, many who were specially hired to complete only certain aspects of the work. When I was in Japan, I set up an interview with Yuki Masami because of his creation of Patlabor, the cybernetic police drama. Much to my chagrin, he was now working on one of those special interest/hobby manga books that somehow thrive in Japan, the terribly titled “Grooming Up!”, a comic about a girl and her horse. He didn’t really feel like talking about Patlabor anymore. Neither did any of his roomful of assistants! There were beds in the studio! Most of these guys probably couldn’t have even talked about mobile armored police if they wanted to since, as Masami explained, he hired a new team when he started the new book. He now needed experts on horses. This honestly makes so much sense. He came up with the plot with his editor, laid the book out, and inked all the faces (for consistency and expression), various crew members did all the rest. Hate drawing backgrounds, John Cassaday? Hire an architecture school dropout! Never was all that big on getting out that pesky French Curve? I bet you could find an elderly drafting major who never learned AutoCAD and is hard up for work. Can’t invent mech to save your life, (designer of Ultimate Iron Man, I’m looking in your direction)? Get Doug Chiang to do it! Look at the first line of the Wiki for Patlabor:

a manga franchise created by Headgear, a group consisting of director Mamoru Oshii, writer Kazunori Ito, mecha designer Yutaka Izubuchi, character designer Akemi Takada, and manga artist Masami Yūki.

When you have Mamoru Oshii directing and a guy devoted to designing tech, how can one go wrong?

Seriously, Marvel editors, hire some bigshot Hollywood or Japanese designer once a year to just re-imagine or invent every character you have appearing in a given book that year. Watch sales skyrocket among teens and be prepared for even more calls from the movie folks. Or just force your artists to study the work of everyone I have put into this category…

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3 thoughts on “Delegation of Tasks

  1. I wish the North American industry worked like this. I always thought what Dave Sim did made so much sense but so far I’ve had no luck finding that out of work architect who wants to draw my backgrounds while I concentrate on storytelling and character.

    I do think you see Marvel hiring more guys who work on game art, especially concept guys. Mostly, I see them doing covers but I wonder if they’ll have them working on character designs.

  2. Piledriver says:

    While a few amateur cartoonists might think otherwise, the American mainstream production process (as employed primarily by the Big Two) is pretty well inseparable from the production values of the finished product. In the wake of artists like Neal Adams, most mainstream western cartoonists have taken to viewing comic pages not as ‘sequential art’ but ‘page design.’

    Mainstream manga remains more conventional — the pages may be no less (or even more) balanced in terms of design, but they don’t stray from the three (or rarely four) tier page breakdown with perspective, motion, and psychological direction strictly flowing panel-to-panel. As these concepts are taught (often through apprenticeship in a long-established studio) this makes it easier for different artists to work on different elements because all understand the same production standards. To set up a comparable production pipeline in America would require that artists all be educated in the same way. Although we have many amazing illustrators in American comics today, only a handful of them follow (or possibly even comprehend) conventional rules of page breakdown and panel composition.

    Also, Western comic-book production is currently evolving to incorporate more digital methods. I expect that digital production resources will ultimately prove superior (both in terms of economics and quality control) to the labor-intensive approach of Japan’s manga (leading to the disappearance of their current studio system as well)…

    Oh, and you mentioned Masamune Shirow — there’s a mangaka who’s already jumped ship from the studio production system and turned to digital methods. He also abandoned the conventional page composition in favor of Western-style page design awhile back…

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