Saturday, October 8, 2011

Does It Get Better With Age?

Doug: Some of the comments this past Wednesday, in regard to the work of Bill Mantlo, Frank Robbins, and Bob Haney got me to wondering if our standards toward creative art change over time. Commenter Ric stated that it might have been better to have read the "Legion of Monsters" story as a kid; I remarked that in my reading history I could take Mantlo and Haney in small doses if I changed the standards by which I usually judge a comic -- continuity and general straight-forwardness.

But I want to ask you this today: do our standards of what is good change as we age? Are there stories and/or examples of artwork that you loved as a child, but when re-reading as an adult wonder what the heck you must have been thinking? Or, was there material you detested as a kid, but have grown fond of through the years? You can count me among those who have only warmed to Gil Kane's 1970's Marvel art in my adult years. And perhaps to follow up (and I'm sure we've addressed this numerous times here), what is it about the Bronze Age writers and artists that makes some of us turn up our noses (Gil Kane humor intended!) at current comic books?

P.S. -- You may have noticed that we've already gone away from our pledge of posts 3x per week. Well, I am the culprit. I can't resist rattling off a quick post when inspiration strikes, as is the case with this one, and with the note about the CNN blog last Thursday. But those are easy to write -- I can bang one of those out in minutes. We are still wanting to enhance the quality of our comic book reviews, as those take the most time. So, while you probably won't see us on a daily basis for quite some time, we will try to feed that BAB habit of yours as best as we can! As always, we appreciate your time and participation! -- Doug.


david_b said...

Doug, still love the 3-day schedule, to allow more flexibility with 'open forums' or anything that suits you or Karen on other days. Great BAB idea.

Shamed to ask, but where was that Cap/Bucky page from..?

As for art, I wasn't a big Kane fan in the 70s, but I do now like his Spiderman chores, giving Romita a break every so often in the early 70s. I wasn't a fan of Byrne's later FF years, but I appreciate them more now, although I still think the stories had that slow '80s pacing that I got bored with quickly.

The biggest change was Steranko: When I first got Cap ish 113 at age 6, I was expecting a straight forward action comic (like the Cap I remembered in the Marvel cartoons..), but was surprised with a lot of weird, surrealism instead. Later of course I recognized the style superiority and kept buyin' them and Strange Tales, just to get my Steranko fix in earlier this year.

I always loved Sal Buscema in Cap, Avengers and Defenders, but after all these years I still don't think much of Sal's Spiderman stints.. After years of Andru, Romita and Kane, I just got used to their distinctive character warmth and feel, that Sal's layouts and whoever inked him just didn't have.

Aparo did the same to me as well.. I was amazed at how much work he did for Bats and Aquaman in the early Bronze. I got tired of the same art all the time back then, and while I know it's very good, quality work, it still doesn't do anything for me now.

Edo Bosnar said...

First things first: I'm one of those guys who liked Kane's art from the beginning, and still love it now. And I like his later work, i.e. everything from the '70s and '80s, much more than the early "classic" stuff for which he is often most fondly remembered, like Silver Age GL or Atom.
As to the main topic, most of the stuff I found really awesome back then I can still appreciate as an adult. Obviously, though, in some cases this may just be nostalgia, i.e., recalling how much I liked something back then, which then colors my perceptions.
However, since Mantlo keeps coming up, I have to say in some cases I appreciate his work even more now. An example is the Micronauts, which I really liked as a kid, and re-read a few years back when I snagged some cheap copies of those "Special Edition" reprints. I found some of those early issues in particular textbook examples of tight plotting and scripting. In other words, they really did get better with age.

Steven R. Stahl said...

I don't see why a person's assessment of stories should change over time, unless his standards, and his comprehension of what he read, change as well.

Take Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. Why would someone think it was something other than a classic unless he didn't comprehend the story's content, or was reading strictly for entertainment?

Marvel was at its best in the '70s because writers were writing the best stories that they could, and focused on writing stories that had beginnings, middles, and ends. Much of what the company publishes now doesn't meet the definition of "story"; readers jump back and forth from middles to preludes.

Some readers, at least, have also deluded themselves into thinking that the no-narration, decompressed storytelling is superior simply because it's easier to read. You might have heard about the study in which researchers found that a majority of the readers tested actually preferred stories which had been "spoiled." As was stated:

It’s also possible that it’s “easier” to read a spoiled story. Other psychological studies have shown that people have an aesthetic preference for objects that are perceptually easy to process.

A major reason for arguing that all opinions are subjective and style is all that matters is that the stance eliminates differences in comprehension ability. If all that matters is the emotional reaction, then all readers, from six-year-olds to 95-year-olds, are equals.


Dougie said...

I've grown to appreciate the work of Dick Dillin and Don Heck. I was disdainful of both as a teen and a young adult, preferring the intricacy of Perez on JLA. Now I find his character designs gaudy and finicky.
I like the DC Mystery strips far more now: House of Secrets, The Witching Hour, etc. On the other hand I'm finding the literary pretensions of Marvel scripters like Don McGregor virtually unreadable. So, yes, my tastes have definitely changed. I've also grown to enjoy Bendis' New Avengers and Waid's Daredevil. I hope, when I get back to Glasgow next week, to find something in the New 52 that appeals to me; I've read very positive things about Animal Man and I, Vampire.

Inkstained Wretch said...

In terms of art, it took me years to come around and appreciate Jack Kirby. I had the misfortune of initially only being exposed to stuff from his declining 80s years -- like the Super Powers series -- or reprints of the very early Silver Age stuff, which is rather crude compared to his later work.

I similarly didn't get Steve Gerber early on, but have had the opportunity to rediscover his work.

On the flip side, as I wrote on this blog once before, I was a big fan of G.I. Joe in the 80s, something that embarrasses me now.

Vintage Bob said...

Doug, I would have to say no, my standards of what is good have not changed in over 40 years. Stories and art I loved as a kid are still loved, and writers and artists I couldn't stand, I still cannot stand.

Possibly the only exception to this is Gene Colan, whose work I never cared for as a kid, but now am starting to appreciate more. I still, however, think his style fits horror comics far better than superhero material.

As for current artists and writers, I think comics today are just crap. I don't buy them, and the only time I read them is when parts are posted online and I preview them. To me, the Great Age of Comics started to wind down in 1983/1984, and from 1986 on there is virtually nothing I bothered to read.

My issue with modern comics is that they've become too adult, too vulgar, too excessive. Filled with smut and dirt and ridiculous levels of violence and sexuality. I'm no prude, but I don't want my comics to reflect the filth of the real world. Comics are about escapism. I don't want to escape into the dirt that is out there in the real world. I crave a more innocent, nurturing time.

with new comics, the writing is terrible in most cases and the art is horrible. I noticed Jim Shooter reviewing some of the new DC52 junk at his blog, and I think he's being too polite even though he seriously criticizes the modern art. It's painful to the eye, poorly rendered, confusing, and bland. And it all looks the same.

Vintage Bob said...

Just a quick follow up. Got distracted by a phone call. One other change comes to mind. Neal Adams. I got caught up in the raves over his work in the 70's. And I do still like some of his work. But with each passing year I like it less. I hate his art on Spectre, Thor, Avengers, etc. I look back and say "you know, that is a weird pose, I don't like that camera angle, that expression looks wrong, Thor looks too thin", etc.

Maybe it was more a case of me not really liking him so much as I thought I did, but just jumping on the bandwagon as a kid. But he's the one artist I like less each time I view his work.

As for the "tolerating" thing, I've always loved Bil Mantlo's work. Especially on Micronauts. A total masterpiece! His Marvel Team Up stories are among my all time favorites. He's easily in my top ten comic writers of all time.

I've also noticed that I've grown somewhat less fond of vintage DC writing over the years. I've always loved both Marvel and DC, and have collected most titles from both companies as well as Atlas, Archie, Red Circle, Charlton, Gold Key, etc.

When I re-read material from the 60's, 70's, etc, it seems to me that Marvel stands head and shoulders above DC. So many DC stories were contrived, illogical, and improbable. It was as if the writers started with a good kernel of an idea, when forgot how to develop it into a compelling story. Most of the old DC stuff I'm buying now as I rebuild my old collection is done more for nostalgia than for enjoyment. What I mean is that I find myself rolling my eyes at a lot of DC stories, perhaps a bit moreso than I did even as a kid. The Marvel stuff holds up just fine. Still love both, but as an adult it seems so many of the DC stories just don't hold up as well.

baab said...

You mentioned Frank Robbins in your opening.
When I was at that age where swapping comics,was the thing,I would never swap for invaders or anything featuring Frank Robbins...

I recently acquire a captain america ESSENTIALS title specifically for the kirby madbomb run,and right at the beginning,there he is,Frank Robbins

And I must say the man is a wonderful artist.
I just could not see past the flexible shape of his work..
He is a classic pulp artist.
I showed the comics to my seven years old ,to get his opinion,and he hated it but turned the pages until he saw something he related to,,"cool,Jack Kirby!",he said.

Terence Stewart said...

I think it depends on the age at which you first read a particular comic.
I know from my own blog that it is incredibly hard to re-read a comic from 30+ years ago, that I liked well enough at the time,without some critical/historical awareness creeping in (which derails my original intent). I have to keep reminding myself that these comics were designed for kids (which I am long past being)and should be judged accordingly.
That being said, there are some comics I absolutely adored, when I was in my mid-teens, that I simply can't get any enjoyment out of now (New Teen Titans being one)and a lot of comics that I read between the ages of 7 and 15 which I can re-read now and find things to enjoy/appreciate that I missed the first time around.
Sorry if this reads slightly confused, but I've been giving a lot of thought recently to how my remembered enjoyment of some comics may be tainted by nostalgia, to the extent that it is sometimes difficult to re-read them 'cleanly'.
More thinking to do....

Ray Tomczak said...

When I was a kid, I thought that Ditko's art was kind of creepy. Something about it--I think it was the way he drew eyes--just made my skin crawl. I'm still not the biggest fan of his work, but at least now I can bear to look at it.

Redartz said...

Back in my youth, I detested Gil Kane's art (especially frustrating as he seemed to draw half of Marvel's covers during the 70's). As an 'adult', though, I've come to greatly enjoy his work.

Indeed, the styles of Ditko, Kane, Andru, etc. are much more interesting to me than the array of Liefeld/Jim Lee clones found today. Tight illustration does not equal effective storytelling.

Among more recent artists, I enjoy Darwyn Cooke, Jeff Smith, Moritat (loved his work on DC's Spirit), and Skottie Young (the Oz books are wonderful). So, considering today's topic, I'd say some things do age better, as one's tastes become more open...

Dougie said...

Weird. I thought I posted here yesterday...
Anyway, I appreciate Don Heck and especially Dick Dillin far more now than I did in the late 70s/early 80s. On the other hand, I find Don McGregor's scripts overwritten and almost a bit pretentious. Similarly, I find Marv Wolfman's writing cheesey and melodramatic.

Bendis's Marvel work is often villified but I've grown to enjoy his New Avengers.
When I'm in Glasgow later this week, I might try the new Animal Man and I, Vampire. I've read good things about both.

Steven R. Stahl said...

One example of how current stories have less substance: FEAR ITSELF is about a reincarnated Norse fear god, the Serpent, using super-powered servants to harm and cause fear in humans, making him a more powerful god. The heroes resist. There’s hardly anything more to the storyline than that, but the superficial conflicts and style of storytelling conceal the emptiness inside.


Garett said...

Good question. My first post here after reading for a while.

I used to love Starlin as a kid, now he leaves me flat. Byrne was a favorite, now just OK. I see they are good artists still, but I don't connect enough to read their stories.

Aparo and Kirby, I was only exposed to their '80s work as a kid--Aparo was ok enough to read Batman, Kirby not worth even looking at. Now Kirby's one of my favorites, and Aparo's Brave and Bold art is top notch, some of the best comic art ever.

Frazetta has always remained in my top 2 or 3. Kane you mentioned--I liked him as a kid, now I admire his structure, but don't enjoy reading a whole story. Haney's stories I just started reading, and I love them. Fun, smart, silly inventive writing, with no regard for continuity--that's the best in comics for my money. I wish there were more like that today, although I appreciate newer stories like Criminal and Walking Dead.

Thanks for this Blog, hope to post here more.

Doug said...

Lots of interesting thoughts here!

To answer a few questions, respond to a few observations --

David_b -- I don't know what issue the Bucky illustration comes from. It's an Internet swipe. Whoever uploaded it used the Cap dvd-rom, though -- I can tell you that!

Many have made nice points about sudden artist changes (Steranko was cited) -- those can always be jarring. And I would agree that it's sometimes much later before we can absorb the merits of the new creative team if we were really digging the present guys/gals.

To Edo and others -- your ongoing recommendations of Mantlo's Micronauts series have my interest piqued!

Inkstained -- I came to Kirby during his second tenure at the House of Ideas, hand-in-hand with reprints from his twilight years on the FF via Marvel's Greatest Comics. As that work was really very similar, I never warmed to ol' blocky-fingered Jack. It wasn't until years later when I'd absorbed his earlier FF work, his Cap stuff from Tales of Suspense, etc. that I warmed to him and now regard him as one of the true masters (silly anatomy errors aside, of course).

Vintage Bob and Garett -- welcome!

Dougie -- you had posted yesterday, because I read it when I got the email alert. I have no idea where it went! My apologies!

Terence, baab, Ray, and Redartz -- good points, all. Ditko's eyes in particular.

Hey, thanks again for taking the time to comment -- all of you! This was a really fun weekend for discussion. And, if you're just happening by, don't feel late to the party -- toss in your two cents!



PS: Kree/Skrull War, your turn for a What If? post, more monsters, and Iron Fist are all on the docket for this week, and it kicks off Monday morning at 6:00 AM central time.

Karen said...

Lots of great comments on this one. I know my standards have changed, as many of the comics we now review are not nearly as glorious as I once thought they were! The filter of nostalgia makes everything shine just a little brighter and taste a little sweeter. But when you rip it away and see something for what it truly is, it can be a very sobering experience.


Fred W. Hill said...

Regarding artists, there are some I loved as a kid that now I regard as below average, although often the quality depended on the inker, and some that I thought looked awful but now love (mainly Silver Age Ditko), but most of my assessments haven't changed all that much. As for the stories themselves, early on I grew frustrated with what I regarded as sappy stories, which by the time I was 9 I associated primarily with DC, but I had several more years to go before I appreciated more sophisticated stories that weren't dominated by mindless fight scenes. Some of the tales I enjoyed back in the '70s (including reprints of Silver Age issues) I now find too ridiculous while others I initially skipped as "not my thing," like Master of Kung Fu, I later really got into and still enjoy re-reading all these decades later.

Dougie said...

The Bucky image is from Tales of Suspense 89, I think, part two of a four-parter. The sequence begins with the Swordsman and the Original Power Man,(two mercenary heavies from Avengers) and ends with the Red Skull skyjacking NYC, years before Byrne and Terrax. I own it in a TPB collection of Kane's work at Marvel.

Stan used the Bucky impostor gimmick a second time in the rather pedestrian Colan Era but without Kane's patented tormented grimacing, it was much less effective.

I noticed my disenchantment with Wolfman and Perez is very timely, with a piece on NTT on Newsarama. It's suggested that the book's success was due to being a Marvel comic with DC characters. But that's only partly true: DC had been doing that since about 1976 and then most blatantly around the time of the Implosion, with Steel, Firestorm, Return/New Gods etc. The emoting and merest hint of sexuality in NTT provide the clues- it was a Claremont X-men book at DC.

Ric said...

It's interesting how our feelings about a particular artist or writer may change over time. When I was a kid, just starting to read comics, I didn't like many of Marvel's artists... Kirby, Heck, Robbins, Kane, Andru... (Always, always loved Sal!). Over the years, I've changed, and I appreciate all of them much more. I don't know a thing about art/storytelling, I just know what I like, and one thing those artists have over many of today's artists is that you can actually tell what is going on in the drawing!

I fall under the category of finding stories that I loved as a kid as still enjoyable. Adult-hood changes your perspective on things, so you read older comics for their entertainment value and for their nostalgia. But the stories just don't hit you like they used to... you can't help that your perspective has changed. The soap opera and the menace are unavoidably contrived when viewed as an adult. But, it's all still so fun to read and fun to look at!


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