Wednesday, October 19, 2011

How Important Are Backgrounds?

Doug: Interesting question today, and one that's the subject of criticisms of certain artists from time to time -- does your mind's eye require backgrounds in a panel, or are you generally OK with just plain colors?

Doug: Certainly when the boys from Image were getting rolling, one of the knocks on Mr. Liefeld was his lack of not only feet on his characters, but often the lack of the insertion of background pencils behind those same characters -- speed lines, cross-hatching, and general smokiness don't count in my book. Now I know that those sorts of details can be a bit tedious in a major-deadline sort of way, but we also know that in the past some artists have gotten up-and-comers to cut their teeth doing solely detail work. With the sort of cash those Marvel-leavers were generating, they certainly could have afforded to find a way to make it right. If you're unsure of what I'm speaking, run your eye down the main page of our blog and check out some of Sal Buscema's panel work. In fact, other than the Gil Kane Tales of Suspense sample near the bottom, just about all of our examples contain backgrounds.

Doug: So you can tell I'm a guy that would like "the whole picture". I'd also like it to be accurate when necessary -- quite a while ago we reviewed Fantastic Four #167, where the Hulk and Thing battle atop St. Louis' Gateway Arch. The art team of George Perez and Joe Sinnott inaccurately depicted the Arch, which is metal, as being made of concrete. Uh uh -- definite no-no. Do some research.

Doug: So sound off, and thanks in advance as always!


Anonymous said...

Hi Doug,

Deeply shocked to see Perez highlighted as a villain in the background stakes. I always loved his super detailed....and always remarkably consistent.....backgrounds, esp. on the Avengers. Really enjoyed his continuity. You’d see a big machine in a particular area of the room, then later something (or more typically, someone), would go flying into it and the bits that flew off would be very much of the right design rather than just random chucks of anonymous metal. Then, in succeeding panels, the relevant detritus would be in the right places on the floor. It always looked to me like he had a real 3D plan in his head of the battle scene. I remember after a battle with Ultron, seeing it (from above?) and everyone was lying in the right place on the floor in relation to each other & where they fell. It sounds like ridiculous and unnecessary detail, but 30 years later I still remember it, so it clearly had tremendous impact.

I think Perez detailed style required this, but I don’t think everyone’s necessarily did. I think Gene Colan’s fluid, liquid style lent itself to a lack of detail. At least with a diligent inker like Palmer filling in just enough detail behind. Dan Green inking Colan just looked half finished.

You mention Mr.Kane, whom I absolutely love, but I think his art has a certain magic which I mean that anatomical accuracy was always second to a dynamic picture. I think if you’d had very detailed, accurate, realistic backgrounds with exaggerated figures in front of them, it wouldn’t have worked so well. I think Dan Adkins really got Kane right.

I guess subject matter is also key. For example, you couldn’t criticise Ditko’s classic backgrounds on Doc Strange for a lack of detail, even when they were just a long tongue of God Knows What leading into a cubist doorway with a surrealist nightmare behind it. Or, indeed, Nightmare behind it.


Doug said...

Hey, Richard --

Glad to hear from you - it's been awhile!

No hate tossed to Perez at all; the example provided was merely a gripe about the Gateway Arch and its composition. I would never denigrate Perez in the backgrounds/no backgrounds discussion.

Great point bringing up Ditko -- we could also cite Kirby in the "far out" backgrounds, space-scapes, etc.

So that being said, I think it's safe to count you and I among those who like that detail "behind the action" -- and as you state in Perez's case, said background may very soon become part OF the action!


david_b said...

I like the right mix of backgrounds.. Sometimes in pursuit of realism and detail, some artists push for drawing in the backgrounds, when I'm more a fan of a healthy mix.

Much like your example, when everything is 'whited out'.. perception-wise, it draws you in, like nothing else matters which is how perceptions are.

Despite it's darkness, I liked the stark representations of Batman succumbing to his brainwashing in 'The Cult'. Depicting his head unraveling was very, very powerful in expression.

While I love Perez (for a lot of Richard's remarks..), it's styles that are compared here. Did the more surreal artists like Steranko or Barry Smith in their heyday care about accuracy..? No, it was story-telling.

Richard, LOVED the accuracy in that overhead shot after the Ultron battle (Avengers 161, I believe..). You're right - It wasn't like any other perspective I've seen before. Simple, yet effective.

Edo Bosnar said...

Like Richard, I appreciate an artist who draws detailed, and consistent, backgrounds, or even richly detailed fanciful ones a la Ditko or, say, P. Craig Russell. However, I can think of any number of artists who often took the minimalist approach to good effect - Kane is a good example, and so is Frank Miller (although he was capable of good background work as well).
I guess it depends on the scene being conveyed. In fact, the page of Liefeld art you posted here does not really require backgrounds: it conveys quite well the point that this man just drank something that seriously disagreed with him (besides, even nicely rendered, detailed backgrounds cannot make Liefeld's art look good). Now, it's another matter entirely when the entire story consists of mostly wordless panels full of minimalist figure work that can be read in less than 5 minutes...

starfoxxx said...

I love the way Perez can include the detail of figures and costumes in his backgrounds. Some of his more amazing panels of huge group shots or battles can be inspected and enjoyed for their detail at greater lengths.

It seems like a lost technique. I don't want to pigeonhole ALL new comic book artists for the aversion to background details, but one glaring example comes to mind. Leinil YU.
I suffered through Yu's "ugly" art in New Avengers and Secret Invasion. He seemed to be an odd choice for the Secret Invasion series, with the number of characters and battles, as his technique for background figures seems to be just scribbles. maybe he was pressed for time, but what a mess, and a glaring example of an artist who neglects backgrounds.

Rip Jagger said...

I think it's time to dare to bring up the name of Vince Colletta. Colletta of course is reviled by many Kirby devotees (I'm a Kirby devotee myself, but also a booster of Colletta) for they way he altered the King's work often eliminating or simplifying backgrounds.

The argument is a valid one, but I personally find that many of the changes done by Colletta don't hurt the overall impression of the work, but create a synthesis which is neither artist purely but a evocative blend of both.

It was not Colletta's job to slavishly follow Kirby's lines, but I get the counter that he sometimes might go too far for some, and that his motivation had to do with deadlines more than artistic purity. But I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on some of those issues.

When I look at that artwork, I love it, so whatever the parts might be in isolation, their sum works for this fanboy.

Rip Off

Anonymous said...

Hi Doug,

Thanks for the welcome back. I’ll see you after class with my tardy slip :0)

Yes, I’m definitely a background-booster. I think one of the hardest things in literature is for a writer to know the point up to which background detail enriches the story and when it just stalls the plot. In comics, that issue doesn’t apply, because the artist can include plenty of detail for those that like it, but those don’t can just absorb the figures and the action, read the words and blast straight on through. No excuse for no backgrounds.

RipOff – totally agree about Colletta on Kirby, and once again, it’s about subject matter. As soon as you say Kirby + Colletta, my brain goes Kirby + Colletta = Thor. I actually think their stuff on Thor so captures the sheer strong-arm power of the character and the stories, that it stayed the definitive art on Thor despite Wrightson and even the great John Buscema ( sorry Doug.....I’ll get my coat....).

Edo – I agree with you about Kane & Miller, but looking at Kane’s covers (and let’s face it, if you’re talking Kane, you’re talking covers) I’m always amazed by the amount of detail. Even right down into the corners, which he could have ignored, he’d always add another figure, often looking back at the reader, as the angry villagers rounded or Dracula....or whatever. And you know it was Kane and not the inker who put the figure in because, as Doug’s fond of pointing out, you can see straight up both nostrils.

One person who has, weirdly, failed to come to anyone’s mind is Jim Starlin. When I think of him, I think of insane amounts of detail (anyone else count Captain Marvel’s ribs & abs?) and yet I don’t associate him with detailed backgrounds. I wonder why not?

Oh Ka-ren......


Karen said...

I've been traveling so I'm just getting some comments in today. I love intricate backgrounds, IF they don't distract from the main focus. I thought Kirby had some great background machinery and doo-dads. Perez of course is a master and clearly thinks out every aspect of the page he draws. Although I have enjoyed Colletta's work on Thor his erasing of details is just inexcusable.


Redartz said...

As Edo stated, the amount of detail should be a function of the overall effect desired; suiting the story-telling, and furthering the enjoyment of both art and story.

As for detail work, Terry Austin is the man for me! Part of the fun in reading books with his fine inks is searching the backgrounds for his many 'hidden gems'.

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