Saturday, January 26, 2008

Don't You Know It's All Art Adams's Fault?

Doesn't everyone know that Art Adams is actually to blame for the downfall of the American super-hero comic book?

I've always suspected this to be true, but after reading George Khoury's Image: The Road to Independence, I have beloved facts to back me up. Now, you must keep a couple of things in mind: (1) Khoury doesn't belabor the Adams connection, and, in my opinion, his interview questions don't go into enough depth about the exact influence Art Adams had on the original Image Comics creators, and (2) everything below is pretty much completely made up by me, but I'm sure it all happened exactly like this:

In July of 1985, 15-year-old Rob Liefeld, taking a break from his summer job waxing skateboards, walked to the corner store to purchase his usual lunch: Yoo-Hoo and an iced Honey Bun. He glanced at the comic book spinner rack and saw the usual cerebral fare: Squadron Supreme, The Amazing Spider-Man, and The Colossal Jughead Digest. Dismissing such comics as "pretentious nonsense," he headed to the register with only his sugary delights in his hand. Out of the corner of his eye, though, he saw something. Something AWESOME.

It was the cover of Longshot #1, illustrated by Art Adams.

"Look at all those lines!" shouted young Rob. "Is that guy sporting a mullet on the cover? Or is that a rat-tail? It's the most AWESOME thing I've ever seen."

Rob didn't return to the skateboard shop that day. He, his Yoo-Hoo, iced Honey Bun, and near-mint copy of Longshot #1 raced home and never looked back. For the next three years, young Rob perfected his Art Adams drawing impression. He traced all the lines. ALL OF THEM. Until he knew how to draw lines better than anyone who had ever drawn lines before. He worried not about "under-drawing" or "character shapes" or "page design" or "storytelling."

"The line's the thing!" he sang, "with it, I shall change the face of comic books as we know it."

In 1988, still-15-year-old Rob penciled a DC "Bonus Book" (a free comic story done by upcoming superstars stapled inside another, unrelated story--or as Rob would say, "awesomeness squared") and gained a longer gig on Hawk and Dove, both of which he drew in imitation of Art Adams.

A look at young Rob's cover to Hawk and Dove #1 reveals the close spiritual bond between the two artists. As Rob says, recalling his work on that title, "I thought Art Adams drew an AWESOME smile on Mojo, back in the Longshot days, so I took that same smile, drew it with a bunch of lines, and slapped it on Kestrel. You can see his smile on that first cover. Isn't it AWESOME? I gave him extra teeth so I could draw more lines, but I think the inker changed it for some stupid reason."

Fired from DC for drawing the final issue of Hawk and Dove sideways (why sideways? "Because that's how Erik Larsen did it, and he's AWESOME--some day I want to work with that guy, not really get along with him, and quit a company we start before I get kicked out. That would be SWEET," says Rob), young Rob re-energized a floundering small-time company known as "Marvel" Comics. Coincidentally, that same company was the original publisher of the very same Longshot comic book which had formed the foundation of the Rob Liefeld approach to art with lines.

During his decade at "Marvel," 15-year-old Rob created hundreds of memorable characters, all of which carried giant guns. When asked about this, Rob recalls his inspiration: "I thought, what could I draw my characters holding so I didn't have to draw fingers NOT holding stuff? My idol, Art Adams, designed Longshot with only four fingers, just so he could get around the trickiness of finger-drawing. I went a different route. I decided to have my characters hold big, big guns. Plus, more guns equals more lines! (And not tricky finger-lines--I'm talking bad-ass metal lines! AWESOME!)"

Around this same time, at the local skatepark, young Rob met a few other Art Adams devotees. One youngster, Whilce Portacio, had even inked Art Adams back in his Longshot days! And kick-flip expert Jim Lee's favorite inker (the one who drew the most lines, obviously), was none other than Scott Williams, who had helped Whilce ink Art Adams when they were toddlers. Combine that with a reunion between sideways-page-drawing Erik Larsen, and added-extra-lines-to-Spider-Man's-costume Todd McFarlane, and you had a gang of youthful street punks who decided to spraypaint their names across the brick wall of comicdom: "Image Comics," they scrawled, in neon orange.

15-year-old Rob's first Image book was none other than the legendary Youngblood. After decades of copying the Art Adams look, he decided to mark this new territory with a more experimental style. Abandoning any sense of context, Liefeld's characters, from the sublime Badrock to the elegant Shaft, inhabited a metaphorical, rather than literal "comic book space." As young Rob puts it, "my characters had evolved beyond the binary notion of foreground and background. While Art Adams may have situated his characters in a detailed mise-en-scene, I found it more evocative to position my figures in a conceptual, 'free' space symbolized by solids. Mostly white solids. With maybe hundreds of lines thrown in."

As revolutionary as his Youngblood style became, he was forced to walk away from Image Comics at the height of his popularity and cultural influence. His multi-national cabal, AWESOME ENTERTAINMENT sprung from the ashes of what had once been his corner of the Image playpen. 15-year-old Rob persevered, though, by hiring fresh young talent like Alan Moore and Jeph Loeb write stories that others could draw, giving Rob more time to pursue his studies.

"Now, I've evolved past the Art Adams aesthetic," says Rob. "I've immersed myself in classic illustrators. Have you seen N. C. Wyeth? Talk about LINES! He uses lines EVERYWHERE. Or older guys like Gustave Dore? They're AWESOME."

Nevertheless, the torch of Art Adams continued without young Rob's help, as 12 and 13-year old artists rushed into DC and "Marvel" to fill the void.

Throughout the 1990s, the legacy of Art Adams could be felt throughout comicdom, and when Art Adams himself joined forces with Wildstorm, young Jim Lee's company, and DC on such titles as Tom Strong's Terrific Tales and The Authority the history of contemporary comic books devoured itself and was rendered obsolete.


marcwrz said...

Hahaha Brilliant.

Timothy Callahan said...

Thanks! Marc--E-mail me! We have to talk about the Joe Staton exhibit this summer.

Chad Nevett said...

Heh. Niiiiiiiiice.

You know what REALLY sucks about my Joe Casey love/obsession? Buying that Youngblood hardcover where Casey has rescripted it. And I will buy it.

James said...

(a free comic story done by upcoming superstars stapled inside another, unrelated story--or as Rob would say, "awesomeness squared")


Marc Caputo said...

Timothy: love this post. What's up with your e-mail address? I got stuff kicked back to me.

Timothy Callahan said...

Marc-- I haven't been aware of any e-mail problems. Try sending it again and let me know what happens.