Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Bagley and Williams III Fistfight in Heaven

Since my last WWC column, I've been getting plenty of e-mails and Tweets from people defending Mark Bagley's work and saying stuff like "while it's true that Bagley couldn't have drawn 'Promethea,' Williams III couldn't have drawn 'Ultimate Spider-Man.'" Yeah, that's just plain wrong.

Why is it hard for people to accept that drawing is a skill and some people are better at it than others? Sure, there are plenty of fuzzy areas, and I would have trouble saying that J. H. Williams III is better than Dan Clowes, for example, but Williams III vs. Bagley? Really, there's no contest.

Williams III:


Bagley:

46 comments:

J. Charles Brister said...

I'm sure you've heard this before, but Bagley is simply a better overall asset to the company in terms of strict business terms. He meets deadlines, he's timely, and above all, he's FAST. I'm not sure any other artist other than Jack Kirby himself could have drawn 12 pages a week for a straight year. He's not a spectacular visual artist, to be sure, but he's currently the best at turning in pages on a schedule and sticking to it. Williams can't really claim those kind of accolades, though he is one of the best artists currently working in the industry.

Dave said...

I completely agree the J.H. Williams III is a better story teller and artist than Mark Bagley. When I read your WWC column this morning I laughed to myself thinking people would get up in arms over that comment.

It is surprising that people take that comment like you are saying Bagley is a bad artist. He's not but he isn't as good as Williams.

While you might say the Ultimate Spider-Man would have read like a different story if Williams drew it. I hardly think you can say that Williams couldn't have drawn it. Or you could also say that Williams couldn't have drawn it as fast as Bagley.

Shecky Shabazz said...

While I agree on most of the points you made in this week's column, I do think you're putting too much emphasis on the inherently static-platonic objectivity of quality.

It works well with the rather polarized examples you used in the column, but personally, I'd have a hard time explaining why Gary Panter is objecitvely better than, say, Erik Larsen. Or that Frazer Irving is a better artist than Leinil Yu. Or that Crumb or Pekar are better writers than JMS or Peter David. I obviously think that that's the case, but I don't know if I'd say they're objectively better.

Now, usually, I tend to agree with your preferences, so this is more of a question of the nature of objectivity and assessment of quality, but I do feel you're putting too much emphasis on objectivity. Also: what's a "better" artist in a comic book context? Is it simply the one whose work looks better or do you factor in qualities such as speed, innovation, etc?

By the way, what's with dissing The Buy Pile (I seem to recall this is not the first time)? Kudos to CBR for allowing their columnist space to air their opinions, I suppose.

Bill Reed said...

Don't worry, Tim, I'll still have a beer with you.

...

You're buying, though.

Greg said...

I've gotten in trouble on the blog with Mr. Joe Rice before when I claim that reviewers simply cannot be objective because everyone's taste is different. You can claim Williams is better than Bagley, but there will always be someone who can "prove" to you that he's not. That doesn't make it so, but it's the nature of art.

I bring this up because of your X-Factor review. I haven't loved every issue, but I still like the book and think you're wrong about it. However, I really don't give a crap whether you like it or not - your enjoyment of it (or lack thereof) has nothing to do with mine. I've written about this before - how much influence does a reviewer actually have? If you bash X-Factor, will it cause people who like the book to "see the light" and drop it? Beats me. They're awfully weak-willed if that's true. I think that the best a reviewer can do is point out books that readers might not have already seen. If you review books for a big site like CBR, or if you're insane like me (ninety bucks in purchases last week alone), you might read more than someone who only reads DC and Marvel books, and you might be able to show them other stuff. Why people get so bent out of shape about you dissing X-Factor is puzzling. Who cares?

That is to say, you're wrong about it. Why do you hate Peter David, man? And if your new job doesn't keep you away from the con, I'll have a beer with you in San Diego. I'll even pay for it, unlike cheapskate Bill Reed!

Timothy Callahan said...

I WILL be in San Diego. Beers for me!

There's no doubt Bagley is a faster artist, but that's a completely different topic and has nothing to do with his skill as an artist. You might give the "Sportsmanship" trophy to the clumsy kid who shows up to every practice and every game, but that doesn't make him the best player.

I like comics.

David Uzumeri said...

While I completely agree that Williams's work on Detective Comics is leagues above Bagley's work on Ultimate Spider-Man or Trinity, I'd argue that the appellation of who is a "better" artist depends entirely on your grading rubric.

The fact is, Williams and Bagley are working in different contexts - Williams has a long period of time to draw an intensely detailed book, while Bagley is notoriously reliable and professional regarding keeping to a schedule. While Williams's storytelling is certainly more progressive, Bagley's still a seasoned pro with a Giffenesque understanding of how to lay out a page for maximum clarity. I think it's really difficult to say whether Williams or Bagley is more talented overall, since they clearly invested their talent in two completely different directions. I hope this doesn't sound like too much of a cop-out answer, but I really think elevating one artist over the other effectively invalidates an approach, and I really think comics is big enough for both. They're both very, very good at what they do, but what they do are really different things.

othermarlo said...

Easy: Bagley is a good comic book artist while Williams III is a better artist. Want to do a test? Show a Bagley comic and a Williams III comic to a non-comic reader and ask them.

However, Tim, you shouldn't get bothered by people's reactions. Remember, these are the same people that allow someone like Rob Liefeld to have a career as an artist.

Vanja said...

It's nice to see the blog being updated:) I for one would like to see more links to your CBR reviews.

Neal K said...

Personally, I believe that there is both an objective element and a subjective element to reviews. Some things really ARE objectively better than others, but within that lies quite a gray area. Is Grant Morrison objectively better or worse than Alan Moore? I would never dare to even attempt to make that judgment call. I would say that I subjectively prefer Morrison's work, though I think there would be a legitimate case to be made on behalf of each as to who is objectively a better writer. On the other hand, I would have no problem saying that Grant Morrison is an objectively better writer than, say, Fabian Nicieza.

As for the purpose of bad reviews of books like X-Factor, the answer is simple - to warn off those thinking of picking up the book. I too think Tim is wrong about X-Factor. But if I wasn't already reading it, but thinking about giving it a try, Tim's one-star review might give me pause. This is mainly because I generally agree with Tim's reviews, and have found over time that things he likes are likely to be things I will like. A good critic builds up trust with his audience, and the audience will often use that critic's reviews to make a determination of what is worth spending time and money on.

enjonze said...

Huh. I wrote a blog entry on the same theme, people getting pissed because you don't like something they love.

http://enjonze.blogspot.com/2009/02/being-mr-angry.html

Williams IS a better artist than Bagley. End of story. That's all there is to it. Only a Nazi would say otherwise. Other arguement-enders. ;-)

Brian said...

I see where you're coming from Tim. One can argue whether Williams or Bagley are a better COMIC BOOK ARTIST, but Williams is indeed more skilled at drawing. I can sympathize with the argument: I illustrate textbooks for a living and am, ergo, an artist. I think I'm pretty good at technical work and using style guides to illuminate what the art is required to focus on. But I can't frankly draw for shit if it comes down to me making a simple pretty picture.

Bagley may well be a better COMIC BOOK ARTIST than Williams, in the same way that I think I'm a better TECHNICAL ILLUSTRATOR than some more purely-artistic sorts I've worked with. It's how you specialize. Williams makes gorgeous art, but it's sometimes overstylized for what it needs to be, and he can't carry an ongoing without a massive lead-time (versus Bagley, who can do a weekly or biweekly easy without sacrificing clarity and storytelling). Hell, I can produce a full textbook in a few weeks, but nothing I do on the side is ever going to show up on a museum wall.

It's how artists specialize for the task at hand that defnes the argument here.

(BTW, Tim, glad to see you back posting!)

Bobby Campbell said...

I much prefer Mark Bagley's art to J.H. Williams's. With no asterisks.

Matt Jacobson (formerly Ultimate Matt) said...

I say the following under, hopefully, the understanding that the internet cannot convey tone of voice, mannerisms or facial expressions. So if it sounds like I'm being rude, or a dick, please give me the benfit of the doubt, because it wil be hard NOT to come across that way.

I do think you tend to praise anything by writers you like in your reviews, regardless of actual quality. There seems to be a lot of benefit of the dout given to guys like Fraction, whose last Uncanny story was really poor, issue 510 in particular being objectively bad for numerous reasons I pointed out in my blog the last time I bothered to write there (not self-promotion I just don't feel like re-writing). It may be off-putting to some readers to see you constantly praising a small group of creators and "bashing" others.

Again, I'm not being an asshole intentionally, and I only even write this because you opened the topic. Also, you were in fact wrong. X-Factor has been head and shoulders above everything else from the X-Office for the past 4 years, including the better parts of Fraction's run (which is really just the Lovelorn story).

Timothy Callahan said...

This from a guy who doesn't like Northlanders...

Timothy Callahan said...

Seriously, though, Matt--I don't know how to respond to your comment. It's no surprise to me that good writers tend to produce comics that are good. Seems tautological to me. It IS surprising when good writers (i.e. Ed Brubaker) write bad comics (i.e. HIS run on "Uncanny X-Men"). Fraction's "Uncanny" is quite good, and I suspect the only reason most people are reluctant to say so is that Greg Land is a silly artist and poor choice for the book.

Matt Jacobson (formerly Ultimate Matt) said...

Madelyne needed a lock of Jean Grey's hair to find her. She was located in the X-Men's graveyard, dedicated to fallen X-Men. How hard would it have been for her to check there first?

In addition, the lock of hair ld her to the graveyard, and then it turned out Domino had already moved her body. So why did it lead her there?

These are prett basic plot holes, under which the story falls apart. Not good.

Kyle said...

In addition to what Matt said, it seemed implied to be Maddie's body, in which case, there should at least be a line about WHY only Jean's is acceptable, such as a nod to her possession by the Phoenix. This should not be confused with merely saying that only Jean's body is acceptable, which the issue did. I kind of liked issue 512, though (in time-travel stories even the cliches are better).

Matt Jacobson (formerly Ultimate Matt) said...

512 was a fun issue; read Five Fists of Science if you liked it. I'm not denying Land's a big part of the problem. It's no coincidence that the better Fraction stories have had superior artwork.

Timothy Callahan said...

You guys have inspired me to go back and read Fraction's Uncanny run. And another thing that Matt's comment made me think about is how I never (or almost never) worry about plot holes or comment upon them in my reviews. I focus on pacing and tone and structure in a more holistic sense and individual plot holes never bother me (usually). Hmmmm... I wonder why that is? I'm sure I can get a WWC column out of it!

Phil said...

I'm afraid I'm having a great deal of trouble seeing how any art criticism can be truly objective. There may be general, perhaps even total, agreement amongst obsevers that x is better than y, but that does not equate with an objective view. Historically there have been artists whose work has been almost universally agreed superior to anothers, only for the situation to reverse later. The work of the Impressionists being a good example.
That's not to say that you shouldn't attempt to be as objective as you can, as long as you realise that there will always be biases that you aren't even aware of and you'll never truly reach objectivity.
I think consistency and accuracy are the most important thing. That way regular readers can think 'OK that's a good/bad review but I know how our tastes differ/agree'. There used to be a movie reviewer who could give a bad review in such a way that I knew I'd like the film!

Dave said...

Phil, I think in situations where the overall goal of the art is the same you can objectively decide what is better. Williams and Bagley both basically have the same job. Comparing them to Dali or Michelangelo would be like comparing a poet to a novelist. But you can say Novelist A. is better than Novelist B.

Chad Nevett said...

Matt -- I can't speak for Tim, but the problem with reviewing titles you normally enjoy or creators you like is one that reviewers struggle with (I know I do and I assume Tim does since... well, he's a thoughtful, self-aware guy, too). It's natural to give the benefit of the doubt to a creator or title you're aware of and has proven to be deserving of it while not necessarily giving one to a book that has no track record with you. How can you avoid that when, most of the time, you're doing it without thinking about it? Then again, I know I've been VERY harsh to creators I normally like when they deliver subpar work -- but that's because I tend to have a highly critical mentality towards things I support.

And there is no way to objectively review anything. The best you can hope for is that people may agree/disagree with you, but at least see where you're coming from, think you've proven your point, and enjoy what you've written.

Andrew said...

While I don't believe in "objectivity" as its commonly treated in society today (something along the lines of "providing an unbiased view of an ontological truth"), I do accept that people *practice* objectivity professionally. In other words, "objectivity" isn't a thing, it's a set of rhetorical decisions that exist to facilitate the communication of data (everyone should read Lorraine Daston for more on the subject).

I mention this distinction in relation to the discussion of comic books because I think appealing to "objectivity" is harmful to their growing merit. When art/literary critics have appealed to "objective" standards in the past, they have done so to exclude certain creation from being considered art. Unsurprisingly, those creations have usually been the work of less privileged groups (women, the poor, racial minorities, etc.). When "objective standards" constantly "prove" (sorry about the excessive scare quotes) that wealthy white men produce the best art work, those standards become suspect. And so long as we appeal to "objective" standards, we're never going to convince people to treat comic books as literary and cultural artifacts. All discussions of them will forever be reduced to "I think you're taking superheroes way too seriously. I mean, they're just comic books." People will then defend this attitude by appealing to the "objective standards" that grant artistic superiority to novels and poetry. (Ben Saunders had a letter in the PMLA a few months ago that discussed the dangers of trying to canonize certain comics at the expense of others, since it validates the process of canonization that has excluded so many valuable creations in the first place)

Having said that, I do believe in informed opinions and supporting claims with reasons. I too disagree with Tim about the whole of X-Factor #44, but I appreciate that he revealed his criteria for evaluating it in a reasonable fashion. If I wanted a comic book that hit the kinds of beats that Tim is looking for, I would probably want to look somewhere else.

Jeremy said...

I told don't worry about plot holes or try to understand every single little thing about a comic(I would have drove myself mad thinking too hard about half the crazy shit Morrison writes).

Anyway, the REAL question is, who's better: Williams III or Quitely?

Patrick said...

Anyway, the REAL question is, who's better: Williams III or Quitely?

That's the impossible question. For me, it's pretty much whoever's work I've read most recently. Having just read Batman and Robin #2, I'd lean towards Quitely, but I'm sure if I went through Seven Soldiers #1 again, or pulled out a random Promethea, I could be swayed in another direction.

And, in general, I think it's hard to make objective calls about anything. What's a better movie, Citizen Kane or Transformers 2? It's pretty obvious to me, but I'm sure many of the people who saw Transformers 2 this weekend would disagree.

Timothy Callahan said...

Quitely vs. Williams III is Flash vs. Superman. It's always a tie. (Except when Geoff Johns gets involved.)

David Uzumeri said...

Quitely's always holding wild panel layouts back because, you know, he wants to keep things interesting for charity.

Facundo said...

A) Really, there is no contest here. Williams III is better that a lot of "people" inside the industry.

PS: Uncanny x-men and x-factor are some kind of guilty pleasure to me. They are not good series. BUT, I don`t know why, I like both. maybe I'm a masochist. Don't know. Bring me a beer.

Henshaw Hasselpuffs said...

I don't get all the comments trying to make it like you can't really compare Bagley to Williams III or saying "Well Williams is a better artist but Bagley is a better COMICS artist".

Does Bagley use unique and interesting panel layouts that enhance the feel and pacing of the story? Because as I recall, that's a part of comics storytelling and Bags, as much as I love him, cannot compare to Williams III.

I agree with Tim, many things are objective. Greg Land is a bad artist, not in my opinion. He is simply bad. For fans of Greg Land? You like a bad artist who traces porn faces and sticks them in comics. Nothing wrong enjoying that, but it's still bad.

Greg said...

By the way, I forgot to mention: Nice Sherman Alexie reference.

Matt Jacobson (formerly Ultimate Matt) said...

Out of curisoity, Tim, why don't you like Brubaker's run on X-Men? And why, in plain terms (meaning, don't tell me it has "aesthetic unity" or whatever) is Fraction's run "good" or "better", when it falls apart under plot holes and characterization? Brubakers plots are tighter, and his characterization more subtle. On a technical level, his run is easily better. (I'm not saying I was wild for it - I thought it was solid but unspectacular - but based on what we've seen of Fraction so far, Bru's was better)

Timothy Callahan said...

I have an Uncanny post coming! Or maybe I'll do it as a WWC column.

I just re-read all the Fraction issues and they hold up very well. His characterizations are MUCH sharper than Brubaker's, and the plot holed you mentioned are not plot holes at all. The DNA spell thing located the area of Jean's body -- the cemetery -- but not the exact body itself. The Red Queen just hastily assumed the body in front of her was the right one. How is that a plot hole.

No, Fraction's run is even better than I thought, and I will write about it one of these days.

Brubaker's run was leaden and dull as hell.

Matt Jacobson (formerly Ultimate Matt) said...

Ah, there's no hope. Next you'll tell me you re-read Northlanders and it was still good.

Matt Jacobson (formerly Ultimate Matt) said...

I just checked again, and no, the hair led her directly to the grave.

Timothy Callahan said...

Where does it say that? Am I missing a page? Or am I just dumb?

They show up at the cemetery, and then walk toward the grave, but I don't see anything in the spell that says "this fake body is the real body." Give me an issue and page # for this information I am missing.

Yes, Northlanders is still good as well, though I was not the biggest fan of the most recent issue. Uncanny is better.

Matt Jacobson (formerly Ultimate Matt) said...

It's in 511, page 7 when they arrive at the graveyard. At least, I'm assuming that's what it's supposed to be - the art shows a little floating, glowing line flying straight to the grave. It's entirely possible Land fucked something up - wouldn't be the first time but that is what it appears to show.

God, I'm petty. I went and looked this shit up.

Timothy Callahan said...

Oh, it's in Land's art? No wonder I chose to ignore it.

Matt Jacobson (formerly Ultimate Matt) said...

Well, like I said about issue 510, it actually reads just as well if you ignore the pictures.

Timothy Callahan said...

Okay, I see what you're looking at. Land's art is such a huge problem, but if you look on that page, the magic firefly thing stops at the entrance to the cemetery (sort of--there's a wall on the left where it stops, even though it looks like they've entered in the previous panel). But in the background of where it stops, you can see the pile o' dirt that's the supposed tomb of Jean Grey.

At least, I think that's what it's supposed to be.

Either way, there's no indication that the magic light thing stops where Domino is.

And I really don't like Greg Land.

Reg Wiebe said...

Sorry to get all pretentious, but isn't this the modernism/postmoderism debate? Not the stuff about Uncanny 510, but I haven't read Frederic Jameson in a while. Isn't setting Williams and Bagely in opposition missing the point? Neither Williams nor Bagely are precisely rendering the so-called real world. Since both are degrees of representation, what we define as "objectively good" is what best fits our criteria. Is formal experimentation good, or is concise character work good? Or whatever. In a different cultural context, these criteria would probably be different.

It kinda reminds me of a moment in Terry Zwigoff's documentary about Robert Crumb, where Crumb is in a comic shop and looking at whatever new comics are there. He dismisses the new generation of comix artists as just making crap. Zwigoff doesn't draw attention to this moment, but it falls into the film's discussions about whether or not Crumb's comix themselves are crap. It's all about context people!

Timothy Callahan said...

But though I'm usual a postmodernist, and I completely see what everone's talking about in terms of subjectivity and context, everything is NOT completely subjective. Some people are taller than other people. Some people can play basketball than other people. And some people can draw better. Maybe it's all relative after a certain point of general proficiency, but surely you'd all agree that J.H. Williams III can draw better than I can (or probably better than you can, too)? Right? Or do you think that's subjective as well?

Reg Wiebe said...

I know that I'm splitting hairs to a rather Clintonian degree, but I think it depends on what you mean by "drawing." By most criteria, I agree that Williams is better (figure, composition, unity, and his ability to innovate/experiment) Mostly, I just think that this argument/discussion thread is fun.

The reason that the argument is so enticing is, maybe, because we (more or less) can agree about the criteria that make, say, a good basketball player but there is a lot of disagreement about what makes a good artist.

Paul said...

Has Mark Bagley ever taken as long to do a comic as JH Williams, maybe if he took the time, he would produce art of a higher caliber than Williams. It is really comparing apples and oranges in that both are in the same field but work in totally different methods

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