Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Iron Age Week: Rob Liefeld

Rob Liefeld. The name itself conjures up strong emotions. For some, he's the greatest thing since sliced bread. For many, many others, he's become a symbol of what is wrong with comics. This man:
He kinda looks like an adult Opie.

As one of the founders of Image Comics, no discussion about the Iron Age would be complete without a brief discussion of the man and his work. Now, some of you might have noticed I've already made a few Liefeld jokes. That makes me no different than 95% of comic fans on the internet. The man even has a listing on tvtropes dedicated to him. Why the nerdrage? Well, instead of going into the various criticisms leveled at him, I'll let a picture do the talking....

You've probably seen this already.

Now, let me state for the record- I'm not a Liefeld-hater. I actually kinda like his stuff. Is he my favorite artist? No. But he's not the worst professional artist I've ever seen. Liefeld's art is akin to a meal at Denny's. Sure, no restaurant critic will ever give it five stars, but it's there for you. Honestly, you have other choices, but you keep going back to Denny's. And why not? It's filling. It doesn't necessarily taste great, and it's probably not good for you, but it fills up an empty stomach late at night. Liefeld's work is the same. Do you want him illustrating your piece in which characters expound on the human condition? No. However, he's adequately suited to do pages of costumed lugs beating the stuffing out of each other. So, why make fun of him?

Honestly, it's really easy. I mean, look at that Cap picture. It's so over-the-top ridiculous that you can't HELP but mock it. Rob Liefeld, to me, is sort of like a comedy mine filled with rich veins of humor-ore. I'll trundle a cart down ol' Liefeld Shaft #9 and see what today's take brings me. However, it's not without its dangers. I make sure to bring a canary with me; if the canary suddenly sports exaggerated musculature or an abundance of pouches, I run out as fast as possible.

In fairness, Rob himself invites much of the mockery. In recent years, internet access has allowed him to make comments that are both public and stupid. In one instance, Rob got into a pissing contest with Rags Morales. Rags basically got the better of Rob, including a retort that's best described as "Epic Win".

Pictured: Rags Morales seconds after coming up with a put-down that funny.

In all honesty, they both acted like children, but who among us hasn't acted stupid on a message board? Also, Rags worked on Hourman and Dragon Magazine, so he gets a pass.

Another reason for the mocking is Liefeld's body of work. Now, above, you'll notice I said I kinda like his art. I'm not going back on that. He's a fairly talented artist; he's certainly better than I am. No, what I am referring to is his writing.

There are many artists who also have good writing chops, or are at least good in the plotting and story department- John Byrne, Alex Ross, and of course Jack "The King" Kirby. Rob Liefeld is not one of those men. His writing can be referred to with phrases like "derivative", "juvenile", "uninspired", and "mindlessly violent", to name just a few. For example, as a youth, I made the folly of buying Youngblood #1, written and drawn by Liefeld. In one of the stories, Youngblood goes to a country that's Not Iraq, and one of the members blows up the head of a guy who's Not Saddam Hussein. And compared to some of his other works, that's masterfully subtle.

Like Kirby, much of Rob's inspiration comes from the Bible. Unlike Kirby, Rob's biblical epics are INSANE. Take, for instance, Rob Liefeld's take on the crucifixion. The Lamb of Hosts is on the cross on Calgary Hill, the Crown of Thorns atop his weary brow. A few centurions and slaves pull down the other two criminals, but leave Christ upon his bloody tree. All in all, it's a somber, moving scene.

And then the Greek gods from Mount Olympus show up.

The Olympians proceed to taunt the Messiah, who responds by PULLING HIMSELF OFF THE CROSS AND GETTING INTO A WRESTLING MATCH WITH ZEUS. I wish I was funny enough to be making any of this up.

The English language needs a new word to describe stuff like this... "Blasphenomenal"!

I could talk more about his art, his terrible writing, his ego, or his occasionally hare-brained business decisions, but honestly, others have done so at length. So, here's to you, Rob Liefeld! For good or ill, you helped define the Iron Age of Comics, and you continue to bring your... "unique"... talents to a new generation of comics readers. May your work always be "EXTREME"!

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