Why did you first pick up a comic?
For me, and I'm sure I'm not alone in this, it was the art. I grew to worship superheroes very quickly, and fell deeply in love with the medium itself soon after that, but who knows? If that Curt Swan style, all thin lines and bright colors and Apollonian figures, hadn't dazzled me as soon as my eyes came into contact with it, who knows what would have followed? Despite the cult of the comics writer that has sprung up over the past quarter-century in the wake of Chris Claremont and Alan Moore and Frank Miller, let us not forget that it's the use of art that separates comics from other storytelling mediums. It's the art that marks comics out as something so attractive and different that six-year-old boys are drawn magnetically into their panel grids.
As such I try to spend a good deal more time on this blog discussing art than writing, but I've noticed a problem with my art criticism, and indeed with comics criticism in general. It's much more likely to go into the specifics of things like layout, pacing, compatibility with script -- the stuff in between the panels rather than the panels themselves. I certainly think that's valid, and more and more appropriate as the formal elements of the comics page are addressed by a new generation of cartoonists, but it always feels like there's something else that should be talked about. Something missing.
Maybe it's that feeling I got as a kid that I don't get anymore, a feeling from the days when I was oblivious to page design and the art of storytelling-by-layout and could just look at a single drawing for ages. The feeling of being totally sucked in by a panel, of swimming around in its lines or color choices or whatever else. The feeling of being overpowered by pure, raw art.
"That looks cool" might not be good criticism, but it's still a large part of why I read comics. I think it's a big part of why anybody reads comics. To ignore the power of "that looks cool" is to be insufferably pretentious, or worse, to have lost touch with one of the most magical parts of participating in this great medium.
So this week we're going to do a lot of "that looks cool" -- brief hits of comics art criticism that isn't about layout or page design or any of that (except when it is), but about the drawings. The individual pictures that show us worlds different from our own. It'll be a chronological tour, and I'll attempt to draw from as diverse a field as possible of genres, styles, et cetera. Because when you set aside all the differences between Superhero and Alt and Euro and Manga, it's all guys who are drawing their asses off, who have a beautiful imaginary world inside them, who want to take you there.