#ArtCred: Tips for Properly Crediting Comics Creators

The past week or two has seen the comics Twittersphere abuzz with discussion about credit – specifically, giving artists the credit they deserve for their work. One of the main instigators of the conversation was this retailer survey, particularly the note that people are almost 7 times more likely to buy a comic because of a writer than an artist. There are a number of reasons that this could be the case; mainstream superhero comics are far more likely to see a long-term writer supported by rotating artists than the other way around. Writers are seen as the masterminds behind the story, while artists are treated more like visual translators than storytellers in their own right. Writing takes much less time, so a writer can be working on multiple books (for multiple companies) at once, while artists tend to be confined to one or two. Listing multiple people on art duties (pencillers, inkers, colour artists….) leads to confusion about what a person at any of these stages actually does. It doesn’t help that publishers give far more credit to writers than artists (and many books still don’t put inkers or colour artists on covers). Covers will almost always display the writer’s name before the artist’s, although there are exceptions – starting with issue 25, Saga co-creators Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan alternate top billing with each issue. It’s a start.

33.3% will order a book for a writer - 4.8% for an artist

33.3% will order a book for a writer – 4.8% for an artist

None of this is new information; the fight for creator rights and credit has been going for for decades, but it’s been a hot topic lately. If you haven’t been following it, I recommend checking out the #ArtCred tag on Twitter, and reading this post by Matt Fraction about collaboration (incidentally, this came a week after Fraction was left off the ballot when co-creator of Sex Criminals Chip Zdarsky was nominated for a Harvey Award for the series and refused the nomination unless his partner was included too). I don’t have anything to add to this conversation that hasn’t already been said, but I think this is an important topic, particularly as I meet more artists and see how hard they work.

It’s one thing if individual fans get more excited about writers than artists, but it’s a different matter for comics journalists. Publishers, retailers, and journalists help curate conversation around comics, and it’s important that we give credit where it’s due. I know that’s easier said than done – I’ve been writing about comics steadily for about 2 years now, and I don’t always properly credit everyone involved.

Artist Fiona Stapes is credited before writer Brian K Vaughan.

Artist Fiona Stapes is credited before writer Brian K Vaughan.

I grew up reading voraciously – but not reading comics – and graphic literature was barely present in my university English studies. So it’s easy to talk about the story, characters, and plot, but I’ve had to teach myself how to discuss art. Once I started reading comics, I immediately latched onto the work of particular artists since I quickly found that their distinct styles (as well as their interests) tend to lend themselves to certain kinds of stories, and I follow their books the same way you might follow the work of a particular actor or director. Still, I know a lot of readers who find that the writing impacts their enjoyment of a book far more than the art – and that’s okay! We all have preferences! But in a setting that requires a balanced and informed opinion (such as a review), it’s important to balance personal feelings with educated critique that recognizes all of comics’ components. If you like or dislike something, you should be able to articulate why, and you’re hardly supporting your argument if you ignore or discount such a huge component of the visual storytelling (and one that frankly takes a lot longer).

Learning on such a broad topic can be daunting, but I’ve tried to put together a list of tips for improving conversation about art in comics reviews and journalism. As a newbie, these are all things I’m still learning too, but I hope this helps anyone else who struggles to talk about comics art in a meaningful way:

1. Do research! If you’re going to be reviewing comics, you want to have at least a basic understanding of what you’re discussing, and there are tons of people out there who are willing to help you! This post by Matt Romeo at Multiversity gives a great overview of how to talk about art in comics reviews. Here’s a brief how-to on colouring by Amy Reeder, and the basics of lettering from Todd Klein. The internet is full of resources put together by professionals for amateur artists, and they’re just as useful for new journalists. There’s also Scott McCloud, whose Understanding Comics should be required reading. You’d be surprised how much you can learn from a few Google searches!

2. Learn your vocab. This is easy enough to do by reading other reviews and conversations on social media, but it takes some getting used to (here’s a list of basics on Wikipedia). I’m surprised how often I see folks generally use incorrect terms, so if you’re unsure, look it up! Learning proper terminology will also help you credit people correctly, another issue I see frequently, especially on books with bigger teams. It’s easy enough when you’re looking at a comic by one cartoonist, or by a single writer and artist (such as the team on Saga), but things can get complicated, particularly in cape comics – what does “finishes” mean? How about “layout assistance”? And don’t forget the trusty letterer, they’re doing important work, and you should at least know how to consider how the letterer’s job affects the whole.

Bedlam

Ryan Browne’s erratic lines, Jean-Paul Csuka’s intense colours, Riley Rossmo’s character design, and Kelly Tindall’s fractured captions collaborate to create this panel’s sense of paranoid terror. From Bedlam.

3. Know the difference between art that’s bad and a style that you don’t like. I won’t name any names, but there are artists whose work I’d argue is bad; artists who steal from other artists, or don’t seem to grasp basic human anatomy. But there are also artists who encompass the facets of good art, but whose style doesn’t work for me. It’s important to consider the difference if you’re going to be critiquing.

4. Read a wide variety of comics. If you’re only reading Marvel and DC superhero books, you’re only being exposed to a tiny sliver of what comics can look like and can be. Read comics from the other major publishers, like Image and Dark Horse and Boom! Read indie and self-published comics. Read experimental comics. Read web comics, and manga, and European comics – these will all expose you to different art styles, and while you’ll have preferences, the more you’re exposed to, the wider your idea of what “comics” means will be.

Frazer Irving is responsible for the storytelling and emotion for silent Black Bolt.

Frazer Irving deftly handles the storytelling and emotion for silent – and masked! – Black Bolt. From Silent War.

5. Understand how the art impacts the storytelling. Now this one’s tougher, and could come as a sub-point of my first one. It’s also something I’m still learning myself! What I’m trying to do is look at artists whose work I really like (or really dislike), and try to determine what differentiates their work. I try to look at how panels are arranged, how characters are placed in relation to each other (and to the reader), and how the colour and font choices contribute to mood or character. Also look out for striking or unique choices – creative page layouts, odd angles, or more detailed panel borders, for example. More than the other points, I’ve found this one comes with time, and will also benefit from research. It’s vital that journalists treat the art as an integral part of the storytelling, not as window dressing for the story. If other people have recommendations for this, I’d love to hear them!

This is just a start – there’s a lot more you can do, and that I have to do to improve. This is a visual medium, so the visuals are important. Storytelling relies heavily on the artist, and it’s important that they start being recognized for their work. Unfortunately, there’s no guidebook or lesson plan for being a comics journalist, so we’ve got to figure it out as we go along, but the more we do to learn, the better our writing will be!

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21 Comments

  1. First off thank you so much for writing this piece. As a person who’s pursuing a career in comics journalism. I greatly appreciate it so much. I know when I review comics I do make it a point to list everyone who was a part of that issue and credit them in my review. I never understood why other comic reviews don’t. If your name is on the credit page, you should be mentioned.

    My issue has been that I don’t know much of the terminology to really go in depth about why the artistic decision was good. I can talk about why I like it but never in depth like your example above. So I’m going to purchase the Understanding Comics book and check out those other sources as well.

    I do have a question, how would I go about crediting an editor or assistance editor? I can see everyone else’s work in the issue except the editing decisions. All that said, thank you again for writing this. I know I’m going to become a better comic reviewer once I take in all this information so thanks again.

    Reply
    • Hey Ben! I’m so glad you think this will be useful. Understanding Comics should be handed out in comics stores for everyone who wants to start with the medium, it’s just fantastic. McCloud’s Making Comics is great too, it’s very practical and definitely helped me think more critically about the art and what goes into creating it.

      One thing you can do to make sure everyone is credited by name is just throw some stats into the review. List off all the people involved and what they did, so when you talk about it later in the piece, you don’t have to be as careful to make sure that every name is mentioned. As for editors, that’s a good question! I’m an editor myself, and I can’t say I ever expect to be credited in reviews, unless I were the editor in an anthology project. It’s harder to tell, with editors, how they affected the story. At the Big Two, you can see trends under different editors, but that’s more big-picture stuff. I’d say that the credit at the outset is the best way to credit the editor, unless you have something to say about the comic’s place in a larger context, since editors are usually working on multiple books. In the meat of your piece though, I’d definitely be more concerned with the creators, since it’s an editor’s job to make sure that the creators are doing their best work, not necessarily to put their own mark on the book.

      I hope all of this helps and good luck!

      Reply
  2. What a timely blog for me. I just came back from Comic Con in San Diego and this subject was on my mind. Thanks so much for sharing.

    Reply
  3. Wow! This is actually very nice. I’m actually looking at comics in a different way now lol. Kindly check out my blog thepoeticturk.wordpress.com and don’t forget to follow and like. Thanks!

    Reply
  4. katherinejlegry

     /  July 28, 2015

    Interesting… because, I prefer the art… and good stories are just hard to find.

    Reply
  5. LOVED THIS X.

    Reply
  6. I’m making a post about comic books so this is truly a huge help for me!! Thank you very much!

    Anyway, I’m wondering if the fact that artist tends to change more often than writer contributes to how reader think writer is a more determining factor to buy comic. I remember being annoyed when Legendary Star Lord changed its artist to an artist whose style I don’t like, isn’t that going to make disincentive for reader to invest themselves in seeking favorite artist?

    Reply
    • Oh yeah, that’s definitely a factor, especially at the Big Two where the art team can rotate constantly. I always get irritated when they have a book that’s being released too quickly (bi-weekly or even weekly sometimes!) and they bring in artists to get the book done as quickly as possible, and you know that they aren’t able to do their best work (The end of Vol 3 of X-Factor was like that, I found). But that sort of error is on the publisher, since the artist and their process isn’t always being properly supported or promoted. Look at something like the Waid/Samnee Daredevil or Spencer/Lieber Superior Foes of Spider-Man – the latter was more of a cult book, but both were consistently fantastic with the same creative team! There are a lot of factors that can lead to those changes, obviously, but that’s definitely one of the ways that publishers do a disservice to their artists, and it can also lead to the book looking really inconsistent.

      Reply
  7. What a timely blog for me. I just came back from Comic Con in San Diego and this subject was on my mind. Thanks so much for sharing.

    Reply
  8. Good my dear

    Reply
  9. Thank you for sharing this great post! You named some very important facts about making comics and the way certain things should be seen. As a (comic) artist I couldn’t agree more with you, especially on the thought of “bad” art and “bad” style. I am currently working on my first publication of a full comic book (due in October) and it is an enormous amount of work! It sometimes takes more time to plan the panel arrangement than to draw the actual images.
    All those people who work on a comic project are equally important. If for example, someone lettered a page without knowing how to do it properly – the entire page would cme across as … somehow weird-looking. And no one wants that!

    Reply
    • Good luck with your upcoming book!
      Lettering is such a weird one too, it’s so hard to articulate the difference between a good or bad letterer without just a lot of experience. You can say “this is spread out wrong” or “this typeface is weird” but i find it harder to discuss when it’s just functional. Something I’m still learning too!

      Reply
  10. Fascinating post, very enjoyable, thank you 😀

    Reply
  11. Me and thee

     /  July 31, 2015

    Reblogged this on Me and Thee and commented:
    Close to the heart❤️

    Reply
  12. Congratulations making freshly pressed!

    Reply
  13. Story is really important, but if the art sucks it’s hard to be attracted to it.

    Reply
  14. Reblogged this on ArtEdutech.

    Reply
  15. A journaliatic approach. Nice article, this would be great if people from comic/business industry could read your piece. While reading your work, I got an impression that comic artists should try doing comic version of history for academic purposes. Anyway, nice read.

    Reply
  1. Beyond Tannhauser Gate - Beauty in Nature and Art in Comics - Beyond Tannhauser Gate

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