Two words: Rob Liefeld
I resigned myself to saying a full paragraph of good things about Rob before letting him have it. I own two copies of New Mutants number 87 which tend to inflate the value of my comic collection. So here goes:
When Rob really made a big splash in 1989 with his artwork on The New Mutants, there were many of us that counted themselves as fans. Like fellow artists Todd McFarlane and Erik Larsen, Liefeld’s work was fresh and broke with established representations of many existing characters. The comic audience at the time had become used to being fed the same style of panel layouts no matter who was on art chores. All of these artists successfully challenged those conventions. Also his style was unique at the time and made his art easily recognizable. He was completely self-taught which shows that he had something of a natural talent for drawing. Even in the Spike Lee commercial for Levis button-fly jeans, he served to make comic books more mainstream.
What’s that, about 6 sentences? Good. That’s a full paragraph I’ve given him, now the kid gloves are off. There’s been tons written about Liefeld in various places, most of it bad. I’m going to show bunches of restraint here and not go into detail about all the issues people have had with Rob on how he’s handled business affairs, late work or personality conflicts. I’m only going to deal with Liefeld on the merits (or lack thereof) of the book that’s in my hand.
According to the inside cover Rob was responsible for the story, pencils and created the character. Badrock (original title “Bedrock” changed to avoid legal issues with The Flintstones movie) is a teenage boy who drank some chemicals and became a sort of “The Thing” lite. The difference here is he’s still a kid and has parents. Not much going on in that description to endear me to the character. Kinda meh. The story in this issue is a fluff segment told very disjointedly about Badrock’s Dad owning the mob some money and them kidnapping him to do some “services” for the mob boss “The Overlord.” Like wash his car, I guess. Badrock goes to get him back and runs into Overlord’s henchmen, blah, blah, blah…28 pages later, you find you’ve wasted your $1.75. It’s a story that’s thin on details and never makes a payoff. You don’t care about the characters or the villains or find any real motivations behind anything that goes on. Enough said.
The art is real killer. As countless others have ragged on Liefeld’s work (Notably HERE, HERE and HERE and if you read Spanish, HERE), I find myself forced to comment. I am going to break down all of my problems with his art first and then point to the examples in the actual book. Note that I am trying to be constructive with my criticism.
Item 1: Liefeld has problems with perspective. Rob has problems with drawing the human figure in real proportion. Most artists model their characters like a real 3-D object. Like when Disney starts a movie project and they take characters and draw them from every angle to develop a feeling for how the character will exist in three dimensional space. I’m convinced Rob doesn’t do that. Too often he is trying to cover up his limitations (many of which listed below) to really take the time to figure out how a character he is drawing should look from all sides. What this leads to are panels where characters don’t mesh with one another, float above the background or appear to unnaturally bend around objects in panel.
Item 2: Liefeld has issues with anatomy. It’s like Rob’s never seen a human being before. Some specific issues are the spines in female characters, which have the ability to form perfect “U” shapes. All Rob’s females have torpedo tits and heart-shaped asses, but like a 15-year old boy who’s never grown up, Rob seems to have never looked at what joins those two areas together. His women need to *ahem* show a little more backbone, if you get my drift. Rob also believes that the human mouth has 50 or so teeth and that lips never ever meet. Every person is either someone with their mouth open or with their teeth clenched. There’s no simple smiles, frowns or toothless grins in Liefeld’s world. Liefeld hates making feet and ankles. He’s done his best through the years to avoid drawing feet. That means hiding that area behind other objects or drawing characters from mid-calf up.
Item 3: Liefeld is lazy. I’m not talking about his late artwork here, I’m talking about him being a lazy artist. For one thing, Liefeld would rather add or alter a drawing than redraw it. Multiple examples can be found where objects are inserted in character’s hands just to save Liefeld the hassle of redrawing a panel or page. He’ll also distort character’s proportions rather than spend some time analyzing why certain objects don’t fit in panel. Rob also doesn’t take the time to make sure his panels are consistent with one another. Characters change clothes and objects shrink, grow, or otherwise distort between the space of a panel boarder. These shifts are distracting and easily remedied by an artist who pays close attention to his/her work. Liefeld will swipe other artist’s panel layouts without pause. The Spanish site above shows some of the more heinous “lifts”. Most egregious of all however is the fact that Rob doesn’t work to better himself. He’s been drawing comics for the better part of twenty years now and his art still has the same problems it did from day one. As a self taught artist, you’d think that Liefeld would take some art courses or something to smooth out the rough edges that have been pointed out time and again by netizens. But alas no, Liefeld’s reactions to these are hostile and without the necessary humility that would allow him to get training and grow as an artist.
Ok, I’ve said my piece in the most reasonable manner possible. Let’s look at the issue, shall we.
The cover is Liefeld’s design. Note that it’s devoid of feet and features a woman who has legs 1 1/2 times the size of her upper body. She has a great ass but a waist the size of a number two pencil. Her spine is impossibly bent, as if she were stuck in the lower-back by a telephone pole. Between her butt and her shoulders, her profile forms a “U” shape impossible for a human body to assume. Because of the lack of feet, we have no clue how far the poorly proportioned young lady is standing from Badrock. We do know that he’s holding a gun in one hand and the other hand is not rendered or even thought about being rendered. His thighs seem impossibly large and his head floats above his body unattached by that thing most people have called a neck.
The issue begins with Badrock, Gunner (the curved lady) and his newly rescued Father surrounded by gunmen, the Overlord mob boss and Girth, a blob-like henchman. The narrative goes forward from here showing their escape, then the chase after they escape, skips back to how he found out his Dad was abducted, then jumps to after they’ve escaped for a final reveal of a cliffhanging guest star. It’s horrible plotting, but it’s Liefeld doing the story here, so don’t ask for much. The dialogue isn’t much either, but blame lies with Eric Stephenson there.
Here we see the Overlord and Girth in large panels. There were less teeth shown in the first four Jaws movies than there is on display in these two panels alone. Note that these three panels display all of Liefeld’s mouth designs – open mouth yelling, joker-grin with teeth bared and lips parted slightly showing teeth. Sure Badrock’s mouth is closed, but look at it. It’s a line between two rocks.
This is the very next page. THE VERY NEXT PAGE. I emphasize that because I want you to notice that Girth is now bleeding profusely from his gums. I guess the reason is he’s clenching his teeth so hard. There is no other explanation I can muster because HE HASN’T BEEN HIT YET! And the last panel showed no blood. This is that consistency problem we’ve discussed above. When you deal in a visual medium, if you change something between panel 1 and panel 2 you are suppose to 1.) show via the action in the panels how the change occurs or 2.) inform the audience via dialogue of what just happened. My thoughts on this: Liefield just thought it would look cool, so he drew blood in there for NO GOOD REASON. Sloppy art and badly executed storytelling.
Consistency strikes again! Badrock jumps at Girth and Girth’s head shrinks to the size of a postage stamp. Why? Because Rob couldn’t get a reaction shot if he drew the head full size due to the angle and position of Badrock’s falling body. So the answer is to shrink the villain’s noggin just to get the face reaction. This makes Girth look increasingly stupid.
But still not as stupid as the artist himself, as on the next page Girth is struck so hard that he flies through the air. Note that his weight has decreased, his head is now normal compared to his body and he appears to be not the giant he was in previous panels, but now somewhat closer to Badrock’s size. Consistency. It’s a mystery to Rob.
After jumping from the building with Gunner and Daddy-o, We are treated to a scene of our heroes darting into a subway. Let’s take a gander, shall we?
First we have a panel showing Gunner running ahead of Badrock taken from what I can only assume is Badrock’s crotch cam. It’s angled worse than a MySpace picture. Worse yet is the way Gunner is running. No human runs by extending their leg all the way straight in behind them while their body is perpendicular to the ground. It’s like she’s goosestepping in reverse. The next panel features one of my favorite Liefeld techniques for avoiding drawing the dreaded foot/ankle area. While running, character’s feet may shrink and disappear into thin air. Notice that’s what happens to Gunner’s and Badrock’s left feet. Nevermind that there is a stairway behind them that would prevent legs from angling quite the way depicted here or that the perspective is questionable at best. Just don’t make Rob draw more feet. Gunner’s looks especially bad. It’s like she walking on a nub.
At the bottom of the steps, they are attacked by a midget. Badrock flings him off and Gunner shoots the little fella.
This center picture of Gunner is main problem. There’s other things we could focus on, but nothing on this page is as glaring as that image of Gunner. Yes, we are back in the realm of wasp waists that don’t bend like a human’s, legs that are about a foot longer than they should be and with Liefeld’s patented "face of a mouth-breather” look going on, but it’s the position of this body that bothers me the most. What is she doing in this pose? Floating in mid-air? If not, she’s doing this odd ballet “on pointe” stance where she puts all her weight on her toes or is she jumping off the ground for no reason? Why, why, why?
At least Badrock looks better than he did a couple of pages ago. Seems he was seeing a psychiatrist between panels and that head shrinker shrunk his head!
Did I mention the midget had Wolverine’s hair? No. Or that the next two guys they encounter are from Eric Larsen’s Savage Dragon book? No. One of the sports a giant blade for a forearm and it’s covered in blood the first time we see it. No victim in sight, just bloody-blade-arm because he can. I have to admit that the degree of suck in this book is overwhelming even me. All those teeth in mouths that need to be shut and bad poofy 80’s hair. Elbowless arms, extra veins popping up everywhere and pouches, Pouches, POUCHES! Good grief, it’s too much for one man to bear.
Hellrazor, blade-arm guy’s pal, takes a leap at Badrock. Ugh, my brain is hurting from this one.
Question: How much weight does hair have when it is woven into pigtails that will cause it not to billow behind a person like the ponytail or cape shown here, but will instead remain stuck out, dragging the ground as depicted in this panel? Would applying a tube a gel to each strand do that? How about coating each in lead? Also kiddies, remember that leaping into the camera is just another way of saying “I don’t have to draw any feet on this guy”.
Poor, poor torpedo tits. If she had feet, there would be no way for her to tie her own shoes. He legs are so long that there’s no way she can even reach them. Not that she has feet, mind you. This is one of those lazy/perspective/anatomy problems combined. If we had some ground somewhere in here instead of characters floating over a red backdrop, we could properly gauge distance between these three. Instead it looks like they are right on top of one another. Since that’s the case, the proportion of Gunner is distorted causing her legs to grow about 1/2 their actual size so she can be standing right behind the downed blade dude. And one of the primary causes of not showing the ground is because that would mean Rob would have to put feet on Gunner, something he is reluctant to do.
How many people run with their arms straight out at their sides? Obviously two out of three people do. Not drawing feet is like a game for Rob. Three characters and not one fully rendered foot? SCORE!
Run, run! Or else your feet will catch you. One morning Rob stumbled across the definition of foreshortening. Foreshortening is the optical illusion that an object is smaller than it actually is because it is angled away from the viewer. It is the effect perspective has on the viewer. Rob could have used this information for good, could have used it to make his drawings better, more realistic, less stylized and childish. Instead Rob chose to use the knowledge to hide character’s feet. Bad, evil Rob!
I’ve just realized why I don’t feel warmth for a lot of Rob’s characters. Look at this guy. He looks like a corpse that’s been left out in the sun for several days. That ricitus grin slapped on to that overlined face. They’re all the walking dead, I tell you! It’s hard to warm up to characters that look corpse-cold.
“The wheels on the car don’t touch the ground. Touch the ground. Touch the ground. The wheels on the car don’t touch the ground. Liefeld can’t draw.” What more is there to say?
I guess if I had all those hundreds of teeth in my mouth, I’d have a problem with saliva too. Looks like the inside of cotton candy machine. I’m pretty sure the colorist messed up here. I bet we are suppose to be looking a mouth full of blood. Even though Badrock hasn’t been hit yet (this is part of the flashback and takes place before any of the battles).
That’s it. I’m sparing you the final panel, with its millions of teeth and bulging veiny characters. You’ve endured enough and so have I. Unfortunately, I’m really not done. There’s a copy of Youngblood #1 in the crapbox as well. But I’m saving that for another day. Maybe by then I’ll have stopped dreaming of giant molars and spines made out of slinkys.
But for today...today I've seen enough.