A Writing Entry – Creative Control in Comics

So, Brian Michael Bendis is writing all of Marvel’s books now.  Okay, that may be hyperbole but he’s writing Ultimate Spider-man (awesome), the New Avengers (mostly good), Uncanny X-men (which is brand new), and All-New X-men (which is not new and at least the second run bearing that name).

As I may have said before, I don’t know how comics are put together, but I can see the results when the creative process doesn’t go smoothly.  Based on the comics Bendis writes, I would guess he has the most control over USM, followed by New Avengers, and then All-New X-men (there are not enough Uncanny X-men to judge).  I get this impression because despite all the awful things happening in the Ulti-verse, Spider-man seems largely disconnected from them, and not in a bad way.  That’s unlike the New Avengers, in which the team seemed disconnected from major events happening in other books in a bad way (like the alien invasion in FF).  USM is a pretty self-contained world, all things considered.  This may be because it’s easier to write for an individual than a team.  Then again, the whole A vs X thing was kind of lame, but there were still parts of it I enjoyed by Bendis, and those parts were the ones that seemed most disconnected from the rest of the story.  Possibly writing X-men these days is just too tall an order for any talented creative individual or team.

I wonder how the back-and-forth goes sometimes.  This is demonstrated in my “Conversations that May Have Happened.”  But of course I really don’t know.  I won’t say creative control is necessarily best exclusively in the hands of the writers, or artists, or editors.

Sometimes the writers get to do whatever the heck they want.  How good or bad this may be is hard to judge.  Chris Claremont helmed the X-men for years and years and spawned a ton of characters and even more dangling plot threads he never cleared up, although maybe he had a good reason for it.  Most people, I think, enjoyed Claremont’s stories.  But unfortunately for him (and maybe us readers), the editors interfered with his vision and had to adapt.  Then again, maybe sometimes the editors need to step in a little more firmly.  I mean, I know Grant Morrison is an acclaimed writer, but his vision for New X-men seemed incongruous, to say the least, with previous writers.  I like J. Michael Straczynski as a writer for most things but again, his run on Amazing Spider-man seemed incongruous.  Frank Miller’s version of Batman is legendary, but when DC handed the reins over to him later in his career, well, Batman went to some really dark and rather un-Batman-like places (see All-Star Batman and Robin #7 for an example).

Sometimes artists and writers have disagreements.  Gail Simone was writing for DC a while back and was given control over Huntress.  Soon after that, artist Jim Lee redesigned Huntress’s costume to feature bare abs.  I get the distinct impression Simone wasn’t too keen on this.  It doesn’t make any sense for a street-level fighter to be wearing anything besides body armor, quite frankly (I know, Black Canary’s outfit is ridiculous), and Huntress until that time had been in a fairly modest (for her) and potentially armored costume.  The bare abs clearly went against the idea of the character Simone was trying to write.  But Lee’s a respected artist.  I don’t know how the dispute got settled, but Lee’s vision stayed and Simone brought it up in the comic. Black Canary asked about her new costume and Huntress’s explanation was, “700 sit-ups a day,” indicating she wanted to show off her six-pack abs.  That seems to me she wasn’t quite willing to hand wave away the ridiculous costume change.

I’ve also heard when the infamous Rob Liefeld was the hottest, grittiest, extremest artist Marvel had that he called a lot of the shots as far as writing and development of his comics.  His control becomes pretty obvious in the comics as the action gets more and more space and all the writing is relegated to tiny boxes at the corners of the panels.  Liefeld got so confident in his abilities to successfully handle all aspects of comics he started his own creator-controlled company and took a lot of hot artists with him.  The company eventually folded and some of his most famous creations actually took on the personalities we know and love under the control of another, more talented writer and/or artist.

I have said that the editors do need to enforce some rules regarding writing in a shared universe.  That doesn’t necessarily mean the editors should have complete control.  In fact, that kind of executive meddling can have repeated, terrible results.  I’ve heard that DC is having a lot of trouble with writers versus editors for their New 52.  The creative team behind the reboot hashed out a timeline and want their writers to stick to it.  I’ve heard some of their writers don’t really agree with that and there have been spats.  I don’t know if this is good or bad.  As I have said before, I advocate the editors laying down some basic rules to maintain continuity in a shared universe.  But when a writer thinks an aspect of Batman’s backstory is crucial to the character but the editors have either changed or eliminated it from the timeline, it may hamper the writer’s vision for the character.  On the other hand, with a character like Batman, there is a lot of room for interpretation and writers are supposed to adapt (i.e, “Bring Jean back from the dead, Chris”).  Clearly, there were places where the editors’ vision of the New 52 has gone horribly wrong, and not just from a storytelling standpoint but also from a business standpoint.

It’s hard to juggle the visions and egos of talented people and I don’t know that I could do the job.  But I do know that when the balance is off, and criticism is not given where it is due, or one aspect of the creative team is given too much control, well, things go wrong.  But when creative control is properly balanced and maintained, the results are equally as obvious and quite enjoyable to read.


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S. J. Drew is an aspiring writer who finally entered the blogosphere to shamelessly promote that writing (as evidenced by the title of the blog). Whether or not this works remains to be seen, but S. J. hopes you are at least entertained. And if you're actually reading this, that's probably a good sign.

One thought on “A Writing Entry – Creative Control in Comics”

  1. Since you mentioned Gail Simone: there was a conversation between Green Arrow and Green Lantern in the deplorable “Justice League: Cry For Justice” where a few throwaway lines of dialogue pretty much implied that the latter had had a threesome with Huntress and Lady Blackhawk. Simone hilariously retconned this as Hal Jordan having gotten drunk and passed out at a symposium that the three had attended together. ^_^;

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