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Saturday, October 06, 2012 

The Daily Oklahoman downplays the badness of Rob Liefeld

On the Oklahoman's Nerdage section, one of the reporters who writes about the comics medium did a retrospective about stuff from the early 90s, and is otherwise pretty sugary about Rob Liefeld:
My big exciting purchase for the month was New Mutants #100. This was scripted by Fabian Nicieza from a Rob Liefeld plot; Liefeld also draws. This issue wraps up an X-Men spinoff series that had been pretty innovative at times in its day. The events of this issue lead directly into X-Force #1. It’s the first full appearance of Shatterstar, an otherworldly sword-wielding warrior who has hung around in X-related books since, and the second appearance of Feral, a Morlock with cat-like powers. Looking back at this, it’s crazy full of action, and I think that’s why I was so enthralled. Liefeld’s comics, for all their detractors, when they work do a few things well: wild action, new characters, hints of portentous events.
So he liked it simply because it's "full of action"? I'm afraid even that's a pretty superficial way of putting things. It may be full of action, but that doesn't mean it's good (mainly because the bad art spoils everything). Sure, it was after he joined Image at the time that his artwork really became horrific, but even some of his early work is pretty dreadful, and the cover of NM #100 is just a hint at what's to come, including Liefeld's inability to draw feet properly and pointlessly crowding the cast on the cover close together. This is something the columnist doesn't clearly address.

And "new characters" and "portentous events" doesn't make for genuinely good writing (or drawing) either; most of the characters he created were nothing to write home about, and succeeding writers either didn't know what to do with them, or didn't even try. The stories he worked on were nothing to write home about either; the whole X-franchise was going down the drain at the time, victim of the editors apparently figuring that nobody would care how good or bad the scripting was, and Nicieza was one of those who brought it down. The New Mutants was very good when it began in 1982, but went downhill towards the end, all because they just had to assign people like Liefeld (and Nicieza) to helm it.

That aside, I think this gives a clue why Liefeld managed to get as far as he did: because people who went on to become press reporters were among the most gullible to waste their time and money on his work, and rarely if ever criticized the major and minor companies for giving him jobs as an artist when it was clear he wasn't interested in bettering himself. This is precisely why some don't take the comics medium seriously, because those in charge don't care about real art.

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I just think it's easy to hate - the internet was *built* on hating Rob Liefeld, possibly - and I figured I'd share a contrary view: Why did we like this stuff when we were whatever age? Why did it sell so much? What worked about it? So that's what I'm trying to do with my Flashback 1991 series. I like a lot of other comics: read through some of my best-of-year posts to get an idea. But I wanted to explore: Why was this compelling, then? What made it work? Why did it sell so many copies?
I've been writing about comics professionally for about 12 years now, and before that wrote about them for zines, web sites and the college paper. I've always been more interested in talking about what people like and why than taking shots at them for it. I realize the internet generally works the other way.
You're about the same age as me: Did you have much better taste in 1991? Maybe you did. Why? What were you reading, and what did you like? Do you know why you liked it? I'd be interested in hearing your take on it.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for the link!

Well back in 1991, I actually read a lot more newspaper comic strips like Peanuts and Garfield, but when I did read comics at the time, I read stories like the Avengers more often, and the Justice League titles of the time. Also Spider-Man and Superman. I wasn't as big on creator owned titles back then as I could've been, but there were some like Xenozoic Tales that I did want to try out, and I even read comics based on licensed products like GI Joe and Transformers. So I guess you could say that to some extent, I did have better taste in storytelling, if anything.

Thanks very much for asking.

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  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
  • I was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. I also enjoyed reading a lot of comics when I was young, the first being Fantastic Four. I maintain a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy in facts. I like to think of myself as a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. I don't expect to be perfect at the job, but I do my best.
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