Funnybook Babylon

April 3, 2008

Of Land and Swipes and Scratch

Filed under: Blurbs,Reviews — Pedro Tejeda @ 4:37 pm

Right after the Wizard World LA announcement of the new additions to the Uncanny X-Men creative teams, FBB and FBB followers reacted with similar opinions. We love the writers, but one of the artists makes us shake our heads. It led to the production of an image that hit a couple of sites and eventually found itself on the blog of Editor and Dancing Machine Tom Brevoort as a question. Tom gives his opinion here, and I posted a comment that I want to go into further detail about.

One thing that I feel happens a lot when we, as a reading community, come across someone who uses “scratch” or who “swipes” is that we treat it as catching someone cheating. It becomes a “gotcha” situation used to shame an artist for not doing a better job of fulfilling this ideal of what an artist should do and be. We use it to call the creators lazy, or call the artist a hack. Deppey does this often enough to level his unrelated grievances at superhero comics done at the Big 2. The Swipe Files become a smoke screen for people to call those who hire these “obvious” cheaters incompetent. Does pointing out swipes fulfill anything outside of attacking the creators’ and the editors’ ability to do their jobs?

I also see Tom’s argument that it doesn’t matter how the sausages are made if they are delicious. He’s been in the business long enough to know that everyone uses photo reference to different degrees. He can probably point out heavier users that the same fans who are running the witch hunt on Land love. Ross and Harris, two fan favorites, both take tons of pictures and use them all the time to enhance their art. These images don’t circulate on the Internet enough for people to attack these two, but people are aware enough of what they do. Yet they still don’t attack them. The most important thing the art should do is serve the story being told. Shouldn’t “If it looks good, then it IS good” be enough?

Yeah.... uh... Yeah It’s obvious that Land started using this style because it sells. There is no question that Land is a fan favorite now, and that people love his work. It’s got a slickness that works incredibly well on the first look. Again, why should it matter if he uses heavy references if the fans weren’t buying his older style?

These are good questions; to answer them, let me tell you about how I lost my love of Greg Land.

There has always been something about Land’s art that doesn’t fit. Regardless of what the dialogue inferred or what the scene entailed, facial reactions were just not right. Scott Summers is way too into using Optic Blasts. Emma Frost looks more turned on than disappointed about the possible return of her rival for Scott Summers’ affection. Storm looked a hell of a lot more white than usual. It began to throw me out of the story. It was the same feeling I got when I realized that Bart Sears had decided to stop telling the story and instead just start doing pinups. The slickness that was a treat before began to feel hollow and distasteful. I began to notice more situations where body language was muted and scenes lost the energy required to convey the action.

This is a creepy creepy cover. These moments grew from several times an issue, to nearly every page, to almost every panel. It was like watching Templeton’s decent in The Wire. A static image here became another one and another one. Land relied more and more on the slickness and realism of the art, instead of his ability to draw. It made every one of his books unreadable. This experience pretty much taught me that no matter how good the writing is, it just can’t beat bad art.

I don’t find Land’s art bad because it is heavily photo referenced, but instead because of the effect the referencing has on it. There was a time when he didn’t rely on it so much and his stuff just felt better. It’s lost all of that in exchange for something that doesn’t serve the story and over time has really hindered the enjoyment myself and others get from his books. His art has become static images devoid of the storytelling that many of us are drawn to comics for. I don’t just seek well drawn exact replications of what something would look like in the real world, but something that is greater than those parts. Here, Land’s stuff becomes less so.

This cover fails in so many ways. I agree with the points that Brevoort makes in defense of photo referencing. I feel that for the most part finding swipes doesn’t really do anything to advance the art form. I do believe that if the art is fine, then we don’t have to worry so much how it was created. I just don’t feel that any of these concepts should apply in the case of Greg Land. It imakes his art looks worse. We don’t point it out to say that it’s cheating, but instead to explain in a rational and honest way why we don’t like his art.


  1. Pedro,

    I think you really hit the nail on the head here. Bad art is bad art and can take the reader out of the story. I don’t think your point even has to be kept just to superhero comics, either.

    On the other hand, something I’m wearing down on is the David Mack hate. A few pictures he’s copied have popped up on-line and now it seems some people have turned against him. I just don’t get it.

    Comment by Kenny — April 3, 2008 @ 7:38 pm

  2. The thing that bothers me the most about Mack, is I was soured by his art in that issue, but I seen him sketch right in front of me before and knock out amazing stuff.

    His stuff just looks much stronger when he doesn’t rely on scratch and it’s a shame that his stuff is looking worse instead of better.

    Comment by Pedro Tejeda — April 3, 2008 @ 8:59 pm

  3. Issues of plagiarism aside, the main difference between Land and artists like Ross and Harris is that the latter create their own reference material, while Land relies solely on existing stock. You take your own pictures with your own models, that means you can decide exactly how they should pose, what expression they should have, and so forth.

    Land’s art generally looks inappropriate for the situation it’s supposed to be depicting because he can’t find any source material that would fit the bill. He’ll find a pose or expression that looks vaguely like what the script requires, pretties it up, then calls it a day. Of course, it doesn’t help that he also feels the need to make every female character look “pretty”, no matter what situation they’re in (like mortal fear, pain, extreme action and so forth).

    Comment by Hoatzin — April 4, 2008 @ 3:12 am

  4. It pretty much comes down to the fact that Alex Ross’s art looks wonderful, while Greg Land blatantly cribs from pornography to draw the Fantastic Four.

    Comment by HowSteakIsDone — April 5, 2008 @ 1:20 am

  5. Land’s photo-cribbing has indeed gotten to the point where he’s tossing a bunch of static images together without much thought given to composition and flow. The most recent grievous offense was that X-Men spread promoting his addition to the creative team. Discounting the blatant fact that he’s not only using magazine clippings/internet grabs that he’s clearly used several times before, it’s just an awful image that lacks any compositional appeal, logic of depth or attention to eyepath direction. It’s like a bad elementary school collage project, only he’s tracing the clipped images and adding whatever skintight costume is required.

    Comment by Pop-Monkey — April 7, 2008 @ 11:30 pm

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