Monday, June 05, 2006

Alex Ross versus Greg Land

I want to start from two very different but competing images: Alex Ross's Wonder Woman and Greg Land's Phoenix

In 1994 Alex Ross burst on the comics scene with Marvels, a story that retold the early moments of Marvel Comics from the perspective of the little people on the streets below the action; he followed this up with Kingdom Come, in which, in the near future, the classic heroes (Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) return to their glory over and against the new grim and gritty anti-heroes. Ross is a striking comics artist because he brings photo-realism to a medium and a genre that had not seen it before. Ross uses real people as models, and the comics, just at a glance, impress people, because the skill involved is very visible to anyone.

Superhero comics are a quirky, strange set of stories, better suited, I think, to art highly mannered, stylized and artificial: Chris Bachalo (whose art can be seen in part six of my online paper), Frank Quitely, Mike Mignola, and Frank Miller (all of whom I have already blogged about). These guys can look less talented to outside observers ("Frank Miller draws like a child"), but are ultimately more rewarding. At the end of the day Ross is quite simple, and his simplicity is part of a simple agenda: Ross thinks superheroes should be moral guides for the young, and he is on record as saying that he doesn't like drawing the X-Men because they are not iconic enough, which I take to mean not enough like Jesus Christ. His conservative stance is mirrored by his influence: Ross's major source is Norman Rockwell.

Recently Ross has been implicitly challenged by newcomer Greg Land, the artist on X-Men: Phoenix Endsong and Mark Millar's Ultimate Fantastic Four. Land makes photo-realistic art as well, but rather than being heir to Norman Rockwell, he is heir to Maxim magazine, the ultimate rebuke to Ross. Superhero comics do not have to be juvenile, but they cannot escape some basis in juvenile material: without the 1939 Superman Watchmen would not exist, and there is something inevatable about the choice in photo-realistic superhero art between Rockwell and Maxim. I don't read Maxim -- I don't like Maxim -- but I think superhero comics should be cool, should be hip, should be sexy, and I will take Land over Ross any day.


liam said...

while i may not be as averse to alex ross as you, i think you're absolutely right about the need for more stylization. comics aren't real-life, so why try to imitate it too closely?

has land done anything else besides phoenix and FF?

Geoff Klock said...

Liam: I am not sure what else Land has done.

"Comics aren't real-life, so wht try to imitate it too closely" is to mild. Comics are insane and they should look insane, is my thinking. (In a few posts I will talk about insane story structure.)

Sara is here with me and is telling me that Ross is not photo-realism, and he is stylized. To make myself more clear what I like might be better described as mannerism. Ross isn't a mannerist -- he doesn't draw things totally out of proportion. Land is mannered primarily because he is drawing "realistic" not in the sense of true to life, but in the sense of true to Maxim photo-spreads. Which is an intersting way to be play with photo-realism and mannerism at the same time. Land is not as good a comic book artist as Quitely and company. I just prefer him to Ross and I feel he takes Ross on head first in a way Quitely, for example, does not.

saradani said...

I don't know if I'd say "mannered" or "mannerist" to refer to artists who play with proportions in their rendering of the human body. In fact I'd say that Ross was mannered whilst Land is just re-photoshopping already photoshopped maxim models.

Ross is striving for realism. As in realistic looking work based off of his working from real-life, everyday people as his models, people like the new Dove commercials are touting, and not super-inflated supermodels. And his style is painterly not photo-realistic.

But you could say that Land is doing the same thing as Ross but instead of rendering his characters to look like the people you'd meet on your block, he's doing the people you see in the glossy ladmags, right down to the proportions and the super-flat style. (when they airbrush those pics for the mag it gives it a flat look quite similar to those drawings)

so, to conclude the rambling, I don't think they are quite a different as you say they are. And I don't think Land transmits this "insane" quality you're talking about. Not like Miller or Kieth.

Geoff Klock said...

I don't think Land has that insane quality, I just think he has more of it than Ross. Ross seems to be running away from Miller and Keith et al., and Land is the first step taking toward taking Ross' style in the direction Miller and Keith.

As far as Land being mannerist the definition of mannerism on fits him (and a lot of comic book art)perfectly: "complex composition, with muscular and elongated figures in complex poses." Ross's figures are in proportion, Land's -- and Maxim's -- are not.

Ping33 said...

heh, I was just thinking about the psychosexual ramifications of all of Land's Blond women looking exactly the same. Clearly he can do other female looks (the Zombie Sue Storm looks exactly like Jessica Alba… er, a zombie Alba I mean) but his Sue, and Black Canary and others all look EXACTLY the same (to say nothing about his Crystal looking exactly like Dr. Storm (Ultimate Johnny+Sue's Mother), holy oedipal complex Batman!)

Geoff Klock said...

ping33: wow. That's going to bug me forever now. Thanks for pointing that out.

grayven1 said...

Actually Alex Ross's biggest influence, though not apparent, is Andrw Loomis.

Anonymous said...

"Superhero comics are...better suited, I think, to art highly mannered, stylized, or artificial."

Absolutely not.

Comics are a medium of entertainment, just as legitimate as art, literature, plays, television, or film. And like all of these venues of expression, it is subject to its own cliches and stereotypes. In television, realism is often sacrificed for dramatic tension; while in comics, the realistic portrayal of the human body is exchanged for dynamic posing.

As an aspiring artist and art admirer, I can aver that oftentimes dynamic art is more interesting than art which is detailed and proportionally accurate. But why is there a distinction between the two? Isn't it possible to achieve both? Can't detail and accuracy in depiction reinforce the energetic quality of art, rather than detract from it?

This is why Ross is so revered: he has created energy in his art, but has presented it within reality. I wholeheartedly disagree with your comment about his work being "quite simple." It is not simple so much as subtle. By employing a less cartoony quality to his art, he is capable of displaying a real range of human emotions. This allows the reader to truly connect with the piece.

Actually, I'm surprised you perceive Land's work as more energetic than Ross'. Land's art is by far more static and disconnected, since he is renowned for his tendency to trace. There is a portfolio of his copied images scattered throughout the internet, showing the same pose or expression on different characters in situations entirely inapplicable to the pose.

Land's portfolio is a mountain of comic stereotype: insane muscles, sexy females, and exaggerated expressions. Ross' work is revolutionary, and brings something new to the genre.

Your blog post, however, endorses stereotype. "...superhero comics should be cool, should be hip, should be sexy." It's really rather dismaying that you would settle for cheap, obvious excitement over craftsmanship and originality.