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.