Looking over the shelves at my local store recently, I noticed that Warren Ellis has a lot of comics currently coming out. More than he’s had in quite the while, actually – with Supreme: Blue Rose, Trees, and the just-finished Moon Knight all sitting there right now. He’s also just done a promo comic for Bacardi, too, with Mike Allred. It’s interesting because here was a writer who had moved off from comics for a little while, stating he was a little bored with the current status quo, and because he wasn’t seeing more from the industry.
His first return came about as part of Secret Avengers, best I recall, in a run which saw him do a series of one-shot stories with people like Jamie McKelvie, David Aja and Stuart Immonen all stepping on for a little while. It was a bit of a statement of intent, whether intended or not, and this seems to have moved forward onto much of his later work. He’s reached a point now where, having stamped his voice and influence onto modern comics, his presence has now faded to the background as each of his new projects emphasises the artist over the writer.
Moon Knight is probably the most recognisable example of this, as both artist Declan Shalvey and colourist Jordie Bellaire received more of the immediate attention from the internet – or at least from my curated social media/website use. Ellis was a draw for the series, but Shalvey and Bellaire quickly became the star attraction of the series, as they both took the opportunity to do press on the book, talk about their craft and approach, and highlighted how the artistic process works.
Likewise with Supreme: Blue Rose, which is drawn by Tula Lotay. Once more, all discussion of the issue seems to highlight her work as artist over the story – having not read the issues so far (trade-waiting, sorry) – I have no idea what the overall narrative is, but I’ve certainly seen plenty of Lotay’s artwork.
Arguably Secret Avengers was the first time Ellis’ work was the secondary interest of a comic he was working on, although the rotating artists of Astonishing X-Men – Kaare Andrews and Phil Jimenez amongst them – could also be seen as a first step towards that point.
This seems to be a natural progression for certain writers once they hit a tipping point, as there are a few other writers who currently sit in the background and are emphasised by their artists. Mark Millar, for example, is now a writer whose work – following the conclusion of Nemesis, possibly his last real ‘impact’ storytelling, in terms of reception – now works on a series of titles which are focused on the artists. ‘Secret Service’ was dominated by in-story cameos and the fact that Dave Gibbons was drawing the story, Jupiter’s Legacy was looked at as a Frank Quitely comic foremost, whilst MPH is headlined by Duncan Fegredo’s artwork.
Again – just my impression on things.
I think here we’re seeing something similar. Millar stamped a sense of authority, pun not intended, onto comics, and has since settled down into just making comics. He’s less concerned about his own impact as a writer, it feels, and instead uses his comics as ways to spotlight the artists he collaborates with. There’s also the fact that many of his comics now all follow the same theme, taking a famous superhero and reappropriating them into a ‘real world’ setting. MPH is The Flash, Starlight is Flash Gordon, and so on. So as the stories essentially repeat similar themes, the readers instead have to focus onto the artists instead. His books become less about him as an author, and more about the style, storytelling and tone brought by the artist.
One of the foremost examples in modern comics, though, is Brian Michael Bendis. And he’s actually gone full circle now, as he had his period of impact, followed by a period where the spotlight fell on his artists, and now led into a new period where once more he’s taking the limelight. An equal partner, arguably, in the success of comics like Alias and Daredevil, before leaping into his own with Ultimate Spider-Man (especially as that book eventually transitioned artists, and Bendis became the constant) and especially his Avengers run. He made the impact story with Avengers: Disassembled with David Finch, where he was the spotlighted creator on the title.
Having done that, he settled into a ten-year story which hit a prolonged middle section where his style – hammered in for readers to the extent where they became dazed and somewhat bored of it – was propped up by guest artists.
As Mike Deodato Jr rose to attention on Thunderbolts, he jumped on for ‘Dark Avengers’ with Bendis. As Oliver Coipel’s work on Thor saw acclaim, so he came over to do ‘Siege’ with Bendis. Daniel Acuna saw attention after working on X-Men storylines, so eventually joined up with Bendis’ final few storylines. Artists like Walter Simonson came back to Marvel to do stories with Bendis, too.
He became a writer whose stories were secondary to the artists telling them. Even now, you see him spotting artists doing great work elsewhere, and inviting them on to work with him – when Kevin Maguire was unceremoniously treated by DC, it was Bendis who reached out to him and invited him to do Guardians of the Galaxy. However, we’re now seeing him take a bit of the control back as of late – perhaps because he has a more vibrant franchise to play with, you could unfairly suggest – and his X-Men and GOTG stories are certainly getting more acclaim as a result.
It’s an interesting pattern/progression to note, looking at some of these big-name creators.
Whilst this is mainly something I’d associate with writers/artists at Marvel – DC don’t place as much emphasis on their artists at this time, as seen in the way they establish and maintain a ‘house style’ – arguably Neil Gaiman is reaching this point in his career too. For many people, he’s taking second billing on Sandman: Overture right now, with JH Williams III the best selling point that comic has. It seems a little that, once a writer reaches a certain point, there is a tendency to experiment and see how things change once they let the artist lead the way for them.
It’s just a pattern I idly noticed after seeing all those Ellis comics on the shelves, but it does seem to be a solid, actual pattern, rather than one I’ve just made up, I think? Will be interesting to look at some of the other mainstays of modern comics and see how things have changed for them, as well.