Comics inhabit an unusual place. A comic is the product of the marriage between pictures and words—between the literary and the visual. So, it is not surprising that the comics industry inhabits a strange place as well. It’s as if the industry is the bastard child of the film and publishing industries, inheriting the best and worst from both—massive economic disparity within the talent pool, amazing feats of brilliant storytelling, a passionate commitment to the project at hand, the change of direction on a whim, empathy for one’s peers in troubling times, sexism, racism, etc.
The level of professionalism shown within the industry is also a reflection of its status. As with publishing, there is certainly no fear of hard work; deadlines must be met. There is also reverence for the process of telling a story. These men and women have studied their craft. Sit down with an artist or writer and watch his or her expression as one asks for an explanation of a creative choice. See his eyes light up. Hear the excitement creep into her voice. It’s infectious.
But creators are not only storytellers. Like their peers in film, they are also showmen—hucksters in a “good ol’ boys” club where they are extremely comfortable in their environment. The presence of a filter is occasionally lacking.
When you show up to the party in a hovercraft, you don’t have to worry about the burning bridges behind you when you leave.
The behavior exhibited by Rob Liefeld (among others) is unacceptable and unprofessional—for publishing. An editor at Candlewick Press would not comment upon a dispute between an author and Chronicle Books. A writer would not hurl personal insults at the editorial team attempting to improve his product. Issues are handled privately, and if they cannot be handled privately, they are handled publicly with decorum and respect. There are certain standards to be held.
However, for visual entertainment industries such as film and television? This behavior is commonplace and beneficial. It is rewarded with publicity and new opportunities. Does anyone truly believe that there is no place for Liefeld at Marvel given the buzz he has now created? Brevoort’s words mean nothing, for we have seen Liefeld zip from company to company (Marvel included) based on his ability to draw eyes. And, akin to celebrities such as Charlie Sheen or Kanye West, he has reached such a status in his field that he is able to say anything sans repercussion (save for public giggling or grumbling, which again provides free publicity).
Mind you, DC Entertainment also benefits as well—though I am sure the editorial teams in place do not feel as if they do at the moment. Liefeld’s wild nature draws attention away from the accusations of micromanaging at DC. No longer does it become a litany of professional artists walking away from the company for legitimate reasons, it’s just another war story about Uncle Rob acting crazy.
Hopefully, both sides play it so that they both win. Rob continues to prod DC employees, who respond as shocked, innocent victims of Rob’s bullying and draw sympathy from the public. Liefeld takes his bad-boy persona and heaps of publicity back to Image, where he triumphantly returns to a position as the editor of the Extreme line, in order to show everyone how a “good editor does it.” The line is already a critical darling due to the work of the creative teams in place, but Rob can easily claim credit. And I think Liefeld might actually be a benefit to the line as an editor.