Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Grilled Cheese Chronicles - Greg Land's Photo Referencing

Remember when I asked people what they thought Marvel Was Doing Wrong? one of the most common answers was the fact that they continued to employ the talents of an artist by the name of Greg Land. I opted not to include it in that series of posts, as art appreciation is very subjective, and for every person that doesn't like Greg Land's work, there's another person being dazzled by the life like appearance of his work. Hit the jump as I cook the grill cheeses I am going to need to calm down after this.

Photo Referencing 101

In online discussions about Land, more than likely the first complain you are going to hear is his use of photo reference in his art. While it is true that his art features a heavy dose of photo reference, so does the work of many other artists, such as Tony Harris, Alex Ross, and Bryan Hitch among others. In fact, photo referencing is an useful crutch for many artists, just like the many other tools and techniques that artists use. Eric showed me a very interesting article written by one of my favorite artists, Stuart Immonen (have I mentioned how awesome he is?), does in fact use photo reference for some of his work, but you wouldn't know from looking at his art.

In the article, Immonen writes about how photo reference is just another tool for artists to use,  and makes a case that it is up to the artist to decide how to use it. It's not my craft, so it is unfair for me to decide what constitutes fair use of any tool that artists use, but he makes an excellent point AND shows that you can use photo reference without harming the art in any way. The problem arises when you use a crutch so much, that your artistic muscles can't work without them. I believe that this is the problem with Greg Land.

The Past

I have several issues of his work in Nightwing from years ago, and it is in a complete different style. By the same token, Kirk mentioned him in his post about CrossGen and also noted how different his style was from the current one. It wasn't particularly noteworthy or interesting, but the characters looked like they were supposed to look panel after panel and the flow in action was rather smooth. In other words, his storytelling was effective. Somewhere along the way, he started using more and more photo references in his art, and his style evolved into an hyper realistic one, which at points looks like photos that have been put through a Photoshop filter (an accusation that Land himself has claimed to be false).

Two Persons, One Face

Like I said, the problem arises from the fact that the photo referencing is so heavily and disproportionately used that it harms the art. I hate to call any artist lazy, but this is what it feels like when you look at some of his art. Take for example this cover of Uncanny X-Men...

This cover is supposed to be a homage to the fact that Psylocke has had two different bodies (it's a long story). It's not a bad idea for a cover, having the two Psylocke bodies side by side. The problem is that one of those bodies is supposed to be a sophisticated English woman, and the other a deadly Japanese assassin. They look exactly like each other! There's no difference between the Asian body and the European one. Even allowing that they have the same body proportions for the sake of symmetry, their face should still be completely different from each other. It is clearly the same photo that Land used for both references, he didn't even bother to look for someone that looked halfway Japanese.

This isn't the first time this has happened either! Take a look at this Wolverine: Origins cover...

That's supposed to be Wolverine and Daken separated by the line in the middle. But it is clearly the same photo being reference on both sides, no difference in body size or facial structure. For someone that doesn't know, it might look like Wolverine just has a new hairstyle and tattoos, and he lost one of his claws somewhere along the way, since there is no clear indication that these are supposed to be two different people!

Separated At Birth

And this is not just a problem when he is doing the whole "symmetry" thing, as there have been other cases where has used the same model to do two completely different characters that are in no way related. Take a look at this (now infamous) Uncanny X-Men cover...

Both Cyclops and Warpath are in the exact same pose, and have the exact same body size! These are two characters that have been portrayed completely different in the past, yet here they look exactly like each other. Once again, Land didn't even bother to look up different photo references for different characters. The same thing applies to Colossus and Nezhno (the black character on the left, with the bright stripes). Wolverine and the guy to the right behind him (is that supposed to be Hellion?) also have similar body types and pose, although the image is too small to determine if they are exactly alike. Emma Frost, Pixie and the blond woman between Storm and Warpath (Dazzler, I think?) all seem to have the same upper body with different heads attached to them.

And the same poses were used in other covers! Take a look at this gif image, courtesy of 4thletter, which has a comparison of how the poses are used in other covers, most notably from Ultimate Power.

(Something I hadn't noticed before making this post is that Pixie's facial expression was changed from the original sketch to the actual finished cover. Pixie's face also happens to be one of the most blatant use of the same photo reference for different characters of different covers.)

You will also notice something else: there's two dozen characters in this image, but the number of feet in this cover can be counted with just one of your hands.

Those Pesky Feet

This is another sign of what could be laziness: a desire not to draw feet. Many artists do this, as they can be notoriously hard to draw, but the extent to which Greg Land goes to avoid drawing feet is incredible. Take for a example a look at this cover of the upcoming Black Widow: Deadly Origin...

I get what Land was trying to do here, an action shot of Black Widow jumping at the reader, but where is the rest of her right leg? You should also be able to see some of the left leg. There's no sense of perspective to indicate that the legs are arching back, so it just looks like Black Widow had to get both of them amputated.

But at least Land was trying to be clever about not drawing feet, something that cannot be said of this next Uncanny X-Men cover...

And so we come back to Psylocke, who incidentally looks different from the first image, and seems to be missing everything below her waist (with the exception of her feminine parts). How the hell did this cover make it through? Did no editor look at this and go "Where is the rest of her body?". That's without commenting on the other elements of the cover, which in all honesty looks like a cut and paste job of other unfinished works that Land had laying around. It is kind of embarrassing that such an ugly cover gets to be in the front of one of Marvel's flagship titles.

Beyond the Covers

Of course, if it was just his cover work that is photo referenced beyond any recognition, I would probably be able to look past it, but everything I mentioned above also applies to the interior work that Greg Land provides. Take for example this page from a recent issue of Uncanny X-Men...

That's supposed to be Emma Frost, Dazzler and Karma. They are all mysteriously in the same pose, they all have the same type of hair that mysteriously floats above their shoulder and the only difference is that Karma has a different face (which when you take a closer look, it's extremely awkward). Did they all walk through the door with their hands like that?

To be fair, there's three characters that lend themselves extremely well to Greg Land's heavy use of photo reference and repetitive use of the same models. I am of course talking of the Stepford Cuckoos... 

You will notice that in all three panels, it is the exact same image of ONE character that looks to be cut and pasted. (This is without even mentioning that these characters are supposed to be teenage girls, as opposed to late-20's or early 30's porn stars.) No other artist, to my knowledge, has done this with the Stepford Cuckoos, so it's not like it is some kind of weird tradition to draw them all of them doing the same thing at once.

I could buy that these three characters looked the same (they are triplets, in case you don't know), I could even buy that they do things in unison (they do have psychic powers after all) but having them blatantly be in the same pose in not one, not two, but THREE CONTINUOUS panels in the same page looks like an eye-sore.

Grilled Cheese Count


*eats grilled cheeses*


Excuse while I clean up all the blood I just vomited, but this really, really bothers me. I know Land can draw better than this, and all artists have the right to develop different styles, but this is ridiculous. Because Land is using photo references too much, his art has taken a great dip in quality. I know he used to be able to do better, but because he is using photo references as a crutch, he makes all kind of mistakes that a rookie would do. It may look pretty to the untrained eye, but after seeing his art on a couple of titles, it becomes incredibly annoying and impossible to look at without seeing all his other work come out of the page, and not in a good way. If he wants to continue using photo reference so heavily, he better start looking for more models, or at least put more effort into making characters NOT look like each other

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Zdenko said...

What, no links for Land's pornfaces? :/ Anyway, there were 2 topics about Land on CBR Forums recently, both got locked because they were mean-spirited... O.o Anyway, in those 2 you can find a lot of Land's swipes, traces and such things... The recent Siege variant of his has Osborn in the Obama pose, pretty blatant photo reference...

Funny, when I read his UFF stuff it didn't bother me and I couldn't understand why people don't like his art, but later I realised what's his ''art'' like... I think that's why he still has a job, for the untrained eye he looks realistic and good, but after a few of his issues in a row you begin to notice things...

Zdenko said...

Oh, and that Wolverine/Daken pic is clearly the promo pic for the Wolverine movie... I think it's this one:

Dracula Jones said...

Is it just me or is that the same face reference for Black Widow and Psylocke covers, too? Crazy.

The Dangster said...

Oh wow. It is.

Flip The Page said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Flip The Page said...

try that again

nice stuff, i love these middle fingers to land.

here's a nice complimentary post from Jimsmash, more images and evidence, including porn trace

Daryll B. said...

I like this one just because you rationally presented the case against Land. Like others I liked his work on Nightwing and Sojourn but it was around Ultimate Power that I couldn't ignore the shortcomings and the laziness. It like sometimes Land draws what he wants without taking the story and drama beats into context.

The thing is when I point out these very same problems with an Alex Ross work or a Bryan Hitch then I get the wrath of the fanboys accusing me of heresy.

I'm sorry but ALL artists can fall into the trap of using the same poses and faces over and over again.

What this should do is make comic fans more appreciative of the Brent Anderson, the Dodsons, Adam Hughes, Tom Grummett, George Perez, Amanda Conner etc. who may also use the same techniques but at least tailor them to the subject matter.

Thx for making me think with a fever!

Matt said...

In my opinion, photo referencing is not the issue. Photography helps provide important technical details, which would otherwise be a chore to memorize.
There's also nuances in shape and anatomy and lighting that just look better when they're reference from photos.
You don't have to use all of the details in the photo, and the more personal style you work into the drawing the better (as in Immonen's case).

What makes Land's work look horrid, is that it's basically traced, and often from very dull sources.

smkedtky said...

The biggest problem with Greg Land's work is that once you see what he does, it can't be unseen. Now, it takes away from my enjoyment of reading anything he works on because every picture, every panel has my mind matching it up against previous works. Just in this article you can see that the Psylocke pic on the split cover is the same face that Black Widow has on her cover. Also, the split picture of Wolverine/Daken is the same face as featured on Wolverine on X-MEN #500 (and both look like Hugh Jackman). It is distracting, to say the least.

Thank you for calling attention to that shot of Emma/Dazzler/Karma. For some reason, it always stood out, for me, as one of the worst examples of his "art".

I could accept Greg Land (hell, I manage to get through a Liefeld book if it is written well) if his pictures matched what I was reading...but it doesn't.

It has been especially bad lately. His pencils seem to have taken a turn for the worse so that now, not only does it seem awkward and annoying but lazy, too.

Thank you for writing an article that sparked discussion rather than bashing...and for giving Greg Land the benefit of the doubt and not outright accusing him of tracing. I'm not defending him (In fact, I believe he does trace) but you managed to point out everything wrong with his work with nothing but facts.

Frank said...

I just don't understand why his women have to look like emaciated waifs now. That Psylocke cover is the worst, he actually drew her hip bones. How skinny does a woman have to be before you can see her entire pelvis? I guess he needs to start tracing healthier women...

Daryll B. said...

Between Land and Benes I guess teens go straight from 13 years old to fully developed 20ish in 2

I so hate that...

Allen Gabriel said...

Matt took the words right out of my mouth. I don't find any problem in comic book artists using photo references in their work. However, the fact that Land is simply content to trace and add no personal detail or effect to the image just makes him look lazy and incompetent as an artist. With the way his characters are so static and lifeless most of the time (not to mention hard to tell apart for some of his women), it really takes you out of the whole experience of reading a book he's on.

And not that anyone asked, but some of these images are examples of why I just don't even bother reading Uncanny X-Men.

1) - Probably the most common of his offenses is the hands on the hips pose for women. I'm not going to even mention his Liefeld-like understanding of the human anatomy.

2) - The guy doesn't even to bother to draw the faces of that team on the bottom. The only one that gets any detail is the woman in black...who is apparently posing like that for no reason at all.

3) - Hell, I don't even know what to mention on this one. Apparently Psylocke's secondary mutation gave her a face like some combination of Plastic Man and the Joker, not to mention claws for hands. I don't blame the doctor for having a heart attack right there. How in the hell did anyone approve that third panel for print I'll never know.

Erica said...

Oh, Land. I know had several threads about his art and photo referrancing that weren't locked down.

Have you heard anything more about his more recent -- yet to be printed -- art? I've seen a few covers and read an interview with him talking about how his style is changing and he's going to do less photo referrancing and less "realistic" drawings in the future.

Anonymous said...

@Allen Gabriel

Whoever wrote that Psylocke scene that needs a little more cultural insight too. "Yuriko" IS a proper Japanese name but ONLY IF YOU'RE A FEMALE.

Doesn't help much that the writing is worthy of a Linkara bashing.

Anonymous said...

I like Greg Land. I dont have any problem with tracing-you still have to be a good artist to make it look good. The inks are great and that's not Land. If tracing was all he was capable of everyone on Earth could be his artistic equivalent with a lightbox.

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