Monday, August 27, 2012

The Liefeld Fallacy – Creator Says Creators Don't Matter

In the last couple of days, Robert Liefeld has been hogging the headlines quite a lot in comic book websites. Liefeld's loud and grandiose exit from DC's New 52 opened a whole can of worms, but also some healthy discussion about what is going behind closed doors at DC. The musical chairs of creative and editorial teams was, understandably, too much for Liefeld and others. However, in his latest Twitter soapbox, Liefeld is saying that creators don't matter. Hit the jump to read more.

In case you aren't up to speed, here's a quick summary of the events so far. Robert Liefeld, poster child of the excess of the 90's, was brought in to DC to kickstart sales of some titles of the New 52 that were lagging behind the rest. While working on Deathstroke, Hawkman, and Grifter, Liefeld ran into lots of conflict with his editors. This is not surprising or unheard of, seeing as how lots of other writers and artists have spoken about the apparent troubles at the DC editorial offices. George Perez, John Rozum and Greg Capullo, just to name a few have given light to some of the problems and inner turmoil of editors clashing against others. By all accounts, it's kind of a madhouse in there, and it's not that shocking that people wouldn't want to work in such an environment. I know I wouldn't, but the story doesn't end there.

Describing some of the issue he ran into, Rob loudly quit and proclaimed he was getting off the DC wagon. In the process, however, he managed to speak ill of his now former editor, Brian Smith, and other creators rose up to defend Smith. Among those was current Batman writer, Scott Snyder. A discussion arose between the two creators, but I particularly want to focus on a couple of Liefeld quotes, where he basically argues that Snyder's contribution to Batman is negligible and that the character would do fine without him. As part of a larger private conversation (which Liefeld then posted and you can see here and here), Snyder said that he was the head writer of the Batman title, and Liefeld went on a long public rant on his Twitter account (I've only reproduce the important bits here)...
Been berated in DM's by @Ssnyder1835 this morning. Excuse me if I don't marvel at your amazing abilities to write Batman. Piss off.

I'd like to think that if your going to wave your ego around on Batman you'd remember all that came before you. Holeee crap

Average Batman book sells 80k. 'Nuff said.

So let me re-iterate again, it's BATMAN.

My grandma would crack [50K sales] on Batman

Batman is the number one selling character in the history of the biz. Period. End of story. Will endure beyond creator careers.

What Liefeld is implying here (if not flat out saying), is that creators don't matter. He says that anyone on the Batman title would lead to automatic sales. While on one hand, there is some truth behind this, there are collectors that will buy certain titles regarding of quality, this argument cannot be so easily deployed, as there is plenty of evidence against it.

First of all, let's start with Batman. A quick search through the Diamond numbers that we have available shows that before the relaunch the Batman title, under the care of Tony Daniel, was selling around 50-55 thousand units. This is a huge difference from the current series, helmed by Snyder (who we interviewed some time ago) with art by Greg Capullo and others, which is selling consistently around the 130 thousand units. It's the same character, so all those sales must have come from somewhere. The story, and the creators behind it, are clearly the driving force behind this change. The character of Batman will, of course, endure beyond creators, but without those creators to keep the character interesting to readers, it would soon be relegated to the minutiae of history. This is far from the only example, and I'm sure most of you can think of others.

Numbers are not everything though, fan reaction counts too. After all, you can artificially inflate numbers on an incredibly unmemorable book (remember the Amazing Spider-Man issue with Obama?) but Snyder's Batman run has been getting tons of positive reactions and critical acclaim. Once again, the character of Batman can last through decades, but after decades of stories, it's the memorable ones that stick with the readers, that inspire people to continue reading. I'm sure anyone here can tell me their ten favourite Batman stories, but that doesn't mean that they love every story ever to feature the character. Putting an average Batman title might get you 80k sales, as Liefeld puts it, but that doesn't mean that creators shouldn't aspire for greatness, trying to craft great stories. Putting the best creators possible and letting them create the best stories benefits everyone. Ironically, I'm pretty that's what Liefeld was trying to do on his titles before quitting because of his problems with editorial. I'm sure if you ask anyone reading Batman right now, they will tell you that the creators do matter, or which one they prefer.

Fans and numbers would disagree, then, with Liefeld's assertion that titles sell because of a character in it, but it's even more problematic when you consider the fact that even Liefeld himself disagrees with it. Or at least the younger version of him did. He was one of the founders of Image Comics, whose whole purpose was to give creators the right and freedom they deserve. To come out twenty years later and say that the creative team of Batman can be interchangeable goes clearly against what Image stands for. As a matter of fact, not that long ago, Image Comics launched a promo campaign highlighting the impressive range of creators they have.

Like I mentioned above, there is some degree of truth in what Liefeld says. Some collectors and fans will buy Batman regardless of what is inside of that comic, but taking such a defeatist view on the matter is counterproductive. By that logic, we should always try to appeal to the lowest common denominator, something that the comic industry no longer needs. In my opinion, and I think the fans and numbers would agree, creators are the driving force behind the success of specific comics. In other words, his argument does not have a leg to stand. Or, in this case, a foot.

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Anonymous said...

Liefeld is just a jealous idiot in this case: Oh, Batman sells an average of 80K? Your grandma can do 50K? Well Snyder/Capullo is at 130K. Ahem.

(Meanwhile, Swamp thing is at 40K, which is higher than it was the last time Swamp thing launched, and this is after a year of the comic. Clearly all the character).

matthew. said...

Excellent piece of journalism! Liefeld's a boorish ignoramus, but at least he inspires good writing such as this!

Vince Bury said...

What Snyder &Capullo did with Court of Owls is ground breaking, next level comics. Maybe it ' s 'too ' in your face' for some people but not me. So long as these 2 creators are on this book I will pick one up each month.

Matt Duarte said...

Let's try to stay clear of ad hominem attacks on Liefeld, guys. That's a reason why I didn't add any of the insults he threw around on Twitter, because the conversation would quickly fall into pro vs. anti Liefeld camp. I'm more interested in what people think about what he said, not the guy's career.

Anonymous said...

I think Liefeld has a point, and then not.
Books will continue to be made (and will sell) even if the creators are not amazing.

But creators are what drive readers to certain books. In today comics business that has so many creators, each one of them have a huge fan-base. If tomorrow there would be news that Jason Aaron would start writing BATMAN with Sean Murphey as an artist, we'd have tons of new readers coming in.

Also I don't think Snyder is the head batman writer. Sure he writes the batman title, but Batman appears in Batman, Dec', batman and Robin, The Dark Knight, and Batman INC. There is no head writer. The LAST time there was a head writer was when Morrison started Batman and Robin, and only beacuse he changed the status quo, and created a whole new setting for all books. Grayson/Damian as Batman/Robin made ALL the books have to follow Morrison and his story. They had to write around what HE wrote, for better or worse.

Now the books don't have a core book to revolve around. And the Night of the Owls was only an event, not a core story. All the books are back on their own after that (no new status quo to follow).

Snyder is a great writer and I love him. But i don't think he should think of himself as the head writer, EVEN if the editorial department tells him he is so. Just because your bossed tell you you are the head of a collective, you are still in a collective. If there is a head in the batman books it's Editor Mike Marts.

And BTW, When Morrison's story ends there teh status quo WILL change for all books. Even if he is not the head writer, he helped define the current status quo in the batman books. With his departure, something MUST definitively change.

hoylus said...

If DC regard the writer of Batman as the characters head writer, then of course he's entitled to use that title. Whatever we think about it.

Anonymous said...

If I recall, both Gail Simone and Kyle Higgins both defended Scott Snyder's use of the title "head writer".

brandon said...

Creator and character go hand in hand. But it's character's reach of readers NOT buying that title currently that gives off the biggest potential boost.

For example, Grant Morrison goes to work on Fantastic Four and it probably goes to number one out of the box. However, Grant Morrison goes to write Conan and it probably doesn't break the top 10. When the creator is a heavy weight it boosts the character above a "regular" level but depends greatly on the character and that character's existing (but dormant) fanbase.

Liefeld on Wolverine probably provides the same movement as Liefeld on The Spirit. But with a creator heavy weight its Wolverine that has the biggest potential gain because of the fanbase that exists.

Anonymous said...

Nice article. A good read and its always fun to see what's behind the doors as the big houses.

Anonymous said...

So, the marketing campaign of the NDCU reboot and Batman movies didn't help to sell? You make cry the Mad men with articles like this!

Anonymous said...

agree with comment #10 - surely the dark knight rises is responsible for some overall increase in batman title sales?

Anonymous said...

@the last anonymous
Wouldn't the same apply to the current lowest selling Batman title?

This whole argument can be settled by taking off the numbers of the lowest selling Batman title from the main comic by Snyder & Capullo, and said difference would be the creator factor more or less. Of course "It's Batman", but without Snyder and Capullo (or another creator I like) I wouldn't be reading it, as such I'm not buying the other titles.

I think the bigger problem is shrouded a little by the Liefeld vs Snyder hoopla, that creators like Perez are leaving DC naming the current editorial team as the reason.


brandon said...

Actually if you look at the sales charts either on ICv2 or at the aggregation on the Beat you will see that the Batman books stayed more steady over time since the reboot than most of the other DC books and the main title (Snyder's) has held steady enough to jump over Action and JL to become their top seller.

The movie most likely had nothing to do with the slower loss of readers (no real gain since the movie promos began). It's just been that Batman has lost the least readers, the slowest since the reboot which seems to suggest the content is holding the reader's interest.

Matt Duarte said...

I have no doubt that the movie and promotion helped Batman titles. However, the lack of reader loss (as some other people have pointed out) indicates that people are content with this title enough to stay with it. In other movie-related titles, there is usually a very large spike with number #1 or whatever number that comes out on the same months as the movie, and then numbers decline sharply back to normal levels. That hasn't happened with Batman. And if anything, you would think that the Batman - The Dark Knight (the Finch one) title would have gotten the bigger boost from the movie.

maybetoby said...

Even if Liefeld had a valid point to make, it gets lost in the childish name-calling.

Deebo305 said...

While I agree that Scott Snyder's run on Batman has been downright incredible. Creator's matter only to a certain degree because larger characters like Batman can be given crap stories and still sell while lesser known characters can be given masterful runs and still be given the boot to comic book limbo. Hell look at Static, very popular character who was given more writers in such a small run. That raised some real question marks for me

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