Creating comics, especially as a profession, is to experience the friction between quality and deadlines. In a perfect world, where our lives were not limited to a mere 80 years or so, we might have leisure to create and satisfy ourselves with every panel, every page, and every issue.
Creator-owned books (read: the labor of love that may or may not be financially profitable) may have looser deadlines but are still formed under the pressure of other deadlines, paying the bills, and the tug-of-war between telling the story and drawing it as best you can. With many stories that I want to tell, is it better to tell them in a style that communicates the idea successfully or is it better to tell the same stories, at a higher quality of art, but fewer in number?
The art of comics is the art of compromise. Take Al Williamson for example. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, take a few minutes and soak up the exquisite line work and draftsmanship in these strips:
Beautiful stuff and, if you ask me, better than most of the work you see today (mine included.) And yet, by the 1980s Williamson had moved to exclusively inking other artists’ pencils. Why would a man with this much capacity as an all around artist leave behind the opportunity to exercise his abilities?
Because, as I said before, the medium is one of compomise. According to John Romita, Sr., who was Marvel’s art director at the time, commented that Williamson shifted roles ” because he wants to do these beautifully pencilled pages with ample time to do them. That’s why Al is inking now …” By the 1980s was unable to make a living penciling comics due to the tension between the time-frame the books had to be produced in to be financially viable, and the time-frame it took to create work at the level he wanted.
Williamson still brought his excellence to the craft of inking, winning multiple awards between 1988 and the 1999. But still, no more of that beautiful Williamson drawing.
Even so, it’s not always a bad thing to have restrictions. After all, that’s where creativity functions best. As G.K. Chesterton once put it, “Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere.” Good art, like good morals, require boundaries. And functioning well within those boundaries is where good things are made. Once we try to function as if perfection were possible, we create less…and ironically fall further away from perfection than if we had just accepted the reality that utopia does not exist in this life.
But finding the sweet spot, where we can evaluate ourselves and be satisfied that we did the best possible job given the circumstances, is another art unto itself. And I’m still trying to figure that one out.