Friday 30 December 2011


Images copyright MARVEL COMICS

Behold - The SILVER SURFER!  Yup, here's the shiny, chrome-domed sky-rider himself in the 1988 hardback graphic novel entitled PARABLE (plotted and scripted by STAN LEE), which first appeared in a two-issue comicbook presentation that same year.

Behold, also, what MOEBIUS (the non de plume of artist JEAN GIRAUD) writes about his rendition of the character in his reflections at the back of the book:

"From a strictly academic standpoint, some might say that my Silver Surfer may be better than that of other American artists.  But I think this is a very incomplete and arguable point of view."

In fact, I'd go further.  I'd say it's so unlikely a point of view that it would never have occurred to anybody had he himself not cleverly implanted the suggestion into people's minds, while pre-emptively protecting himself from accusations of vanity (or delusion) by 'modestly' claiming not to subscribe to the idea.  However, the notion of him perhaps being the best Silver Surfer artist to date has doubtless now taken root.

Obviously, not everyone will subscribe to the view, but - with one sentence - he has probably ensured his inclusion as a contender in any future discussions as to who the best illustrator of the former herald of GALACTUS might be.  And (clever him) he's the one who introduced the thought - which had to be 'articulated' first, as it could never have come from merely looking at the book itself.  (Don't get me wrong - there are some nice pictures, but overall it's disappointing.)

So, well done Moebius.  The fact remains though, that while Parable is a nicely written story, it hardly rates up there with the classic issues illustrated by JOHN BUSCEMA.  The art is professional enough, and it is interesting to see another 'take' on the character of NORRIN RADD, but Moebius's ego is the main reason why Stan's plot and scripting are so drastically diluted in their impact, and why the finished product is so disappointingly underwhelming.

His ego?  Yes.  Consider what he has to say about lettering for example:

"To me, the lettering is a form of graphology.  It reflects your own style and personality."

"That's why I don't really understand how an artist can entrust something that important to a hired hand, no matter how good he may be."

"To me, it's monstrous to have an important part of the look of a page determined by an outsider."

"My letter is alive.  It dances on the paper.  It reflects my personality."

"I'd... rather have my own letters than the intrusion of someone else's style on my page.  I really fail to understand how artists can tolerate this."

"The excuse of legibility is, I think, a very poor one.  It is something that can be done away with."

Hark at the conceit of the man.  If you're reading this and happen to know Moebius, kindly give him a good hard slap across the kipper the next time you see him for talking utter b*ll*cks.

Parable is extremely difficult to read.  The balloons and captions are too big and intrusive, and the lettering is sloppy and scratchy, making it hard to decipher in many places, resulting in a start-stop-go back again reading experience.  It's the comics equivalent of watching a DVD which drags, sticks, skips and suffers from sound drop-out.  Incidentally, don't be fooled by these enhanced scans from the superior-printed book edition - the comicbook printings are farFAR worse.

Clearly Moebius's main mistake is in thinking that a story exists for the purpose of reflecting the artist's personality.  I'm not interested in Moebius's personality (or that of any other writer or artist, come to that).  At least, it's not my primary concern when I buy a comic, book, or DVD.  I bought Parable because I'm interested in the Silver Surfer, not Moebius.  The purpose of a comic, or any other form of storytelling, is to say "Look at that, look at him, look at them, look at the premise, the storythe situation" - not "Look at me!". 

Of course, it goes without saying that any body of work - whether it be comics, books, music, movies, poetry, sculpture, any form of art, in fact - will reveal, to a greater or lesser extent, some aspect of the creator's personality, whether he wishes it to do so or not.  However, that should be a secondary result, apparent only after enjoyment of - and reflection on - the work itself.

It's a bit like looking through a window at an exquisite view beyond.  As one stands there, drinking in the scene, after a while one's focus shifts and the image of one's own reflection in the glass suddenly makes itself known, even if it is somewhat indistinct and transparent.  In a vaguely similar manner, that's how one should regard an artist in comparison to his work - it's the work that should be the main source of interest and fascination, not the artist, though that may (and often does) follow.

Moebius's views on lettering are simply absurd.  All that his own lettering reflects about him is that he isn't very accomplished in the art.  He even admits that " lettering on some pages is not always as good as I'd like it to be."  Also, "...maybe I rushed a little too much in places."  Yeah - all the way through the book by the look of it.  What this reveals about the man is that he's more interested in projecting and promoting his 'personality' at the expense of the story.  Or why else would he settle for something less than it could be?

The best products are (usually) produced by the best craftsmen.  This is true for every field of endeavour.  Sometimes one man can do more than one task well, but rarely can one man do all tasks as well as a team of individual specialists.  If Moebius feels that comics exist for the purpose of reflecting the artist's personality, not only should he draw and letter them, he should create his own characters, write his own stories, colour his own strips, design, edit and publish the things to boot.

In illustrating a story by another writer, he acknowledges the collaborative nature of comicbooks, so it seems misguided (to say nothing of egocentric) not to allow someone better qualified than himself to render the script in a way that makes it more readily accessible to the reader, and also complements the art more effectively than his own sub-standard attempts at 'graphology'.

Most artists don't "tolerate" what Moebius complains about - they're grateful for it.  They understand that producing comicbooks is a business, not a conceit, and that the published product is better for having a variety of professionally proficient practitioners participating in the project.  A good penciller benefits from having a good inker, and they both benefit from having a good colourist and a good letterer because they all realize that the end result is greater than the sum of its parts.  (To use a well-worn phrase.)

In conclusion, Moebius admits that his art is "erratic" and his lettering is "a little rushed" and "not always as good" as he'd like it to be.  His art in the book is serviceable at best, his lettering diabolical, and his attitude insulting.  Had JOHN BUSCEMA drawn the book, it would've been a more than worthy addition to the seventeen issues he was responsible for in the '60s.  How could it fail to be, given that Stan plotted and scripted it?

As it stands, however, the power, fluency and relevance of the story have been so compromised by the art and lettering as to reduce it to nothing more than a mildly interesting-but-unsatisfying footnote in the hitherto noteworthy (in the main) annals of the Star-Spanning Sentinel of the Spaceways.

Let's hope that MARVEL one day re-letters the story to an acceptable professional standard, and gives Stan's story the justice it deserves.  Meanwhile, Big John can rest in peace, his reputation fully intact.  When it comes to drawing the Surfer, there's little likelihood that Moebius will ever steal Buscema's crown - despite his self-serving semi-suggestion to the contrary.

Here's how it should be done.  Art by John
Buscema, lettering by Phil Felix

19 comments: said...

Yes, Giraud lettered the comic badly. I am a comic artist myself, and I never use my own lettering. But I don't think that a better lettering would improve much in this case. The problem I see is that Giraud adopted too much to an american style of drawing. The comic could have been a succes if he had drawn it like he normally drawed, such as in Blueberry or Major Fatal.

Kid said...

Possibly, but at least the story would have been easier to read had the lettering been better. As it is, it's just so bloody sore on the eyes and disrupts the fluency of the narrative.

Thanks for commenting.

Anonymous said...

Many European comics are lettered by their artists I think. It's OK and feels natural not pasted on. Not the American way perhaps but it's good to be distinctive.

Kid said...

Believe it or not, I have no problem with artists lettering their own work - if they can do it neatly and legibly. Dave Gibbons is a good letterer, as were Wally Wood and others.

However, in Moebius's case in this instance, it looks anything but natural and is a serious impediment to enjoying the book.

Anonymous said...

I take your point. It is irksome in places like where words are broken up.

B Smith said...

I wouldn't have minded the lettering so much if the story wasn't so bleeding DULL. I recall reading somewhere that Moebius had long had a hankering for doing an American comic the American way, and this was presumably it - might have been more interesting if he'd gone the whole hog, and had someone ink and colour as well as letter it.

But as I said, by this time Stan hadn't scripted anything regular for years (Spidey newspaper strip notwithstanding) and in some ways it's a compendium of everything that made the Surfer great, while repeating it for the Nth time, turning it into one cliché after another. It's no wonder that when the Surfer got his own title back that they got him off Earth and into some new adventures elsewhere (though I have to admit, having finally read them in an Essentials volume a couple of years back, they didn't do much for me).

Kid said...

One thing I've noticed about Stan's scripting over the years 'though, is that it's usually a smooth read, cliche or not. However, in this case, because of the lettering impeding the actual act of reading, it's an incredibly bumpy ride which detracts from the natural flow of the story.

Pierre D said...

Hey ! Thanks for the post, it's very interesting.
I've read a lot of Giraud's work these last years, and on the scans you display the lettering is very similar to the lettering he offers on his french work.
And to be honest I was surprised by your post, because I remember Giraud's lettering as very round and pleasant to read, on Lt. Blueberry at least.
And then I enlarged the pictures, ouch... On image2.png, "what insane conceit possesses you?" : that's just really awful, and it's just an example, you're completely right.
But I do still like the way he makes those round-shaped letters though, it's not the style that I don't like, and honestly I understand what he says not wanting another lettering on a page he's drawn. French Comics is no industry you know, artists have a very different vision of their work.
But this is just really bad this time, no question. I do think there are reasons for that, I can only suspect them, but carelessness no, I don't think so. I don't know, it may have to do with the page-size on which he works, or the fact the french and US comics are not printed on the same format made him make some odd decisions; or he just had no time, french comic writers don't have the same deadline issues as people working for the big two in the US...

As for the first citation you made "From a strictly academic standpoint...". I don't have a copy. This is on the back of the book, seriously ? To me that looks like a very odd editorial choice, it's really on the back ? That sounds very much out of context doesn't it ? I mean, who would say that out of nowhere ?! Yes we are arrogant here in France, but come on man!
Now, I'm sure he said it and that's no forgery, there's no reason. But, you know, like any comics artist that guy spends all his time at home mostly alone working his ass off; and then from time to time they invite him in New York and there he gets praised and praised and praised. And out of those meetings and conversations I'm sure you can extract many quotes in this fashion, you know this kind of situations, it's good for the ego and there's no contradiction. But i'm not sure this is the way Giraud would like to address his american readers, that's just a very odd quote choice...
Anyways, in any situation to make such assertions might not be the wisest, that's for sure, but to put that on a Back-Cover, that's obviously way too much...

Wow, that's way too long a comment...

Thanks for the blog man it's awesome !

Kid said...

An extremely interesting comment 'though, Pierre - and a most welcome one. His comments ere not on the back cover of the book and not a quote of something he said; they were in a detailed chapter after the story and were his written thoughts on the matter. I would imagine he spent a bit of time on it.

He seems to think that the artist is more important than the comic itself, which, as Bob Kane found, isn't really true. Readers were always more interested in the character of Batman than in the creator of him.

Perhaps the problem with the lettering is simply down to English not being Giraud's first language? Even then 'though, the balloons still take up far too much space in the panels. The pages sometimes look like illustrated letters rather than lettered illustrations. I've overstated it perhaps, but you know what I mean.

Comics have to be pleasant on the eye and easy to read. (I don't mean simple, I mean legible.) In this case it was certainly a major fail - at least in the second part of that statement.

Thanks for dropping by.

Pierre D said...

Hi !

Oh! and while writing my comment I was thinking "I mean it's not as if it was an afterword or something he would have actually written."
Well, so much for my attempt at explaining; I completely agree with you then, and I add : Man what an ass !

On the lettering side, here is an example of his work on Lt. Blueberry, the page dates back to the early 80's :
The lettering here is closer to the quality he normaly offers in his work. I still like very much the round-shape style he uses, and think it fits.
The space/room between the lines is almost non-existent though, that does not help the reading I can't argue with that.
Comparing it to image2.png it looks like he made his line fatter there, and it doesn't fit the size of the wordballoons (as you rightly pointed out).
Then again with my theory, it could because of him anticipating that the page would be printed in the smaller US format, I don't know, if so it was a bad decision anyways.

I know that mostly he draws on a very wide format. You can't see that on the link I gave you above, it's an exception, but most of the times one page of comic by Giraud is actually two pages on his drawing board,
Here (hope the link works...) you can see that, there's a page 5a and a 5b to compose p. 5.
Maybe he had to fit in some requirements to draw this Silver Surfer story, regarding the page size or smtg
(Oh God, this really starts looking like an obsession on my side doesn't it ? Always with the page size like it answers everything !)

I had a ball writing these comments though, thanks for answering them and thanks again for the blog !!

Kid said...

And thanks once again for taking the time to comment, Pierre, and sharing your insightful observations.

Anonymous said...

I think it has to do with the old US/Europe lack of mutual understanding of each other's cultures. I have read many Tex Specials (in Italian). Many of them great. But it's always consistently Tex. It's unmistakeably him. On the other hand I also read the Tex Special drawn by Joe Kubert... now while enjoyable (I've read this and the Moebius Silver Surfer and enjoyed them both)... this ain't Tex. It's almost like seeing Batman dressed as a cowboy. It is Profoundly influenced by Kubert's US-centric vision of how cowboys/comics should be. I would not want for this character to be the norm. As long as it appears once that's fine and well. It is Kubert's take on the Tex character and has very little to do with the Europea version. And like I said it's more of a superhero than what Tex actually is. There has been/is/will be a language and/or cultural barrier.

Kid said...

I will shortly no longer be publishing comments without some kind of name attached. The anonymous function will remain open for the convenience of those without a Google account, but a name - even an assumed one - will be required in order for comments to see print.

Lorenzo said...

A great post, sir, and one which I thoroughly agree with (just for a change - LoL)!

I'm a big fan of most of the work of Moebius, but his Surfer is VERY FAR from "one of the best", and I'm rather taken aback by the incredible hubris of the man!

As to lettering, while I can relate a little to his ideas that lettering should ideally reflect the overall style of any given comic, I certainly wouldn't be averse to someone else doing that, especially if they were better at it than I (though Moebius's own lettering DOES stink up the pages of his Surfer book, and I too found them to be jarring when I originally read the book some years back).

Sadly, I don't know Monsieur Giraud personally, but I WILL keep a kipper handy should I run into him in Dante's ring of Self-Important Pomposity (which, also sadly, I'm fairly likely headed myself - ahem!). Cheers!

Kid said...

Great artist, but duff letterer. I'm surprised he wasn't discerning enough to recognize it. Incidentally, I didn't mean slap him WITH a kipper, I meant slap him ON the kipper. ('Kipper' is a word for 'face' in my neck of the woods.) Tell you what, cover both angles and slap him on the kipper with a kipper. Sorted.

Unknown said...

sorry I saw this so late (I'm new to viewing blogs, despite being a published comics artist 4 DC, Dark Horse, etc).

Since the age of 17 I TRIED, and repeatedly FAILED, to create decent, legible, acceptable lettering . It's a talent, like dancing verus singing, like orchestrating music vs writing lyrics for songs.

Moebius can GET FUCKED on this one. His 'lettering' is a DISTRACTION from the printed page, and smacks of of a 14 yr old 'being lazy but having a go', as per on too many FB pages, etc. Thus he had no right to say what he did RE lettering. It was like what Hitchcock was reputed to say about 'actors'. People whom can't DO something (especially something which is HARD TO DO) never get to bitch about stuff like lettering. And Moebius CAN'T letter. I've been LUCKY enough to have GRANDE letterers, whom ADD to the aesthetic of any comics reading experience, and what we see above as quoted from Moebius pisses me the hell off. BECAUSE I CANNOT DO THAT LETTERING he treated like crap, as per his statements [[ublished above].

Also, he was no Kirby, he was no Buscema, he was no Byrne, in terms of the Silver Surfer work e 'provided'.

Kid said...

He was a good artist, KT, but his lettering (and his views on lettering) strike me as somewhat odd for someone who worked in what is essentially a collaborative medium. I wonder if his Surfer would've been better had he used one of his other art styles?

Pete Hale said...

I've been interested in this one for solely being a post-Silver Age Lee comic. He also did The Last Fantastic Four Story, which is instead him dabbling in pseudo-Brian Bendis nonsense, with short sentences and lots of "yeah" and so on-killing his Mark Twain styling. How's he here? Pseudo-Frank Miller?

Moebius' lettering seems average to me. I'm a little less elaborate, and I do cartoon characters!

Kid said...

It's hard to evaluate Stan's scripting here because of the awful lettering, BH, which impedes a smooth read. Can't say I agree with you about Moebius's lettering being average, it's just downright awful to my eyes and as a former signwriter and calligrapher (and artist as well), I think I'm a pretty fair judge.

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