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 'verbalized' 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, although 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

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