Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Comic Book Artist who desperately needs to be challenged – Frank Cho

The idea for this commentary struck me as I perused the latest summer publishing solicitations by both Marvel and DC Comics. While there are tons of comic book illustrators making a decent living in the marketplace with moderate talent, there are several top tier guys out there who have been coasting too often on the same tricks/cheats of the trade. These are guys who each company would view as an “A-lister” within their ranks for various reasons. Certainly some of these guys have earned their way to the top of this list for different reasons but at the same time, many of them need to start showing us something new. Be it filmmakers, music artists, writers or illustrators, every creator needs to be challenged from time to time.

One of these top talents in the industry that needs that push is Frank Cho.
Gasp! Yes I know Cho is one of the top guys out there with a huge fan following, myself included and best known for drawing babes with big racks and bigger behinds. He started out as a fantastic new comic strip illustrator and proved he had a knack for writing beyond his drawing ability. Heck, I was one of his early followers many years back when the guy was schlepping his first Liberty Meadows trade collection of works from his college years from one comic convention to the next trying to get noticed. Way before he became the Pinup god he was later ordained as in the comic world. But man, lately give him a 22 page comic project and his shortcomings/disinterest become evident as he moved beyond the classic four panel strip.

Undoubtedly, Cho can draw beautiful women and has masterful skill with the ink pen. But in recent years, Cho has had great trouble staying either focused or interested in telling a story in comic book form. Try to “read” any of his Marvel issues he’s done without the use of text and see if you can tell what’s happening in the story. Especially those New/Mighty Avengers issues he did a couple of years ago. This is the test of true storyteller. The reader should have some idea of what’s happening in the issue just by flipping through the pages. Overall in the course of an issue, Cho’s panels can be very sparse beyond the figure and he over uses tricks like the silhouette or the multi panel, same taking heads pose for conversations far too often. These particular cheats repeat in his work as he clearly tires of drawing detail or is hitting one of his deadline issues. Frank also needs to enhance the dynamic staging of his work. His use of the ‘camera’ within his storytelling is too much like that of a TV director and not enough as a comic book artist who has unlimited freedom within the 11” X 17” page in front of him. Too often he lines up the typical, straight on, TV medium ¾ body or close up shot. How boring is this page without dialog? I realize half the blame for too many pages of talking heads in a single issue also is shared by today's writers like Brian Bendis (a topic covered plenty by others online). But it's the artist's job to also make this kind of static look interesting.

Then consider this newest Cho cover of New Ultimates solicited for July. Three of Frank’s patented women standing around. Each figure and face the exact same as the next. But just standing there…doing nothing cool and looking fairly bored. There are far too many Marvel covers lately where the characters are simply standing around. How exactly does this kind of cover draw in an audience or new reader? How many of the best Marvel covers of decades past had the characters simply standing around? How many Kirby, Buscema, or Ditko covers can you recall in this vein? Cho is not the only artist currently plagued by this cover problem of late but he’s one of the top guys that should be way ahead of rest and not interested in creating a cover that is this…lazy. And creating them repeatedly!

Not every Cho cover or page has this problem of course. I know Cho is the type of guy whose time and talent are in demand from all directions and all industries such as Toys, comics, TV, animation, licensing and of course even family. But he also should not be the type of illustrator that wants to just crap the work out for the paycheck or just to get the work off his desk so he can move on to the next project. He’s simply better than his 22 page output at Marvel has suggested. We all know this. If an artist is disinterested or otherwise distracted while producing this kind of work, then how does he expect his audience to remain committed? A truly committed artist should want to challenge himself and his audience as he grows.

We’ll see how he handles the current incarnation of the Ultimates through his run but it's clear at this point that Cho needs to be pushed out his comfort zone. And I'm not picking on some kid starting out in the biz, this is one very experienced talent that grew up studing the works of illustrators most of the current generation of the industry have never heard of.

C’mon Frank. You are a lifelong study of the masters of the trade…show us you’ve learned more at this point in your career than how to frame a woman’s tits n’ ass in the panel.

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