Rob Liefeld, July 2006
|Born||October 3, 1967|
|Area(s)||Writer, Penciller, Inker, Editor, Publisher|
In the early 1990s, the self-taught artist became prominent due to his work on Marvel Comics' The New Mutants and later X-Force. In 1992, he and several other popular Marvel illustrators left the company to found Image Comics, which started a wave of comic books owned by their creators rather than by publishers. The first book published by Image Comics was Rob Liefeld's Youngblood #1.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Career
- 3 Criticism
- 4 Selected bibliography
- 5 References
- 6 Further reading
- 7 External links
Liefeld's love of comics began as a child, which led early on to his decision to be a professional artist, a practice that began with his tracing artwork from comic books. As a high school student, he took basic fundamental art courses, and attended comic book conventions at the nearby Disneyland Hotel, where he met creators such as George Pérez, John Romita Jr., Jim Shooter, Bob Layton, Mike Zeck and Marv Wolfman. Liefeld cites Pérez, along with John Byrne and Frank Miller, as major influences.
After graduating high school, Liefeld took life drawing classes at a local junior college, working odd jobs for about a year, including as a pizza delivery man and construction worker, while practicing his artwork, samples of which he would send to small comics publishers, as he was too intimidated to send them to the "Big Two" companies of Marvel and DC. Learning from a friend of a comic book convention in San Francisco where a large number of editors would be in attendance, Liefeld and his friend drove several hours to San Francisco, where they would stay with his aunt and uncle in order to attend the convention. At the convention, he showed editors his samples, which consisted of 10 pages of sequential art featuring his own characters. Editor Dick Giordano, to whom Liefeld showed his samples at the DC booth, requested that Liefeld send him more samples. Although Liefeld was apprehensive about approaching the Marvel booth, he did so at his friend's urging, and as a result, editor Mark Gruenwald offered Liefeld a job illustrating an 8-page Avengers backup story featuring the Black Panther, much to the 19-year-old artist's surprise. Though the published story was eventually illustrated by another artist, Liefeld was eventually given character design work by the publisher. His first published story, however, was the five-issue miniseries Hawk and Dove for DC Comics, the first issue of which was published with an October 1988 cover date. That same year, Liefeld drew a Bonus Book insert in Warlord #131 as well as Secret Origins #28.
Liefeld's Hawk and Dove layouts were oriented sideways in story pages taking place in a chaos dimension, so that a reader would have to turn the comic book at a right angle to read them. Because this was done without editorial input, editor Mike Carlin cut and pasted the panels into the proper order, and Kesel lightboxed them onto DC comics paper to ink them. The letters column of Hawk and Dove #5 mentions that Liefeld "showed something new to an editor who thought he'd seen everything." In his defense, Liefeld offered that that was how the dimension had been drawn the only other time it had been featured in the book, although Karl Kesel claims this is untrue.
Shortly thereafter, Liefeld began doing work for Marvel Comics as well, his first assignment for them being The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #23. In 1989, Liefeld became the penciller for the Marvel series The New Mutants, starting with issue #86. He is generally credited for turning this lowest-selling title of the X-franchise into a financial success.
With The New Mutants (vol. 1) #98, Liefeld assumed full creative control over the series, penciling, inking, and plotting, with Fabian Nicieza writing dialog. The New Mutants series was retitled X-Force (vol. 1), whose 1991 debut issue sold four million copies, setting an industry-wide record later broken by Jim Lee's X-Men (vol. 2) #1. The sales numbers were propelled by 1990s direct market sales strategies; variant editions were issued to encourage sales of multiple copies to single collectors. Lee's X-Men was published with five variant covers, and X-Force relied on multiple variant trading cards polybagged with the comic itself.
In mid-1990, Levi's began producing a series of TV commercials directed by Spike Lee for their 501 button fly jeans, which included an onscreen 800 number that viewers who worked in unique jobs could call in order to appear in the company's commercials. After calling the number and leaving a message describing himself and his career, Liefeld appeared in one of the commercials, in which Lee interviews Liefeld about his career and his creation, X-Force.
Liefeld was subsequently interviewed by Stan Lee in the second episode of the 1991 documentary series The Comic Book Greats, in which he discussed how he broke into the industry, demonstrated his drawing technique, and talked about his Levi's commercial.
Leaving Marvel Comics, co-founding Image Comics
Liefeld's relationship with Marvel began to break down in 1991 when he announced plans in a black-and-white advertisement in the Comics Buyer's Guide to publish an original title with competitor Malibu Comics. The exact title is unknown, but according to journalist Michael Dean, it was something to the effect of The X-Cutioners, a title whose similarity to Marvel's X-Men family of titles evoked the ire of Marvel editor Bob Harras, who threatened to fire Liefeld if he used that title.
Liefeld and several other popular young artists including Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen, Whilce Portacio, Jim Valentino and Marc Silvestri left Marvel in 1992 to form Image Comics. Each co-founder formed his own studio under the Image banner, such as Liefeld's Extreme Studios. Liefeld's superhero team series Youngblood, which is loosely based on a 1991 Teen Titans series Liefeld had proposed to DC Comics, was the first comic Image published. He appeared on an episode of The Dennis Miller Show to promote the book. His other titles included Bloodstrike #1, which was released in April 1993.
In an interview in Hero Illustrated #4 (October 1993), Liefeld conceded disappointment with the first four issues of Youngblood, calling the first issue a "disaster". Liefeld explained that production problems, as well as sub-par scripting by his friend and collaborator Hank Kanalz, whose employment Liefeld later terminated, resulted in work that was lower in quality than that which Liefeld produced when Fabian Nicieza scripted his plots on X-Force, and that reprints of those four issues would be re-scripted.
In 1996, Liefeld's and Lee's studios signed with Marvel to re-envision several of the company's core series, an event called "Heroes Reborn." Liefeld was contracted to write twelve issues of The Avengers, co-written with Jeph Loeb, and was to pencil twelve issues of Captain America. Marvel terminated the agreement after six issues, and Marvel re-assigned the two series to Lee's studio.
Departure from Image
In June 1996, Marc Silvestri temporarily left Image with his Top Cow imprint, allegedly because of disputes with the other partners over Liefeld's status in the company. Among the many accusations against Liefeld, which came to light in subsequently filed legal complaints, was the charge that Liefeld routinely used his check-writing powers to cover personal debts from Image funds. Other dissatisfaction with Liefeld ranged from his alleged habit of copying art from other partners' comics to his plans to move titles that had been established at Image to the non-Image Maximum Press. Image Comics Executive Director Larry Marder is quoted as saying "He [Rob] was making an increasing number of business decisions that were counterproductive to being a business partner".
In addition to allegedly siphoning funds, he was said to have used Image staff to do promotional and production work for Maximum. In early September, Liefeld issued a press release stating he was resigning his position at Image and leaving the group. Nearly simultaneously, the Image partners issued a press release stating that they had fired Liefeld. The other partners had already voted once to remove Liefeld from the group, a move he protested on the grounds that he was given too short a notice period. His resignation came only minutes before the second meeting that would have forced him out.
The comics press variously reported several underlying issues: the effect of Liefeld's erratically published and critically derided lines on the company's reputation, his supposed misuse of his position as Image CEO to unfairly benefit his own publishing efforts (including Maximum Press, which was not a part of Image) and attempts to recruit artists employed by his Image partners, a violation of their informal agreements. As further financial reversals followed, Liefeld moved all of his publishing ventures into a new company, Awesome Comics. This new enterprise, announced in April 1997 as a partnership between Liefeld and Malibu Comics founding partner Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, concentrated its efforts on newer properties.
At Awesome, Liefeld and Loeb modified their unpublished Captain America plots and art pages in order to publish them as their own character, Agent America, which was nearly identical in appearance and background to Captain America, but Liefeld canceled these plans under legal pressure from Marvel, over similarities between the two characters. Thinking that it would be more feasible to use the pages by modifying them into an established character, Liefeld attempted to acquire the rights to Fighting American, another patriotic-themed character created in 1954 by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, but when the rights holders offered the rights at a price Liefeld thought was too high, he created a similar character, Agent America, in order to compel the Fighting American rights holders to acquiesce to Liefeld's offered price. The rights holders considered taking legal action over the similarity of Agent America to Fighting American, though it was Marvel who eventually did so, contending similarities between Agent America and Captain America. Before the lawsuit went to trial, Liefeld finalized the licensing deal to Fighting American. Marvel's suit against Liefeld was settled with the provisions that Liefeld's version of Fighting American would undergo some cosmetic changes to his costume, and could not throw his shield (a signature trait of Captain America), in order to distinguish it sufficiently from Captain America.
Liefeld also hired comic book writer Alan Moore to revive many of his creations. Moore wrote a few issues of Youngblood and Glory, but his most lauded work for Liefeld was on Supreme, as his work on that title won Moore the 1997 Eisner Award for Best Writer.
Awesome's initial releases, included new properties like Kaboom! created by Jeff Matsuda. However, Awesome eventually ceased operation in 2000 due to the departure of its primary investor.
In the 2000s, Liefeld returned to his former characters in the X-Men franchise, providing pencils for the occasional cover and/or interior of Cable and X-Force until the early 2000s, when both were canceled.
In 2004, he reunited with Fabian Nicieza for an X-Force limited series and illustrated the early covers for Nicieza's Cable and Deadpool. In that same year, Liefeld formed Arcade Comics and once again announced plans to revive Youngblood. These involved reprinting older material and providing the art for two new series Youngblood: Bloodsport with Mark Millar and Youngblood: Genesis with Brandon Thomas. Although the former only published one issue, Liefeld expressed hopes to finish the series.
Liefeld and writer Jeph Loeb returned to the Heroes Reborn Universe with Onslaught Reborn, a five-issue limited series that premiered in November 2006. This led to Liefeld having a pitch accepted for a plan to bring Killraven back, with writer Robert Kirkman.
In July 2007, it was announced that Rob Liefeld and Youngblood would be returning to Image Comics after years of self-publication. This new partnership marks the first time in a decade that Liefeld and Image would collaborate on a project. The new Youngblood series is written by Joe Casey with art by Derec Donovan and Val Staples, with covers by Liefeld, and started in January 2008. He took over writing and art duties with issue #9. To commemorate the event, and the 15th anniversary of Image Comics, the 2007 San Diego Comic-Con was headlined by the Image Founders panel, where all seven of the original Image Comics founders appeared on stage simultaneously.
2010 saw Liefeld return to the Deadpool character, first by penciling issue #1 of the Prelude to Deadpool Corps series, the issue focusing on Lady Deadpool. Liefeld became the regular artist on Deadpool Corps, providing the interior art for the first nine issues.
In March 2011, Liefeld was announced as the artist on The Infinite, a mini-series written by Robert Kirkman. In January 2012, this project was canceled by Liefeld due to creative differences over the art direction.
In June 2011, he was announced as the artist on a new Hawk and Dove series, with writer Sterling Gates, as part of The New 52, DC Comics' relaunch of their entire superhero line, returning Liefeld to the characters that helped establish him in the industry. With Hawk and Dove canceled as of issue #8, Liefeld was hired to take over three other titles: Grifter, Deathstroke and The Savage Hawkman, plotting all three and drawing Deathstroke. Though he indicated in July 2012 that he would stay on the titles for a run that would end in 2013, he abruptly quit DC Comics in late August 2012, announcing that the #0 issues to be published in September would be his last. Though he characterized his experience on The New 52 as an overall positive one, he did not disguise his animosity toward editor Brian Smith, with whom his clashes were among his reasons for leaving the company. Other reasons he cited were frequent rewrites of his material, and the overall corporate culture that was more prevalent now that both DC and Marvel were owned by large media conglomerates. Liefeld also referred to Scott Clark's artwork on Grifter as "crap". Liefeld indicated that he would return to focusing on his creator-owned properties at Image, including Bloodstrike, Brigade, as well as other projects yet to be specified. In response to these events, artist Pete Woods defended DC editorial, stating that the restrictions placed on creators was the result of a plan they had for all 52 of their titles that required them to be consistent with one another. Editor Tom Brevoort and writer Gail Simone defended Brian Smith, disputing Liefeld's characterization of him, leading to a heated exchange on Twitter between Liefeld and Brevoort, and eventually head Batman writer Scott Snyder as well.
In 2012 Liefeld returned to his earlier creator-owned characters, with new books written and illustrated by other writers and artists. These include a Bloodstrike series written by Tim Seeley, a Glory series written by Joe Keatinge and illustrated by Ross Campbell, and a Prophet series written by Brandon Graham that garnered critical acclaim.
Liefeld's name has become something of a lightning rod in the industry. In an interview, Brian Michael Bendis described the polarization of opinion on Liefeld: "There is a great dichotomy...There's either some great and generous story about [Liefeld] or you will hear some unbelievable thing like, 'How is he not in jail if he did that?' There is no middle ground."
In interviews, Liefeld has compared himself to other popular artists who experience meteoric success and acclaim early in their careers but near-pariah status afterwards, notably Britney Spears, who "became vapid in pop music, and perhaps I was nothing more than a vapid comic book artist." He seems to credit his success to tapping into the zeitgeist: "I'll be the first to tell you that we [the Image collective] were never the best artists. We were never the best at anything, but just like a song or a band or whatever, we caught on and we toured rigorously."
He is not without supporters in the industry. The A.V. Club says of Liefeld's critics, "Rob Liefeld is the punching bag of choice for many discerning comics fans. But he’s also the man who defined what the 1990s looked like in superhero books, so he’s crying all the way to the bank. For every detractor who thinks he’s the worst thing to happen to comic books since Fredric Wertham, there are a dozen ravenous fanboys ready to snatch up whatever he does next." Writer Jeph Loeb, with whom Liefeld collaborated, and writer Mark Millar are reported to be admirers of his work. Millar in particular wrote the foreword to the 2008 Youngblood collection published by Image Comics, in which he defended that series as an entry in the celebrity superhero subgenre that predated The Authority and X-Statix. Millar also compared critics of Liefeld's layouts and figure work to those who would have criticized Jack Kirby for exhibiting a cartoony style rather than photorealism, and asserted that his own children are avid fans of Liefeld's work in general, and Youngblood in particular. Comics writer Grant Morrison credited the Image creators with "rescuing" American comics, explaining that they responded to children's tastes of the time, and brought comics back to their basic superhero roots following the British Invasion in comics and the popularization of titles typified by Vertigo Comics, of which Morrison himself was a part. Morrison stated that he too is great admirer of Liefeld's work in particular, explaining that while Liefeld's art was regarded as "total crap" in the 1990s, artists today see it as an Avant-garde abstraction of reality that is as bizarre and individual as Vincent van Gogh. In 2012, Rich Johnston of Bleeding Cool said of DC Comics' decision to assign Liefeld the co-scripting and drawing duties on three of their flagging New 52 titles, "Rob does have a habit, of course, of pulling out sales and attention like a rabbit out of a hat."
Art style and credit
Liefeld has been criticized for his drawing skill. In a 1996 interview, writer/illustrator Barry Windsor-Smith criticized the depth of work by the popular artists of the 1990s like Liefeld and Jim Lee, and those whom they influenced (whom he referred to as "the Liefelds and the Lees"), stating "I don’t think it has even crossed their minds that comic books can be a medium for intimate self-expression." Speaking of Liefeld in particular, Windsor-Smith said:
"Rob Liefeld has nothing to offer. It’s as plain as bacon on your plate. He has nothing to offer. He cannot draw. He can’t write. He is a young boy almost, I would expect, whose culture is bubble gum wrappers, Saturday morning cartoons, Marvel Comics; that’s his culture. Somebody was at his house and came back with a report: There is not a single book in his house — only comic books. I see nothing in his work that allows me to even guess that there’s any depth involved in that person that might come to the fore given time."
Artist Alex Ross drew upon his dislike of the design of Liefeld's creation Cable when designing the character Magog for the 1996 miniseries Kingdom Come. Following writer Mark Waid's instructions that the character's appearance be based on aspects of superhero design trends of the time that they disliked, Ross said of Cable, "That's a character that Mark Waid invented that was really just put to me like come up with the most God awful, Rob Liefeld sort of design that you can. What I was stealing from was - really only two key designs of Rob's - the design of Cable. I hated it. I felt like it looked like they just threw up everything on the character - the scars, the thing going on with his eye, the arm, and what's with all the guns?" Liefeld has also been criticized for drawing figures with exaggerated muscular anatomy, long legs and tiny feet, along with an improbable profusion of weapons, accessories, and pouches, that have been subject to parody. These stylistic devices were seen as the impetus for his initial success, when such affectations were unusual in comics, and helped lend such characters to successfully merchandised products. Nonetheless, the approach later became a cliché and led to a widespread hostility towards the style. Liefeld agrees for the most part with this estimation of his early work, saying, "In the mid-90's we Mortal Kombat'ed everything. I'm as guilty as anyone..." His art has also been criticized in more general terms for poor anatomy, as well as poor design and continuity in elements such as clothing, props, and proper proportions between characters and their environments, with writer and Comics Buyer's Guide columnist Peter David responding to Liefeld's 1996 work on the "Heroes Reborn" Captain America by proclaiming Liefeld the "Ed Wood of comics". Following the April 2012 release of DC Comics' solicitations for that July, which included Liefeld's covers for The Savage Hawkman #11, Deathstroke #11, and Grifter #11—all of which showed characters' feet—Liefeld, who had been criticized for avoiding drawing characters' feet, commented, "The Hipsters don't know what to do when I draw feet. It confuses them."
At the beginning of Liefeld's run on the New Mutants, the heavily muscled, heavily armed cyborg character Cable was created for the team, and became a popular antihero, although there is dispute over Cable's origin, with Liefeld, Bob Harras, and Louise Simonson all claiming credit for some or all of the character concept. For a time, Marvel credited only Liefeld and Simonson as Cable's creators within the Cable & Deadpool series. He also was credited as the sole creator of Youngblood, when documentation suggests that Liefeld's longtime friend and collaborator Hank Kanalz co-developed that team with him.
In addition to this, Liefeld is also alleged to have made a habit of swiping, or copying, art from other artists. Liefeld responded to this accusation by stating that in these instances, which he said were limited to ten, he was offering tribute to the artists of the original pieces in question, rather than plagiarizing, and compared this to the work of filmmaker Brian De Palma, who explicitly used the techniques of Alfred Hitchcock. Peter David responded to this rationale by pointing out that DePalma himself was criticized harshly by film critics for employing Hitchcock's techniques, and that Liefeld, who has identified himself as a "stickler" for credit, did not credit artists whose work he copied, instances of which exceeded the ten upon which Liefeld insisted. David also pointed out that some of these artists, such as John Byrne and George Pérez, did not react to this practice on Liefeld's part as a "tribute," and expressed displeasure at the degree to which Liefeld relied on their work.
Production and business problems
Liefeld has also gained a reputation for producing late books, primarily his creator-owned ones, though somewhat less so when doing work-for-hire. Some issues of his series Youngblood shipped as much as nine months late. Liefeld has attributed this to the greater incentive a freelancer feels when doing work-for-hire assignments for a company, as opposed to working on one's self-owned work. Creator Bob Layton, who says he had to fly to Los Angeles and literally sit on Liefeld's doorstep until Liefeld finished penciling his portion of the Deathmate miniseries, which was an intercompany crossover published by Image Comics and Valiant comics, and who had to ink the artwork himself in an Anaheim hotel room, stated, "There I was, with my own company to manage, and I was in California, managing someone else's people." Layton cites Deathmate, and Image's inability to produce their half of that series in a timely manner, as the first disaster that heralded the end of the speculator boom of the 1990s, and the eventual demise of Valiant Comics.
It was alleged that Liefeld was too preoccupied by aspirations of Hollywood production deals, spending time in meetings with Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise, to effectively publish comic books or participate in the business side of the Image venture, a criticism that Liefeld admits is at least partly true. He reportedly fell asleep at numerous Image board meetings. Liefeld was also criticized for not returning to Rick Veitch the original artwork that Veitch had produced for Liefeld's Awesome Comics series, Supreme.
After the San Diego Comicon panel in 2007, Liefeld was interviewed by Wizard magazine about his feud with the Image partners. He claimed the feud was in the past, saying: "The divorce was ugly, but to me it didn't linger....I realized you just need to let it go."
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