06 February, 2000
Just yesterday, I learned that Gil Kane died this week. For those of you who at this point are asking "Who?", I won't waste time telling you how ashamed of yourself you should be. Rather I will direct you to run, don't walk, to your nearest comics shop and look for old issues of Green Lantern, the Atom, Conan, Captain Marvel, John Carter Warlord of Mars, as well as such projects as The Ring, Talos of the Wilderness Sea, BlackMark, and Savage. Run...NOW!!
Those who know my taste in comics know that Kane was very much an influence on me, not just for his sense of form and linework, but also for the material he chose to illustrate: stories of high adventure and great import, legends, myths and high fantasy. Kane seemed to me to be a dreamer, with the power to visualize those dreams, something I aspire to myself.
When I heard that Kane was gone, I remembered that DC is releasing
a special edition of Legends of the DC Universe with a cover drawn
by Gil Kane, and painted by Alex Ross. As far as I know,
this is his last professional work. I was not originally
planning to buy this book, working on the principle that I would
have plenty of opportunity to get Kane's work. Now, I wonder
if I will still be able to grab a copy. Not because of the
possibly collector value of the piece, but because of its personal
value to me.
See, if I had known that this piece was to be his last, or next to last, I would have valued it more. But, since I did not know this, I took a more lax attitude towards this artist whom I respected. And there is my fault. Not that his work meant nothing to me, but that I just assumed that there was plenty more where that came from. Meantime, I spent my money buying stuff like....well, I won't say what, but suffice to say that it was less than worthy of my hard earned dollars.
It comes down to a matter of relative value: what is more important, to buy a book by a "hot" new artist, or to seek out work by established and sincere creators? While it is fine to support the up and coming artists, and any established creator is only as good as their latest work, I think that sometimes the new artists are not worth that support, and they receive it at the expense of the fine work of those masters of the form.
We're getting to a point where a lot of the founders of this medium are leaving us. Bob Kane is gone; Siegel and Shuster are gone; Jack Kirby is gone; Gil Kane is gone. There are others still around who will likewise soon be gone. It happens to all of us, even the best of us. And when they are gone, what will be left? These masters are the ones who poured their lives into this form, attempting to make it the best that their honest ability could achieve. Some premiered the superhero that makes so much money for the big publishers today; some created highly imaginative universes that so many of their successors have been able to draw on. Some defined the conventions of the genre, and some (like Kane) redefined that genre, through their work on creators' rights, the graphic novel medium, and their influence on later artists.
Have their successors earned their place in that tradition? Have they continued the work with the same honesty and craftsmanship that the founders applied? And what do their answers say to the dignity and memory of those first creators?
Granted, most creators in the industry, as far as I can see, are beyond this kind of reproach. In 1940, most guys were just trying to earn a living, and the same holds true now. There are good artists, and bad artists, and all that is really subjective to the reader anyway. However, there are also those who trample the definition of "artist" all together. You know who they are, and so do they. They are the ones who have never had an original idea in their lives. Who constantly "adapt" (i.e. rip off) other creator's ideas, and draw on their work for an ill-gained livelihood. They are the ones who steal artwork from better artists, and pass it off as their own. Oddly enough, they are also often the ones who can never produce a book on schedule, and whose "hot new ideas" rarely even make it to the shelves. Yet, we support them. We know they rip off the creators and still we buy their books, because they have "pretty pictures", lurid colors and cool costumes. We hand them our dollars and neglect the work of the real creators who are turning out real, honest work to the best of their ability. Sometimes those neglected are the new artists who can't get a break; after all, there's only so much room in the catalogs and on the shelves each month. Sometimes they are those established artists whose new works get forgotten in preference for the flashy "product". Is this the future of the form?
Readers: when you go to your shops, think about what kind of creator you are supporting with your money. Is it the honest artist who creates work that he/she cares about, who understands the form that they are working in and is determined to make their mark upon its history? Or is it the hack, the art-thief, the parasite, who can sell a book in spite of lack of content, quality and integrity because they know how to pretty up the covers? That choice is ultimately yours, but at least think about it.
Creators: address yourselves honestly. Are you (as many are) creating work that you care about, that is produced to the best of your honest ability, no matter how good or bad it may turn out to be? Or are you stealing the art of other, better creators because you don't have the imagination or ability to produce your own. Are you paying your rent on your room in the house that Jack and Stan and Will and Bob and Jerry and Joe and Carl and Gil (etc.) built, or are you just a squatter?
To Gil Kane, a salute. Thanks for the many hours of adventure.
Oh...and one more thing. Whoever, you are, don't be afraid to acknowledge your heroes. You never know if the next one will be the last one.
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