Reason #4: His layout sucks

Setting matters, and in comics you establish and maintain setting in every panel, on every page. Rob Lifeld, being lazy when it comes to his art, of course can’t be bothered with a) figuring out where the action takes place, much less b) either drawing or remembering it as he goes along. As a case in point, I bring you page 3 from “Youngblood” number 2:

youngbloods-2-page-3

Try to figure out where this might be taking place, I dare you. And don’t feel bad, even if you have the entire issue as I do, you still can’t figure it out. At some points they appear to be running through a long technical tunnel of some sort with a blue floor. Then on the next page (the one shown above), the floor is green tile. Figures appear from nowhere , seeming to be added and removed from the stage like some power-mad director showing off at the community theater. Notice how at the top right, “Kirby” has dead enemy agents at his feet, but immediately following they are nowhere to be found as the heroes run down the suddenly-enormous tunnel.

The backgrounds add to the confusion. You don’t have to draw detailed scenes every panel, but you have to give the reader something to go on. Here you’ve got random blocks of color interspersed with an advancing wall of pill-shaped glowing blobs. Why? Who cares, it’s time to blow some shit up!

It’s not just the backgrounds or the relative positioning of the characters in the scene, either, it’s also the actual layout of the page itself. Layout is one of those extremely difficult skills which, when properly executed, is completely transparent. Like a referee in a sporting event, good layout should never be noticed, it should just make everything work better.

Try to follow the dialog progression here, which gets shoved up against the walls like furniture in a bachelor’s apartment. At the top left you get confused as to who’s saying “What took you so long?” because there’s a giant gray-headed, wrestling-mask-protected noggin in the way. Would it have been so hard to move that over to the middle so that “Cross”, the guy speaking next in shocked reaction (with an immobile face right out of the Kevin Costner Acting School) and his corresponding balloon would be closer to where your eye needs to go next?

The dialog to the upper right and lower left of “Kirby” is pretty much interchangeable, you could read either set and it would make just as much “sense”. Which is good, because come on, it’s not easy to tell which should be first based on where they appear.

A good comics page layout draws your eye naturally in sequential order, presenting the story in an interesting and intuitive way. The alternative is to do what Liefeld does here, also known as the “Story in a blender” approach.

Lest you think I am being too picky, I would like to show you a proper comics page. Jeff Smith’s “Bone” was published at about the same time as the Liefeld “Youngblood” issues, but take a look at how different the reading experience can be:

bone

Granted, Smith’s is in black and white, not subject to the horror that is Brian Murrays “color design”, but regardless, look at how clean this page is. With fewer actual lines than Liefeld’s “the cost of ink is no object!” approach, Smith clearly establishes a setting (forest on a path), positions all the actors in a coherent manner, and is able to generate a real sense of motion, danger, and action. For all of the sturm and drang of Liefeld’s mightily-muscled characters, bristling with weapons and incipient violence, you never get a sense of what’s really going on in the page.

Look at how Smith goes from a close-up of the two figures in the cart to a long establishing shot showing why they’re suddenly airborne, back to progressively tighter views to hype up your understanding of the characters’ feeling of imminent danger. You never get lost as to where they are, or what’s going on, and the result is that you really feel like you’re in the middle of the action.

I realize comparing Jeff Smith to Rob Liefeld is like asking you to consider Einstein and Captain Kangaroo’s scientific theories on the same playing field, but the point is that layout matters. Setting matters. There were people in the past who mastered it. There were people working at the same time as “Youngblood” who had mastered it. And there are people now who have mastered it. But none of them made as much money or had as much of an impact on comics as Rob Liefeld.

And that is reason number four why I hate his art.

(First image and characters © Rob Liefeld, 1992, from “Youngblood” #2. Second image and characters ©1994. Jeff Smith.)

19 Responses to Reason #4: His layout sucks

  1. You’re right Jeff, layout matters.

    As another counterpoint to Liefeld, let me talk about Todd McFarlane. McFarlane, when he began to become popular, was the kind of guy who really liked to do strange and unusual layout to break the “monotony” of some comic-book layout.

    The problem was that Todd wasn’t experienced enough to do the kind of things he tried to do, and his layouts often resulted in a jumbled, incomprehensible mess.

    The difference with Rob Liefield is that somebody told Todd of this problem and Todd understood. He improved his skills, and in a short tme he was able to do something coherent and good.

    By the way Jeff, do you have any current Liefield art? I would really like to see if he is better now than then.

    Also, I really hope one of your future reasons is going to be “Because he never met a woman in his whole life”

  2. The only relatively recent stuff I’ve seen has been a few scans on the ‘net (the Thor image I posted a while back, a few scans from his unbelievable “Captain America” relaunch, that sort of thing). I don’t have any full issues, though, no, and I really should.

    What I’ve seen, though, has been just as bad as it was back then, only helped a bit by better inkers and colorists. He’s still just as hacky from what I’ve seen.

  3. I’ve seen couple of fairly recent ones (2004; X-Force v2, focusing on his pet character Shatterstar), and all I’m willing to say about it is “thank goodness I did not pay a single cent to actually see this stuff”.

    Of course, he does have his own website (http://www.robliefeld.net/ — it should come with that “Abandon all hope blah blah” caveat), so you could probably browse for fresh examples.

  4. I Can’t believe it, but I, out a morbid sense of curiosity, like slowing down to see a car wreck I opened the link Skiriki gave. He’s got worse….much worse, He’s mutilated Cyborg.. And the other titans Ahhhhhh!!
    There is no hope all is doomed.

    (P.s sorry I got melodramatic, I’ve not had much Caffiene today.)

  5. Jeffrey, your side-by-side with Bone is enormously effective. Well done, sir.

  6. (it should come with that “Abandon all hope blah blah”)
    Yeah, I can do that….BEHOLD!!!

    WARNING; Ye all who enter here, beware the books Liefield, for if ye gaze into them, ye shall burnth in a hell of ye own making, like the Penitence Eye, but so much worse….you have been warned, fool.

  7. also, what the hell does Liefield’s guy have in his hands?
    Monster stapler guns?

  8. I know, Loki, I didn’t want to get into it in the post since it was already so long, but ye gods! They’re bigger than he is, and they’re completely ridiculous. Look at how many barrel-holes (or discharge portals or whatever the hell they are) it has. Half of them aren’t even in-line with the barrel, which makes me wonder what the heck they’re firing.

    And they DO look like giant staple-guns! And he’s holding on to the ammo clip in the stock, which isn’t even shaped to hold a human hand.

    I tell you, every single page of that train wreck has a dozen mockable items. It’s like the Rosetta Stone of Suckiness.

  9. Well, duh, it’s obvious what’s in those extra holes in that gun…that’s where he keeps his paper clips, highlighters and post-it notes.

    One more item in the Rosetta Stone of Suckiness…apparently, Liefeld can’t be bothered (of course, we know that already) to actually consider how a man might hold a cigar between his teeth. Stapler-Gun Lad (the newest member of the Legion of Super Hero knockoffs) seems to have his stogie super-glued to his teeth. Because, like, DUH, if you’re CLAMPED DOWN ON IT, YOU’RE GOING TO *&^%ING BITE IT IN HALF!

    It just BOGGLES THE MIND what an idiot that boy is. Just boggles the mind, indeed.

  10. For more Rosetta Stone of Suckiness, I just noticed that the black-haired guy in the top left corner has a magical moving scar. It’s like a Where’s Waldo of suck, but you have to find something that’s actually good.

  11. His art might be awful, but at least he can come up with fantastic names for his characters

    (on the off chance that any of you couldn’t tell, that was sarcasm)

  12. You’re right, Nate, notice how cleverly he has “Darcangel” going after “Darkthorn”. A lesser creative genius would not have thought to leave the “k” out of the first character’s name, thus completely changing it.

  13. HalLoweEn JacK

    Oh dear… check this out.

    http://robliefeld.net/xf2.htm

    Professioal body builders who eat steroids for breakfast and wear speedo’s and oil to formal functions aren’t as ripped as this guy. WHo is also wearing a partially skin coloured suit that is literally as tight as his skin! Wow, unstable molecuse for all, huh?

    Also check out the eyeling and skull structure! His hairline must begin at his eyebrows! Either that of the hair is actually part of the ridiculous headwear and his real cranim is burried deep within. Unlikely, but equally stupid.

    The fact that he’s gripping that sword like a wannabe porn star having a wank doesn’t help either. “Oh look, my giant sword is pointed right at your face! That’s right, mouth open…”

    At least the guy in the reflection has a forehead!

    And finally, what is with all the lines around his nose! Is this what Michael Jackson has become in Liefield’s universe?

    Andd this was just the first image I clicked on!

  14. HalLoweEn JacK

    Oh F.F.S.

    http://robliefeld.net/xf6.htm

    Look centre left – the outmost sword is being held upright by ONLY ONE THUMB!

  15. HalLoweEn JacK

    Finaly,

    http://robliefeld.net/xf48.htm

    I was almost about to point to this picture and suggest that Liefield may have picked up something about human anatomy along the way… til I looked at her sword had and realised that he’s just likely traced this from a frame of Kill Bill but wanted to make the sword bigger.

  16. HalLoweEn JacK

    In the last image linked above I also just noticed that her left eye seems to somehow overlap here hair! That’s some miracle eyeliner.

  17. I have an issue of The Fighting American by Awesome comics where items on the characters’ outfits change places or disappear. There’s a character that changes from having his coat draped over his shoulders, to having his arms in the sleeves. Fighting american constantly changes his shield from his left hand to his right and back. There’s a closeup of his head from the side and it looks like something was placed on top of his head. It’s supposed to be his hair, but it looks like someone layed it down on his head. And his “wig” wasn’t put on correctly because the front end of it sticks out past his face, maybe about as far as your feet stick out.

    There’s plenty of bearing teeth scenes and missiing feet, but for a Liefeld comic, there is also a more than fair amount of feet as well. The book was co-penciled by Stephan Platt, so I guess he drew in teh feet for old Robbie where necessary. Also it has plenty of scenes with no background. It’s not a recent book, published in August 1997.

  18. HalLoweEn JacK

    In my final post on this topic for a while, I want to question Jeff’s use of the term ‘Art’ to describe Liefield’s work.

    I know I’m old fashion when I suggest that the word art originated from, and is generally believed (linguisticaly speaking) to mean ‘skill’ – therefore Art is a work in any medium that demonstrates exceptional skill towards an aesthetic goal. Every person who picks up a paintbrush is not immediately an artist – they are a painter, likewise every person with a pencil in hand may be a ‘sketcher’ or ‘drawer’ but is not immediately an artist.

    Before I get bombarded with many supporters for the ‘Art is subjective, therefore everything is Art’ argument – I refer you back to where I said ‘skill towards an aesthetic goal’. In the case of comic books, the goal is stylised heroes, but anatomical correctness, while often enhanced or exaggerated, seems to me, to be a part of the style. As are issues like clear setting, dialogue balloons coming out of speaker’s mouths, and many other things.

    Unless we are going to accept a classification of ‘The Liefield Style’, which other artists would be expected to emmulate thus creating a new movement in comic book imagery, I suggest that Liefield not be referred to as an Artist, but a ‘drawer’ or ‘sketcher’ who still has a few lessons to lerarn before he coud be said to be producing comic book ‘art’.

  19. And this is why I don’t consider anything made after the 80s to be worthy of reading, comic book wise.

    Ok, so I exaggerate, but really not by much.

    Ok, so it’s one of many reasons.

    Give me the silver age any day!