What Not to Say to Artists

Jack Kirby

They’re the people who work their fingers to the bone for the thing they love, the often under appreciated foundation for comics, and they still don’t get the respect they deserve. What can we do about that?

Bear in mind, I’m not an actual professional artist. I can only speak with a modicum of insight into what they go through because in my limited experience I’ve felt some of it myself. Most of this will be from an outside perspective.
“That looks like something a six-year-old would draw”
Self-explanatory, if I spent hours on a piece and someone just causally mentions it looks like a child drew it, it feels like a slap to the face. Not just to me, but all the teachers who invested time and energy into helping me grow as an artist. Whether its true or not, don’t ever absentmindedly slam an artist’a work if they’re within ear shot.
“I can only draw stick-figures.”
For some reason, I hear this a lot. Maybe that’s why it bugs me so much, or maybe its because I feel like the person saying it is trying to suck up to me. Everyone as a child drew pictures, so drawing/painting shouldn’t seem like this incredibly rare skill. Anyone can draw, if you practice long enough you could get good at it. Saying “I could never do what you do” is a poor way of introducing yourself and your value as a person.
“What do you draw with, Crayons?”
When I mentioned earlier that everyone draws as a child, they probably used crayons. They also did a lot of stuff that for various reasons you stop doing when you have the mental capacity to act like an adult. There’s other media to use for art other than just crayons and as far as I know, no artist uses little sticks of wax to make art. A lot of other stuff goes into it, but almost never solidified wax meant to preoccupy children.

“Are You a Real Artist?”

Would you ever ask that about a doctor/fireman/police officer? Probably not, nor should you. If someone asked me this today, I’d have to answer “No” out of personal integrity. A year ago I could’ve said “Yes” without a shred of doubt. If a person sets a portion of their time every week to make art, they’re an artist. If they spend at least  1/3 of their time doing it, they’re a “real artist” (my opinion) whether they make money on it or not. Of course maybe the final litmus test is whether selling your art is your main source of income but to me being an artist was never a question of making money but time and effort.

Lack of Recognition

Here is the trickiest but most important insult you could give an artist, flat out ignoring them and their work. It’s not what you say, it’s what you don’t say at all. Bad enough if you question their capabilities, but at least that acknowledges them to a lesser degree. Even criticizing their artwork at least shows interest and is often helpful to their improvement. Pretending they don’t exist is the highest insult you could give them. This has become a more focused on concern in the comic book medium, but still hasn’t seen much progress.

When mainstream outlets wish to investigate the comics medium and discuss it,  they may downplay the artists’ contributions out of ignorance. Why it happens in the comics medium itself, which only exists because of the artists, is ridiculous. Recognition for colorists and inkers is an important conversation to have, but what ties into that and in some ways eclipses it is the recognized importance of the visual to the comics medium. If one entire half is ignored, all pencilers/colorists/inkers suffer.

Darwyn Cooke has a great argument that artists are the ones who deserve the most credit for a comic. While he may indeed be biased, he brings up the point that without the art you have no comic. You have a script instead. Even the most detailed writer isn’t likely to plan out backgrounds, character’s positioning and body language, clothing or minor but defining characteristics like license plates or advertisements within the art to give the appearance of reality. AVClub and Multiversity have some dated but still amazingly relevant pieces about how artists are not being given the credit they deserve for the continued survival of the medium. This isn’t like the Jack Kirby suits with Marvel that happened decades ago, this is an ongoing problem in the present day.

The comics medium wouldn’t exist without the artists who put pen and ink to paper and that’s something important to remember.

The next time you talk to an artist, consider what you’re saying to them and what you really mean by those words.


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