One Expanding Comicsmith in DC's Reboot, Many More in Other Avenues

Is a filmmaker better if he plays several roles in the creation of his film, like a writer/director or writer/actor? Is a film better for having a single authorial voice or better understood for being watched expecting a single voice? This guy thought so:

Francois Truffaut first advanced the position that the director of a film was its primary creator in France in the 1950s

Auteur theory (auteur is merely the French word for author) is a term for the theory or concept that states: the director takes control of a film, therefore he/she is responsible for it. It seems to me, the term could apply to any of the other principle craftsmen on a film, and I prefer the less-pretentious filmmaker. Film + maker.

Firstly, as I understand it from studying the industry, the closest parallel to the director in comics is the editor. The editor coordinates and guides the writer, artist(s), colorist, letterer, etc. to make a single cohesive work of art. The Japanese already have a word for a one-man-comics-machine as their comics industry is primarily made up of writer/artists leading teams of assistants. They call creators manga-ka. Manga = comics + ka = person. This is as similar as we will get to auteur in comics. As a parallel and as a hopefully more down-to-earth option, I have been referring since sometime in college to someone who undertakes several roles in the creation of a comic as a comicsmith. Comics + smith, a synonym for maker.

-Language lesson OVER.-

Storytelling in comics is a unique game. It requires visual/space thinking but also narrative/time thinking to do both sides properly. Doing both well is a rare thing. has posted a simple list of the new series debuting from DC's re-boot in August/September you can read here. Out of the 53 titles they list, one of them will be written and drawn by the same person:

"Detective Comics" will be scripted and penciled by Tony Daniel. [The cover of the new #1 by Daniel is at left.] After illustrating Grant Morrison's scripts for a few years, Daniel held-up both ends of the creative exchange on "Batman" from issues #692 to #699 and then from #704 to the most recent issue, #711.

CBR interviewed him about his work at the keyboard and the drafting table twice. Once when his first run was about half over and again recently when his part in the relaunch was announced.

My opinion?

Sadly, Tony Daniel's issues of "Batman" were some of the most boring superhero comics I can remember reading. Very nice art. Nothing in the writing made me want to continue reading it. And sometimes I felt that things in the art seemed rushed and I suspect that it looked as good as it did thanks to inker Sandu Florea.

I thought of Daniel's first stint as a comicsmith as an exciting experiment for contemporary American mainstream comics and expressed that I would be curious to see how it was way back when we were posting weekly looking-forward-to posts here on The Long and Shortbox Of It. But as an experiment, I was sadly dissatisfied with it. DC doesn't seem to think along the same lines. According to Daniel's second interview linked-to above, he was approached by the company to do the writing for a second series as part of the upcoming relaunch. He is now also writing "The Savage Hawkman", to be drawn by Philip Tan (@philipsytan) according to Daniel's scripts, as well as swapping Batman titles with Scott Snyder (@SSnyder1835) and Francesco Francavilla (@f_francavilla), who were the team on "Detective Comics" previously and will now work on "Batman" instead. And Daniel is actually just one of several comics-artists being given a crack at writing scripts for another artist to illustrate. They might all turn out to be excellent writers, but it seems like a dangerous chance to take at such a crossroads for the company and the whole industry.

(Before I move on I have to say: "Batman" #702 written by Morrison, drawn by Daniel, and inked by Florea made it to my Best of the Year post. So I've got nothing against Tony Daniel. Truly and wholeheartedly, I wish him luck writing two series and drawing one of them. A challenge for anyone.)

Why is it the Japanese mainstream makes the comicsmith position the norm, and the American mainstream makes it the exception? I suspect a great deal of it lies in the aforementioned art teams the Japanese creators regularly employ. Here, artists do often ask the help of their fellow artists to complete their work, but only in a time-crunch, and always under the radar. Americans have this silly concept of the individual against the world, fully self-reliant. Which brings me back, of course, to the main question: Why so few creators who do it all themselves?

Mind you, that's entirely untrue outside of the American mainstream, these are all American comicsmiths:

Jason Lutes
Jason Little (@beecomix)
Chester Brown
Jeffrey Brown
Peter Bagge
Gary Panter
Gabrielle Bell (@luckygab)
Brendan Leach (@iknowashortcut)
Julia Wertz (@Julia_Wertz)
Dennis Pacheco (@dpacheco)

THAT list goes on far too long to name them all.

So could it be that being a good comicsmith, making quality comics all on your lonesome, simply takes time? Time not available to the maker of the monthly 22-page corporate comic-book? Seems possible. Could it be that the simple exchange required with an editor, inker, colorist, production man, etc. makes it far too messy? Seems equally possible. (As someone who makes comics without any collaborators himself and does it very, very slowly... I can tell you those ones make sense.)

There's a new comic-book called "All Nighter" I'm looking forward to reading, available in comics shops across the country from Image Comics, written and drawn by one man: David Hahn (@david_hahn). Looks good. Look for a review of that book from me in the coming months with a bit more commentary on this subject.

~ @JonGorga

P.S. ~ This gent over at CBR has some excellent and clear things to say about both DC's reboot and the digital release news in general.

I've written three articles that at least touch on the DC re-boot now. I think I'm done talking about that whole mess for now. Until the books are actually on the shelves, at least. Josh looks like he has a bit more to say on it. You'll get your fix from him hopefully.


  1. I'm not sure I understand why you think "auteur" is pretentious: a filmmaker and an auteur are two different things, insofar as one is used to refer to a specific sort of directing style and the other is a more general term. I also don't think the comparison of an editor to a director is an accurate one, insofar as we usually don't think of an editor having creative control of a comic and, when we do, we always talk about it in a negative way: instead, I think that your Manga-ka is probably always more accurate, although I'm relatively sure that comparing the two mediums is not a very fruitful exercise.

  2. Comparing two mediums is always fruitful in my opinion. Even if the eventual result is the conclusion that they are not the same.

    I always thought of Auteur theory and the term filmmaker as distinctly related. I see what you're saying. Not exactly the same thing. But they are both concepts with the goal of ascribing Western-style single-authorship to works of art with many, many hands on them. It's useful and interesting but it's not accurate to reality. And Auteur theory is transported over from another culture instead of filmmaker which seems to be a homegrown term. I've always thought of one as merely the less pretentious version of the other.

    The director to editor comparison is set-up as a straw-man argument to better support the idea that there is no single responsible creative-figure in either mainstream film or mainstream comics. The fact that indie comics can sometimes have a single authorial voice is one of the things that's so cool about them! They're more like prose literature in that way.