I just read this article http://www.bleedingcool.com/2011/09/25/jim-shooter-on-amending-legion-of-superheroes/ on Jim’s blog about our run on Legion of Super-Heroes. I wasn’t going to read it, but I did, and I can’t turn back time.
He’s an interesting guy from what I’ve read, and from what little interaction I’ve had with him. I’ve never met, or spoken to him which was a first for me as I usually talked to my collaborators a lot. I think we exchanged a couple of emails at the start of the project and that was it. My editors made a decision to funnel information to me from Jim. It was a decision made with the best of intentions. Likely for my own protection. Jim does have a reputation.
I came onto the project and proceeded with excitement. Believe me, I was warned before hand what it’s like to work with Jim. Some passionately advising me otherwise. But I pressed on, because love him or hate him, Jim is a legend in the industry and I considered it an honor to work with him. I still do. I came in with the frame of mind that I would win him over. I really did. I guess you can blame it on youthful naivety.
I really wanted this to work. I gave the book everything I had. The first issue I tried to infuse modern sensibilities to Jim’s traditional style. I really like cinematic storytelling, moving my camera around, and changing my angles to make them more dynamic. This was what I was told consistently when I was trying to break in as an artist, and here I was applying it.
I see panel to panel work like a beat of a drum. Building up the rhythm with a tap of the base, and a snap of the snare and then the banging of the symbols when the peak of the tension has been built. Dramatic build up. I may have added a panel here or there, it was with the intention to add a beat where I felt it was lacking to create more of a rhythmic flow and changed some of the angles he called for to give it a more cinematic sensibility. I thought I did a great job keeping true to his script but also peppering in who I was as an artist. I got my first correspondence with Jim after the first issue saying other wise.
The letter was long. If you’ve ever read a script from Jim, (I’m sure editors are glad they don’t pay him by the word) he definitely packs it in. It was a laundry list of everything I had done wrong in the first issue. It was daunting. I was taken aback. I was disappointed that what I thought had been my best work to date (at that time), was just not good enough. A letter that long might have scared other artists away, but I shook it off, and decided to take it in stride. I was more hungrier than before to win Jim’s approval.
In the issues after that, I tried very hard to incorporate all the notes he had said. Even though some of them went against every natural inclination I had as a visual storyteller. Jim is from an oldschool way of telling stories and he wanted me to do a lot of medium, front on, full body shots. He even said it was a cheat to do close ups. I complied. I knew that telling stories this way was a bit lacking in drama and dynamics, but Jim had the experience who was I to say other wise. I carried on like this until near the end of my run. I wasn’t having any fun with the book at all. In my attempt to follow Jim’s script closely I ended up drawing shots that were boring, and lacked life and excitement. The pacing just felt clunky and off to me. There was no beat. When I heard that the book was coming to a close, I was determined to try and have fun. So in the last couple issues I drew, I let loose. I unbuttoned that top button and for the first time since the first issue I had fun. And then it was finally over.
This is the first time I’ve really expanded on my experience publicly. Why now? I don’t know. I guess I’m so far removed from it now that I can see it with more clarity. I remember reading an interview with Jim on CBR about his exit on the book. I must admit it was the most backhanded compliment I’ve ever received, however I found it interesting how he hated the covers so much, when they were mostly all from his layouts. But I shook it off. Sour grapes right? I moved on.
Today I read an even more in depth write up on his experience on the Legion. I read every painstaking detail. I don’t blame him for them. A lot of it was really just lack of communication. Believe me I would have gladly allowed the letterer to fill out the Duty Roster instead of me drawing every head shot of the character. It was classic miscommunication. I thought the captions and descriptions on each character would go under their image. But I guess lettering missed that note too. The empty screens drove me me nuts as well. I would write notes on my pages for production to drop in the images from Jim’s script, but I think when the inks were handed in the notes had been taken off. It was quite problematic. (these days in a lot of my work, I find myself doing as much of it as I can by hand, lesson learned from this experience). As for the colors I wasn’t privy to them until the day before it was to go to press. Leaving little to no time at all to give any notes or any corrections. That’s if I was lucky, sometimes I wouldn’t see them until I got the book. There really was a breakdown in communication on the book which I think is the main culprit for these problems. I definitely feel for Jim on this. I know how frustrating it must be to have your intent misinterpreted, or overlooked.
Regarding his storytelling critiques, I guess it’s just creative differences. I’ve worked with many writers, who compliment me on my storytelling as much as the way it looks. I don’t think it’s by accident, that I’m now writing and drawing a book. I guess when we were first paired up, it was probably thought “traditional stories, visually told in a modern way”. I think that’s how it should have been. But that wasn’t the case. I didn’t mind changing for him, I really do feel that my job is to tell a story first. However I didn’t agree on his method, or his pacing. I was a circle trying to fit in a square.
I wish no ill will to Jim, and believe he has the right to say what he wants. I just thought I’d temper his voice with a bit of what the experience was like on the other side. And it definitely was quite an experience.