Writer or Artist: Which is More Important?
A thread recently popped up online, asking which was more important in comics—the writer, or the artist. The root of the thread may have been the trade dress for DC Comics’ “DC Ink” imprint of graphic novels written by young adult authors like Meg Cabot, Melissa de la Cruz, and Kami Garcia. Capitalizing on the success and following of these writers, the covers obviously market to their audience, promoting the author credit in a huge font across the top while relegating the artist to an easily overlooked “Illustrated by” footnote in a lower corner. Obvious attempt to woo YA readers or no, the unequal billing of the writer and artist on these graphic novels possibly rekindled a debate that’s reared its head in the industry before.
Responses lobbed back and forth over the course of the week. Images of blank Blue Line artboards were offered as evidence that the artist is key. Some commented about how they follow writers from project to project or drop a book when the writer changes, regardless of the artist. Others said the same about the artist. There were attempts to quantify the value of each in terms of the time their efforts take, noting that writers can often handle multiple books a month while a book’s art chores alone can consume that same month for the artist. For the comic writers and artists out there, it was likely equally congratulatory and demoralizing, hearing some readers cheer your role while others simultaneously diminished it.
In the end, finding consensus in the debate between writer vs artist was a fruitless task. And no surprise; the binary nature of the debate makes it a trick question.
Comics as a medium is the equal marriage of the writing and the art; that hybrid is what makes it such a unique reading and creative experience. A writer without an artist is an author; an artist without the writer’s narrative creates disconnected images. The sequential art form of comics requires both the art and narrative flow; and comics—by definition—requires the sequential art form. Writers and artists can collaborate and it not be comics. I provide spot illustrations for books, articles, and blog posts on a regular basis; in those cases, I’m not creating comics—if anything, I’m earning that “Illustrated by” credit that potentially kicked off the debate.
In comics, it’s the creative team where the magic occurs (even when the team is a single writer-artist creator). There may be pairings when one part of the collaboration outshines the other, whereas a reader you appreciate the writer or artist more than the other. I’ve enjoyed plenty of webcomics where the creator is clearly a stronger writer than an artist; likewise, I’ve picked up a comic series solely because of the artist, even when the genre wouldn’t normally interest me. But it wouldn’t be comics without the fusion of the two.
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Editor, Artist, Letterer, Colorist Steve is the long-running cartoonist at the Charleston, SC alt-weekly Charleston City Paper, where he skewers politicians and criminals (and criminal politicians) alike with editorial cartoons and police blotter illustrations every issue. Steve was best known his indie comic book (and subsequent webcomic) BOONDOGGLE