Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Credit Boxes in Comic Books

Something occurred to me as I was paging through the beautiful new Spirit #1 last week. I wasn't surprised that the artwork was fantastic; I've come to expect simplistically superlative work from Darwyn Cooke, whom I consider to be one of the modern day Masters of Comics. I also wasn't surprised that the bold coloring meshed with the artwork like hand in glove; colorist Dave Stewart also teamed brilliantly with Mr. Cooke on DC's The New Frontier a couple of years back and I'm hoping they remain a team for quite some time to come. What occurred to me was that, if this were an earlier era of comics, I wouldn't as readily know the identites of that masterful artist and that brilliant colorist.

Back in the Golden Age of comic books in the 1940s, only the boldest artitsts (or the most contractually savvy) signed their work. Joe Simon and Jack Kirby rarely remained anonymous, and Will Eisner's byline always accompanied his work on The Spirit. In the early 1950s, as a great deal of the creative energy of comics retreated into a metamorphic coccoon, I would estimate that even fewer artists signed their work than in the 1940s.

Then came the Renaissance. Beginning (in spirit) with DC's Showcase #4 in 1956 featuring The Flash and with Marvel's Fantastic Four #1 in 1961 and continuing throughout the 1960s and right up to the present day, the creators of the comics began to stand out in front of their creations rather than be told by the publishers to hide behind them. By the late 1960s it was rare to come across a mainstream comic that did not give credit to its writer and artist.
Editor Stan Lee at Marvel went even further and regularly credited the letterer of the story, a bandwagon DC would not jump onto until the mid-to-late 1970s.

By the end of the 1970s, it was regular practice for all creators in Marvel and DC comics to be credited, including the letterer and the colorist. I was grateful for the information, because I finally learned the name of the previously-uncredited man whose title lettering had entranced me for years. (That man was the great Ben Oda, who had been lettering in comics since the 1940s when he worked with Simon and Kirby. Mr. Oda was the subject of a Hayfamzone Blog article all his own a while back, and please go to the October 2006 Archives if you want to bask in that reminiscence one more time.) It was a treat for me to get to link letterers' styles with their names, much as I had been doing for years with artists and their styles.

At first I balked at the inlcusion of the colorist's name in the credit box. I mark that off as a folly of youth, especially as I now can look at the bold vibrance of the palette of a Dave Stewart and come to an appreciation of its uniqueness.

Can a credit box go too far in its inclusiveness? To my way of thinking, an administrative post like publisher maybe should be relegated to the indicia and stay out of the credit box. And I'm on the fence as to whether assistant editors belong in the box. But the most recent addition to credit boxes far and wide was a well-deserved one; in just the past year or so, cover artists have started being named there. I appreciate that!


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