Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Krypton Companion Part II: Jim Shooter

I can't stop reading Michael Eury's Krypton Companion. Well written, well researched and a damn good read. Finally a Neal Adams interview that's interesting and not the standard fawning stuff that I've been reading for the past few years (ie: no great mention of his Batman work). In amongst the interviews and articles lurks an interview with Jim Shooter that really raised my hackles. Shooter's story is fairly incredible. For one thing he broke into DC as a writer at the age of thirteen. Amazing really, but that's where the problems for me start. You see Shooter has always been a highly frustrated artist, and not a very good one at that. I can remember asking Don Perlin about an issue of Ghost Rider that Shooter laid out and Perlin finished, Perlin told me that the book needed a lot of work to get it up to publication standard. Shooter had his run ins with Gene Colan, telling him how to draw at Marvel in the early '80s, resulting in Colan leaving Marvel for DC, along with his legendary battle with Jack Kirby over Kirby's artwork. So how does that figure into the Krypton Companion?

I'd always thought that Shooter's arrogance began to bloom when he became the Marvel Editor In Chief in 1978. It appears that it was always there. There's no denying that Shooter was, and probably still is, a gifted writer, his work on The Avengers tells us that. However his skills as an artist are highly questionable and I doubt highly that there's anyone on the face of the planet who collects comics drawn by Shooter. So imagine how stunned I was when I read this exchange from the Krypton Companion:
MICHAEL EURY: In addition to your age, the other hallmark of your nascent career was your drawing your scripts in layout form. Did Curt Swan and Jim Mooney closely follow your layouts on your first Legion and Supergirl tales?
JIM SHOOTER: Curt followed my layouts pretty closely, making improvements in the angles and composition here and there. And of course, the way he caught the sense of what I was trying to indicate with my crude scribbles and turned them into beautiful illustrations was amazing. Jim Mooney was great, and he followed my layouts for the most part, I think, but not like Curt. I don't think we communicated quite as well. If Curt changed something, it was always for the better. Sometimes, I felt that Jim had missed the point, changed something to no advantage, or had chosen an angle that was easier to draw but less effective.

To my eyes that's arrogance of the highest extreme. Shooter broke into DC in 1966 and began scripting and offering drawings to Swan and Mooney in around 1967. Shooter was born in 1951. By the time he came to DC Mooney had been drawing comics professionally since 1940, including a long stint at DC where he was one of the better of Bob Kane's Batman ghosts. Curt Swan had been drawing comics professionally since 1945. Between the two men they had just under fifty years of experience in the industry, at the top level. Hell, between them they had fifteen years in the industry before Shooter was even born. Shooter had none, yet here he was trying to dictate to both men how they should be drawing and getting peeved when Mooney - the more senior of the pair - didn't stick to his (Shooter) layouts. Now I know that Shooter's famed arrogance didn't just develop over time, it was always there.

To be fair the Shooter/Mooney Supergirl tales were good, but they weren't as good as the material produced by Otto Binder and Mooney, or Jerry Siegel and Mooney. And Curt Swan always did his best work when he was given free reign to draw what he visualized. Both men were highly professional, both men always hit the deadline and could be depended upon to deliver quality work at the drop of the proverbial hat. Mark Evanier once said to me, about Jim Mooney, that he read some bad books that Mooney had drawn, but they weren't bad because of Mooney. The same applies for Swan - I've read some horrid books that featured Swan's art, but they weren't horrid because of Swan. However I have read crap that Shooter has written and it was crap because of Shooter. Shooter does deserve respect for his achievements in the industry, but his treatment of those who were, and remain, his superior in some aspects shows some serious flaws in his character makeup. One day Shooter may wake up and realise that he was damn lucky to have worked with some of the giants of the industry and stop putting them down, or attempting to downplay their contributions in order to pump his own up. That he continues to downplay the talents of his artistic betters speaks volumes. There's a long list of artists and other professionals that Shooter has denigrated over the years - Gene Colan and Jack Kirby are two - and now you can add Jim Mooney and Curt Swan. Mind you I don't know why I was surpsied to read this, knowing what I know about how Mooney was treated during his last days at Marvel, when Marvel was ran by Shooter. Shooter has a lot to answer for there.

Given the chance of working with Shooter or Kirby, Colan, Mooney or Swan, well it's a no brainer. Give me any of those artists any day of the week and twice on weekends. There's a regular publication and a few books about Kirby. Colan and Swan have beautiful books detailing their careers and art. Mooney's book is months away from release. Bill Schelly's brilliant book on Otto Binder has shown that a book about a comic book/science fiction writer can be an amazing read. When's the book about Jim Shooter appearing?

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