Working as an artist in comics is a dream job for me, and it’s one I’ve been fortunate enough to find success with. In my 10 years as a comics artist, I’ve had the chance to tackle incredible work-for-hire jobs like Moon Knight and All-Star Batman. More importantly, I’ve been able to launch INJECTION, a comic I co-own at Image with Warren Ellis & Jordie Bellaire. It’s been an incredible stretch of time, and I’m grateful for the opportunities. However, as I look at the landscape of the medium I love so much, I believe there’s a massive problem with the perception of my profession: I call it “Art Cred.”
“Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers.” “Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.” “Garth Ennis’s Preacher.” “Mark Waid’s Daredevil.” Sound familiar? When people talk about comics, they often attribute the work solely to the writer of the project, and artists are rarely credited as co-authors of the work. The comic book medium has a substantial issue with artists getting the credit they deserve.
You may be wondering why that is a bad thing. Consider how many news stories you’ve read about creators being harmed as a result of ownership issues. Think back to the many creators having health issues they can’t afford. It’s awful and heartbreaking, but here’s another question: how many times has it been an artist in this situation? Why is it that so many illustrators tend to be the ones forgotten over time? How is that possible in comics, a visual medium?
Consider this: you spend a year drawing an epic science fiction story. You design the characters, the spaceships, the aliens, and the technology. You spend 10 months barely seeing your friends and rarely getting out of the house in order to keep up with the schedule and to do the best pages you can. Eventually, the book is announced and the headline reads “WRITER’S SCI-FI PROJECT.” Pages of your artwork illustrate the piece, but there’s no mention of who drew them. Now imagine the project is adapted into a film, video game, or TV show and is consistently credited as WRITER’S SCI-FI PROJECT with no mention of you or your work. This is a regular occurrence.
Everywhere I look—from press releases announcing movie deals to reviews on comic sites—this issue rears its ugly head. It started driving me crazy. So like any brilliant hero of our age, I took the issue to the internet! I started cataloging examples whenever they’d arise with the hashtag #ArtCred on Twitter.
There are many explanations for this common phenomenon. Many comics reviewers lack the vocabulary to speak about art in a critical way, and instead bury the art in a single paragraph with rote commentary. The proliferation of double-shipping books at Marvel and DC, books that rotate art teams while keeping the writer consistent, train the reader to see the artist as secondary to the process. Even the generally higher output of a writer compared to an artist leads to higher visibility and better name recognition.
That’s not to say artists are blameless. We have an awful habit of devaluing ourselves. We undervalue our work and shy away from attention, even though we secretly crave it. But in this day and age, if you’re not seen to be doing the work, then you’re not considered to be part of the process.
What can we do about this? To start, I would look to the work colorists have done in the past couple of years. They organized and became vocal. Colorists pushed for cover credits on DC and Marvel books, and were successful in their efforts. Like colorists, we need to talk openly about this and support each other’s efforts. Your favorite comics are built on the hard work of artists, and to not appropriately credit them devalues the work itself. Watchmen would not be the book it is without Dave Gibbons. The same can be said for Wes Craig’s work on DEADLY CLASS, or Fiona Staples’ work on SAGA. Artists are co-authors of the work, and for them to be seen as anything less damages the medium we love so much.
As creators of comics, the only currency we have is the quality of our work and our back catalog. We need to be careful about the projects we take. Strive to work on signature projects, works that are appreciated as the result of singular voices joining in a unique collaboration.
Credit is important. It helps build our bodies of work, aids fans of your first book in checking out your next one, and gives you a solid foundation, regardless of the writer you work with. Getting credit means that if your work is adapted to other mediums, you are part of the process. Artists need to stand in front of the work and make sure we’re seen as co-authors. We need to lead by example.
If artists were considered creators on the same level as writers—no more, no less—then they would be able to build more solid and reliable careers. Artists would have the resources necessary to train the next generation and build properties from the stories and characters they co-created. Relegating artists to being small cogs in the machine of making comics is to deny to ourselves what is truly great about the medium.
One of the most important shifts in comics happened when the Image Comics founders told the big companies that they weren’t working for them anymore and created a fair deal for creators that has had a profound effect in our industry ever since. We should remember the power we have and what can be achieved if we work together.
After all, drawing is creating too.
Declan Shalvey is the award-winning co-creator of the ongoing series INJECTION (written by Warren Ellis, colored by Jordie Bellaire, and lettered by Fonografiks) and the upcoming crime graphic novel SAVAGE TOWN with Philip Barrett, featuring colors by Bellaire and letters by Clayton Cowles. He tweets at @declanshalvey. IMAGE+ is an award-winning monthly comics magazine that's packed with interviews, essays, and features about all your favorite Image comics and your first look at upcoming releases.