Jab’s Deep Dives: Image Comics (Rob Liefeld)

Rob Liefeld has nothing to offer. It’s as plain as bacon on your plate. He has nothing to offer. He cannot draw. He can’t write. He is a young boy almost, I would expect, whose culture is bubble gum wrappers, Saturday morning cartoons, Marvel Comics; that’s his culture… I see nothing in his work that allows me to even guess that there’s any depth involved in that person that might come to the fore given time.”
-Barry Windsor-Smith

Every figure that Rob draws has a certain energy to it, a certain excitement. Every character Rob drew had seven knives and six guns and shoulder pads and pouches and belts and straps and ammunition. It was an aesthetic that as a kid absolutely blew me away. I idolized the guy…Everything he draws is interesting, whether it’s accurate or not. A lot of people look at the way Rob draws the human body and they say, ‘That’s wrong in my eyes.’ I would say that these people have no joy in their souls. It’s not like Rob doesn’t know what a human body looks like, I think Rob looks at a human body and goes: ‘That’s boring. I can do better.’
-Robert Kirkman

Mike Carlin once said of Rob: “He has it. He just doesn’t have it yet.” And I couldn’t agree more. Rob is one of the most energetic and charming people I’ve ever met—you can’t help but like him—and at the time of [Liefeld’s early work on Hawk and Dove] his work showed great potential. But success came far too quickly and easily to him, and he never felt the need to develop that potential. Which is really too bad, because if he did I’m certain he would have left a very different mark on the industry. Not that things worked out that badly for him
-Barb Kesel


-It’s hard to separate Rob from his own work, so a lot of his positives and negatives are listed with Youngblood. In short, he arrived on the scene like a thunderbolt and was massively loved and emulated, becoming one of the top artists of his day… and then one day all the cracks that’d been there all along just got so much more visible, and he lost his reputation entirely.

Rob first got noticed doing Hawk & Dove over at DC, but with The New Mutants #86 , he became a Marvel guy. The floundering book was immediately shored up by what had become a sensation, as Liefeld drew the bad-ass cyborg Cable, who didn’t look like any other hero on the market at the time. Pretty soon, the title became a colander for all of his random-ass ideas, as his own creations (Domino, Shatterstar, Feral) dominated the team, most of the roster (Sunspot, Wolfsbane, Warlock, Moonstar) quit or were killed, and they started facing the Mutant Liberation Front, one of the more obvious cases of “Sketchpad Characters” in comics history (the roster was over a dozen strong, and often featured characters as simple as “red-haired lady in bright yellow leotard”).

Liefeld was so hot that the New Mutants’ new title, X-Force #1 , debuted and remains the second-highest-selling comic book of all time. X-FORCE . However, within a year or so, Rob would quit Marvel and co-found Image with a bunch of other guys. But his works were almost uniformly considered the worst, most confusing, most bargain-basement works of the entire Image line- an embarrassment that damaged his reputation immediately. And his public behavior only made it worse- he publicly blamed his co-writer for Youngblood #1 being crap, became notorious for being late with work, got noticed for “Swiping” panels and art from other artists, and worse still, started trying to RECRUIT ARTISTS from his fellow founders’ artist pools.

Then, in 1996, Liefeld & Jim Lee went to Marvel for Heroes Reborn , where Rob did some god-awful work on Captain America , a book so bad that Linkara could even be correct- IT MAY HAVE KILLED A MAN. Mark Gruenwald, who loved Captain America more than life itself, was taken off of the Cap book and saw it put into the hands of someone whose work he despised (Gru’s own books often decried the “Extreeeeeeeeeeeeme!” brands of heroes), and died of a heart attack shortly after the first issue came out.

1997 saw Liefelt quit/booted from Image, as he “resigned” minutes before the meeting to kick him out ended. He dropped jos Extreme Studios and founded “Awesome Comics”. He attempted to rip-off Fighting American for “Agent America”, and was threatened with legal action by the still-living Joe Simon (who’d created both Cap & F.A.), and then MARVEL sued Liefeld, realizing that he was just ripping off Cap by having a shield-tossing patriotic hero. However, it wasn’t all bad- Rob hired Alan Moore of all people to work on his own creations, eventually doing industry-highlight work on Supreme , where Moore got to live out his Silver Age-adoring fantasies. Despite that, Awesome Studios would close in 2000, when the primary investor left.

Rob then went on to oddly get a lot of regular work for Marvel again- despite being widely seen as an industry joke and a complete asshole, his name still provided “bumps” to sales, and so he’d draw Cable, X-Force and other characters of his. He repeatedly created “Vaporware”- comics that were supposed to be done, but just never completed, as Youngblood got a series of false starts. And despite it all, Rob’s reputation has somewhat improved- he’s still seen as a giblet-headed artist of limited talent with no anatomical skills at all, but he’s self-effacing about it, friendly to fans, and is notably nice even to people who come up to him specifically to talk shit at comic-cons. Though there was that time he called out Marvel for only putting “D-List Talent” on Deadpool, or the time he argued against Shatterstar’s homosexuality (since he was supposed to be an asexual warrior). And his famously-quarrelsome attitude with fellow comics people on Twitter.

3 thoughts on “Jab’s Deep Dives: Image Comics (Rob Liefeld)

  1. Sometimes I’ve wondered if Liefeld might have some form of ADD, or something like that. He appears to have a lot of trouble staying focused on one thing for any length of time. He starts a brand new project or he becomes the new artist on an existing series, jumping in feet-first with tons of enthusiasm… but within a short period of time he then seems to completely lose interest, at which point he quits and moves on to the next thing that excites him, starting the cycle all over again.

    Anyway, the analysis by Barbara Kesel always sounded on-target to me: Liefeld had a lot of potential, got too big too fast, and never really developed the talent he had. That said, he comes across as someone who genuinely loves comic books, and he seems like he’d be fun to hang out with. I just wish he was much more focused, especially when it comes to his creator-owned series.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, I definitely agree with Barbara in a way- Rob had all this energy but no real drive to continue on with his stuff, leaving all of these orphaned properties and half-formed ideas. If he combined Youngblood, Bloodstrike & Brigade into just ONE book he’d have actually had something, and not had to cram each team full of filler. But nope- he’d rather create 2-4 books at once and then abandon them for other things. I can see the “ADD” thing, yeah- flitting about from idea to idea is something I’m guilty of, too.

      When I saw Rob at a comic con, he was a delight to everyone and seemed to just LOVE meeting people. It was great to see… much as I can see why all of his contemporaries hated him.

      Liked by 2 people

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