Rob Liefeld has always been a controversial figure; he’s a guy whose current employers at DC Comics called an “edgy” “bad boy” at least twice in the press release announcing that he was getting more work. But the last day or so has really dialed it up to eleven as the founder of the newly-revitalized Extreme imprint at Image tore into a Newsarama reporter who made negative intimations about his work during a recent roundtable interview with Prophet writer Brandon Graham, Glory writer Joe Keatinge and Bloodstrike writer Tim Seeley.
The interview, which has since been removed by Newsarama, had been edited for content where Graham had made some disparaging remarks about DC (specifically Catwoman and its writer Judd Winick) but left in an uncomfortable generalization about Liefeld’s early work made by Zack Smith, the reporter hosting the roundtable.
“The Extreme books of the 1990s were known to deal in certain stereotypes regarding women’s – and let’s face it, men’s – chests,” Smith said during the interview. “And rear ends, and guns, and shoulder pads, and feet that were always off-panel….what are the challenges in moving beyond that stereotype?”
Now, on the one hand it’s a fair observation that the early Extreme books have often been painted as representative of some of Liefeld’s worst artistic foibles, and Liefeld’s style itself is very divisive. Asking artists who are not Rob Liefeld how they’re going to handle creating a look for themselves on books whose looks he defined, is certainly a fair-game question. Even addressing that a segment of the audience will go in with a built-in negative impression of the comics and the art is not out of line. Still, it seems as though this particular question took a sharp left turn somewhere, stopped being about generalizations and impressions and stereotypes, and got incredibly specific and explicit in its criticism of Liefeld, even without using his name in doing so.
[Now, let's get something out of the way: I used to blog for Newsarama and even contributed to their main site occasionally. I left after a story I wrote kicked up a minor controversy when a comic creator did not like the way he was portrayed, or the way I responded to his many comments in my story's comment thread and on Twitter. Lucas Siegel, the Editor-in-Chief at Newsarama, worked diligently to defuse the situation but in the end I offered to leave in order to make his life easier and appease the offended creator. I harbor no ill will toward Newsarama, and certainly can relate to the position that Smith finds himself in.]
When linking to the story on Twitter, Liefeld called the interview a “slightly painful read but worth it,” explaining that he felt there was “lots of misinformation” contained therein. He went on to post a series of rapid-fire tweets that explained some of the alleged misinformation, and then escalated his beef with the piece to a very personal attack on Smith:
Some Newsarama correcs, mostly attributed to my good buddy Tim Seely[sic]. 1) the Joe Casey Youngblood shipped on time. 2) Bloodsport is not over
I do however agree with @joekeatinge that I don’t dwell on the past, so on 10 minutes, this will pass. Doesn’t change that New Extreme rocks
And to Zack Smith, @thezacksmith,Newsarama interviewer, you are a complete douche bag. Your description of Extreme was cliched and total BS
It was at this point that Siegel intervened, telling Liefeld that he was “disappointed” the veteran creator stooped to name-calling. Smith himself, ironically, did not respond as he was participating in the SOPA Blackout and did not post anything online Wednesday. There were a flurry of heated tweets exchanged between Liefeld and Siegel, with the artist saying that he, too, was disappointed and that Siegel needed to “get [his] s–t together.” Siegel told Liefeld that if he had any problems with facts, he (Siegel) would be happy to “listen and correct,” but again challenged Liefeld’s jab at Smith, asking the artist pointedly, “Zack conducted and turned in an 18 page interview supporting your product and you call him a douchebag on the internet?”
Liefeld commented on what he perceived as a double-standard: That Newsarama had edited Graham’s comments on Catwoman and Judd Winick, but had not afforded Smith’s remarks about Liefeld and the early days of Extreme the same treatment. He then abruptly told Siegel that “We are finished” and the pair either stopped talking, or at least took it out of the public view.
Two cents from a guy who’s been there?
It seems as though Liefeld may have overreacted a bit–I know Zack Smith a little, and he’s not a bad guy and likely didn’t mean anything hurtful by the question. It seems to me that he got into a digression while asking a legitimate question (easy enough to do in a phone interview), and then just transcribed and published the whole thing. That said, Liefeld has a reputation as being somewhat unpredictable and often defensive, and the way the question was phrased really did seem gratuitously mean. Even if there was no need for Smith to backpedal or apologize during the interview itself, one has to wonder whether the whole thing could have been streamlined or rephrased before it saw publication to avoid pretty much exactly this situation. Obviously someone at Newsarama was looking at the thing with a critical eye, if the Catwoman comments were excised.
An interesting aspect of the story is Siegel’s characterization of the Smith interview as “supporting [Liefeld's] product.” It’s a common criticism of the comics press (as well as entertainment writers in general and other types of niche or industry reporters, such as sports journalists) that most reporters are little more than fans with press passes. Passion for the subject rather than the craft is known or suspected to bring many such writers to comics journalism and that sometimes results in coverage that’s more editorialized than maybe it should be. Those kinds of stories in almost any situation are generally a disservice to the reader. While that has not been historically something Smith has been accused of, a perception on the part of Newsarama that their interviews serve the purpose of promoting a product, rather than informing the reader, may lend that criticism some teeth.
Certainly many features that are run not only at Newsarama but here and at every other comics news site–from reprinting covers and promotional art to tame, Q&A-style interviews like the International Exchange, reside in a hazy area somewhere between “real” journalism and crass commercialism. Even so, straightforward interview pieces are typically not perceived that way, least of all by the reporters who are writing them for little or no money. It’s hard to fault the way Siegel went to bat for his employee, but the wording choice, especially in a public forum like Twitter, probably could have been better. This may seem like nitpicking, and maybe it is, but ultimately a lot of journalism is nitpicking.
Ultimately, the exchange doesn’t seem to have queered Liefeld’s relationship with Newsarama much, since he gave them an interviewtoday promoting his current and upcoming DC work. Still, the removal of the Extreme roundtable suggests that either he or Siegel decided that it didn’t belong on the site anymore.