Every once in a while, you come across something that you didn't even know existed, and then you wonder how you ever got along without it. For us, this happened last week when our random surfing of Amazon turned up The Comic Book Greats: Rob Liefeld, an hour-long release from 1991 that profiles the man who was, at the time, the hottest and most successful artist in the industry.
Clearly, this was something we had to see.
Unfortunately, the fact that it's an 18-year-old VHS tape would make that a little tough, but with the magic of the Internet, we found the entire video on YouTube, and whether you think of Liefeld as the dynamic heir to Jack Kirby or the much-deserved punching-bag of the Comics Internet, it makes for a fascinating snapshot of one of the strangest times in the history of the industry. So join us as ComicsAlllince contributor Chris Sims breaks it down scene-by scene!
0:01 - The first strange thing about this video is the fact that the interview is being conducted by none other than Smilin' Stan Lee. That's right, folks: It's the co-creator of Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Hulk asking the creator of Badrock and Shaft to explain how he managed to pull it off.
0:34 - And here's the man himself: Rob Liefeld. At the time, Rob was arguably the biggest name in comics with a string of successes under his belt (and even more around the corner), but he comes off as more than a little nervous, doodling on a pad during the video's interview segments. And why wouldn't he? Dude was 23 years old and sitting across the table from the guy who's partly responsible for comic books as we know them today.
0:40 - To be fair to Liefeld, he actually comes off pretty well throughout the video, constantly mentioning how lucky he was to get his job namechecking guys like DC's Dick Giordano and the late, great Marvel editor Mark Gruenwald. On the other hand, while his time at DC is barely touched on -- and we can see why; Stan Lee didn't show up to talk about the Distinguished Competition -- he doesn't mention Karl Kesel, who reportedly had to re-draw Liefeld's pages for "Hawk & Dove," and he's still the guy that never gave Rick Veitch his art for "Supreme." So, you know, there's that.
1:30 - "When we get a good thing, we don't let it go!" says Stan Lee. Looking back from a year that saw the release of a third ongoing "Deadpool" series and the sixth "Punisher" relaunch in ten years, we've got to admit that the guy's got a point.
3:28 - Stan asks "What makes one comic book story better than another?" We're going to guess that the answer will be "pouches."
0:25 - This is quite possibly the most mind-blowing moment of the video, as at this point, it comes out that the latest issue of "X-Force" had sold OVER FIVE MILLION COPIES. Just to give you an idea, Diamond Comic Distributors' best-selling comic for July 2009 was "Captain America Reborn" #1, which came in just under 200,000.
Unfortunately, as any look through a quarter bin'll tell you, most of those 3.7 million went to around eight or nine guys, but to be fair, "Captain America Reborn" didn't come with a collectible trading card.
1:00 - After a discussion of recording artists going "Platinum" when they sell a million copies, Stan advises that "X-Force" should be considered to have gone "Uranium" And we agree, as they're both something we wouldn't want to touch without a Hazmat suit.
2:07 - And this is the moment we've all been waiting for: Liefeld sits down to create a bold new character right before our eyes!
2:29 - According to Rob, naming a character is important, because the kids "want 'The Hulk' or 'Cable.'" Yes. Because "Cable" is a name that promises excitement.
2.38 - Holy crap, the "new character" that he's creating is Die Hardfrom "Youngblood"!
Again, whether or not you like his work, it is sort of neat to see Liefeld designing a character that would later go on to be written by Alan Moore. Also of note? Even the cameraman manages to cut off the guy's feet.
5:48 - "Okay, let's give him some gear." "Gear" is Liefeld's code-word for "pouches," and even in the bold, rich color of digitized VHS, you can totally tell that he has been looking forward to this part all day.
6:07 - Eventually, we do get a shot of Die Hard's foot, and while this is a quick sketch in a rough stage...
...it's pretty safe to say that that's less of a foot and more of an incomplete rhombus.
7:10 - Stan seems a little shocked at Die Hard's lack of pouches and guns -- really -- and when he asks about Die Hard's powers, Liefeld replies "He can do anything." Yyyyyyyyyyyyup.
0:21 - As if getting to see the birth of Die Hard wasn't enough, Liefeld goes on to create another character, and this time ie's someone we've never heard of:
CROSS: The Guy You Don't Want To Cross!
This is without question the best / worst / best again thing we have ever seen in our lives.
1:45 - "You know every time I think of your artwork, the first thought that comes to mind is huge shoulder pads." We are not kidding. Stan Lee actually says this.
2:48 - "Everyone's going to have a Cross comic book because he's cool and he accessorizes." We are also not kidding. Rob Liefeld actually says this.
3:09 - We've got to admit, there's something utterly hypnotic about watching Rob Liefeld draw pouches and armbands on a guy, and it's only made better by the pure joy in his voice when he explains to Stan that they're full of explosive boomerangs.
3:50 - It's at this point--yes, this point--that the design for Cross starts to get completely insane, as Stan imposes a two-minute deadline and starts egging Liefeld on to add more and more spikes to his wristbands, shoulder-pads, and any other available surface. Say what you want about the dude's costume designs, but come on, folks: The guy who wrote "This Man, This Monster" says to add spikes, you add spikes.
5:04 - As Liefeld rushes to finish the drawing on Stan's deadline, Stan starts joking about how his suggestion to add spikes makes Cross a collaboration, and starts referring to him as "my character" and "our creation." He's laughing. Rob's laughing. Steve Ditko is gritting his teeth.
0:20 - How does one follow up the creation of a bold new character like Cross? With a discussion of this: The Rob Liefeld 501 Jeans Commercial.
This more than anything else is one of the most mind-blowing things about Liefeld's meteoric rise in the early '90s: He starred in a commercial that was about him drawing X-Force and was directed by Spike Lee. Who is apparently a big fan of Namor and his foot-wings. Who knew?
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