Thinking about the art of Rob Liefeld conjures up some immediate images: pouches, big swords and even bigger guns. Liefeld made a name for himself in the comics game with his star turn on New Mutants in 1990 and the creation of both Deadpool and Cable. While those characteristics of his have been lumped in with the rest of the over-the-top style of 1990s superhero comic art, the origins of Liefeld’s fascination with those aesthetics go back to his youth and his love of the G.I. Joe franchise and, specifically, the famed character Snake Eyes.
“Snake Eyes was of course a huge influence on Deadpool,” Liefeld says. “I had never seen a character who had a gun and a katana before Snake Eyes. I can’t think of one. He was the first one. Is he a soldier? Is he a ninja? Is he a ninja? Is he a soldier? He’s both! So, that’s why Deadpool rocks the pistols, the rifles and the katanas. That was 100 percent the influence of Snake Eyes.”
That fandom translated to Liefeld doing covers here and there over the last several years for the G.I. Joe universe over at IDW. However, when the opportunity came to give Snake Eyes his own miniseries, Liefeld jumped on it. The end result is Snake Eyes: Deadgame, which released its debut issue this week. (You can read our review of it here.)
“I’ve always been a fan,” Liefeld says of the ninja-meets-soldier commando. “But it’s not something I thought I could turn into an extended visit with the character.”
Given the sometimes difficult creative process that needs to be undertaken when dealing with licensed properties such as G.I. Joe or Star Wars, Liefeld claims that both Hasbro and IDW have given him the necessary, continuity-light freedom to tell the Snake Eyes tale that he truly wants to tell. Handling both plotting and penciling duties, Liefeld is in complete control of the story right now.
“I haven’t and will not work unless I’m writing my own work for the last decade,” Liefeld says regarding the dynamics between writing and illustrating comics. “My successes have always come when I’m doing all of it. Me telling the story, actually writing the story and the plot is essential to me doing the work because I know exactly what I want out of any given page or any given story. Comic books exist only because they’re visual.”
It’s that adamant stance regarding artist credit and the power of the creator that has come to define Liefeld’s personality and place in the comic book world. That agency is what led to the mass exodus of artistic talent from Marvel and the launch of industry-shaking launch of Image Comics in 1992. In Liefeld’s eyes, that sense of empowerment hasn’t carried itself to the current generation of comic illustrators out there and management at fault.
“I know that we’ve had an era, I think we’re kind of leaving that era, but it certainly has existed where the publishers wanted to make superstars out of writers because writers can give you 100 pages a month,” Liefeld states. “100 pages a month is five comic books, which is more than your average penciler can do, which is maybe 20-22 pages a month at the top of their game and most guys can’t even do that.”
Liefeld takes issue with the overarching movement of today’s comic book writers who are “a bunch of guys who wanted to show you how great they could write screenplays.” While this may come off as general snark as Liefeld remarks how these writers are trying a tad too hard to turn an Aaron Sorkin script in a comic book, but there’s real merit to his crusade for greater artist credit. With such a clearly defined visual medium, that doesn’t sit right with Liefeld and he wishes more artists would simply stick up for themselves.
“I see a lot of these artists are timid. I would use that word the most,” Liefeld adds. “They are terrified to step out of line, to raise their voice, not literally raise their voice, but by raising their concern in an email or dictating their career path that is taking more authority because immediately editorial or publishing will squash that.”
He thinks back to an impeccable piece of advice that his co-found at Image, Todd McFarlane, once told him long ago. “Don’t be a jackrabbit,” Liefeld says about the propensity for artists to jump around from project to project without every firmly entrench themselves on a single title or a defining run. Again, referencing back to his emphasis on being both a writer and an illustrator now Liefeld would tell today’s artists the same.
“Write your own work! Every artist I know has great ideas!” Liefeld hammers home. “Get somebody like I do to write the dialogue so that you can spend more time doing the beautiful story.”
Clearly never one to hold back his opinion or shy away from a proclamation about the comics industry overall, it feels more than fitting that Liefeld has found a home as a commentator with his recently launched podcast Robservations with Rob Liefeld. Discussing comic book history, secondary stories he’s learned from working in the medium so long and his own experiences, the podcast makes for a compelling inside look at comic book lore.
“I’m One-Take Rob and if it sucks, I’m sorry, but I’m just having a good time,” Liefeld says frankly about his podcast undertaking.
It’s that type of honesty that make his deep dives into the comics of yesteryear so entertaining. Whether it’s his penchant for John Byrne’s run on Man of Steel, the undeniable influence Art Adams has on his own artwork or, yes, his lifelong G.I. Joe fandom, Liefeld remains willing to share everything he loves (and doesn’t like) about comics.
What Liefeld ultimately wants to accomplish with his work, whether it be during his Image Comics heyday or now with Snake Eyes, is rather simple.
“I am fully confident in what I bring to the table. My knowledge and the way I execute comics is true to the comic books I grew up on. I’m always trying to do my childhood a solid. Whether it’s working with a character like GI Joe or just doing a comic book period.”
He adds, “I’m making a comic young Rob Liefeld would want to pull off the spinner rack.”