Modern Masters: Cliff Chiang
I know a little about how these books are put together. Selection of a “master” depends on expected sales (of course), so they have to have an existing fanbase; whether the subject is willing to participate, to get all the historical art and sketchbook pages; along similar lines, possession of a substantial body of work; being a “name” to the comic market (so most often, some superhero work history); and apparently, a Y chromosome. I started thinking about this, because Cliff Chiang still seems like a new talent to me, but he’s been contributing to significant comic works longer than I realized. I adore his style, and a whole book dedicated to his art, written by by Chris Arrant, was a pleasure to read.
I found it fascinating that Cliff got into comics seriously in the early 90s, and how his significant scholastic background influenced his art. These kinds of career development make for a different story than many of the other Modern Masters I’ve read — who tend to be much older creators and/or British — and younger aspiring creators will learn more from a more recent tale, I think. That background also makes him thoughtful about looking back and explaining his history to the reader, particularly with his different early career expectations.
Even though Cliff is from a more recent generation, I’m not sure his path is available any more, since he started out working on short stories, one-shots, and backups, aided by his connections from his time as an editorial assistant. Once reminded, I recalled reading a lot of his early work that had slipped from my memory in the meantime. So many books, with so many varied approaches, that were so good and yet couldn’t exist today: Beware the Creeper, Human Target, an Elseworlds, The Spectre (as a Gotham Central spinoff), Doctor 13, Green Arrow and Black Canary (as a married couple), and the lost Batman stories he describes.
I pored over this Modern Masters a lot more than I have other volumes in the series. Much of that is due to Chris Arrant’s excellent interviewing, going into details without sounding slavish. I found this response particularly telling. When asked whether he was “more attuned to the DC characters”, given most of his work has been for that company, Cliff responds:
It’s not a question of interest in the characters, it’s just that career-wise, having good working relationships is more important to me than drawing, say, Spider-Man or Superman. It’s not the company or the characters, it’s the quality of the script and the quality of the people you work with.
That’s so important and so insightful, and something not a lot of people pay enough attention to. However, there’s one major area of questioning I was immensely curious about that wasn’t asked in the book: When will Cliff write and draw his own work? Does he plan to take that on, or is he satisfied drawing other people’s stories for now? What concerns does he have tackling telling his own stories? (The publisher provided a review copy.)