I realize I talk mostly about writers and story things, and that’s a disservice to comics criticsm because art is at least one-half of the story, probably more. It’s one of my greatest self-diagnosed flaws as bringer of the teal deer, how I regularly fail to discuss panel layouts and framing choices when I talk about what comics mean.
So today I will tell you exactly why Greg Land is horrible.
I think it’s easiest to just start with a little infographic.
It’s an almost laughably awful cover. The collage of seemingly random elements is meant to evoke a sort of Steranko pop-art vibe, but lacking any driving composition, it simply seems as though an amputee with melons for breasts and a missized head has been superimposed on top of an exploding skeleton for no particular reason.
This, incidentally, speaks to Land’s “artistic” process, in which he assembles a collection of photos from advertisements, pornography, and the like, and then shoops them all together, then uses that for reference. The head looks pasted on yey because it pretty much is. Greg Land’s tracing shortcuts are widely remarked upon, as he “recycles” photos from his image library regularly. Here are some examples, but any google search of “Greg Land” and “tracing” will turn up loads of results. N.B. that he will swipe from other Marvel Comics artists! “His” “work” is thus not only technically incompetent but morally contemptible.
There’s also the sexism. Oh, the sexism. You might have noticed how those breasts are strategically placed at the very center of the image, the point at which all things converge!!
But there’s a subtler sexism at play, because Greg Land reduces characters to a mix and match set of body parts. And reducing people to their body parts is objectification 101. A picture of a hand wearing a ring is just a picture of a hand wearing a ring. It’s not a picture of a person wearing a ring, not really. And an awkward Frankenstein’s monster jumble of models cut up and carefully reassembled so that the boobs are in the center, that’s not a picture of a character. Not really.
Now that we’ve established that Greg Land is completely terrible, lets move on to his covers for Richard K. Morgan’s Homecoming mini.
These are, perhaps, not as immediately “but where are the legs?” terribad as the previous cover. I mean, the breasts aren’t nearly so conspicuous. There’s a cursory aesthetic appeal!! But no, I assure you. These are in fact terribad.
The thing about Greg Land’s recycling is that it means all his women look the same. And they don’t all look the same superheroine, they all look like the same Maxim cover. His facial expressions are inscrutable, glassy-eyed, his hair perpetually tousled, his posing passive and stiff, lacking fluidity. There’s no sense of character or tone in these images, no sense of personality beyond airbrushing with giant guns.
Let me break this down: the point of comic book women is not “to be pretty.” The point of comic book art is not “to be pretty.” The point is the story. Telling a story, and evoking that story with line and movement and tone and color and grit and something that does not reflect the story is always going to be porn models plucked from their native habitat and shooped into someone else’s. We look at them and think, they don’t belong, how did they get here?
These covers in no way reflect the comic they happen to be attached to. Here, let’s zoom in on the worst of them, I’ll explain what I mean:
The title of this issue is Now That’s What I Call a Woman! In the text, it’s the slogan for a perfume company, as it appears on this billboard. The line is meant to be an irony, the vapid message of department store femininity standing in contrast to Natasha’s depth of character. It’s a criticism of the way women are marketed as something to be consumed, and the way women are taught to want to be consumable. It’s a direct, ham-fisted, no subtlety allowed allegory, and the villains of the series are, indeed evil gritty cosmetics manufacturers.
This cover image is meant to embody that, visually. The figure of Natasha, guns blazing, is supposed to stand in stark contrast to the passive poutface on the billboard. “Now that’s what I call a woman!” indeed. Except the woman on the billboard looks exactly like Natasha in all the over covers, with the same blank bedroom eyes and tousled bedroom hair. Natasha’s action hero expression is likewise inscrutable: is she screaming in anger or ecstasy? With Greg Land, one can never tell.
Land, here, is being asked to draw a female character and contrast her with a sexual stereotype. He can’t, because he doesn’t draw female characters, he draws sexual stereotypes. These images he has, they are ripped from advertisements, from billboards, from porn, from the covers of Sports Illustrated, taken apart and put back together. Consumables, not characters.
For contrast I present this cover image by Bill Sienkiewicz, which featured on the sequel miniseries and has a similar visual theme. Notice the lack of airbrushed face or simple come-hither stares. This Natasha is arch, angry, her expression is clearly tough and undefeated. She’s a beautiful woman, no doubt, but she challenges us— the gun pointed directly at the reader gives the image a sense of urgency. And Sienkiewicz’s limited palette and layered brushstrokes hint at the murky grit of Morgan’s story. It is, in short, an image with personality, ergo, not by Greg Land.
Greg Land’s sexism is well remarked upon (see: here and here for some basics). It’s seriously so bad it nearly hurts to point it out, because acknowledging Land’s objectification tango is almost a get out of jail free card for the more banal forms of cheesecake and photoreferencing that the industry is plagued by. Part of the reason Land’s stuff is so terrifying is because it can function as a parody of the industry itself. It’s not a deviation from the norm, it is the norm dialed up to eleven. It is the abyss staring back.
Part of the reason Land’s stuff is so terrifying is because he still gets lots of work.
So if I’m not saying anything new in this write-up, why am I saying it at all? Because, ladies, gentlemen, and non-binarily identified persons, yes I mad. These covers are the bane of my fandom existence. They’re close to the top of google search and so people come to them without really trying. When pop culture news outlets talk about Black Widow, they use those fucking Greg Land covers. Natasha’s official marvel.com wiki page is a fucking Greg Land cover. (Clint’s marvel.com profile pic, fyi, is not actually of Clint.) And when artistically inclined tumblr photoshop remixers go looking for images to remix into graphics, they use fucking Greg Land covers, unaware, I’m assuming, of the politics lurking behind them. Every time a Greg Land image turns up in my tracked tag, my blood turns to fire and I wish I could punch through the internet to change the “black widow” tag to one that reads “Greg Land’s magazine model tracings” or maybe “everything that is wrong with comic book art.”
Because these aren’t pictures of Natasha. They’re pictures of a deliberately created sexual stereotype. They’re something Greg Land made, or didn’t, and I really would like them not to count.