Is Rob Liefeld The Charlie Sheen Of Comic Books?

Some of the biggest comic book news to come out this weekend didn't originate from a convention -- it came from Rob Liefeld's Twitter account.

After an emotional departure last week from DC Comics -- fully documented in "real time" by tweets -- Liefeld launched into an epic tirade not only against his former employers, but an executive at Marvel Comics and even "Batman" writer Scott Snyder (who he publicly referred to as "a pretentious prick"). The "Youngblood" creator and Image Comics co-founder's topics ranged wildly from the topic of creator's rights, the relative size of certain people's body parts, "Batman" sales, and the aesthetic merits of Anna Faris. His Twitter exchange was so stunning in its outspokenness and at-times bizarre references that many reading the exchanges were prompted to ask: "Is Rob Liefeld the Charlie Sheen of comics?"

Well, certainly the parallels are there, in terms of Sheen's exodus from "Two And A Half Men" and his particular anger towards producer Chuck Lorre. Liefeld also seems to express in his tweets a sort of "Winning!" sense of bravado. In other ways, though, it's quite a different story. Sheen seemed to publicly revel in his hedonistic lifestyle, shooting videos of himself with scantily-clad "goddeses." In contrast, Liefeld comes across as very much a family man, tweeting pics of his sons and talking about their sports practice.

Still, in an industry where being outspoken and unrestrained by the dictates of publicists and publishers is the exception and not the rule, Rob Liefeld's recent online spectacle sticks out like Tiger's Blood on a landscape dominated by gray-tones. Compare the way Liefeld left DC to Ed Brubaker's recent exit from Marvel Comics (also announced on Twitter) -- "Industry Wisdom" dictates that the former burns bridges and ruins careers, while the latter is the way "pros" do it.

But focusing on Liefeld's more controversial remarks (ad hominem attacks on DC and Marvel staff greatly undermined some of his legitimate complaints, in my opinion, and won't be the sort of thing easily forgotten) overlooks a larger issue that more moderately-tempered comic book professionals have been bringing up with greater and greater frequency. And that is this: the comic industry is changing fast. It's becoming a different beast than it was ten, five, even three years ago. Comics = Movies = BIG MONEY, and parent companies Time Warner and Disney are well aware of it. And you know who helped bring Comics out of the relative obscurity of the 70s and 80s and blasted it on the scene as the generator of millions upon millions of dollars? Comic creators like Rob Liefeld.

Remember this Levis ad starring Liefeld, and directed by Spike Lee, from the early 1990s:

Prestige director, major brand, heavy mass-media presence. This barely had a precedent. This changed the face of comics forever, had a seismic impact on the industry and sales. Comic Book Celebrity. It was very exciting. "Winning!" indeed. 

In a way, Rob Liefeld has been a victim of his very own success. He helped create the "monster" he rails against so much. Anything that successful is eventually going to be micro-managed by the publisher, the editors, the bean-counters, the investors, the publicists; because too much money is on the line. Some of Liefeld's Image co-founders anticipated and understood this -- witness DC co-publisher Jim Lee. Liefeld rants bitterly over "editorial interference" -- but that's just the tip of the iceberg when working with characters like Superman, Batman, Hawkman, and the rest. And while I agree there should be more of a dialogue about this -- and how comic creators can get more freedom within the corporate structure of publishers -- saying someone has "a small pecker" really obscures the issue.

But what Liefeld has been writing on Twitter over the last several days is a crystallizaton of the anger, confusion and frustration numerous comic creators are feeling over the big changes happening in the comics industry. He is just the loudest person to proclaim it -- in the most over-the-top way possible.

Like Charlie Sheen, this latest controversy threatens to overshadow Liefeld's contributions to his field. Before copious infusions of Tiger's Blood, Sheen was the top actor on the #1 TV show in America -- and had a strong filmography behind him, including "Platoon" and "Wall Street." Rob Liefeld helped sell many millions of dollars worth of comics and changed the industry forever. Like Sheen, while he will no doubt find that some of his antics have closed doors (maybe permanently, maybe not) with some companies, he will more than likely be able to strike deals with others. And if there is one thing that the "Image Revolution" did do to help the plight of the comics freelancer, it was to encourage them to create their own characters and own the rights to their own comics.

Charlie Sheen can create pay-per-views ("Goddesses LIVE!") and YouTube channels and other means to keep his career going if he really needs to. Rob Liefeld can make and produce his own comics. Neither "needs" the Powers That Be to keep them employed; neither needs to pull their punches for fear of some Corporate hammer raining down on their heads.

But keeping up that level of (very public) intensity can be a very very stressful and physically/emotionally draining thing. Along with the insults (many directed to Liefeld himself, of the "why don't you just die" variety) and broken friendships that have ensued from his Twitter feed, that is what concerns me about this situation the most. While such schadenfreude can be perceived as "enjoyable" to many (and I was as guilty as anyone), obtaining "joy" and entertainment over the emotional turmoil, suffering, and rage of another person is, in the end, going to only produce more negativity -- negativity not only for someone like Liefeld but for oneself. At this point I have to agree with Craig Ferguson's monologue following the Charlie Sheen debacle:

And Rob Liefeld himself seems to say it best:

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