There's a discussion brewing in comics about artists being more diminished as of late--that readers, reviewers, and publishers are focusing too much on writers rather than the artists who draw the book. I agree it's happening, but I'm not sure it's worth sounding an alarm over. I never felt diminished, but maybe I'm part of the exception. Maybe it's because I'm an artist and a writer.
Either way, I do have a few thoughts on what artists can do to pull themselves out from under the rug.
1. DON'T DRAW LIKE A COG.
If you conform to a "house style", then you're at higher risk of being treated like an interchangeable cog in the comics machine. Yes, you're more likely to get consistent work, but you won't stand out as much. Therefor you'll be sought after less by big name writers, you're less likely to make a lasting impression on reviewers and readers, and you'll have a harder time getting raises (12 others draw like you and for less money).
I also suggests inking yourself if it helps. Pencils get covered up, so the key to retaining more distinct personality in your art is through inks (unless you publish pencils). If you're not into that, then work with an inker who will help you BOTH stand out, like JRJR and Klaus Janson.
2. DON'T GET OVERSHADOWED BY BATMAN.
I drew Batman/Scarecrow: Year One in 2005, and then things dried up for a while. You think doing Batman means you've made it? Wrong. More than likely, Batman is the star. Not you.
Around the same time I did Batman, I wrote and drew a book called Off Road. My sales were much lower (only made about 4K that year), but my art started getting recognized more. Most of the projects I've taken since are books that had no history, no fan-base, and no Batman to overshadow me. Joe the Barbarian, American Vampire: SOTF, Punk Rock Jesus and The Wake. And I have two Image books I'll be working on in 2014 (one with Mark Millar), and they're both from scratch. I try and pick stuff where the writer and I are the main event, not the characters.
*I admit I've found weird success by taking on creator-owned books more than mainstream stuff. It's a risky path, for sure. Mathematically, more artists have found success by eventually overcoming the Batmen they're drawing. But things are shifting to creator-owned, and with digital distribution and Kickstarter, this option should be more tempting than ever before. Think about it.
3. FIND BETTER PARTNERS
Currently, I'm drawing The Wake with Scott Snyder. Scott's a great partner, but it's not because he's a top writer at DC. I work with Scott because he's talented, a hard worker, he takes his job seriously, he's available for questions, he asks my opinion on the story, and he writes around stuff that I want to draw. He's also very considerate toward my schedule, my needs, and never does an interview without mentioning me, Matt Hollingsworth, and the other people who work hard on his books.
Some writers don't want to share. They lord over their books and keep artists away from interviews, contracts, and other business affairs in order to maintain control. Which is totally within their right to do--I'm not judging writers who run their books this way. But if you're an artists working for a writer like this, and you're feeling diminished, then find a new writer. And try to do it amicably.
4. AVOID SPORADIC SCHEDULING
Readers need to know where to find you. Rocking Superman for a single issue and doing a mic-drop isn't enough to get attention. The minute you leave, readers will be like, "who the hell was that?" unless you're already a name.
The other thing to avoid is double shipping schedules--where a single title is handled by one writer and multiple artists. That's like trying to get noticed from inside a crowded, revolving door. Yes, you'll be well paid for your talents. And people might buzz about your art. But it's better to be on a title where you're the only artist on a substantial run.
5. CHECK YOURSELF
Here's a quick list of complaints that I hear from artists when it comes to feeling diminished, followed by my response. In my opinion, artist who employ these arguments should look again at the reality of the job they signed up for.
"How come we don't get flown to summit meetings with the writers?"
-Writers plan years ahead with stories. They make blueprints, whereas you're the architect who's brought in later. There's not much point in flying you to a summit meeting so you can sit on your ass for two days going, "Yeah, that would be cool to draw."
"But I have good ideas on what works in comics. I should be included in summit meetings!"
-You have good ideas? So do they. No offense, but your two-cents isn't worth the $400 plane ticket, the $60 in food and the $15 of hotel porn.
"It's a writer's industry. It's not fair for artists"
-Artists ran the show in the 90s, and look how that turned out. You want artists in charge? Because I don't. Somewhere in the middle is best.
-Learn to write. Ever read a comic you thought sucked? Think you can do better? Then do it. Bad books hit the shelves all the time, so there's no reason why you can't write one, too. Or work harder and put out a half-decent one.
"How come I don't do as many interviews?"
-How many books do you draw a month? Just one? And a writer writes 3-4 a month? Then he gets to do 3-4 more times the interviews. Deal with it.
"I don't sign as many autographs as the writer!" or "How come I don't get as many questions during panel discussions?"
-Story is in our DNA, art is not. Proof? People can do a great job describing what a movie meant to them--the characters, the plot twists, the surprises, the music, the action, and the ending. Send those same people to an art museum and they get much quieter. Why? Some of them don't get art. Some of them like it, but don't know why. Even the ones that loved it can only use limited vocabulary to describe it: neat lines, nice color, good mood, blah blah blah. And that's totally fine--it took you years to learn about art, so ease up on people that don't have your education.