The soullessness of modern comic art…

I’ve been at the art game long enough to remember what being an artist entailed before the internet existed.

For one thing, artists used to clip pictures from magazines, books, pamphlets, and other sorts of ephemera and save them in what was usually known as a swipe file. If you needed to draw a lion running and wanted some reference, you went to your swipe file and hopefully you had clipped something from a National Geographic that provided enough reference for you to do a believable drawing.

Artists also often accumulated libraries of books and magazines on art, photography, and general reference on animals, anatomy, costumes, architecture, and so on — you get the picture.

And then there were times you couldn’t find what you needed so you loaded up a roll of film in your camera and went out and shot your own reference. That could cost you some money, depending on how much film you bought, not to mention the cost of developing, and then you hoped your pictures came out right.

Finally, when you just couldn’t find what you needed, an artist just relied on his imagination to best approximate what he wanted to convey (hoping that the viewer was unfamiliar enough with the subject matter to not notice any errors).

My studio and library full of reference.

I relied on all of the aforementioned sources for reference as well… until the world wide web arrived. The internet made reference ubiquitous and rendered swipe files and library sources obsolete (in all honesty, I was grateful I could throw away file-drawers full of clippings, though I continue to expand my book reference). The problem with internet reference (as I’ve written in a previous post) is that everyone is often using the same reference, so that there’s a sort of creative inbreeding occurring.

And digital photography has made the taking of reference photos cheap. No more cost of buying and developing film, so one could keep on clicking away until he gets the right shot, even if that means taking a bazillion photos.

So what’s my problem with this and why do I think this can be a problem in comics (and other art)? Well, comics in the late 80’s and 90’s seemed like they were going through a drought of talent where, in my opinion, there were few artists that I thought were really impressive. On the flip side, digital coloring and fancy printing was raising the bar on comic quality and was a far cry from the cheap newsprint comics I grew up enjoying. What this meant is that some artists who I will not name got a lot of attention and were hailed as great artists when, in my opinion, it was the novelty of digital coloring and fancy printing that made their art stand out as something special. And I’m not suggesting that digital coloring or slick paper is a bad thing, but only that it shouldn’t be a crutch when other aspects of good art are lacking.

Today, however, I’ve noticed the quality of draftsmanship in a lot of comics is over the top. By that, I mean it looks too real, like it’s heavily based on photo reference (and to elaborate further, I’m suggesting that some renderings look like they’ve practically been traced from photos), so much so that the characters lack style and the overall look seems to lack imagination. And it’s that style and imagination that I miss. No one will mistake Will Eisner’s Spirit for a photo-realistic drawing, but it’s filled with style. No one will accuse the team of John Buscema and Alfredo Alacala of using a photo when rendering a Conan page, but their efforts exuded talent and imagination. Certainly Jack Kirby’s figures provoked some debate as to the quality of his figure-drawing, but few artists have his imagination or are able to lay out an action scene with the same dynamics. Now I’m not suggesting that the artists mentioned would never have relied on a photo for reference if necessary; but if they used reference, it was only to spark their imagination and point them in the right direction.

Another problem with relying too heavily on photo-reference is that not every panel in a comic may do so. Consequently, you have a real change in feel when the artist is not using photo reference and now has to draw a character as well as the “photo” drawing from his imagination, which rarely works. Most of the time one can browse through such a comic and point out where the photo reference was used and where it wasn’t. Moreover, having to match the style of the photo-referenced-drawn panel restricts the artist from employing his own style (because photo reference has no unifying style, which is another problem in itself).

Does this mean I hate realistically-drawn comic art? No, it’s impressive on a certain level. But I noticed that what made a lot of past artists great is their talent for cartooning and unifying style. Cartoons may seem silly or childish to some, but they’re filled with animation and life that portrays an ideal. Renaissance artists were great precisely because they sought to capture this ideal and not simply recreate reality.

So why do I think much of modern comic art is soulless? A well-posed wax statue might initially seem alive, until you realize it’s stiff, making the lack of animation all the more conspicuous. And a photo-realistically drawn comic may initially impress, until you notice the same dead stiffness. I personally prefer a cartoony comic full of life, than a comic filled with a realism that lacks animation or style.

The best example I can give to sum up what I’m trying to say (and this is really aimed at those who are familiar with the artists I’m going to mention, even though the example is not from comics) is to compare Frazetta and Boris (here’s a good article discussing their differences in depth). The former painted mostly from imagination (yes, he used reference on rare occasions, but it was strictly as a springboard and nothing more), while the latter’s figures were almost entirely based on photos. After a long examination, it’s clear which artist’s work is brimming with life and energy and which represents “nice” paintings (no disrespect to Boris, whose work I still admire greatly).

In the same way, I think realistic comics are “nice,” but I’d rather take the comic art of a Will Eisner or even an Eric Powell (a contemporary comic artist oozing with style and talent…and weirdness), or any number of other artists any day over a lot of the realistic comic art of today.

Did I also mention how I miss those Sea-Monkey ads? … And don’t get me started on the perversion, profanity, and propaganda in modern comics. I’ll save that rant for another day.

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Life is too short to take oneself too seriously…


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IDW Artist Editions – The Sequel

I was never a big Will Eisner fan, but he garnered so much industry respect that I thought I must be missing something. I really wanted to go back and study his work on The Spirit, but any trade reprints just didn’t seem to be of great quality. Let’s face it, the production quality of comics has come a long way from the off-register-colored stuff printed on newsprint which made up the comics of my childhood. Frankly, I preferred the DC series which were done by Darwyn Cooke several years ago. So I never purchased any of the series by Eisner. TheSpirit_IDW_1st And then came the IDW Artist Editions. I watched a YouTube video of someone flipping through one of The Spirit editions, and it just didn’t impress me. And then I saw one in person and flipped through it – Wow! Seeing the work up close made all of the difference in the world. Naturally I bought both volumes. The first thing I have to say is that I now understand why everyone has such great respect for Eisner. His work on these Spirit comics is amazing. And seeing the original-quality inking without the distraction of coloring really highlights what’s best about this work. Eisner wasn’t just a great sequential story-teller (which is what I thought was his claim to fame). He was really a great artist as well. I would recommend any fan of good, traditionally inked work to run out and get themselves a copy of these editions. An artist can learn a lot from studying these. TheSpirit_IDW_2nd The IDW Artist Edition on EC comics is my least favorite of the ones I’ve reviewed, though, that Frazetta cover is an amazing work of art which one could study endlessly (it’s easily one of my favorite Frazetta pieces). I was really hoping this edition contained mostly collaborative work by The Fleagles, but that wasn’t the case. It’s still a top-notch volume where quality is concerned, but if you’re looking for lots of Williamson, Frazetta, and Krenkel, don’t look here. I think there was only one such collaborative story, but that isn’t really much in a volume this large. Wally Wood also isn’t represented here because his work was saved for another Artist Edition devoted entirely to him. Still, as I said, it’s a well-produced book. EC_IDW Regarding future IDW Artist Editions, what I’d really like to see is some work from Marvel’s Savage Sword of Conan magazine (from the 70’s) reproduced in this format. I really want to see Big John’s penciling with Alfredo Alcala’s beautiful pen and ink work. Can you imagine seeing the following pages reproduced at their original size in all of their splendor? alcalaconan5 Perhaps someone at IDW is already on to these and has plans for reproducing them in a future Artist Edition. One can only hope.

Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo 2014

A lot of my work is done under a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) which precludes me from posting such work publicly on my blog or elsewhere. This leaves me with little to post here. Consequently, every weekend I’m left scrambling to throw something quick together for a Monday morning post, and, being lazy as I can be, I decided that I’d use this Monday’s post to share my experience at Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo which I attended with my wife several weeks ago. So here I goes my rambling…


In my last post, I shared about the Rocket Men poster I did for the Comikaze Expo. Well, John Semper, the gentleman for whom I did the poster, suggested that I attend. While the San Diego Con is really enough pop-culture-convention-time for me, I figured it couldn’t hurt to check out the Spider-Man panel to say “Hi” to John in person, as well as check out this Expo which I’d never attended. The thing is, I really didn’t want to attend this show badly enough to purchase tickets, so I went on their website to register as a professional and try to acquire complimentary passes.

With the show being less than a week away, I really didn’t think I’d get in. Furthermore, the registration page indicated that it could take up to four weeks to be approved for professional status. As it happened, it only took a few days to get my professional status approved, and they offered me complimentary passes to the current show. That whittled my cost down to gas, parking, and lunch. Not too bad.

I went online to pre-order parking and, as I expected, parking for the convention center was sold out. Fortunately, there are surrounding lots which still had some available spaces, so I pre-ordered my parking. When my wife, Cristina, and I arrived downtown, the parking lots were not accurately marked, and as there were many little lots on the same block, we had to circle around and inquire at a few lots to find where we were supposed to park. When we finally found the right lot, it was full… Wait, huh? Isn’t that what pre-ordering tickets is meant to avoid? I suspect the persons of dubious character who were letting cars in were probably just doing their own parking business on the side. I was naturally bent out of shape at having to pay again to park. Anyway, we did the driving version of musical chairs, hoping we could squeeze into a parking lot somewhere before the music stopped. Fortunately, we found parking at a lot across the street of the Staple Center. As we drove into the lot, the attendant at the entrance was changing the sign and raising the cost to park another fin, so we just avoided the price-hike.

Comikaze02The convention floor of the Comikaze Expo was pretty full. I though the energy and buzz there was much larger than the Wonder Con in Anaheim. It actually felt like the San Diego Con, only with all the big-money booths absent (i.e., no big film studios or comic companies seemed to be present). We were only on the floor a few minutes, after which we headed upstairs to the Spider-Man panel to see John Semper talk about the series and announce the Rocket Men project. He also announced that the entire cast of the Spider-Man series committed to doing the Rocket Men series, so that’ll be interesting if the crowd-funding comes through.


That’s John Semper on the far right. Everyone else were voice actors on the 90’s Spider-Man animated series.

After the panel, Cristina and I went back downstairs and walked the entire floor. While the excitement of the show was there, I have to be honest in saying that most of the smaller exhibitors that interest me at San Diego were absent. The crowds were certainly enthusiastic, and there were lots of people in costume, but there wasn’t much that caught my eye at the booths. To be fair, I’m only referring to things that interest myself, so others might have a different opinion on that matter. I’m sure there was plenty to interest others. Because few booths interested me enough to stop in them, we pretty much were able to cover the entire showroom floor in a couple of hours.

Comikaze05One thing that I thought was really cool while we were walking the aisles is that they held a large panel with Stan Lee and various artists right on the convention floor, along the back wall. It was projected on giant screens so that people walking the aisles could watch it. I thought that was a clever way of letting people enjoy the panel without wasting half of their day in a line and having to crowd into a panel room. I wish there were something like that at the San Diego Con, though I realize that would cause them to lose precious exhibitor space.

We pretty much left after walking the convention floor. I didn’t have much interest in hanging around all day for the after-show party that evening. All in all, it was an interesting show. I suspect that in the future many film studios may switch to this show since it’s so much closer to Hollywood than San Diego. Still, I suppose it depends on how successful they continue to be. In the meantime, I still prefer the SanDiego Con over either this or WonderCon.

Here’s a recording of the Spider-Man panel…

Kid, Inc.

Back in 2009, writer of Kid, Inc. comic strips, Chuck Duffie, asked me to illustrate a few strips for him. I was working with existing characters, so I had to stay within the style guidelines already set by the previous artist. Here is one such strip I did. You can check out Kid, Inc.’s website for more creative works from Chuck Duffie and his creative family.


Sequential Storytelling

I’ve never wanted to do animation, because it seemed like one had to draw nearly the same thing over and over, with only slight changes between drawings. In all honesty, that seemed too tedious and uninteresting for my limited attention span.

Comics, on the other hand, allows for more progress from panel to panel, so it was something that appealed to me more than animating — though, if I had my druthers, I’d rather trim the fat even further and simply do an illustrated book. In any case, I’ve always found sequential storytelling an interesting enterprise.

Here’s a page from a comic I did some time ago which had very little dialogue or text and depended heavily on imagery to tell the story. Hopefully, I didn’t entirely choke in my attempt to express the story in pictures. Well, the writer was very happy with the work I did on her story, so at least someone was satisfied with my effort.


Comic Con 2014 – And More Pics

Bat-Man Texting

Texting the Joker


Sharknado – This was a clever costume

Bat-Girl Walking Dead

Comic Con 2014 – More Pics

I’ll just keep posting these throughout the week/weekend…


Sharknado seems to be on its way to becoming a cult classic.


Big toy companies have a big presence at the Con.


Film studios continue to eat up floor space at the Con as well.


Even babies were getting in on the act.

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Comic Con 2014 – Wednesday’s Show

The last two days were long and tiring, what with wading through the thick crowd of bodies on the convention floor of the San Diego Comic Con. Here are only a few of the shots I took. I’ll post more tomorrow.

ComicCon Gaslamp

We took a walk around San Diego’s Gas Lamp District adjacent to the convention center. As usual, the local retailers made the most of the Con with banners, posters, characters, decorations, and boosted retails prices to serve the 100,000+ attendees.

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Preview Night used to the be a more relaxing and less crowded day. Now it seems to be one of the most crowded days of the Con. The crowds were thick and sweaty.

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Hot Wheels had a large booth, complete with this Darth Vader-mobile. It was pretty cool.

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Marky Ramone of The Ramones was at a table selling still-shots (at $30 a shot) of an animated scene from The Simpsons in which he made a guest appearance. Comic Con – where old rockers go to die.

Better Late Than Never

Rats, I forgot to post something today. Well, here’s an old comic cover I did, sans the titles.