We’ve talked about this before, but it can’t be mentioned enough: if you want to learn to illustrate comic books, don’t just learn how to draw comics, learn how to draw!
Turn off your computer and grab some paper and pencils.
Computers and drawing tablets are useful tools for comic book illustration, but just as many people have never learned to solve math equations without a calculator, many artists working in the field today have not actually developed the ability to draw comics.
Technology should be used to enhance your creative ideas, not do all the work.
Our culture is geared toward finding short cuts. From performance-enhancing substances in sports to software that corrects musical pitch, reliance on external things that tweak performance is becoming the norm.
Unfortunately, the comic book industry is no different, and as a result, a lot of modern comic book art looks beautifully engineered but emotionally empty. Instead of a rich immersion into an artist’s imagination you get characters and environments that are repetitive and sterile.
The use of 3D modelling software and environmental design programs like Sketch-up have allowed anyone with a tablet to create scenes and characters that are then simply traced and rendered into a digital page. Many of the impressively perfect cityscapes that you see in the backgrounds of your favorite comics are just that, digital tracings over photos or models. This is also true of many of the characters in today’s comics. It’s not uncommon to see identical poses in multiple comics because the artists have used the same software models.
When you can simply trace over real people and scenery, there’s no need to learn principles of drawing like perspective and anatomy.
Here’s the problem with using software to draw
The idea of the ‘fantastic’ is getting lost to some sort of structured realism, but comic books aren’t supposed to be real! They’re supposed to be extreme, fantastic, and over the top. That means art drawn from imagination, not traced from photos or models.
When the art comes from a variety of traced objects pulled together into scenes, the possibilities of those vibrant worlds get lost in too-perfect lines and shapes. You’ll never get an amazing scene like the one below by tracing a bunch of elements and putting them together.
Cities were almost characters in themselves when artists like Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby and Brian Bolland drew them.
Now they’ve been generalized into a series of repetitive tracings of aerial views of New York or Chicago. Compare the cities shown here to those in many recent books.
The dynamic characters and creatures as illustrated by artists like Bernie Wrightson, Jose Gonzales and Nestor Redondo have been largely replaced by wooden, staged panels of soulless pin-up poses.
Get the magic back
Free yourself from the notion that every brick in each building has to look real. Yes, details are important, and the characters and environment should be believable within the world you’ve created, but the artificial perfection that tracing renders isn’t your goal.
Turn away from your screen, close your eyes and imagine the extreme, the indescribable, the impossible. Then draw it onto your paper. It doesn’t always have to make sense. It’s not a blueprint, it’s a comic book!
Take the time to learn the principles of drawing. Learn anatomy. Learn perspective and relative proportion. Learn styles of shading to represent different textures. Creating good comic book art by drawing is far more satisfying than tracing over a photograph and claiming it as art.
Pencils, brushes, paints and, yes, your computer are all tools to be used in creating your wildest tales, but they’re tools to express your creativity, not a substitute for it. Just remember that the greatest tools you have for creating amazing comics are your imagination and inner vision.
Do you want to take your creativity further?