Growing up, John Romita Sr. was my favorite artist. His work on Spider-man, with its sleek and beautiful linework, was inspiring. He’s one of the most effective storytellers that’s ever worked in the industry. He also gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever received. The story about that is in this post about drawing. Look for it partway down.
Will Eisner is another. His seminal work on The Spirit first appeared more than 75 years ago and still makes most comic books pale in comparison. His noir cinematic layouts and perfect pacing allowed Eisner to tell more story in 8 pages each week than many comics can manage in a full trade paperback.
If the focus is on art alone, Luis Garcia Mozos is perhaps the finest illustrator to have worked in comic books. Place Mozos’ Nova 2 artwork beside that of any other comic book. It outshines even the other industry greats.
My work looks different from the art of those I admire, and yours should too
Bernie Wrightson, John Cassaday, Richard Corben, Lou Fine, Alex Raymond, Hal Foster; I love them all – and my work looks exactly like none of them. And that’s as it should be!
In this age of clip art, Sketch-up, widespread availability of graphics software and homogenized advertising visuals, comic books (especially independent comic books) offer one of the greatest places for creators to develop an individual style.
Comic books are a place where an artist’s visual personality has the opportunity to be matched to the strengths of the story he/she is telling.
As with any creative trade, it’s rare to fall into a recognizable style immediately. As an artist you are always evolving, but after a time there will develop elements in your work that will resonate with readers and mark the work as yours.
How do you get to the point where you have a strong individual style of comic art?
Swiping is exactly as it sounds. Look at the work of those artists you admire and adopt the elements of their style that make them most appealing to you. This is how everyone starts out, so don’t feel dirty about it.
Early in their careers, Bill Sienkiewicz drew like Neal Adams. David Finch had similarities to Marc Silvestri. John Romita Jr.’s Spider-man looked very similar to the look his father John Romita Sr. created twenty years earlier.
Most artists began their careers trying to mimic the art of their personal favorites. Striving to be like those whose work began your interest in the field is only natural.
Don’t get stuck in this phase
Attempting to draw exactly like Jim Lee or Jason Fabok or David Finch isn’t a goal in itself. Swiping gives you good practice and helps you learn various techniques and grow as an artist.
However, if you’re trying to establish yourself as an artist in your own right, with your own style, you must identify what you like about your favorite artists and which elements of their work you’d like to develop further in your own, not just copy what they’ve done.
The main problem with trying to match someone’s style is that you will never be as good at it as the originator.
If you were asked to study a book intently then write the book word for word afterwards, it would be nearly impossible to rewrite the book verbatim. You’d certainly remember the basic ideas, but recalling every sentence would be unlikely. And why would you want to? That book has already been written and that story has already been told.
Copying an artist is much the same thing. You may be able to capture many of the characteristics an illustrator uses but you can never duplicate the development process they went through that makes their style natural to them.
At best, you’ll always be less than the artist you are attempting to copy; you’re essentially the comic book equivalent of a cover band!
Discover the wide variety of comic art styles from other artists
The rich history of comics makes it easy to get past the roadblock of idolizing and imitating a single creator.
Researching old comics is fascinating. Finding artists that you’ve never heard of before or looking at comics that were drawn a hundred years before you were born provides a range of styles and techniques that you couldn’t imagine. It’s almost impossible to not find dozens of illustrators whose work will hypnotize you.
- Winsor McCay created astonishing worlds for Little Nemo in Slumberland beginning in 1905.
- George Herriman’s, Krazy Kat (1913-1944) has never been stylistically matched.
- Jack Kirby changed comics with his raw power in storytelling from the 1940’s through to the 1980’s.
- Jim Steranko brought Pop Art into comics mainstream in the late 1960’s.
- Todd McFarlane’s dark and heavily rendered style from the 1990’s still permeates comics today.
Look into all the fantastic work that has preceded you. This will help you understand the medium you’ve chosen to work in and get you past being a knock-off of a single artist. Over time, you will absorb styles and techniques which will form your own distinct style.
Be Comfortable Being Different
One of the hardest things about being an artist is to accept yourself.
It’s easy to fall into the trap that if your artwork doesn’t look like everything else out there that it’s not professional — that it’s not good enough. Or that if you don’t fit the profile of the ‘boys club’ still prevalent in the comic book industry you won’t be able to break in.
These are the things that contribute to your personal style:
- Studying the work of others and applying their techniques
- The lessons you’ve learned from art classes or other technical training
- Your personal background and life experiences
- Your unique take on visual communication
Nobody else has your particular combination of these elements, and that makes you original.
That translates to your artwork. It’s your distinct layouts, line work, faces and environments that will make you stand out. Work to make those elements your own.
Who knows? Maybe one day future comic creators will be swiping from you!
Find out more about how to develop your own comic art style, plus other topics that will help you in your comics career. Join the members hub now for free.