Professional Practice: Comic Art Should Do More Than Look Good

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: what draws me to comics, and why I find enjoyment in the books I choose to read?

Comics are like any other media. Some are good and some are mediocre, some call to me from the shelf or screen and others just don’t hit me.

I’ll be the first to admit—coming from a background in art (and art being what drew me to comics originally), the artwork plays a big part in why I initially pick a book up. But it’s really a malleable reason for getting a comic, if I’m being honest.

Art might grab me initially, but if the story is weak, the art alone is just not enough to keep me picking up the book. And on the flip side of that, if the story is really engaging, a book with mediocre artwork might still grab me.

But what I have found really surprising is that sometimes, if the story is strong, the artwork will grow on me until I come around and appreciate it. It’s such a strange phenomenon when that happens.

A couple examples:

Head Lopper by Andrew MacLean

I’ll admit—when I first saw this on the shelf, I was just not impressed. The work seemed a bit too simple and just didn’t work for me on a visual level. It seemed that some of the artistic choices were detrimental to the visual storytelling. Almost like Andrew was running through the artwork too fast and taking too many shortcuts. But it just kept grabbing my eye on the shelf. And once I read it and the more I read it, the more I started to appreciate the work. I could see that what I thought were shortcuts were deliberate decisions on the part of the artist. It also helps that the story is very engaging, and the world that Andrew created is vast and detailed. Without that, I admit, I probably wouldn’t have given the book a chance. I’m glad I did.

Scales & Scoundrels by Sebastian Girner & Galaad

Upon initially seeing this book on the shelf, I thought it leaned a little too far toward the cartoony for my tastes. But I kept finding myself flipping through the issues when I stopped by the comic shop. Something about the colors drew my eye to the book. And I love fantasy, so anything fantasy has a good likelihood of getting my attention. I eventually decided to give it a shot. The story grabbed me, and over the course of the series, I really came to appreciate the book. Part of what I initially found off-putting, again (and I’m starting to detect a pattern here), was that it seemed that some of the artwork was just not as finished as it could be. That it might be rushed (and honestly, with comics especially, if you want to hit your deadline, there is some legitimate need to rush). Reading the book, though, I found myself continually impressed with the imagination in the book, and the style really grew on me. I was sad when the creators stepped back from the book, but I totally understand how hard it is to make a living in comics. I’ll be here when or if they make more.

Scales & Scoundrels Definitive Edition Book 1: Where Dragons Wander

I think, at least for me, what draws me to comics and storytelling, in general, is the ability to take the viewer to unimagined places. This is also what draws me to fantasy and sci-fi artwork as well—being able to travel to places unknown or seeing the kinds of things that don’t actually exist in real life. That could be people, places, things, or situations that just couldn’t exist outside of illustration or fantasy.

More specifically, the things I tend to look for in media (to enjoy and to publish through Outland) are:

  • A sense of the fantastic. Something that transports me out of reality and shows me a glimpse of something new or different.
  • Scale. I absolutely LOVE a sense of vastness. Something incredibly massive or large versus something small. It could be visual or it could be a struggle that the protagonist faces.
  • Worldbuilding details. Armor. Lost technology. Ancient ruins. Mountains. Clouds. Organic. Forests. Landscapes. Cityscapes. Sideburns. Kaiju. Wrinkles. Rocks. Pillars. Lonely. Shadow and light. Leather. Roman noses. Worldscapes. Empires. Pouches. Antihero. Redemption. Experience. Broken. Mystical weapons. Age. Trees. Muted. Tattoos.
Artwork from Outland Entertainment's Ithaca

I think that’s a big part of what I love about comics. Comics can transport me to places I’ve not been and tell stories unlike anything I’m familiar with. They can be so much fun when done right.

Artwork from Outland Entertainment's Free Mars: Riot Girls

This is why I love reading and making comics. And you can see it through Outland's projects, especially Cullen Bunn's revival of Dragonring with art by Shannon Potratz, David Pauwels & Nicolás R. Giacondino's Free Mars: Riot Girls, and an oldie but a goodie, Ithaca.

Artwork from Outland Entertainment's Dragonring

Basically, whether or not the art is "good" or "finished" isn't nearly as important as where the art takes you. Does it transport you to another world? Does it stretch your imagination? Does it immerse you in the story?

So if you're a comic artist, consider how your art is storytelling. Get all the rules down. Make it look good. Etc. But make sure it takes the viewer somewhere.

Would you like to know more about the indie publishing field? Check out these blogs:

Why Does It Take So Long for the Next Book?-- A Look at the Publishing Process
Creating Content to Promote Your Publication
Why Worry About Style?

Jeremy D. Mohler is an illustrator, creative director, college instructor, and the founder of Outland Entertainment.

Jeremy’s art has been featured in projects by companies including Marvel and IDW Comics, Blizzard Entertainment, Goodman Games, Inhabit Media, Upper Deck, and Learning A-Z. He has directed projects and installations for Amazon Studios, Moving Pictures Media Group, The Canadian History Museum, and the History Colorado Museum.

As an educator, Jeremy has taught courses including Drawing for Design, Storyboarding, Making Comicbooks & Zines, Character Design, Background Design, and Visual Communications at the Art Institutes International: Kansas City and Kansas University.

Find Jeremy across the web!
FB @jeremy.d.mohler
IG @JeremyDMohler
Twt @JerMohler

Jeremy D. Mohler
Founder of Outland Entertainment

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