The Art of Comics
If there’s one thing that’s been given the least importance in the art and design industry, it’s the comic book. Only an avid reader could tell you what a treasure trove of inspiration it is for designers and artists alike. A myriad of art styles, ordered into mind-bending panels, laid out so well that your eyes know exactly where to go. You look at them and wonder how they can say so much in such limited space. What is it, if not good design?
Growing up, I read a lot of comics, but my true appreciation for what they could do, sprung up during my time at Art School. I was sitting in an Art History class, asking myself why I needed to know so much about paintings by artists long gone. Sure, they’re beautiful works of art and the stories behind them, fascinating. But what would that knowledge do for me when I graduated? What would I do with what I knew about art through the ages?
It then dawned on me that I’d seen a lot of these styles and principles lending themselves to comic art over the years. They were traditional, yet keeping with the times, and perpetually evolving.
These are some of the artists and comics that really stood out to me for their amazing use of old art forms mixed with the modern.
Jim Steranko — Surrealism
Known for his work on several Marvel titles and also the creator of the iconic x-men comic book logo, Steranko’s work is unmistakably influenced by Surrealism. A style made famous by the likes of Salvador Dali and Andre Bréton, Surrealism stood out for it’s bizarre, dream-like scenes. Steranko’s seems to have derived inspiration from Dali’s work, characterised by warping or melting objects and literally bending the laws of physics. This gave his work an otherworldly feel and was great for alternate dimension scenes. Steranko also favoured optical art, or optical illusions in some of his work on the Nick Fury line. A character radiating energy would be rendered in lines that almost seemed to move when you looked at them. The way Steranko uses these influences with his native drawing style is what truly makes it his own.
Jae Lee — Renaissance
Jae Lee’s work stands out for his amazing sense of composition, not to mention clean and balanced layouts that echo the principles of the renaissance era. Two key aspects the renaissance were its triangular composition and sense of balance. By placing the key subjects within a triangle and keeping the surrounding area lighter and less filled, artists could paint multiple characters into the scene and avoid clutter. Jae Lee’s work follows the same principle, particularly in his Batman/Superman and Wolverine covers, where each character gets the right amount of attention and nothing is out of focus. Your eyes know exactly where to go.
Alex Ross — Realism
This man, is God. He also paints his characters like Gods. The realistic anatomy and play of light and shadow is what makes Alex Ross’ work fall under Realism. A style led by Gustave Courbet in the 1850s, it replicated nature as it is. No exaggerated forms, just true to life scenes and characters rendered in natural light. Ross’ sense of character posture echoes that of Greek sculpture, which was known for its idealistic realism, or the portrayal of the ideal human figure. The characters are given a god-like stature and are placed at a worm’s eye view, giving you the feeling that you’re looking up at something massive and powerful.
Alex Ross is one of the rare few to bring realism into comics. His use of brighter colours than traditional realism, is what makes it his own. Definitely a powerful style that will no doubt withstand the test of time.
Injustice: Gods Among Us — Modern Art (Escheresque Landscapes)
With quite the storyline, Injustice was created as a prequel to the video game of the same name. Superman’s moral compass goes haywire (yes, that’s all I can reveal), resulting in a massive rift within the superhero community. An epic battle takes place, set in Dr. Fate’s incredibly complex Tower of Fate, the layout of which is inspired by M.C Escher’s works of art. Escher was known for his exploration of symmetry and reflection using geometric objects. His sense of perspective gave the image a sense of infiniteness. Not only that, you always feel like you’ve spotted something new each time you come back to an Escher piece. There’s just so much to see! This panel from Injustice gave me the exact same feeling.
Frank Miller — Minimalism and Graphic Design
Simply put, Miller does so much with so little. His work on Sin City, is a lesson in Minimalism and could be an invaluable reference for graphic designers. You learn just how vital composition and placement are, in guiding your viewer to the right spots and creating the right mood. His brilliant use of black and white, a nod to the Film Noir era of movies, creates a sharp contrast, while conveying the right amount of intensity and emotion. Negative space IS the detail in his work. I also love how he breaks an object down to its basic form, rendering it as nothing but a silhouette, but you can still tell what it is. That’s a lesson in icon design right there! It’s also incredibly fascinating how he uses type as a panel breakdown, which adds even more to the situation.
Image comics — Modern Graphic Design
Image comics, to me, are a clear representation of how much comic art has evolved to fit the modern age. Initially dominated by the superhero and fantasy genre, Image soon branched out to include various genres, which allowed for a lot more experimentation. The new genres feature many memorable storylines with more relatable characters. Independent artists that worked with Image, favoured a more vibrant look for their covers and panels, inspired by current graphic design trends. The use of bold, contrasting colours help in focusing on the right areas. Another great reference for graphic designers for their eye-catching colour palettes, experimental typography, composition and the play of negative space.
A new age is upon us, where the comics revolution is gaining momentum and people are slowly beginning to accept that comics are more than just pop culture. Individuals in the creative line — both writers and artists, can take a cue from the fluid progression of storylines and how words and visuals blend so effortlessly together. Designers can learn so much from the composition of elements and perfectly matched typography, not to mention the interesting use of colours. The whole experience is nothing short of inspiring. Comics have so much to offer and it’s high time they’re pushed up the ladder and given their due as a form of art and design.
So if you ever feel the need to give your creative thinking a boost, might I suggest immersing yourself in a comic book? its guaranteed to blow you away!
— Anupama Nalinakshan, Experience Designer, Redd Experience Design