A Word… On Craft

It has often been said that comics, as a medium, are lacking in the department of respect. There is no doubt of this truth, but nowhere is it truer than in the realm of “Fine Art”. There is no greater comic hater than a “true” artist. Usually it’s the stuffy ridiculous reason: “because it’s not art. It is simply masquerading as art.” Little do they realize the great effort, pain, and talent it requires to turn a good illustration. One must know their line weights, their composition, and of course their anatomy (or warped anatomy). Such small-minded folk truly require our wisdom.

I thought my art professor was just such a small mind thus I shed some wisdom and went about the task of forcibly educating her. She did not like this at all. My grades in her class have yet to heal. One day I simply asked her to her face what makes comics piss her off so much. She said, “To make a good bit of art you need good line weight, composition, and an understanding of warped anatomy.” “Comics have that!” I said back to her and she quickly asked, “Do they?”

I read my favorite web comics that day with a whole new perspective. She was right. Composition was there, but the other two were not. The art was plenty consistent on my very favorite strips, but that was about it. All this time I was on my own snooty high horse yet now, upon closer inspection, it appears to be a Jackass. I had spent my time validating the medium based on the art of a select few that drew well as opposed to a vast majority who did not.

I myself am guilty of settling for my current capabilities. “Look at your own cartoons” my teacher told me. “I see what you do in class and then I see these. You can do better than this. You ARE better than this. Act like it.”

It appears to me that if we wish our blessed medium to be taken more seriously we must do the same ourselves. Most artists have allowed their work online publish despite checkered mediocrity. Even Scott Kurtz and John Gabriel have admitted that their art is below the level they want. This is counter-productive to our task. We must no longer settle for what it is we are capable of now, but instead look to what it is we COULD be capable of soon. Boning up on skills takes real time and life has a nasty habit of getting in the way, but even so that is not a reasonable excuse for continued mediocrity. Comics are our craft and domain, but unless we make the time for our own development we lose the right to claim such personal ownership.

Artists, take a look at your craft. It’s good, but it could be better.
It should be better.
We ARE better.
Let’s act like it.


14 thoughts on “A Word… On Craft

  1. LOL!

    I think you\’re looking at the wrong comics. There are plenty out there with outstanding art.

    You also have to take into consideration that the \”print strips\” Are going for a steamlined simplifed style.

  2. This is exactly what I was looking for when we first started doing the podcast. I was looking for some real quality work and finding mostly gag strips which have taken iconization over presentation. The more I read them though the more I realized there\’s something more then just an anatomically correct strip but the message being conveyed. If I strip is meant to be funny then the art should be as goofy or dark as the joke.

    I think your art teacher is one of those that don\’t consider anything simple to be art. On our side I have only to point out Edvard Munch\’s \”The Scream\” to show there are many brilliant artist who believe there is more then being realistic.

  3. Oh My God! You are out of your tree.

    Your first problem (and your teacher\’s) is that you\’re comparing cartooning to fine art. The artistry in comic strips is the ability to ellicit an emotional response using an economy of language and imagery.

    You may as well complain that Hakui poetry isn\’t art because \’Dickens\’ is art and it\’s \’tons more words\’.

  4. As someone who creates their own comic (notice I said nothing of being an artist) I agree that you should always strive to be better. On the other hand though, some people, myself included, are not (and probably never will be) happy with their artwork. My artwork isn\’t that good, but sequential art isn\’t my background either. My background is in tattoo design, which has had the same arguement made about it not being art because it ends up on skin. I guess it all boils down to the old saying, \”art is in the eye of the beholder\”.

  5. I\’d like to refer to the case of Apples vs. Oranges.

    Comics aren\’t fine art first and foremost because they don\’t try to be. They\’re an entirely different medium. Comics have the story aspect, the characters need to be repeatable and the words have to be limited. Fine art doesn\’t have any of these limitations but it has it\’s own challenges.

    Personally, I don\’t think comics should try to be like fine art. They\’re two different worlds and we all know what happens when worlds collide. That\’s right, Powerman 5000 does a song about it and we don\’t need to hear anymore out of them.

    Of course your prof could just be jealous that a \”hack\” like Charles Schultz died a national treasure and she\’s stuck teaching. You can always reassure her she could be appreciated after she dies.

  6. noozer,
    I know that there are. I\’ve seen some of \’em. They rock!

    John Gabriel is what the artist from Penny-arcade calls himself.

    Dan Beeston,
    Fallen from my tree? That is a new expression. You make a fine arguement.

    I was not at all attempting to imply that comics needed to change into Michelangelo\’s David or into tremendously acurate forms of \”fine art\”. The streamlined simplification is really what I like. Gag strips that choose iconography over realism are what I enjoy the most. I cited Penny-Arcade and Pvponline because they are my two favorites and buisness wise are the msot successful. For me they are the gold standard of the web comic medium.

    I do not wish for those strips nor strips like them to add a bunch of anatomy or unnecesary sophistication. However, if you cannot draw your own characters in your own style in the pose you want (seen here Just scroll down) or if you are accused of not drawing anymore and simply cutting and pasting, Perhaps something is missing.

    There are TERRIFIC cartoons in which the artist has an EXCELENT sense of form, composition, balance, line, and so on. In short they have a sense for what makes \”fine art\” so damn fine.

    For examples please visit these guys\’ web sites:

    Stephen Silver
    John Kricfalusi
    J. A. Perkins

    I\’m not attempting to make any waves nor do I believe that Penny-Arcade and PvP are the best strips on the web. Just my personal favorites, and the most financially sucessful I am aware of.

    I hope this clears some things up.

  7. Should comics try to be fine art? This all depends on what the individual artist is going for. While fine artistry isn\’t a necessity for a strip to gain respect, it can be present in comics. We\’ve all seen what the guys at A Lesson Is Learned… can do.

    Regardless, I\’d have to guess most webcomics artist would say that they\’d like their art to be at a higher point than what they can currently do. I think a major factor here is the pressure to have a constant update schedule. Yes, I realize print comics have deadlines as well, but, if I\’m correct, the situation there is different in that they can finish a whole work, then go back and check things for consistency, layout, etc. Whereas I\’m sure many web cartoonists (myself included) work strip-to-stip, week-to-week, without really being able to go back and really \”perfect\” things.

  8. Comics are comics. Asking them to be the same as a Renoir is the same as a asking a cat to be a dog.

    BUT~ based on what we\’ve all learned to be \”good comics\” over the last hundred or so years, you\’re absolutely right in that a lot of webcomics are sub-par. But not all of them are sub-par in all respects. Some are stonger than others in regards to art. (And most everyone is a better writer anyway)

    The person who finally shows up with the complete package will… Well, they\’ll probably be hired by Marvel or some other big print company immediately and stop making webcomics.

  9. I sure do.

    Taking a look at Derek Kirk Kim, for example, they guy has barely touched his own website over the last two years. There are few other examples like Kibuishi and his wife Amy who have really placed webcomics on their back-burners because of their print commitments.

    Of course, everyone has different situations based on their creative goals. Some would try their best to \”never forget their roots\”, but I\’d abandon this \”community\” like a crack momma, and I\’m willing to bet you one shiny Canadian dollar there are others who feel the same way.

  10. The argument of \’fine\’ vs. \’other\’ in art terms is probably as old as the first caveman who drew a bison on the wall and his buddy said \”What\’s that supposed to be?\”

    Nevertheless, I think your point was well stated and applies to any artist not just webcomics. If you stop striving, you start getting stale and it shows in your work. Maybe not everyone notices it, but you will and other artists who strive will.

    There\’s nothing wrong with going for the easy laugh if that\’s all you\’re interested in and all you expect from your webcomic. After all, most of us aren\’t paid to create our comics and Real Life in all it\’s horrid glory can get in the way. But if you have higher aspirations, don\’t settle in anything you create 🙂

    My $0.02. Later!


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