About Comic Styles

No, I don't know what this picture is supposed to stand for either

Recently (Tuesday, February 7 2012), Collateral Damage Studios posted on their Facebook wall a short rant by member Haimerejzero regarding the graphic illustration market as a whole.

Find it on Facebook here.

I’d like to say a few things about this issue.

Because it’s ridiculously long and I have no intention of copy-pasting the entire paragraph here (I’ve tried to find a blog that I could link but apparently there is none), I will just address two points that I’d like to talk about, namely:

  • Style copying
  • The fundamental difference between the origin of Western and Eastern styles
Let me first lay down the groundwork. I’m dealing with illustrations as a whole here, and attempting to view it from a third-party perspective. Naturally, I maintain a greater proficiency in identifying the nuances of the Eastern style, given how I’ve chosen to dedicate my time to pursuing Eastern creations rather than Western ones.
Do not, however, let that trick you into thinking that I will give a biased viewpoint. I was trained for two years in art critique, and I am going to use it.
I must disclaim, however: The tone of this post will be angry. The reason for this is because I have spent the last two days reading The Fountainhead, and being the easily influenced being I am and that book being near the top of my list of “Books You Should Never Read to Maintain Any Semblance of Faith in Humanity” somewhere in between Atlas Shrugged and Catch 22, I am now in a rather standoffish mood. It may not be entirely coherent or cogent as I think I usually am, but I still hope you will read it in its entirety.
Second disclaimer: This is ridiculously long.
It appears to be a catgirl with an apple on her head.

Because this post is long, draggy and rather harsh in tone, here is some Kantoku to make everything better.

1. Style Copying

To be honest, one of my biggest peeves nowadays is seeing an artist’s style, completely and utterly reproduced by another hand. I personally have nothing against one or two imitations (indeed, I have some in my gallery myself), but when a person’s entire gallery comprises entirely of purposefully-drawn carbon copies of other artists’ work, I get angry. There’s obviously no personality, no attempt to create something of his own, merely copying for the sake of views and for the sake of seeing less able people praise him for his “talent in drawing”. Copying blindly is not talent. Copying blindly is being a printer.

If I will reference you to the post, Haimerejzero quotes members of the industry in saying that copying makes them “feel disgusted” and how it can be recognised “from a mile away”. This is taken to the extreme in referring to Eastern comic styles, which are all lumped together in one big mishmash labelled “anime-manga style”.

This makes me even angrier.

Of course, this may seem self-contradictory. Above, I said I hated style copiers. Below, I quote how industry members say they hate them too, and then I say it makes me mad. Why get mad at them when what they say agrees with my point of view?

Because each artist (or should I say illustrator) has chosen his own style to follow, and if he chose a predecessor to base his own style on, I say good luck, hope you go far with it.

The reason why illustrators are copied is because their work is good. If their work were to be mediocre and the style jaded, they would not even be famous enough to be copied, let alone for anyone to want to do so. Fairy Tail‘s Hiro Mashima obviously took stylistic cues from One Piece‘s Eiichiro Oda; Okemeken, in drawing the manga for Hentai Ouji to Warawanai Neko, obviously took his style from Kantoku. What they did, however, was take that style and make it their own; make it big, make it popular, make it known.

Every illustrator is, without a doubt, influenced by people before him. My personal style is the amalgamation of seven years of Eastern comic artists, Western comic artists and real life counterparts. Within its lines you can see the influence of Eastern illustrators like Ken Akamatsu, Kantoku, Shigenori Soejima, Takeuchi Takashi and the dozens of other artists past and present whose comics I have read and whose artworks I have seen. There is also influence from illustrators I personally know like mushopea, who started me off on the whole Copic mess. Other Western artists from way back, when I was just starting out on comics and my style was more Western than anything else, also put me on a track to my current standing.

The result? Something not quite belonging to anyone in particular, but still having a stylistic semblance of everyone who influenced it.

In other words, my style. And this is why I hate people who say they hate people who copy styles.

I'd play her cello anytime

2. The Fundamental Difference between Eastern and Western styles

This doesn’t quite draw away from the fact that if you’re a fan of manga, you’re a lot less likely to show it openly than a person who’s equally as much a fan of the Western style of things. This, in addition to the fact that while many call the Eastern style “bland” and “generic” and “generally all looking the same”, the same is not often used to illustrators of the Western style.

Some argue against this. They say that Western illustrators are the ones giving the comments, and that precisely because they draw in the Western style, they are unable to understand how the Eastern styles differ from each other.

Balls to everything. I stand on the East side of things, and personally, the Eastern style of comics is a whole stinking pile of sameness, and nothing is going to change that.

The reason for this is the original business model used to push out comics. While the Western model focuses itself around the idea of the comic (or, if you like it, the graphic novel) as an art unto itself, the Eastern model focuses on the idea of the comic as a commodity to be purchased and consumed by the average man.

Western graphic novelists and comic book artists are celebrities in their own right. They give talks, they hold press conferences, they take liberties in what they choose to write and draw. The number of companies are few but huge, and they take pride in creating, in-house, huge collaborative works that combine the skills of multiple people. What this results in is every person involved trying to stand out from the crowd, from the story to the penciller to the inker to the letterer to the colourist, trying to reach for the fame and glory that awaits the ones that stick out the most.

Western graphic novels therefore showcase a wide variety of ideas and styles, with the same series potentially showing a huge difference going from one chapter to the next (I personally recommend The Sandman by Neil Gaiman for a lucid demonstration of this in effect). However, what this means is that the market for Western graphic novels is limited; in their quest for individuality, the Western comic market has developed a kind of literary quality, turning it into a kind of art auction rather than a place for common satisfaction. Add to this the high resistance to initial startup due to the extreme length of various comic book series, and you have a recipe for limited distribution.

Eastern comic artists, on the other hand, are treated by companies strictly as business. Everything is decided by money, by views, by ratings, by cold, hard statistics. Eventually, this results in people going by the path of least resistance, taking popular styles, popular story types, popular character models, tweaking them slightly to create a semblance of originality, then pushing it as best they can.

Consumers of Eastern comics, therefore, have a wide variety of works to choose from by many different artists, all pandering enough to the common population to make the market an economic powerhouse. It is all but an illusion of choice, however; dig deep enough below the surface and eventually the fact that many of the stories and styles share the same heart will be revealed.

Western artists are like the Howard Roarks of the illustration world; Eastern artists, the Peter Keatings. The first may stand out from the rest and be different, but the second is the one that brings in the cash.

Dutch angles are the best, don't you think

Final Words

This has been a rant on the industry brought to you by a Carillus in what can only be described as a “no faith in humanity” mood. It will pass eventually. Once again, for any clarifications, please do state them in the comments below.

About Carillus

"Any sufficiently advanced application of locupletative language is indistinguishable from writing magic."
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9 Responses to About Comic Styles

  1. Azure says:

    I can relate to the entire post. I still often get the impression that in comics, illustrations or even animations, here in Asia we’re mostly pushing for the money whereas in the west, I guess you could say that its more for the “art” of it *money still matters of course*.

    It amuses me at times how mangaka and their assistants churn out chapters weekly and monthly and anime gets updated regularly on a weekly basis whereas it could take ages for a new comic issue even with all the inkers, illustrators, colorists and authors working and up to months for a new episode in a cartoon to be aired (young justice s1e19 *cough* e18 aired in november *cough*); and even then, the CG, lightings and cell shadings are done so much more better.

    Knew mushopea too, though she wasn’t the one who got me into copics…

  2. Ruri Neko says:

    spent all that time reading about this. in the end all it came down to after reading all that is… who gives either way? We draw because we enjoy it. Nobody could spent years drawing something if they don’t enjoy it to a certain extent. Western, Eastern, Original, Copied Styles…etc. In the end it’s what the artist himself makes of what he did, who are we or anyone else to judge if you had fun doing it?

    now making a profit out of it is the big issue. Regarding that, things are too complicated that I doubt I can give either side a fair judgement. I think the easiest way to go at this is just do what you feel is right morally and be respectful to others’ art. We’ll never be able to enjoy anything if we’re constantly bound by what others’ negative critiques. (I should apply that more to myself as well.)

    though personally, my experience school-wise on how people treats anime as a “style” is exactly the reason I developed a complex about ever showing what I like to draw to others. in the end, things can really only be appreciated on the internet where tastes varies greatly and isn’t limited by culture is what I believe.

    All that aside, goes back to drooling at Kantoku’s illustrations…

    • Carillus says:

      The problem with artists is that not everyone enjoys doing what they’re doing. Some are doing it solely for the sake of being recognised. Personally, I can’t find any form of happiness or fun in copying someone else’s work, and many people I know don’t either, so I don’t see how a person who dedicates his entire portfolio to copying works is having much fun doing so.

      The rest, copying styles (not works, mind you) and Eastern and Western or whatnot, yes, I do agree with you – as long as the person likes it, has fun with it, it’s all well and dandy, and it’s not for me to judge. Physical quality, yes, it can be judged, but style-wise, I have nothing to say.

      It’s always good to listen to critique, whether good or bad, because what matters most is usefulness. If you take a step back, detach yourself from your work and examine the critique that you get, it’s easy to separate the useful critique from the useless ones. Things like “I like the hand” or “It’s good :D” are useless. Others like “You should do something about those crappy lines” or “What’s with the shadows under the arm, it looks like shit” are useful. Positive or negative are unimportant – it is whether they help you to improve that counts.

      Improve past a certain point and the number of stupid remarks drop drastically. So keep going.

      And yes, Kantoku is <3.

  3. Adeeb says:

    I replied Collateral Studio’s facebook post and I’ll kind of repeat what I mentioned there. Everyone can do what they want eastern, western, copied, grandmother’s style or what not… as long as they have fun. But only when they start to take things seriously to cater to the “businessmen”, things are different.

    The eastern market is so business driven and so saturated there is not option to but to standout from the crowds of talent. So copying another artist is fine to learn and explore one’s own style but when it comes to sending out that portfolio to get a job that pays the bills, it can only get you so far. You can be popular and get fans cuz your copied style maybe popular. But in the end, you’ll be that artist “that is like “. Yes, you can call it your own but you as a person is different from everyone else in the world so you definitely have something unique to offer than just copy someone else entirely. So as an artist, explore yourself and you’ll be surprised how far you can go and how much more you have to offer to the world. Even to this day, I am influenced and even I have copied other people’s style of work to some degree. I hope someday I can evolve and be a better artist who can standout on his own. 🙂

    • Carillus says:

      I still believe it’s okay to start off with copying. And as for the “artist that is like” bit, well, no, not really. Once again I refer to Hiro Mashima, who copied from Eiichiro Oda; he already has a pretty huge following of his own, and it’s not from the “artist that is like” crowd either. It may have started out as that, but a group evolving into something else is always a possibility. It’s one way to achieving your own style. For a more classical example, you could refer to Caravaggio, who started out as one of many period painters but gradually created a style of his own (basically the noir of the Classical period).

      You can start off catering to businessmen. You just have to remember that at some point, you’re going to have to be true to yourself, or you will never break the mold.

  4. Balloon Thief says:

    That was an interesting article. I liked the reference to Roark and Keeting. Funny how some “creative” industries seem to fuel more creativity than others. Or maybe that’s the wrong way to look at it. Congestion of these markets must also be a contributer to this problem. Though it’s debatable if you can even call it a problem. Let me take television for example. Now there have been plenty of television shows that have been innovative. The sitcom wasn’t around one hundred years ago but after the idea was out there people exploited(that’s probably the wrong word) the formula. When each new tv season is upon us, we can’t help there being a handful of sitcoms on the ballet. Oh well. I guess the subject of creativity is more of a philisophical issue.

    • Carillus says:

      The issue with creativity is that modern society demands quick fixes. Development times have shortened, work volume has increased, people are pushing out products faster than ever. Technological improvements have increased the pace at which products can be rolled off the line, but you can’t make people think faster. Production times are shortened, but development times are shortened by equally as much. Thus the ideation process suffers.

      This is the problem with a fast paced market. This is the reason why people can’t expect the crazy inventions and innovations of yesteryear. Now, it’s all about small, incremental tweaks, pushed out rapidly and in great numbers.

      When a company stops being so utterly concerned about the bottom line and meeting the next financial quarter’s targets, that is when it is able to produce something of surpassing quality. But the companies that can do this are few and far between.

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