Comics and The Power Of Style

A column article, Mission: Professional by: Steven Savage

Comics are a curious medium, from classic books to manga to webcomics. They come and go, rise and fall, return, and go away, but there's just so many out there. If you're truly a lover of comics as an art and literature form, you know how broad the amount of content out there is.

Comics come and go, artists come and go, and the technology behind them changes. Printing has changed, delivery has changed. Finished pages and test art fly across the internet. Comics are read on devices that were science fiction a decade ago.

Into this comes the aspiring comics artists who probably look at all of this and wonder how they stand out in this maze of content and technology.

Now the dismal truth of all of this is that artistic skill is not the most important thing to success in comics, I'd wager - I'd say it makes up no more than 50% of an artists chances for success. Self promotion, good marketing, the right connections, good planning - all of those are needed to succeed.

However in that 50% of artistry, lifework, color, and creative genius is one thing that does stand out, one thing that has not changed, and one thing that is valuable to making a career of a comic artist.

Your own style.

Quick, name the traits of your favorite artist's works - because if you take a moment to think of them you'll quickly realize how effective they are. Phil and Kaja Foglio's whimsical styles in Girl Genius are their own. Alex Ross' strange and unsettling real cover art can stick in your mind. Eiichiro Oda's style stands out from Toriyama, who influenced his style.

Style is not about being good per se - many brilliant artsts draw things that are not realistic, are overblown or odd. Style is having a unique way of doing your art and characters that is yours - and is highly memorable. Your style may even have odd but amusing flaws or tropes you can't escape from - but are uniquely yours and even give your art flavor.

Some people are generic artists, no style, no unique features, nothing that is truly there's. They may be good, they may go far, but they are not memorable. How many comics have you read where you can't remember the artist that worked on it? The artist may not be bad - there's no edge, no something special.

Style, being an expression of a person, adds a human context, almost a unique language of its own brought by the artist. Just like singers have their own special sounds and voice and intimations, so do artists.

That style is an important edge in todays market:

First, it brands you. That unique style - for good or ill depending how you engineer it - makes you memorable. You stand out, which lets you be remembered by fans, by potential employers, in your marketing tools for your site, etc. It may even be a source of humor - I recall fanatic fans of Todd McFarlaine who loved his work, but also joked about the bizarre contortions he'd put his characters through.

Secondly, it's your edge to find a place for you. Your unique style means that there's something other people can't do. If you find a niche or place where your unique style fits, you're going to be harder to unseat.

Third, its your protection from duplication. Your unique style will mean its harder for people to duplicate what makes you unique, and thus marketable - unless they go and deliberately try to.

Fourth, its your testimony to your work. You have this unique style that makes you you. You have cultivated this over time. You have made it yours. Having that style that stands out says you have put in a lot of effort.

Fifth, in the years to come I expect to see more and more comics done by computer graphic technology - including comics by people without actual drawing skills. Your unique style will make you stand out if CGI comics start becoming more and more feasible.

Having your own style is a unique advantage. In fact in an age of high technology, that unique artistic style is an even bigger edge, from letting you stand out in a sea of websites to making something people can't easily duplicate.

It's worth your time to develop.


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