Sunday, March 02, 2014


In days 1 and 2 of this series, I tried to show examples of the visual language of drawing, which I think is absent from many of the comics currently embraced as "legitimate" art.  I've discussed the ability to notice revealing details such as hand gestures and facial expressions, the technical skill to capture them, and the ability to manage multiple elements interacting in complex ways. 

Before I go any further, I should emphasize that I am not talking about the mere ability to draw detailed, photographic pictures.  Details are just as likely to be a liability as an asset in a picture.  So it's time to talk about the importance of restraint in drawing.

In the following strip, Starr draws a conversation in the dark, between two silhouettes. 

You won't find any unnecessary details such as fingernails, buttons or folds, just flat geometric shapes until we arrive at the single expression that Starr needs: that eyebrow raised in doubt.   So the moon catches the character's face at that moment before returning to the shadows.

Artists with technical skills often find it hard to resist details, but there is no virtue in detail for its own sake.  Today we see many popular comics with highly detailed drawings that amount to little more than a calamitous blizzard of lines.  Unless an artist makes the choices necessary for prioritization, a drawing cannot cohere.

One reason I like Starr's drawings is his selective use of detail, his restraint of his great technical skill in the service of the picture.


Anonymous said...

I'm only speculating , but the originals of the last two illos probably don't share wallspace in your home next to Fuchs and Fawcett ?

Al McLuckie

Laurence John said...

David, this has to be one of the most common complaints among those who feel that the art of comics has deteriorated, yet the fact that superhero comics repeatedly churns out crowded, confusing, messy, ugly frames says more about that particular steroid-warped, inbred genre than the state of comics generally.

as Chris states in the last post there are numerous examples coming from other countries (especially France IMHO) where you'll see enough spareness, clarity, quiet moments etc. to restore faith.

scruffy said...

Would you then say that Frank Miller is a contemporary who understands this concept?

David Apatoff said...

Al McLuckie-- I can tell you're a real risk taker.

Laurence John-- Perhaps we should be focusing on those examples of clarity from France and elsewhere. I don't know enough about them to post anything here, but would welcome recommendations of both artists and web sites or blogs where the best work can be found.

scruffy-- I think Miller is a very strong story teller, and while he's hardly my favorite draftsman, I think his flat, high contrast designs which eliminate a lot of extraneous detail do understand this concept.

Bob McLeod said...

Sad to say, Leonard Starr would probably not get work at Marvel or DC today; certainly not in superhero comics, which are the bulk of their output. The editors are as much or more to blame than the artists, who are simply trying to give the editors what they want so they can get work.

Matt Triano said...

One interjection: the Perez/Ross painted wraparound anniversary cover peice is meant to be massive, complex, and a bit exploratory. There are countless examples of cluttered sequentials from modern draftsmen that I would argue illustrate the point more completely than the Crisis image.