The current disregard for good drawing in comics seems to stem from at least three unfortunate trends:
First, many people have devalued pictures because they believe the words or concept are most important.
|Doonesbury was so smart, its bad drawing seemed charming. Since that time, many cartoonists who aren't nearly as smart as Garry Trudeau have tried to claim his same license.|
One has to assume that these fellows would be laughed out of the literary guild if they ever made such baseless claims about writers. But when artists abandon any pretense of objective standards, they open the floodgates for any moron to make bold claims with impunity. No wonder words seem more important than pictures to today's audiences.
Second, some people argue that "good" drawing might interrupt the rhythm and smooth flow of sequential art.
Third, many people believe that newspapers no longer provide the space for anything but simplified, dumbed down drawing in comic strips. And it's true, comic strips no longer have room for the visual spectacle of Prince Valiant, Flash Gordon and Terry and the Pirates.
Still, these arguments don't justify the lackluster drawing in so much of today's web comics, graphic novels and other sequential art.
As Exhibit A, look at what the talented cartoonist Wiley Miller, who knows how to draw and cares about quality, is able to squeeze into today's compact and simplified comic strip space:
Each panel above is infused with its own creative choices; each drawing of the Titanic is stretched in fun and different ways. Each panel is explored from a different angle.
Miller proves that an artist can still find room for observation, inspiration and creativity in today's slimmed down comic strips.
Note that even the icebergs benefit from the variety in Miller's line (as opposed to the monotonous line that haunts so many of today's strips):
Nothing in Non Sequitur is drawn on autopilot. Miller isn't scared to give his readers more of a visual challenge-- and more nutritional content-- than Garfield.
As another example of what is sacrificed by the new attitudes, take a look at this delicious sequence by Joe Kubert:
Pay attention to the creative choices in the next blockbuster panel: Kubert tells us about the height of the creature by imaginatively having the tentacles come down from the top of the panel rather than slither along the ground. (And note, Kubert doesn't stoop to using a simple profile view!) He also tells us about the depth and bulk of the creature without spelling it out in words or even showing it explicitly, just by placing those strong shadows at the top of the panel where a lesser artist wouldn't have dared to put anything. He tells us about the nature of those suckers by the way he exposes them with the deft curvature of the tentacle at the bottom of the page, showing us a sample framed against the white background. And throughout the whole drawing, Kubert's powerful brush work remains in full control of the values (lightness or darkness) of the elements of the picture. None of this has to be mapped out in words, nor could it be conveyed as effectively in words. Kubert depicts it in instinctively and we understand it intuitively.
These are the kinds of pleasures of sequential art that played a large role in making comics a credible art form to begin with. Where is the web comic or graphic novel today with art that compares? And where will the credibility of the medium be a generation from now?
Why does this matter to me? Comics were derided for many years, but eventually earned the grudging respect of the world as a legitimate art form because "good drawing" was at the heart of the accomplishment by Herriman and McCay, by Raymond and Caniff and Foster, by Kelly and King and Drucker and Schulz and Watterson and Thompson and a hundred other artists who worked their asses off. Sequential art would not have earned space in museums today if these previous generations of artists believed that "Good drawing gets in the way of good comics."
However, now that sequential art is in museums, adorned with Pulitzer prizes and glittering trophies, many people seem eager for a piece of that status at a discounted price. Trophies from writers who don't know or care much about pictures can't preserve the status of the art form forever. Equity built up over time also erodes over time.
A century of "good" sequential drawing behind us proves that good drawing amplifies and empowers concepts, rather than "getting in the way of them."