The Artist Post 3: Style

Truly great artists have there own unique style. From classic painters like Van Gogh and Picasso to modern comic artists like Scott McCloud and Obata Takeshi, anyone could look at a painting or panel and instantly see the artist’s unique lines, character design, color, and use of space. Even for beginners its important to start developing a style as soon as possible. It affects the way people view your work, and it can dramatically influence how your comics characters and environments are perceived.

As an example I’ll use two opposite comic series (both of which I’ve mentioned previously):¬†Bakuman, a modern Japanese manga by Ohba Tsugumi and Obata Takeshi, and Maus, a two part graphic novel series written in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s by Art Spiegelman. Both have unique styles that change how the world is viewed by the reader. Bakuman is drawn in a very modern, realistic, and crisp style. Lines are clean and thin, with vast spaces of white to give a smooth texture to the over all feel. Screen tones are used for shading, and everything has a very precise feel to it. Objects and backgrounds are drawn to look as real as possible, and characters all look more or less beautiful. The style can also show movement and expressions extremely well, with detailed eyes and faces to better show off expressions.

Maus is almost the exact opposite. Set in the darkest days of World War II, it recalls the story of Spiegelman’s father, Vladek, who survived the Holocaust in Poland. It has a much darker tone, and the art needs to reflect the despair and darkness of those years. Spiegelman did several things to do this. First, his lines are rougher and thicker, giving it a more chaotic feel. Second, screen tones are not present, and he relies on patterns and large spots of black to get shadows and texture. This eliminates a lot of white space, so the panels are darker and not as smooth as Bakuman‘s. His characters are a variety of crudely drawn animals, and their simple facial expressions add to the inhumanity of the whole story. Everything appears still and fixated, adding to the hopeless feel of the story.

If either of these artists had attempted to draw each other’s comic, it would not have worked because of competing styles. Bakuman¬†needs to appear clean and fresh, while Maus must keep its dark and oppressive feel. Both are great in their own right, and it is style that helped these comics to succeed.