A Brief Guide to Comic Book Art Styles


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In this brief guide, I have tried to cover a few examples of the many artistic expressions present in the medium of picture storytelling. From classic comic book heroes to the various stories you can find today, and the many other styles now made famous by independent presses and webcomics. This article on comic book art styles is far from a complete list, but I hope it can give you a general idea of ​​the variety of art techniques available today.

What do I mean by comic book art styles?

Comics as an artistic medium has evolved rapidly from its beginnings in the late 19th century with comic book collections. We see a diverse set of creators, a variety of art, and even the new digital art format, which has allowed many artists to expand their techniques and accessibility to the industry.

There are also many great resources if you want to learn more about the different art styles, such as the Research Center for Norman Rockwell Museum, which helped me put together a timeline and definition for most of the techniques I list below.

Here, I’m going to list some of the most defining art styles for comics, and how you can decide or even just explore which one you like best! Hope this helps you connect with writers and artists to develop your love of picture storytelling.

Classic comic

Within each artistic style subgenre, you will find a wide range of works. All of Family Circus To Garfield graced the Sunday papers. But for the sake of this article, they become examples of short art formats, so no need for three-dimensionality or extreme attention to detail. Most of those that fall into this category are influenced by the Platinum Age of Comics, which began in the late 19th century with the first serialized collection of comics. But we can go back to his influences from ancient Egypt and Greece (even though the two examples listed above were first published in the 1960s and 1970s, respectively) that define the format of the linear short story. used now for centuries.

A classic Garfield comic book panel to celebrate its 40th anniversary © Paws https://www.independent.co.uk/news/long_reads/garfield-40-anniversary-cartoon-strip-reading-comedy-a8406216.html
A classic Garfield comic book panel to celebrate his 40th birthday
© Paws

The golden age of superheroes

This is what we think of when we think of vintage comics. The first performances of Superman, Wonder woman, and other DC and Marvel Heroes come from this style, which became extremely popular in the 1930s until the 1950s, when mass production of comics began.

https://en.99designs.pt/blog/design-history-movements/history-of-comic-book-styles/

The now famous Batman meme Slapping Robin is a prime example of the Golden Age style. © 2020 DC Entertainment

The Silver Age

First issue of the Fantastic Four Comic 1961 https://www.marvel.com/comics/issue/12894/fantastic_four_1961_1

Now, in the post-war period, mass consumption prompted, and a significant part of that was new mediums such as comics. Still primarily aimed at young boys around this time, The Silver Age began to see a more complex drawing style with more use of three-dimensionality, detail, and shadows. Above all, it is heavily influenced by the new age of art in general that was rising with the counter-cultural movements in the 1960s. So you see here some very moving portrayals of characters and a lot of pop art influence, with bright colors, sometimes neon, and surreal, sometimes disturbing images. This is the first time that the question of artistic merit has entered the comic book conversation. The medium was already established as a profitable medium. Around this time, artists began to gain recognition for their work and attract an older audience because of it.

https://www.marvel.com/articles/comics/marvel-s-top-10-silver-age-monsters-have-been-scaring-us-for-decades
“Monstro” featured in Marvel Comics, the 10 Most Iconic Monsters of the Silver Age. © 2020 WONDER

The Bronze Age

Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man (1976) # 49 © 2020 MARVEL https://www.marvel.com/comics/issue/14749/peter_parker_the_spectacular_spider-man_1976_49

With an already established audience and artistic exploration, the next phase of comic book art style focused more on somewhat realistic storytelling, addressing real issues present at the time. With this, the art style became less surreal and more photorealistic, giving the character more human traits both visually and in writing, which would lead to a more cinematic feel. Spider Man is a prime example of this, with wicked alter-egos and heartbreak-driven stories and very realistic depictions of the New York City landscape, which connect the reader to the comic book world.

The death of Gwen Stacy in The Amazing Spider-Man © 2020 MARVEL https://www.marvel.com/comics/series/1987/the_amazing_spider-man_1963_-_1998
The Death of Gwen Stacy in The Amazing Spider-Man © 2020 MARVEL

The dark ages

In the 1980s there was a big change in the way we understand comics, both narratively and visually. The Dark Ages is so titled because of its emphasis on darker undertones, nighttime settings, villains, and more “dark” themes. Here we see the rise of the Watchmen comics and the Joker as the main character of The murderous joke, which paved the way for many other villain-focused comics. This art style featured a 1940s-inspired aesthetic, picking up lots of notes from Silver Age black thrillers, as well as psychological horror storylines.

Watchmen Panel © 2020 DC https://en.99designs.pt/blog/design-history-movements/history-of-comic-book-styles/ https://www.dccomics.com/graphic-novels/watchmen-1986 / watchmen-international-edition
© 2020 DC.

The rise of manga

As superheroes with dark stories and neon light stripes were all the rage in the United States, manga, a Japanese comic book style, began to gain popularity both in the country and around the world. The manga is characterized by its almost exclusively black and white style and its distinct use of dimensionality and shadows. The manga is really diverse and, to be honest, deserves an entire article devoted to the variety of artistic styles within the genre, ranging from surreal plots to overly realistic. If style is to be defined, Frederick Schodt, in his book Mangas! Mangas! The world of Japanese comics defines it as:

“[…] one of their [manga’s] the best accompaniments are to make the most unlikely subjects visually fascinating, such as man jong, cutting vegetables and even school exams. This is done by exaggerating actions and emotions to the point of melodrama and paying loving attention to the smallest details of everyday life.

Mangas! Mangas! The World of Japanese Comics by Frederik L. Schodt (2013)

Barefoot Gen panel vol 1 by Keiji Nakazawa.  A manga on the life of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima 1973-1974 http://cbldf.org/2013/09/using-graphic-novels-in-education-barefoot-gen/

Barefoot Gen panel vol 1 by Keiji Nakazawa. A manga about life through the atomic bomb in Hiroshima 1973-1974

The present

saga volume 1

Titled the Ageless Age by some sources, from 1993 and until today we see a diverse set of comic book art styles that don’t necessarily follow a specific set of inspiration. The comics range from classic superheroes to sci-fi fantasy like Saga, dark black and white horror like The walking dead, and the cartoon Scott pilgrim. You can browse any comic book catalog today and find a range of styles from Lumberjanes To Jinju ito. We live in the era of access and diversity in comics. Be sure to explore everything from classic superheroes to indie comics. There is something for every taste.

Scott Pilgrim Panel 2004-2010
Panel Lumberjanes 2014-present

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