Posts Tagged ‘photo-referencing’

Peanut Gallery


Friday, June 4, 2010

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If you head down to the comic shop this week, make sure you pick up a copy of the free Jonah Hex comic. Why? So you can see for your very eyes how photo-referencing has taken all the fun, gesture and action out of comics.

Exhibit A: Here’s a panel where a kid is getting smacked in the face. Look at that movement! Isn’t incredible how it really feels like the action is occurring? So realistic!

Exhibit B: Just look at the FORCE at which the hand with the gun swoops through the second panel and clocks the guy’s head! Wow!

Exhibit C: Another amazing action sequence! See the knee to the face and the recoil of the victim! The feeling of motion just sweeps me off the page.

Anyone who’s read this blog long enough knows how I feel about heavy duty photo-referencing. Is it legal that so many mainstream comic books have shed cartooning in favor of such stiff stage acting? I know, I know, it’s a movie tie-in and they want it to look “real”, but man, this stiffness is so pervasive these days that it makes me just go… limp.


Comics and Photography: Research Note 1


Thursday, February 4, 2010

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Eadweard Muybridge’s motion study of a galloping horse.

This is the first of a new series of blog posts I’m going to be starting up under the umbrella title “Research Notes.” These posts will be quick notes on ideas that could (and maybe should) be spun off into larger, more polished essays. But in the research note I’ll just jot down the preliminary notion. Since Comics Comics has a very smart and articulate readership, my hope is that the notes will spark suggestions for how the idea can be refined and developed.

So the first research note is for an essay on “Comics and photography”; the idea was sparked by Dan’s earlier comments on the new Rip Kirby book (and by a subsequent conversation Dan and I had). Some quick thoughts:

Comics and photography were both part of the proliferation of images that occurred in the 19th century, the explosion of the visual made possible by mechanical reproduction.

To what extent were late 19th and early 20th century cartoonists like A.B. Frost and Winsor McCay, who did so much to introduce sequential movement into comics, influenced by the motion studies of Eadweard Muybridge?

Winsor McCay’s motion study of a galloping bed.

Frank King was a lifelong shutterbug, at the vanguard of the first generation of middle-class Americans who used the camera to record family life. As Chris Ware and I have documented in the Walt and Skeezix series, photographs were a major source for King, who used family photos as a reference tool. Yet King only very rarely directly copied from photos; rather he used photos as a memory tool. And indeed, even King’s own photos seem somehow not to record so much a moment in time as a slightly-fuzzy memory of a moment. King’s photos are nostalgic and backward looking.

The Sickles/Caniff school is often linked to movies, and it’s true that Sickles and Caniff were great film buffs and absorbed much from the cinema of the 1930s and 1940s, not just classics like Citizen Kane but also B-movies with their slightly darkened sets. Caniff and Orson Welles had a mutually admiring correspondent. A fan letter to Caniff in the early 1940s smartly compared Terry and the Pirates to Casablanca. What hasn’t been investigated is the likely impact of magazine photos: the 1930s were the decade Life magazine took off as America’s leading photo-magazine. The use of photographs to record the news, particularly the darker corners of the Depression and the onset of the war, transformed the world’s visual imagination: Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange (who was friends with George Herriman by the way), George Strock, and many others. Caniff was paying attention.

Socially and politically he was very close to many people in the Time/Life staff, who tended to be smart, internationally minded college boys like himself. The Luce magazines often promoted Caniff’s work, since he did the comic strips that most closely resembled their own aesthetic and political outlook.

If Caniff came out of Life, the post-war Alex Raymond was affiliated with Vogue. Depression austerity and wartime rationing were over and Paris was in ruins, so the post-war years were the period when New York became the world’s fashion capital. The first Rip Kirby story involves a fashion model; and the whole ambience of the strip comes from the fashion world. Raymond’s drawings weren’t just done in a photorealist style; they were distilled fashion shots.

If King used photos to pull him back to the past, Raymond was interested in snapshots that caught the present, the sleek and shiny now rather than the blurry bygone days.

Like Caniff, Raymond often photographed models. But when Raymond reinvented his style with Rip Kirby he was able to take this use of models and photos an extra step because of a new invention: the Kodak instant camera. Photorealist comics depended on this new technology.

Even among naturalistic, literal-minded illustrators, not everyone was a fan of photography. Here is Burne Hogarth’s thought: “[Hal Foster] is one of the great geniuses of the comic strip….Other artists were fixated on photographs; this guy worked it out straight out from his eye outward. He solved problems that very few people ever did. I began to realize that because when I had to draw figures that were flying, I sat down and draw those things, for Christ’s sake. I couldn’t have models pose. Milt Caniff many times had model pose. Stan Drake had models pose. The point I’m making is that those guys used Polaroid cameras all the time.” (The Comics Journal, #166, p. 75).

The decline of photorealism as a comics style might have something to do with the parallel decline of magazine photojournalism. During the years when Life was supplanted by television, photorealism lost favour as a cartooning style.

In sum, it’s not just the case that some major cartoonists were influenced by photography. More complexly, as photography evolved, comics followed along; the two art forms developed in tandem.

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Sweet Vindication [?]


Sunday, March 1, 2009

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No one else will remember or care about this, but a while back I recounted how I was once deluded into thinking MAD caricaturist Mort Drucker didn’t use pencils, but inked his pictures directly. Tonight I happened across my ancient copy of Mort Drucker’s MAD Show-Stoppers and noticed the included biographical essay (written by Nick Meglin), which includes the following passage, and must have been my original source:

Drucker doesn’t think out his ideas on paper. He doesn’t do thumbnail sketches. He prefers instead to envision the completed work in his mind beforehand. He later duplicates the concept on paper as best he can, allowing accidents and changes that may possible improve the work as he goes along. … “It’s also a sure way to keep from being influenced by your research,” reveals Drucker. “I put the figure in where I think it belongs and not where the photo dictates. Staging an illustration around available reference points limits your freedom to tell a story effectively; when an artist does that, he ignores his very purpose.”

It goes on to say that Drucker sometimes used pencils, but only for panel backgrounds.

Anyway, the latter part of that quote is reminiscent of some of Frank’s talk about photo-referencing, etc., which is interesting to me because Mort Drucker’s one of the last artists I would’ve associated with Frank’s ideas. He doesn’t often achieve the associated flow Frank talks about so much, I don’t think, but still… half-baked connections are what blogs are for.

UPDATE: An anonymous commenter has rightly pointed out conflicting evidence.

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Fellow Travellers?


Thursday, July 10, 2008

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This probably doesn’t deserve a post of its own, but since we closed the comments on the post where it would make most sense to put this, I thought I’d just point out an interesting credit that Pixar apparently included at the end of Ratatouille, according to Augie De Blieck at Comic Book Resources. If this is true, Pixar (at least sort of) agrees with Frank:

Our Quality Assurance Guarantee:

100% Genuine Animation!

No motion capture or any other performance shortcuts

were used in the production of this film.

“Realism” and excessive reliance on photographic reference aren’t the same thing, after all, a distinction a lot of people got tripped up by, I think.

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Craft in Comics 2.0 (finale)


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

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Anyways, back to craft. Ahem. That last post was sort of bittersweet. On one hand, I’m kinda bummed that my panel with Jaime Hernandez and Jim Rugg basically gets boiled down to this routine about taste. I was trying to riff on photo-referencing, not so much on Ross or even the comics culture that spawned him. Take a look at the comments section for that last post, wade through them and see for yourself how few of the comments refer to photography and drawing and the exchange between the forms. On the other hand, I’m happy that I did touch a nerve. Something resonated. I’m interested in fostering serious discussion about the over-use of photography in cartooning. Photography. Cartooning. Two different disciplines.

During the panel at Heroes Con, I spoke about a particular teacher I had who was adamant about not using photographs as reference for drawing. Ever. If there was something that needed to be researched she would direct me to a vast illustrated encyclopedia. And if an illustration of the thing didn’t exist, then I could go look in the regular encyclopedia. And then, we still could really only study the photo, we could make a drawing from it and then the photo had to be put away. We were to use the drawing we had made from the photo as the primary reference, that’s it.

The idea was to make us carefully select the information we wanted to transmit with lines. She would talk about how when one draws from direct observation, one is choosing what to leave in, what to leave out and even reconstructing elements so that the drawing will “read” better. When one draws from a photograph, the space is flattened, the camera has already selected the lines, shapes, and forms for you. When you are outside drawing a tree, YOU are choosing what is in focus, what is not—there is an exchange between subject and viewer. That is the art. To be present in that moment. When you are making the lines, THAT is the moment of seeing, of looking. “Don’t look at the paper,” she would yell. “Look at what you are drawing!” For me, this is what is valuable in the experience of drawing, this focus, this intention. It’s a very different process to draw a tree while sitting underneath it as opposed to drawing the same view from a photograph. The huge tree that moves and breathes is now lifeless and only about four by six inches wide and flat.

On the panel, we all talked a little bit about our schooling and how those experiences formed us, and how certain ideas we learned then are still part of our practice today. And for me, one of the limits I put on myself is not using photo references when composing my comics. Does that make me a better artist somehow? Maybe not, but it does lead me to make certain choices that yield unexpected and interesting results. For example, I’ll draw all the landscapes for my comics from life, from just walking around, or from just out of my head. I like to think that it adds a degree of naturalism to my comics, but it does prove difficult when I need to set a story in an exotic locale. Yet, since I feel comfortable drawing everyday backgrounds and such it’s not so hard to fake it out of my head. The conversational style of my landscapes that simply evolved out of the repetition of drawing from life serves me well in moments where I’m uncertain of how things should look. I can insert a believable setting for the characters and make it work, make the scene richer, fuller. And I like to think that those landscapes out of my head are more successful because they are not from photographs, and also because those landscapes contain my intent, my focus. Photos, even ones I take myself for reference, create distance between viewer and subject. That’s not the scene I just experienced, just walked through… How often have we all felt that the picture just doesn’t really capture the moment? That’s precisely why I strain to draw out those moments in my comics, why I refuse to use photographs. They only upset the balance. And it feels false, honestly. Like cheating.

Anyways. There’s room for all styles, approaches. But for me, I’m interested in DRAWING. I’m not interested in becoming a sort of movie director who utilizes actors, snapshots, Google image search, Photoshop, and every other available tool to create a hyper-realistic world. It’s a comic book fer christ’s sake. It’s pen and paper. It’s drawing.

Yet, I must admit that I do enjoy comics that contain plenty of photo-referencing. It can be done well. And of course all those drawings from photos are DRAWINGS too. I’m not trying to suggest that by using photos, drawing from photos is not drawing. It’s just different. And I can enjoy it—to a point.

There still will always be a transition or two in a heavily photo-referenced comic that seems really stilted and wooden. I think what happens is that the comics continuity is hindered by another discipline’s limitations. The still photo versus the moment-in-time in a motion picture, in a movie. Would folks who use snapshots of actors for their comics prefer to just film it and then capture a less “pose-y” position? Does that make sense? I mean, why not just film it and then at least you’re getting the FLOW of it. Then you could pause the really great gesture or something. But then, why not be a filmmaker? See what I mean? It’s a slippery slope. At least that’s how my brain works. I have to set limitations.

“I set limits for myself,” Jaime told the audience. “Like I only ever have four lines of dialogue at a time. If you have more, it’s too much. I wouldn’t read it. It’s too many words. It’s gotta be natural.”

PREVIOUSLY: Part one, Part 1.5, and Part 1.75

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Craft in Comics part 1.75


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

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Hey everyone. I’m going through my notes on the panel (“Craft in Comics” with Jaime Hernandez, Jim Rugg, and myself), and honestly, they don’t capture the feelings I had about the panel, or how I feel about it a week-and-a-half later.

I guess the thing that resonated most with people is my rant about Alex Ross, and I just don’t feel like turning my recollections about this wonderful panel I was on into a bitch-fest about Ross, but … ah fuck it: It’s not just Ross, it’s this culture of photo-referencing in comics that grinds my gears. It’s true, I hate Ross’s work. He’s got great technical ability, but big deal. Why is copying the nuances of a photograph such an achievement? That’s not drawing! He’s the worst example for a young artist to have, the worst role model. No one has done more harm to the form than Ross. It’s not comics he makes. It’s fumetti. There are no real panel-to-panel transitions as there are in “pure cartooning”; he’s just putting photograph next to photograph in a way that some find pleasing. But it’s not comics.

His original sketches for his pages—which I’ve seen in person—are lively drawings that capture the energy and action of the figures. I remember thinking then, “Why doesn’t he just work those up into full drawings?” Instead, he’ll literally dress models up in a costume and take pictures of them dressed as Galactus or Batman. But that’s not Galactus, that’s some guy standing on a washer and dryer in a basement. How do I know? Cuz Ross and guys like P. Craig Russell love to publish those photos for some reason.

There was a Conan book recently that I was flipped through and I could immediately see that it was referenced, because the referencing takes over. Did John Buscema or Barry Smith let their references take over their style? No, they were original enough, wise enough, to incorporate the references, to subsume them into their overall style. P. Craig Russell most often does the same, he’s good enough to really USE the reference, but I always wonder why? Why bother? It distracts me as a reader, it ruptures the balance of his drawings, his lines, because it’s clear that the drawing is from a photo. It sends the other drawings on the page that are not referenced into high relief. Photos flatten the perspective, the shape of the body, the sense of depth. And worst of all it’s not Conan! Or Galactus. My suspension of disbelief is shattered at the moments I realize a photo is being used, and then that break is re-enforced when I see the photo that the artist was using, which they’ll often proudly display like a trophy! Do they think that should be applauded? It’s maddening!! When Kirby drew Galactus it WAS Galactus. Real. Manifest. Not some schlub in his underwear playing dress-up.

Think of Alex Toth. As far as I know he only occasionally lifted a photo straight. Like Neal Adams, he’d draw from it and then integrate it into his style so that it wasn’t so jarring. These days that concern seems archaic. The more photo-realistic the better. And on top of that, look close at the more recent vintage of photo-referenced comics. Generally each photo has the same focal length. You can really imagine the “actors” sitting there on their couches, at their kitchen tables, in the car. It’s so LAZY!! Point and shoot, ah, that panel’s done, next! “Honey, will you stand over there by the window and look off in the distance? I need to nail this Catwoman drawing.”

** More soon—also I’m not responding to comments on this one. On this subject, I have patience only to be dogmatic.

*** Photo-referencing isn’t just a problem in mainstream comics either, by the way. Those guys are just easy targets.

PREVIOUSLY: Part one and Part 1.5

NEXT: Part 2.0

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