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SWIPING OR NOT: When Famous People Land In Comics

Folks like Rich Johnson over at CBR’s Lying in the Gutters take delight in pointing out when comics artists swipe (or ape) another artists or a photograph’s image. Sometimes it’s pretty funny, as in the constant ribbing of Greg Land. However, sometimes it’s fairly scarry, (and this is not Rich’s fault) as when it looks like David Mack’s entire style is nothing but swipes. (Sometimes augmented with collage)

What’s funny is that at some point we crossed a line. We went from familiar faces showing up in Neal Adams’ or Paul Gulacy’s art to swipes as an art style. I see the reason and the differences here. One is the proliferation of the Internet and digital technology. Adams and Gulacy didn’t have it. They truly drew a character into their stories. By that I mean that they did sketches and finished portraits. They memorized the physical aspects of a face and body in their minds and through their hands.

Adams got his start doing a Ben Casey newspaper strip. He was used to dealing with actors as characters in his art from the beginning. From there he moved into advertising art along with his comic work. He could portray anyone in order to lampoon them or to further along a straight story. He wasn’t held back by the lack of a specific facial expression or pose. He had mastered them by the time he put their image on a page. He made them do whatever he wanted and it was so fluid you bought right into it. (I don’t care if it was fellow comics professionals for a Batman story, Spiro Agnew for Green Lantern,  or the many that came up in Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, to name a few.)

Gulacy didn’t have Adams’ background, but you could tell how he gravitated towards certain actors. You knew he had done his work off of the page before he started a story. Again, it was pure drawing and he integrated the images into characters that served a story. (Whether it was Lee, Connery, Brando, Niven and Marx for MOKF, or the porn actresses that showed up as female leads in solo stories, or Coburn for some of his Warren work.)

Now images show up and they are barely changed from the source material. They have a tendency to take you right out of a story because they are not integrated into it. Instead it’s a little technical showcase. A game of “guess where this is from”? The story comes to a standstill, and if it’s an ongoing character in the story, he suddenly looks very different. (Or are you to infer that the rest of the panels should look like Brad Pitt just because one close up does?)

I know it’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but I enjoyed the old stories when these things happened. It was the cherry on the top of my favorite artist sundae. Now, I miss the consistency. I realize it’s an easy thing to do with Google image search and freeze frame DVD along with Photoshop. But, what’s the point? Did you really service the story with that?

I know that it’s tough to produce the books and that any short cut or advantage is being embraced, but it was just as tough back then. They made it work because they did the work. Now, I don’t think the effort is worth it to trick out a couple of panels.

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5 Responses to “SWIPING OR NOT: When Famous People Land In Comics”

  1. I think this just proves that the days of the “real artists” are fading fast. Photoshoping is NOT a sign of true artistic, drawing talent. Anyone can “manipulate” an image and call it theirs. I’m glad you brought this point up because anyone who calls themself an artist and doesn’t have the talent to incorporate the facial characteristics of an expression they’re copying into the comic character’s is a poor excuse for an illustrator. But I guess that shows the times we live in nowadays…

  2. You are correct that there’s lots of image manipulation going on. The worst part of it is that these guys still can’t meet a deadline to save their lives. Technology is no substitute for talent, skill, artistic aptitude or ability.

  3. I dont know if I agree. One reason I hand draw everything is that I have no idea how to use photoshop or any other digital manipulation applications. This is an emptiness in my education as an artist.

    As a viewer though I do have an aesthetic leaning away from the psuedo-real gloss that are found in superhero books of all things! Jesus, how mismatched. And theres a fair argument for saying that these programs take a certain standard of processor on the pc for them to work. As the boring poor struggling artist I am, I cant really afford something in that cash band.

    I used to feel guilty about using the tv for reference!

  4. Andy, I don’t believe you need photoshop to develop as an artist/illustrator. I’m certainly of an age where it didn’t exist as I developed. The point of this post was to show how the lack of skill or downright laziness of some of the current holders of those titles.

    As for yourself jonesing for a way to use photoshop but not being able to afford it or a system that supports it; (just how old is your system anyhow that it can’t support some version of photoshop?) You can always download Gimp 2.0. It’s free and pretty close to photoshop. At least close enough to do work like Greg Land. It’s also not a process hog.

  5. Yeah, I’ve been using Gimp for the last year or so, recommendomondo.

    The SwipeFile approach does evoke a stiltedness, a lacking of fluidity, which removes expressionism from animated feature. It does contain coherency and cnsistency which is needed for that sequential narrative, but the closer towards the perfect photorealist part of McCloud’s triangle loses that. Neither is it related to important academic manga eg. first aid, how to change a tyre. Lets face it, dominantly often in comics heroic narrative (while re-presenting positive humanitarian values) are so heavily coded in layers that any original meaning or education becomes lost in the photorealist artists swanning about. Illustration in the discourse assumes a seated position of exemplary art, but really its much more subjective than that.

    Uh-Oh, I hear Kochalka’s ‘The Cute Manifesto’ coming out of me. Time to stop!


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