Fitting The Square Peg Of Comic Art Into A Round Hole

Several people have blogged about the pop art movement, specific comic/pop artists, and the different styles of art in comics and graphic novels, so it seems like it’s time for me to put in my two cents.  I’ve been a fan of pop art for a very long time.  That doesn’t strictly translate to me liking comic art, but it does mean there’s a strong possibility.  And for the most part, that’s true.  However, as with everything, there are exceptions – a big one being the art of Sandman.  I tend to prefer the less realistic art, with large blocks of color instead of gradients.  I also really like the simplicity of clean black lines, like in Maus.

Note the gradation in the colors, and the light weight lines.
Note the gradation in the colors, and the light weight lines.

What I find interesting is how all these very different styles of art get grouped into one pile:  comic art.  Maybe you art history majors or comic reading english majors can correct me, but as far as I know there isn’t really any clear cut division lines for styles of comic art.  No easy to see differentiation between years, no clear way to divide everything into a few nice categories, nothing.  Comic art isn’t anything specific, it just exists.  The only real grouping I can see clearly is Anime/Manga, and Everything Else.  I don’t have any background with anime or manga, but I’d imagine that there are some pretty different art styles even within those two categories.  And the Everything Else category is still bursting at the seams with tons of styles.  Even the graphic novels we’re planning on reading look like they’re all drawn in different styles!  Is it even feasible to try to divide the styles?  I’ve thought about it for a while, and still can’t come up with anything that works.

I think a tree graph (or a flow chart, for you non-math folks) is the best way to organize everything.  For example, maybe you try to do Cartoon and Realistic for the first level.  There still is some ambiguity, since some comics and graphic novels ride the in-between, where the subject is real people, but the art emphasizes some parts in a cartoon-y way.  But things get even more complicated the further you go.  You have to decide if you’re going to divide by subject matter (Superheroes and Everything Else) or purely by art style (Dark Lines/Colors and Light Lines/Colors)  Either way you go, you’re still in for a lot of work, and a seemingly infinite number of divisions that can be made until you can properly classify a piece of comic art.

But is it even worth the effort?  My scientific mind wants to classify everything, and have a system for that classification.  But maybe we don’t need it.  Maybe comic art is better left alone, unclassified, meant just for looking at, and reading, and enjoying.  That is, after all, what I enjoy about modern art:  that it doesn’t have to mean anything, or look like anything.  Maybe that’s the best approach for comic art too:  to not over-analyze it, or try to put it into a box that it was never designed to fit into, and to just enjoy it.

  1 comment for “Fitting The Square Peg Of Comic Art Into A Round Hole

  1. April 23, 2013 at 10:49 pm
    No easy to see differentiation between years, no clear way to divide everything into a few nice categories, nothing. Comic art isn’t anything specific, it just exists. The only real grouping I can see clearly is Anime/Manga, and Everything Else

    I think what you’re saying here isn’t that there are no differences in style, but rather that those differences don’t align uniformly to geographic or chronological periods? Perhaps not, but there are patterns and shifts over time. DC and Marvel certainly seem to think that they each have a house style, for example.

    One could also point to Ligne claire as having a distinct comic art style.

    All that’s just to say, I think you’re right to suggest that “comic art” is too broad a term, and indeed there are distinctions within various groups and cohorts.

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