web stats

CSBG Archive

Stuart Immonen on Computers and Art

After beginning work in comics in the late 80s, Stuart Immonen broke into the mainstream comic world in the early 1990s for DC, working on Legion of Superheroes before moving on to a long tenure drawing Superman. More recently, he has worked for Marvel Comics, including Nextwave. It was recently announced that Immonen will be following Mark Bagley on Ultimate Spider-Man. Stuart also has a web-comic, Moving Pictures, that he works on with his wife, Kathryn Immonen. You can follow the comic here. Immonen’s website can be found here. It contains his blog, which you can read here.

Oblique Strategies

Many years ago, at a wedding where, apart from one of the intended, I didn’t know a soul, I got roped into the usual small talk, and someone asked what I did for a living. I tend to get a little uncomfortable in these situations– I’m by no mean embarrassed by my vocation, but I recognize that it’s a bit esoteric, and generally not well-understood by the layperson. “I draw comics,” tends to elicit a cascade of other questions, most of which require quite a lot of explaining, and by the time you’re done, the person who asked is either overwhelmed or utterly bored. But this time, I was taken aback by the response; All this fellow said was, “So they do all that on computers now?”

Naturally I scoffed– this was pre-internet, almost pre-Photoshop, after all. “No,” I coolly replied, “I use a pencil and paper.”

And for a good long time afterward, that statement defined my M.O. Even now, most of the community of professionals working in the assembly-line method established almost at the birth of comics still work this way. But it would be a considerable oversimplification to say that a pencil and paper have never been the only tools at the artist’s disposal.

Face it, deadlines are murder, especially when they come around every thirty days or so. The sheer volume is astonishing; even with a lowball mean estimate of four panels per page, the typical monthly superhero comic boasts nearly 90 separate drawings each issue– that’s over a thousand a year! I don’t think there’s another job in the commercial arts field which is similarly demanding. The comic artist’s motto might very well be “by any means necessary.”

It’s no wonder artists condescend to using various tricks in order to try keep up. Some have an arsenal of stock poses and expressions from which to choose; other use assistants to contribute to background drawings; others fill empty space with incoherent linework, or lots of silhouetted figures; still others use that dirtiest of dirty tricks– photo reference.

Recently, drawing the human figure from life has come under heavy fire, and indeed it seems like there have always been macho artists who have dismissed the practice, claiming some superiority through their intimate and intricate knowledge of human and animal anatomy; through their natural ability to “work it out with a pencil.” However, not all of us are so gifted, and when the editor starts to call for more pages, one is often forced to resort to the methods closest at hand.

Photoreferencing has suffered under the pejorative euphemisms of “copying”, “swiping”, “stealing” (not to be confused with “aping”, implying a (possibly still unsavoury) talent for mimicry) or that most damning of epithets, “cheating”, and without temperance, the otherwise competent artist can easily lapse into outright plagiarism. Whether or not the harangued artist intends to appropriate someone else’s work or to merely quote it– what Thomas Mann ennobled as “higher cribbing”– is irrelevant; of late, the artist who uses reference material is a pariah.

Perhaps it has always been thus. David Hockney’s 2001 book, “Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the lost techniques of the Old Masters” details the methods and mechanical aids of everyone from Brueghel to Vermeer. Much in the book is conjecture (refuted later in an issue of Scientific American

), indicating the existence of a conspiracy of silence surrounding “cheating” going back as many as five hundred years. Hergé travelled extensively, sketching en plein air, copying buildings, scenery and costumes from life. Carl Barks, an armchair adventurer, pilfered from the pages of National Geographic. Even Mike Mignola, hearsay has it, began using photos on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and continued thereafter, claiming it sped up his whole process.

Story continues below

Well, I have a confession to make.

I’m a user. Hardcore.

It started out innocently enough. Back in the late 80s, one of my first jobs was drawing the unauthorized comic biographies of rock musicians, which demanded likenesses of real people and locations in every panel. But even before that, I’d started a “morgue” of reference folders, each categorized and subdivided as required (“figures/ children/ perspective”, “technology/ industrial/ 20th century”, “architecture/ urban/ interior/ office”, etc). Each folder was filled with magazine clippings, photographs, photocopies and newspaper articles. The point being not to copy verbatim, but to inform decisions already made concerning any given composition.


However, rifling through hundreds of paperscraps to find suitable inspiration was almost as time consuming as doing it the “hard way”– constructing figures and environments as a series of cylinders and cubes, as popularized by the art instruction series by Andrew Loomis (the irony being that Loomis himself was a known photoreferencer). Soon, with the aid of a basic 3D application, I helped the Superman office redesign Metropolis, and I created a set of models to help me visualize the Shockrockets with Kurt Busiek. 3D was a revelation to me– better than photos, especially for invented props, vehicles and buildings. Figure generation software like Poser never did work for me, for whatever reason.


For certain projects– Superman: End of the Century, for instance– I took scores of photos, mostly to keep characters consistent and naturalistic. It was expensive and cumbersome, however, and the lag time between taking the photograph and being able to use it (if it was usable!) negated the positive aspects. Digital photography changed all that, and even Nextwave, with its cartoon sheen, benefited.


Also, huge imagebanks and community photosites started cropping up online. If I wondered whether the NYPD drove Ford Crown Victorias or Chevy Impalas (trick question– they use both), the answer was available in a matter of clicks. Need to know the typical architecture in the Pyrenees or the Ginza? No problem. The governing philosophy is this: reference is a device, and is only as useful as the artist who wields it is talented. In other words, ideally, it will spur creativity, not stifle it, allowing the artist to work efficiently and effectively. This philosophy isn’t new, but there are some camps who will not recognize its value. Still, as more artists reveal their practices in trade magazines or in work blogs, I think digital referencing is gaining momentum.

And I think it’s changing the way artists approach their work.

Joe Quesada, Jason Christensen and Dave McCaig are using Google SketchUp to calculate complex perspectives, and design and render background buildings. SketchUp is a versatile and simple tool, with a plethora of open-source models, and bespoke modelmakers like Form Fonts to fill specific needs.


Brian Bolland and Kaare Andrews are two creators so immersed in digital art that they each have told me they sometimes look for an undo keystroke when working with traditional media.

Jonathan Hickman’s work on The Nightly News pulls out all the stops; combining drawn, referenced imagery with vector-traced photographs and custom brushes and clipart, Hickman has transformed the way comics look and read in a single effort. Furthermore, he has paved the way for the auteur creator to control all aspects of the work and bypass the comparatively antiquated assembly line method. Hickman alone turns in written, drawn, lettered and coloured work in the same time it takes four or five others to concurrently do the same job.

Despite my bristling reaction all those years ago, I shamelessly admit that the computer has radically altered how I draw, and how I think about drawing. It’s improved my speed, and I think, my creativity. I still use a pencil, but it’s not the only tool in the shed.

Picasso (a macho artist if there ever was one) said, “Bad artists copy. Good artists steal.” I think he was just rephrasing Ecclesiastes: “Of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.”

What would he have done with Photoshop and a Creative Commons photo library, I wonder?

Stuart Immonen


I’ve never understood why referencing is such a dirty thing. Thanks for taking the time to write this up, Stuart.

Picasso is paraphrasing T.S. Eliot, actually, who famously said exactly the same thing about poets.

But what we should recall is the meaning of Eliot’s (and so Picasso’s) quote: both good and bad artists use the work of others, or the images they find in reality. The difference between good and bad is not that, but rather the difference between borrowing and stealing.

The thief makes the stolen thing her or his own, in the metaphor. (Please do not extend the metaphor to refer to actual property.) THe borrower, though, never really “owns” the thing he or she took — it’s still in the effectove possession of the original owner.

The difference between Immonen (and others) and Land (and others) is that Immonen’s own style and layout skill tends to transform the source material: he makes it his own.

Land (like certain others), though, seems increasingly to let the source material substitute for a style of his own, leading to an increasingly obvious game of “where’d he get it.”

Or, to say it in fewer words, there’re good swipes and bad swipes. A good swipe instantly tells the story or sells the moment. A bad swipe instantly makes us wonder, “Where’d s/he swipe that from?”

My wife and I recently went to an exhibit of Dutch masters of the 17th century (not enough Rembrandt, darn it!) at the Phoenix art museum, and in the notes by each painting, they explained exactly who the artist used as the model. So doing what you’re talking about isn’t anything new, and I think what most people complain about is the lack of originality some artists are guilty of. When a character in a comic looks different from page to page because the artist is using a different model, that’s when it becomes egregious.

This is a very interesting post for someone who doesn’t know much about art. Thanks.

nice one, man. I’m a person, human to be exact, that is coming from a small dose of comic making in the 90s to primarily digital graphic design and then back into comic making, I appreciate this article very much. And do you have the same abs as Aaron Stack?

“Amateur imitate, professionals steal”.

I think Igor Stravinsky said that…..

Fascinating look at the ever-changing comics art processes. The casual observer will hopefully be informed and intrigued by this. I mean, sure, there are guys who lightbox straight out of magazines, but then there are the good artists. Stuart Immonen is a great artist.

I never saw it as a big deal, I use reference , either stuff from books or the net .I also use models either shooting friends or 1\6th scale action figures. It helps. Unfortunately I’m still getting into the sketch up stuff.

Caleb Goellner

April 3, 2007 at 2:38 pm

Great article Mr. Immonen.
I’m no artist, but for my simple comic strip in my University newspaper I’m constantly using photo reference for the characters of my strip and for backgrounds as well. It’s great because the stars of my strip are pugs, and since the Internet is littered with pictures of people’s beloved pets and most pugs look the same, I’m never short on unique poses. This helps keep character models very consistent and saves me a ton of time sweeping eraser shavings from a light board, cursing and crying into my lap in frustration.

"O" the Humanatee!

April 3, 2007 at 2:54 pm

As usual, Omar has covered a lot of the important issues, and more eloquently than I could muster. I’d just add the following: Comic book artists have used photoreference for a long time. I’m sure I’ve read accounts of Golden and Silver Age artists with massive reference files. These are especially useful when artists have to draw realistic inanimate objects: buildings, weapons, equipment of various sorts. And there’s nothing wrong with that; it can ground your characters in a more believable world.

But the key word there is probably not so much “inanimate” as “realistic.” By contrast, the human form in comics – at least superhero comics – has never been realistic. The kinds of extreme dramatic poses and facial expressions that are often useful in superhero comics just don’t occur in real life. That’s not just because real people don’t fly or stretch, but because when hit hard with an uppercut they don’t soar backward with strongly arched backs and fingers curled in the classic Gil Kane “he’s been hit damned hard” pose. Similarly, in “How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way,” Stan Lee and John Buscema noted that the best positions in which to draw characters in superhero comics are often extreme endpoints in motion or expression – which can be difficult to catch in photos (posed or candid). Thus superhero figures drawn too closely from photoreference often look underdramatic and stiff. Perhaps one reason that Immonen’s use of photoreference in Nextwave worked is that that book was somewhat antiheroic. (Another is that, in line with Omar’s comments, Immonen did it skillfully and made the source his own.)

A good superhero artist has to know not just human anatomy but how to go skillfully beyond it. A great artist like Jack Kirby can also go beyond reality to create heroic architecture, heroic machinery, and so on – things that just don’t exist in photoreference (though I think I’ve read that Kirby sometimes based buildings on kitchen equipment and other surprising sources).

Or to put another slant on it: Comics art (even nominally “realistic” art like Neal Adams’s) is a form of cartooning. Cartooning involves exaggeration and caricature. If you stick too closely to reality, you deprive yourself of one of the great advantages of your medium.

I know a number of artists who are artists no longer because, “The computer stole my job.” I say they tucked their tails and ran away. If you don’t stay current, you resign yourself to dinosaur status.

That said, do yourself a favor and learn to do it the old fashioned way. The day WILL come when: The power fails, the computer freezes, the camera breaks, the client wants a mockup out in the field. The better you are at freehand, the better you’ll be in digital and the more successful you’ll be in pushing reality beyond it’s boundaries to fit your needs.

This article is rad. I’ve been drawing for a good long time and I’ve always stuck with doing pencil/inks from pure imagination…which becomes frustrating when dealing with things I’ve never seen before or don’t know well. It’s good to know that pro artists are using the photo reference tools available and that it’s not such a frowned upon process.

I really like the photo referencing but I think using actual photos and rendering them with photoshop for pages is a bit on the sketchy side. Mostly because any artist working for Marvel or DC has the skill to recreate an image of a building adding some of their own art style… therefore using the photo itself takes away from their own artistic skills. and yes, people are paying for that artistic skill…not just the publisher. I could find a pictures of times square online for free…why would I want to pay $3.99 to look at those same pictures on a comic page. But yes, I know that the artist still has to draw Superman or whoever in front of those pictures like 90 times and that does take lots of skills.

keep making awesome books.


I will say “Amen” to brother Paul Smith for his advocation of learning to do it the old-fashioned way. My father, who was a graphic designer, worked with some of the early versions of Photoshop. He saw plenty of younger, computer-savvy employees he decried for their lack of drawings skills.

There are times when I’m working on-site at an ad agency with no computer or reference, and you need to pull the stuff out of your memory.

And I will take issue with one of Stuart’s assertions about how comics may be more demanding–at least in quantity of drawings–than any other in the commercial art field. There have been times when I’ve done 20-30 drawings in a day as a storyboard artist. Granted, these drawings aren’t as “finished” as the tight pencils a comic book artist might produce, but that’s a goodly number, nonetheless.

I must admit, I don’t miss the monthly deadlines of the comics’ world, however.

Ultimately, working from reference is only going to help the artist understand and visualize his subject more concretely when he does work without reference…

I agree that the difference between using reference well, whether it’s from life, a photograph, or a freeze-frame image from a DVD, is just how much the usage is processed through the artist’s own personality and style. That’s where true ‘art’ comes into play– the process of filtering the external world through the individual, unique, internal viewpoint of the artist– otherwise, the work is just clever mimicry.

I think the comparison of the Aaron Stack pic with Stuart’s own self-photo shows quite effectively how the work can be informed, but not defined, by the reference.

There, I just validated my Visual Arts degree. Gimme more comics!

P'La Jarvinen

April 3, 2007 at 5:50 pm

Excellent article Stuart!
I would like to mention that in reality most all comic artists would agree they reference their material. It is perfectly acceptable and in most minds it should prove the dedication of the artist to acheive the most correct enterpretation for their readers.
The sad part is there are a few that should know the difference between referencing and tracing. Using a photo of a person or item for reference, involves looking at it, seeing the proportions, perspective and fine details of what makes it the object it is and then following that up with the artist’s enterpretation of that item or person. Referencing is not however taking a photo of an item, tracing it, photoshop filling it in with alternate color and tacking the artist’s name to it as their own. Unfortunately, there are “artists” that also use this “technique” to “render” their work, which in its self should be considered plagerism or at the very least copyright infringment. They are meerly acting as a human copy machine and would better serve the comic art community working at their neighborhood Kinkos. Thankfully the “artists” who use this technique rarely make the honor roles of the higher ranking companies.

In terms of using photo references of people, there’s definitely a huge role for it to play, but I think it should play the role of a clothing designer’s dummy, providing shapes and outlines, onto which the artist builds the final image by adding details and adjusting features.

Some artists who use photo references, on the other hand, are like designers making the models look like the dummy. As such, it’s not surprising that they end up looking alike.


great article. I have always admired your work from SUPERMAN, SUPERMAN: SECRET IDENTITY, ULT. X-MEN, to NEXTWAVE. From the great storytelling and design to the evolution in your style. Your work, among some of the others you mentioned above, has inspired my comic art. I must also confess I am a computer/photo reference junky. I do all my drawing with the pencil, but will reference the subjects I am drawing and take loads of photos of myself and friends as models to get things right and to help speed things up. There’s no shame in using reference, but you still need to know what you are drawing (PAUL SMITH,you are a wize and talented artist) DRAW DRAW DRAW…reference what you need, and let your mind create.

So thanks Stuart, and continued success

I don’t know if I’ve heard any “controversy” over the use of photo reference or drawing from life. Anyone contesting that practice would have to be a fool or completely uninformed about the creation of art. There wouldn’t be art without a reality to base it on or against. The controversy and criticisms I’ve heard, and agree with, is the blatant copying of images from magazines and passing it off as original. Not looking at another image or life for reference, but undisguised tracing from another image, another person’s artwork. If you’re making a statement, or have an ironic message about the nature of popular art, maybe you can pass it off as an original idea. Just tracing a woman from a swimsuit issue and plastering it on the cover of a superhero comic is not.

there’s something wonderful about a Marvel Comics comic book illustrator quoting David Hockney

I wish someone would use me for reference :)

Great column. Thanks for posting.

I think it’s pretty obvious from his work that Stuart isn’t tracing line-for-line his photo reference. It is indeed [b]reference[/b]. I think the line gets blurry (pardon the pun) when artist “cast” real world actors in their comics with photo reference. And I know a lot of companies are doing that now (writer to artist: “oh, yeah, this guy is looks basically like Brad Pitt,” etc.), and I wish they wouldn’t. There’s not only an ethical issue there, but a legal one.

To me there’s nothing wrong with ref. Hell, it’s very unrealistic for an artist based in Nebraska to be able to draw the intersection of Hollywood and Highland without it. I think as long as it’s used as a tool and not a crutch, then it’s serving its intended purpose.

Referencing real life helps me work out color schemes for specific locations and for specific scenes. I used to be a pen and paper purist. Now, I’m a pen and paper plus guy.

Nicely written Stuart.

When we are doing work for clients, we are not artist, we are solution providers.

When we are doing work for ourselves,
it is art.

In order to respect the “deadline”
an artist has to be “hurt by the deadline”.

Once hurt, the artist develops respect
for the deadline and will never miss the deadline again.

This was my first lesson, taught to me, by a former Mentor and supervisor who retired in 2004. He worked 40 years as a Journalist/inforgraphics artist for one of the top 4 metro New York Area newsapers,


in his 40 year career,
he never missed a deadline.


ha i know how they feel looking for a undo button in traditional media

i rear ended a lady on my way to class the other day i just sat back in my seat and said

“ah.. ‘control z’ please!”

which of course is the shortcut for undo

Here’s a great quote from Leon Battista Alberti’s “On Painting,” written in 1435, discussing the “cheating” technology of observing the subject through a veil with visible grid lines and painting from that:

“Nor will I hear what some may say, that the painter should not use these things, because even though they are great aids in painting well, [they] may perhaps be so made that he will soon be able to do nothing without them. I do not believe that infinite pains should be demanded of the painter…”

Great Article. I always love it when the replies are just as interesting to read as the article itself.

Great article from one of my favorite artists (can’t wait to see your next work). Growing up I had an artist buddy (who could honestly be a better than J. Scott Campbell than the man himself) who had a great “mind’s eye” and is able to generate great images from his mind. God bless him, but I don’t have that same luxury and I don’t think I’m in the minority.

Now that I’m taking that step from art being a hobby to a…paid hobby, I realize that you have to use every tool available to you, including reference.

Gustavo had a good point in that as an artist there’s a code of conduct I feel I should follow; and that’s great. However, in commercial work you have to let that inner-artist go and become a problem-solver.

I say that if you want to express yourself do personal work but if you want to get paid, do what is being asked. It’s sad that I’m finally realizing this at age 27, but better late than never, right?

As someone trying to break into comicbook pencilling, I thoroughly appreciated this article. I used to reference alot and was told by an art teacher that is was not a creative habit to have. Whatever that meant. SO from there I went on a FRANK FRAZETTA-esqu route of drawing things straight from the brain and I looked back at all that work and realized, ” That looks like a dog, but not really…” If you get what I mean. So now, yes, I do reference. Especially Fashion Magazines. The poses are amazing.

a real artist can draw from there brain! if you have to TRACE then you pretty much suck. so many artists now are just using computers to make thier art. i could just press some buttons on the computer and make something. i hate how these computers are taking over everything! makes me feel left out.

Computers only provide results. Sure there are software programs and tools to assist in some process, but the user holds the key to create something “good.” Using reference is the oldest form of getting anything even remotely accurate. Life drawing uses models- reference. The idea is that you draw from reference enough, until you dont need it- but youll always need it. Its by no means “cheating.” If youre a production worker of any type, you know its all about doing amazing stuff fast. SO its all about the end result, not so much the process. However, if you dont have any talent or respect for traditional foundation, your end result is always going to suck balls- no computer or software will help with that. :P

I am glad that this article was written, long overdue.
But I would love to know more about the apps used by these great artists.

Brian Bolland? No way!


I am looking into sketchup, looks really interesting.

But the other screengrabs are too small for me to read the programs names.

The first one is Adobe something, I think? Is it illustrator? or another program?

the second image really concerns me, I would love to have a program that would help me create such great interiors.

But what program is that!!

ANyone know, or have an idea?

My thanks to Stuart for writing the column and I agree completely with him!

Paul Smith is right, you’ll never get rid of us cavemen.
World-skills go a long way as far as survivability counts. I love my computer and I love awesome software, but you still need to have the basics in place when it comes to drawing.
As a young artist and the son of an artist,I was cautioned about TRACING but never about REFERENCING material. At my first job as an illustrator, the ability to commit 75% of an image to paper without the use of scrap meant keeping your job. Still, with all the mad-skilled artists that I worked with in that studio, a very extensive morgue was maintained and used. No sin in that; usually once something was referenced
at least you had a better understanding of what the thing looked liked and how it worked, in effect extending your mental image catalog. The next time a trip to the morgue may not be needed!
I know artist that use all types of “study-aids”.
When I receive a script, the first thing I do is Google specific images and create a “scrap file” of locales and props relevant to the story. Sometimes faking it on paper can REALLY hurt the story. Better to be the informed artist than the one groping about the page trying to affect a scene correctly.
Thanks for the article Stuart!

I’m a storyboard artist/illustrator for an ad agency-a deadline is a deadline! Norman Rockwell took heaps of reference pics for his illustrations…composed them…looked for the right type of character to fit with his ilustrative narrative style.

Personally I draw from the pic not trace it BUT if time is a problem-no time-then Ill adapt what I have and change face dress etc etc to fit the brief to meet the deadline!

A computer does not an artist make. Using reference material is not copying in any way. When an artist uses the likeness of an actor or actress in their work, that in my mind, is copying. So, no I don’t believe that using reference material is a bad thing, ever. A computer is a tool just like a paint brush, a pencil, or a light box. Computers do not make people artists, people with artistic skills use computers to create art. Mr. Immonen’s work is amazing and as shown by the comparison between his reference and his drawing (the one with Machine Man) his own style shines through any copying that one may believe to be taking place.

That is a great article, and a subject that I think has become more and more fuzzy as time and technology marches on. It’s especially cool to see your inner workings on NextWave, one of the best comics to come along in a long time!

Your article has started a conversation over on another site too, the Third Rail Design Lab Forum,http://www.thirdraildesignlab.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=6244 people should stop by and add their 2 cents! Also, their Weekly jam is NextWave! Check it out!

Olin Fnard

So I guess I’m not the only one who reaches for control-z when I’m drawing on paper after spending hours on my Wacom tablet.

I’m coming in late on this discussion, but I couldn’t agree with Stuart more. Only one thing, though, I can’t recall a single artist who didn’t recommend building a “morgue” of reference material. The way I was told, and the way I’ve always thought, some other guy got paid good money to design, for instance, a Boeing 747. I’m not going to get paid what he got paid, so why should I try to design it from my head? Reference helps you keep that element of “real” that grounds even the most expressionistic art into something other people can relate to. As for Google Sketchup, I can’t praise it highly enough. I use it daily in my art and play with it just for fun. I’ve never been a good sculptor or model builder, but my 3D models look great. I use it for vehicles, locations, props, etc. that I don’t want to redraw over and over.
Oh, and wasn’t it Wally Wood who said “Never draw what you can trace, never trace what you can copy and never copy what you can cut out and paste up”?

rdtkf gutfzed clufzej

mjzu viyucj mpfhro

Non professionals or people who do NOT make a living from art always have these self imposed weird rules of integrity etc, or what they believe to be integrity. People like me and other folks that actually earn a living from creating art use whatever technology has to offer or whatever will get you to point B the fastest and easiest to complete the work. Sketchup will NOT help you tell a good story, It’ll just provide a quick solution for a panel so that you can focus on telling a good story and not having to sit there drawing lines ALL day, remember, in the real world of professional art we have deadlines or we don’t get paid.

@Joe Brush:
Nope, you’re not the only one.
One way to avoid that: I invested in a small Cintiq. :-)
No more paper (almost.)

That’s a very interesting article. I’ve recently discovered the usefulness of SketchUp. And I’d also like to say that Nextwave is one of favourite comics of all time. Being a cartoonist myself< I love the humour you got into it allied to your natural ability with figures in action as seen to wonderful effect in the more recent Fear Itself series.
Great work!

Anyone who’s seen a comic image of a fighter jet, a realistic city backdrop, an accurate rendition of a city bus, etc., and doesn’t think the artist used a heavy dose of photo-reference or drawing from direct observation is insane. Even when artists do work from their head, it’s only the result of so much looking that the result might as well be from life anyways.
That people continue to debate this is pretty unbelievable. Tools like Google Sketchup still require creativity to use, in the exact same way that a camera does for a photographer, or a video-camera for a filmmaker.
The real comparisons end up being about the choices the artists made with those tools, and issues like the relative stylization and level of abstraction employed. Other comments mention level of caricature and distortion, for example. I appreciate looking at a comic that doesn’t appear to be a direct copy of some appropriated image, but even the most cartoonish handling probably required a deal of reference.

Reference is for amateurs and hacks. Of course, if what you want is realism, then amateurs and hacks are best equipped to provide this. A real artist works from imagination and produces work that is reflective of an individual viewpoint. Any use of reference diminishes this quality, although some good works have used reference in a limited way.

Leave a Comment



Review Copies

Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.

Browse the Archives