Visuals and Styles:

The Differences, The Similarities, and The Necessities

There is nothing like opening a fresh comic book and flipping through its glossy pages and seeing artwork that captivates you on several different levels. However, this method is not only captivating because it gives you a series of clean and precise illustrations, but also because it gives you something different when it is compared to something you may or may not have seen in other comic books. The same can also be said when you are watching a film and the style and the visuals that you once expected have taken you by surprise and made the experience all the more enjoyable and interesting. Nevertheless, to properly grasp the importance of visuals and style both in comics and other mediums it is vital to explore the difference between the two types, what makes them unique, and then, and only then, can you determine what it is that makes them so important.

To begin, one must ask who the real visual geniuses in the industry are, with the greats ranging from Bryan Hitch, Greg Capullo, Tony Daniel, Ethan Van Sciver, and Yannick Paquette, and of course the legendary Neal Adams. Now these are the artists that have brought a unique visual component to their work, for the moment you open a book with these names credited to the project you immediately know who the art belongs to. There is a distinction to their illustrations, sometimes including a well composed anatomy, excellent detail to facial expressions and features, as well as an accurate depiction of the characters, whether they be in costume or not. Yet, despite these artists and others like them, arguing the visual importance of comic books is imperative to explore when artists follow in the tradition of those who came before them or when they take bold steps into creating something that has never been created before.

When reading a comic that features my own favorite superhero the first detail I noticed upon opening the book is how much the character differs from other illustrations. Firstly I examine that hero’s overall appearance and compare it to the others I have seen, and yet after this is done the last question on my mind is whether this new product is better or worse (not being a person who is capable of replicating such techniques, assessing quality is a bold move that I could never do). And yet despite this, the details I am looking for revolves around the concept as to how visually important these characters are and whether the entire book is dependent on the success of a traditional art format or if there is room for other visual elements. I suppose a great example of this is included in the DC line up of the new Earth One titles, which was an initiative done in order to execute the notable characters in ways that were separate from what was seen in other titles. And the most important element of these new books was not just a reexamination of the character mythologies and introducing innovative ideas, but was the visual element of the book itself. DC comics was granting a gift to readers by releasing a book with a cleaner cover that was without a book jacket (and any graphic novel reader will concur that those can really be annoying when reading your favorite book) as well as also composing the books in a visual style that was willing to take more chances than traditional titles. By incorporating these new visual elements the story can move in an entirely new direction and thus making the nature of the book far more unique, and far more intriguing to people who may have been hesitant to purchase a graphic novel. Although this might seem like a superficial reason for purchase, its impact, however, is undeniable, which is precisely why DC made sure to follow the tradition with the release of later books. DC: Earth One eventually became a visual wake-up call for those who were familiar with the usual comic reading audience, for what they were receiving in these new books possess a visual uniqueness that is not only unrecognizable to other DC works but unrecognizable to what is available from other publishers as well. The cool appearance of each Earth One book presented another crucial change to the industry, and that was, using new visual elements, to reach and entice a branch of new readers.

Visuals can make or break a book’s success but so can the style by which the visuals are created. Style is a concept that is apart from visual success because it depends on execution and the method by which the art is delivered. In essence, style is accustomed to an artist’s visual technique. For example, Greg Capullo’s style when illustrating Batman is separate from the way in which he illustrates. There are moments when Batman is taken in an entirely different direction that allows him to separate from how he appeared in other comic books, thereby bringing into perspective Capullo’s style as an artist. He makes sure to emphasize the emotional elements over the usual artistic elements, like costumes and gadgetry, and is certain to change the shapes of the panels, the appearance of the Batman, and most importantly bring a style to the book that ensures that it stands apart from other titles. The style is distinct and says as much about the character as the artwork does, and in order for the style to be fully reached, and in order for the reader to grasp, style must be complemented by the writer, which, in the case of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, the beauty of their collaboration brings both of these qualities into perspective.

While the purpose of this article is to write about the importance of visuals and styles in comics and how such things can make or break a book’s success, the same can be said for films and television. Recently I watched the movie, John Wick, a movie that, to action cinema junkies, was an incredible relief in the genre as it brought to light new visuals and new styles that, until now, were only used in art forms like anime, spaghetti westerns, and of course comics. And the reason why this film is being mentioned here is because by creating new visuals and new styles everything else that was included was elevated to a more interesting art form that had not been adapted before and hopefully one that will make way for others to do as well.

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Jarrett Mazza is a writer and teacher living in Canada. He attended Wilfrid Laurier University and received an Honours Bachelor’s Degree in English and Contemporary Studies as well as a Bachelor of Education from the prestigious Schulich School of Education. He is now in the process of earning an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College in Vermont. He has been fascinated by superheroes and stories for as long as he can remember and studied comic book writing and sequential storytelling from industry professionals Ty Templeton and Andy Schmidt. When he is not self-publishing his own comic books, he is working on his thesis novel, submitting short stories to publishers, obsessing about geek fandom, and looking for new things to read and write.

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