Fine Art vs. Illustration, the Eternal Battle…

Hi, Folks—Scott Story here. I was going to write today about preparing your comics for a trade-paperback collection. Maybe I will tomorrow.  Today, I’m going to write about a subject much closer to the heart: Fine Art vs. Illustration.

You might wonder what the heck that has to do with webcomics.  The fine art webcomic equivalent would be one where most of these points apply:
  • The cartoonist can be wildly experimental with format, switching from the strip format, to infinite canvas, to Flash slide shows at will.
  • The cartoonist doesn’t care about how many readers he has.
  • If one person really “gets” the comic, that’s enough.
  • The cartoonist doesn’t have to worry about conformity in style (abstract, realistic, animated, etc.) and medium (colored pencil, pastels, Photoshop CS5, whatever.)
  • The cartoonist doesn’t really care about making money with the webcomic.
  • Ultimately, the cartoonist’s goal is artistic satisfaction.
As you can see, the fine art cartoonist has a specific mindset.  A comic created by an illustrator would be different, and contain most of the following points:
  • The cartoonist’s goal is create an entertainment property, one poised to jump into various media (video games, movies, prose, etc).
  • The cartoonist monetizes his work, and feels it is appropriate to make money from their webcomic.
  • The cartoonist is not afraid to merchandise, and sells t-shirts, plushies, digital copies, etc.
  • The cartoonist cares for how large his audience is, because he understands that (generally) the bigger the audience, the more money the cartoonist will earn.
  • The cartoonist spends a great deal of time on promoting his webcomic.
  • The cartoonist’s ultimate goal is to entertain; he wants readers to appreciate the story as much as the cartoonist himself does.
Well, there are a bunch of items I could add to these lists, but I think you get the idea.  Let me add that you as a webcartoonist fall on a continuum between these two extremes, so you may be a little bit one, and a bit of the other.
I’ll end with this analogy: If you were a solo guitarist performing at a party, would you want to play beautifully and really entertain everyone (the illustrator’s mindset); or, would want to rip off blazing solos and fingerboard pyrotechnics that really appeals to no one but other guitarists (fine artist’s mindset)?