Developing Your Own Style
Submitted by Sean C on April 3, 2006 - 12:50
I felt like writing this blog after changing the art style to my comic, and realizing what a liberating experience it can be. I had been drawing Cute Ninja Girls in a more manga-esque style since it's launch, but faced a bit of an ethical crisis. I'm no fan of manga, and view it as derivative and hack, (this is mostly on the web, but it's not universal by any means) yet here I was drawing my own comic in this style.
I know the kind of art I like to draw, and I know that my personal style would be both easier to handle and would help make the comic itself more original than it already was. I had been using the manga style because the comic originally called for it, and would be an important part of establishing the "cute" factor of Cute Ninja Girls. I couldn't take it anymore.
One day, I said to hell with it, and went for it. It was the best move I could have made. Now, I'm afraid, I'm going to rant for a bit. I'm not trying to be harsh, or single anyone out; I'm just speaking from experince.
Alright, folks. I've been reading webcomics for years, and drawing/writing one for roughly half a year now. I've experienced the occasionally intense pressure of crafting a unique art style that I can call my own. Of course doing something like this involves studying other artists, and discovering little tricks they use that may work for your own style. Every artist has been influenced by other artists, so don't deny it. Even when I worked in my manga-esque style, I tried to make it different than the general crop out there.
However, I'm seeing a trend developing that disturbs me - there's a definite pattern of new artists seeking to directly copy the style of another webcomic artist. These individuals, God bless 'em, have the idea that by closely copying another artist, they can have a successful comic. They occasionally will simply try to copy an image from another artist's comic panels. I've seen cases where developing artists actually ask (ususally in forums) how to copy an artist, or ask how to draw like artist X. It saddens me that they don't aim for a more unique and personal style. It's a wonderful experience to do so.There are some areas that get hit hard by this particular type of art parasite.
Manga - It's everywhere - both in print and online. If the story to Manga X isn't as cliched as possible, then the art is exceptionally derivative of another artist. I'm not accusing manga artists in general - there's plenty of truly original people in this genre, but there are those that push things too far, in my book. These are the self-indulgent fan-fics that copy the art as closely as they can for an "authentic" feel. There are those who just draw manga characters because they think they could get more traffic. (I can be accused of this - but I defend myself by stating that when the comic originally launched, it was meant to have a manga flavor - the style was not just some trick to get readers - and I abandoned the manga-esque style, admiting I couldn't stand it anymore.) There are the artists who believe that manga is a good area to learn how to draw, and try to do so without studying important details like anatomy. Their characters tend to be highly disproportional, have narrow heads, and lean to one side. They're cutting corners, and it shows.
Furry - I know furry fans are some of the most passionate and rabid fans, but I gotta say it: pretty much all furry comics look alike. There's a general style used across the vast majority of the board; simply read a few and you'll see what I mean. The "talented" furry artists tend to have some sort of canine character that looks like every other canine character. There are details that are prevailent - the general shape of the head, the brow, and the placement of the ears. Don't get me started on the whole cat-girl thing, either. I don't even know if it belongs in this genre, but the world has seen every possible cat-girl it could ever see. We don't want anymore images of a sexy girl with cat ears coming out of the top of her head.
Sprites - There are pixel artists who make their own sprites, and I give credit to them. However, the majority of sprite comics are taken from old videogames, and the lack of effort shows, mostly through the poor jokes, "anytime I feel like it" updates, and piss-poor panel arrangement. Sprite comics tend to be for people who just want to say, "I have a webcomic." If you want that as a status symbol, put a little more effort into it. Some have found success, like 8-Bit Theater, but that comic stands on good writing, and the panels are carefully planned.
For any artists out there who are considering starting up a webcomic, I can only offer the following advice. Don't copy another artist's style. Ever. It's okay to borrow elements to enhance your own style; that's how you develop it. Ripping off another artist WILL draw harsh comparisons, and will be viewed as derivative and possibly hack-work. Before you even start the first strip, make up character sheets that show your character from various angles. See what you can do to make yourself more comfortable drawing said characters. Don't claim that copying another artist directly helps you learn to draw, because it doesn't. All it teaches you is how another artist draws. You won't walk away with a better sense of the figure, and the overall quality of your work will suffer. If you can't handle the basics like figure drawing, then you may want to consider learning a bit more before making the commitment to a comic. Waiting just a little longer can be a boon. If you do just jump in, you'll find that your art improves over time, especially if you make the effort to make it better. Either approach is valid.
I'm not trying to be elitist, or to discourage future webcomic makers; I'm just trying to give out advice. Developing your own, original art style will help define your individualty and, who knows, maybe you'll strike gold and create the new "hip" style that will trigger a wave of copy-cats. Your chances of success through ripping off another artist aren't good. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but in the comics world, it's generally frowned upon. If I came off harsh or offended anyone, then I apologize. I only want to encourage budding artists to define themselves, and create something they can truly call their own.