Rendered art is a gorgeous sight to behold. Your eyes (at least, my eyes) get all gooey and detail-happy and it gives an otherwise nice illustration an extra boost.
Arzach by Jean “Moebius” Giraud, page 33-34. EYEGASM!
In comics, however, this kind of rendering can not only be extremely exhausting for the artist, it can also be exhausting for the reader! Too much rendering all the time can oversaturate our brain’s capacity to notice differences in detail.
Why do we want our readers to notice changes in detail? Well, an artistic upgrade can help put an extra ‘oomf’ to an otherwise OK panel when something important is happening. Let me elaborate. Take Ashley Cope’s Unsounded as an example.
Unsounded. Chapter 1, page 12-13.
Here we see Ashley’s comedic and fun style transition into something more detailed: not only in colour, but also in style and with added dynamism. This “change” is jarring and delightful, and really drives in the new scene’s tone shift.
Another, more dramatic example comes a few pages later:
Unsounded by Ashley Cope. Chapter 1, page 15-17.
Here the transition goes from relatively detailed to full on painting and then back again. By temporarily evolving into something more realistic but still stylistically consistent, the art manages to really slam in the significance of this flashback. The gorgeously rendered blood next to the blades is an image that won’t soon leave you.
But the reason it really works is because this style is new and exciting, and you don’t get to see it often.
This stylistic oomf works even in black and white. In Sakamoto Shinichi’s art style, all of his characters are beautiful. They are impossibly beautiful. So when he emphasizes the lines of their faces, the delivery of a scene’s severity really strikes you.
Innocent by Sakamoto Shinichi. Volume 1, page 179-181.
The same goes for the level of detail in the background. Richly detailing the object you want to be the emphasis or “oomf” of a page really makes it pop out and make an impact. But this impact is lessened if your comic is always excessively detailed, because there isn’t much of a change from a mundane scene to a scene of importance. This can be buffered by usually emphasizing one style over another.
An interesting example comes from Yotsuba&!. Here, the cast is always drawn quite simply but the backgrounds are consistently rendered hyper realistically. While the backgrounds are ever present, they are rarely the focus. So when they become the focus, the “wow” impact remains.
Yotsuba to! by Kiyohiko Azuma. Chapter 61, page 26-27.
But Karaii, you might say, sometimes the scenes of most impact are the least detailed ones! You would be right!! Have an example from another wonderful comic, the French masterpiece The Incal:
The Incal drawn by Jean “Moebius” Giraud and written by Alejandro Jodorowsky. Page 69-70.
The comic is ridiculously rich in detail most of the time, thoroughly organic, but the moment the mystical Incal takes over, everything becomes simplified and geometric. This jarring change really emphasizes its power and significance, without having to dedicate a paragraph of written text to it.
The Incal by Jean “Moebius” Giraud. Page 88-91. DAMN, SON!!!
But hey, sometimes a void is stronger than all the detail in the world. Take Kentaro Miura’s Berserk, for example.
Berserk is usually taken to a level of extreme detail when a fight breaks down, with all the lovingly rendered crosshatching and gore. While I very much love the style, I admit it can work against the impact because one becomes desensitized to the violence. So when Miura takes a step back and lets a tragic scene breathe, the emotional impact strikes you harder:
Berserk by Kentaro Miura. Volume 1 page 147-150.
So, remember: impact comes from the conscious or subconscious change our brain notices in the progression of the sequential art. A successful tone shift happens because it’s new and different. The same should be done to one’s quality of art when you want to bring focus or emphasis on an emotional moment.
Be careful not to abuse these jarring changes though, or they quickly become tiring and/or not effective.
That’s what I’ve come to conclude, anyway! Do you have any other examples of comics that follow this style? Of ones that defy it and still succeed? Do share!! I always love hearing people’s varying opinions.
I’m not confident in my art skill, really. I’m constantly surprised people have such nice things to say on it. I’m constantly fighting against how plain and drab my drawings look. I’m constantly trying to look at my art and not see a sum of flaws. I’m constantly judging myself for all the ways I should be better and I’m not, and how much I struggle with how a lack of achieving the progress I want is interpreted by my head as weakness.
And unfortunately that comes with the territory and never really goes away. I don’t know any artist, no matter how skilled, that doesn’t struggle with crippling self-doubt.
If you’re looking for confidence, I hate to say it, that’s something I think very few achieve — if it can be achieved at all. Learning and improving your skill and method is a continuously humbling experience, and part of that lesson is to not mistake “humbling” with “self-hatred.”
The trick to that is to find confidence in literally everything else about art. Why does anyone create or do art at all? Expression. Fun. Play. A purpose. A message. Connection. Communication. Those are all things you can and should feel confident about, otherwise there’s no point to doing art.
That may sound simple but it’s actually very hard, because there’s an important life lesson in achieving that. And it’s a life lesson you’re going to have to re-affirm every minute of every day. And that’s the one every story has been teaching us from the beginning: believing in yourself and what you do, and persevering when all you want to do is break your pencil in half and give up.
Simply put: Don’t make art to be good at it. Make art to be proud of yourself for.