Comic book art started pulpy and grainy. The early comics show their age to today’s audience and look like the newspaper strips they originated from.
But artists honed their craft for decades and by the time the mid-90s rolled around, fans started seeing beautiful, detailed scenes like this one.
And it all went downhill from there.
Comics made a slow shift in focus. Whereas before the visual artist was revered as the creative force, more and more attention shifted to the writers. While good writing is important, it got to the point of relegating the artist to almost a footnote.
Comic book industries saw that fans can often forgive mediocre or even bad art if the story dazzles them. The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller featured a very sloppy art style, but the story changed the way fans look at Batman and The Joker.
The art of The Dark Knight Rises (the pencils done by Miller himself) had a certain charm. They were bad in a good way and reflected the dark mind of the writer. But it still showed industries that they didn’t necessarily need the polished, flawless aesthetics they were shooting for.
Then, right as we approached the year 2000, the manga craze hit the United States full force. Over the next several years, more and more western cartoons and comics tried off and on to imitate the manga style. The simplistic designs made the style offered an appealing alternative to artists who had trouble with detail and line shadowing, and to the publishers that paid them for their time.
Creators were also fascinated with how manga captured American audiences. In the early 2000s, Marvel made an earnest attempt to muscle in and steal some of these manga fans. Characters became increasingly more exaggerated around the eyes and cartoonish, whereas before artists tried to make their comics more serious and hard core, exaggerating the muscles rather than the eyes and adding lines in every available space to create the impression of texture.
- Dragon smash!
But the biggest influence came within the past 10 years and the rise of indie comics. Some of these indie comics aren’t even inked, yet some can draw fan bases to rival titles from Marvel or DC. Just as they had with anime, Marvel and DC attempted to emulate this style.
- The issue when Michael Jackson had an affair with Dakon.
There are many reasons why comic book sales have gone down, but the low quality art is surely a contributing factor. DC and Marvel have stopped putting effort into their visuals and now they can’t decide if they want to copy manga or low budget comics. Many artists even attempt both at the same time, and the results are a total mess.
What the major publishers fail to understand is that Frank Miller’s penciling was genuine to his vision and the story, indie art offers the charm of low budget and high effort, and manga art styles just look weird on the dark, gritty worlds of Batman and Wolverine.
When fans want to read an indie comic or a manga, they can just do that. There’s no shortage.
But when fans pick up Marvel or a DC comic, we want the spectacular visuals we grew up with.
And great story telling.
- We want this again!
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I detest intellectual property and how they all burn in Hell. I’ll never pay for a book, ever, and anyone who just a problem with that can eat a bullet. Non negotiable, anyone who depends on IP to live should die.
It’s really a case-by-case basis (& in issue of personal taste) when it comes to the art. If I look at all the off-shoot series of the X-men since 2019, it’s inconsistent, ranging from God Tier to Acid Trip to Unfinished Storyboards. I suspect this is how it’s always been, but I has a couple of decades in the middle of my life with no access to American comic books. I feel like the worst art period overall in Marvel’s history was in the late 80s to mid 00s, between the steroid Liefeld style & the cartoonish faux-anime styles.
I personally did not care for the art in Age of Apocalypse & gravitate more to the realistic body proportions in the recent incarnations of X-Factor, Hellions, Marauders, & Excalibur.
Yes there was bad art in the 90s as well.. There were countless times, my brother and I picked up a Marvel, or DC comic and laughed at how bad the art was… But today it just seems worse, but it isn’t so much the art that is the problem in modern comics.. It is the lack of story telling, and the fact that MOST of the people working on modern comics, do not care about the characters. They only care about pushing some crap message, and spending all day on Twitter, being divisive, yapping about who they hate, and needs to be cancelled, because they don’t agree with everything they believe, or what is the new offense, and or belittling true fans, who don’t like the vandalism being done to these characters. I have absolutely no problem with female characters, gay characters, or non-white.. Hell I am gay, and non-white lol.. What I do have a problem with, is focusing on that meaningless crap. But the SJWs or as the Japanese call them, “Malfunctioned”, are incapable of creation, only ruin..
This is all a huge reason as to why, Japanese comics continue to crush western.. Namely Marvel and DC.. Stan Lee’s Marvel greatly inspired me, now I am working on creating a universe inspired by what I loved about Marvel, and DC growing up, and being that I also grew up on anime/manga- there is that influence as well. If this get big, I would more than welcome all story tellers interested in this universe as well as artist to expand upon it, create their own characters and stories.. However….. NO SJWs ALLOWED.. They are cancer…
I think that 1990s art is disgusting and mass produced. In fact, I think that some of the only good artwork is from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, which still holds up today even though it clearly not made with the modern tech that artists today have. If you think that modern comic art is slopey, read anything draw by Grep Capelo and there is no way that you will have the same opinion.
I profoundly pity anyone who is nostalgic for the absolute crap that passed for “extremely aweseome!” art in the late ’80s through the ’90s. I stopped reading comics in 1986, and didn’t start again until around 2001, and I’m the better man for it. Of course, it’s very easy to take an extremely competent – not inspired, but competent – piece of art from the ’90s, and place it against a less competent piece of art from the modern era, and say, “Whuh hoppah?” and wait for all the dipshits to nod in agreement because they’re blinded by bad taste and nostalgia. The truth is, there has never been a time in mainstream comics that has been less creative and more utterly ugly and pathetic than that period between 1987 and 2001, and you either need to grow the fuck up and realize that or forever be mocked by people who are capable of intellectually evolving over time.
When I was a kid, back in the early ’80s, I didn’t like most of the comics, movies, and TV shows that were being produced at the time. I always found that most of the stuff I liked was older than I was. You, instead, just liked what you were spoon-fed in the ’90s and never got over it. You’re kinda pathetic, and there is no hope for you. I wouldn’t say this to someone with good taste in comics, but, brother, I recommend you put those ’90s comics down and maybe read some books without pictures. It’s time to move on from being a curator of your childhood nostalgia and broadening your intellect. And, no, I don’t mean reading shit in prose form. Maybe try The Rosy Crucifixion, or Ulysses, or Emily Dickenson, or Camille Paglia, or anything that will take you out of that stupid kid you were in 1993, for Christ’s sake. Move the fuck on.
Holy shit. What is your damage?
Totally agree, modern day comic art 1995-and up,is amateurish, and uninspired, at best. Sad to see, the days of John Romita, George Tuska, Bob Brown, Ernie Chan, Irv Novick, Jim Aparo, Ron Wilson, Herb Trimpe and Gene Colan, etc, is long past..
I was not, and am not a fan of 90’s bigger shoulders, more pouches. trench coats and mullets. There were, and are some good pieces of art. I enjoy art by Byrne, when inked by Austin. Perez, Lightle, Cockrum, Grell, Romita Sr and Jr., Layton…Kirby, Swan..so many others. I feel that the quality of art started to suffer in the late-80’s, when Liefeld, McFarlane, and Erik Larson were let off the leash at Marvel after leaving DC, and before starting Image.
Agreed. I just tossed 300 back issues of modern comics in the trash just to make room for truly great comics from the 90’s back to the 60’s. Comic books were awesome in the 90’s, and the artists were the reason why.
Today it seems we have piss poor amateurs drawing for top companies.
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I recognise your opinion, and completely disagree with a lot of what you say.
The art at the top of the page here is that of Jim Lee and Frank Quitely both fabulously successful artists. Like most trends, or fashion, the next one that comes along is a response to the one that was popular previously. Quietly acted like an antidote to Lee slick style, because things needed to move on. To call Frank Millars art “sloppy” in Dark Knight, does nothing but reveal your own limited appreciation of the greater work of artists out with the comic book realm. What you call sloppy, others might term, lyrical, loose or sympatico with the watercolours. It’s about personal preference. I’m a massive fan of the 1990’s style artwork you love. I also enjoy the other creative or more personal visions that other people have produced. Commercial success is no measure quality.
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