Comic Style


Comics as an art medium have evolved fast since they began in the late 19th century with collections of comic strips. We see a diverse set of creators, art variety, and even the newer digital art format, which has allowed many artists to expand on their techniques and accessibility to the industry.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the term comic strip in the sense of “a group of cartoons in narrative sequence” was first used in 1913. The French equivalent of the word, bande dessinée (literally, “drawn strip”) is older. It goes back to 1833, when the Swiss artist Rodolphe Töpffer, created L’Hiistoire de M. Jabot (The Story of Mr. Jabot).
Still, some people consider that comic strips date back to the British painter William Hogarth and his story told in a series of six pictures, A Harlot’s Progress (1731); to Hokusai’s sketches; to old European engravings that included speech bubbles; to medieval illuminations, or even to prehistoric cave paintings!


Within every sub-genre of art style, you will find a wide range of works. Everything from Family Circus to Garfield has graced Sunday Newspapers. But for the sake of this post, they become examples of short art formats, thus not requiring three-dimensionality or extreme attention to detail. Most of those that fall in this category are influenced by the Platinum Age of comics, which started in the late 19th century with the first serialized collection of comic strips. But we can look back at its influences coming from Ancient Egypt and Greece (even if the two examples listed above were first published in the 1960s and 1970s, respectively) that define the linear short story format used now for centuries.


These are what we think of when we think of vintage comics. The first depictions of SupermanWonder Woman, and other DC and Marvel Heroes come from this style, which became extremely popular in the 1930s up until the 1950s when mass production of comics started.

The Silver Age

Now in the post-war period, mass consumption incentivized, and a significant part of that was the new mediums such as comics. Still mainly targeted at young boys at this time, The Silver Age started seeing a more complex drawing style with more use of three-dimensionality, detail, and shadows. Most of all, it is highly influenced by the new age of art in general that was rising with counter-cultural movements in the 1960s. So, here you see highly emotional depictions of characters and a lot of pop art influence, with bright, sometimes neon colors, and surrealist, and even at times disturbing imagery. This is the first time that the question of artistic value becomes part of the comics conversation. The medium was already established as a profitable one. In this time, artists started becoming recognized by their work and appealing to an older audience because of it.


Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man (1976) #49 ©2020 MARVEL

With an already established audience and artistic exploration, the next phase of the art style in comics became dedicated more to somewhat realistic storytelling, addressing real issues present at the time. With that, the art style became less surreal and more photorealistic, giving the character more human traits both visually and through writing, which would lead to a more cinematic feel. Spider-Man is an excellent example of that, with alter-ego villains and stories focused on grief and very realistic depictions of NYC’s landscape, which connect the reader to the comic’s universe.


In the 1980s, there is a big shift to how we understand comics, both from a narrative and visual point. The Dark age is so titled because of its focus on darker shades, night settings, and villains and more “dark” themes. Here we see the rise of the Watchmen comics and the Joker as the main character in The Killing Joke, which paved the way for many other supervillain-focused comics. This art style featured 1940s-inspired aesthetics, taking a lot of notes from noir crime thrillers of the silver age, as well as using psychological horror storylines.


While superheroes with dark storylines and bright neon strips were all the rage in the U.S., manga, a Japanese style of comic, started gaining more popularity both within the country and globally. Manga is characterized by its almost exclusively black and white style and distinct use of dimensionality and shadows. Manga is really diverse, and to be honest deserve an entire post dedicated to the variety of art styles within the genre, ranging from surrealist storylines to overly realistic ones.


saga vol 1

Titled the Ageless Age by some sources, starting after 1993 and up until today, we see a diverse set of comic book art styles that don’t necessarily follow a specific set of inspiration. Comics range from the classic superheroes to sci-fi fantasy like Saga, dark black and white horror like The Walking Dead, and the cartoon-esque Scott Pilgrim. You can look through any comics catalog today and find a range of styles from Lumberjanes to Jinju Ito. We are living in the age of access and diversity in comic art. Make sure that you explore everything from the classic superheroes to indie comics. There is something there for every taste.


1. The artwork must tell a story

Even if your main goal is to create cover art for comic books, learning the storytelling tenets of good comic art is essential for building your skills as an artist. Comic book art tells a story by placing one image after the other (often known as “sequential storytelling”). Make sure you know what storyline you are trying to convey before you get drawing.

2. Colour must be there for a reason

Colour is a great and subtle way to help direct the reader’s eye whether that be via shadow lines or colour patterns. It can also be used to help support the story. A blue can suggest quiet or melancholy, whilst including a bit of red may hint towards danger. Think of this like colour shorthand. 

But remember, colour should always have a reason for being there. The simpler you keep the colour, the more impact a change in colour can have.

3. Include movement to add extra depth to the storyline

Comic book storytelling is most powerful when it communicates with movement. This is mainly because humans are geared to draw meaning from movement rather than communication through words. 

Some good techniques to create movement in your art  include directional brushstrokes, contrasting textures, and warm and cool colour temperatures.

4. Expression is key

When designing characters, the points of focus should be the eyes, mouth and hands as these are the key conveyors of expression. Make sure to keep these elements clear and readable for the audience in order to give your characters expressions the most impact.