If a printed comic book is like a movie, then "original art" is the behind-the-scenes feature on the DVD. I love great comic artsometimes I love it so much that I want to see the original art so I can better understand how the artist arrived at the final product! And because I'm trained in art and do this stuff for a living, I'm probably a better "archeologist" of original art than someone who's just a reader.
Usage of the word "archeologist" might seem a bit grandiose, so let me explain why I chose it.
Recently I saw a special on National Geographic about Egyptian tomb robbers. Nat Geo gathered a room full of different experts to inspect how tomb robbers stole treasure from one of the great pharaohs; included were an Egyptologist, a geologist, and a cop who was familiar with modern day heisting. The entire 60 minutes were spent using their expertise to figure out the likely number of tomb robbers, the tools they used, the resources they needed, the timing of the heist, and (most interestingly) the types of personalities found in each of these men. There was a lot of guessing, but also a lot of science used to explore the tomb robbers' story.
Most interesting to me was the relationship that evolved between the modern day experts and the robbers (now dead for 2000 years). Obviously it's a one-way relationship, but I think it's interesting how they came to "know" the artisans just by viewing their work.
Original comic art is the same way for me. As great as printed comic art is, the originals tell me so much more. Especially when the art is pencilled and inked by the same person, and especially when the original inks aren't perfectly black (they're usually dark grey because ink isn't perfect). And grey inks are a window into the lines beneatha window into the artist's process.
This is what I get from printed art in comics: I'm seeing PACKAGED artthe final product after scanning and adjusting in Photoshop. The inks are no longer grey; the "windows" boarded-over. Not only that, but the colors can have a HUGE impact on my impression of the page. And the word balloons aren't always in the best spots. And because of Photoshop, blur filters and other tricks are often impeding my ability to see the inks. Don't get me wrongI still love looking at comics. But I'm looking at a group effort and not at the individual artist.
Here are the DVD extras I get from originals: pencils, erased pencils, ink corrections, things that were inked before the artist decided to ink over it, measuring lines, art "patches", notes to the inker, notes to the colorist, notes to the editor, coffee stains, finger prints, phone numbers, creases, size of art, kind of paper, kind(s) of ink, things written/drawn on the back of the page, handwriting, dates, labels, signatures, sweat, smudges, and evidence of other tools.
Original art reminds us that, at some point, some artist sat down and created the artwork by hand. Humans are nuts over the "hand crafted-ness" of an object. When we see a nice pot, we say "nice pot", but when we find out that the pot was hand made, we give it extra points. Why? Because the pot is so perfect and intricate, how the hell did someone make that BY HAND?! So we have to pick it up and see for ourselves!
Another example: you're in the doctor's office and you look up at his diploma on the wall. Diplomas are designed to look great, and they usually do. But when you look closer at it, you find out that the calligraphy isn't quite perfect. And that's when it hits you: this diploma was done by hand! Way more impressive than a printed diplomathe college he attended went the extra mile and issued hand crafted diplomas! It's more impressive because we value "hand crafted-ness".
And this is my beef with digital inking. Usually I can spot digital inks in printed comicsbut with advancing computer software, it's getting harder. Once in a while I'll see printed art that I love. And because I want to see the DVD extras, I'll seek out the original. And I'm always hugely disappointed when I find out that the art was done digitally. I feel like I've been fooled. But then again, I'm a snob.
For the most part, I'm all for digital art for certain jobs. It makes perfect sense if you're a concept artists and you need to make tons of changes dictation by some committee. But comics are so simple that I don't feel it's justified.
Still, to some degree, I can see why there are more and more digital inkers. You can be just as successful with digital art than by being a snob and having originals. And if no one can tell the difference with the final product, then who cares? Plus digital inking allows you to CONTROL-Z which gives you infinite chances to get an image right. Some feel it's faster, some feel it allows more control. Some claim that learning a digital program takes just as much effort as learning a brush. And maybe that's all true.
But at the end of the day, most people would rather have an original piece of art to hold. The more complicated the tools, the less "hand crafted-ness" involved, and the less impressive it will be. An original piece of art comes out of a studio with ink on the floor and sweat on the chair. Digital art comes out of a cubical.
But here's the knock-down argument for having original art: sales.
I make over $10,000 a year selling originals. If I work for 50 years, then I've made over $500,000. Or how about this: I will pay you $500,000 to use classical tools instead of digital ones. Isn't a few months struggling with a brush worth $500,000 over a lifetime? Some guys make more than mesome less. But even if you sold 1/5 the originals I did, you'd still be getting $100,000 to use a brush. Not only that, you get total street-cred from guys like me who pick up your original art and go "I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU DID THIS BY HAND!"
But here's my favorite argument, and it involves Jorge Zaffino.
Zaffino is one of my favoritesand MAN are his inks grey. I'm lucky enough to own 3 pages of original art. And because he died in 2004, you can probably guess that they didn't come cheap. A few years ago, I assumed that I'd never own one, but they've been easier to find once more people in the comic biz knew my name. I talk about Zaffino enough that people who own original art by him often seek ME outwhich is nice because I don't have to do any leg work. And because these collectors like Zaffino and Murphy art, they're sometimes willing to trade.
I'm really upset that Zaffino is dead. I mean really, really, REALLY upset. I get drunk sometimes and mourn the less of someone I feel very close toclose because I've studied his art so much. Never will there be a new interview with him. Never will I be able to meet him and bug him with a million questions. The chances to know him better have been completely taken awaythe only clues left are hidden within the lines of his original art. And that's where I start to feel a little betterknowledge of the fact that I know him like only a few others know him: through his originals.
None of that would be possible if Zaffino worked digitally. He would have robbed me of knowing him better. So what kind of artist do you want to be thought of after you're dead? Do you want people to know you better through your art, labeling you "old school" with your gray-inked-hand-crafted-originals? Or would you rather product digital files instead of artifacts?
Listening to: Charlie Rose
Watching: Top Gear UK