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Submitted on
March 26, 2010


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In my journals and lectures to students I’ll talk about “house styles” a lot and I just wanted to clear the air about my opinion on them.  In a general sense I don’t have a house style, so often times I get notes from people championing me on being one of the more aggressive bloggers/writers/artists who advocates against house styles in favor of more distinctive styles of comic book art.  And while I’m happy to advocate more original types of styles, in no way am I against house styles.

Here’s an analogy to better describe the relationship between independent and house styles:

House styles to comics are like Budweiser to beer.  Without the consistent sales of Bud and Bud Light, the beer economy in the US would crumble.  Most people like Bud--you can find it in almost any bar in the country.  When you open a cooler at a cookout, most likely you’ll be looking at Bud.  Some people drink nothing but Bud, Coors, Michelob, etc.  Even if you don’t claim to be a fan of those mainstream beers, you can chug one down and satisfy your urge to drink.  Even if you HATE mainstream beers, you have to admit that the mere presence of mainstream beer allows for the microbrews (the independent art styles of comics) to exist in an economical way.

Let’s say you’re a mainstream reader.  So you go into our proverbial pub and order your Bud.  This is what I imagine happening in your head: “Good old Budweiser!  Always there for me when I need it and it never disappoints.  Look at those microbrew assholes thinking they’re all cool with their indy beer.  They’re over-thinking their beer way too much!  What do they think this is, a wine tasting?  Why don’t they just sip their beer from tea cups and stick out their pinkies while they’re at it?!  I’m not in this pub to ‘sample beverages’ like they are—I’m here to get wasted because my job sucks and I need to escape.  Getting drunk is supposed to be exciting, not a learning experience.”

Respectfully, mainstream readers have every right to feel that way.  I’m more of a indy guy myself (microbrew most of the time) and while I don’t understand Budweiser, what I cannot say is “Budweiser sucks” because that’s a narrow minded, uneducated, thoughtless stance.  What I must say instead is “Bud’s not for me.”

Now let’s say you’re an indy reader.  Here’s what I imagine in your head: “This microbrew is great!  Different from that other microbrews in subtle ways that only a serious beer taster could understand.  As a dabbler in beer making at home, I have an appreciation for beer that those Bud Light assholes will never have.  How are they even challenged by Bud?  Doesn’t branching out help heighten their appreciation of all beers?  How could they support the evil corporation known as Budweiser?!  Don’t they know that Bud is killing the true art form of beer as a whole?  Even the label is boring! Fuck house styles!”

But what do we mean by “house styles”?  I can only speak for myself, and my broad definition would be that house styles are the styles most people associate with superhero comics.  To me (and be nice if you wildly disagree please), house styles look like a mix of Silver Age styles but modernized with a lot of Jim Lee and Adam Hughes.  The building blocks of a house style is the use of feathering, rulers for perspective, tick marks, and cross-hatching.  Usually it’s meant to be colored, so you don’t see a lot of spotted blacks.  It’s attempting to be closer to a photo than to a cartoon, although “comics” is considered to be a “cartooning medium” overall—so who knows.

While I can’t say that I’m challenged by purely house styles (yes I’m an art snob), I do appreciate them for two reasons:

First off, house styles and independent styles have a lot in common.  In my snobbier moments I’ll claim to have an indy style, but that’s false because there are a lot of marks I make which can also be found in a house style.  If you want to be a successful indy artist (meaning you want to make money), you need to have enough house style in you to act as a tether to the mainstream reader.  In other words, you want to impress everyone at the bar with your beer.  All beer is made from barley or grain (just like all comics are made from lines), so embrace the things you have in common and try to ride the line between indy and mainstream.

And secondly, I appreciate the consistent dollar that house styles bring into the industry.  Without mainstream DCU making money, there’s no way Vertigo would be able to give chances to guys like me who “ride the line” on styles.  Luckily there are enough talented house style artists who fill those roles so that I don’t have to—because I’m no good at them.

So to all those house style guys reading this—thank you for doing what you do.  We’re all in this together, and as much as I wax on about indy shit, I appreciate the work you do.  And hopefully you appreciate indy guys as well because our weirdo microbrews are driving some readers away into the comforting embrace of your consistent mainstream beer.

This Bud’s for you.
  • Mood: Neutral
  • Listening to: art brut
  • Reading: Dennett
  • Watching: battlestar
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YelZamor Featured By Owner Apr 9, 2010  Professional Digital Artist
It's like chocolate... Milk chocolate is tasty, you know where you are with it. But sometimes you just crave a little bit of orange or wasabi-flavoured chocolate.

I've read some Marvel collections where the styles often differ significantly... methinks those companies with stricter style definitions use it to improve the immersion in the story, and changing styles is almost like seeing a boom mike bobbing into the frame in films.

However, I love unique and differing styles in comics; it mixes it up a bit and you get to appreciate each artist's unique interpretation of the characters and story.

XoSs Featured By Owner Apr 5, 2010  Hobbyist Filmographer
Well there I go again, getting sucked into your posts. Being into film I naturally switched out comics for movies and found this as the perfect analogy for the way I've always felt about cinema. I suppose this can also come into play when I do (not very often, but it does happen) talk about comics.

I'm too lazy to start looking for one, but have you started an external blog at all? You should get a blogger account and link all your fans/followers to it, if you get enough page views you become eligible for Googles Adsense dealy. No joke, I think you can pull in a few bucks every month, and what's wrong with a little pocket money? You can use it to buy beer... or comics or something...
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Apr 6, 2010
Thanks for reading. I have another blog, but mostly I just repost these blogs. :)
Phantasmagora Featured By Owner Apr 1, 2010  Student General Artist
Although I'm not a comic artists by any means (though it was once a dream way back when), I appreciate these analytic journals of yours on the industry. It's nice to see that there are still balanced opinions out there, and it's also great to have a little insight on the background workings to the world of comics as well, how everything fits together and is connected in some way.
augustustodopoderoso Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2010  Professional Traditional Artist
Sorry, that shoulda been: "Encouraging people to try fresh and unique styles..blah, blah, blah"
Ad storyboarding is really messing with my head.
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2010
Haha. Thanks for reading.
augustustodopoderoso Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2010  Professional Traditional Artist
Maybe, after encouraging artists, they can embrace you for the good advice and support
Always a pleasure reading you posts.
Thank you for sharing, Sean
augustustodopoderoso Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2010  Professional Traditional Artist
Nice analogy! Sean writes good words, indeed :)
Im pretty much the bud drinker thoughts, when it comes to drink on a real bar, but more the independent drinker when it comes to drawing.
Embracing people to try fresh and unique styles of drawing and telling stories, its something wise.
Youre are good, sir
All the best.
AdamSward Featured By Owner Mar 29, 2010  Professional Traditional Artist
It's kind of crazy to think about how we've gotten to the point where you can, in many cases, hold up Book A and figure out at first glance whether or not it is an Indy or House style book, regardless of who the publisher is. Just the general idea that Indy is now associated with the style of art, as opposed to the publisher, and vice-versa. Templesmith and Wood are far from whats considered "house" but IDW seems to have an awful lot of similar artists.

It always seemed to me like the MAIN difference between an indy book and a house book was the creators/artists stance on having an editor whom had more power over whether or not a book came out than the artistic team involved in making the book. Coupled with the intent of the book; is this comic meant to make money and appease a pre-existing fan base, or is this comic the product of a team/person that wanted to tell a story regardless of the audience.

I guess to a large extent I agree with Maq911. But I think that the fact that folks like Jim Lee and Silvestri's styles became so imitated due to the fact that there was a market for them, AND they were availible to be seen.

Could it be that the current House and Indy styles have more to do with the general demand of the audience than the actual artistic style represented, or at least catagorised, by both?
Konjur Featured By Owner Mar 29, 2010
You might like Goldilock! :D it's all cartoon.
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