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Submitted on
March 26, 2010


3 (who?)
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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reemonemo Featured By Owner Mar 28, 2010
Asian markets have pretty much the same goliaths that control the markets as they do here.
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Mar 28, 2010
Good points. I often wish comics in the states were more like publishers in Europe.
ComicMunky Featured By Owner Mar 28, 2010  Professional General Artist
Well there is always TopShelf, Fantagraphics, Drawn and Quarterly, First Second...etc etc they do exist. However the hangers on to the silver age tradition say the least...halting progress. But people like You and Aja, Jock, Paul Pope, Sean Phillips, and more skirt that that fine line and perhaps will pull some of these fogies into more contemporary concerns with comics.

And hopefully that early 80's mindset will fade away...
JoeRuff Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2010
and I wanna let you know your style might very soon become a house style, because ever year you come to the Kubert School, more and more artists are thinking to themselves, "Goshdarnit I wanna draw just like Sean Murphy!" I know that was my first thought, when I saw you do an awesome inking demo.
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2010
Haha glad to be of service.
JoeRuff Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2010
I can't speak for anyone else, but my "style" right now at least, doesn't seem to be something I have any control over. I feel like I can only draw a single way, and sure I'd love a more unique style, but I guess that'll just come with experience. And I think the bulk of the "house style" artists you talk about are new to comics and trying to find a more personal style.
but I think the more experienced guys for the most part have vastly different styles. I'm picking at random here but I'd say Quesada, Hitch, and Cassaday have completely different styles.
MatthewWarlick Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010  Professional General Artist
Well said!
crapateria Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
The comparison can also be made with movies. Sometimes i'm in the mood for a good ole action popcorn flick and then some days it'll be something more indy.
midknight23 Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010   General Artist
this rant made me thirsty
JHarren Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010  Professional
I'm glad you're taking this position! It's easy to fall into this 'good guy/bad guy' routine with comic book opinions (or any opinions) but an indy style of art needs a mainstream style to exist if for nothing but the contrast. If there was nothing but Craig Thompsons out there people would be raging against him and his memoir art machine. It's nice to see someone looking at comics as a whole rather than factions of people who draw 'right' and those who don't.
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