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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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:iconreemonemo:
reemonemo Featured By Owner Mar 28, 2010
Asian markets have pretty much the same goliaths that control the markets as they do here.
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:iconseangordonmurphy:
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Mar 28, 2010
Good points. I often wish comics in the states were more like publishers in Europe.
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:iconcomicmunky:
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 are...to 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...
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:iconjoeruff:
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.
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:iconseangordonmurphy:
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2010
Haha glad to be of service.
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:iconjoeruff:
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.
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:iconmatthewwarlick:
MatthewWarlick Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010  Professional General Artist
Well said!
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:iconcrapateria:
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.
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:iconmidknight23:
midknight23 Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010   General Artist
this rant made me thirsty
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:iconjharren:
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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:icontiznaught:
Tiznaught Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010
Nice analogy with the beers!
What I've noticed about both house and indy styles is that good skills can still stand out regardless of which style the artist has, same thing goes for writers too.
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:iconinkthinker:
Inkthinker Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010  Professional Digital Artist
Good metaphor! I like it!
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:icongeoffreydean:
geoffreydean Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Well written/said :D
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:iconbustermaximus:
bustermaximus Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010
This is not something I've ever really consciously thought about, but it's definitely a subconscious value that goes along with my personal taste. I, too, am more of a style snob, and like it funky and indie more often than not, but I couldn't agree with you more on this. It's all got its place, and it all matters.

Now, where'd I set my my Bayern Pilsner?
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:iconmakeshiftgarbage:
makeshiftgarbage Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010  Professional Traditional Artist
you know how to hook the reader haha.
house styles bore me to death.
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:iconadampedrone8:
adampedrone8 Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010  Professional Traditional Artist
I'm curious how your style came about Sean. I would love to hear how you developed your look.
Reply
:iconjohnny-a-wall:
Johnny-A-Wall Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010
Captured the essence of the two things I love most. You sir, are my hero. Ha ha. Very very true in the best ways.

(Also, tis a great advantage for micro brews when one lives in the upper Midwest)
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:iconseangordonmurphy:
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010
Thanks dude. :)
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:iconjimmyjoejoe-:
jimmyjoejoe- Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010
I appreciate what "house style" does in terms of bringing in readers and keeping readers. Not really my thing at all but I can appreciate it.

I'm bothered more by "house style" coloring currently, that bugs the hell out of me. Its either really bland coloring or really shiny coloring, always over rendered. Even if there is enough information in the lines to give it full form, there is still ridiculous amounts of rendering.
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:iconseangordonmurphy:
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010
Over rendered cover. My pet peeve as well.
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:iconreemonemo:
reemonemo Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010
I guess you're the type that hates Budweiser.
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:iconjimmyjoejoe-:
jimmyjoejoe- Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010
Honestly never had one haha

I drink Corona's... in fact I think I should have one now haha
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:iconmikechoi:
mikechoi Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010
My definition of house style is that the more established-artistic influences you can identify in a person's art, the more house style it becomes.
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:iconrawren:
rawREN Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010
True, true. It is not an either, or thing. You do not have to be either a purist or a radical, when the basic recipe is actually very similar... some like to toast their grains a little and go light on the hops... others like an unfiltered hefeweizen... give me a honey wheat... but many just like their buds! We are still talking about variations on a theme. But then... we have liquor! I wonder how many indys consider themselves not to be a beer at all?
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:icondian3:
Dian3 Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010
:iconbravoplz:
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:iconrosshughes:
RossHughes Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010  Professional Digital Artist
Great analogy, Sean. Right on point. I've got a friend of mine that is getting discouraged because he can't catch on at Marvel or DC because they think his artwork is too stylized. I keep trying to tell him that these things are cyclical, and that the "house" style will eventually give way to a more individualized look. In the mean time you've got to just keep doing what you love and keep rocking it. Build your following, and eventually you'll force them to take a closer look at you.
Reply
:iconduss005:
duss005 Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010
putting all styles talk aside in any relation, my favorite beer- actual beer, not the proverbial art style, is actually Budweiser. i can get a 20 pack for 12 bucks at the local supermarket.
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:iconseangordonmurphy:
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010
As long as Budweiser doesn't show in your art
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:iconduss005:
duss005 Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010
it probably does man, i drink while working a lot :(
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:iconreemonemo:
reemonemo Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010
I bet Sean's the type that likes to ponder the hoppy-ness or barley-ness of his beer after his first sip.
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:iconicerune:
IceRune Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010
Great analogy.

SGM ftw.
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:iconayenlou:
ayenlou Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010
that is a great analogy! You've opened my mind sir!
Reply
:iconcidvicious831:
cidvicious831 Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010  Professional Artist
blue moon is my bear! and corona!!
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:iconbathill8:
bathill8 Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010
Unfortunately too many styles are non-alchoholic in both "house" and indy.
Reply
:iconmaq911:
maq911 Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010
I think that was a very interesting post. I agree with it and yet I don't agree with it. If you think back to the late 80's and early 90's, the "house style" was vastly different than from what it is today. Guys like Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, Silvestri, Portacio and (dare I say it) Liefeld WERE the "avante garde" of comics. As they rose to the top of the heap, they influence new artists and attract followers so that suddenly what was once cutting edge is NOW the House Style...fast-forward to today guys like SEAN MURPHY, DUSTIN NGUYEN, ERIC CANETE, JP LEON, etc etc...you guys are cutting edge and if you stick around for a while you will eventually become the basis for the new house style.

Jack Kirby was once cutting edge, Steve Ditko, Steranko, Romita, Buscema...
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:iconseangordonmurphy:
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010
Good point about the house changing. :)
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:iconheysawbones:
heysawbones Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010  Professional General Artist
I'm rather uneducated about this. If you have the time, could you please explain to me what 'feathering' means in this context? The other stipulations of a house style were familiar to me and easily understood, but not 'feathering'.

Thank you in advance!
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:iconseangordonmurphy:
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010
It's hard to describe but easier to show. Feathering is usually done with a brush. A bunch of lines next to each other that go from thin to thick. You'll see them a lot of define things like shoulders and biceps.
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:iconheysawbones:
heysawbones Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010  Professional General Artist
Oh, actually, that clears it up for me. I know what you mean now!

Again, thanks.
Reply
:iconbillyjimbo:
billyjimbo Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010  Professional General Artist
I think this is a great and common sense concept. In mainstream history, comics in America developed their "style" somewhat due to the limitations of the printing process available at the time. When there really was only flat color available, there were 2 main points that art HAD to follow:
1. A strong silhouette
2. Flat black areas.

When the computer started coloring, the black areas were turned over to the colorist in most cases in order to make reflected light and graduated shadows. Now, since the computer soloist is not working for a single in house company any more (i.e. Digital Chameleon) there is far greater leeway in the silhouette as well. This allows artists such as yourself to do the work you do.
If you were working in the late sixties or early seventies, I think you would be hard pressed to find work in your style only because they expense to reproduce it would be enormous. So as you say, "house style" is important, I think that its definition will fade more and more.
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:iconseangordonmurphy:
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010
I don't know if I agree about styles like mine not being as printable in the 60s. A lot of illustrators and guys like Jim Holdaway had really thin lines and a lot of detail and they reproduced fine. Sometimes even better than digital printing that gets done these days. But maybe I'm understanding you wrong. :)
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:iconbillyjimbo:
billyjimbo Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010  Professional General Artist
I'm not saying that reproducing your work didn't happen, but the gray scale that you have in your washes in addition to the color was expensive for regular separation that Marvel and DC used. I know it was certainly possible, since the "Captain Canuck" books that George Freeman colored on bluelines were actually done less expensively than the process color at the time. I also think that your work would have found a place anyway, since it is fabulous!
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:iconseangordonmurphy:
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010
Right on about the washes. Sorry bout that. :)
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:iconaposcar:
aposcar Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010
beer talk on a friday... great timing...

always great, insightful & poignant. and there's what i feel something you have done awesomely well, is the knowing the rules (housestyle) and understanding how to break them, having the vision to do so and uniquely stand out- without it being forced. i think that is a challenge for a lot of guys, self included.

mmm... beer.
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:iconjcoelho:
JCoelho Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010  Professional
And then come guys like Neal Adams, Miller, Byrne, Romita JR, McFarlane, Jim Lee, Silvestri, Bachalo, Mignola and stretched the limits... when Bud's where more classical and stiff looking.

You and a bunch of talented new artists are contributing a great deal to stretch the limits wider nowdays...

Good reading :)
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:iconseangordonmurphy:
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010
Maybe one day my style will be the new house style. On that same day I will kill myself BTW. :)
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:iconjcoelho:
JCoelho Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010  Professional
Please don't do that!
You'll never be Bud... maybe Guiness... cool? :)
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:iconmaximovlorenzo:
MaximoVLorenzo Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010  Professional General Artist
People get so wrapped up in style labels, yet those labels barely mean anything and there's always exceptions. I sometimes wonder is you erased Jack Kirby from history of comics, and then he tried to work in comics today, would they treat him like he's indy? He has a heavy use of symbolism opposed to realistic, and the "house" style has been getting more and more realistic since then, and yet he's such an important figure in comics history.
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:iconmikehaff:
MikeHaff Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010
Another nicely stated opinion.
Though hard for me to sometimes comprehend, there is a market and audience for the house style. There is probably the same perception on their side regarding why anyone would prefer an indy style. Be that as it may, WHAT A GREAT COMPARISON USING BEER!
It's what keeps the demand up for an alternate style though.
I dig it.
Reply
:iconjasontormos:
JasonTormos Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2010   Digital Artist
you don't use rulers for perspective? I drink Stella Artois which owns Bud so now I'm confused ;)
seriously a great read though it cleared up some things for a guy who's trying to break into the industry.
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