Missing from the textbook – Comics and Sequential Art

By: Kirk Nazar- 3164965

An extremely influential aspect of art and design that is missing from Eskilson’s textbook is the role of comic books and Graphic novels throughout history. The basic communicatory structure of these mediums is rooted in graphic design, and requires it in order to function. Comic illustration and Graphic design share a symbiotic relationship in this sense and have made a massive contribution to our art and design culture throughout history; Acting as a visual communication of our cultural zeitgeist, establishing symbolism and a distinct visual vocabulary that have become ingrained into our contemporary visual culture, shaping and reflecting it.

Itchy and Scratchy Comics, 1999

In order to even hold their basic narrative structure, the illustrations of a comic and narrative text need to be arranged in a way that is legible and cohesive, and this is where graphic design play’s it’s integral role in their construction. Comic books are a visual medium that embrace all 5 sense. Used in a multitude of ways to represent different narrative aspects. One way they achieve this is utilizing illustrative typography and it’s placement among the illustration to do things such as giving texture to a word to represent a sound, or emboldening it to establish tone, theme or mood.

Roy Lichtenstein, CRAK! (1963)
Roy Lichtenstein, CRAK! (1963)

These emotive fonts became a symbolic and iconic type face associated with comics, but more importantly their role in popular culture. These typographic methods were re purposed for a variety of other avenues of art and design. One of the most famous artistic movements, the Pop art movement of the 1950’s; Saw artists such as Roy Lichtenstein utilizing them, and other comic book visual tools in his own work to critique the current socio political climate of capitalistic mass production and the status of fine art and design in the 20th century.

Whaam! 1963 by Roy Lichtenstein 1923-1997
Roy Lichtenstein, WHAAM! (1963)

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Their use and effects throughout history has shifted drastically from tools of sociopolitical satire and critique, expressions of american youth culture to an integral part of the american war machine in the 1940’s . Following the events of D-Day, the american government enlisted comic makers of the time into the war effort, creating the character of Captain America. With the major demographic of readers being young men, comics were the perfect tool. They began operating as essentially an alternative to american enlistment posters and propaganda, assisting with vilification of the enemy and Heroism of the american allied forces. Targeted at young boys coming of age to enlist and also soldiers fighting over seas alike; sending copies to active duty troops reassuring them of their heroic purpose, justifying their role. In fact, the narrative tool of the super villain in literature and popular culture was the product of American War time comic issues and their propagandistic utilization.

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Captain America Comics (1941) #1
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Captain America Comics (1942) #13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While comics and graphic novels are often considered to be under the umbrella of illustration, I wholeheartedly disagree, Their methods of story telling are in able to function without some form of graphic design and in that sense their relationship is inseparable and symbiotic. I sincerely believe that the place of comics and graphic novels are a key facet that cannot be ignored when looking at graphic design. They have had an undeniable affect on our society throughout our history, both artistically and culturally, and are an excellent example of a form of art and design that needs more inclusion in Academic textbooks.

Work Cited 

  • McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. Edited by Mark Martin, Tundra Publishing, 1993.
  • “Captain America: A WWII Fighting Force.” National D-Day Memorial, 27 Sept. 2017, www.dday.org/2017/10/19/captain-america-a-wwii-fighting-force/.
  • Dooley, Michael. “How Comic Books Influence Graphic Design.” Print Magazine, 5 Aug. 2011, www.printmag.com/design-education/comics-graphic-designers/.
  • “Roy Lichtenstein: MoMA.” The Museum of Modern Art, www.moma.org/artists/3542.
  • Rupert. “Using Comic Book Techniques in Graphic Design.” Red Back Design, 27 May 2018, redbackdesign.co.uk/using-comic-book-techniques-in-graphic-design/.
  • Carrier, David. The Aesthetics of Comics. The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000.

 

Design in the Wild – The Art of Video Game Covers

By: Kirk Nazar- 3164965

Video game box art is simultaneously the most important and most easily overlooked aspect of the industry. It is the identifying face of a game and tasked with conveying what the game is, and has to offer. Over the past 30 years, Cover art has evolved just as drastically as the games themselves, and arguably not for the better. Most game covers today all follow a similar safe design formula and fail to accomplish the most crucial thing required of them. With an era of digital distribution threatening the role of physical boxed copies in general, there has never been a better time to look back at the journey of an underappreciated facet of art, its shift, and its place among graphic design.

Today, utilizing an in-game asset for cover art and marketing is standard procedure, but that wasn’t always the case. In the late 70’s, Cabinets and consoles had nowhere near the hardware capabilities they have now and relied almost entirely on the imagination of the player. Publishers therefore relied on artists such as George Opperman and Rick Guidiceboth with conceptual and commercial art experience, to create imagery that would spark and excite the players imagination. All with identical boxes, the Atari 2600 generation put all emphasis on the illustration with flat monotone backgrounds, symmetrical composition and Atari sans serif cover text. While the artwork work was undoubtedly beautiful, controversy arose for misleading the consumer due to the imagery being more interpretive rather than representational.

Asteroids (1979)                            Berzerk (1980)

asteroidsbox-jpg_618x0_ berzerkboxart-jpg_618x0_   asteroidsgameplay-jpg_618x0_ berzerkgameplay-jpg_618x0_1

 

These trends shifted in subsequent years with companies like Nintendo utilizing more screen accurate imagery in their cover art. With consoles still being limited to 8-bit processing capabilities, enticing buyers, while also being transparent about the product, just wasn’t a marketable option. So a medium between the two extremes was established with artists beginning to experiment with dynamic ways to incorporate title text fonts and creative imagery that would not mislead the consumer.

NES Golf (1984)                                                  NES Open Tournament (1991)     

nes_golf                       nes_nesopenturnamentgolf_gb

Super Mario Bros. (1985)                               Super Mario Bros.  3 (1988) 

nes_supermariobros                      nes_supermariobros3

 

This Precedent was maintained into the next generation of consoles in 1991. With graphical improvements, artists now had more identifiable source material to work with, illustrating scenes from the games themselves rather than what a game was meant to represent. The cover designs that came out of this generation by artists such as Tom dubois, maintained just the right amount of artistic freedom, and did so without overly misrepresenting the product. Original fonts styles, experimental compositions and beautiful illustrations made a generation of cover art that is widely considered to be the most iconic and aesthetically diverse of all time.

 

snes_thelegendofzeldaalinktothepast-1 snes_supermetroid snes_supermarioworld

A Link to the Past (1991)    Super Metroid (1994)    Super Mario World (1990)

snes_secretofmana snes_streetfighterii snes_castlevaniaiv

Secret of Mana (1993)        Street Fighter II (1992)      Super Castlevania IV (1991)

 

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Tomb Raider (1996)
crash-bandicoot-usa
Crash Bandicoot (1996)

With the jump from 2D to 3D in 1996, Publishers saw the new visual fidelity as impressive enough to use in-game assets as marketing material, and subsequently illustrators no were longer necessary.

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Sonic 3D Blast (1996)

Similar to shifts from illustration to photography in advertising throughout history, the public seemed to prefer it; Regardless of its comparable lacking of detail to previous hand drawn covers. This need for 3D was initiated by western publishers and started the unfortunate trend of box art feeling designed by marketing teams rather than passionate artists. Most covers began following the same formulaic approach to their designs with a central in game character asset, symmetrical text composition and recycled font style. This and other standard design formulae became a normality that sadly continues to occupy the vast majority of store shelves today. Doing more to represent the current market zeitgeist rather than a digital work of  interactive art.

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Video game cover art by its definition is its own form of poster art. Visual imagery and marketing coming together with the goal of winning the interest of potential consumers. Like a lot of poster art of the 19th and 20th century, themes of mysticism, sex, masculinity and fantastical elements are commonplace among box covers, and while beautiful, they sadly do little to represent the products they are advertising. This  is something that has re surged quietly among video game covers over the past 20 years. While graphically the visuals displayed on cases today look impressive, and their compositions are in fact well executed, there is a clear bias in the division of it’s two jobs, the passion and appreciation for representing a piece of art, and it’s role as a marketing tool.

 

Work Cited

  • Buffa, Christopher. “Video Game Box Art: How Beautiful Graphics Ruined Everything.” Prima Games, Prima Games, 19 June 2014, primagames.com/feature/video-game-box-art-how-beautiful-graphics-ruined-everything.
  • Lapetino, Tim. Art of Atari. Edited by Shawna Gore, Dynamite Entertainment, 2016.
  • Webster, Andrew. “How Atari Box Art Turned 8-Bit Games into Virtual Wonderlands.” The Verge, 19 Sept. 2013, www.theverge.com/2013/9/19/4716444/how-atari-box-art-turned-8-bit-games-into-virtual-wonderlands.
  • “Album Art CD Covers and DVD Covers.” Cover Century, www.covercentury.com/.