Augie De Blieck Jr. To Artists: Stop Tracing, Start Cartooning Again


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I'll come right out and say it: I loathe the rise of overused "photoreferencing" in comics today. I've had enough of it. What was once a "reference" has since become a "crutch" or a "shortcut." What happened to cartoonists with styles of their own? Has Photoshop corrupted an entire generation? Inkers used to be referred to as "tracers," but I see the "pencillers" as being more to blame today.

All artists use references. They have since the dawn of art. I can picture a caveman somewhere standing inside his cave, holding his thumb out at arm's length, looking very carefully at the subtle nuances of the local grazing buffalo, then scrawling his representation of it on the wall.

OK, maybe that's a reach.

But there's a fine tradition in art for using references. The Mona Lisa, for one example, is a painting of a woman who sat still for Da Vinci. A recently-published book, "Norman Rockwell Behind the Camera," is filled with the photographs Norman Rockwell took, displayed next to his final paintings. (It's also instructive to note that Rockwell wasn't tracing those photographs, and that his final paintings often differed dramatically from the photographs.) Disney animators rotoscoped "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" -- literally tracing over video of a filmed actress to get her movements right. Comic book artists are often encouraged to keep a mirror on their drafting table, just so they can look at themselves (their hands, head, etc.) to get anatomy right. This is part of the reason why you get things like Savage Dragon reminding you of Erik Larsen, or Youngblood's Shaft of Rob Liefeld, for two obvious examples. Artists look at themselves, first, for inspiration. They've seen themselves all their lives, so the impression is not to be underestimated.

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