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On Style versus Skill

crfh20040827.jpg(From College Roomies From Hell. Click on the thumbnail for fullsized... um... action. Yeah. That's it.)

I don't usually comment on other people's reviews. This isn't really a review site, for example -- this is a snark-site, where I point out things I like and things I don't like, often somewhat sarcastically. However, while the overall review is positive, I feel like I have to bring up this guy's review.

Dude. It's a comic strip. One which, in the parlance of Websnark, brings the Story first, and sometimes brings the Funny. And as you yourself say, the Story is prime. Almost too prime -- it makes it hard to keep track of what's going on, sometimes. But you go on to grade the art harshly.

If you want photorealistic art, read comic books. Mocking a comic strip's art for being stylized is like mocking baseball players for wearing caps. Looking at the strip I referenced here, and the several before it, show that Maritza Campos is an expert at dynamic action, motion, color and effect. She brings the toolset. So, if their noses are big and their eyes are big, it's because she wants them that way.

In the last plotline, whenever Dave passed out from lack of blood or whatever, he dreamed about scenes we've already seen -- and all of those scenes had much more 'realistic' figures. Campos was telling us something then. She was saying "yes, I can bring the comic book style illustration. It's right here, in my tool chest. I don't want to. I want to draw the characters the way I draw them. That's the price of admission."

Comic strip characters don't have to look like Mary Worth. They can look like Charlie Brown or Pogo instead. And webcomics can show Anime influences (all too often), or Latin American art influences, or traditional comic strip influences. Or even Mary Worth.

You hear me extol the virtues of art I like. You almost will never hear me insult a webcomic's art. For one thing -- say it with me -- "we're not paying for this." For another, it's damn hard to tell the difference between a limited toolset and a stylistic choice. For yet another, if you're reading it for the pretty pictures and you don't like the pretty pictures, go read Megatokyo. Or Alice. Or any strip you like the art for.

If, on the other hand, you like the story, which you say you do... accept that the art's style is a part of that story. Read into it what the webcartoonist is trying to say to us. Drink deep of it. Breath it in. And reflect on the glorious nature of a world where one comic strip doesn't have to look exactly like another.


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As a visual storyteller, Maritza has her fundamentals down, which is the most important thing. However, as much as I like CRFH, I have to admit that her art is still a very long way from being professional. It's definitely a bit bothersome to me that practically the only visual features that vary from character to character are sex and hairstyle.

Whereas I find that one of the great liberating elements of webcomics versus print is the lack of need to be 'professional,' per se. Setting aside the question of what defines visual features (I certainly don't have trouble identifying Roger from Dave from Mike from the neck down, for example. Of course, the tentacle makes the latter simple) and focusing entirely on the face, I don't find Campos's style particularly more 'generic' than most manga or anime. It's simply using a different palette than big eyes, small mouth. For me, the primary criterion of a webcomic's art is whether it facilitates the strip or hinders it. I think Campos sets a tone with her art that the story then develops. So, I find the art successful.

If you mean Campos would have a problem selling CRFH to a syndicate or publisher, you're probably right. But to me, that's a sad thing for the world, not for Campos.

I guess 'professional' is a poor choice of words--I'd rather look at Maritza's art than that of plenty of professional comics coming out of the bowels of Marvel and DC and the syndicates. On the other hand, I do think she would benefit from having a good editor.

Her big round noses and simple, expressive faces are a conscious stylistic choice. Her random mix 'n' match sense of line and texture, the fact that every woman in the comic has the same figure...these are limitations of the toolset.

Obviously, we can't all be George Herriman (lord knows I'm not!) DIY is a wonderful thing, but I don't think we should set the bar lower just because there's no authority around to stop it.

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