Shading: Then and Now

As the numbers of different comic book genres grow, there have always been a number of techniques that comic book artists use to portray certain things on their pages.  From use of stencil tracing, free hand copying, inking to the different kinds of shading. Before the use of computers, shading was often painstakingly done by hand. When shading was done by hand images had a sense personality, as if the artist managed to convey their feelings onto the paper, there was almost a sense of completeness to the image when flipping through a comic book.

Shading techniques by hand

Shading techniques by hand

Nowadays however, the advancement of computer software has allowed shading of images and comics to be done more efficiently and more cost effective.  From half – toning which is what most people see as small dots on the images to the more popular cel – shading which allows computer graphics to look almost hand drawn with a cartoonish feel to them.  With the advancement of technology more and more comic book companies are transitioning to computer generated shading; this of course includes the big two: Marvel and DC. With this transition from hand drawn shading to computer generated imaging, is this the right direction the industry is going? Gone are the feelings artists put in their characters or their backgrounds.  Others may argue that there was never any sense of personality in comic books. But when an artist shades in a character or background they can add a sense of vibrancy or mysteriousness that no simple stick figure comic could ever hope to produce. Sometimes the artist uses shadings that the illustrator doesn’t agree on and visa-versa, either way though they both contribute to how the reader views the image.

Left: Original  Right: Re-release, shaded by original artist

Left: Original
Right: Re-release, shaded by original artist

How different types of shading can drastically change the look

How different types of shading can drastically change the look


Aside from that however I believe there are other problems arising from the advancement of computer generated shading. As computers become more advanced traditional skills become less utilized. This holds true for comic book creation.  Hand drawn shaders  used to take hours if not longer to add definition to a character or a background, whereas on a computer a simple few clicks of a mouse can do the same thing.  At big companies such as Marvel or DC who used to employ at least 1 shaders per story this is a huge change. Now even one shader could be working on multiple stories and can be done much sooner than when originally done by hand. Therefore, big companies don’t necessarily need that many skilled artists when only a very small number can do the work of a larger number at half the time, there goes some job security.  Another potential problem with using computer generated shading on images is that it forces companies to start becoming technology dependant. Shaders aren’t as unique as they were back in the day, now someone who is more tech savvy is needed to work the computers. Sure the original shaders could learn the ropes of using the computers and they probably do however the more they use computer generated imaging to shade the less they’re picking up their pencils to shade, it’s like a skill being lost to the age of time.

How about those independent companies then? How could small comic book companies hope to compete with the larger powerhouses of Marvel and DC when they’re pumping out comics like waterworks thanks to the computers and the small companies are still being “old school” trying to meet their deadlines. Smaller comic book companies would then need to adopt the same technology as the bigger more successful companies just to have a small piece of the pie.  For those small guys, they’re going to need money, which forces them to invest more in the same tech the big guys are using.

Sure, money seems to be the driving point here, but what about the lost art of hand drawn shading? Are we as readers only going to see this old school type of shading in the comics of the past?  Unfortunately, only the readers who’ve experienced the transition from hand drawn comics to the newly computer generated image shading can really know. I for one miss the hand drawn shading, there just seems to be  loss of personality and feelings from the characters or backgrounds of the new age comics of today.

–          Ben Wong

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2 Responses to Shading: Then and Now

  1. scottdouglas says:

    The reduced use of manual shading has lost the sense of self-expression, but the computer is a tool for the new age. Technology robs physical talents, but helps the efficiency of corporations. As much as I want to support the underdogs, it is such innovations that make or break the competition. Shaders are replaced by technicians who are ultimately responsible for more works. Big players in comics can crank out much more content because the process is specialized and simplified.

    The ‘house-style’ is enhanced when a network of projects are umbrellaed under the same program. Literature can be physically drawn and digitally layered. The software enables quick-click adjustments that would otherwise be prolonged endeavors of hatching. Costs are dramatically reduced because there is less paper copies and ink used to render preliminary works. The comprehensive content typically went through many hands, but now can be centrally compiled and edited with far less scraps. Job insecurity is obviously an issue, but were comics ever a stable industry?

    I am not denying that personal craftsmanship and expression goes unnoticed, I just figured this was a good case of playing the devils advocate. Thanks for this post!


  2. Ty Challand says:

    Hey Ben, great topic for questioning. I agree that technology is shutting down small business but in some ways it’s also helping small business. If the industry is so saturated with computer designed graphics eventually it will become too ordinary. Hand-drawn and shaded comics will become more sought after as an alternative art style. By no means do I think that is going to happen anytime soon though. Until then it forces small business to make a product that can compete with these mainstream publishers, yes its harder work but competition may not be just the art but the subjects. To compete with the mainstream smaller companies may want to tackle topics outside the norm to delve into niches not normally exploited by the majority of large business.

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