iFanboy Video Podcast

iFanboy #181 – The Photo Tracing Debate

Show Notes

The issue of photo tracing in comics has become a hot button issue in comic books in recent years.

Does having artists draw (or possibly trace) from other works of art (including comics) hurt the comic book industry? Does it not matter? Is it all art? And where does photo referencing end and photo tracing begin? These are just some of the questions that modern comic book readers have to answer for themselves and that the iFanboys tackle this week in one of their rare “issue” episodes.

One thing’s for sure — this is a debate with a lot of complex questions and no easy answers.

The Rise of Photorealistic Art

Just as society changed in the 1960s, so too did comic book art as more traditional, cartoony styles gave way to Neal Adams and a more photorealistic style of comic book art. That style of art continues to be popular to this day.

The Current Debate Over Photo Tracing

What is photo tracing, what have been some of the most egregious examples of photo tracing, and how does seeing popular actors on the pages of a comic book effect the reader? All these questions and more are examined.

How Does iFanboy Feel About Photo Tracing?

The examination on the effect of photo tracing on the comic book reader continues and the iFanboys each try to decide where their line in the sand on photo tracing is. There are no easy answers this time.


Get Involved

Doing the podcast is fun and all, but let's be honest, listening to the 2 of us talk to each other can get repetitive, so we look to you, the iFanboy listeners to participate in the podcast! "How can I get in on the fun?" you may ask yourself, well here's how:

  • E-Mail us at contact@ifanboy.com with any questions, comments or anything that may be on your mind.

Please don't forget to leave your name and where you're writing from and each week, we'll pick the best e-mails to include on the podcast!


  1. Greg Land, I’m looking at your direction right now.

  2. You guys have GOT to talk about the $3.99 price tag, PLEASE?! 😀

  3. BACKGROUNDS ARE USUALLY LIGHTBOXED?!?!?!  You-you-you mean I don’t have to feel bad about my crappy cityscapes in the background?!  YES!  YES!!!!  YES!!!!!!! MY DAY HAS BEEN REDEEMED!!!!!

  4. I just don’t usually notice it. There are times when it is obvious, especially with the sex faces, but I don’t find the other types distracting.

  5. I don’t really like the phototracing style, but it really just depends on the work for me.

  6. tommy lee jones bothers the hell out of me but otherwise, i don’t care.

  7. This show was great.  All grey.  Boils down to personal preference which is the bottom line……   Marvels #1 took me out of the story when I thought: Namor is Ray Liotta and Xavier is Patrick Stewart – but I didn’t mind and it didn’t prevent me from enjoying the hell out of it.

     This was a great episode!  They are getting better and better.

  8. I recently bought and read the Invincible Iron Man omnibus and while the story was great the art seemed very odd, their is one shot of Ezekiel Stane getting on the tour cart that looked incredibly awkward.

    I can force myself to accept it but I shouldn’t have to. BTW great episode. 

  9. @Stepho, I agree the normal life stuff of Invincible Iron Man can be really weird to look at some times, but I don’t mind the style cuz overall the fighting looks great when he’s in his armor. I doubt it would work in other books that don’t have guys inside mech suits.


  10. On a philosophical level I don’t have a problem with phototracing. It’s just another way to tell the story. From an aesthetic standpoint though… I mean there’s art I enjoy and art I don’t enjoy, and almost every time I do not enjoy the phototraced stuff. I think it looks terrible. When they use celebrities it’s obvious and distracting, but even if their not using celebrities the faces always seem to be just weird and awkward and the expressions are always so stiff.

    I can appreciate Alex Maleev or David Mack more than some other phototracers because I feel like they’re trying to create a new style for themselves, not trying to take shortcuts but trying to exploit the potential of phototracing, rather than just slapping some thin squiggly lines over a picture James Gandolfini.

    Phototracing is totally affecting my buying habits. I’m really sensitive to it and I can’t look past it in otherwise good books. Invincible Iron Man could be a great book but I dislike the art so much I can’t buy it. I’m paying $3.99 for a comic book, a complete package of writing and art. If I love the writing but the art turns my stomach, I can’t justify it. I can’t pay that much for something I will only enjoy 50% of. Likewise, Shuttertown. I was intrigued by the story and I’ve loved everything else Nick Spenser has written, but after two issues I had to walk away. The artist (sorry I can’t recall his name) was doing some interesting things too. His layouts were creative and I liked the way he put together a page. But Gabriel Byrne, Julianne Moore, Giovanni Ribisi, and James Gandolfini were just too distracting. I couldn’t do it. 

  11. I can honestly say that the move toward photo realistic or photo traced art has affected my buying habits. I don’t have any great moral opposition, I just don’t dig the style. As such, I’m reading a lot fewer big two books, where that style has become rampant, and a lot more indie books, where pure cartooning is still the primary form. 

    What the issue comes down to for me is that photo tracing eliminates personal style in most cases. When I see a Ryan Kelly page, I know instantly that it is Ryan Kelly. When I see a standard Marvel page, it’s anyone’s guess who drew that. 

  12. @wangman My biggest problem with the Invincible Iron Man stuff is the coloring. The over-rendered, over-filtered style looks like murder, and the original pages are pretty great looking.

  13. For the record, Revision3 seems to be posting these on YouTube again.

    A most thought-provoking episode, guys. I’d say that photowhateveryouwannacallit is no less of an art style and thus neither good nor bad, simply liked or disliked. I personally love Alex Ross and others like him, but agree that just copying an actor’s face (e.g. Tommy Lee Jones as Norman Osborn) can really take you out the story.

    It’s a delicate balance, I guess, otherwise it wouldn’t be called art.

  14. I draw, and drawing people sucks. Hands down it is what people are most critical of because that’s the subject you know the best. I can draw a dog and know that I did a bad job, and I can draw a person and do a pretty good job- 9 times out of 10 the sketch that someone will call me out on is the person.

    That known, phototracing is not my cup of tea. The beauty of comics is the creation of a unique world with a uniform look. You can fudge backgrounds sometimes because the real heart of the comics are the characters. But the second you phototrace a face- you’ve lost your flow. Because a persons face is not a style, it is inherently its own. You can stylize the crap out of it, but people will know that there’s something off. 

    The interesting thing is that ‘good’ photo-tracing is not a time saver. It would take me much more time to try and use photoshop to convincingly render a face (traced or free hand) then it would be to just to pencil the face. That may not be true for all artists, but what it seems to say is that a lot of professional people (that have already proven they can do comics) are choosing to learn how to do this not easy thing- its a curiosity that makes me want to keep watching what they’re working towards….

    ….From afar. My first love will always be a classic pencil & ink style.  

  15. I wonder how long before all these phototraced celebrities catch on and start sueing for the use of there likenesses? I’m pretty sure you have to get some kind of waver for this when you do movie adaptions (hence the reason that the 80’s Indiana Jones in the comics never looked like Harrison Ford) so really these artists and comic companies are ripe for some kind of suit.

    Also it isn’t how the art is done but if it is effective and sometimes phototracers can pull it off but sometimes they can’t… Just like regular artists. So in the end the guys are right; if you like the art who cares how it was made.

  16. @bat4life I don’t really think there’s much to discuss

    I don’t mind phototracing as long as its good, which is totally subjective.  I love Meleev’s work on Scarlet.  I think its beautiful and gorgeously detailed. 

    When I first got back into comics a few years ago, I was very attracted to Greg Lands style.  After a while, though, it kind of wore thin on me and I really just don’t care for it anymore.  This is, in no small part, due to how many more artists I’ve been exposed to now. 

    I don’t think that phototracing is the beginning of the end of true artistry.  I think its an additional facet to the myriad approaches to drawing. Am I totally for or against it?  Like I said above.  It just matters if I connect to it or not.  I’ve yet to develop a strong opinion on it from either side of the argument.

  17. what about David Lopez doing Hawkeye & Mockingbird?  His style is very iconic and cartoony, but the character Twitchy still looks like Jim McCann.

    I could go on more about the topic.  I really like Salvador Larroca, Mike Deodato, and Alex Maleev, and don’t mind Greg Land for the most part.  there are many factors in these artists’ pages.  for instance, I look at Deodato’s work and don’t see Tommy Lee Jones as Norman Osborn, but I see some interesting shading, dynamic action scenes, and some great layouts.   plus, I didn’t watch Lost, so when I read Iron Man, I don’t know what a Sawyer from Lost is, so I’m not taken out of the story.

  18. To me photo-tracing limits the artists inspiration capabilities & makes the artists really default to photo-tracing when working on a deadline instead of some form of pure inspiration. So to me photo-tracing is really a cop out of artists when they rush their work to fit a deadline. Also a lot of the art can be very stiff & really "feel" like a photo & not really a work of art IMO.

  19. It has been said that the process of the work is not important. But the final piece. With that being said I don’t think it is eithicly right to completly transpose your drawing style on top of a copyrighted photograph or movie still or another artist’s illustration.

     With the final piece being important. If you look at Ross’s work he has great layouts in his book, big beautiful spreads, etc. If you look at Land’s final pieces they look awful. Characters looking different panel to panel. In big spreads the characters are just scattered around with no real direction to them. I could go on but I won’t.

    In the end it comes down to personal preference. If you like the look of the book buy it. If you don’t like the look don’t buy it.

  20. Mack swiping Mazzucchelli a while back


  21. Personally I don’t care about the process/method used unless you’re tracing someone else’s work. I’m more interested in the final product.

  22. Alex Ross uses photo referencing the way a painter should. He is then able to manipulate the concepts and faces gotten from the referencing and study in subsequent panels. I would say that Deodato does the same to a degree, but is somewhat less acceptable since it is not painted art. What Land does is just unforgiveable, and his being employed by anyone is an atrocity. This is the kind of thing that would get you kicked out of art school or fired from an illustration job. It’s ok for a graphic designer to piece together stock photography or clip art, but not for an illustrator. I am appalled by how many people commenting here don’t seem to care.

  23. Excellent show, it’s a pretty brave subject.  Like a lot of people here, I couldn’t give 2 shits about process… it’s about if the art is appealing to me.  I can look at Andy Warhol’s work and dismiss it as 2 color prints of existing material, but someone else can find his art striking and having meaning.

    Some people try to make it an ‘integrity’ issue, but in my opinion I don’t see any process as having less or more ‘integrity’.  I think the only time that plays into it is when someone steals panels or figures from other artist’s work and makes a definite attempt to decieve.  To be clear, I’m not talking about homage.. I think most people know the difference between Godland celebrating the look and feel of cosmic Kirby, and someone cutting and pasting a random panel from another book and filling in a new costume over it.  Like Ron’s music analogy, Jet celebrates their love of AC/DC, but they don’t just copy Girls Got Rhythm note for note and put new words on top of it.

    It can be a really small distinction, as Nigel Tufnel said ‘It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever’

  24. The CBR article that the video opens with: http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=25705

    By now a lot of what it says has been covered, but it is still a good read. 

  25. Greg Land really bothers me. When I see Psylocke get hit in the stomach by an energy blast, it better look like she just got hit by a energy blast and not an oncoming orgasm.


    However, I love Larocca, Tony Harris, Maleev, Mack, and Alex Ross. I think when it’s blatant, that’s the problem. With Greg Land, it is very blatant. And it sucks because he’s on a very long on going book that I buy just because I want to know what happens. However, there have been a Greg Land issue or two that I read and enjoyed. Then he will have a panel with Pixie rocking DDs with her mouth wide open for some reason.

  26. @ActualButt: You make a good point. In any other creative field you would be fired for plagiarism. There is a very fine line between referencing something and stealing it out right.

  27. I’m using the Harris/Ross method for Belter, the webcomic I’m writing and drawing for Arctos Comics. Firstly, it’s definately NOT faster. As ya’ll mentioned I’ve got to find the models, set up the shoot, light it, compose it, etc. It’s actually a lot more work. The reason I’m doing it is to acheive a specific look in the work, a noirish feel that’s distinct from the stylized work Joe Querio is doing on our other title, Orion the Hunter.

    Artists have been working from models for thousands of years, long before there were photos. Taking a photo is just a way of not having the model stand around for hour. Working artists (illustrators) have always used reference of one kind or another. I love the stylized work of guys like Darwyn Cook and Mike Mignola, or even Joe Querio’s style on Orion the Hunter, but it’s not right for everything.

    Cliff VanMeter

    Belter previews at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Belter-Webcomic/138924176144067?v=wall.

  28. What I am curious about is the heavy discalimer "We don’t draw so we can’t really criticize"

    Unless I’m wrong – with the possible exception of Josh- You don’t write comics either?

     So why the careful steps on this topic?

    This is a comic book discussion show sure- but maybe more so than some podcasts

    it’s also a comic book critique show- like a movie review show.


    Or so it seems to me.

    Just raising a point.

  29. @ericmci: That’s not what Ron said.

  30. I think i’m a Conor.

    I don’t hate it, it has its place, but i prefer it not to be so obvious.  Maleev’s work on Daredevil was fantastic, he draws one of my favorite Iron Fists too.  His Scarlet work just takes me out of the story (along with the 4th wall breaking) and I’m not going to be picking that book up anymore.

    I agree with Ron that Lands work seems lazy, and when Josh said "workmanlike" that’s so true!  It seems like jobbing the pages and not creating the pages.  While I agree that it must be more difficult sometimes, it really just seems lazy and cheating.

    What we need is more Doug Mahnke’s, Patrick Gleeson’s, Chris Samnee’s, Darwin Cooke’s, Stewart Immonen’s,  Dustin Ngyen’s…I’m sure i’m forgetting some, but you get my point.

    (apologies to all the artists names i misspelled) 

  31. We’re missing a phrase here.  Some of what’s happening is NOT PHOTOTRACING, but PHOTOMANIPULATION. 

    What Meleev is doing on "Scarlet" is not really tracing (I’m making an educated guess here).  It looks very much to me like he’s taking the photo, uploading it in photoshop, and doing everything digitally.  This would mean that there’s no tracing involved.  It’s all on the computer.  

    "What’s wrong with that?" you may ask?  Well, nothing I suppose.  He’s still accentuating the photos, I guess.  Personally, I hate the way it looks, especially given the fact that Meleev is such a fantastic freehand artist.  When I heard that Meleev was going to be drawing a Bendis creator owned book, (one that took place in my home town, no less) I was extatic.  His other work has been great.  When I opened the book, I was really disappointed, because I know what he’s capable of.  What he’s doing now on Scarlet isn’t really a far cry from what Josh did on his "photo-comic", which was admittedly a sort of last resort because he couldn’t find an artist.  (Tell me you saw those screen shots of "The Remote" and didn’t think, "Did Meleev do that?").  

    Now, maybe Meleev is doing it that way so that he doesn’t have to share royalties with an inker and colorist?  Strategically, it would make sense.  I really think Bendis could have saved his money and got someone less expensive.  I’m pretty sure people would read it even if Conor traced Josh’s face in for Scarlet, because, come on, it’s Bendis.    

    Using photos for REFERENCE (Tony Harris, Alex Ross) is a very important tool.  A lot of times, the mind’s eye just can’t recall things as vividly as is needed to make something look convincing, particularly when it comes to anatomy. 

    I’ve watched Tony Harris draw at cons, and the guy can whip out some amazing stuff with no reference whatsoever.  Alex Ross, also, is at a point where he can draw a person doing just about anything without using any reference.  I think they rely on it as a tool more so with the final product.

    A lot of our favorites rely on reference (most any artist that’s worth his/her salt would to get the picture/angle right).  Have you ever seen what Sean Phillips looks like?  You’ll totally see his face in Tracy Lawless, Holden Carver, and the guy from Incognito (Zack, I think).


  32. great episode!!  

    on greg land, I don’t have a problem with his photo references or tracing, it’s the laziness in the art (not to be confused with how much time or effort he put into the images, but the laziness in the storytelling emphasis in comic book art), the "screams" he drew aren’t the same kind of screams that the character would be making in their situation, well, not most characters anyway, so it’s the artist’s job to communicate these untangible (sp) qualities to the reader/viewer and he just didn’t do that with those images. and when an artist fails to do that, I think that’s when the reader/viewer is "taken out" of the story

    And then there are just some styles that some people just don’t like, and artistic styles aren’t stagnate, so they’ll change over time. When you try something as an artist, it might not work for everyone but as an artist, you have to explore that new thing fully. I wouldn’t mind seeing more photo comics, like Josh’s, there was one awhile ago called the Judge or something, and it was unique at it’s time, I don’t remember much about the story though. but they are a ton more work than a $3.99 comic is worth. for the most part. IMO  

    anyway, keep up the good work, might just become a member up if this keeps going  😉   

  33. I don’t mind any of it, unless the artist steals from another artists. That is all!

  34. @RaBoogie: I think Meleev has a lot more going on with his current work than just photomanipulating. He is still drawing his characters, he is probably using a wacom tablet to draw and color in photoshop or some other software. He is using layers of textures, photos, drawing, and who knows what else to make his art. Personally I like his earlier work. It just has a better feel to it.

  35. I can’t stand phototraced work, precisely because it is traced. It can look, aesthetically, fantastic, but because it wasn’t created from the artist’s imagination I can’t accept it as art. Photography and photo manipulation is art, but only when it is presented as such. When an artist’s title is "penciler" they need to have drawn something, not traced it. My favorite artists are the people who have a style that is clearly from their imagination, guys like Skottie Young, Humberto Ramos, and Chris Bacchalo.

    As far as the music comparison, I hold that to the same standard. Someone who makes songs by splicing in bits and pieces from pre-existing recordings isn’t a musician, they’re a programer or editor. Both are valid forms of musical entertainment–to each his own and all that–but it’s an insult to people who spent years learning to play an instrument to call the guy who splices together rap beats a musician.

    I guess I’m kind of a hardass on the subject.

  36. Photorealism is just an artistic style.  It’s been around for hundreds and hundreds of years.  Michaelangelo painted the Sistine chapel in a photorealistic style.  Alex Ross does comics in a photo realistic style.  Skottie Young does not.  One is not better or more valid than the other, they are just two different ways to depict an image or tell a story.  Photo reference is just a tool that artists use, often to help gain a photorealistic effect.  Not all of the time though.  I know for myself, I sometimes use photo reference to help me gain a sense of perspective, anatomy, stuff like that.  Stuff that I can’t quite come up with out of my read.  I use the reference not as the final stage but as a skeleton to build off of. 

    Tony Harris is an artist that uses photo reference right.  He shoots all of his own reference photos, directs the actors, does the lighting, everything. He is creating at every stage, it is all his vision.  

    With a guy like Greg Land it’s not his vision, or not entirely his vision, i dunno.  But you can see where he took other people’s work (magazine covers, advertisements, porn, other comic artists)  and co-opted it for his own use.  He also has a stock of poses that he uses over and over again, some of which were shown in the video (Pixie’s face, Collossus’ arms up in the air, also notice Russel Crowe’s helmet from Gladiator).  Greg Land’s technique is lazy, disengenuous, and unprofessional and, in my opinion, makes for a final product that is immediately recognizable as being of less quality than other artists work.

    Also, there’s nothing wrong with using a specific actor as inspiration for a character’s look. For example, if you have the collection of Identity Crisis, Rags Morales talks about the different actors that inspired the looks of just about every major character. Hell, Mazzucheli used Gregory Peck as the inspiration for his depiction of Bruce Wayne in Year One. I have no problem with any of this.

    What I have a problem with artists lightboxing stills from movies, or magazine advertisements, or whatever.  It’s lazy, uncreative, and unprofessional. 

  37. I don’t know if you were directing that 1st thing at me, but let me clarify: I have no problems with photorealism. It’s not my preferred style, although I do like Alex Ross’s work a lot, but it’s a perfectly valid way of doing things. And photo referencing is fine, too, as a tool. Without it, stuff can start looking pretty jank pretty quick.

  38. @MisterShaw:  No, that wasn’t directed at you.  That was my just my own little missive on the subject.  I’m with you on preference though.  Give me a guy like Skottie Young or Francis Manapul over more photorealistic guys like Hitch or Alex Ross any day of the week.

  39. My opinion: To make phototracing work requires skill. There are good phototracers just as there are good photorealists.

    For instance: Ron tried it and couldn’t pull it off. It requires skill.

    Another thing is, art is not in the skill of the hands. Art is not dexterity. Art is thinking. Anything outside of the artist’s brain is nothing but a tool for transferring whatever is in the brain to a medium.

    As for the question of "what is art?" the answer is, it’s all art. Art at it’s most basic definition is communication. An expression and an interpretation = communication.

    It’s all art. The question is not if it’s art or if it’s good just if you like it.

  40. Stuart Immonen had a great article on photo-ref and it’s uses. 


  41. I have no qualms about those who put the effort into setting up their own photographs from which they either reference or trace.  What I absolutely will not accept is using someone else’s work and tracing that. Just because I type out someone’s written work word by word, doesn’t make it any less an account of plagiarism.


    I also think using someone’s likeness without their permission is also bit of a no-no, but its not as reprehensible as outright theft.

  42. here’s a thought: if you were lazy and unprofessional in your work, wouldn’t your employer and co-workers notice?  Greg Land still has work at Marvel and writers do not (vocally, but that’s all we can fairly go by) dislike working for him.  have you seen him using a lightbox?  where’s the video of him tracing?  an interview where he discusses his process?  I’m not just being argumentative here, I’m legitimately curious.  and his style is more iconic than you think.  photos don’t have straight, intersecting lines.  they have shading.  your features (eyes, nose, etc.) are not formed by hard lines.  there’s no dark line outlining your eye socket.  also, the people in porn that he supposedly traces are probably not wearing a superhero costume.  he’s not my favorite artist by a long shot, but I’m not entirely sure he gets a fair rap.

  43. Call me old fashioned but as an aspiring artist I take this topic very seriously. I think the three tools every artist needs is 1) paper 2) a pencil and most importantly 3) imagination. If you don’t have the imagination to draw something without the help of referencing and taking pictures of every little thing then you need to go back to square one and learn how to draw.

    As for the issue of photoreferencing, most artists use it and even I use it occassionally. The problem is that sometimes artists trace directly when photoreference should be a helping tool. For example, one of my most crucial tools for drawing is a MIRROR, I learned it from Sean Phillips but he always uses his face as reference for shading and all that but its not like all his characters have his face. I do the same thing, if I need to draw a woman making a funny face I make that funny face in front of a mirror to get all the details right but I am able to take my face and draw it as a womans. Unfortunately it seems Greg Land and others can’t take what they see and make it their own.

    Then again I have yet to have anything published. I kind of feel like I have to back up my argument since Im doing nothing but criticize, so feel free to criticize me if you wish http://noirjunkie.deviantart.com/

  44. For me, as an artist, it comes down to integrity.  IF I used a commercial photograph, or a still from a movie, and traced it onto an art board in a panel for a consumer product, I’d have to be able to live with myself.  And honestly I couldn’t do that.

    The debate here isn’t about photo-referencing.  That’s different.  I take and use my photos all the time.  I think if it’s all the work of the same artist, that’s cool.  Like Alex Ross, Tony Harris, hell, even Alex Maleev.  I don’t like Maleev’s work, but, at least all the stuff he does is his own.

    When I’ve heard of artists using magazines, and googled images, or whatever to make their images, I find that very cringe worthy.  You start to learn drawing by tracing things, most times.  So if you’re at the level that people are PAYING YOU FOR YOUR WORK, I think that an artist should be above that, and have the fortitude to be able to compose their own shots, use their own angles, and ‘cast’ their own characters.

    Besides, most traced stuff usually seems very stiff and lifeless to me.   

  45. @stupendousman: The Sistine Chapel was not photorealism. I think that people don’t have a good grasp of what this word means.

  46. @Birdseye, you are Soooo wrong.  Before entering the conversation, you really need to do a bit more research about Land’s work, and see how the criticism was weighed against him.

     Yeah, I think I agree with what was said on the majority of this show.  Like the guys, it’s really just personal artistic taste that varies from person to person.  But the line is very clear for those who trace, copy, steal, or use photos.  

    The problem is that for big companies like Marvel, this is a big economic investment.  Not some artistic endeavour. And when those in charge are friends with those who steal pictures not theirs, problems, egos, legality and everything else comes into play. 

    So assuming everyone is an ‘adult’, people know what’s being done.  No one is stupid. But the arguments come up when the a-*&^%$, get all uppity, and defensive about themselves or a friend who may use such techniques and then the name calling starts.  So, really, I think the only ‘debate’ going on nowadays, is when someone thinks that they are legally protecting someone or themselves, by flat out denying or lying about it, and not admitting to the truth, but making a general mess about the whole deal and calling out accusers for things unrelated to the truth. 

    And you guys are right, since there have been no major lawsuits (yet), this argument is limited to it’s seriousness and scope.  But till then, when this sort of thing shuts down internet boards because of certain influences, etc, people will just be waiting to see how serious their accusations will be.

  47. @PeteValdez: Do expound! 🙂

  48. @JumpingJupiter on behalf of @petevaldez –

    Photography had not yet been invented, so technically it couldn’t be called photorealism.

    Seriously though, Michelangelo’s work was just realistically shaded (chiaroscuro). The poses, facial expressions, etc. were referenced from real models, sure, but by the time he did the Sistine Chapel, he was likely working from only his own sketches and drawings. The artists of that time cranked work out like Bagley, and weren’t doing it for the sake of art, or to express themselves, or sell a comic book. They were roughly on the same level as plumbers or contractors are in our culture.

  49. If a lawsuit were brought against anyone because of Land’s work, wouldn’t it be on Marvel since they published it and profited off of it?

  50. It doesn’t bother me one way or the other.  I do like it when comics seem a little more realistic. I don’t care for things real cartoony (most of the time although I’m sure there’s exceptions), but I can do without the referencing of actors in comics.  If I want actors I’ll just watch a film, and when I first ran across that it was ok, it was sort of like spotting a Marvel noprize or a surprise, hey look, it’s so and so.  But I don’t want the actor to play a main role like Tommy Lee.  I don’t understand why they would do that.

    I want the art to flow and not be static, which sometime the photo work doesn’t do.  I do like Alex Ross.  But some of the artwork looks like pin-ups and there’s no, as Will Eisner once spoke of, squential art, movement, flow.  That’s what happens it seems to me when it all gets bogged down in technique.

    So I guess as always, with comics, it’s a combination of the two or more, and it’s hard to tell which one comes first, the story, the characters, a fresh idea, or the art. 

  51. Damn it, I HATE HATE HATE Greg Land.  I actually skip all issues he "draws".

  52. renaissance artists like Mikey on the sistine chapel worked in the style of that time period, not photorealism, not illusionistic either, illusionistic is where you paint something so real that people actually mistake it for a 3D object, there are examples of this throughout various artistic movements, but a simple example is a comical idea of speed bumps: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/discoblog/2010/09/07/speed-bumps-of-the-future-creepy-optical-illusion-children/  sorry, link button thing not working on my safari today. . . 

    Renaissance artists used models yes, but it was more about how forms of people were developed on the canvas/sculpture or whatever medium, those forms were developed through direct visual observation instead of using the preferred stylized iconography (the preferred imagination) of the "Gothic" art period that was before the Renaissance. and this change happened kinda slowly, but there was still a significant shift in the styles. In the Renaissance the figures were still idealized to some extent and not entirely realistic. 

    Photo realism is technically making your painting look like a photo, sometime this even includes a gloss coat and any other discolorations or imperfections that might be only seen through the photography medium, like overexposure or underexposure, grainy qualities, etc. . . Some photo realists even compose their paintings with ripped photos and include the rips in their paintings. 


    "Call me old fashioned but as an aspiring artist I take this topic very seriously. I think the three tools every artist needs is 1) paper 2) a pencil and most importantly 3) imagination. If you don’t have the imagination to draw something without the help of referencing and taking pictures of every little thing then you need to go back to square one and learn how to draw. "

    the 4th tool artists need is experience, experience drawing the things they need to know how to draw, for that, they need photo referencing or real life drawing. only after an artist has experience drawing all kinds of things can they imagine those things without reference and make them believable. every artist I’ve ever talked to about comic book art especially, says, you need to draw everyday, draw all the time and draw everything you can, that experience is vital to your success. you can’t recreate something until you know how it was created, until you’ve examined it, which is what photoreferencing allows an artist to do, and when you are on a deadline, you need to get it done


    this doesn’t take into account that some stories are taking place in real settings with real props, photo referencing is vital to understanding some of those things, it’d be better yet to go and actually see those things with your own eyes and draw them from real life, if it’s important to that story that those things are as real as they can be then photo referencing is important, like for instance, if it’s important to the story that Johnny Blaze rides a harley, then the artist better not draw a suzuki intruder instead, or some cheesey "imagined" OCC motorcycle. <– I don’t know how this could be important to a story, yet I’m sure for some it is. 

    looked at your deviant art site, not bad, but I’d recommend just drawing more and more and draw from life as much as you can, your figures tend to taper, big head, broad shoulders, little feet, your line work is clean yet somewhat stiff, so do some 1 minute gesture drawings to loosen up. it’s okay to scribble  ;-p  



  53. I seem to agree with Josh’s take on phototracing: Not too bothered by background work but the celeb that’s incorporated really bugs me.

  54. I haven’t watched the show yet…thats my afternoon lunch time thing =)

    I wanted to chime in with some Art History knowledge….Vermeer, one of the greatest painters to ever live was using a camera obscura (mirrors, black box, projected light) in the 1600s to "photo trace" his famous dutch landscapes and interiors. Those paintings hang in the MET and other museums and are considered some of the greatest works of art in Western civilization….A LOT of other famous artists of the time used similar tools. techniques, tools and process shouldn’t take away from the final work. Judge the work not the process right?

    We are hyper sensitive to it now because of the computer and how easy it is to abuse the tools. Many other photorealist painters who work today use photography and tracing as a central tool in their process. Richard Estes is famous for painting NYC street scenes, but "edits" the imagery, so that he can merge several different scenes into one. He’s basically art directing reality. Many other mainstream illustrators and fine artists use all sorts of projection and tracing tools to help with draftsmanship. I’m very confident in saying that If Da Vinci and Michellangello had these tools available to them, they would have used them.



  55. @LostArtist I get what you’re saying about photoreferencing. If I needed to draw someone on a motorcycle, I certainly would need some reference but I would look at a few pictures and study the structure and then draw my own motorcycle, using the reference to make sure everything is correct. Whereas drawing the same imagine but replacing the driver with a superhero is what cheaters do and that is certainly not what I would ever do. That is the difference.

  56. @michael22- I don’t believe I am "Soooo wrong", especially since much of what I said is merely thoughts for discussion within the discussion thread.  but thank you for the evaluation.  yes, I have read the accusatory blogs about Land’s work.  but the questions in my previous post remain unanswered.  were you in the room while he traced others’ work?  I’m guessing not.  you make some valid points about people protecting friends.  but please don’t assume my opinion is an uneducated one. 

  57. @darknightdetective–how is it possible to "cheat" at something (art) when it has no rules?

  58. I think photo referencing is fine. My wife is an artist and she uses it all the time. Not everybody knows how the human body will look in every single one of the almost infinite number of poses it can appear in. It helps get a sense of how light and shading should appear in a specific situation. I find nothing wrong with taking a photo and using it as reference to then draw freehand. As was brought out on the show, this has been done for as long as there have been cameras. It’s a way to make sure your anatomy and lighting are correct when making your art.

    Photo tracing? That I have a problem with. Unless the book is credited as such. I don’t want somebody who has been tracing pictures to be labeled a "penciler." If the credits of the book accurately say what process was used, then I have no problem with it from a moral point of view. I may not like it from an artistc stand-point,  but I don’t see anything wrong with it. 

    Also, "swiping" has been going on forever. Whether you call it an "homage" or not, you are STILL looking at art somebody else did and then copying it. As long as you credit the original source, again, I have no problem with it.

    I don’t have a problem with any technique that is used to create a work of art. What I have a problem with is the dishonesty.  Don’t pass somebody else’s work off as your own. 

  59. Art doesn’t have rules, no. It does have general principles that can determine why some pieces are successful and others aren’t. If the phototracing is stiff, obvious or distracting from the main message/point of the arwork, well, that would be more of a hindrance then a help in producing. 🙂

  60. I believe someone mentioned on the show whether it was "Art" or not, It is definitely art, sometimes it just bad art.

    A good photo referencer or photo tracer is someone who can do it and maintain a dynamism of scene and pull the person into the story. Someone who is not as good at the style makes it look rigid and pushes people out of the story. 

    I don’t care what tools a person uses as long as I get satisfying art and story. So it is an aesthetic choice in the end. I prefer not to know who is referenced and I prefer it to be a little looser then exact duplicate of a face.

    Tracing other peoples art though and passing it off as your own without crediting is a bit scummy. If he wants to reuse his own assets whatever but other people’s art is immoral. I include, movies and other comics and visual art.

  61. Where phototracing looks really bad is in comics based on televison series like IDW’s "Angel" or "True Blood".  That’s just plain awfull…

  62. @ B yeah, I could stand the art in "Shuttertown" anylonger

  63. Echoing another comment, what bugs me most about Greg Land is that the characters never look as if they are actually experiencing or reacting to what is occurring in the scene.  There is no emotional reality being depicted, just a chick whose mouth probably had a big dick in it three seconds before the still photo was traced.  Considering that a lot of these scenes are meant to depict a woman being injured, even tortured, the hyper-sexuality of the chosen imagery becomes not just lazy, bad art, but something offensive and misogynistic, implicitly fetishizing violence against women and making it seem that the women are enjoying it.

  64. I’ll keep it simple: I want my comic books to look like COMIC BOOKS, not movies.

  65. For me, it’s a case of whether the final image has a postive effect on me as a reader, this in conjunction with the pacing (my one problem with Alex Ross, who I really like panel wise, pacing of story, not so much). But this Tommy Lee Jones and other actors/celebs as main characters is not good, for the simple reason it makes it harder to imagine an original voice for the character, I just hear Tommy Lee Jones, or Eminem in Wanted. It’s no longer their actions, the lettering, etc, that’s driving what they ‘sound’ like.

    Oddly enough though, the depictions in other media doesn’t usually change how I hear them, no one has nailed ‘my’ Batman/Bruce Wayne or Wolverine. Just when the image apes that depiction (Tony Stark/Robert Downey) it becomes a problem.

  66. not just Greg Land… it’s GREG LAND, INC., baby!

  67. @ Everyone—This was a great topic fellas! I’ve been reading comics for over two decades now and the first time I’ve experienced reading a comic with photorealism had to been in the first run of the Ultimates. I remember the reaction of seeing the image of Samuel Jackson as Nick Fury had me at awe. I wasn’t concerned about the do’s and don’ts of using a technique like this in the medium. However, I did have an odd moment during my reading of Straczynski’s run on the Amazing Spider-man story arc "Sins of the Father." I was able to read the series in it’s entirety but it was weird to see Jason Priestly as Peter Parker Don’t get me wrong…Deodato’s work was awesome but that aspect of the book wasn’t cutting it for me. Lol

     What I do find amazing about photorealism is that in comics today,the technique  presents itself in various forms. As discussed in the video podcast, this process does challenge the sort of aesthetic integrity from an artist and what is accepted by the reader. To be honest, it’s a hit or miss with me. Viewing Sam Jackson as Nick Fury was a special treat because the component brought a film like quality for the read.

    This also brings up another question for everyone….now that comics have presented a wide screen template on their panels, does anyone think that this format may have some influences as to why we react to the way photorealism  is utilized in comics today?   

  68. All this talk about photorealism and not one mention of Vampirellas Mike Mayhew.  He was good.

  69. I believe you guys mixed up your terms and identification of artists and their styles. Alex Raymond of FLASH GORDON fame was a real draftsman trained to be a commercial artist. So whether it was a TIME Magazine ad or a FLASH GORDON comic strip, he was trained to do have the most realistic approach to his art. The same thing applies to Hal Foster of PRINCE VALIANT fame. They would not have been considered Photorealistic artists because they created the images of people and things from their imagination. Maybe they used a prop or model as a reference, but never in the way an artist such as Alex Ross does. Raymond or Foster would be similar to Gary Franks and his use of Christopher Reeves for his Superman artwork.

    In the case of Alex Ross – and why I don’t like him either, Conor – is that his photo-tracing is the worst form of the offense. His characters don’t look heroic. Rather, whether it’s Batman, Aquaman or Wonder Woman they all look like balding, pudgy, middle-class white guys and women. In fact, some of them look like Alex Ross himself (a pudgy, middle-aged white guy). I don’t read comics to see guys who look like my boss at work. I want them to look extraordinary.

    Finally, in discussion of the issue of Photo-tracing: I hate it. You guys are right to call out those artists who are just taking advantage of the advances in technology. I don’t want to open a comic and see actor Josh Holloway being passed off as Tony Stark. Again, this is where Gary Franks does it differently. He uses Reeves as his Clark/Superman model but he puts him in completely imagined positions and circumstances. This is the way modern artists should use such reference materials.

  70. Good show guys. 

    I’m of the opinion that if artists uses another artist’s work without crediting them or at least asking them, it’s plagerism.  It doesn’t matter if people like working with the guy or if he’s a nice guy or whatever.  It’s getting paid for work you didn’t do and have passed off on your own.  You do that in school and get caught, you get a fail (or you should).

    It’s damn obvious from that picture of Spiderman you showed that Land took someone else’s work and passed it off as his own.

    Phototracing or photorealism – I don’t care about that.  I like Ross’s art.  I like some of the photo stuff that was done in Promethia and Terry Gilliam and John Cleese did some pretty amusing photo comics before Monty Python.

    Then again, a lot of what Gilliam did on Monty Python was made up of public domain art and stock images, and I don’t think of that as plagerism, so I don’t know.  Maybe the line moves around a bit depending on how you use the stuff.

    I read comics for the writing anyway.  I appreciate some artists, but I’m not going to follow them from book to book.  The only time it comes into play is when it is so poor I notice and it takes me out of the story.  This seemed to happen a bit in the mainstream books (DC and Marvel)in the 90s (maybe because of the birth of Image?) but I don’t notice it so much anymore.

  71. I grew up reading Neal Adams and Jack Kirby–that being said–if phototracing is done right it can enhance a project, but if it is done for it’s own sake it feels indulgent to me.

  72. Today I believe DC and Marvel lean towards realistic art styles. In my opinion, this type of art style seriously shows a lack in imagination. Sure, once in awhile a Neal Adams, Mike Grell, Sara Pichelli, Alex Maleev, Alex Ross, or a Bill Sienkiewicz may come around (I’m sure there are others). BUT a majority of artists that lean towards realistic styles REALLY lack imagination in the layout and ability to tell a story panel to panel.
    In my opinion Comics are defined by the ART. Artists should have their own individual style.

    Get rid of the Phototracing. Phototracing equals NO IMAGINATION and in my opinion shows just how lazy an artist is.
    Get rid of all the “Jim Lee” clones, seriously. In my opinion if an artist cannot use his/her imagination to establish an art style, they might want to look at work outside of comics.

    I like to see artists use their imagination, people like Chris Bachalo, Mike Mignola, Humberto Ramos, etc.
    Yes, I know, Fans have different taste in art and that is why I reference it is “In my opinion.”
    Comics are about the ART. Let the artists run free with their imagination, you might like what you see!

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