In the Amazon series Utopia, the art in a graphic comic book offers clues to real-world epidemics. Many would argue that perhaps a series about a pandemic during a pandemic is unsettling, yet the real story is all about the comic book art, and its artist, João Ruas. The series also highlights the genre and possibly introduces the masses to other comic book artists like Cameron Stewart and J. Scott Campbell. Here’s a little more about the history of comic book art, and how that history influenced so many artists.
Historically, the origins of comic book art go back centuries, to the drawings and paintings of the 17,300-year-old Lascaux cave in Southern France. Even Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel was considered comic art because it tells a story. Yet the history would not be complete without Japanese manga.
Japanese manga remains one the most important influences on today’s modern artists. (Comic book artist Cameron Stewart is a big fan.) Manga is dated to the 12th century and the Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga, a well-known set of four picture scrolls found in the Kōzan-ji temple in Kyoto, Japan. Manga is derived from the ukiyo-e woodblock prints from the Edo period, but it was artist Katsushika Hokusai who introduced the true manga form, and it is that same style we see in today’s manga art.
Although the comic art popularity found a large market in Europe and Japan, it is the American comics that reigns supreme. During the 60’s and 70’s came the birth of naturalistic superheroes such as Spider-Man and Superman. During this time, an underground comics movement was born, coining names such as “comix” and “alternative.” That movement drove the superhero cult following, and helped expand the superhero franchise. Today, we now see licensing to many characters and dozens of movies or video games, and it all came from comic book art.
Contemporary Comic Art:
Today, the art we see in shows like Utopia was born from the history of comic book art. João Ruas, the artist that created the art in Utopia, credits his first exposure to comic strips as reading the Peanuts. “The first thing I remember drawing were Peanuts characters,” he said in Bustle. In Utopia, Ruas’ art becomes a character all its own, and they do what comic art should do, tell a story through pictures.
Interestingly, Ruas created all the Utopia pages by hand, working from the script as he sketched a page. The final pages were painted in watercolor. The concept for the pages was intentionally different from his own style, but he was working in his usual medium.
Today’s comic art is intricate and layered and delivered in both print and digital systems. Because digital content has yet to surpass print in relation to sales, there is a large cult-type following of pulp comic books, much like the demand for vinyl records. Even in a pandemic, small comic stores thrive. The demand for graphic comics continues to grow, because there are always more stories to tell.