Wednesday, March 7, 2012

To photoref or not to photoref....

Updated: here's the original article:Bleeding cool" Swipe and a scared girl"

On Bleeding cool, a website that devotes itself to breaking comic book news and rumors, they've been discussing the use of photo reference.The focus of the argument is Salvador Larocca, the artist of The Invincible Iron Man series for Marvel Comics. the offending image was based off of a copyrighted photo found online.

Now, I like Bleeding Cool and have been occasionally on Bleeding Cool, sometimes to my chagrin. My problem isn't with BC itself, but with the assumption by some that a cartoonist who uses reference is somehow weaker than those who don't. 
This I have an issue with for a few reasons.
First I have to admit that I also used the photo myself for a panel in an issue of Supergirl. I loved the expression and wanted to use it for this scene:

Now as you can see I didn't copy it exactly, I altered it but I wanted the sense of terror. Now here the thing, That's how I believe photoref should be used. Every artist I know hase a morgue file of photo reference. We either shoot it ourselves:

Stuart immonen

We clip it from Magazines, television, or films
Posted Image

Posted Image

Every comic book artist I admire from Alex Raymond, to Brian Bolland and even Jack Kirby used photoref for those things you need to use can't picture, or what to get correct. My current KISS project is heavily photo referenced because of the location and the time period. I wouldn't be able to do it otherwise.
What gets to me is this sort of fan thinking that tries to turn it into a crime against nature. Are there guys who go overboard with it, yes, but on a whole, it's part of the artistic process.

Get over it.


  1. I think you kinda missed the point over there, though. Referencing is normal and understandable. The Larroca case on Bleeding cool is a line-for-line trace, yknow?

    To be fair, I have seen plenty of people fully defend that form of comic art as well...but that isn't really what you are talking about here.

    I see nothing wrong with any example you use here because in each case the artist is imprinting their own style into the art. Larroca's scared girl is perfectly overlayed onto the original image. He brought the photo into PS and drew over it.

    Sorry, but I think that is lame.

  2. I have to disagree actually. Tony Harris does the exact same thing as Larocca, the only difference is that hires and shoots his own models. There really is no difference and I didn't miss the point.He found an image he liked and he used it for reference, just like Drew Struzan does when he's hired to do a poster. Drew uses studio shot photos and a projector. You're assuming Larocca traced it, we have no proof, but it's also not a perfect match either.

  3. What's bad are those who finds a ref pic (usually a background) and just slaps a photoshop filter on it and pastes it into a panel. Now that's crossing the line. Using a reference as a guide though, is fine artists have done it for a long long time and if it makes that deadline easier, cool.

  4. Wally wood use to always famously say: “Don’t draw what you can copy, don’t copy what you can trace, and don’t trace what you can cut out and paste down”. Now personally i think i woud sabe myself a few headaches but that's not how i'm built creatively. I draw full elements , build elements as well.

  5. Mr. Igle, I agree a hundred percent with your opinion here.

    My question is: how does an artist transcend the mere "copying" of his reference sources? Some famous artists used heavy photo reference and are known to make work that´s "incredibly statuesque", as Mr. Bisley once put.

    Please let use know your thoughts on that matter.

    - Pedro Pontes

  6. " You're assuming Larocca traced it, we have no proof, but it's also not a perfect match either."

    I don't have proof in the sense that I wasn't sitting there when he made the image, but Bleeding cool does not show the entire image where the art is shown at 50% opacity over the image. So I think that is proof enough, honestly. It's not a "perfect match" because he omitted some details, but come on man. That is line for line.

    I know about Drew Struzan and Neal Adams and a long line of famous artists dating back to...well...forever, really that trace. But I think the idea here is still that artistic imprint that is missing on Larroca's tracing here (and on his "Sawyer from Lost" Tony Stark). Drew Struzan work is still UNQUESTIONABLY Struzan work. When he paints it, that is where his artistic magic happens.

    And you bring up another point that is very important, I think. They take their own photos. This is a copyrighted photo of someone out there in the world, after all.

    Again, I have NO problem with reference. I am an artist myself and I use reference all the time (thank god for camera phones!), but I just think it's lazy to take a photo in photoshop and draw over the top of it IF you aren't adding a piece of yourself into it.

    Finally, I think the real problem here is mostly the potential for abuse. We can talk about Struzan and Adams all day long, but they are masters of their craft and they use that tracing with incredible knowledge backing it up. I see a day when young artists see these blatant traces and don't bother to learn how to draw when they have these insane deadlines to meet. Then, you just have attrition in quality because it's 'expected' that you trace most of your images to that that kind of hyper-realistic style.

    I just think it takes all of the soul out of the comic and it really pulls me out of it.

  7. Pedro: i think that's up to the individual. i personally believe that you should try to draw as much as you can using the source. I have redrawn background images because I was trying to replicate real locations. The Ray is littered with photo's of San Diego and Los Angeles because i wanted to make the book feel real. That's where I limit it however. it was a combination in some cases of redrawn reference, traced reference and my drawing superimposed over photographs in the layout stage, then redrawn completely in the finished pencil stage.


About Me

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One of the most popular and prolific pencillers in the comic book industry, Jamal Igle is an award winning artist and writer. Best known for his run on Supergirl with writer Sterling Gates, Jamal has been a professional jack of all trades for nearly 20 years, drawing every title from Action Comics to Zatanna for DC Comics. A former comics retailer, Editor for several small press companies including TV Comics, Airwave Comics and Destination Entertainment. Former Junior Art Director and Marketing rep in the Advertising and publishing arenas. Jamal's clients include Marvel Comics, image Comics, Dark Angel productions/ Simmons and Company, Devil's Due Studios, Crusade Entertainment, Walt Disney inc., Sony Television, CBS Television and Scholastic Entertainment. Jamal has also worked as a conceptional artist for the Toy and gaming industries as well as film and television. Jamal is married to his beautiful, and much smarter wife Karine.They're also the proud parents of an extremely cute child named Catherine and a Cat named Loustique