Pound for pound, I think the greatest artists in the world work in comics. No lie. They’ve got to be able to draw literally anything and anything, 22 pages a month, on-time every time and they have to do it jaw-dropping detail. Now, if you’re a comics reader, you know what happens to popular characters. Spider-Man, for example. The last time I was an avid collector, Spider-Man had six monthly titles (Spider-Man, Web of Spider-Man, Marvel Team-Up, Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man, Sensational Spider-Man, and The Amazing Spider-Man).
That, my friends, is overkill. It’s over-exposure. And with six separate artists doing Spider-Man every month, you can bet each and every one of them drew Spider-Man in roughly the same poses; the wall-crawling pose, the web-swinging pose, the “spider-sense” close-up. There’s only so many ways to do it.
Wolverine is another guy we’ve seen too much of.
But the greatest offender by far is Batman. Not only does he appear in multiple comics titles every month, but he’s had a series of very successful movies, a toy line, a TV show, cartoons, pajamas, drinking glasses, reading glasses, and, of course… fan art.
There isn’t space here to go into the myriad of issues surrounded the morality and legality of fan art, but let me say that drawing your favorite character can be a really fun way to practice your art. That part of it’s great. But when you sit down to do your own rendition of Batman, for Zod’s sake, don’t do this:
Hell, they’ve even got Batgirl doing it!
Now, these are all fine pieces of art. Some done by professionals, some by fans. They’re all very well done. And from one point of view, one could say that this pose has been duplicated so many times because it’s iconic. But let’s face it, the other point of view is to say it’s just recycled. Rehashed. Regurgitated. And I think you can do better.
Here is my very favorite Batman piece of art of all time, painted by the amazing Dustin Nguyen:
It took me a few seconds to even find Batman in this piece the first time I saw it. Now, granted, I have a penchant for watercolor so this piece had me at hello, but look at this thing. It has depth, both visually and emotionally. It has a story. And, most of all, it has the benefit of being unique in all the world.
How much more Batman does the world need? To quote Christian Bale, “None. None more Batman.”
But if you must draw Batman, then bring something that is uniquely you to the work. Bring Batman to an audience who has seen every conceivable permutation of this character and make them look twice.
I keep saying “Batman,” but what I really mean is “art.”
The next time you sit down to draw, doodle the picture you’re thinking of drawing on a page, but make it no bigger than a business card. Look at it. Now draw another doodle (what we call a “thumbnail”) and do your best to make it more interesting. Change the perspective. Increase the contrast. Give the piece motion or stillness or meaning or something to push it beyond your initial instinct. Because your initial instinct is almost always the easy way — the path of least resistance. And that’s not the path to great art. It’s certainly not the path to making you a better artist.