Comics Creators

Photo Manipulation In Comics.


Saw a documentary recently on Inio Asano.

In it, they show his process, including the manipulation of photographs in order to create backgrounds, and such. (begins around 14:35) It reminded me that Michael Lark did something similar for his run on Daredevil, where he basically made the photo black & white, blew out the image, then inked over it a little to make it look more analog and fit with his art. Tim Bradstreet does this, too, except he also uses models he hires in costume as well.

Anyways, it reminded me that that process is kind of frowned upon in American mainstream comics, and I remember Lark getting a lot of flack for it back in the day, too.

Why do we see manipulating photographs (you took) in such a way such a taboo thing?

Now, keep in mind, I’m not talking about someone using screencaps of actors in movies, or swiping other artists.


Kirby and Steranko (I think) did this as well. I think not can be very cool and add some interesting juxtapositions to comic art. I used this technique in a webcomic of mine to show large urban areas. Used all of my own photography, but so many called me out in it for “cheating” or for being “lazy”. I dunno, I still stand by it, as if helped the look.

As open minded as the comics community is, it can also be extremely conservative when it comes to what is and isn’t “art” or what a comics page is expected to look like.


Well, Asano made one of the best comics I’ve ever read with Nijigahara Holograph, so I’m all for it! :smiley:

Seriously though, if an artist is using photo reference/manipulation to their advantage rather than as a crutch then I don’t see the problem. We’re paying for the finished product, not how hard we think the artist is or isn’t working while making it. (Photo manipulation can certainly be hard work, I’m just saying detractors tend to not see it as such.)


I don’t think there’s much criticism or taboo over using photo reference for backgrounds and buildings, a LOT of classic comics artists have done that.

I think the controversy comes in more with using it for characters as many feel it removes the dynamism from sequential work.


My view has always been this: I can spend hours and hours using rulers and perspective to work out the structures and layouts of buildings or environments or just us a photo for reference. The average reader won’t notice the difference and skips over the panel in seconds.

As long as it doesn’t stand out and look at odds with the rest of the page, why does it matter how the final result was created.

To be honest though, I’m surprises people still use photos when sketchup is available for free.


Which I find funny, because Marvel & DC are assembly line corporate comics and they’re expected to be multi-layered and deep stories with masterful art. That’s like expecting the Transformers show to win an Oscar for writing.

Sad part about that, is we see people all the time equate time and effort to the amount they paid. “I thought it was a quick read. For $4, I don’t want 24 splash pages. I’d like to be entertained for longer than 5min for my $5” and so on.

I meant more than using it as reference, but adjusting the levels in photoshop and putting it on the page as is, blown out to just a black and white shadow contrast. Some of those older cats just flat out did a paste up of a black and white grainy picture of the city, but I’m talking more than that.

Sketch Up is great, but you’d be hard pressed to find a detailed model of a random NYC street and alley that isn’t generic model shapes with a photo texture.

I know that Marvel has several detailed sketch up models for iconic things made up for artists to use. The Hellicarrier, Angela’s staff, Daxter Building, etc. Quesada uses SU a lot.

Hell, I use models I manipulated, tore apart, and rebuilt for my webcomic. The ship, the companion pod, the robot sidekick, MEL, is a model of Stewey Griffen’s head where I deleted everything down to the oval shape, elongated it and added pipes to the eye sockets.

I like to use basic ideas with the models so I can still be creative, but that’s just me. (like cityscapes. I grab a generic city model of bare block and design my own building faces) If I was on a monthly Marvel book, you can bet I’d be finding a way to drop that model onto the page and just add some lines.

But, sometimes, you just need a dirty alley with trash, wires everywhere, and stuff.


Apart from the technology I don’t see a huge difference between pasting a black and white photostat of a photo or using photoshop.


@Donal @garjones What was remarkable about the Kirby, Ditko etc guys using photo imagery in their work is that it was HIGHLY experimental for the time, and was mirroring what some artists in the fine art world were doing with pop art and mixed media. Clearly influenced by guys like Richard Hamilton, Robert Rauschenberg, Ed Ruscha, Warhol, commercial art/design/advertising/illustration etc. They were actively looking outside of comics for artistic inspiration and using visually experimental techniques on the page, which is pretty rare today especially in mainstream comics circles.


To me, there’s no difference in idea, just execution. But, for some reason, people tend to look down on it now.

I think most (in mainstream) are looking strictly at film for that inspiration now.


film and other comics most certainly. A very cyclical thing.


I personally think some parallels can be made to producing music. Yeah, you could be a purist and not use a computer, only use analog analogue effects and valve amps … or, you could use all the tools a computer gives you to create a better piece of art in a faster time.

To be honest, if a perspective grid takes you an hour to layout, whereas on a computer you could have half a painted page done in an hour, the finished result is going to only be a better product using whatever aids you can.

Personally I put down layers of photos, crudely manipulate them into the right layout, then either trace or freehand them based on that. It’s my art, based on my digital manipulation, and the final pencils gel the image together in a way they wouldn’t have in a pure photo manip image.

Any means necessary, in my view. Except using porn stars for reference. coughLandcough


Been thinking about this a lot recently, and had a handful of chats with lecturers and fellow artists about it.

Everyone’s pretty much summed it up nicely anyway, but here are my thoughts:

If you’ve worked into the manipulation, or used a mish-mash of references to piece one together to make what you need, and done enough work that it’s unrecognisable? Yeah, then go for it. If all you’ve done is made it black and white and dropped a character in and the original photographer sees it and gets annoyed then I think they’re allowed to be. And if it’s another artist’s image then don’t use it - that’s my line. I’d also agree it works best for backgrounds or object, as for characters it can look stale and take you out the story (unless you’ve worked into it enough for that not to be noticeable and negate the issue).

If you’re using your own models, or photographs, then fire away - go nuts. Even if it’s a free-for-use model that you’ve posed yourself, I’d count that as technically being your own image, as it’d be unlikely someone will get the exact same angle and scale.

I think I’ll be experimenting with this a bit, as I used a sketch-up model I made as the roughs for the backgrounds in my MW Annual submission. Backgrounds are my weakest area, and I’m still trying to find a way of tackling them that I’m happy with and doesn’t make the rest of the work suffer. I don’t want it to be a crutch though, so hopefully it just helps me in the mean time.


Thank you for posting this! It’s awesome.


I like your opinion on this. I think the all issues with artists that use this technique is that they take others works. Such as a Greg Land. He’s very talented, he just uses other photographers work.