“When In Doubt, Black It Out”

posted 4.19.2010

So, I’m told, was the advice of Wallace Wood, as brilliant a comic-book illustrator as ever lived. Anybody who’s seen my comics knows I took Mr. Wood’s words to heart. To say the least.

Mr. Wood’s words find new pertinence in our digital age, where a click of the mouse or tap of the stylus can flood an image with detail, endless detail. One drawing of a marching soldier or a spaceship can become thousands, each as perfect or flawed as the original, enough to numb the mind.

And numb the mind they often do. That’s my biggest gripe with our Digital Age—or rather, with current practitioners of digital technology. In comics, and particularly in movies, I find my vision flooded with redundancies. The wonder of implied detail, or the utter, retina-sparing glory of negative space, is too often lost in cookie-cutter redundancy.

Now I’m as big a fan of CGI imagery as you’ll find. It’s given me a film career, and made the making of comics one hell of a lot more fun.

George Lucas, pioneer in all things CGI, knocked my socks off with his Triumph-Of-The-Will storm trooper march at the end of REVENGE OF THE SITH. It was scarier than hell, and couldn’t have been achieved otherwise without breaking Cecille B. DeMille’s bank.

But there can be too much of a good thing. I submit that, amongst all the toss-it-all-in, fill-the-screen-up razzle-dazzle that CGI affords us, we’re losing the simple power of empty space used well.

Study the best works of Alex Toth, Johnny Craig, or Fritz Lang. It’s very often what is not there that tells our story best. When I draw my comics, I ritually look over my scribbled pencils to find whatever is irrelevant to the moment, the story, and, as precious and pretty as it might be, I kill it.

Let the eye rest upon, and let it savor, what counts. And never forget the reader’s aptitude for that all-important process of closure.

Closure is a term you learn in art school. It is the teasing of the viewer’s eye to complete the image you not-so-entirely present. You, the storyteller, leave your piece of work deliberately incomplete, so that the viewer becomes an active, creative participant, finishing the job and thereby enjoying it all the more.

Whether it be a cut between movie scenes or a white gutter between comic-book panels, our audience, as always, does the lion’s share of the work for us.