Many years ago a buddy of mine worked in a comic book shop. One day a bunch of teenagers who were very excited about the work of a particular artist came in. They were hyped to see that his new book was out, very impressed with all of the detail in his work. Conversely, they made fun of another artist, calling his work “lame” because he did not use enough lines in his work.
The artist that they liked was a young man named Rob Liefield. The artist they hated was named Mike Mignola.
Today, Mignola, known for his spare style, is recognized as one of the top artists in the field, and as the creator of the popular Hellboy character. Liefield, whose style was kinetic and busy, is barely remembered at all.
|Rob Liefield's Youngblood|
|Mike Mignola Hellboy Book Cover|
But there was a time when you could not get bigger than Liefeld. He starred in a Levi’s commercial directed by Spike Lee.
The youthful and the inexperienced tend to be more impressed with work that is visible. The flashier something is, the better they think it is. They cannot conceive of another way of viewing things.
When I was a teenager, working for my mentor Bruce Walters doing motion graphics, he said something to me that put me on the path of seeing the beauty in simplicity.
Bruce was a very smart guy and I paid close attention to the things he said to me all those years ago; I still use what he taught me.
We did a lot of animated graphics for local television spots, so we dealt with a lot of logos. One day as we were shooting some animation, he said to me, You know who makes a ton of money? The guys who design those international signs that tell people—without necessarily using words—things like “slippery when wet” or “this way to the hospital” or whatever. You know the signs.
I was surprised. He said it was because it was hard to design something that was so easily understood by so many different kinds of people.
From that moment on I started to see the beauty in simplicity. I began to notice how effective simplicity was in all kinds of design and composition. I saw how simplicity communicated ideas so clearly. Simplicity can be hard to execute—it is marksmanship. It is about hitting the target. In design, it is about eliminating everything that is not necessary. Novices always want to add and seasoned designers want to take away.
|From an essay on writing by Robert Louis Stevenson|
When John Williams played his simple JAWS theme for a young Steven Spielberg, the director laughed because it was so simple. He thought Williams was joking. This is now so iconic that the simple notes are synonymous with sharks. Just as Williams’ simple Raiders of the Lost Ark march is synonymous with adventure. Williams is a master of these “sound logos”—simple ideas that communicate mood so perfectly that decades later they can easily be recalled and applied properly.
One of the most difficult things that I teach is the appreciation of simplicity. It may be better to think of it as precision. Legendary illustrator Alex Toth said (and I’m paraphrasing here) to figure out what you need to draw. Draw that and only that. And draw the hell out of it. Precision.
|Drawing by Alex Toth|
|Mignola comic book art|