San Diego Comic Con and NYCC—and even advertising—have long since fallen to the powerhouses of Hollywood and television, forgetting about, or straight up ignoring, their source material completely: print. With the rise of the internet, movies, and TV, the layperson doesn’t seem to understand the power, hard work, and creativity contained in the twenty or so pages of a monthly comic book or one perfect print ad.
Great comics are a seamless blend of great design, relatable storytelling—as relatable as a man flying around in underwear and deflecting bullets can be, I guess—and suspended disbelief. Sometimes the designs paint the story, sometimes the story drives the design. Sound familiar? It should, it’s a lot like advertising. Truly effective advertising is an amalgamation of the same elements. You take immaculately designed print ad and mix it with copy that elicits an honest reaction from your audience and you’ve got award winning content.
Strangely enough, some of the most timeless and influential design work comes straight from comics and advertising. Superman—until just a few years ago when they made the incredibly ill-advised decision to nix his red undies—has had the same recognizable design for 75 years. Batman’s been brooding in black and grey for just as long. Same with Wonder Woman, Spiderman, Wolverine, Green Lantern—Hal Jordan not Alan Scott, and Thor…the list goes on. Artists and writers are still trying to make comics like Miller’s Sin City and Gibbon’s Watchmen. And on the flip side, advertisers are still trying to capture what made Ogilvy’s Rolls Royce ad so perfect. They’re still trying to recreate the way The Pepsi Generation advertised a way of life, not a drink, so effectively.
Over the years I’ve drawn a ton of inspiration from comics and have learned so much about movement and color theory, more so than when I look at a great ad campaign. I even picked up some wicked storytelling techniques that I’ve used in storyboards and print ads for both school and work. So, by now you’re probably asking yourself, how big of a geek do you have to be to write a comparative essay on design in advertising and comic books? And the answer is: you have to be a huge one. But try it out. If you’re having trouble coming up with a good design or having trouble telling a story, go pick up a comic book for a little inspiration.