Light And Shadow in Comics

You might have seen a lot of Artists, in particular, Mike Mignola and myself, use a method of adding pyramid like shapes at the edges of our hard blacks and probably have wondered, why do they do that or, what the heck is that? If you’re a pro comic artist then you’ll pretty much know what it is, but if you’re just starting out in comics and getting familiar with inking, it might confuse you a bit. Well, fear not, I’m here to explain the simplicity of it all. And believe me, it’s not complicated at all.

First, just to make sure we’re clear on the subject, let me show you a few examples of what I mean in my own work

At first glance it may seem like a stylistic thing, something we do to make the art look “cool”. I admittedly do it because it looks cool, however, it’s not the main reason. Those lines, pyramids, sharp things, points, feathers, whatever you want to call them (the correct term is feathering), are there for a very specific and valid reason, they are there to show the transition from light to shadow or, shadow to light.

Let’s take a look at the illustration below. I’ve drawn a simple sphere and separated the light (everything that’s white within the sphere) and shadows (everything that’s solid black within the sphere). But you’ll notice that between the light and shadow, where they meet, I’ve added those “cool” pointy things. This is meant to break up the point of contact between the light and shadow, so instead of having one solid line dividing both, we have what’s called a transition. In reality, we don’t get hard transitions from light to shadow or shadow to light. There’s always a transition of shading that occurs at the point where light and shadow meet.

Let’s look at a smoother more realistic shaded sphere to see what I mean

You don’t necessarily have to do this in your work. It’s something Artists like Mike Mignola are known for. Me, I do it occasionally when the style I’m using calls for it as in this Batman image I recently did.

Mike Mignola usually uses a mixture of both, going from hard solid transitions to using feathering as seen in the image below.

Frank Miller, on the other hand, preferred to do heavy solid transitions during his famous Sin City style as seen in the image below.

So now you know and knowing is half the…

Ok, ok. I couldn’t resist. But like I said, you don’t have to do this in your own work, but it’s good knowledge to have especially when starting out. When creating this feathering effect, I tend to do it in 1 of 2 ways depending on the look I’m going for, but I’ll leave that for another post.

Till then, thanks for reading!

Published by Eric Merced

Illustrator, Designer, Comic book Artist, Cartoonist.

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