A new site called Pixton just launched which allows creators to make their own custom comics using a variety of stock assets. It is really a technical marvel and the whole thing works very well, yet I can’t help but think that this kind of thing only encourages the current stock of lazy and disconnected young “creators” to remain so.

For me the issue is simple. Tools like Pixton seem like a wonderful shortcut to creating comics (I made the comic below in less than three minutes by “remixing” a comic created by a co-worker… which makes it even more awesome then it already is.) But these shortcuts are not substitutions for the kind of work that can be achieved through years of careful study, hard work and dedication to the craft. Now, you may say “Of course, that is obvious.” But I am not so sure that it is so obvious to a lot of young people looking for an outlet for their creative talents. (Full Disclosure: I have been drawing comics for less than a year, so you may want to take what I have to say with a grain of salt.)

As a teacher, I have at times had a rather difficult time convincing my students that a pencil and a sketchbook are the most basic and essential tools of a good animator. Ten years ago, it would never have been an issue. “Why draw when the computer does it all for me?” or “Well, such-and-such a site is successful and those guys can’t draw very well either.” are common sentiments I overhear quite often.

An engaging conversation is going on over at Scott McCloud’s blog concerning this site and the nature of comics and is worth checking out.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am going to go smash some Ray Charles records while listening to T-Pain.

Discussion (10) ¬

  1. Chad says:

    This was fun. Check out the original…

  2. fluffy says:

    This isn’t even the first easy-to-use webcomic creator, either. Stripcreator has been around for years, for example, and of course sprite comics are pretty much just copy-and-paste as well. A lot of the better-known webcomics also use Flash and very large symbol libraries, and some of the cartoonists are downright unapologetic about it (although at least they drew their art assets to begin with).

    I am a complete amateur when it comes to drawing and making comics and such but I also like learning things. So I keep on drawing and trying to learn how to improve all the time. Lately I’ve been getting some very nice comments from people about how much my artwork has visibly improved, so I’d like to think I’m taking the right approach.

  3. agent-x says:

    This is the same discussion that gets raised about the templated website builder tools that exist, versus actual website design.
    And I am sure the same issues were raised in the 60s, 70s & 80s, regarding clip-art versus actual illustration.

    As technology advanced, automation tools for all aspects of what we do is a natural progression.
    In the long run, some will use the tools as a starting point and build their skills. Others will not.
    But a majority of readers/consumers will always be able to tell quality work when they see it.

    However, if people have to PAY for something to be created (either in cash or time invested to learn), they will fall back on tools like these to save costs.
    Such is life.

  4. Bearman says:

    When you have a program that automatically spits out the gags then I think you have a problem.

    I have seen beautifully draw webcomics that I couldn’t follow the story line or if intended to be funny I didn’t get. And then you have crappy drawn stuff that is some of the sharpest things out there.

    So I don’t see this as an issue. As Scott said, people were saying that about the shortcuts I and others use. Completely do everything digitally including text. Purists will say that it the lazy way. But then again I don’t see many of the purists mailing letters by hand anymore. You use the technology but the creativity has to still come through.

  5. Matt says:

    I’ve decided to mess around with Pixton some more and really give it a “fair shake”. It is fun for sure, and I don’t really see it as a “threat” to what we do at all. My hope is that it inspires more people to take a look at comics and maybe get them excited to pick up a pen and start drawing.

    I’ve made a few more comics about my adventures in Pixton. Check out the series starting with this one: http://pixton.com/comic/j8mrsvhd I’ve got a few ideas for some Pixton comics that I might like to try out in the next few days. I’ll report back when I have.

  6. Using Pixon for you is like Picasso using crayons and sidewalk chalk, sure it’ll be good as the artist is good but there’s a limit to what you can do with the tools!

  7. David says:

    I work as a digital artist, so I’m on the computer all day using Illustrator and Photoshop. I know there’s a huge difference in psychology when I create art in Photoshop versus drawing freehand. Doing work on the computer is more forgiving (there’s an Undo command!), whereas drawing with a pencil or pen is more challenging, I find.

    Maybe I’m old school, but I like the feel of pencil on paper. I draw and ink my comics by hand, though I use the computer to letter because it’s faster. It’s a personal preference, but the artistic style of computer-generated comic strips doesn’t appeal to me. Maybe it’s because everything is too geometric and linear. I enjoy the randomness in strokes and style of hand-created strips. I think that captures the abstract quality of the creative process.

    • Matt says:

      Oh man David, I have SO MUCH to say on the differences between computers and pencils! I am going to have to put together a blog post on the subject I think.

      Great to hear from a fellow pen and paper lover!

  8. David says:

    Hey Matt,

    Most people are better artists than they realize, and I’d rather see them do a stick figure cartoon in their own style than do a machine-aided strip that sort of lacks personality.

    I enjoy working both freehand and on the computer, but like a pencil or pen, the computer is just an means to an end. To be a successful visual artist on any any media, you have to first grasp the fundamentals of lines, shapes and compositions, and I think it’s easier to do with simple tools like a pencil.

    The work I do on the computer vs. freehand is different. I use the computer for more geometric and precise work, and I use a pencil for more fluid and abstract projects. You can check out what I mean on my website: http://www.DavidDang.ca