On the forum I’ve been frequenting, there’s been a disturbing trend of people saying, “in comics, writing is much more important than artwork.” Or even, “who cares about the artwork, the story just has to be good.” To me, this point of view is not only ridiculous, it’s entirely poisonous if you are an aspiring comic creator.
Let me explain myself. As both the writer and artist for my own webcomic (and soon-to-be writer for another webcomic), I believe in the merits of both because of one important fact: comics are a visual narrative. Emphasis on visual. Emphasis on narrative. The very definition of comics entails the experience of writing and artwork together.
Now, I’m probably getting a few cries of, “but story IS more important than anything!” Story IS important, don’t get me wrong, but all stories require a medium for it to be told on. If you’re telling a ghost story around a campfire, you need to pick up on your audiences’ vibes to scare them. If you’re putting the story in a novel, you need to be able to conjure full imagery through merely your words. If you’re doing a story in a comic, you need to be able to tell that story through art. A well-told story is only as good as how it’s told, and if you choose comics as that medium, it would be foolish to ignore its art aspect.
Put it this way. If I were to write a poem, I need to be good with words. I would need to be able to skillfully arrange words around so that the final product not only conveys my idea, it sounds great when read out loud. At its most simplified definition, poetry is a craft of writing words while keeping in mind the phonetics of word combinations.
Comics are no different; to make a great comic, you need to be able to construct a story with a sequence of visuals. Let’s say I’m writing a noir story, and this sentence comes up: “The man coughed into his hands as the rain fell over his tired, cracked face. ‘I’m cold, Tom,’ he replies.” works fine in writing, but you would need a pretty good artist to convey not only the action and description of an old man coughing, but the melancholic mood of the scene as well. If the art simply told the story, as in the art only showed an old guy coughing with some rain on him, the reader will get the gist of the scene and move on. But if the artwork fleshed out this scene, if the artwork crafted a psychological portrait of this dying old man, it could immerse the readers into this comic and help them engage in that world.
I will clarify one more thing, since I’m sure many people think I have a bias towards artwork. Beautiful artwork still needs a great story. A brilliant, engaging speaker is meaningless without an equally profound message. The point of storytelling is to tell a story, regardless of medium. A comic with great artwork can still stand as a lovely piece of illustration, but it needs a story to continually engage its readers. After all, what people remember when they flip through the last page and close the book is the story in the end. But as I said before, to tell that story well, you need good visuals to back it up.
Writing and artwork has been compared to a pair of dancers before, which is a great metaphor. Both of these dancers need to be in sync with each other to give a great performance. If one is much more skilled than the other, or if one tries to outdo the other, the performance is most likely going to be a disaster in the end.
Comics isn’t 30% art, 70% writing. Nor is it 60% art, 40% writing. It’s 50/50.