Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is wall-crawling its way onto theater screens across the country, primed to deliver one of the most creative film representations of Spider-folk yet. While Spidey has previously been adapted into some excellent animated series on the small screen, Into the Spider-Verse still seems by all accounts a wildly different property than what we’re used to, through and through.
Aside from the dream-casting-level of vocal talent pulled for the new film — including Bryan Tyree Henry, Luna Lauren Velez, Mahershala Ali, and Shameik Moore as Miles Morales himself — a key reason why the original trailer went viral is thanks to its outstanding visual design and presentation. Combining a New York City-styled graffiti art sensibility with cutting-edge digital animation, emotive character design, and a strong sense of the comic book page itself, Into the Spider-Verse looks unlike any other animated superhero film.
To celebrate the film's unique style, we’re going to take a look at some outstanding comic artists and illustrators, inclusive of both relative newcomers and industry veterans, who may have provided some inspiration to the overall look of the film. The following artists have all pushed the medium’s envelope, breaking new ground in color, cartooning, and character design, and their work will hopefully tide you over until December 14.
New Yorker Kyle Baker is a living legend. While the 1980s saw him interning for Marvel and working on comic adaptations of the Howard the Duck and Dick Tracy films, he was soon producing his own independent graphic novels. The Cowboy Wally Show, an absurdist television-variety show concept, was an early original work, but it was arguably the insightful and hilarious Why I Hate Saturn that served as Baker’s formal arrival into the industry, and his later celebrated run on Plastic Man for DC showcased his talent for exaggerated physical humor within a long-form sequential narrative.
Baker is recognizable for his wonderfully emotive facial expressions and use of body language, gifting his characters with a constant and sprightly vibrancy. In terms of his humor, he varies in gradations between conventional slapstick and sardonic wit depending on the property, and has even written and the instructional How to Draw Stupid and Other Essentials of Cartooning, a book that might possibly have a home on a Spider-Verse animator’s shelf.
Recommended Works: Why I Hate Saturn, King David, Plastic Man, Deadpool Max: Nutjob
Contemporary illustrator and comic creator Mildred Louis emerged onto the scene several years ago with her online webcomic Agents of the Realm. Combining a heartfelt, well-observed coming-of-college-age story with the magical girl genre à la Sailor Moon, Agents of the Realm has attracted a devoted following of fans, leading to several successful Kickstarter campaigns launched to publish the series in print form.
Louis’ art style prioritizes facial expressions that lay out the emotional inner-worlds of her characters, and her use of color (especially during action scenes) echoes some of the energetic cuts in the Spider-Verse trailer. With a cast predominantly made up of women of color, Agents of the Realm’s diverse roster is another reason for some easy comparisons to Sony’s upcoming animated film.
Recommended Works: Agents of the Realm, Invader Zim #4.
The early '90s were a hotbed of activity in the always-changing indie comics scene, but there was very little that compared with Brotherman: Dictator of Discipline. Brotherman was a black-and-white comic independently developed and published, which centered on a hero of the common man, shot through with commentary on the inner city and centered on African-American characters. Anyabwile (formerly known as David Sims) combined efforts with his brother Gary A. Sims on writing duties, with thee both toiling to self-publish the series against all odds, greatly changing the face of indie comics and standing as a banner example of the DIY approach.
Anyabwile is an incredibly agile artist, adept with both bustling city street-scenes and intimate character portraits, but his style has achieved a new standard with the newest Revelation graphic novel. Empowered with a searing color palette provided by artist Brian McGee, the connective tissue between this work and Into the Spider-Verse is immediately apparent with a single glance. Anyabwile’s work beyond comics includes storyboarding and character design for clients like Cartoon Network and MTV, but anyone bowled over by the look of the Spider-Verse trailer really needs to pick up the Revelation graphic novel ASAP.
Recommended Works: Brotherman: Dictator of Discipline Volumes 1 – 3, Brotherman: Dictator of Discipline: Revelation
The multi-talented Afua Richardson first caught the eyes of fans with the dramatic arrival of the comic series Genius in 2014 (written by Marc Bernadin and Adam Freeman), a fictionalized but challenging portrayal of a strategically-gifted 17-year old uniting her South Central neighborhood against the LAPD. Since then, the African-American/Native-American artist’s style has kept step with each new opportunity, including series work on comics from the Big 2. Drawing from a variety of color moods and combining paint and brushstrokes with digital drawing techniques, Richardson’s lauded artwork featured in last year’s Black Panther: World of Wakanda, which would go on to win a coveted Eisner Award for Best Limited Series.
Richardson is currently working on Run, the follow-up to the celebrated autobiographical graphic novel trilogy March about the Civil Rights Movement, written by Congressman John Lewis with Andrew Aydin.
Recommended Works: Genius, Black Panther: World of Wakanda
Wimberly’s 2012 graphic novel Prince of Cats was an extraordinary and ambitious book, a neon-soaked fusion of Shakespeare, Samurai duels, and '80s NYC hip-hop culture, centered on the character of Tybalt from Romeo & Juliet. It’s a musically poetic comic (written in iambic pentameter) and, although Into the Spider-Verse is clearly set in the modern era, there’s a comparable sensibility and eye-catching use of color and perspective, evoking both urban danger and whimsy, the unpredictable chaos of the nighttime streets and the secretive respite of rooftops and elevated train tracks.
Wimberly’s work continues to invoke these crafty contrasts, carefully selecting from a plenitude of styles for each new project, a spirit which seems matched in the diversity and explosive color of the Spider-Verse film.
And, speaking of cinema: the film rights to Prince of Cats were recently purchased at auction by Legendary Pictures, with Lakeith Stanfield set to star in the role of Tybalt.
Recommended Works: Prince of Cats, Black Dynamite, Black History in Its Own Word