Thoughts: On the Role of Darkness in Illustration

[A bit of background on these thought posts can be read in this post.]

J recently shared this article with me, about “the origins of when comics became more mature and darker, and how that has played out in today’s culture,” as he put it.

Batman: The Killing Joke Predicted the Bleak State of Superheroes

Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 12.07.16 PM
“The Killing Joke,” via the Atlantic

This is what I replied:

“Really interesting read. I struggle with that idea too, that you have to be darker to appeal to adults. I remember when I first started drawing, I really didn’t like the dark twisted illustrations that you find in Juxtapoz and other contemporary art publications. I didn’t like how what was considered “cool grown up illustration” seemed to have to be weird and grotesque. Otherwise it was just kid’s stuff or commercial. Can’t have just a kawaii girl; there has to be a skull and poison ivy coming out of her eye.

As I came to better understand sadness and feeling dark, I understand why adult art tends to be darker. As a whole, we experience more sad things as we get older, whether that’s family passing away, loved ones leaving, or just feeling unfulfilled as childhood dreams fade. I think that’s really sad. But it is reality for a lot of people. Even the “happiest” of people, say wealthy beautiful celebrities, deal with depression and self-hatred. And say you want to point to simple coastal villagers with no internet access who live happy lives; that’s fine, but are they living in real life? What is real life anyway. So yeah, in my personal experience I also came to enjoy deeper illustration and not just rainbows and butterflies.

I still believe in happy and uplifting art. But maybe one that doesn’t ignore that there are darker things in life, just embraces it and shows we can still be good and happy. Seems maybe similar to what the author of the Killing Joke came to feel, that romanticizing malevolent characters isn’t really helping our human condition either. Instead, maybe we can find waysย to be honest in telling stories that at once understand our society’s dark sides but pushes us towards its better sides.”


I didn’t spend much time on this, I just wrote it in a few minutes in reaction to reading the article. But I think part of what I need to practice is not overthinking everything and not needing to turn everything into some great finished project (that takes forever to complete, if it is ever completed at all). With exceptions, done is better than perfect.

So yeah. Justย a small part of what I’ve been thinking about when it comes to the meaning I want my story & illustration career to have.

2 thoughts on “Thoughts: On the Role of Darkness in Illustration

  1. As a New Yorker, I feel a lot of people living here relish the hardened exterior and personalities they believe the gritty city imbues them with. Maybe that’s the same case with dark illustrations – enjoying them makes one feel like a badass, someone who is able to acknowledge the grim realities in life. But just as importantly, I think people need art like yours – illustrations that remind them of silver linings. Whether they consider it “mature” or not is another thing, but what’s more mature than doing our best to have a positive outlook on things?

    Anyhow, keep up the beautiful work! Always a nice reprieve ๐Ÿ™‚


    1. Thank you, I really appreciate your thoughtful response. I agree, I think a lot of us go through a phase where being hard and cynical feels cool, more “real.” But hopefully we turn that corner too. I realized a lot of the most positive influences/role models I admire went through some very sad experiences or tough backgrounds. And once you know that you see the added depth it’s given to their uplifting work.

      And thanks for the kind words of support ๐Ÿ™‚


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