U.S War MachineChuck Austen is one of the more controversial names in superhero comics, with many fans cursing his name after his bizarre run on X-Men. He actually started out as an artist, working with Alan Moore on Miracleman in the 1980s, but his transition to writing came after he moved to Marvel and wrote and drew U.S. War Machine for the R-rated MAX imprint. The book, which starred Stark sidekick James “Rhodey” Rhodes, was first published in black & white but sold well enough that it gained a full-color follow-up. Austen illustrated the book entirely digitally, using 3D Studio Max and human models he purchased to stage scenes and importing them into Photoshop. The results were…. not great, so it’s not surprising that he shifted away from art duties afterwards. CrashSaenz continued carrying the torch for computer art forward, and eventually Marvel approached him to do his thing on the most logical character – Iron Man. Crash was published in 1988 as part of the company’s Graphic Novel series, magazine-format paperbacks that were two to three times as long as your average issue. Using the Macintosh II, Crash was a massive step forward – in addition to the pixely line art, 3D renders and vector beziers popped off the page. The end result was a little hard to look at, unfortunately – the technology was still primitive, and there’s a lot going on. Stay on target Digital JusticeSaenz was assisted on Crash by frequent Heavy Metal contributor Pepe Moreno, a Spanish artist who had been interested in technology for some time and would eventually head the Digital Fusion video game studio. DC saw Crash and wanted their own high-tech CGI comic, and Moreno delivered in 1990 with the bizarre Batman: Digital Justice. With a cover emblazoned with a bold “COMPUTER GENERATED” banner, is by far the best-looking of these early computerized comics. Moreno uses a lot of 3D rendering to build his world, where a future Batman contends with a computer virus Joker. We’re still firmly in the category of computer as novelty, but soon enough it would morph into an essential creative tool. The digital revolution has changed every aspect of our lives, from how we shop to how we create. And comic books are no exception. You’ll have a tough time finding a single four-color floppy that isn’t touched by a computer at one point or another, from the writer’s script to scanned inks and digital lettering. But the comics industry didn’t jump into the computer universe feet-first – a handful of innovative artists pushed it there through the 80s and 90s.Let’s dip into the long boxes to explore how comics artists embraced digital technology and saw what those early experiments looked like, as well as what they’re doing with computers in the modern world.ShatterThe first “computer-generated” comic was Shatter, published by First Comics in 1985. Written by Peter B. Gillis, the story was a fairly generic tale of a dystopian future populated by malevolent corporations, mental abilities and gritty detectives. But it was the art that made it stand out – illustrator Mike Saenz used the then state of the art Macintosh Plus and MacPaint to draw every page. This was before pen tablets were common, so he used the default Mac one-button mouse as well. The Mac Plus’s one-color screen measured a measly 512×342 pixels, so Saenz could only draw 2/3 of a page at a time. He only lasted a few issues, and the next artist drew the old-fashioned way and then scanned the pages to fake the effect. The Dome: Ground ZeroExperiments with computer-rendered comics would continue throughout the 90s, but they failed to make much of an impact. One of the more interesting attempts came with 1998’s The Dome: Ground Zero, written and laid out by Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons with finishes by Heavy Metal contributor Angus McKie. McKie used 3D rendered models to stage scenes, then imported them into Photoshop and digitally painted over them to get rid of any imperfections. This would become a fairly common process for digital comics over the next decade, but it didn’t really deliver here. Figures are stiff and the color palette is weirdly saturated. Digital ChameleonThe most logical place for computers to make inroads into the traditional comics publishing process was coloring. In the olden days, colorists would paint on copies of artwork with colored ink and send those sheets to “separators” who would painstakingly use various hues of dark brown paint on acetate to match the 120 colors available over four printing runs – yellow, cyan, magenta and black. With the advent of Photoshop, colorists could do separations digitally, allowing them to do crazy gradients and other effects that would be time-consuming if not impossible before. Canadian studio Digital Chameleon opened their doors in 2001 as the first coloring outfit to use Photoshop for digital seps and it wasn’t long before the rest of the industry followed suit.SinkhaPublished in the pages of Heavy Metal, Sinkha is an ambitious series of graphic stories revolving around a girl named Hyleyn who comes into contact with an immortal race of aliens who exist in a virtual reality paradise. Artist Marco Patrito released the first volume in 1995, with a “3D Multimedia Novel” for PC and Mac computers following. The project was also optioned for an animated film that never came to fruition. This definitely shows it’s Euro-style sci-fi roots, with lots of grandiose vistas and nubile women but not a lot of sensible plot. Marvel Censors Criticism of America From Marvel Comics #1000Can Even Jonathan Hickman Save the X-Men? Spider-Man: Quality Of Life2002’s Spider-Man movie got Marvel hyped up to push the web-slinger in new ways, and one of the most curious was this four-issue miniseries written by Greg Rucka with art by a CGI studio led by Scott Sava. This is one of the first books on the list that doesn’t try to use computer art as a storytelling gimmick – it’s just the way the artist chose to draw. Quality Of Life goes for a more animated influence over photo-realism and works better for it, even if Spidey’s poses look a little stilted. ShockrocketsStuart Immonen is one of Marvel’s go-to artists, able to draw just about any character in any scenario and make it look good. One of his secrets is the use of computer software to model out vehicles and other machines for perspective drawing. He first started doing this with 2000’s Shockrockets, which used 3D models to keep the book’s complex machinery consistent. Google SketchUp, a free 3D modeling tool, is now used by tons of artists when photo reference isn’t available. A great way to see its impact is in the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, that floating platform so beloved by Marvel’s spy agency. Nearly every company artist now draws this thing from a 3D reference model so it looks the same across books. SagaMuch of the computer art we’ve shown so far was created to mimic the basic styles of American comics – clean black holding lines with color in between. But the rise of digital tools has created new avenues for art, and one of the best exemplars is Fiona Staples, the artist on projects like Saga. Staples started her career as a colorist working with artists like Frazier Irving, and that digital approach continued with her own work. Her drawings are unabashedly digital and don’t pretend to be anything but, with bold hard-edged shapes butting up against painterly textures to create a convincing alien world.Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey.