Strange Days

There’s a lot of hate, and fear, surrounding AI art right now. Perhaps this is because AI art is so accessible in its impressive, albeit limited, state. These fears are not totally unfounded. Jason Allen’s prize-winning AI art piece caused outrage late last year, though honestly, I think Allen’s move was pretty cool. It showed that not only were people incapable of reading the very obvious note that Théâtre D’opéra Spatial was AI generated, but it also highlighted how widespread cliche is in art judgment, with a computer producing a mathematically-sure award-winner with such ease (reminds me of The Most Wanted Paintings series).

It seems that people’s fear of AI art is misplaced, being more cautious of those who use it than the actual technology itself. YouTube and social media platforms have been flooded with (insert franchise name) as an 1980s movie over the past few months, and as novel as these creations are, they’re already getting a bit long in the tooth. Artists will lose work because of AI, and that’s no small concern. However, the silver lining is that collectors of (human) art probably aren’t going to stop supporting their favorite artists just because an AI program can produce commissions on a whim. The casual viewer (who probably isn’t buying art anyways) may be swayed by AI, as will corporations looking to save a buck on concept art, advertising, or graphic design, but those who buy art will, I’d hazard to guess, keep doing so.

If anything, this is a wakeup call to the art market and community to reassess their standards if they’re worried about AI tricking them; after all, at this point AI is little more than a reflection of algorithms. It creates what it thinks the user wants, and users evidently want what it is producing.

All that said, I’m excited by AI art. Though it’s not truly sentient (yet…), I figure it would be nice to treat the machines with a little respect and give my honest thoughts on creators harnessing the tech to build comic books.

Artificial Ink Magazine

The premier issue of Artificial Ink showcases several comic books, illustrated books, and manga available from The issue starts off with a preview of James Goodwin’s cyberpunk-themed aiai – appropriate, considering the medium – with a selection of science fiction and fantasy works by other creators previewed thereafter.

Going in with a skeptical eye, one quickly notices the intense reliance on portrait and bust shots. It’s a crutch, though after downloading some of the full books previewed I found this issue to be less prolific than I would have thought. Hands are in view, and though there are some strange looking fingers, it’s hardly something worth nitpicking thanks to many of the creator’s smart framing choices. Furthermore, some of these books came out months ago, and the publisher has neatly divided them between first and second generation on the website, allowing you to better see the improvement in tech and craft.

Some frames have an impressive cinematic quality, like the second panel in Goodwin’s previewed aiai #1, showing a character from an overhead view through a security camera, while other panels are dressed up with after effects (some of the effects may be AI generated, though others are undoubtedly achieved through post-processing programs).

The books are entirely composed of individual panels, not full comic pages rendered by AI. It’s not unlike early CG comics being composed of rendered panes arranged into comic pages, with little to no overlap or bleeding between pictures. That’s not to say the pages previewed are poorly constructed. The Iron Rose has a great first panel of a speeding train that looks genuinely evocative of a comic illustration, with huge lettering and flame effects surrounding the locomotive. Juan Bosh’s work has a nice fotoromanzo look too, with the mild sepia filter and watercolour drip landscapes giving the work an authentic, but still uniquely artificial, aura.

Landscapes are one of the most promising aspects of AI art in comics, as they allow artists to bypass the (sometimes tedious) process of drawing backgrounds. The skyscrapers in Marc Alexander’s Angkara look great – not quite right, but the scattered arrangement of material suits the post apocalyptic setting perfectly, and this artifacting adds to the immersion. Steve Coulson’s opening street panel in Bestiary Chronicles #3 is a great example of AI art being able to take over “junk” duties (literally), rendering a convincingly decrepit city street.

Christopher English’s manga works show how effectively AI can mimic the medium, with both the backgrounds and characters looking perfectly suited to the style. One of the frames previewed in AbsXcess shows a man standing at the end of a vacant street. Upon closer inspection, the vantage point is slightly skewed upwards in an effectively unnerving way – a great effect for a horror comic.

How artists have tried to harness AI to maintain an artistic standard is worth noting. Some creators’ work remains more or less consistent, like Yaron Betan’s Elf Witch, though in other works the blurring of styles is more noticeable. In some of Coulson’s Bestiary Chronicles, for example, you can see the fluctuation between what looks like a contemporary computer-coloured glossy paper style and CG render art, making for a harsh, but still interesting, juxtaposition.

Issue five of Bestiary Chronicles does a great Alex Ross impression, and is one of the more dynamic and exciting books previewed. It’s mimicking a painted look, but you can still tell it’s rendered, which is an effect I hope doesn’t totally go away as the technology advances. I like seeing the “artist’s” hand, as it were. There’s also a good amount of action and changing vantage in these preview panes, which is another point of criticism that could be lobbed at some of the other works previewed. Setting up a character to stand still is one thing, but giving them movement and dynamic facial expressions is a rarity here, resulting in many of the books having a quieter demeanor. This lack of dynamism will no doubt turn some readers off. Nevertheless, it’s a charming artefact of this first era of AI books.

After the comic previews the issue showcases book illustrations. This is a far safer and more practical use of AI art in its current state as narration can help back up what’s going on in a scene, with the pictures serving as a bonus for the author. In comics, the strip has to tell the story without words, and with such static characters, this is an undeniable handicap.

Ryan Nixon then conducts an interview with ChatGPT. The bot outlines how it can help creatives with tasks including proofreading or translation, while also selling its application for idea prompts. It also touches on topics like the workforce and medicine, outlining how AI can help society.

A tutorial on using AI art to establish a setting or picture is then given, followed by an opinion piece by Betan about technological advancements in art. The issue concludes with a gallery of some of the panels previewed earlier. Overall, Artificial Ink is a great introduction to AI comic art. It shows where the genre sits right now, highlighting how this technology can be used in a variety of illustrative mediums. This is only the beginning of AI comic art, and this issue will be fascinating to look back on in five or ten years, seeing how these early restraints will inadvertently shape an entire subgenre of the medium.

You can download the Premier Issue of Artificial Ink here. The comics previewed in Artificial Ink are all free, and can be downloaded at AIComicBooks.

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