“I don’t think most comic buyers are aware of [him], but a Mucha homage still attracts the eye because beauty attracts the eye” — Terry Moore, creator of Strangers In Paradise.
In a nutshell, that quote explains why Alphonse Mucha (MOO-kuh), a Czech graphic designer/illustrator whose peak of success was during the Art Nouveau movement of the late 1800s, is still influencing and inspiring comic book artists today.
Who was Mucha? Like Toulouse-Lautrec, Mucha was one of the rare artists who made his living as a commercial artist commissioned to design and illustrate posters, calendars, and other advertisements, while also respected for his “high art” paintings. He was working in Paris at the end of the 19th century, when the opportunity for instant fame arrived, on of all things, an advertising rush job. Globally popular stage actress Sarah Bernhardt asked Mucha to create a theatre poster for her latest production. She (and the rest of Paris) fell in love with Mucha’s design for Gismonda (1894), telling him “I predict you will be famous.” Bernhardt made Mucha her exclusive poster artist for the next six years, helping make him wealthy and successful in his own lifetime, a rarity for any artist.
More than any other, Mucha is recognized as the signature artist of the Art Nouveau movement, which was inspired by the colors and non-linear organic forms found in nature: the flowing, graceful lines of plants, flowers, water, along with the perhaps incongruous use of celestial objects like the moon and stars. The majority of Mucha’s work featured beautiful, idealized portraits of women, still a popular attention-grabbing advertising method today. Mucha’s work is very similar to that of comic books in that both are linework filled with color, and printed on paper with printing presses (instead of paint on canvas).
The Art Nouveau earth-tones of Mucha’s color palette add a level of sophistication to comic book art, a mature departure from the historically garish color schemes. Other similarities: his preference for vertical compositions are like the proportions of comic book covers, and Mucha’s curving blank spaces between design elements translate into the spaces between panels in comic books.
View Mucha’s work alongside the comic book art of Adam Hughes, Alex Ross, Terry Moore, and others, and it becomes easy to see how artists continue to be inspired by Le Style Mucha.
Alphonse Mucha Masterworks; Rosalind Ormiston, Flame Tree Publishing, 2007.
Alphonse Marie Mucha: Posters, Panels…and Comic Books?; Brandon Bollom & Shawn McKinney, University of Texas at Austin, 2004.