In an interview on Hideous Energy back in November, Eleanor Davis said, "Any time something is drawn in kind of a realistic style, I just assume that it's mainstream." I find this interesting because it kind of gets at the heart of how I (and I think most readers) look at a comic.
Mainstream and indie can be kind of vague terms, but when I think mainstream, I think action-based stories, not necessarily superheroes, but probably some guns, some murders, and the possibility of being turned into a movie starring Bruce Willis or Mark Wahlberg. To me, indie means a little more thoughtful, more idiosyncratic, and murders and car chases are less likely.
Looking at the art, the reader makes a quick assessment of what kind of comic they are looking at: humorous, kid-friendly, spoof, mainstream, indie, YA, arty, diary, whatever. And then they decide whether it's the type of comic they want or not.
This is something that I think about because I feel that my artwork falls somewhere in between mainstream and indie. I don't know that my art sends out the right signals. There's elements of both, and so the reader doesn't really know what they are looking at. The reader isn't misled by the art, it's more that they don't know what to make of it. And then they put the book back on the shelf.
I think the best artists are able to show you something you've never seen before but still let you know what kind of comic it is going to be. And all of this is done at a glance. I think Eleanor Davis is one of these artists. Another is Jesse Jacobs.
With the first panel of this page, you know what you are getting into. You know whether this is for you or not. The reader can pick it up with supreme confidence. I don't think anyone looks at this art and says, "I don't know."
This is an important quality for a comic to have because people want to go home with something that they are sure about. With Jesse Jacobs and Eleanor Davis, I saw their work, I knew I wanted it, and I couldn't wait to get home and pour over it.