I'm a big fan of web comics, and have a question about a drawing or story-telling technique that I've seen. It seems effective, but I'm not quite sure what it's effective for.

Here's an example, from the most excellent Questionable Content by Jeph Jacques. First, a frame in his usual style:

Jeph Jacques usual style, January 30, 2018

He's usually quite consistent, but once in a long while there's a frame where he uses a much simpler drawing style:

Jeph Jacques simplified style, January 30, 2018

Another example, from this strip; compare...

Couple, usual drawing style

... to...

Couple, simplified drawing style

It's an interesting and entertaining motif, but I'm not clear on just what he's communicating with it, and why it feels effective. Is it an ironic aside? Or is it a pause in the action to let the characters (and reader) consider?

And, what is the history of this? Did Jeph make this up, or have previous cartoonists used it as well?

Any ideas?


2 Answers 2


It's called an Art Shift, traditionally used in western media for homages, parodies, or flashbacks; e.g. Tracer Bullet or when Calvin and Susie play house in Calvin and Hobbes. These art shifts usually last for one or more scenes, often for the duration of a specific subplot. The Japanese use art shifts in a very different way-- single-shot/panel shifts are quite common in anime and manga, and are used for comedic emphasis. Kimi ni Todoke, for example, uses this quite frequently (Kimi ni Todoke vol. 10 / ch. 42 spoilers). It is often used in conjunction with other anime/manga tropes (Cross Popping Veins, Dull Eyes of Unhappiness, Giving Up the Ghost, Nosebleed, Snot Bubble, Sweat Drop, Visible Sigh, Kewpie Doll Surprise, etc.) to convey emotion humorously, or on a specific character to show that they're acting in a way that's different from the rest of the world. It can also be used on a group of characters to show a sudden (and usually temporary) shift in tone. Shifting into a chibi art style usually implies a comedic or moe tone.

As to your specific examples, the art shift creates an emphasis on joke-- in the first example, how Faye is forced to subvert her usual threats of violence, and in the second example, how Faye completely misssed the point.


Breaking the fourth wall

The fourth wall is a name for the convention that in a play/movie/comic book, the audience can see the characters, but the characters are unaware of the audience and the world outside.

A way of breaking the fourth wall is for a character to look straight into the spectator's eyes, showing that she is aware that she is inside a fictional story being watched by an audience. It involves the audience in the story and is often, but not always, used as a comic effect. It's used countless times in movies (Oliver Hardy, Eddie Murphy, Mike Myers etc.) and in comics in particular (too many to mention).

The first example enhances the effect of breaking the wall by simplifying the drawings. This makes it even more obvious that the illusion is broken - the character is aware that she is in a story. In that moment she sees her life simplified - as in a comic (which it is, but she's not supposed to know).

If the character speaks briefly to the audience (like in your first example), it can be called an aside. This little comment is normally not heard by the other characters.

Wikipedia on Fourth wall

Wikipedia on Aside

  • 1
    I don't think this style is used commonly for breaking the fourth wall. Commented Jan 31, 2018 at 21:15
  • @LateralTerminal, I'm not talking about "style". What do you mean?
    – Wolff
    Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 7:25
  • Did you read the question title? "where the drawing style briefly gets much simpler?" Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 14:56
  • If you're not addressing the style which is what it's mainly asking then your question is way off Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 14:56
  • 2
    It's not all your fault. OP didn't really formulate a good question. The second picture especially doesn't help at all. Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 16:07

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