This post explains why cartooning is sometimes at its best when the artist doesn’t rely on photoreference. (EDIT: I have not read the comic. But the article makes valid points based on the examples.)
I use a lot of period reference for my work, because on projects like Gone to Amerikay, I must present a convincing picture of a particular time and place. But I use little photo reference for the figures. My custom is to reference the figure photo for no more than the initial rough sketch, after which I toss it and draw from memory.
Some years back, I tried heavy photo reference for my figure work, and not only do I don’t think it improved my drawing or storytelling, it made me neurotically concerned about using reference. Eventually, I became so dependent on photos, I convinced myself I could not draw without them. It took me well over a year to wean myself off the crutch.
I know some cartoonists who never draw without tracing. I’ve gone back to my custom of using reference and then drawing something which looks almost nothing like the reference. I am so much happier.
I think that the rise of computer graphics has decreased the impact of realistic images. Almost anyone can scan in some photos and use filters to make a comic book. Almost anyone can learn to use a Poser program.
One of the interesting things about SF fans who dabble in comics reading is that they often love highly rendered, illustrative comic art no matter how bad the storytelling is. I once heard a woman go off on a painter because you could see his brush strokes.
Comics fans are far more likely to appreciate design, line, and storytelling style.
This is a problem publishers need to consider when they try to market comic adaptations of books to people who are not comics readers: they need to take into account how differently non-comics readers process the pictures.
People who have no understanding of comics won’t notice the lousy lettering in the Twilight manga (and will become hostile when you do, you comic book nerd,) or the stiffly rendered figures and forms and very bad storytelling in some of those other novel adaptations.
But a non-comics reader will look at lots of color or hatching and they think they are looking at Great Comic Art.
Word balloon placement, storytelling…it’s like trying to explain pitch to someone who is tone deaf.
Work Bird swoops in. I must flee.