Illustration Teardowns: Film Noir Style

Rob Levin
5 min readDec 31, 2017

In this article we move from lighting effects to an examination of noir style illustrations which are, in fact, known for use of dramatic lighting…

illustraiton by Rob Levin

Please note that all illustrations hereinafter, unless stated otherwise, are the express work of the artist I’m reviewing; I do not take any credit for their works! You can click on the images to visit the artist’s site!

Classic Noir

Aesthetically, film noir (or just Noir) is a style that contains deep shadows and even “dark film” that brings with it notions of failed romance, cynical characters, eroticism, and, sometimes, overtly theatrical lighting effects. The consensus seems to be that film noir came out of the 40’s and 50’s, but we continue to see it in certain pulp films today, as well as many comic books and graphic novels. This site describes the genre:

…noir would be described by its subject matter, typical scenery, and characters. For example, the setting may take place in a dark city drenched in rain, where city lights are harsh like prison spotlights, characters may appear as shadowy silhouettes.

And wikipedia provided the word’s meaning:

French for “black film” (literal) or “dark film” (closer meaning)…

So it’s an over the top and dramatic style…sure, but let’s go ahead and just approach this visually why don’t we!

Political views aside, Frank Miller’s Sin City is probably a reasonable starting example to start with in determining the Noir illustration style:

Frank Miller—Sin City—dark, sinister, and fun!

Another noir artist helpful for us is Shawn Martinbrough who’s even written a whole book dedicated to how to actually create Noir comics using traditional methods. I don’t own it but I’ve read it and it’s quite useful:

Shawn Martinbrough has a whole book on the topic of creating Noir

Here’s a sampling of some of his purely black and white work:

Shawn Martinbrough
Shawn Martinbrough

Darwyn Cooke, who’s Parker adaptations are a gorgeous example of Noir, is a great comic artist to study for this style. Personally, I now realize many of my contemporary illustration heroes must have been influenced by the often monochromatic feel:

Darwyn Cooke — Richard Stark’s Parker
Darwyn Cooke — Richard Stark’s Parker
Darwyn Cooke — Richard Stark’s Parker
Darwyn Cooke—Richard Stark’s Parker

NoirWhale has a couple of good articles on Darwyn Cooke’s work on Richard Stark’s Parker adaptations. What I really love about his work is the immediate read and obvious focal point.

Modern Noir Illustration

Let’s take a look at several contemporary illustrations that borrow or pay homage to the Noir style, sometimes utilizing the aesthetic for something other then comic heroes, femme fatale vixens, and villains 😊

Owen Gatley BBC Agatha Christie 125 — the backlit gentlemen with hard rim lighting on his left side, coupled with minimalistic composition gives this a noir feel
Sebastien Plassard — unapologetic noir
Sebastien Plassard
Roma Hur
Roma Hur

And I can’t possibly discuss modern noir illustration without showing a Malika Favre image (someone I’ve featured a few times here before; google her and you’ll find dozens more of amazing noir inspired illustrations):

Malika Favre
Jeremy W. Eaton—shows a more classical noir comic book style in this illustration
Vizie—noir with a slightly 80s throwback style and a touch of pop art too
Simone Massoni—noir inspired but still quite unique and lovely in its own way
Simone Massoni
Simone Massoni
Jeremy Booth—I’ve read him even call the style “vector noir”

And here’s a dramatically lit “down shot” from Laurent Ferrante totally in the Noir style featuring cool blue shadows and silhouettes:

Laurent Ferrante—The Night Watch —“Echo”

I hope you enjoyed this teardown’s selection of Noir works. Now go forth and make some illustrations!

Previous in series: Lighting Techniques. Next in series: Layout. Also, you may like one of my other illustration teardowns.

Rob Levin does technical things by day and illustration by night. You can view his blog at and illustration at: Also, you may like to read more of the illustration teardowns articles.

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Rob Levin is a freelance illustrator. Portfolio: For illustration work enquiries, collaboration, or to say hi:

Also, you may like to read more of the illustration teardowns articles.