‘Archer’: Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and ‘Mad Men’ Influenced the Show’s Look

While the FX show Archer riffs on James Bond and action-spy stories with a workplace twist, it owes its iconic look to surprising origins. Taking inspiration from Mad Men, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and other comic book artists, while Archer’s story might not have its roots in comics, the art style does.

Jennifer Pritchard's illustration of Don Draper from 'Mad Men.'
Jennifer Pritchard illustration of Don Draper | Tribune News Service via Getty Images

‘Archer’ setting itself apart from other primetime adult animation

Archer debuted in 2009. Following the ‘world’s greatest spy,’ Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin), Lana Kane (Aisha Tyler), and their haphazard team, the show already set itself apart from other shows.

At the time, most adult animated shows looked more or less the same. Big circle eyes, rounded features, thin outlines, and ‘sausage fingers’ reoccurred through many shows.

Art director Neal Holman wanted to stand out from two shows in particular: The Simpsons and Family Guy. In an interview with Salon, Holman mentioned the ideas of the team.

“We were looking at a lot of 1960s, 1970s comic book work. Like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, those artists — very clean artwork and very thick outlines,” Homan said.

He talks about how primetime shows at the time “had razor-thin line work.” In 2009, adult animation was still far off from the varied styles seen in 2021. It is unlikely anyone would confuse a Rick & Morty character for a Bojack Horseman character.

“So we thought that a thicker outline would not only make the show stand out; it would call back to these 1960s comic books that we all loved and were reverential to,” Holman said.

Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko’s influence

Jack Kirby was responsible for many fan-favorite Marvel characters, including Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man, and Thor. Kirby’s career brought him to DC Comics, where he created the New Gods like Darkseid and Steppenwolf.

Steve Ditko designed Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, and much of their supporting cast, including Wong, Aunt May, Kraven the Hunter, and Scorpion. He, too, had stints with DC, working on Batman titles and Captain Atom.

Harsh shadows, thick outlines, and sharper features stood out in stories between the two prolific artists.

These attributes reflect the art style of Archer. From the titular character to Jessica Walter’s Malory, the show was unlike any other in look,

Nowadays, it still manages to stand out.

From Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko to ‘Mad Men’

Fans of Mad Men will find Archer’s opening familiar.

Sterling Archer’s silhouette bears a striking resemblance to Don Draper’s in the Mad Men opening sequence. However, the poses, imagery, and music are reminiscent of James Bond films.

The dapper Mad Men stylishness works its way into Archer’s character. Whether on a mission or in a crossover with Kingsman, Sterling Archer knows always to look good.

With the inspiration from Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and Mad Men, FX’s Archer helped inspire a push for more unique looks to adult animation. 

The results are not just Sterling Archer looking good, but the whole show. With season 12 underway in late August, the show’s look has ingrained itself in adult animation over the years.

With eyes set on the future, it looks like it will continue to do so in years to come.

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