Quoted from Richthofen:
This is nitpicky, but 'hand drawn' is rarely done by anyone. There's a difference between illustrating and photo-compositing (sometimes called photoshopping), but hand-drawing has largely been replaced by WACOM style tablets/digital pens, and a lot of the newer designers and artists solely use a mouse for illustration. Adobe Photoshop is used by almost all artists. All art is digitally manipulated and it makes the art better.
The line has blurred for sure. I think people's objection is to stylization vs realism. There's some great artwork done in photoshop. for instance, http://sharpwriter.deviantart.com/art/Ronald-Reagan-Riding-a-Velociraptor-312025579 ...looks drawn, but is all digital and probably done 100% in photoshop. Very Stylized.
As one of those "not actually hand drawing" "WACOM style tablets/digital pens" digital artists you're talking about, I need to clarify that we utilize the same techniques, arm movements, blood, sweat and tears someone working on a canvas with a brush utilizes. I even still utilize traditional T-Squares and triangles on my massive WACOM. The only difference is that our paint and ink are digital and when we fuck up, we can decide with a keystroke if that is a happy accident we want to keep. You can put a piece of paper and a pencil in front of me and I'll draw just as well as on my tablet. You put a tablet in front of a techno-phobe artist and they'll stare at you with a giant confused blank look on their face, then push it aside and claim "this isn't really creating art".
I get that you're not claiming that we aren't actually illustrating and painting, but the "not actually hand drawn", "solely using a mouse" comments raised my neck hairs.
You're right about the style guide issues and dealing with licensed properties. These companies spend a LOT of time and money developing a cohesive look for their IP's. From their perspective, there needs to be NO mistake that this is a 2012/2013 Avengers based product. The movie poster, the Happy Meal, the toy line, the video game packaging and the pinball machine need to be unmistakably Avengers: The Movie. Fonts, color codes, stances, costumes, skin tones, light source color, etc. has all been agonized over by other artists and guys in suits way before someone like Stern or JJP got a hold of the assets. That's especially how a huge entity like Disney rolls.
On the flip side, it doesn't mean you can't create your own art assets for a licensed product. It just becomes a pain in the ass getting approval for the assets from the license holder (Marvel/Disney in this case). Depending on the scope of the project, it could just not be worth the hassle.
Side note: Avengers Pro, from the normal res pics I've seen, looks nice and clean compared to X-Men because there is significant unity and cohesiveness in the assets. X-Men would have looked incredible with "hand-drawn" artwork if it was all consistent and from one artist (or a team of artists working together under one cohesive art direction). Some of the assets on X-Men come from radically different sources.
So, stylized "illustrated" art? Yeah. Could look bad ass in the right hands. So does photo-realistic art, even when created from a license holder's art folder when in the right hands...but here is the tricky part: it's all in the content. Some ideas translate better with one art direction, some the other.
P.S. Capcom could have slaughtered the illustrated pinball art in the 90's if they put all their world-wide resources into it. Capcom of Japan had one of the strongest group of concept artists in the video game industry at the time (for arcade junkies, think late cps-1 into cps-3 era) and it really says something about Stan Fukuoka that he held up that high standard alone in the states. Kingpin is one of my favorite stylized art packages in pinball and BBB is no slouch.