38 posts categorized ":01 Stop: Watch"

January 28, 2008

A.B. Sina on Comics

[From the desk of A.B. Sina]

Absina

The first comic book I ever read was Tintin’s The Black Island in a Farsi (or Persian) translation. I remember the cover perfectly – a boy and his dog on a small motorboat heading out across the choppy waters towards a dark castle in the distance with blackbirds circling ominously overhead. Everything about it said ‘Adventure’ and I could easily imagine myself as that boy, all eager and determined. My dog was pretty smart too, though his name was Igor. When I looked at the cover again recently to confirm my memory, I realized that castle from afar looks very much like the citadel in the Prince of Persia graphic novel (rendered perfectly by LeUyen and Alex), except instead of a body of water, our citadel is set apart by a desert, a body of sand. This was not deliberate at all. It had something to do with memory, of course, but I also suspect Adventure has its own structures, its own visual forms and traditions.

All of Tintin’s adventures had been translated into Farsi, but thanks to a number of comic book stores and westernized outlets we also had access to a pretty wide range of comics in English. Two of our favourites were Asterix and Lucky Luke, which happened to be French but which we read in English translations. I also remember reading the American comics, everything from Caspar the Friendly Ghost and Richie Rich the Poor Little Rich Boy to The Green Lantern and Captain America. Aside from the characters, I remember two things very distinctly about those Marvel and DC Comics books. First, the smell. They had that mulchy smell of new paper, unsullied still by the sweat and scent of human hands, but thanks to the cover they also smelled like plastic. They smelled the way they looked: glossy. The second thing I remember was the repetition of those odd ads inside every cover. The little strip of the scrawny boy on the beach getting sand kicked in his face and then, thanks to the Charles Atlas body building manual, taking his revenge on the bully and walking off with the bikini-clad girls. It was the storyline of all the superhero comics in a nutshell; it also summarized the motives of the audience, perhaps a little too well. Then there were those mail order sea horses. Drop some dry stuff into water and you get real live sea horses in your own bowl. Those Americans could do anything. But what I could never forget were the Twinkies, the cream-filled lusciousness of those Hostess cakes. I’d go to bed dreaming of twinkies and their creamy insides. Imagine the disappointment when, on a visit to the US, I first unwrapped the artificial and ignobly uncreamy bars.

So I had my little comics collection, but it paled before the stacks my cousin had accumulated. His budget was clearly more generous. Whenever I went over, I was sure to find two new, knee-high stacks of comic books in his bathroom. I’d go in for Number Two and emerge three hours later having travelled to Egypt, outer space, suburban America and back, the small matter of Number Two long forgotten. That was where I got my real potty training. Or rather, that potty was where I got my real training – where for uninterrupted hours, my imagination learned how to take flight and just go elsewhere.

‘Elsewhere’ is a pretty good place to head for if you are going to write anything, but especially if you’re going to write graphic novels, because their horizon of possibilities is so limitless. What I didn’t realize until much later, was that while I was reading all those foreign comics with all their obvious elsewheres in foreign lands, I was also being exposed to another source, an older source, of inspiration. I was lucky enough to be exposed to a small family collection of old books which included lots of manuscripts with miniature paintings. Iranian miniatures may be considered some of the earliest versions of the form we have come to call the graphic novel. They were originally drawn in order to illustrate episodes in epic or narrative poems. That is, they were made for books, for the art of the book, hence their size and their attendant label. To be totally accurate, the first miniatures were drawn in the 9th and 10th centuries to illustrate scientific books, books on plants and mechanical instruments. Depicting people was still deemed too idolatrous. For about 4 centuries after the Muslim armies swiftly defeated the Iranian dynasties and began to administer the land, images were pretty much banned. As with the Jews, the Muslims took their ban against graven images quite seriously. Slowly, things loosened up. The first things to be ‘imaged’ were, as I said, plants and tools, pretty harmless stuff that did not give God or the prophet much competition. Eventually a few human figures were smuggled in, standing next to plants or rotating as a piece of some mechanical calendar. The next step inevitably was a hero with a sword from an old poem but made more or less in the image of the current ruler. By the end of it, from the 14th century on, you had elaborate networks of workshops and employees – perhaps not unlike Marvel, say – full of masters and apprentices churning out book after book, inlaying the throne with gold leaf and smearing the sky with crushed lapis. These medieval graphic novels were for private consumption, usually made for members of the court, commissioned by a prince or a governor. It is not clear how exactly the books were ‘enjoyed’ or circulated. Were they read quietly before bed time? Did they get passed around with the opium pipe? Were they used to seduce the new harem girl? Were they stacked up in the bathroom like my cousin’s comics?

Like all hardcore imperial cultures, Iranians like to claim to be the best or the biggest or the first at something, even everything. I’m not really trying to claim anything like that – I’m not saying we did it first, way before Macmillan. In fact, a whole bunch of people did it before the Iranians. Miniatures were really a form that developed out of east asian painting. After the ban of images, there was no real indigenous tradition of figurative art. So most of it came from China – check out the clouds for example - and some of it from India. If you look at old Chinese and Japanese scrolls that unfold, or rather unroll, into a narrative, you are looking at even earlier versions of graphic novels. And one could go back little by little all the way to Egyptian hieroglyphics which were the first narrative illustrations, the perfect union of text and image, or of language and image. Each representation, being itself an image, was performative and figurative at the same time. A speech bubble would make no sense, which is why the joke – Egyptians with hieroglyphic speech bubbles – in Asterix and Cleopatra works so well. Or we could go even further back, before text, and consider the Lascaux cave paintings as the first illustrated stories. Mom and Pop Neanderthal telling Junior a good story on the cave wall.

All I’m trying to do, really, is to think of the development of my own imagination relative to the form (graphic novel) and then, more importantly, to think about the form itself, think about some of the elements of this form through a kind of genealogy, as maddeningly arbitrary or uselessly expansive as it may be. I think the most interesting art is always art that kicks formal butt. Good stories are everywhere, stories well told are hard to come by. For it to be well told, it has to consider the technology of its telling. So by ‘formal’ I don’t mean just good craft, but something that considers the essence of the craft, of its medium and context, and then breaks or innovates or maximizes or echoes or ironizes. Every art has frames, structures, traditions, and a particular technology or medium which allow it to be good or efficient in only a couple of important ways. For example, one could say pigment is a medium of painting, as time is a medium of video, the cut is a medium of film. I think the page is the medium of the graphic novel. No other form has the page as its essential medium. This is not news to graphic novelists of course. But thinking about it genealogically, makes me think of the page differently.

What constitutes a page? One could start thinking about the evolution of the ‘page’ for example, from cave walls to Internet Explorer, via the story of Jesus on the walls going around the church. But our concept of the page is also influenced by our experience and memories of what a page is. ‘Reading’ the life-sized panels of Jesus’ story as a believer in the setting of the church is a very different experience than reading it on a page on your lap. Ditto for Iranian manuscripts with their minute attention to detail and the single, rather than sequential, image. Yet, I can’t help but think of these as also ‘pages’ and ‘panels’ that bear a relationship to graphic novels, that can be incorporated, to use Church terminology.

Similarly, one could also ask: are the Charles Atlas ads or twinkies ads, which were definitely a big part of the experience for me, a part of the medium itself? I myself thought a lot about the breaking up of the page as I wrote Prince of Persia. At what point, for instance, did we develop a tradition of breaking up pages and what does that allow us to do? Iranian miniatures as well as early European religious paintings contained different time-frames within one spatial frame, thus substituting space for time. So, for example, the whole history of St John would be contained in one frame, but he was young and fishing near a river on the left while he was getting beheaded down on the right at the bottom of the hill. In other words, the frame – the space – remained unitary. In fact, the sanctity of space was often emphasised by a heavy frame that contained it, that prevented it from breaking. Iranian miniaturists paid a ton of attention to the frame – to designing, decorating and gilding it – even though it was part of a book and not designed to hang on a wall. But some very good Iranian miniaturists would occasionally get heretical and break it open, letting a tree or a rock or even a person or horse to step over the frame, to reveal (and thereby also emphasize) the very conceit of ‘a page’, of unitary, framed space. In the comics I grew up on, unitary space did not exist. It was panel after panel, each panel containing its own time and what mattered was the arrangement on the page.

It was through thinking about these kinds of issues that I got interested in including some of the ideas into the graphic novel – by referencing the book itself, by bringing miniatures in as an integral part of the form (again, the illustrators Alex and LeUyen did an outstanding job of this), by playing with space and time on the page as well as in the story, even by having a prince spend hours sitting on the ‘throne’ – by doing all this I wanted to incorporate (and hopefully expand) the full range of formal possibilities, the full range of memories and experiences that made up my sense of a graphic novel. I just couldn’t fit in a Twinkies ad.

[UP NEXT WEEK: TRANSLATOR ALEXIS SIEGEL]

January 21, 2008

Form of Meaning

from the drawing board of Leland Purvis

Selfportraitsharp

What is the relation of form to meaning?

What is the shape of feeling?

Any statement about the world, or a piece of it, is a mis-statement. As soon as you focus on a thing, or an idea, you take it out of its context, out of the place where it belongs and where it was made. So, to talk about a thing we’re really putting up a cardboard cutout of it and talking about that. This is both the beauty and the tragedy of language and expression. Everything is a damned metaphor. But metaphors are the currency of artists and poets. So, we’re in luck.

All images in comics are metaphors, lines on paper standing in for the real thing. They allow us to talk about the world in a more precise way than by language alone. And on the page we create the context in which these pictures may be perceived as vibrant with life, evoke emotion and command attention.

Dead images yield a flat response. I’m not saying an artist should be looking for the money shot, nor that s/he should serve up drawings that ever take the reader out of the story by overwhelming the content. I’m talking about being aware as an artist of the emotional impact of the images themselves, controlling the responses elicited from the readers. How do you, as an artist, delineate the forms of feeling?

What are the shapes which will impart what you mean? It’s the markmaking, the energy in the lines, the fluency of the artist’s transition from intention to ink. There is something translated to the reader that speaks of the artist’s urgency, something that reassures that there is something specific and new being said and that they are struggling for just the right way to say it. A comics artist’s job is to do more than contrive a visual armature to hang the story on. It’s about sculpting an emotional landscape, the context within which the reader will take in the narrative.

If form is as Ben Shahn wrote, “…only the manifestation, the shape of content,” then maybe what I’m searching for is more content. To somehow allow the form of the work to operate on more levels than it appears at first, to inflect the imagery with the juice of reaction. While this could complicate our job, it could add whole new facets to a work, strata of meaning that might only be revealed on a second or third reading.

Comics are already complicated. So much effort goes into making the work clear and understandable that we often forget the power of the images themselves to affect people. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the concerns of storytelling, page composition, design, acting, draftsmanship, lighting, timing, pacing. But we can’t lose sight of the primary focus, to design the delivery of a story to best meet people where they are.

A drawing on a comics page is an answer, a response to the question of how you want the reader to feel. At a certain point, when the duties of clarity have been addressed, we need to remember the calling.  The artists need to be less worried about how they want the image to look, and more concerned with the vision they want the readers to have once they've seen the work.

Artists need to impose this vision on their process, rather than the other way around. Too often lesser works have allowed reference-material to highjack the page, leaving key elements as emotionally flat as the paper they're printed on. The precious prism of the artists' interpretation too often gets burned at the stake of the photographic lens.

The interpretation, the delivery of the context needs to come across viscerally. These are aliven-ing images, vivid descriptions, form as meaning through understanding translated to the printed page. Not that it needs to be an accurate, categorical, or even an objective understanding. It might well be a 'mis'-understanding, as long as it's an authentic one.

And the authenticity comes from the truth of the feeling for the shapes of things. Otherwise the reader is going to feel lied to, and taken-in. Or at the very least that you don’t believe yourself what you’re telling them. And people will believe a thing if it sounds true, even if it’s simply because it only rhymes with something they already know.

Clarity is fundamental. It’s often very hard to simply be clear. But beyond storytelling clarity, what can the imagery in comics provide? A context for tension, foreboding, relief, energy, fear, movement, stillness, release. Drawings can be evocative, disturbing, validating, liberating, oppressive. When artists neglect to capitalize on this power, they do a disservice to both the reader and the work.

But then it could be I have mis-spoken, created misunderstanding, focussed too closely on a thing that ought not to be spoken of, but only shown it pictures.

[UP NEXT WEEK: A.B. SINA]

January 14, 2008

Draw Like a Ralph

from the drawing board of Brian Ralph

Drawlikeralph

[UP NEXT WEEK: LELAND PURVIS]

January 08, 2008

My Wandering Aesthetic -- The Challenge of Establishing Style

[From the drawing board of Lark Pien]

Mouthrev1

i am constantly weaving about because i cannot see straight on. things vanish as soon as they come into center view. you may notice the odd head bob, the sidelong glance and think me strange; but i have been doing it for some time now, and this sidewinding motion is familiar like a fair old friend. it is the way in which i have come to see many things.

i would like to say that i perform this habit out of necessity, but this would not be entirely true. beyond the practical nomenclature there lies the real source of desire: i am driven by the fear of 'not knowing'. that centered hole in my vision is a needlepoint prick, tiny and precise in its measure to oblivion. it is necessary to weave, because i cannot escape it, because i would to like to see something other than that hole.

Kissrev1

{aside: on seeing myself - a near impossible task! i cannot be the subject and the object at the same time. there is not enough distance between the two to make a proper survey.}

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so though i am the continuous tether for my observations, the course that i take is somewhat haphazard in its direction. there is no particular order in which i come to know things around me. for it to make some sense i have become a collector-investigator of sorts, compiling field notes in hopes of generating an accurate semblance of the 'things' around me.

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if each encounter were all the same, i could draw the same character, tell the same story, and paint with the same palette each and every time. however, my exposure to things that are constant*, or akin, or of a unified '_(bigger thing?)_' is somewhat lacking, and my grasp of these concepts is weak. we seem to exist collectively in individual chaos, with individuals bearing the weight of entropic gravity. the emergence of individuality among us is what elicits the continual change in my style. i can't just use one because it would be, well, dismissive.

*{aside: i am finally beginning to contemplate the meaning of shared culture, family, legacy, groups, mobs, clubs, so on and so forth. these challenge the isolationistic view i've been assuming so far. i can't quite address these concepts, since i don't fully understand them yet, but i do want to acknowledge life isn't entirely about being alone.}



                  

experimenting with different media and acquiring new techniques is fun and rewarding, but i want to see straight ahead. i envy those who can and do. it is as if their heart and the place outside are tied together by a through line. if i run the floss from my heart, through the hole in my vision, will it emerge bound the world outside? as silly as this may seem, i desire this romantic notion. i think this would be nice.

now that i have presented a fair share of my hopes and fears on this blog, i'll forge on ahead and render its relevance. i am lucky to be working with 1st Second Books. in practical terms, it is a concrete establishment with goals, focus and identity; it steers straight while providing me with direct and deliberate outlets that engage the public. and even though the company does not always pander to my cartooning sensibilities, it is accepting of my need for exploration. i am happy to be in a place where i can create a story based on the matters of individuality rather than the conforming clichés of today. finally, 1st Second's editorial director Mark Siegel has shown genuine interest in the things i've collected, and is unconcerned that these things may not all look the same. he accepts my varied realities and encourages me to find their specific potentials.

recognizing all that has been laid out before me, i can no longer go back and wither in the hurly burly of my brain. with all that hoopla for collaboration and pushing for change, i will be forced to contend with my blind spot soon. i anticipate the stretch of a fathomless fall and bristling arms raised, finally on the cusp of a new intelligence.

Hopefulrev1

[UP NEXT WEEK: BRIAN RALPH]

December 24, 2007

How to Survive Writing a Graphic Novel

From the drawing board of Grady Klein

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[UP NEXT WEEK: TRANSLATOR ALEXIS SIEGEL]

December 17, 2007

On the road

From the drawing board of Danica Novgorodoff

I remember someone saying that there are two kinds of stories – those about leaving home and those about returning home.  I don’t know if I agree with that (there must be a million kinds of story), but it does seem like most of my writing is about a journey away from home (then, sometimes, with an inevitable returning).

So it makes sense that a lot of my stories are conceived while or inspired by traveling. 
Ss_truck_4

I think and write most creatively while I’m traveling.  To loosen ideas, shake words from my brain, I need the culture shock, the changing landscape, the perilous cliff-edge bus rides, the train careening through the night, the language blur, the unease (OK, fear), and maybe even the loneliness of being a stranger and a foreigner.  Routine and familiarity lend themselves to discipline; traveling to inspiration.

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I first started making comics during a year when I was roaming around Ecuador and south of there.  I came to the medium partly because it was, simply, portable.

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I love New York, but I get a real travel itch if I stay in one place too long.  Last winter, on my allotted vacation time, I took off to Yunnan province of China.  A year later, now, a couple of stories set in China have started to creep around my brain, haunting me. 

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My upcoming (Fall ’08) book from First Second, Slow Storm, is mostly about my home, Kentucky, but one of the characters (Rafi) makes the infamous journey across the U.S./Mexico border.

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A lot of the imagery (both narrative and visual) of Rafi's home was inspired by the time I spent in Mexico and South America.

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And a lot of the images were drawn from photographs I took then.

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So.  Go west (or east, or south, or even north), young man.


[UP NEXT WEEK: GRADY KLEIN]

December 12, 2007

From the Drawing Board of Paul Pope

Diamonddogs

For most of the history of American comics, storytellers have had to structure their tales in episodic chunks of narrative, their plotlines unfolding in serialized chapters from month to month. This was due to the nature of magazine publishing and the requirements of the marketplace, conditions which inadvertently influenced the medium in significant ways. As with pulp sci-fi or detective periodicals such as Astounding Stories or Detective Fiction, publishers and the reading audience alike tended to favor brief, cliffhanging narratives full of colorful, often lurid characters. Stories in the comics resembled soap operas or radio plays more than novels, a condition we still see in most mainstream superhero comics being published today. These sorts of episodic stories are not really supposed to end, like Pachelbel's Canon or The Beatles' Hey Jude, they're designed to go on forever and ever.

 
There is some debate about which book actually qualifies as the first true graphic novel. Will Eisner's A Contract With God is often sited, a book that's a collection of short stories about normal people living in a New York tenement building. These beautifully drawn stories are written with a subtle, literary flavor which still resonates today. This is probably the true mark of literary quality -- if a work can seem living and vital every time you re-read (or in the case of comics, every time you re-view). If that work can somehow continually enrich the person reading it again and again at different points along the walk of life, it becomes a priceless thing, like an old and continually surprising friend. For the decades preceding Eisner's attempts, "comics" as a storytelling medium relied on either the daily newspaper pages or the monthly comic book format for its stage. Whether in the hands of a great artist or a tired hack, the stapled newsprint pamphlet was the staple of comics storytelling. An artist like Milton Caniff could develop long and rather complex adult-oriented storylines in his strip Terry and the Pirates, and his work -- along with Windsor McCay's Little Nemo In Slumberland and a few others -- is still held as a high water mark in 20th century cartooning. In Europe and Asia, there were longer narratives, and some stories (such as Cendres and Pellos' Futuropolis or Osamu Tezuka's Adolph) resembled prose literature in their tone and content, however these were largely unknown outside of their home countries but to a handful of world travelers and professional artists for years and years. It has really only been for about a single generation -- maybe since the mid 1980s -- that the long format "graphic novel" has been a viable storytelling vehicle for people who want to tell stories in the comics medium, and only for that same amount of time American readers have had wider and wider access to the entire body of what I call "world comics"-- graphic stories from around the globe. Today's young reader has access to virtually the entire body of comics history, stretching from Japan to Europe to the cave-spelunking past of America's many venerable traditions.

 
Each facet of the comics medium is important and deserves its own special consideration, but it's the writing in comics I'm thinking about right now. I often wonder why we don't see more literary quality in the comics being published today, why we don't have a John Steinbeck or Robert Penn-Warren in our medium, authors who can unfold a filigreed theme across an extended storyline and touch on that ineffable shade we call "the human condition." Where are our Sam Hamiltons, our Willie Starks, our Jack Burdens, our Cal Trasks? It may simply be that good writing is rare. It is also entirely possible that most comics creators are simply unconcerned with developing literary themes in their work, favoring instead sweeping epics of good versus evil, populating their paper worlds with colorfully costumed heroes and villans invested with very little psychological complexity or self-awareness. It may be that most people who are attracted to the medium want very little more out of life than to draw pretty pictures, tell exciting, splashy stories, and get paid for it. There is certainly nothing wrong with those interests (I wholeheartedly share them myself), but every time I finish what Hemingway might have called "a damn good book," I can't help feeling there is always a need for more and better writing in the comics. When it comes to comics, the equivalent of a fine literary writer would have to be someone (or someones) with the implicit vision of a poet, who sees and feels life and knows how to code it into visual storytelling through comics' special melange of prose/dialogue and persuasive drawing. It seems to me a poorly drawn but well written story is far better than a well drawn, poorly written one. When we're lucky, as in the case of Gipi's Notes For A War Story, we have both together, at once. That should be our ideal, then. More stories with better art and better writing, always and forever more. Whether it's a serious meditation on the private life of a family or a madcap ruckus with kooky talking animals, all I care is that it's a comic story which is done well and it has lasting impact -- that's the literary quality I want to see in a comic.

 
For my upcoming projects Battling Boy and Total THB, I've been really thinking about the freedom made possible by the extended graphic novel format. It is significant to note that we've reached a point in the history of comics where an author can more-or-less work completely outside of the monthly serialized periodical format, with its inherent page strictures and narrative conformities. Nobody said it was easy or could come without paying your dues, but you can do it all the same. So long as you have something valuable to say and the talent to put it on paper, you can do it. It is no longer necessary to constantly invent some new cliffhanger every 24 to 32 pages to keep the readers coming back month after month, it is no longer necessary to come up with endlessly hyperbolic cover designs to entice new readers, no longer necessary to truncate extended scenes of character development for lack of space on the page. These are all common characteristics of the monthly comic book publishing format which many of us struggle with all the time. Now, thanks to the vigorous interest in manga on the part of new readers and the on-going assault comics is making on the whole of contemporary pop culture, cartoonists are able to approach new comics in the same way authors like Tom Wolfe or Kurt Vonnegut would've approached their latest novel. Readers crave good stories, and probably beyond that, deeper meaning. There seems to be a real psychological need for art -- for all the arts. Art offers us a reflection of interior ourselves, through the eyes and hands and words of another. Through meaningful art, we consider ourselves and our very condition of being human, and in the process, gain more insight into our true natures as living, sensing creatures living on this planet of ours which we call Earth. Comics has stepped out of the wide shadows of film and illustration, and is now invited to stand on its own, an infant medium full of potential and power. We are being invited to share our stories on a world stage, however long or short our stories might be. We've got a lot of work to do, let's show them what we've got.

[UP NEXT WEEK: DANICA NOVGORODOFF]

December 03, 2007

Working With a Writer

From the drawing board of Matthew Bernier

Author_portrait

I'm kind of the odd-one-out so far in this column. Everybody else who's contributed so far either already has a comic out through First Second, or they've had a book(s) published somewhere else, and the have a book coming out presently. They've all been older creators who've paid their dues much longer than I have. I'm part of a pet project of Mark's (Mark Siegel, my editor, that is). Mark has been courting young artists like me, either freshly out of or still in college, and his plan is to pair our somewhat undeveloped talents with those of writers from outside the comics world, and out of these pairings nurture unique and great works. I could hardly be more excited to be a part of it.

However, being unexperienced and young comes with its problems. My only experience, when I was hired on by First Second, was being an art student at the School of Visual Arts, and self-publishing some minicomics. In both cases I was allowed to write my own stories and draw what I wished. That ended up creating some trouble for me.

It's amazing how, when left to your own devices as an artist, the things you're "not interested in drawing" coincidentally happen to be the things that are hardest for you to draw. Someone (whom I've forgotten, being much better at remembering quotes than their speakers) once said that a cartoonist's style is a playing up of their strengths in an attempt to hide their weaknesses. Mike Mignola is terrific with blacks and graphic design, but he hates drawing perspective and cars. So Hellboy has a lot of great black placement and terrific design, and pretty much no cars or perspective shots requiring straight lines converging on a vanishing point. Most superhero artists know anatomy well but can only draw a few body types, so that's all they draw, for every character, no matter how inappropriate or silly it looks. They avoid drawing regular human beings as much as possible, to make the handicap less conspicuous. In my own case, I can draw texture and flowy things very well. Water, clouds, fire, and earth are easy for me. I can make something feel convincingly gooey, hard, smooth, or soft with just lines. I'm very good at composing clear, readable pages. But figure drawing is a challenge to me, and drawing multiple figures in a panel short circuits my brain. I'm not great with clothes. I'm terrible at drawing cars, and boxy things like houses. So, left to my own devices, I don't draw those things very much, and as a result, I look like a better artist than I really am.

The script I'm working on has many pages where nearly every panel will have 6-12 people in frame, all needing clear arrangement. Everyone must be distinctive in form and personality, must have all their gear and costume on in every panel, and must fit seamlessly both into their surroundings and into the composition of the page. And there are so. many. cars. And buildings. Fabio Moon (Or was it Gabriel? One of the twins, anyway) wrote recently about their experience with working with writers. They hadn't worked with writers much before, and lately they had been working with writers a great deal. They were saying how working with a writer was exciting but much more challenging. They were forced to learn to draw things they'd never have thought to draw, and they were required to manifest visions that were not their own--to make someone else's vision their own. And in doing so, they found that when they went to write their own comics, the new visual vocabulary they'd gotten from serving another's vision had broadened their own story possibilities.

I was greatly heartened to read this, because at the time, I was positively desperate and struggling, putting myself through an intense crash-course in everything from anatomy to costume to perspective. I collected reams of reference materials for unfamiliar objects and settings, and I was consuming comics as fast as I could by artists who I felt did well what I worried I could not do at all. I pored over pages by Stuart Immonen, Guy Davis, Gabriel Ba, and others, reverse engineering their compositional decisions, seeking to patch the holes in my knowledge with their expertise. It was so good to hear that another artist had been suffering the same problems, and even better to hear him talk about how the process strengthened him and made him a better, more diverse artist.

My book is in it's very beginning stages--you won't see it for some time. Making it will be a very hard process for me. There are so many things I'm not good at, or that I don't now enjoy doing, that I can't avoid without copping out. I must serve my writer's vision the best I can, and that means finding a way to do the things I can't, and finding the joy in doing things that seem to me unpleasant. (I don't want to make it seem like a bummer, though--there's tons of stuff in the book I can barely wait another second to draw.) Once I finish, though, I know that I'll be a better artist than I ever could have been on my own.

[UP NEXT WEEK: PAUL POPE]

November 26, 2007

Preparations for the Imminent Zombie Apocalypse

From the drawing board of George O'Connor

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So, recently my spot on the rotating creators blog at First Second got bumped up a little and I was caught completely unprepared.I had been planning to illustrate an epic account of a day in the life of a stay-at-home illustrator guy, but somehow, I just hadn't gotten around to it. Luckily, I remembered this strange little comic I had made a while back. Some backstory: at the time I created this, I was living temporarily in Rome, Italy; meanwhile, stateside, my book Journey into Mohawk Country was due to come out while I was still living la vida roma. The fine folks at First Second wanted me to create a little something for the blog, to introduce me and my work to the First Second audience, and to basically set the stage for Journey into Mohawk Country. Inspired by my new surroundings and a lifelong obsession with the living dead I fired off this little four page comic. After the appropriate pause, First Second Head Honcho sent me an e-mail saying, very politely, that while the comic I had sent was very nice, wouldn't it maybe be a better idea to create something that was at least tangentially related to Mohawk Country. I had to concede him this point, and instead I created a series of sketchbook excerpts (still viewable on the site) that have served my book infinitely better than the old zombie comic ever would. It seemed my zombies would return to their grave, havoc un-wreaked, with nary a soul to mark their passing.

Still, if I've learned one thing from all those zombie films, is that the living dead don't go down easily. Sometimes, when  you least expect it, they come back. I hope people dig this little 4 page view into my world. I've since returned to Brooklyn, but to a new address, and I'm happy to report that this one would withstand a siege of the living dead very well, thank you very much.


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[UP NEXT WEEK FOR REAL THIS TIME: TANYA MCKINNON]

November 19, 2007

Four Color Rock and Roll

From the Drawing Board of Gabe Soria

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Comics and music have been inextricably linked in my head since the beginnings of my fascination with each art form. Where did it begin? Nelson Riddle's goony score and songs for the 1960s live-action Batman series? Spider-Man's catchy themes from his Ralph Bakshi animated days and his later mute incarnation on The Electric Company? That first fateful day I read an issue of Heavy Metal while Physical Graffiti droned on majestically, coincidentally in the back ground? Whatever it was, I can't imagine NOT wanting to put on some sort of record to accompany kicking back with a comic, and I'm astounded that more comics don't have soundtracks.

The purists out there might cry that pure comics don't need music to complete them. Well, they're right. You don't NEED music to make a complete comic book experience, but the right mood setter can make a great comic book even better. Artist and writer James Kochalka's band James Kochalka Superstar makes music that could be the pop music his violent robots and horny elves listen to on their radios; Craig Thompson's award-winning doorstop graphic novel Blankets actually has a very commendable original soundtrack of atmospheric instrumental indie rock by the Oregon band Tracker; and many comics creators are hip to the idea of listing the records that have informed their work in the back of the newest issue of whatever they're working on (Paul Pope's comics, with their name-checking of Nick Cave and being titled after pretty good boogie rock songs ("Heavy Liquid" by Thee Hypnotics) come to mind).

But I'm digressing. My point is: Why not more? Why aren't there more original soundtracks to comic books? Why aren't more creators listing the records that inspire them? Why don't more comics come with suggested listening?

Well, there's no reason why, which is why I'm suggesting the following recommended listening for some favorite comics (I'm stopping at two, because otherwise this erstwhile music journalist would go on forever).

Jack Kirby Comics

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Unsurprisingly, the heavy-duty head trip comics of Jack Kirby (especially, but not exclusively, his Fourth World stuff) lend themselves to being sound-tracked by prog rock, doom metal and the like. I have no idea why more of his art wasn't featured on the side of custom vans in the mid-70s. Vaughn Bode and Frank Frazetta won THAT battle, I guess. The great stoner rock/acid metal band Monster Magnet wrote possibly the greatest, most to-the-point rock lyric about the world of comics in "Melt", the lead track from their 2001 album God Says No:

"And I was thinkin' how the world should have cried/
On the Day Jack Kirby died/
I wonder if I'm ill"

How awesome is that? Monster Magnet rontman/songwriter Dave Wyndorf LOVES to sprinkle the band's records with not-so sly references to "classic" (pre-emptive quotes for the contrarians out there) comic books and characters, including the utterly bizarre Marvel Comics villain M.O.D.O.K. It's a great lyrical conceit, since these references tend to make one remember some comics more fondly than they deserve, perhaps, and in essence make the listener actually CREATE beautiful Platonic-ideals of psychedelic comics from the 70s in their heads. Hopefully one day this will come full-circle and somebody will actually make comic books inspired by this stuff. (For the record, the world SHOULD have cried on the day Jack Kirby died.)

Recommendations: In the Court of the Crimson King by King Crimson; Dopesmoker by Sleep; Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space by Spiritualized; Spine of God, Dopes to Infinity, Powertrip, God Says No, by Monster Magnet

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

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I'm currently reading the long-delayed hardback graphic novel The Black Dossier, the second and a half volume of Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's history of the creative world/literary superhero opus and am marveling at its formal gymnastics and pure storytelling chutzpah. It's really a marvel, well worth the thirty dollar (!) cover price on re-reading value alone, but I'm feeling a little bummed upon realizing the promised flexi-disc of a faux fifties rock song was not included. I'm assuming the twin boogeymen of enormous cost and lack of readers actually possessing a turntable on which to play the thing scotched the idea. Anyway, here's to it appearing online one day, or being issued by a VERY smart indie record label as a limited edition seven-inch. In my mind, the LOEG musically lends itself to the theatrical, the baroque and the circus-like, so with that in mind:

Recommendations: Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards by Tom Waits; a nice recording of The Threepenny Opera, preferably in German and featuring Lotte Lenya; Working for the Man by Tindersticks; Vol 1: Soft Emergencies by the New Orleans Bingo! Show; Trouble is a Lonesome Town by Lee Hazlewood

[UP NEXT WEEK: TANYA MCKINNON]

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