Saturday, August 30, 2008

Tooth Son of Regional Dimensions

I like and dislike this one at the same time. Naturally when I saw this in print without a single word from my publisher it really cemented my belief that truly anything went in terms of content. I half-expected to be fired for this one! This is chronologically then the first page I did for them without a single joke. Plus the comic offers no real resolution (well no overt solution to be more exact) and on top of everything else this is one of the first public comics I did mostly in "Helmspeak". What I mean by that: it is my belief that human beings go through life cultivating their personal story at ingress. We like stories so much because we view our own selves as stories. We write our own stories using very personal symbols and terms, lingual or otherwise. Recurrence is the only thing that signifies what is just backdrop and what is symbol. Our story longs to be communicated, but it cannot be easily conveyed due to being written in an idiolect so personal as a fingerprint. There is a tenderness to the process of unraveling the symbols, a reader that just reads such a story as a series of cliches will never hope to approach the personal language of the creator. For them a door is just a door and a dog is just a dog at all times. They serve to continue the plot, plot plot endless plot. The real story is in the cracks around the plot.

There are a few ways to get the reader to read your story and not just a story in what you make. To just harsh infodump that idiolect and hope the reader, after the initial shock, makes the effort to sort it (Ulysses by J. Joyce comes to mind) is perhaps one way to achieve this, but it would take the talent of a Joyce. Another, which I started to incorporate into my more 'serious' comics at around that time, is to infuse an otherwise linear and communicative story with bits of idiolect and then just repeat them in later stories while always meaning the same things by them and hope that the reader will start to pick up on what you're trying to do. In the case they did, there is a second reading in some of my comics. In case they would not, I hoped the narrower view of the comic still held up.

In a way then, this comic along with a few others to follow are the dictionary of terms of Helmspeak. What is the difference between what I am doing here and the sickly regular practice of dropping pop-culture references everywhere that a lot of comic writers indulge in? The difference is that these references are not meant to ignite that spark of recognition in the reader that construes familiarity for intimacy. I find that shortcut crass and for the most part unethical, from an artistic standpoint. It's much the reverse: the initially incomprehensible symbols serve to ignite a slow-fuse connection between artist and reader. In time, through consistent repetition perhaps a more significant connection is created there, puzzle pieces fall into place.

This process - at least to my capability - seemed half-faulty and I do my self-criticism in the very last page I were to publish for the paper. A lot of 'personal' symbols were instead read as pop culture references (lyrics of songs, Lovecraft contraptions, poetry). It was very strange for me as a creator to have inadvertently sparked the "ah! I know this!" reaction in readers while trying to do the exact opposite. It might seem you know this, but you really don't! Look at it in a new context, I tried to say. It is therefore meaningless to underline the references in this comic now and explain their deeper significance because all things considered, I still have a belief in this process and it is a subconscious one that cannot be examined through questioning the readers overtly. If by the end of the run of this website you feel you closer to a complete stranger that has made these comics, then it must have worked on some level.

Metaconceptual concerns aside, I have to say I am uncomfortable about the subject matter of this comic nowadays. On one hand it comes from a real place emotionally, on the other I simply have no first-hand experience with homelessness and I never will, probably. Is my vicarious approximation of how such a life might be in good taste, or even needed? I lean towards probably not. I did not write many comics after these which required a large leap of faith in terms of experience from my own life inside the lives of others. The "shell" of this comic, from prime emotional material to the formalist shape of panels and rendering is far better than the actual story I decided to dress it with, I feel.

A note about the next update: I intend to post a series of photos and explanations about how these comics were done, from conception to rough penciling, to finished art and whatnot. Would such a thing be of interest to the reader or should I just carry on and post the next comic instead? Please leave comments to steer me in the right direction. And if you do, I'd also enjoy some critique on the form of this blog. Do you enjoy the explanation text after the comic? Should I be posting just the comics and let them speak for themselves? Am I being needlessly obtuse with the text? Whereas critique on the comics themselves is less useful nowadays (as they are 3 years old or so) critique on how I am handling my material in the blog is very much timely.

Thank you in advance for reading and commenting.



isundstrom said...

I would love to see photos of the process and definitely keep adding explanations along with the panels. Unfortunately, I have no critique to offer you but I find your own analysis of the work highly interesting.

Helm said...

Thank you for replying to my questions isundstrom :)

Sophia said...

yes, give us photos and stuff...^^

(i hadn't realize that you were already ektos thematos! i thought that page came much later.. hmpf!)

Lackey said...

This is one of my favourite comics. Probably for the atmosphere and style but it's striking.

HS said...

Why did you translate this as "tooth son"?

Helm said...

Sophia, it took me I think like, 2 months to start veering off topic, and then another two to completely give into the impulse.

Lackey, thank you for your kind words. I appreciate the support.

Johnny Spade said...

You know what I think; I like how it all works at two surfaces at the same time -- the beggar prince motif, like seen in a false mirror. One, to this point, of my favorites. In the last strip there's something I find extremely inventive -- that after loosing a fight, we see the buildings as through the bum's eyes.

Helm said...

When I was about to make that comic a few days beforehand I had met a girl I liked and we spent some time together and then she had to leave and I hadn't slept for 2 days. It was about 6 in the morning, I had just left her and I was in cab that was to take me finally to my house so I could rest and recompose myself. While in the taxi, I looked at the open street and the tall buildings on both sides looming over the straight road ahead and thinking only in that sleep-deprivation induced mode muttered to myself 'surely these buildings lead somewhere'. That's where that panel comes from.

Johnny Spade said...

interesting. while not sleeping for a long period of time, strange things come to your mind -- raving shyly somewhere between the reality and daydreaming. I call them *brighter thoughts* -- and often regret there's no blank sheet and a pen within reach to write them down. *things are getting brighter at night*, things achieve some new meaning -- sometimes it's nothing worth noting, sometimes the other way round.

that pause works well within the original story frame -- they guy is falling on the ground, he sees the peaks of the buildings towering above him. then he makes that conclusion, somehow in line with the panel no. 3 (where he rises his hand towards the sky) -- after being beaten up like a worthless waste, he thinks of the space beyond -- he experiences a moment of realization. is he a free man? the reality appears harsh and merciless as compared to the dreams of nobility. what should he do? run away? but where? "these buildings seem to lead somewhere".

but after that, the world around comes real -- he gets up, maybe hearing the hum of the city. it's a great ending -- followed by a narrative panel.

and at least that's how I saw/see it. :)