Monday, September 22, 2008

Europe After the Rain

I am really fond of this one. I think it works on a lot of levels. I don't look at it and think I could have done it better, even 2 years later. I guess in some ways the whole run up to now was worth it even if it was training for this sort of comic. Now what's left is for people to leave me comments about how this is much worse than say, the rice pudding comic and throw me into existentialist despair.

This comic came out without much in the way of birth pains. I remember I made this in Wales while on vacation and I was at the time quite depressed. The situation was however tolerable because a lot of dear friends were about. In fact one of them, Petter, was the one that penciled a panel of this comic (I'll let you guess which) and I received much feedback while making it by quite a few more friends (as we are given to travel in big, multicultural packs). On one hand it was a weird experience for me to have to explain what the comic I am making is about while making it over and over (since most of the comics you see here were made in a state of flux. I didn't 'run them' by anyone, really) on the other hand it helped me appreciate the feedback loop and how it fuels creativity. Look at it now I feel a certainty of intent in this one, which is good.

I am happy with the second panel. The expressions work well I think, and the parallel hatching was a good idea to shade faces. A lot of the time in the past I used to crosshatch a lot and make sleek, almost oily, Neal Adamsesque shading on flesh. It turns out I grew gradually sick of that sort of oily, perfect muscle, I found how it is fitting only for superheroes and supermodels, both equally dehumanizing subtextual guises. I should have looked at masters such as Moebius sooner and seen how the geometry of the body is so subtly accentuated by parallel hatching, relative to the lightsource or - if a wearisome effect is desired - at a 90 degree angle to it.

On the fifth panel, the board on the burning barrel reads in misspelled Greek "here was work # 21".

For you, the lovers of comic theory: Look at the last panel, how it is borderless, how its darkness spreads on the margins of the frames above. How it foreshadows an end and how in lacking borders your brain interprets it as stretching to forever, how it just feels longer than the other panels. Pay attention to how, as western readers, you approach the panel from your left, and as you're coming to terms with the starkness of this field, as you are trying to look upon the whole of this city, the whole of the mausoleum, your eyes fall upon the last ladder, inviting you to exercise your own singular freedom.

The issue of determinism is one a lot of the future comics of this blog will touch upon not only because poor Helm was sad when he was making these comics, but also because I survived them, my sadness, and my life. The fundamental issue of Freewill cannot be examined by my comics in a way that is novel since I never had that sort of brilliance, but perhaps they will serve to shock with intimacy - as comics are want to do - the reader into appreciating the question of it fully. At first it seems as such a non-issue, but its ramifications run deep in how we define (and counter-define) ourselves as citizens, consumers and humans. It is one of the few philosophical issues that still excite me and which I find vital to communicate and I do believe this, amongst a few comics to come attempts a useful commentary on it.

The next update will probably be another PROCESS post, where I will explain how I work completely digitally as of late, what with this expensive Cintiq my father bought for me. I hope that finds my readership in agreement. Speaking of you guys, I want to thank you for both reading my work and most importantly for your comments below the entries. As I was discussing with HS in private a few days ago, some of the comment threads give us hope because they are in our common view, the ideal comments: undeterred by the deeply ingrained cynicism of the internet as a communicational medium, human and candid. They make the blog worth existing. I don't mean this as some sort of fluff complement, they really do, this whole exercise is one of essential communication, not about showing off. I am trying to validate the existence of old work, which I never felt arrived at its destination. By posting your thoughts and engaging in dialog with me and between yourselves you are helping me believe in the merit of my own work. I sincerely thank you.

- Helm


Seth said...

I've been working on a vague concept for a painting that so far involved an overweight naked man walking in a barren landscape with only a few, simple tall towers strewn about. After reading this comic, I only wish I had thought of using staircases instead! Oh well, at least this will spur me to consider structural alternatives instead of settling on towers like I was okay with doing before.

For any future process posts, I'd be curious to hear how you cultivate the seeds of an idea to create a full comic. I know artists often dislike to be asked things like "where do you get your ideas?" (though that's not really what I'm asking), but I suppose I'll always be interested to hear how other people work so I can contrast it with my own process and ask myself "Could I be thinking about this in a different way?"

I would guess that you came up with the imagery for the staircases before you came up with the idea for the cableworkers. But it's an interesting thought to me because I create written and visual art but rarely do anything like comics, and with writing I would typically start out with the "cableworkers" part, or rather what sets the story into motion. Yet the visuals in comic art seem so important that it seems like the story would have to have originated form the imagery (especially when it ends up being so important, like in this comic)

Helm said...

I will try to explain more of my inner process in the next post.

I do not think I came up with the visual cues before the story at all though, at least if memory serves. My first idea about this - I think I was in the shower again - was "what about the Brave New World idea where a species is made for manual labor only, what if they cannot procreate. How would this affect their sense of future?" Perhaps Huxley answer this later on in his book, I didn't read it all. That is the core of the comic and then all the visual setpieces are meant to provide a strong support for that idea. The constant struggle is for every bit of text and image to be essential.

For a comic to impress feelings and thoughts into the viewer - at least I think one of my comics - the visual information must be very strong. Be it either in rendering prowess (comparatively easier) or in purity of design (much, much harder) the reader must be stricken by the beauty of the page first. This puts them under the spell, and then they will apply a lot more weight to the textual idea behind the comic.

Do this experiment in your head, think of this comic drawn with stickmen placeholder art. And then read it for the first time like that. How much weight does the idea have now? Surely not as much, though perhaps not none at all.

Then think of the opposite. Think of this like a painting

Take away all the text. The art is purty enough, but for what? Is it useful? Is it communicating? Perhaps not completely devoid of communicational merit, it surely is crippled given how you've seen it be in its final form.

Comics are not 'text and images' they are the osmosis of the two, they should be approached holistically. Your words need to support your images and vice versa. If something is superfluous, take it out. What you must be left with is a strong form holding together intimate content. Since you're interested in painting, think of a comic as a cubist formation. Look it from afar, look at all the panels at once, try to take in the whole of this city... it's so many points in time at once, it's the beginning the end and the middle in a single form. It's fractured but yet its facets complement each other, like a beautiful crystal. What other art form manages this?

Painting for me 99% of the time fails to engage me. It takes a real master to tell me a story with a single image, or to force me to make up a story to justify a single image. I am also not very interested in animation - the joyful indulgement in the artistry of motion itself - because I find the stories 99% of animated films support to be just tacked on so the animations have something to animate. I am left with comics not between a lot of different things but because I feel they're the most potent at what communicational art should be about. Cinema tells clearer stories but is linear and dictates pace in an uncomfortable way and music emotes better (and easier, for good or worse) but comics are just magic because the straddle the inbetween time from when something is happening and the limbo of the reader reflecting on what is happening, and that moment can last as long as each reader desires. The 'sweet spot' for a comic such as this is when the reader reads it once. Then reads it again, slower, more intentfully, plays with it, becomes its director, dictates the pulse. That sort of intimacy makes a comic belong to the reader in the way that a viewer never owns a movie or a listener never partakes in the creation of music. The biggest power of comics is the shattering of strict timespace!

Man, this comment should have been a separate post :P

Anonymous said...

I think that even if this is a sad comic, it is also very beautiful. It's as if I can feel your depression through the panels, the barren lands of the backgrounds, and the characters facal gestures. But still it speaks of hope in a way... hard for me to explain, this feeling (I am just not very good at commenting).

Sophia said...

aman re helm I don't remember this one either.. :( (Paraskeve 13 was not my favourite newspaper, you know that^^)

It's a very "helmy" comic. I'm sure that you could have made it even if you were not sad. (helmy means -among other things of course- that it is depressing, with naked men and lot of ruins (mpeton!) and tsiki-tsiki :P)

And some thoughts for the comic itself: In the first part we se the cableworkers doing something meaningless, right? At least its meaningless for us! (And depressing! construction with no purpose is a nightmare...) And then you say that some of them are doing something else. Something different than the others: the stairway that seems to lead nowhere but their death. I don't know if there is a point in this construction (so we can say that it isa "better" than the onters) but putting stairs on a stairway that seems to lead to nowhere (and then die!)is not something that we all people do?

So, helm, you are talking about us and not a strange alien tribe and you think that life here its pointless if you are an outside viewer but we MAY have a long-distant "purpose" we cannot see or even consider and the only thing we can do is putting a stair in our lifetime. (or maybe there is not even that tiny part of optimism in the last panel and I see it only because I'm pink an the ladders lead to nowhere -after alla they are all randomy placed)

its interesting how a "stairway to heaven" can become such a deserted and dark place in someone's mind -_-

(what panel did petter ink?)

(P.S: trying a -sort of- "analysis" in english is one of the hardest things I'ne ever done and i hope you appreciate it. You know i'm smarter than THAT! :P )

Helm said...

I do appreciate it very much, Sophia. Thank you.

Your end observation is very astute, and on the right track: I don't think we're fundamentally in the same position as the cableworkers existentially because I believe there are base drives in humanity common to most animals that provide purpose and fulfillment like that of procreating the species, the desire to expand, control our surroundings. It's exactly in how these things are removed from the cableworkers that create their desire for some artificial meaning, which manifests in this ritual suicide.

The more we stray away from our instinctual directives, the more we pacify them and rationalize them into the mundane consumption of vicarious experiences just so we lead comfortable and placid lives, the more depressed we get in my theory.

JJ Naas said...

"we lead comfortable and placid lives, the more depressed we get in my theory."

The more time you have to spend just working on basic surviving, the less time you have for pointless existential questions. A friend of mine who's been teaching kids in poor Third World countries said that she never encountered angst among the youth, just hormones running wild at worst or best. Well, the philosophers of Athens were able to dedicate a lot of time for thinking about stuff because they had slaves doing all the hard work, didn't they? And that led to some good stuff but also to some complete bollocks as far as I'm concerned. Plato's world of ideas was a nifty idea, but I don't believe it was THAT much of a great idea that it's rightfully deserved all the attention it's received. Rather, it's mostly stalled thinking in more practical areas and is escapistic pointlessness in its heart anyway. So much for Plato, I'm not very fond of him. All the things he put in Socrates' mouth.. ANYWAY.

Free will on the other hand is an interesting thought to play around with. You can even have a pragmatic approach to it.. the methods for figuring out what goes on in our brains get more elaborate all the time, and at some point it may be possible to observe whether it really IS just biochemical reactions or not. If it'll be found out in the future that something happens beyond the observable functions of the brain then that of course has interesting implications...

In the comic, the first cable worker who made a suicide may have either had something like a free will or then he's just advanced enough to override his programming (I really thought of them as actual robots), which might not be free will but rather something like our consciousness making us capable to fight against our genes, like having having sex while using contraception, with a knowledge that we won't be passing our genes on. BUT even if the first incident was a manifestation of free will, that doesn't mean the following incidents were. Maybe they were just copying his actions, sort of reacting to a new kind of a behaviour.

A punchline in the end: "We should live AS IF we had a free will, because we have no other choice." ;)

Helm said...

Hello JJ Naas. I like you very much.

Plato: I am not very convinced of idealism though that philosophy has found fertile ground for spiritualists and scientists alike. Check for example Penrose's theories of consciousness and where they intersect with Platonism. Personally I am very much a relativist and find these theories more fascinating than convincing.

Physical labor and generally physicality, sexual exuberance, exercise, all these things directly counter depression and anxiety, so much has been pretty safely theorized, yes. There is a valuable lesson there: the human animal has existed for thousands of years on these merits, not sitting in front of a computer watching youtube. Civilization is a recent development, easy, comfortable middle class living an even newer one. Our body rebels to all this idle easy, it desires struggle and dominance! Rape and blood!

Freewill: I am not certain of many things, but the lack thereof is as close to a certainty as I get. Nothing even starts to make sense in a system where one invites such a metaphysical loophole as a free will. If it exists, then spirits exist, and if spirits exist then a god might rightly exist and if god exists then we should really just do nothing else than worship that blind idiot fucker.

There is no overriding of programming based on some metaphysical willpower. There are complex interfacing factors that urge an otherwise typical specimen of a herd to act abnormally, and test if its abnormality leads to increased chances of survival and dominance or not. Natural selection is why we've arrived in the interesting position of self-awareness in the first place, regardless of how that skill comes to bite us in the ass now.

It is in very rare cases that natural selection with urge a number from a species to commit suicide. The purging of the gene pool of 'broken' variations might be one, and little else comes to mind (perhaps protection of superior genes in other members of the species?). Safe to say that the cableworkers killing themselves is not nature's way of cleaning the pool since they arrived in their current position of being barren and futureless through outside meddling -- that of humanity.

It is as explicitly stated in the comic, in that they somehow end up killing themselves that they underline their single available freedom. The underlying concept is here that since there is no free will and all nature urges beings is to sustain life and pass on their genes, the only metaphysically 'free' action a living thing can take is to deny this deeply ingrained impulse by destroying itself.

bel said...


I've always been sceptical about the use of art as a means of expressing philosophical ideas, mainly because it lacks the much expected explanation found in an "academic" text expressing a similar idea. I personally very much enjoyed this comic a) because of the visuals involved, and b) in the same way I would enjoy listening to another person voicing opinions so similar to my own.

When it comes to people who do not believe in something so radically different than most popular beliefs, I do not know if they could enjoy and appreciate the comic in the same way, although I must say that I believe it would take a person of an at least moderate intelligence to make the connection between this comic and the issue of free will, assuming that they are not familiar with the concept ( and this is not intended as criticism against the clarity of the intent of this comic. )

Helm said...

Hello bel :D

An expression of a philosophical premise in some work of art is not (and should be not) a thorough explanation of how it works, I'm fine with that. In fact when artists think their work is a good channel through which to infodump academia, I usually lose interest rapidly.