Friday, October 31, 2008

A Precise Sequence of Events

This one was pretty late in my employment for the paper and I felt I had gotten the hang of this sequential storytelling thing enough to try to redraw one of my earliest comics. Sadly the first version I don't think I have anymore but it was largely unspectacular in comparison to this. This comic was heavily scripted when it was first made, a couple of years earlier than in this final version. I even know exactly what the record playing was supposed to be (Variations for Strings, Winds and Keyboards by Steve Reich) where this is taking place (Marousi, suburbs of Athens), that this is an African mask in panel 4, it is mid-day and the protagonist had for his solitary dinner meatballs. I think this sort of over-orchestrated background detail is the product of first-time performance anxiety. I had read somewhere how much reference material Alan Moore used to prepare for his pencilers and to what excruciating level of detail he would explain each panel to them that I somehow got it in my head that if I wanted to do comics, I had to do the same. Carelessly overlooking that I was in fact, both the writer and the artist for this strip and I didn't have to convey my intuition to anyone else.

Nowadays unless there's very specific reason to do otherwise, I really don't 'model' as extensively, at least for a single page's worth of material and I honestly don't think there's any loss of information or communication for it. I guess I learned an important lesson in balancing through making all these single pager comics. I wonder how it'll hold up if I ever do an oh, 150 page story (which would take me 5 years or something the way I work).

This is a very formalist comic, very self-aware of how it works. Probably the most of all my comics, actually. That is both to the benefit of having remade it once after making it first and because it was riding at the top of my active period as a working artist for the paper, so my eye was sharp so to say. Here's some things of interest for you lovers of comic art theory:

1. Panel 1: Note the isometric view used, conveying a mood of orderliness and cleanness. Perspective - especially harsh - is for emotional situations. When all in order, treat it like a little sim-hospital-city-whatever game. Everything taking as little space as it can, ideally represented. The fat lines with only parallel shading and not much 'ink dirt' further connote this but without going for an 'abstract reality' infomercial super-squeaky-clean look.

2. Panel 2, 3 : Cutting from establishing shot straight to abstract details of the house. However note that the details are not picked out of thin air. The glass features on the table in panel 1 and the record player is in secondary focus on panel 4. You can almost feel the pace of the camera as it focuses and de-focuses on details. By panel 5 you have an inner feeling of the place. Also note the establishing of vertical paneling without a clear distinction if you're supposed to read from bottom to top or top to bottom as it works either way.

3. Panels 5,6,7,8 : Parallel action. Even, tempered motion. Imagine the Steve Reich playing in the background. A private little choreography, everything in its place. Note the lack of printed sound-effect. Did you miss it, as the reader?

4. Panel 9: Repeat view. Same mindset. Everything is tranquil, sedate even.

5. Panel 10: Finally a 'classic' establishing shot. But you felt you knew the place from before by now, didn't you? This is almost now, a 'second visit', you are comfortable here now, this is a home away from home. Neat apartment and all.

6. Panels 11, 12, 13: Again read in either order, the man is about to open but fixes his top button on his shirt before opening, to be all perfect looking. Door opens, note absurdly small gap betwseen panel 13 and the first action panel, 14, to connote the briefness of time that passed from one to another. Nearly instantaneous.

7. Whole of the middle strip: Violence that escalates, fragmented inking style perspective shot to fit a murder, but juxtaposed to neat panel cuts, as if the mentality of the person experiencing this is still calm. Reprise of detail panels from strip 1, glass falls, record screeches to a halt, everything is ruined, or is it?

8. Panel 24 : Orgasmic elation. Note the lack of shading in this panel. First piece of actual sound is not a word, but a visceral sound. The first suggestion that something sexual occurred is here.

9. Panel 27: Humanist rendering for the inquiry as to the other persons' state of mind. This could be read as the equivalent of 'was it good for you too?'. There is shame here, there are mixed emotions, and mixed emotions need more rendering. Think of the moment before sexual climax, how single minded you are, how the only thing that matters is what is going on. And then think exactly after the climax how the atavistic emotion drains away and leaves you thinking a million of small different things that mix into a multifaceted emotion that can go every which way. Protagonist replies off-panel as this panel isn't about him at all in the end.

10. Panel 28: Freud would be proud of me.

11. Last panel: Well I don't have to explain this, do I.

Anyway, there's a lot that could be said about what I am trying to achieve with this comic. I'll try to be brief because this is long to begin with. Think of how many things the modern human animal does in place of having sex, think of sports, or academia, or even argumentative discussion and how strongly it is tied with the need of insemination and/or dominance. The comment is on comfortable lives bubbling with a sickly undercurrent of primal atavism, the desires that the animal has cultivated for millenia and that the human in all his arrogance thinks that in 4,000 years of civilization he has now erased. Proven by war and atrocity time and time again false, humbled by his own secret desires, ridden in neuroses and constantly at odds with himself. The machine that looks inside its own gears and can from this only gather 'I am lost'. Think of the silly games we play to rationalize our desires and how we codify this playacting as if to appear intellectual when truly base. I will beat you up to fuck you, and this makes us special, but if I were to fuck you to fuck you, this makes us animals.

That movie (also book) 'Fight Club', much adored by idiots who misunderstood it and much maligned by haughty intellectuals that misunderstood it equally, touches upon similar themes. Note the orderly furniture and perfect, serene angles presenting them everywhere in my comic.

A final structuralist note: a comic is not an animation, or a movie, or a poem or a book, or most importantly a painting. But it borrows from all these things to create if I may be allowed a smarter form than any of the others mentioned, or to be clearer a form that allows for smart things far more invitingly than film with its linear time-frame burdens or a book with its inability to convey spatial dimension or with a painting that can only hint at a sequence of events. However from paintings I try to borrow a wonderful effect from the cubist school, where essentially they theorized that one cubist painting of something attempts to show an ideal space form of the subject, to show it 'from every angle at once' so to speak. I try to do the same with a sequence of events when I make pages like these. You can stand a bit back, stop looking at each panel in particular and look at the page on the whole and it's a kaleidoscope of the then, the now, and the after. If I learned anything at all from having to do single page comics for that period of time it was exactly this. People that have 300 pages to tell a story that could be said in 10 pages are misunderstanding the medium, I posit. Then again if you draw 300 pages everybody thinks you're cool and if you draw 10 you just appear lazy, right? An artists' job is the same as of a lumberjack's.

- Helm


RosenRed said...

I found the lack of sound FX during the fight most appropriate, I think I wouldn't like it otherwise.

It's as if all the sounds are drowned by the music playing, like you said, a choreography.

And yeah, pain is funny :P

Helm said...

Yeah sounds only occur in the comic right after the record player is knocked over.

Pain is not funny at all, you sick person.