Sunday, November 30, 2008

Memorybot Part 1

More ZX romantic adventures! Page 1 out of 4.

I made this for the 'Free Your Line' fanzine, for its third - and best, in my opinion - issue. It was done in very late 06, in fact around new years eve if memory serves. Ptoing was around, as were other friends, I was visiting Germany I think. God, how can my memory of things be so much like an old man's?

If you note something different about this comic, something vibrant and rich in hue, that's Ptoing's fault. He did the colors. I really like them, most people seem to too.

As I had 4 pages to tell a story that could possibly be told in a single page like those of the newspaper, and as a sort of cleansing from that sort of format, I took it very slow here, mostly establishing setting and mood, letting smaller things do the talking than my usual verbose narrator who is sadly a necessity if you want to tell a story with a lot of plot in very small space. Therefore the pacing is very deliberately slow. Note how I use the right wall in the first panel as space to place a story title and such, luxuries one doesn't usually enjoy in single-page format due to space. The eye traverses lazily through the opening shot, playfully diverted by the separate-perspective point cobblestone. A vague sense of futurist Europe somewhere (in fact half-way inspired by Stockholm and Thesaloniki). I never understood why the near future needs to be all SUPERPIPES AND FLYING CARS... well, the flying cars I can understand, what I don't see is why when the 'FUTURE' is here, everything old is to be immediately discarded. So I didn't. This comic might take place in the future sometime but I still left in streetlights and free press vending machines and the tired stones of an 'old city center'.

Furthermore, as before, I do not treat the abilities a robot very much like a robot... somewhat half-way. He has an internal clock... but he has to roll up his sleeve to know what time it is, heh. I like that middle space between magical realism and just flat out nonsensicalness. I'll get Ptoing at the end of the comic to talk about his color choices and such. Let's look at the black and white one as well:

First of all I made the mistake of inking this on hard bristol board (because that is what I took with me in Germany. I am really ghetto as far as tools and means go, as I've mentioned before). So all the lines I've put down are with generally bigger tipped markers than I enjoy just so I didn't get lots of break up. It turned out to befit the color a lot more than my usual more flimsy lines.

Note on panel 3 and 4 how I use guiding arrows to help the reader along. Most experimental comic artists would scoff at such'medium breaking immersion' tricks as naive but I kinda like comics going 'hi, we're comics! :D' a little sometimes, if they're kind about it. I could have used some other visual clue as to how to read such a panel configuration (usually with word balloons or the actual things in the panels being drawn in such a way as to visually flow up and then downwards) but I had to juggle a few other considerations that kept me from this. Namely, I wanted the fast motion. I wanted the first two panels to appear to take a considerable amount of time between them but then when he checks the time to see if his date is late (she is, by 8 minutes) I wanted the action to be abrupt. This works by keeping the art in the repeated panel pretty much the same (eye discards same information and just reads the different parts, much faster than the whole scene changing. Combine this effect with small panels and you can have a comic where the reader feels compelled to read 3 panels a second). So the pacing is sloooow and then an abrupt peak, and then again slow on the fifth panel (low shot always seems to take more time than eye-level because the reader has to visualize the pan that got the 'camera' that low, and how it'll also take some time to reposition. We think spatially, like ground animals) and the last two panels are again, fast after that bit of hesitation. These are pretty much cinematography tricks, but hey, comics are a smart medium and should take whatever becomes them from elsewhere without having delusions of being anything they're not. Vague line there but I'll pretend I'm safe from making 'movie comics' for now.

I'll post the next page in 3 days or so. Take the intermediate time to praise Ptoing for his wonderful coloring work.

- Helm


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Oh No, Pornography!

Alright before the comic here for you non-Greeks a bit of contextualization is required.

In Greece, the newspaper medium is in deep crisis. People just don't seem to read papers as much as they used to and regardless of the whys, the way papers have deemed it practical to respond is to bundle with their edition various 'gifts' for the reader, to entice them to buy the thing for the other thing. One can spot the various problems in this practice pretty much instantly (and how they will eventually result to complete disassembly of the newspaper form), but I'm not here to discuss that right now, I'm here to discuss a penis.

When I went to work for this paper where the material of this blog was originally printed in, they were bundling pretty mundane v-cds and dvds of old movies (Godzilla Versus Killer Pollution, yes)or tv-shows (Bonanza... seriously) and indeed, the temperamental success the newspaper had experienced at times was directly relative to the quality of the bundled-in material.

So at some point it seems readership was lower than usual and they decided to put some soft-core porno in with the paper and see how that goes. I guess it went well? I'm not sure, I did not follow the print run numbers. I was beginning to feel a bit uneasy even then for the reasons you'll see in the comic below, but hey, it's just soft-core, it's people pretending to have sex, more hilarious than vulgar. A few months later they started giving hardcore porn with the paper, stuck a "forbidden to minors" sticker in the front of the paper as a point of 'edginess' and then it sorta became a real issue for me. If I were some sort of established entity in the print media where my name would not be associated with the various transgressions of a publisher it would be a non-issue, but this was my first wide public work and a statement seemed required from my point of view. The statement is below:

Now, had this piece seen print, I would have continued to work with this paper - though perhaps things would have gone south sooner rather than later - judging my opinion clearly voiced. However this page didn't see print. They ran something awful by an in-house graphic designer playing comic artist for that day I guess and in the awfulness of that specific page (a pastiche of 'political commentary' ridiculousness, imagine a caricature of a wealthy man with the words 'government' written on his hat pocketing a symbolic bag of money, seriously) I saw exactly how little my work was understood or appreciated and what instead was expected from me. I received no phone call before the page was pulled nor was I immediately let go. I suspect that had I sent a different page next week (with more people with 'government' written on their hats) I'd have gotten paid as usual. However I did not send anything nor did I deem it fit to discuss the issue since they would not discuss it with me and in that way my run with that paper ended.

It seems I was correct to think comics ware unappreciated to begin with at the paper because a week or so after I stopped working there they let go the two other comic artists doing work there for them and I felt sad and responsible, especially for my friend Mike who needed financial stability at the time more than I did. However responsibility lies with the employer who chooses in the end what he wants to run in his paper. If they wanted to pretend to be a classy paper and then bundle porn along with it to desperately try to sell it somehow, then they dug their own grave as far as I'm concerned. The whole premise of ethical responsibility is that you can't have your cake and eat it too. And in any case I'd rather not be done the 'favor' being printed if it is without the understanding and support of my employer.

After I left the paper I didn't feel like making comics for nearly 6 months. Dry spell ended when Vavel festival came about and I did some pieces for them and for our fanzine (Free Your Line) but generally since then my rate of production of pages has drastically slowed. On one part, I am not being paid to make comics anymore and that does have its effect, believe me, especially when you've just grown used to considering yourself a 'professional' and then the rug is pulled under you and you realize that not only you're not considered such by your employer but they don't consider you worth basic human decency.

A big reason I took two years to get this blog together is because I believed the material to be worthless. It's been a slow climb back to being reasonably happy with it and of course it's due to the feedback I've gotten by you, dear readers and humans. Thanks! I am still very adverse to putting myself in a situation where I have to justify why my work is good or what exactly it is that I am doing because of the newspaper experience. Sadly, international readers, this happens more than you'd expect because Greece is a culturally retarded country, where any humanist venture one attempts has to battle against deeply ingrained inertia in the distrustful public. Greece has fallen to a self-fulfilling prophecy: we have been systematically robbed of decency by demagogues and thieves, liars and marketers, in every aspect of our every day lives. Professional domains, personal, political, emotional all jeopardized. The Greek has been degraded and conditioned to accept his degradation as stable truth and 'nobody is better than the worst'. Nothing good can happen here and nothing good we will allow to happen here but we will still complain how nothing vital and positive, happens although we ourselves do not allow for decency and humanity in any aspect of our daily lives. But we mock. We mock everything, we mock the good with the bad and to hell with everything. Our country is our dumpster, our internet is our dumpster, our inside is filled with garbage and nothing. I'm kinda rambling, but this is on my mind a lot lately.


The material you've read so far along with a boatload of comic strips also done for the paper (of varying quality! I'm not much of a strip artist, I find) is slowly being compiled in a print version which I'll shop around to various publishing houses here in Greece. I'm going to see my last page printed at least. I don't look forward to being treated like a visitor from outer space by most publishers I'll meet, but eh, I'll deal.

So, the bigger reason for making this blog has been fulfilled. Now I'll go even deeper back in time and start posting my very first comics made during comics school, where I met the wonderful people with whom I were to start the 'Free Your Line' fanzine. An altogether different part of my life, one which doesn't terminate at 2006 but instead is vital and ongoing to this day. More on this soon. Who knows, perhaps we'll even reach the material I'm doing RIGHT NOW! Such futurism, such promise! We shall raise our dream machines into the sky!

Well, soon. It might be a week or more because I'm still making my new page for the Vavel festival. I'm 35% done, heh. It's taking forever. I think it's good, I can tell because it's one of the few times I'm actually having fun making a comic (it's usually pretty tortuous!).

- Helm


Sunday, November 23, 2008

What's the best way to know what's going on inside the earth?!

One of the benefits of having a website is looking at the keyword hits you get off of Google. The above illustration conveys the worries expounded in the title of this post. While a lot are funny I also feel some sort of obligation to answer these queries since they landed someone here:

Sad Robot Boy - you're in the right place dude.
Steve Vahaviolos - Oh god I'm so sorry!
Three letter greek word for love - ΓΠΩ!
Ferrero rocher commercial greek gods - Oh man, that guy
How to get into the Royal Ballet School - Lots of practise and some innate talent I'd guess :/
Explain Europe After the Rain - This dude stayed around on the blog for 3 minutes so I guess some explanation did occur.
Meaning of Regional Dimensions - Still unnamed, sorry.
Octopus Puns - At least I can say I delivered on that front.

So yes, this is a stopgap post. I've been busy doing a very ambitious page for this year's Vavel festival and it'll be a week or so until I'm done. I will resume posting after that, but I should also let you know (since I gathered all of you here so we could laugh at google results) that the material from the paper has all but exhausted itself (last page left). I do not intend to stop the blog here, so we'll readily go into 'b sides' material. Most of it is not single-page comics but rather 3-5 pager stories I was doing before around and after my time at the paper. This is good because some material is absurdly old and you'll get to see really how less of a fuck I gave about my comics being understandable by third parties in the beginning. Also it's nice because I'll get to post more recent comics which I personally feel look better because I'm a better draftsman now that I was 2 years ago, heh.

The question I want to put to you dear readers and humans is this: should I post more infrequently but with the whole story at a time, or should I post every 2-3 days with a single page from an ongoing story? This is pretty important because for example I have an 18 page 24hr comic with lots of WORDS WORDS WORDS and it really might take a while to translate such a thing. Looking at the google results it seems some 40-50 hits a day occur and I'd hate to have built up that loyalty in some of you and then just come up and switch my posting habits from eight times a month to twice a month. I know first-hand that there occurs some feeling of betrayal when an artist just stops updating their blog frequently. Regardless of the inherent pathology in that sort of consumerist mindset (shame on all of us!), I'd hate to upset anyone like that!

Keep in mind when answering - for I do want you dear readers and humans, to answer me - that if I post bigger stories page-by-page then I will also have the chance to wax theoretical on them a lot more than I would if I posted them all together, where final remarks would have to be condensed to the issues of the story as a whole. So according to your tastes for theory this should factor in.

Also after Vavel I might post the comic I'm making now and all the preparation I did for it for another process post which will go into finer details on why and how I make my artistic choices and how exactly my subconscious undermines me constantly.



Friday, November 14, 2008

There is no Second Rudder

...and who would survive such scrutiny of reason?

I sincerely don't have much to say about this comic, only that it's the last one I published - I believe - in the paper. The next one - for which there will be a hefty post below it for explanations and the like, never saw print. Rightly or not will be up for you, dear readers and human beings, to decide.

I guess one thing I can say about this comic is that the idea came to me in the shower. Sometimes cliches are true.

Another thing to say is that I tried a 'clean line' style here to suit the dreamy mood but I don't think I like it, or perhaps more to the point, I'd have to be a better artist (and a more patient one) to pull it off.



Sunday, November 9, 2008

Best Superpower

Hello ZX!! We'll be seeing more of you!

This is pretty much one of the few intellectually suspect comics I've done. Two years ago when I had finished it I thought it was good but there was a nagging feeling about it which cumulated into a pretty specific concern once I found the words to explain it: It's too perfect. I don't mean the rendering, far from it. Actually while lettering this in english today I got a strong urge to redraw the whole thing. The problem is the situation presented, especially the top row of the initial flirting it just too... scripted. Real people don't talk like that, real life is not an episode of FRIENDS or some other such piece of shit excuse of a television show. People don't always know what to say and promptly. As anyone that had flirted even once knows, it's really stupid to try to be prepared for the conversation and run it in your head since it rarely if ever goes as you'd expect so you'll have to improvise... and that's alright. That's what I should have made, not this stilted exchange of stand-up comedian material.

Thankfully the two middle rows of panels spare us of the actual bits and pieces of conversation the couple engages in, giving them at least some ambiguous space on which the reader might project a bit of humanity instead of faux-perfect nothings. The last row is more humanistic, especially the subscription receipt panel is a nice metaphor for premature ejaculation. The whole point of the comic was, initially, not to have a super-cool 'best day ever' fantasy-dating comic (though sadly it's more this than anything else) it was to convey this particular feeling of insecurity one gets when they might meet a new person, strike it off very well initually only to experience a strange fear of abandonment right there in the midst of it all. You promise you'll date me for a while, right? You won't run off? That sort of thing.

So yeah, if I were to write this today I think I'd plot it differently. What I'd definitely keep is the middle shot of the dam on Marathonas at night. It has more humanity in its silence than the rest of the comic.


P.S. The older, newspaper comic material is three or for updates away from drying up. I shall proceed to the 'b-sides' material shortly after, featuring pieces I have done for the Free Your Line fanzine and elsewhere. The material up to the point of three or four updates to come is being collected (along with a boatload of comic-strips I have not posted here) in a physical edition, on paper and all. It'll be in its original Greek language. I am wandering if any of my international readers would be interested in getting such an edition in the mail, even though it'll be in this crazy moon language. Do write in. I will accept mailed undergarments as compensation, by the way.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Next Drink

Hello. A word by Richard Green:

I have been requested to write on this comic. In doing so I hope that Helm will return my puppy, or at least most of it.

This is probably a great way to avoid when designing a comic. I sat down with a piece of paper. I divided it into a grid.

I drew a man drinking. He walked away. In the midst of his journey I got bored and made him climb a building.

He reached his destination, something I decided on whilst drawing him climbing up the building.

By accident, symmetry. Spontaneous order had emerged.

I enjoy the fact that the comic is mirrored. In the first and sixth lines, we see this man in his primary world. He sits and drinks. He is not surly, self pitying or even drunk. He lives a blameless if meaningless existence.

But he can leave and enter that as he pleases. In the second and fifth lines he does so.

And in the middle he breaks from that world into something more. Just for a moment he entertains a diversion before returning to the task at hand.

I'll also write a little on the art Helm has built over my rather Spartan drawings.

I did not envisage him living in a squalid urban hellhole. The whilst drawing the first two lines I imagined him drinking in a suburban licensed club. The establishments of choice for blameless substance abuse (and garden variety gambling problems). It was only outside that there was a need for an external environment made of straight (and easily drawn) lines. He entered a concrete jungle.

And of course Spider-Man doesn't climb the sides of bungalows.

Because, as I envisaged it, he was climbing like Spider-Man.

Spider-Man is everyman, with powers, and so is this man. He is Spider-Man in middle age, Chris Ware's Spider-Man. He exists betwixt lost dreams and despair.

This is not to be depressing. It isn't depressing. The everyman is not an indulgent Byronic hero, intent on theatrical tragedy.

He endures, in some form.

And existence is the purpose.

And a few words from me, your tyrant:

Animation is not like comics at all. Often you'll find people who like comics also like animated films. I don't, particularly. I think that impulse comes from when we were children and you could show us any sort of drawn anything and we'd shit our pants. I find animation is in love with setting things to motion and how that motion is conveyed whereas comic art is in love with perfect sequences of events as portrayed in concert, on an inclusive context. I understand these are pretty dry distinctions but if you were to sit down with a comic artist and an animator and discuss with them why they went their separate ways through life, in the end the picture could be summed up as such. Personally I find myself quickly bored with something that is bouncing around on my screen and though as a child I did watch my share of cartoons I suspect I was bored of most of them even then. I'd much rather spend time looking at a single page of comics for a hour than watch an episode of Tom and Jerry. Don't judge me, that's just how I am! For me there is something really brilliant and beautiful in a well-done comic page. It's a finite number of viewpoints into a finite number of situations and effects but 'between the gaps' there is the promise of a whole, timeless and perfect world. Any medium where the tyranny of linear time dictates pace and direction somewhat loses that, for me.

So why am I saying these things? Because the comic at hand 'A Story by Richard Green' is very much made to appear like a short animated film. It is even made in a similar way. Static backgrounds were drawn (6 of them), then a character with little shading and simple forms, easy to animate, was superimposed on a different layer on top of these backgrounds, moving. Not talking or thinking but mainly moving from a place to a different place.

Why did I make a comic that looks like an animated film since I don't really care for them? Because I wanted to harness that boredom I felt when waiting for something to happen while some cartoon hero was squishing and deforming and whatever else. I wanted a pretty tortuous pace. As a comic, this whole page could be summed up in three panels (first and last being first and last and the middle panel him climbing a building, as a matter of fact). The whole middle time is watching and waiting. From one drink to another, the diversion of the spider-man climb signifying the mundane realism of any means to such an end. That was the feeling I got from Richard's original draft comic and I tried to serve it as best I could. I wasn't going for depression as a theme so much as for some sort of existential tiredness, punctuated by a sharp digression.

Oh, also, of interest is that this comic is not taking place in Athens like most of my comics (even if not mentioned so, at least conceptually). It's taking place somewhere in Australia because that's where Dick is from. I didn't do this on purpose, I just realized.