Monday, May 21, 2012

Erenan asks about panels

On an e-mail, friend of the blog Erenan inquires:
I am not an artist by any stretch of the imagination, but I am nonetheless interested in learning about comic design. Specifically, I'm curious about how you feel you developed your ability, not so much in terms of the actual artwork, but rather in terms of layout, flow, what should be happening in the story when a page turn happens, how each panel should be framed, how large each panel should be, etc. Was this an academically learned skill or did it develop primarily through raw experience? If the former, then could you possibly recommend some sources to which I could turn for information about this kind of thing? If the latter, then am I out of luck except for the option of hunkering down and actually trying to put together a comic or two?

Below is my response.

Sadly it *is* mostly experience in developing an inner visual language. There are texts you could read and I do especially suggest "Understanding Comics" and "Making Comics" by Scott McCloud. But in that whole latter book he never once talks about bracketing and what panels mean. At least as far as I remember.

There's a lot of different approaches to what you're asking. I'll outline below some of my basic thoughts on the matter:

1. 90 degree panels = rational gaze / uneven panels = emotional gaze
1b. 90 degree cuts = smooth exposition / radical cuts = action!
1c. Super straight panel outlines = super rational / hand-drawn 'shakey' panel outlines = more subjective

2. Fat panel outline = important or focused / thin panel outline = the reader will read faster through, best as part of a sequence. I made a mistake with ZX by having too fat 'default' panel outlines, mucking up the pace a bit.
2b. Especially wobbly panel outline = can be an outburst or something else of questionable epistemology / NO panel outline = dream sequence, or limbospace, or a pervading moment in time in an otherwise sequenced event

3. long panel = takes more time to read, landscape perhaps, setting a scene / thin panel = makes the reader look at both IT and what came before it and what comes after it on the strip with 'one gaze' more. This is a useful tool.

4. background value to the page (behind the panels) being white = all as normal / background value being black = change of mood, possibly flashback or dream sequence. I play a lot with grains and gradients as emotional information to the reader.

5. How many panels per page tell the reader if the pace of the comic is to be fast or slow sometimes. Curiously, more panels per page make the pace slower, not faster. Comics are not music. There are two paces, to make it clearer. The inner pace of the story, and the outer, of the person reading the comic. More panels fragment the inner pace more, it's like slow motion. And they also make the reader spend more time on each page. The comic becomes laborious. Interestingly, there isn't a faster panel to make than single-panel-per-page. The act of turning the page excites the reader and makes them complicit. The more you can make them do it, the faster they'll read.  But that's also how they sometimes don't pay enough attention or miss details. And you can make the reader pay for that. It's great!

5b. HOWEVER, if the page is full of panels but they're mostly empty or sparsely drawn, then the reader will pick up their pace, even if the pace of the comic will still be perieced as very slow. This starts to feel like an artsy film with long, laborious shots of walls, an empty street, the sky. Vice versa, single-panel-per-page comics where each panel is super-laboured on the rendering becomes a storybook. Imagine a few Gustave Dore paintings in a row. The reader will read that sequence very slow. But the inner pace could be three seconds. Good for injecting gravity in a sequence. Remember the car crash in ZX.

6. Furthermore the choices of how a page is constructed are not clearly about only pace. There's also aesthetic considerations of how the page looks 'on the whole', or to say, if you move a few feet away from the screen and look at it from afar, as if it's some sort of cubist painting. The balance of blacks and whites, so on. Some peculiar intuitive rules on construction, somewhat akin to compositional guidelines for painting seem to apply. This means there shouldn't be too many primary focal points on the page and they should be arranged in some harmony. Unless the artist is pushing it on purpose, which I enjoy.
6b. A different solution to this problem is setting up a utilitarian grid for the page that is always the same. Then the reader will stop looking at the page 'on the whole' and focus just on each panel. This makes the comic more cinematic, for good or worse. Check out Watchmen for very serious grid work, and some cheeky subversion of this rule too (forcing the reader to look at the page on the whole, or hiding meanings if they do at least).
There's a million other things, but we should talk with examples. Show me some pages you're interested (from any comic, not just mine) in if you want to discuss how they're constructed. 


Monday, May 7, 2012

Recent commentary on my other book

Found here.

Translated to English for the benefit of international readers:

George said...

ΟΚ...80% of this album give off the sense that nothing of what we go through each day has any particular meaning to it. I say to you a resounding 'come on!'. 'Nihilism' I think, is the word. You did you provide any solution to your readers... In my opinion if you stood 100% behind what you created, you'd be dead by now (possibly by commiting suicide). What makes you keep on going IN SPITE of the troublesome worries inherent in life, that you neglected to let us know in the 50 pages of your book. (And do not think that the epilogue of the book saves you any face by playing the part of the artist that shows you the TRUTH that you unenlightened beings cannot see. That role in my opinion is the most passive. In any case, what you show in your comics, I see in life as well and I try to combat it. If I didn't do this, I'd die. You just made me feel like shit... where is the good in that in any degree, huh? I mean no offence, I also make comics.


My answer and resulting dialogue below.

I replied...

I did not get into making comics to give you answers about anything. It's self evident that I still exist. In your own comics I urge you to try to give answers to life's questions and see how that reverberates inside you. I do not care much for didacticism. If you approach ZX as a manual on how to live life, it ends up more like a manual to a death, yes. But as I said, I am still here, so that probably was not the intention (of the book). My hypocricy is probably not the only explanation to this.

In any case, if you felt like shit, that's probably better for me to you not having felt anything after reading. You're still there as well, after all. Aren't you?

George said...
Oh yes, I am alive!! But I'd be interested to find out your goals are when you draw your comics. Perhaps for you it is beneficial to get some things off of your chest... but what about us, your readers? I do not think you're asking enough of us. I just have seen a lot of artistic works which people would characterize as dark and pessimistic or even depressing and they still have some light to them that shines through the darkness. Your is just... I mean, it's just the path that leads many to suicide. That is, my comment stands for 80% of it, because there were parts I enjoyed, like the story with the grandfather. In my opinion we live in a world where the difficult task is to find a reason to keep on existing, we need to search for it and we need to fight for it. And that's what I think humanity has reflexively done for all these years. We're a spoiled generation and I think we have taken it for granted that everything's going to be perfect. If my grandmother, who lost her father at age six, her father at age eleven, her three brothers at war, if she let despair take hold of her she would have never married. I would have never been born. Almost twenty people would not exist today, and she would not have experienced a full life herself thereafter. Flora longs for sunlight, not for darkness. It is the darkness that is readily found everywhere, just everywhere. But light is scarce. Perhaps it's just me. Perhaps for other people it would be more beneficial to get slapped around a little bit to wake up from their rosy existence. But 99% of people do not live a rosy existence... and many of them are living in situations which we cannot imagine in our worst nightmares.

I understand what you're wondering about. What is the purpose of 'dark' art. The only obligation for art is to provide access. Every comic I've drawn so far has provided access to something, melancholy, small hope, something funny, an alienating moment, something illogical, something beautiful (I hope). These are my noteworthy offerings. I make these comics with a personal stake, it is not an easy process.

I do not see what is so suicidal about 'Ektos Thematos', I have to say. Initially when I read your comment I thought you were talking about my second and newest album 'ZX'. Perhaps you should avoid that one if 'Ektos Thematos' seemed too heavy for you. Then again, perhaps not.

What can I say? I enjoy heavy art. I like to be moved, I like the access. It makes me feel alive and hopeful and energetic. I realize that it may not be the same for you, but I do not think you'll die from it.

I do not like the idea that I'm putting my burdens on my readers. No burden is 'removed' from me. It's still on me. And my readers should claim ownership for their own melancholy. I provide access. If you were so saddened by 'Ektos Thematos' and you do not enjoy melancholy, why didn't you stop reading half-way?

As to light and flora, I would rather avoid the literary reply. My aim with 'Ektos Thematos' was to provide access to noteworthy emotions. Access doesn't hurt anybody. Nobody killed themselves for reading a poem. They killed themselves for X reason and there was a poem that underlined it, perhaps.

Where you say that "and many of them are living in situations which we cannot imagine in our worst nightmares." That's not enough. I need access. Make a comic, show me what you found noteworthy, show me my worst nightmares if you can. Take that risk.

Otherwise 'the suffering of the Other' is an academic point, and an underhanded rhetoric device at that.

George said...
Ok.. Sorry for all of this but the invitation of feedback (found in the intro to your book) was just too enticing. A final question, perhaps a bit cliche... which are your biggest influences? I know, probably too numerous to note, but if you could list 5-6 artists or works that moved you, which would they be? They don't have to be comic-related.
P.S.1 The parts about wars and gardening, I realize they sounded somewhat childish and faux-romantic, but I do think they are necessary for most of us and basically everybody uses these concepts whether they aknowledge it or not.
P.S.2 Excuse me but now I have to find a different comic artist to yell at, teehee. It has been interesting.. thank you.

My influences as a comic artist are expansive. If you're interested, check out Barry W. Smith from the US, Andrea Pazienza from Europe and Yukito Kishiro from Japan. In a more general sense, I have been moved by a great deal of Heavy Metal music like My Dying Bride, Fates Warning or Lordian Guard.

I appreciate the contact.

George said...
Truly, I am sorry to keep this up but now that the Greek neo-nazi party "Golden Dawn" has come out of the electorial process with a 7% of the vote, don't you think it's time to use your artistic capability for a little bit of didacticism (even though I know you abhor it)? It would do a lot of good for us.

No, I do not desire to teach anyone anything, political or otherwise, through my comics. If you do desire it, I urge you to do it in your own work, George.


I thought the dialogue was important, in understanding not just "Ektos Thematos" (for anyone else that has had trouble with it, I presume) but also "ZX". Art should be honest, and I do not believe anyone that wants to teach other people ethics, politics or any other 'way to live' is honest. I think the awe towards existence and that one hasn't come to any concrete answers about what life means is a honest thing to convey in art, if it has been felt. It builds a much stronger bridge with other people as a shared experience than any political message to push down their throats. ZX is a dark comic (much darker than "Ektos Thematos" whose darkness had been mitigated by attempts at humour to initially sell the premise to the publisher) and it's a much better comic for it. "Ektos Thematos" is bookended by periods of depression. ZX is a dark story that starts dark and ends less dark, because it is bookended by awe towards the unfathomable illogic in the center of sapience. It is a significant, if not the most significant thing I've wished to express. "Thanatos" is there. "Eros" must follow. I cannot and do not wish to 'teach' that awe (also called 'hope'). I wanted to express it. My life has become much better for expressing it. There is no message, there is only sentiment.