Monday, January 26, 2015

What Art Tells the Reader

In an interview on Hideous Energy back in November, Eleanor Davis said, "Any time something is drawn in kind of a realistic style, I just assume that it's mainstream." I find this interesting because it kind of gets at the heart of how I (and I think most readers) look at a comic.

Mainstream and indie can be kind of vague terms, but when I think mainstream, I think action-based stories, not necessarily superheroes, but probably some guns, some murders, and the possibility of being turned into a movie starring Bruce Willis or Mark Wahlberg. To me, indie means a little more thoughtful, more idiosyncratic, and murders and car chases are less likely.

Looking at the art, the reader makes a quick assessment of what kind of comic they are looking at: humorous, kid-friendly, spoof, mainstream, indie, YA, arty, diary, whatever. And then they decide whether it's the type of comic they want or not.

So there is an obligation for the artist to tell the reader what kind of comic they are holding in their hands. Mainstream art with an indie story is confusing. It misleads the reader.

This is something that I think about because I feel that my artwork falls somewhere in between mainstream and indie. I don't know that my art sends out the right signals. There's elements of both, and so the reader doesn't really know what they are looking at. The reader isn't misled by the art, it's more that they don't know what to make of it. And then they put the book back on the shelf.

I think the best artists are able to show you something you've never seen before but still let you know what kind of comic it is going to be. And all of this is done at a glance. I think Eleanor Davis is one of these artists. Another is Jesse Jacobs.

With the first panel of this page, you know what you are getting into. You know whether this is for you or not. The reader can pick it up with supreme confidence. I don't think anyone looks at this art and says, "I don't know."

This is an important quality for a comic to have because people want to go home with something that they are sure about. With Jesse Jacobs and Eleanor Davis, I saw their work, I knew I wanted it, and I couldn't wait to get home and pour over it.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

In the First Ten Pages - Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

I remember in College reading Syd Field (or more accurately reading about Syd Field) and how he believed that you could tell whether you would like a movie within the first ten minutes. In those first ten minutes you will have seen enough to know. You'll have seen the cinematography, heard some dialogue, gotten an idea of what the story will be about. You could still be disappointed by the ending, but basically you'll know whether this movie is for you or not. I think the same thing is true for comics, and with Skim I knew within the first few pages that it was a book I liked.

It's presented in a diary format and the third page serves as a quick self-definition by the character, and what caught me is that favorite color. Immediately, I think it's funny, the scribbled out black, but I also think it captures being a teenager as well. As a child, favorite colors are a subject of some deliberation. For me, it was always a debate between green and blue. Or blue gray like the ocean. Or aquamarine which is kind of halfway between blue and green. As an adult, you may have a favorite color, and you may not, but it probably isn't something that you spend much time thinking about. Teenagers are in between, and so it seems as if that favorite color is written in somewhat ironically, Skim thinking it's kind of a silly thing to include, but still the answer is taken with some seriousness.

And scribbling out black and choosing red. It makes you think about what these colors mean and what they mean to a teenager. Black is dark and mysterious. Red... passion, energy, blood. Which one represents you? Which one do you want to represent you?

It's a small thing, but it suggests so much. It creates depth.

And that's strengthened by the drawing as well. The body language captures this self-consciousness. The way Skim is looking out almost feels as if she is looking to see if someone is looking at her. There's a cigarette in the other girl's hand. Is she checking to make sure they won't get caught? It's a look that has the worry of getting caught but also the hope of being seen.

And it's almost as if she's looking at the reader.

This is the third page of the book, and I've decided I like it. The story hasn't even kicked it in yet, but I've seen enough to know.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Wish Fulfillment and Oishinbo

I was introduced to Oishinbo (story by Tetsu Kariya and art by Akira Hanasaki) by Ayr Muir at Clover Food Labs, and it immediately sucked me in. It's funny, entertaining, and very informative. I suppose another part of the appeal is just the novelty of food being taken so seriously. The set up for most of the stories are the same, there is a conflict about a specific food, the right way to cook it, or the ingredients to be used, and in the end the argument is settled by the perfect meal. The structure is almost that of a sports comic, and the idea of one person getting up in another person's face and screaming about the proper way to prepare a cabbage is endlessly entertaining to me.

(read right to left)

But also for me there is a bit of wish fulfillment in this comic. American comics are often accused of being simple wish-fulfillment fantasies. Superman's appeal comes from a wish to fly. Comics are often viewed as simple escapism for people who are not satisfied with their own lives.

However, the wish fulfillment in Oishinbo is a little more subtle. The characters speak rapturously about food and get into such little nuances, and I wish I could do the same. I wish I could speak about how a miso soup made with hatcho miso makes the flavor of a turnip become lucid. Wouldn't it be great to note the difference in quality of fish based on the river it was caught in?

But in truth, I have no idea. There are few fish I can identify by sight, but not many, and in terms of identifying where they came from? By taste? Forget it.

It's a nice fantasy though.

(and I think it's a fantasy a lot of people have because there are a lot of faux-foodies out there who go on and on about how much they love food and how important food is to them, but then you eat their cooking and they can't even tell that their potatoes haven't been cooked all the way through, and you just have to smile and suffer through it, I mean really)

Sunday, January 4, 2015

15 for 2015

This year's resolutions:

1. Relax and enjoy the present more.
2. Chew my food more thoroughly.
3. Send people things.
4. Experiment more in daily life.
5. See more movies in the theater.
6. Walks.
7. Less beer.
8. Write about what I read.
9. Worry about comics less.
10. Make lists.
11. Exercise (yeah, yeah, yeah).
12. Stop saying all the stupid non-thinking stuff I keep saying.
13. Legos.
14. Quality over quantity.
15. More dancing.

Rob Liefeld

Haters gonna hate.

But I don't hate this. There's something too weird about it. The figures are so distorted. The hair is so strange. The postures make less sense the more you look at them. What's going on with the legs. It's the classic Marvel style pushed until it completely breaks free of reality and exists purely on this plane of line work and scribbles. There no longer any connection to the third dimension. It's garish and bright and impossible.

It's comic book artist who's influenced by comic book artist who was influenced by a comic book artist who was influenced by a comic book artist.

Look at Shatterstar's (his name is Shatterstar) hair. How is it doing that? Is it windy? His cape suggests so, but the fringe on Warpath's shoulder pads appear to be unaffected. And are those shoulder pads. And those pouches around Warpath's waste, are they attached directly to his costume because I can't see a belt. And what's going on with Spider-Man's butt?

It's pointless (yet enjoyable) to ask these questions because this assumes that there is some element of the real world that exists within this drawing. It does not. It is pure drawing.

So if a character is powerful he's enormous. If a character's happy, their smile breaks their face. No one gets annoyed, they get furious.

It's a mess.

And I kind of like it.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Iron Man 258-266

I was digging through a bunch of totally unorganized dollar-a-comic long boxes at the New England Comics in Malden and came across this run of Iron Man from the early 90s drawn by John Romita Jr. and inked by Bob Wiacek. The way John Romita Jr. draws Iron Man is fantastic. He's not all smooth and shiny. He's rough and scratched and kind of damaged looking.

The premise of this run is that somebody has taken control of Tony Stark's body, but they don't have his mind, and he can use his mind to control the Iron Man suit, so because the suit is stronger, as long as he is in the suit, he can control his body. And Fin Fang Foom is in it. And the Mandarin's doing stuff as well.

The story is the worst kind of story. It's not good, and it's not bad, it's completely forgettable.

But it's got that John Romita Jr. art, and that's really all I need.

Which connects to what I've been thinking about in terms of how I read comics. It really is art-focused, and if a comic has art that I don't like, I won't read it (Y: The Last Man).

Which has really led to me questioning the way that I write comics. If I personally will read a comic where the story is garbage, but the art is to my taste, but I won't read a comic where the art is not appealing, but the story is great, what should I be focusing on while writing a comic? Previously, it's been about the story and the dialogue and capturing this tone or feeling. My art has never been too flashy because I've believed the art is in support of the narrative, and if the art is too attention-grabbing, it distracts from the reading of the comic. My feeling has been that the art should almost be invisible. The reader will be pulled in to the point where they are not aware that they are reading a comic or looking at a picture. The story will just flow. Flashy art distracts, and so does bad art.

So... art that's solid but not too attention grabbing.

Does that mean bland?

And maybe that's a totally wrong way to think about it. People are choosing to pick up a book filled with pictures for a reason, and the reason is the pictures.

Instead of having the art be in support of the narrative, it would seem to make more sense to have the narrative be in support of the art.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Reading Comics

I've been thinking a lot about the way I read comics, and about the way that other people read comics. What spawned this was some old Alex Toth Zorro comics. I could look at Toth line work forever. It's beautiful, perfect, but what's frustrating is that I feel that only people who read comics see it. If I were to hand Zorro to someone who doesn't read comics, it would not convince them to read any more. Yet this is one of the greats, one of the best there ever was. This is a guy I wish I could be like.

How is the way I am reading different from how they are reading?

I think readers of comics have to block out a lot of stuff. I can love these comics only by choosing not to see a lot of things. I'm looking at those brush strokes and those blacks. I ignore the story (awful), the dialogue (worse), and just about everything else.

It's a little like watching a movie only for the cinematography, which is something I never do, and I don't know anyone who does. There are lots of movies where all pieces come together, but with comics, it just doesn't feel like it happens that often.

What is the total package comic book?

And also, what am I looking for in a comic book?

Is it really just pretty pictures? Artistic prowess? And if so, why am I spending so much time worrying about the story of my own comics.