Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Let's Talk About Comics (Learning Log)

I love comics (I'm sure you've figured this out by now). This borders on an obsession. Every single waking minute of my life is spent trying to figure out how to tell stories with pictures in little boxes. I watch films (admittedly, not enough) in the hopes that doing so will unlock the secrets of visual storytelling for me. I know the elements that make up a good story, but it seems I haven't figured out how to tell one of my own just yet.

I pretty much knew that I wanted to draw comics after reading this... (I should also mention that I was 7 years old at the time)

That is Archie's Sonic the Hedgehog #0, drawn by Scott Shaw!, the co-creator of the DC comic Captain Carrot & His Amazing Zoo Crew. (Again, for my British readers, you might remember a different Sonic comic from your childhood published by Egmont/Fleetway simply titled Sonic the Comic.)

This, however, is a story for another day...I'll save it for my Extended Major Project entry at the end of the year.


I've been drawing and self-publishing my own comics since 2002 (the ones I drew before that were mostly copied from other sources). I'll be completely honest here and say it's my dream to become the next Seth . (Or is that really just a pipe dream? Oh, well) Not only does Seth draw comics, he's also internationally renowned in other artistic venues, such as book design, editorial illustration, and fine art exhibits. He also has a very distinctive art style...the minute you see one of his works, you know it's his. As a fellow Canadian I have undying respect and admiration for him.


Speaking of Canada, I feel that there aren't enough quintessentially Canadian comics out there, so I set out to change that somewhat with At The Hundredth Meridian. The comic follows the progression of the four seasons in Saskatchewan, beginning with May. The reason for this is that winter in Saskatchewan typically lasts from the beginning of November all the way until the end of April...winter is finally over at the start of May.

The Saskatchewan landscape is...flat. You can't really say much else about it. I drew each page of my comic on long strips of 11 x 17" paper in the hopes of conveying some of this vastness in the artwork. They were largely drawn without any reference, based solely on my own memories of the landscape seen from the backseat of my parents' car. I grew up in a small town called Humboldt, which is an hour away from a larger city called Saskatoon. Most of my dad's extended family lives in Saskatoon, and so we spent a lot of time traveling back and forth on Highway 5 (pictured above). As a child I had a lot of time to ponder the vast landscape. When you stare out at the desolate horizon, it sort of fills you with a sense of longing...though longing for what exactly, I couldn't say...

In this interview with Seth, he mentions exactly what I'm getting at with drawing from memory:

"It is hard for me to generalize on other mediums but I do feel a unique connection between memory and cartooning.I started to formalize some thoughts about this when I was studying the life of Thoreau MacDonald (the son of Canadian painter J.E.H. MacDonald). Thoreau mentioned in an interview that he never drew his pen and ink drawings of the rural landscape while actually out in the field. Instead he would go for a walk and look about and then, when he came home later, he would sit down and draw the scenes from memory. Thoreau understood that he couldn’t capture the reality of the natural world in black and white ink drawings but he could replicate the memory of being there."

A landscape by Canadian painter Catherine Perehudoff

Canada is full of phenomenal landscape painters, but landscapes remain largely unexplored territory in comics. On my visit to the Tate Britain gallery in London I paused to look at one of the write-ups concerning landscape paintings: "Some painters, like Samuel Palmer and John Linnell, combined an intense study of nature with a sense of spirituality, inspired by Blake. Other artists sought to convey a feeling of mystery and foreboding." Why? The plaque continues thus: "[A]s cities grew rapidly larger[...]traditional rural life was transformed" and "nature became the focus of intense feelings & desires."

Ironically, I have never been a true nature lover. I gain artistic strength from all types of landscapes, be they urban or rural. I have always found bustling city streets to be aesthetically pleasing (which is extremely odd, given my aversion to large crowds of people), and sometimes enjoy sketching architecture.

I do think I was definitely trying to capture the feel of the Flight comics anthologies. These are all full colour comics and most of them are totally silent. (This may be due to the fact that many Flight artists are also animators, and student films are often silent as lip-syncs are very time-consuming to animate) A lot of comic artists, myself included, often forget to sit back and let the pictures do the talking.

Development sketches for the plant creature.

What about the cloud people and plant creature? Where did they come from? Again, similar characters can be found in Flight comics, although the cloud people (and their subsequent transformation into cloud monsters in the winter months) are meant to represent Saskatchewan's tourist slogan, "Land Of Living Skies." While I was attending animation school back home I also grew to enjoy animating and drawing special effects - i.e., anything that wasn't a character, such as smoke, fire, or water. My animation instructor had worked as an FX animator and was interested in the ways that characters & FX could be combined. One example that comes to mind is a scene from An American Tail 2: Fievel Goes West where a trail of smoke becomes a cat, before disappearing in wisps of air.

For my EMP project next term, I plan to explore another subject largely undocumented in comics: mental illness. Specifically, one teenager's struggle with mental illness (in addition to the struggles associated with growing into an adult) and how it affects those around him. There is only one graphic novel that I know of which explores this issue: Nate Powell's Swallow Me Whole. There ought to be more.

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Blogger Robotkat said...

I'm quite happy that Kate Beaton, whom is Nova Scotian, has been gaining popularity recently. I've been hoping she gets well-known enough to help strengthen the exportation of Canadian comics, among other things.

Also, thank you for following my blog! I haven't talked to a lot of Cinderelliot readers (aside from the ones at my school). I've been following your blog too for the past while now.

12:02 PM  
Blogger E. Will said...

Oh man, I went to a UK comics convention last year and apparently Kate Beaton was there. But she left before I even arrived, since she had sold out of all her books...I was so disappointed. :(

I was going to say that a lot of Canadian comic artists seem quite well-known, but now I realize that's a lie because I can't name any other than Seth, Kate Beaton and Chester Brown off the top of my head...hmmm.

Thanks for following my blog and commenting as well, it feels good to network with other Saskatonian artists XD

5:57 PM  

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