Grid Talk 3

These are collected ongoing conversations via the interwebs about work experience, professional opinion, and unabashed foolishness.  Here are excerpts from a talk with one of my local heroes and long-time comics vet Gerry Alanguilan.  We cut out the first part of the convo where we were still… getting to know each other… physically.

chickens-wjAmor: See I don’t know if you, as a veteran in the business, still have this problem… but I find it hard to keep my attention on a page for several hours at a time, no matter how interesting the project.  As I’m drawing, I’ll watch a movie, read a book, or even hit random people up on chats just to give myself information overload so that certain aspects of the work just don’t seem very tedious.

Gerry: Yes, I still get that problem.  I have a rather problematic discipline problem.  But you are not required to give attention to a page for several hours at a time.  Take short breaks just to stretch your muscles, relax your eyes, get a drink, piss, shit, eat, fornicate, whatever.  I too get distracted by Internet stuff from time to time, especially when I’m in a heated discussion with someone else.  Right now I’m up in arms about Carlo Caparas being given the title of National Artist that I can’t help but write about it and discuss/argue about it with people online.

But I have enough experience to know what happens when you don’t get your work done on time — your work is given to someone else, that’s what. And there you are, a hole burning in your pocket as you stare at all these Internet discussions you wasted so much time on.  I keep that image in mind and it keeps me going.  It’s not that I always have to force myself, because what good is that?  Don’t I love this job enough to keep doing it without having to motivate myself?  Of course I love it.  There just comes a time, once in a while when all the work starts to get you down.  And you need a break.  You just have to work through it, and deal with it.

Amor: I know how you feel, man.  I mean, I don’t mean to polish our knobs or anything, but I think we have pretty cool jobs… and how big of an asshole am I if I can’t even sit down and do it?  I was sitting at a coffee shop a coupla weeks back and having a late lunch, and I saw these construction workers pass by — hard hats, tool vests, the works — and it was a hot day.  It was about half past one in the afternoon and they were trudging their asses back to work for their afternoon shift.  And I looked at them and thought to myself, “These guys don’t wanna waltz back in there after lunch.  But they do.”  And then I looked at the page I brought with me that day and marvelled at the empty panels.

Gerry: Keep your polish-happy hands off my knob, Amor.  But yes, we have one of the greatest jobs in the world.  But believe me, what we’re feeling is not a rare thing.  Whilce Portacio told a story of how the Homage Studios guys, after a long stretch of intense work, just had to go off somewhere and relax where work wouldn’t be done and comics never mentioned.  Be wary though if this funk continues for longer than it should. As much as the work stresses me out once in a while, for the most part it’s glorious to be working on these comic pages.  As worlds are created under my pen, I sit here amazed at how utterly fantastic this job is, and I would just literally die if for some reason I couldn’t do it anymore.

Amor: Amen, brother.

Gerry: So how about it?  You’re the new kid on the block… are you insane or are you just a glutton for punishment for pursuing this job in the first place?  What is it about comics that you love doing? What is it that makes you excited about drawing and creating?

Amor: See to answer that, I first need to bring up Terminator…  I know it’s out of left field but bear with me.  Remember the beginning of the first or second movie?  When they showed the future war with the armies of robots and sentient war machines and stuff?  When we saw th actual war in the future?  Remember feeling disappointed that the rest of the movie was set in the present and we couldn’t see the rest of that war?  And we all knew the reason why that war wasn’t in the movie (until recently in Salvation, almost 20 years later) was because the visual effects and budget couldn’t handle it.

I love doing comics because there is no budget.  No idea is too fast, too big, too bright, too new, or too loud.  In comics, your head is the budget.  And I’m sure you agree that’s unbelievably satisfying.

Gerry: There’s nothing left field about Terminator, dude!  As soon as you said Terminator, I’m there, man.  You got me at “Terminator”! I get what you’re saying.  This is the reason why a lot of comic book people love doing comics.  For many years we could go places movies couldn’t. But I think we have to step it up because movies are catching up to us.  Because of CGI and shit, previously unfilmable sequences can now be easily done.  The new Star Wars movies?  Never mind the stories, but holy shit man, did you see the effects in those things?  It’s like mind orgasm from our most imaginative comic book creators.  Our wildest imaginations right up there on the screen.  Comic book people need to find new ways to offer something that film can’t.

In spite of what Zach Snyder says, I still believe Watchmen to be an unfilmable comic book because of the comic book conventions and storytelling innovations it made that are impossible to replicate with moving pictures.

To be continued…

7 thoughts on “Grid Talk 3”

  1. I have been thinking about that, how comics can step it up. I think it lies in exploring the genres that have been ignored and need to be improved. Horror for example, without sound how would a horror comic really work? how do you build the suspense through the art, the pacing of the panels, the use of sound “effects” or lack there of? Comedy as well! I for one would love to write a comedy using my head as the budget.

  2. It’s very very difficult to pull off genuine horror in comics. Writers and artists have been trying ever since comics were invented, but the best they could do would be to gross out the reader with awesomely rendered monstrosities. Shocks are more commonly achieved, but that general creeping terror that makes the hackles at the back of your neck rise… that’s difficult. Nearly impossible.

    The closest I’ve seen this achieved in comics was via Alan Moore in the early issues of the Arcane storyline in Swamp Thing, where Abby slowly realizes there’s something wrong with Matt. Moore also achieves this as he explains the complexities of London architecture in From Hell.

    I think the difficulty in achieving this lies in the fact that in comics, very little is left to the imagination. And it is in stimulating the imagination where much horror lies. In film, there is the added elements of music, as well as pacing. The viewer has no control of the pacing, unlike in comics. Knowing you can read quickly and see what’s on the other page sort of kills any attempt to pace a story suitably.

  3. I remember thinking Terminator’s sci fi future wasn’t going to be very interesting because it was all very dark and blue and the FX looked cheap. Maybe if the color palette had been broader and the FX a little better (budget didn’t constrain Terminator as much as technology), I would have wanted to see the future war, but for me, Terminator was always about the time travel. The future was fluid. Not only could it be changed, but it HAD to, and this is where Salvation went wrong. It swapped out the blue coloring for yellow (as opposed to a broader palette) and allowed Skynet to succeed in destroying the world.

    Unless T5 turns around and works its way to John Connor sending Kyle Reese back in time (meaning that McG’s films are definitely prequels), T4 will have failed to grasp the meaning of the first two Terminator films.

    Gerry, regarding your horror remarks, I’d have to agree that sound/music plays a very important role in horror. It brings a whole new “you are there and now this thing can get YOU!” dimension to a film that comics can’t reach. Comics leave readers feeling detached unless there is a significant emotional bond between characters and readers, and very few comics manage to reach that level, I think.

  4. aside from the knob polishing, this is a very insightful read! i do agree that comic book creators would need to up the ante nowadays. but i have seen very interesting comic books, especially those from indie publishers.

  5. Horror is certainly one of the hardest genres to capture in comics, though I can think of a few good “HELLBOY” stories with moments that certainly gave me the creeps. Usually, though, it’s just shock value like Kyle Rayner finding his girlfriend folded up in his fridge. But horror born of suspense is CRAZY hard to realize in a medium where it’s nearly impossible to dictate how long anyone really looks at a panel.

    In BONE, Jeff Smith did some AMAZING things with his pacing that gave some scenes SERIOUS suspense and creepiness, but it worked because as a reader, I LET it work. If your readers are the type to mostly read the text and only skim the art (And I personally know a lot of readers like that) then all the tricks in our toolboxes won’t help VISUALLY sell suspense and horror if the reader wont stop to look. It’s frustrating as all get out and a fun challenge all at the same time.

  6. Though it can be tough to control pacing, I believe the tools are definitely there. Between the text and the art, there’s a third stream of information that is created, and it allows the reader a semi-interactive read. So yeah, at the end of it all… it depends not just on how the book’s creators employed the tools… but also how the reader allowed himself to experience the story.

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