Comics and Basic Intentions

When I published the previous entry entitled “Podcasting and the Value of Intent” just over a month ago, I felt a sort of gut catharsis that I got enough of my thoughts on the matter to be coherent enough to actually make sense.  But later on I realized that I had only tackled half of the matter, making this thematic “sequel” necessary.  And by necessary I don’t mean all will be right in the universe once I hit ‘post’, it just means my OC-ness can take a breather or two.  So… onward with the talking very  seriously about very silly things.

When Reading Comics (!), sure it’s all well and good to be mindful of the creator’s intent when you’re reading his product, but the other more important half of the equation is what you yourself intend to get out of it.  What are your intentions every time you pick up a comic book to read it?  Simply put, what do you expect to get out of the experience?

To backtrack a little bit, the idea of this blog post was actually sparked when I saw a comic fan absolutely panning a graphic novel on his website, almost to the point that you thought it was personal.  If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought that whoever made that book had snuck into that gentleman’s house in the dead of night and farted in his pillow while he was asleep.  And nobody likes that (I checked).  But the point in its totality clarified itself to me when this vitriolic pedant did nothing but sing high praises for the likes of Alan Moore and Grant Morrison.  Now that is all well and good, and I agree that those two are quite talented, but (and spoiler alert) not everyone can be Moore and Morrison.

 

And that brings me back to asking you what you expect to get from a comic.  Coz look… if you buy a stack every week, sit down on your comfiest chair and sip on your loveliest beverage, and expect to read Watchmen every time you open a book, you’re going to be disappointed every. single. time.

Are you after closure? Maybe you shouldn’t be reading Spider-Man then.  Are you after realism?  Are you after grit?  Understand that a comic can tell you a story along that line the best way it knows how, but also understand that a comic book may also not necessarily be the best place to decisively deal with something like hunger in Africa.

Set your expectations.  Or better yet, learn not to have any and just let the comic do its job and tell you a story.  Do not, and this is something I myself am guilty of sometimes, try to think ahead of the story.  That can be fun and engaging, but depending on what kind of person you are it affects its own set of annoyances and grievances I’d rather not get into in this post.

To know what you want is to know your place.  Enjoy the Ride and Quit being a bitch.

All told.

 

Podcasting and the Value of Intent

I’ve been hosting and editing most of the episodes of a little something called the Tres Komikeros podcast since late 2008 — cutting out stutters, non-PC comments, and the occasional five minutes of nonsensical rambling.  It’s a tough job.  It’s an often thankless job, but looking at how far the show has come and the friends we’ve made, I can honestly say it’s all been well worth it.

Last month, TK hit a noteworthy 100 episodes.  Over the span of four years, we’ve grown from a small crew of just me, a kind and bright-eyed artist from Cebu; Alex Cipriano, a relentless comics and gaming fan and one of my closest friends, and EJ Afzelius; a writer/model double-agent based in Manila — to a man-sized serving that includes Miguel Santos, a hotel manager from Davao; and finally Nick Santos (no relation), a film school graduate also based in Cebu.  We are by no means the only comics-related podcast in the Philippines, but I can say with a stout heart that we are certainly the most prolific (for the lowest price consistent with quality).  From reviews to interviews to topic discussions and the like, the podcast has come a long way and, surprisingly, taught me a lot about art.  Specifically, the appreciation of it.

See… when you’re reviewing stacks of comics every week, the temptation to just compare them to each other or to something that came before is certainly present.  And while that can sometimes count as a valid review, it isn’t always a fair one.  All art is subjective after all, and are products of unique individuals with unique weaknesses and strengths.  Thus the act of compare and contrast to “review” their work is in itself a flawed practice.  Doing so not only opens you up to bias, because we all have our favorites, but it also has the potential to hurt feelings.  That may sound like a non-issue to most, but when you’re lucky enough (as we on the show are) to know some of these creators personally, the ice on Critic’s Creek can get surprisingly thin.

So the solution, though it may not come naturally to most, is to critique a piece of work according to what you feel the artist intended to do.  The focus on intent helps get you to the heart of the matter.  What is this story trying to tell you?  Are the characters, setting, dialogue and other elements contributing to a perceived tone?  Does the art do its job?  Does the story get communicated?  Is there even a story there, or is the artist just intending to have fun?  And the line of questioning goes on, because suddenly you’re judging a book on its sole merits rather than the cavalcade of books that came before.

Being mindful of intent helps one grow as both a reviewer and a creator.  And I find it’s helping me focus on the task at hand, which at the end of the day, is attempting to show people something they’ve never seen before.  Less historians, more pioneers.

Let’s all go read some comics.

 

Five Bisleys

To continue my sporadic series of favorite pieces by my favorite artists, I’ve decided it’s time to talk about an artist whose work I was probably way too young to be looking at when I did.  I was in my preteens and the local magazine shop thought Heavy Metal was a comic book with regular kid-friendly superheros.  ‘Nuff said.

Simon Bisley has become a name synonymous with bulging muscles, voluptuous vixens, and all around craziness.  I remember the first thing that ever grabbed me about his art, aside from the obvious overly endowed women, was the dimensionality of the characters.  They looked like sculptures animated by way of a fever dream.  Frenetic.  And it is with this admiration of his art that I bring you my top five favorite Biz pieces.

Disclaimer: I don’t know the proper titles for a couple of the pieces on here, in which case I just made something up.  Allow it.

Hellblazer 263 (Cover)
This image of John Constantine smearing a bindi is as striking as it is simple.  His is an expression that is equal parts worry and dread.  The light emanating from below gives the scene  an ominous mood while the tight shot gives a sense of active participation in the scene.  A character as closely associated with Catholic-themed horror as Hellblazer isn’t easy to drop into Hindu culture, and it’s even tougher to pull off with just one image.  Bisley doesn’t go mainstream too often, but when he does, he makes it count.

 

The Nativity
Speaking of religion, this here is probably my favorite piece from his Bible-themed artbook.  The angel Gabriel appears as a haunting cloaked spectre and looks more like a ghost than a messenger of God.  Mary’s humble circumstances are lit by a single light source, instantly giving the piece a sense of focus.  From the torch our eye follows down along the angel’s other hand as he greets the virgin with a message.  My favorite little  detail is the woman’s slight paunch, hinting that she may be with child.

 

Tigress

And then of course, there’s the women.  I mean… there had to have been a reason why I spotted him on Heavy Metal first, right?  The theatrical lighting on this piece (focused on her bum, no less) gives it a very staged look, which is always a nice irony for jungle and wilderness-themed pieces.  The woman’s pose echoes that of her striped friend, and in place of the cat’s teeth is a long dagger in her hand.  Her expression is one of curiosity and playfulness, a stare so piercing it has reduced the jungle in the background to the shapes and colors that define it.

Jaguar God
This and the previous piece are absolutely in the spirit of Frazetta.  That is, if Fraz was on LSD.  This image of the wild man in what appears to be a jungle graveyard is a powerful example of Bisley’s command of atmosphere and mood.  The slightly yellow hue to the greenery hints at a sense of rot and decay, and the skulls are concealed enough that you don’t spot them on the outset.  To sell it, bats hover over our heroes head, as would opportunistic flies looking for a free meal.

 

Beauty and the Beast
Again with the bats.  This is easily one of my favorite takes on Frankenstein’s monster.  He’s got the classic Boris Karloff melancholic expression and flat head, but with steam punk elements like the valve in the knee joint that apparently releases pressure.  Bisley’s mastery of the female form is showcased without having to show too many naughty bits.  The final element of the swamp gas and foliage completes the scene and allows us to almost hear the muddy waters being disrupted as the creature lurches away with his prize.

Five Quitelys

Five Frazettas

Five Quitelys

Like many of you, I look up to a lot of artists and always see their work as something not just to be admired but studied as well.  Working in the sequential medium, I find that single images that are able to deliver story are of course given a premium.  And this is what my love for Frank Quitely’s art stems from.  He’s got quite an impressive body of work and I’ve probably missed a handful of his earlier stuff, but below is a selection of my favorite images by him, taken from the material that I’ve been lucky enough to read.

WE3 #1; “Bullet storm”

In the opening of sequence of this mini-series, we are treated to this absolutely stunning image of a hail of bullets eviscerating a human body.  I remember seeing this image for the first time and just dropping my jaw.  The shot is also saved from being too cluttered simply because the artistic decision was made to leave out any trace of background.

All-Star Superman #6; “A boy and his dog”

In this flashback issue, we visit a younger Superman who happens to still have a super-powered dog.  This image manages to capture a genuine sense of playfulness and wonder.  Anyone who has ever run around with a pet dog knows how satisfying it can be.  A playground doesn’t get much grander than a crater on the moon.

American Virgin #1 (cover)

American Virgin was a relatively short-lived series from DC’s Vertigo imprint.  It told the story of a teenage televangelist on a quest to understand the secrets of sexuality and how it related (or conflicted) with his religious beliefs.  I feel this single image that Quitely did captures the spirit of the book,  as well as the feeling the main character had of being swallowed in a living subculture that was as ugly as it was beautiful.  I dare anyone to find a comic cover that’s about 75% taste buds.

All-Star Superman #11; ” POV”

This is a pretty small panel in the masterwork that is All-Star Superman.  It’s a favorite of mine for two reasons:  First because my answer for what superpower I’d want, ever since I was a child, was flight — and this first-person point of view is what I imagine flying over a city would look like.  And second, because this shot was selected with the story in mind.  This panel tells us that Superman is flying to the Daily Planet without having to show us his face or how he is dressed.  This has purpose within the context of the story, but I’ll leave that detail out for those of you who haven’t yet read the book.

You should really be ashamed of yourselves though.

Just sayin’.

And of course.  Something I like to call “Cat Slices of Time” from WE3 #2.

WE3 was such a great book in the sense that it had so many innovative storytelling techniques.  And with the main characters being animals, the great art was never obstructed by excessive dialogue.  This is my favorite sequence in the entire series because it has really intelligent action choreography at the same time using the panel design to tell you that it’s all happening extremely fast.

Obviously, the guy is pretty fucking awesome.  The only real drawback is that he’s not quite as prolific as I often wish he was, but at least it means that whenever he puts something out, it’s special.

Misconceptions

Creating art as a profession teaches you things.  There’s a big difference between drawing for yourself, for fun, for art’s sake… and drawing to pay the rent, to feed yourself, and to keep the lights on.  It’s a job.  And while this distinction is clear to a precious few whom I love and respect immensely, I figured it’d be peachy to lay down a grocery list of the most common misconceptions that most people have about artists.

#1 Artists are proud of everything they create. Nope.  More often that not, we are painfully aware of how a piece could have been better, even when our peers compliment us or at least gently bend us over.  We know we can be better.  And while most of us can take constructive criticism like normal people, also keep in mind that no one sits at a desk, whips out his art equipment, and intentionally tries to suck.

#2 Artists are insulted by reference material. No way.  There may be a handful of artists who scoff at drawing from reference, but the majority appreciate it and tend to consider it a genuine effort to make our job easier, may you be a collaborating writer or even just a fan commissioning a piece.  Nah.  Whatever helps us make the finished piece better is usually appreciated.

#3 We like flowery scripts. This is a weird one.  Some writers tend to fashion scripts thinking of their collaborators as the audience.  Though there may be a bit of merit to that, nine times out of ten, an artist will prefer that you just say an alley is dark rather than “oppressed by the shadows of the adjacent concrete monoliths.”  While yes, it serves to help the imagery, keep in mind that you don’t need to sell us on the story.  We are already working with you.

#4 We don’t need praise. We do.  Admit it, artists.  The biggest reason you’re still on Deviant Art is the ego stroking.  Take me for example, after a day’s work, I’d like to hear more than “ooh, that’s nice.”  What’s the matter?  Am I a puppy?  Did you pass out because my page is so awesome and that’s why you can’t say anything more?  All I’m saying is… If you’re a writer receiving pages and you like them, tell your artist you do.  Don’t just ask for the next one.  Show the love.

#5 We’re always in the mood to draw. This is probably the most common misconception, and understandably so.  When comic fans see us at cons, it’s at artist alley.  When writers hit us up, it’s within the context that you are a collaborator whose job it is to illustrate a story.  But of course, just like every OB-GYN gets sick of staring at vaginas every now and then, sometimes we just want to sit at our desk and NOT be holding a pencil.

So that’s it.  Five common misconceptions about artists.  I’m pretty sure I’m wrong about a couple of them and very right about others, but this is all from experience, so bear with me.  Now back to work…

Character Acting

There are a number of elements that factor into sequential storytelling: page design, background, lighting, staging, and a handful of others — but the one I find myself leaning on the most to carry across a narrative is my characters’ acting, and by extension character interaction.

Not to assume at any theatrical skill on my part, but I like to think I’ve seen enough movies and TV shows (good and bad) to know how effective acting can be a powerful storytelling tool.  I’ve broken it down into sub-facets to help illustrate the point:

Expression covers not only facial distortion but also speech delivery.  The wrong look can make a bit of dialogue ambiguous, which is one of the worst things in a visual medium.  It is worth learning that anger isn’t merely a furrowed brow and that surprise isn’t simply bulging eyes.  It is equally worthwhile to remember that someone yelling doesn’t always bear teeth and that someone smiling is not necessarily squinting as well.  Think about the dialogue being delivered (if you have a full script), and more often than not the right expression for your character will present itself to you.  This is where observing the nuanced performances of the likes of Gary Oldman and Meryl Streep pay off.

Body Language and Gesture come into play when wide angle shots or limited panel space leave facial features too distant to make out.  With the right physical presence, any character is able to deliver thought and intent without ever having to say a word.  Some masters of silent sequentials are Stuart Immonen, Frank Quitely, and Dave Gibbons.

Props are of use when a character not only interacts with another, but also with his environment.  Different people will have different ways of holding their glasses, just as one man may angrily rip a phonebook in half in a burst of rage while another will tear the pages out one by one as his anger builds.  In this sense, it helps to know the kind of character you are portraying so that you can vicariously perform the action for him.  Some films I would recommend for prop use are Ocean’s Eleven, Scent of a Woman, and The Usual Suspects.

Pencil Flex: X-Men

This fun theme ran for two weeks to coincide with what we predicted was going to be X-Men fever as everyone and her mother was going gaga over Fassbender.  Unfortunately, I caught the bug half way through and could only participate for half the designated period.  Still had a lot of fun with my pieces though, and the experiments I was able to play with are definitely worth revisiting.

Posted here are all of my illustrations.

Visit the site for the whole crew’s art.