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 doing [sufficiently] satisfactory work
johncomic: (SK BW)
"I try to draw so convincingly that the reader won't notice."
-- Hank Ketcham, The Merchant of Dennis

I read this statement in Ketcham's autobiography years ago, and it stuck with me hard ever since. Over time, it shaped the way I view the comics medium and my own work within it.

My paraphrase of how he described the process is this: if something is drawn badly, so that it doesn't look right, it pulls the reader's attention away from the story and interrupts the flow. The story world ceases to be a convincing, immersive experience. However, as I thought about this, I took it further... and came to believe that if things in a comic are drawn too well, they have the same effect. The reader stops to admire the expertise of the rendering, and focuses their attention on the drawing as a drawing. Once again, they are pulled out of the story world at that point.

As I became devoted to the idea of telling the story as the prime goal of a comic, I grew toward the idea of drawing down the middle -- drawing well enough. That became my ideal. And I gained a deeper appreciation for artists who seemed to me to embody that ideal. The ones who draw well but don't overdraw. These are the artists I study today and strive to learn from. (For me, Tonči Zonjić is the prime exponent of this approach still working today -- I admire his work so much.)

Recently, though, I have grown aware of a strange dynamic involved in my studies. I find such comic art difficult to study fruitfully, because: by its very nature, this art is designed to propel you through the story rather than have you stop and pay attention to it -- so, when I try to study the techniques of this art, I keep getting sucked back into the story and re-reading the comic instead! It's really surprising how much intense focus it takes me to resist the lure of the story world! That's exactly the kind of power I want to harness in my own work... but I can see that it is going to be a struggle!

UK musings

Aug. 7th, 2017 07:03 pm
johncomic: (Default)

The women of England are beautiful.

In many cases, that simply means they were conventionally gorgeous... even more frequently than the ones I see at home, and more often displaying charming, fine, delicate features, features that I might almost call carefully crafted. (For some reason I'm thinking of the difference between Hugh Grant and Sylvester Stallone -- each of them has people who find them attractive, but you can see the aesthetic differences in how their faces are built.) On the train back to York from our day trip to Halifax, there was one such lady on the train with us, and I kept swearing that she was one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen.

I wanted to capture that face, so I kept looking whenever I had an opportunity (not wanting to be seen staring, not daring to take pictures -- I suspect that explaining it was For Art wouldn't have cut any ice with anyone)... trying my best to commit her to memory, how the contours of her face changed when she turned this way or that, how the neck muscles shifted, the proportions of the jaw line... I mentioned in an earlier post that I spent some time drawing when I was in York: that was when I tried to draw that face from memory and recapture those details. I failed utterly -- my visual memory is nowhere near as clear or sharp as I would wish. No one seeing those sketches would have any idea how lovely the lady was who inspired them. Such is life.

But even the women who would "objectively" be considered unexceptional or plain -- I could still sense an energy in them, almost an inner light, that elevated them for me. I'm sure that part of this is some sort of honeymoon effect on my part, a perception of them as somehow "exotic". Eventually, though, I realized that even the men of York had a vibe around them... and it clicked that overall these people were healthier and happier than what I was used to at home. In the two weeks I was there, I can remember one time hearing a voice that was upset -- not once hearing one that was angry -- but many that were boisterous and joyous. You can imagine that this sort of spiritual environment would connect with me and appeal to me on numerous levels.

Since then, I've wondered to what extent this might be economic. My understanding is that the cost of living in York (and Greenwich and London) is higher than here at home. Which would mean I was surrounded by people who could afford to live there = people more well off than me and my circles. Such people could afford to care for themselves better, life would weigh less heavily on them. Maybe what I was seeing was the effects of spending time with a higher class? Still not sure...

johncomic: (SK BW)
the gradual return of enjoyment in drawing

UK musings

Aug. 3rd, 2017 12:50 pm
johncomic: (SK BW)
here's a bit more about my experience of becoming non-attached from my life back home:

I packed sketchbooks, pencils, etc., for the trip, thinking about the wonderful opportunities for life drawing there would be in England. And of course there were lovely things to see -- and I took photos. But I never drew them.

Part of me was thinking, "Well, I'm with other people, they aren't gonna wanna stop and wait for me to sit and draw this scene" etc. But even when I was out on my own, I still never did it. I simply didn't feel like it.

I didn't miss drawing at all while I was away. At home, I can get kind of antsy if I lie fallow too long, but over there it simply wasn't a part of who I was, somehow. Unexpected.

As it turned out, I ended up drawing on only two occasions during those three weeks. Once was in York -- I don't like those drawings so I won't share them here, but I will talk a bit about them in a later post. The other was later in Greenwich, where almost out of a sense of obligation, I decided to make myself sit and sketch the view out the living room window. [There was an interesting lamp post.] While I was at it, I started wondering if I still remembered how to draw Space Kid after not doing so for this long. So, as you can see, I drew him, too -- and for an off the cuff sketch it's about as good an SK as I ever do. So that was some comfort, that I don't get that rusty that fast...

Still, it was a strange experience for me. For so many decades, my drawing has defined me in my own mind. A cartoonist is what I am. I have felt that since I was a kid. When I was threatened in the 90s with no longer being able to draw, I was at a complete loss. But now... there's this new awareness that my self is not actually the things I do. I exist apart from my drawing, and it is possible for me to have a life without it -- even a satisfying life. A few months ago I would never believe that I could say such a thing.

Even more strangely, after I got home, I still had no desire to get back to drawing. When I was back at the board, it felt more like a chore, and I was drawing out of a sense of obligation and duty [to my deadlines, I suppose]. I'm still coming to terms with this experience of drawing not feeling the same as it did before.

johncomic: (SK BW)
making some progress at getting out of my recent creative slump... it's a hard slog, gotta pat myself on the back when I can
johncomic: (happy piggy)

sunny garden

johncomic: (SK BW)
making a couple of drawings this morning that I liked
johncomic: (SK BW)
the pleasure I find in the mere process of cartooning, even when the end result is less than ideal or not yet in view
johncomic: (SK BW)
getting a page inked right after breakfast
johncomic: (BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad)
 new creative discoveries
johncomic: (SK BW)
Back in 2010 I created Influence Maps to show the various influences on my comic creating over the years. I decided it was time to update that, since new influences have come onto my radar, others have grown or faded, etc.... so here is my current Influence Map. The difference here is that these show the influences I am consciously aware of today: the ones I can feel active in me while I work now... whereas the earlier ones included influences in every stage of my life.


The largest one, in the upper left, is Alex Toth.

To his right: Roy Crane, Noel Sickles, Leonard Starr, Dik Browne.

The row below Toth: Osamu Tezuka, Jean-Claude Mézières, Jaime Hernandez, Mitsuru Adachi, Bill Watterson.

Bottom row: Scott McCloud, Ben Caldwell, Tonči Zonjić.
johncomic: (Uncle Old Guy)
On FB I am Friends with a large number of cartoonists, so for a few days now my feed has been filled with tributes and remembrances of Bernie Wrightson, who passed on the weekend. Much as happened with Darwyn Cooke last year, all these folks are remarking on not just what a great comic artist the guy was, but what a wonderful person and good friend.

And for some reason I find that I keep thinking about what these people are going to say when I go.

I am nowhere near the major figure [commercially or artistically] that Wrightson or Cooke are, so there isn't much reason for anyone to talk about how I was one of The Great Comic Artists. And these people barely know me, so they won't be talking about what a Good Guy I was either.

I find myself wondering if I ought to be more gregarious and outgoing, so that people will know me better and hopefully think of me as a friend. But then that strikes me as being fake and manipulative. It took me a long time to figure out who I really am, and I feel like I owe it to myself to be that person, even if I am in many ways not as good at human-ing as a lot of others are.

Besides, I have always told myself that I don't really care what people say about me when I'm gone, because I won't be here and I'll never know. What I mostly hope for is that someone will read my work after I go. But again, I'll never know whether they do or not, will I.

Not really sure what I'm getting at here, other than "I yam what I yam", for both good and ill, I guess.
johncomic: (Booth)
a challenging but enjoyable creative task
johncomic: (SK BW)
getting back into drawing Space Kid! pages after a hiatus of literally months!
johncomic: (Face of Boe)
can't decide among several so I will toss them all in!

1) long ago, Sharon taught me that, if the name of the month contains an R, it is good luck for the first word you say upon waking on the first of that month to be “rabbit”. And yesterday I learned that the Japanese consider it good luck to watch the sun rise on January 1. Today I did both, so my luck is all sewn up!

2) this year, for the first time I can remember, I didn't gain any weight between Christmas and New Year's.

3) The Mighty Chris turns 45 today - I am grateful to have him and his work here.

4) I found some new faces to tackle for my Ink Studies and I am excited about getting to them.

5) my family is happy and healthy.

6) today is beautiful and sunny for the first time in what seems like weeks.
johncomic: (SK BW)
getting comfy with a new pen

ink study Toth75

[also losing half a pound, but that's another story]
johncomic: (Moss)
quiet hours spent paging through works by a variety of inspirational artists
johncomic: (SK BW)
This has been one of my fave comics drawings since I first laid eyes on it 25+ years ago.

It is a panel from the March 17, 1945 installment of the Buz Sawyer newspaper strip by Roy Crane. I love its clean simplicity and, especially in Buz's face, the way it conveys so much depth and subtlety of expression, so much solid form... with so few lines, depending on the perfect placement and execution of each line. And yet it's a precision that doesn't feel tight or cramped -- it has give and life to it.

I still marvel anew every time I see this!

johncomic: (Sweets)
I just finished reading Meanwhile, a thick biography of comics legend Milton Caniff. (Well, finished but for the appendices, but I quibble.) In several places, Caniff was asked how he evaluated himself and his work in the Grander Scheme of Comics -- he has almost unfailingly been proclaimed one of The All-Time Greats by his audience, critics, and peers. He was willing to say things like “I am good at what I do. And, in some respects, I am the best at what I do.” And this got me thinking about how I would answer such a question....

I recall that, earlier this year, I was asked if I recognized that my work was good. And I said, “My work is okay. It will do.” But this book has got me thinking about the matter a bit farther:

I recognize that, over the last decade, I have deliberately focused on what are called storytelling skills. Meaning that I am more concerned with creating a clear and smooth reading experience than with dazzling people visually... and I realize that to some people this can give my work a modest appearance. Not to mention that there is some question about my ability to dazzle people visually if I chose to do so. And I'm okay with that. But tonight, this is how I see myself and my work in the Grander Scheme of Comics:

I still think my work is okay, that it will do -- but that's not nothing. That is an achievement of sorts.
I don't think my sutff is Great, certainly not Great Art. I don't think people come away from it with any profound insights into the human condition, and I will never be held up as an example of How Comics Are Done [as Caniff was and is]. But I do think that, now and even after I am gone, if people can find my work, and take it in the spirit it is offered, some of them will enjoy it.

I create work that some people enjoy. And tonight I realize that, really, that is all I ever wanted. So, in my heart of hearts, I feel that my work is a success.

September 2017

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