Monday, October 5, 2009

"Peace" - 24 Hour Comic

Here's a handful of selected excerpts from my own effort at this year's event. Shown are a few horizontal strips of two facing pages each, and a couple single pages (one being the front cover).

I used four primary tools: .05 Micron for lettering, fine + ultrafine Sharpies and a black ballpoint pen. Also used were Canson 80lb drawing pad, pencil, ruler, eraser and a Derwent wash sketching pencil + brushes. At other times I've used traditional Bristol board and India ink with dip-pens + brushes, but for something of this scope and speed I like to opt for more primitive means to making marks. Also to some degree the rendering was purposefully reflective of the crude content, as we'll see.

My process was to first edit the pages of text I had brought as my resource material, judiciously rearranging and deleting when and where appropriate given the limitations and pacing of the piece. Of course, right from the get-go the work began to evolve and mutate beyond any preconceived notions that I had, but that's part of the deal with this gig.
The verbage was culled originally after seeing a repost on another blog I frequently read, and over the course of a couple days in perusing the original material I had a minor epiphany . I noted at the time the overall current of repeated themes and how there were only a relatively small number of unique phrases that really stuck out in contrast, and how those particular passages lingered long afterwards. I thought that it would make for some good fodder, especially since the 24-hour deadline was right around the corner, and none of the fermenting concepts I'd had up to that point seemed anywhere near as provocative or worth the challenge.

Narrowing the quotes down to what I thought might work within twenty-four 8 X 10"pages of four panels each, I picked out something of a subtle pattern of possible relationships between the phrases and arranged them into clusters of similar content, weaving threads that could serve as a sort of narrative to structure the pages across.
For the sake of clarity and legibility the lettering and caption boxes were all penciled & inked first, before going about with the images. I decided to stick with a simple 4-panel grid layout on each page (excepting the covers), which besides setting up a consistent visual rhythm, it enabled me to not have to deal with thinking about panel shapes overly much. That's also an important storytelling device, but for a project like this, under these time constraints, the less I have to take into consideration the better.
One technique often used by cartoonists in a rush is the splash page, which this year I didn't include, though there were a few occasions where I spontaneously dropped the panel borders. Alternating the head-shots with tighter zooms, cropped compositions and increasing use of non-figurative elements played into the evolving story as it turned out, but it's nice to vary the art for aesthetic reasons anyways. Besides, this 24-Hour event lends itself quite handily with many a "what the hell" moment.

At 1am, just over the half-way point of the event I had everything inked as far as the basic line art went, and it was time to go back over all the pages and panels adding spot blacks and textures here and there as I saw fit.
From 6-7am I passed out on the floor, and in the remaining hours left before the end, I went ahead and made the command decision to include some areas of wash. Even though I prefer to stick with just black & white linework for ease of reproduction, there were some areas that really could have used more, and additionally since my right hand was farting out on me - stippling and cross-hatching become major efforts at this stage - I reached for the brushes.

Some experienced participants learn to incorporate short-cuts such as frequent splash panels, lots of dialogue, and even the physical pages themselves or images areas become smaller & smaller, and the lines become fatter & bolder (like my favorite - another night scene!). Third time's the charm for me, as there's a balance struck between the shortcuts and getting the job done looking half-ways decent.
You can see the gradual simplification of panel design in my comic as the hours got successively later - though I must add the last page (seen posted here at the bottom) was a deliberate narrative choice. No, seriously, I meant it that way. Also it might be telling if one's artwork looks pretty much the same at the outset as when done while completely strung out and exhausted. Hmm. Damn it.
Another handy coincidence was in that the human figures began to slowly drop out as the piece progressed, which was fortunate since the field of options began to dwindle as far as running out of "models" around the same time. As it was, I swiped a few panels from Mark Simon's "Facial Expressions" reference book, a handy and invaluable artistic resource that someone else just so happened to bring along a copy of. But I should also give credit where it's due and thank my fellow attendees for humoring me with an occasional pose. It had been in the back of my mind to tote along books of photographs or maybe a yearbook, but lacking any coherent planning I ran outta time and decided to wing it, which worked out better in the end anyways.

Juxtaposing random, anonymous people that I sketched as they came by the store was an unexpected resource that in retrospect gives this piece an added layer of subtle manipulation.
Putting people's faces in the reader's face is a short-cut to both intimacy and introduces an element of discomfort and unease that slowly starts to creep into the picture. The crude rendering, warts & all, of what are for the most part (especially at the beginning) basically generic, neutral expressions allow for open interpretation and maybe even a bit of unconscious projection. On the other hand, it's quite possible the average viewer might miss the point, which is a calculated risk every cartoonist and artist is familiar with.

Lastly the erasing of pencil lines and last-minute tweaks, and the battle to remain conscious until the twenty-four hours are officially up. the final few hours always seem the longest (as opposed to the hardest), and each year I've done this I never fail to be humbled and absolutely amazed at what other people have managed to do - regardless of whether or not they completed all twenty-four pages.

Afterwards there's some (comparatively) minor investment of time scanning the pages as grayscales, cropping/re-orienting/resizing and the bare minimal of clean-up after adjusting brightness & contrast settings. Although it tasks me to review the pages after getting sleep and seeing how much it could be improved upon, I think its also somewhat of a "purer" piece to retain its raw immediacy. Plus there's that whole strict adherence to the rules.

Additionally I resized and laid out all the TIF pages in a new format to export as a PDF for the minicomic version, which if anyone's interested in getting copies of feel free to email me with a query & mailing address. It's always a nice touch to follow up this event with a memento as a thank-you to all the folks involved. Plus the gift-giving season is right around the corner, and family always appreciates samples of current work, even if it's just a bit, eh, off-putting ("Hey - this isn't funny").

The handful of folks who got to preview this piece in person had mostly good feedback, and it seemed to "work," insofar as having the desired effect at the ending's revealing little twist. After being lulled by cumulative panels into a false assumption of meaning, there's a crucial switchback that hopefully re -contextualizes all the preceding 23 pages into a totally new perspective. The detail's always in the fine print... which in this case, would be the information that all of the text was taken from the final statements by executed offenders, cataloged on-line courtesy of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
After reading hundreds & hundreds of these prisoner's "last words" I was left with a very poignant and disturbed impression. The power of these statements, when you know beforehand are coming from people who are fully aware that they are about to die, casts their import into far more serious significance. Definitely more than if they were otherwise said in any other situation by anyone else, like, you know, normal, regular, everyday folks like you and me. Probably safe to assume all these phrases have in fact been said and heard many times before by you and everyone you know. Hence the juxtaposition, and the unease over which context is everything.

“I know quite certainly that I myself have no special talent; curiosity, obsession and dogged endurance, combined with self-criticism have brought me to my ideas.” - Albert Einstein

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