Monday, April 30, 2012

Page 1 and The Art of Storytelling

So for the past 5 years, a friend of mine and I came up with the idea to start a graphic novel, and for the past 4 years or so, life has gotten in the way of actually doing anything tangible toward that end. However, this move to Dubai has afforded me the opportunity to actually put in a real effort and for the last 4 months, I've completely invested myself into learning about how comics are made. The hardest part to grasp is also the most essential: how to tell a story visually.

Perhaps one of the greatest comic storytellers of all-time was Jack Kirby. Stan Lee was recently quoted in an interview, "Jack Kirby, the great thing about him was, every panel was dramatic. He wasn’t the greatest artist in the world — I mean, he wasn’t da Vinci — but he could make panels look so interesting that you couldn’t wait to turn the page and see the next one." Unlike the wooden characters in comics of that time,  no page was wasted with Kirby, every panel was overflowing with energy and drama. It's safe to say that, comics (and perhaps action movies) are what they are today, because of Kirby.  Take a look at the below fight sequence to understand what I mean:

Even by today's standards, this sequence is impeccable. The action floes from one panel to the next. The reader is drawn in and captivated by the action on the page. Let me remind you that no one was doing anything like this at the time! For readers, it must have been mind blowing. As an artist, I am still in awe of this ability. I share this because I have recently completed the first of our graphic novel and I can tell you from experience that visual storytelling is hard goddamn work! So when you go out and enjoy the Avengers movie this weekend, take a moment to thank Jack Kirby and all of his awesomeness!

Before I show you page one, let me give you some background on this graphic novel entitled Smiley and Grim. My friend who write the script describes the comic as this:  

"This is Pulp Fiction meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. On a daily basis the average person can run afoul of angels, leprechauns, elementals, the avatars of gods, demons, vampires, and the rest of the lot. Smiley and Grim get paid absurd amounts of money to deal with these and everything in between. They live and work by a code - a strange, mysterious code - which serves to make them the best there is in a world where good is relative to everything. 

Smiley and Grim may very well be the linchpin holding together a world where the gods live in luxury penthouses and floating mansions, serving as the storm that sweeps down whenever the atmosphere between godly factions become strained or deific pressures get out of hand. As respected as they are feared, they tread lines of reality even the greatest powers cannot always see clearly."

Now for page 1:
 Script for Page 1:

Page 1 – Two demons arrive at the Arena to meet a friend, who is not so pleased to see one of them.

Panel 1- Exterior -A Warehouse District. We are on the roof of a building. Across the street is a pair of limos parked on the street on either side of the entrance to an alleyway. The alleyway divides a factory on the left from a warehouse on the right. in the distance we see the towers of a city. The alleyway itself is full of limos and cars. There are two men walking up the alleyway wearing suits.

2- Inside the alleyway, the two men are approaching the entrance to one of the warehouses. Another man, smaller, stands beside the guard at the entrance. The guard wears black pants and a black tank top, he is covered in tattoos, thick black mutton-chop sideburns and some wild black hair.

3-The two men have reached the entrance, the smaller man is there to greet them. The two men are demons, Tergemot (a lizard demon, mostly human features with scale patterns around his eyes) and Linus (a pain demon). The smaller man is Esaia an efreet, a fire spirit, and the guard is a Maori-warrior spirit. Linus is really coked up, and should be looking haggard. This is the person Smiley and Grim are looking for.

ESAIA- Tergemot, NICE to see you. Linus, I’d ask you how you are doing but I doubt I have the TIME. 

4- The guard pulls open the large, thick, graffiti-ed  door to allow them in.

ESAIA - Why don’t you come inside and buy us a drink.

5-The three men step through a curtain into a lounge. This is the anterior space to a large arena. The place is filled with all kinds of people and beings: fish-people, a pair of devi (Hindu goddesses), some insect-spirit guys from South America with dragon-fly wings, etc. They are all very well-to-do, the cream of nouveau riche society as it were.

ESAIA- So you being here means something, yes? Besides just absolute fucking stupidity?

LINUS- My being here is hopefully to forget why you think I shouldn’t.

Part of my self education these last 4 months has been learning how to draw digitally on a Wacom board using Manga Studio EX4 (amazing program BTW). The only time I use paper is when I'm doing brainstorming work for page layouts and character concepts. Anyway, creating this page was a ton of fun...hard work but a ton of fun. 

HARDEST PART: The hardest panel to draw was the first one. I absolutely abhor doing landscape art...more specifically, urban landscapes! It's a necessary evil that every comic artist must become proficient at doing. IT'S SO TEDIOUS!!! 

MOST ENJOYABLE: I had the most fun on panels 2 and 5 because I felt I could use my full imagination in creating the characters. 

That's it for this week. I'll be back next week with character sketches of Smiley and Grim and maybe some other concept art.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The simplest question is often the most unexpected.

This past weekend I attended the first ever Middle East Film and Comic Con (MEFCC). For those of us who were under the delusion that comics cater strictly to American and Japanese audiences, this was an opportunity to see that, like everything else, there is a greater world out there. Turns out that no matter what you are interested in, you can find someone in this world who shares your interest. For instance, who would have thought that the 80's pop group, Wham would have a following here? I know, I know...I also never thought they had a following to begin with but apparently one man on the train is a big enough fan to have Careless Whisper as his ringtone. It's best not to ask why he chose that song or even why I knew the name it, but it serves as a funny reminder that we are never alone in this world.

Anyway, this convention served as one of those reminders for me. Here I thought that there was no market or interest in Dubai/the UAE in comics and yet 10,000 people purchased tickets for the weekend festivities. From the Cosplayers to Arab versions of Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons, the conference wove a rich tapestry of geekery. While many were there to buy comics, play Magic and Warhammer, I was there on a different mission. My goal was to show some of my work to some comic book artists and get some feedback and advice. I was sort of hoping to find out if I have been wasting my time and well, it turns out I wasn't wasting it at all.

I arrived early on the first day and got to meet a couple of great artists who work for Marvel. Both gave me some great advice, but one asked me a question I wasn't prepared for...What do you want to do in comics? Ink? Pencil? Color? Such a simple basic question, yet I was completely flummoxed.  What the hell DO I want to do? I've sort of done everything on my own for so long that the thought of doing an actual job in comics, kind of scares me. There are all sorts of internal debates that I have with myself about this. Do I want to give up owning what I create? (look up Jerry Siegel, Alan Moore, and Jack Kirby if you don't know what I mean) Am I fast enough to bang out pages by deadlines? Most importantly, am I good enough? The latter was what I hoped to find out. What I discovered talking with the artists at MEFCC was that, I have accomplished in developing the one hardest qualities to have, a cool style. Hearing that my art had it's own cool style made me feel fantastic. See, anyone can learn how to draw by copying other artists, but if they don't develop their own way of doing things, they are simply not successful in the industry. What made Jack Kirby, Jim Lee, Walt Simonson, Alex Ross, etc. successful was that they had their own recognizable style. Not that I cold possibly hope to be in the same ballpark as them but it feels good to know that my style is my own.

Of course hearing that I have style was the good news. The "bad" news (not really though since I was there to learn)...I was told that I need to work on making my anatomy work more natural and lifelike, my coloring is weak and needs to be improved, and most importantly, I need to work on using line weights correctly in my inking. This was the one are that I wanted to learn about more than anything since I started inking my work. It's perhaps the most basic lesson, and yet has completely escaped me. Basically, wherever light hits an area, your line should be lightest/thinnest and heaviest where there is shadow.  Below is one of my drawings that shows this mistake:
This is a character sketch of Grim that I did for a comic I am working on with a friend of mine.
The light source is supposed to be coming in from the upper right side; however, the line weight on that shoulder is exactly the same as the other side.  Anyway I did some drawing/inking with that lesson in mind and created this picture yesterday:
This is another character sketch of Grim transformed into a werewolf.
This I feel is a marked improvement over the previous one. The light source is directly above and the line weight reflects it.

Anyway, that's all for this week. Next week I'll explain more about this comic that I am working on and perhaps even share the first the page along with some of the character designs.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Convergence in Chaos

Convergence by Jackson Pollock, 1952

 Wow, has it really over a year since my last post? I think that this qualifies as a fresh start and not a continuation of the previous blog. This is going to be a long post so be ready. Let's see...what has happened in the past year? Not much really...My darling wife received a great opportunity to work in Dubai so I quit my job, packed up the family, and moved to the Middle East. Other than that, life has been pretty slow. This generally happens every five years or so. My wife finds a great opportunity to advance her career and I come along for the ride. Whatever I am doing career-wise, I choose to stop and follow my wife on her path to success. I'm man enough to admit that I'm lazy and generally apathetic about career advancement, so I have no shame in following my high flier of a wife. 

I've become a seasoned pro at starting over and finding my own way in a new environment. However, what's different about this move is that for the first time, there is no pressure for me to find a job. My amazing wife has moved up to the big leagues and given me the opportunity to do whatever the hell I want. I have to say, it's been 4 months and it's incredibly overwhelming to have time and freedom at my disposal. Actually overwhelming isn't nearly an adequate enough descriptor...IT'S TERRIFYING! My God! I am 37 years old, I have a 3 (soon to be 4) year old daughter, and I am seriously considering starting my professional life over as if I am 18 again?? I must be insane! I no longer have the luxury of not giving a shit about what people think about me. Everyday, I ask myself, what will my daughter think about me when she grows up? Will I be an inspirational example of how never to give up? Or will I be another tragic example of wasted talent and poor decision making? In the months building up to this move I racked my brain trying to figure out what to do with myself. What avenue could I possibly explore?? Would I go back to school? Perhaps, try to make a go of it in art?

The only thing I knew for certain was that at least for a short period of time I was going to be Mr. Mom with my daughter until we found a suitable day care/school for her. The time I have spent with her has been interesting to say the least. It has been rewarding, and at times insanely frustrating and exhausting. Who would have thought a person so little could drive a grown man to such emotional highs and lows? I have no idea how stay at home moms and single mothers do it! Thank God we got in her in a school part-time a few weeks after we arrived...I actually started to want to go back to work!  On the days that my daughter was in school, I decided that I would not waste a single moment watching TV or playing games, etc. Instead I would spend them drawing. So for the last two months, I have been spending nearly 6 to 8 hours a day drawing...I think I have actually developed a mild case of carpel tunnel in the process, but the pain has been worth it. I have felt more personally fulfilled in those hours spent than I have in all of the years I spent in the working world. This is going to sound incredibly insane, but the joy I have felt has sort of brought me into a depressing period in my life. Let me explain...

As I sat here at my desk, thinking about what to write, I started to think about my life and my choices that have made into the person I am at this very moment. I suddenly realized that my life is like a Jackson Pollock painting (see above). You look at one of his paintings, and you ask yourself, "WHAT THE HELL IS THAT??" "THIS IS ART??" "A MONKEY WITH A BRUSH COULD HAVE MADE THIS!"

It's completely chaotic and a goddamn mess; however, what you don't realize is that Pollock's paintings generally started with him either drawing a figure or a word on the canvas then he let his emotion take over. They say that if you stare at some of his paintings long enough you will eventually see the original figure or word. What you see initially in that painting is a culmination of layers and layers of decisions and emotions that have buried its essential self. Isn't that what many of our lives are like? I truly believe that we are all born with something unique, call it talent or purpose. The decisions we make on a daily basis determine if our seed grows or dies. This realization sort of depressed me. I looked at my life and it was completely unrecognizable. My talent has been buried by years and years of foolish decisions. I could have felt this joy in creating art for the past 18 years, what the hell was I thinking. I am now at the point where after staring at the painting long enough, I finally see my original purpose. However, the challenge now is to make sense of the chaos.

So where will I be going with this blog in the future? Well I figure, starting Monday, I will start sharing some of my work and talking about what I hope to do with it. This is a big weekend for me since I'll be showing some of my work to professional artists to see where I stand.