Wednesday, November 27, 2013
I recently finished a one-year drawing project called "20 Lines"
The initial inspiration was a prose book by the American Oulipo author Harry Mathews called 20 Lines a Day, which is a partial document of a period where he wrote 20 lines of prose every morning he was at his desk as a warm-up exercise. He was inspired by a quote by Stendhal to the effect of "20 lines a day, genius or not". He took that notion literally in a somewhat wry way and I did the same kind of thing: well, 20 drawn lines, how is that so different from 20 lines of writing? (It's faster for one thing, most of the time.)
I took it on once we moved to France because one of my goals here is to work on my drawing, which lags behind my writing and my structural/linguistic thinking about comics. My goal was to concentrate on the most basic elements of drawing--lines on a ground--to reflect on how lines fill space, how they fit together. Maybe not so much "reflect" as simply to put my drawing hand, my brain, and my eyes to work to see what would come out of it. How all that will translate back into my comics I don't really know, but I see it as part of a process of taking more conscious control of my drawing both at a physical as well as conceptual level.
I've been really pleased with the reaction I've had from friends and from my Tumblr and Facebook postings of these pages. I expect you'll be seeing some printed versions and maybe even some exhibits of this work in the future.
For starters, I was flattered and more than a bit surprised to receive an offer to publish a limited-run selection by No Press, a micro publisher of visual poetry and conceptual writing run by Derek Beaulieu. That should be published in the not-too-distant future, though to judge by his website I can't say it will be easy to get your hands on.
Here are a few more selections from the 80 or so drawings I have done so far:
A Sol Lewitt homage series:
You can find the whole series browsing back through my Maddn Tumblr
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
I was in Helsinki in September as a guest of the Helsinki Comics Festival. Beforehand I taught a 3-day workshop at Aalto University.
The festival was small but packed with high caliber talent like Patrick McDonnell, Joost Swarte, and David B along with Finland's inventive and productive local artists. If you want to learn more about the festival, Andy Brown from Conundrum Press did an excellent photo-rich blog post which even covers my own event, an Oubapo presentation where I showed slides of the groups work and ideas while some art students worked on my 4 x 4 activity. I've added their results to the 4 x 4 slideshow, right at the end.
(this one's very clever: the four keywords were winter, triangle, red, and sadness)
There's also a neat portrait gallery on the festival's Google+ page.
The workshop I taught was once again on adapting fixed poetry forms to comics. We warmed up with some haiku comics and then we had three days to produce a short comic using the structure of a villanelle, a pantoum, or a sestina (or one of its shorter n-ina derivatives). My quiet but diligent group of 20 students (almost all of them women) were all very engaged by the constraints and were extremely productive, several of them finishing full color comics by the end of the workshop. (At various points during the workshop I thought of Jarod Roselló's excellent essay on "the silence of cartooning" that he did for dw-wp.com.) Below are two examples that are particular favorites of mine (click to enlarge).
A villanelle comic by Nina Ruokonen
"Kehtolaulu" ("Lullaby"), a pantoum comic by Elina Sauvola.
The lines of a lullaby translate as:
Sleep you little child..
..fall asleep under the grass
Elina did took up a challenge I laid down while explaining the pantoum structure and she rose to the occasion brilliantly: I learned from reading Jacques Jouet's study of the pantoum, Échelles et Papillons, that in addition to the interlocking lines I used in my own "Pantoum for Hiram," the pantoum also traditionally follow two lines of thought in each stanza, one in the first two lines, the other in the second two. Only in the last stanza do these two threads intertwine. You probably didn't notice because it's so seamless, but if you re-read "Kehtolalaulu" you will see that the first to panels and the second two panels effectively tell two parallel stories that you can read in parallel 2-panel columns: the woman kept awake by her crying baby on the left and the fever dream about monsters invading a house on the right. And in the last tier, dream and reality become confused.
Thursday, September 12, 2013
A strip of mine was just published in the Swiss comics magazine Strapazin.
Strapazin 112 just came out and it has a theme of Fernsehserien or TV shows we watched when we were kids. Artists were invited to contribute strips that riffed on a show we watched when we were young. I chose Fantasy Island but it got a little mixed up with another show and a movie in the course of production, sorry about that. I'm posting the English language version here (click to enlarge):
I'm also sharing my favorite other strip in the issue drawn by Austrian artist Michael Hacker.
(I swiped the glowing gif from Strapazin's website.)Read more...
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Let me start this post by reassuring those of you who read my first report from Angoulême that things are going much better for me now, and I thank those of you that sent notes (or made comments) of encouragement. I didn't want to wallow in negativity but I did want to share frankly the frustrations I was feeling a few months ago.
Those frustrations—primarily the distractions of family life, my teaching and public speaking obligations, and the never-ending cycle of French paperwork related to setting up shop here—are still present but I have found a workable rhythm and am increasingly able to devote decent chunks of my day to drawing, writing, and reading.
I had a breakthrough of sorts shortly after that last post: the 24 hours comics day hosted by the Maison des Auteurs every year in the days leading up to the FIBD. This year I was the MC, tasked with coming up with a starter constraint that all participants were obliged to base their comics on. The constraint I finally worked up was well-received (I still run into people at festivals who mention it approvingly--I really appreciate it) and although I didn't finish my own comic in the 24 hour period I was able to do so in another seven hours a few weeks later and I was very happy with the results. You can read more about the whole experience here. What was particularly satisfying is that I quickly came up with a story concept I liked and then dove into the work (if not quite quickly or efficiently enough to finish in 24 hours). As I worked I found solutions to story problems and leitmotifs in the course of drawing and writing the pages. You can read the finished comic, Bridge, online for free here.
Though I was rather over-booked this spring I can't say it wasn't often enjoyable and even exciting: in the past two months I've been all over: In Madrid we celebrated the reprinting of 99 ejercicios de estilo with a barrage of interviews and an event at the excellent Librería El Central. I was invited to three comics festivals, in Corsica, Aix-en-Provence, and Amiens, and the latter two I was able to attend with Jessica and our kids. And I was in Paris multiple times—once even just for pleasure!
|lunch with Bob Sikoryak and Jasper in Amiens|
At the FIBD 2013 we inaugurated the OubapoShow and have gone on to repeat it in various forms and plan to develop it further in the time to come. It's been fun and very gratifying collaborating with my Oubapo co-members: Though I've been associated with them for years I hadn't spent time with any of them besides Trondheim and Lécroart until I arrived here last fall. I didn't know what to expect dropping in this late in the game but I've found everyone to be generous and welcoming and I feel very much part of the group, now. A highlight so far was our presentation of the OubapoShow in Paris for les Jeudis de L'Oulipo at the Bibliotheque Nationale de la France. This is a fairly long-running and popular evening event where Oulipo does readings on different themes; occasionally they invite one of the "ou-x-po"—as the associated "workshops for potential X" are collectively named—to take the stage and this was the first time Oubapo has been invited in 10 years. There was a big and receptive crowd including most of the senior members of Oulipo and the show went off without a hitch (you can watch the video here).
My initial push of public events and Oubapo-related stuff culminated in May with an overlapping series of events: the Musée de la Bande Dessinée hung a modest Oubapo exhibit from April to June and in May they featured the original art for my "History of American Comics in Six Panels" as their highlighted "page of the month". During the national "Nuit des Musées" I hosted a sort of mini-OubapoShow with Killoffer and Alex and Pierre from our occasional partners-in-crime, Éditions Polystyrène, which culminated in a diverse, all-ages game of giant Scroubabble which the museum had produced for an earlier Oubapo exhibit. I taught a 4-day masters workshop on comics and poetry forms which yielded a blogpost here about haiku comics that has caught on a bit online and even been translated by Thierry Groensteen for 9eme Art 2.0. Somewhere in there I also managed to program an evening of constrained film, including Lars Von Trier's Five Obstructions, at the Cinéma de la Cité… you can see how sometimes it's hard to get any actual comics done.
|Jean-Pierre Mercier leads a game of massive Scroubabble at la Nuit des Musées in May.|
But I find that the basic balance has shifted for now and I am devoting more and more time to simply drawing and writing (and editing and scanning and inking and correcting) comics. As circumstances have it, I have been able to ramp up incrementally over the last six months: I did two short strips (for the Swiss magazine Strapazin and Chicago-based Trubble Club's on-line jam comic Infinite Corpse) followed by a one-pager for Etienne Lécroart's issue of Mon Lapin, the reboot of L'Assocation's anthology title, then a TWO-pager for Josh Neufeld and Sari Wilson's Flashed! anthology of flash fiction and comics. Just now I am finishing up a 10-page comic for an Oubapo project at l'Association dreamed up by Lewis Trondheim: four of us (LT and I plus Jochen Gerner and Alex Baladi) made comics based on redrawing all the photos and illustrations (ads not included) in a single issue of the French newspaper Libération.
I'll never be a lightning-fast cartoonist but I'm feeling happy about the pace I've hit and plan to maintain it if not speed it up in the years to come.
|page-in-progress for Mon Lapin|
So, what does the future hold? First of all, Jessica and I were recently accepted for another two years of residency at the Maison des Auteurs (is that burying the lead?) which means things are going well here for all of us and we want to keep going. My "project" for the next two years is to produce a book—not a graphic novel but a "novella" or classic French album. I have a few different ideas for book-length works that I'll be developing and reporting on here when the time is right.
Most of the comics I finished this year won't be available for a while, especially not in the US.
One comic that has been published twice is my "Pantoum for Hiram" which debuted internationally in Colombia's Revista Larva (as "Una Madeja para Hugo" and in English in Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art
And here's what's coming up in the next year, so far:
Most significantly, there's my first long comic since 99 Ways, a 32-page comic called Drawn Onward. I don't have a release date yet but I'm excited to say that it's going to be the inaugural comic issue of the prestigious short story subscription-only magazine, OneStory (another buried lead!). 2013? Could be... Also forthcoming: news about how to get your hands on it even if you're not a subscriber.
|a page from Drawn Onward|
September will see the release of Best American Comics 2013 our final volume as series editors. It's been a fun ride and I'm proud of the work Jessica and I have done there.
My strip for Strapazin should be out in the fall and at that time I will post the English version here and/or on my Tumblr.
|a panel from my TV show-themed strip for Strapazin 112|
I did a 2-page comic called "Winter Villanelle," based on a flash fiction piece by Aimee Bender for and interesting book project called Flashed! that is due in 2014, sometime.
And early 2014 should see three publications of mine at L'Association:
Cavalcade Surprise, a short "patte de mouche" booklet done with Jessica and Lewis Trondheim
"La Fuite" my story for Etienne's Mon Lapin
"Le Coeur du Roi", my story for Journal Directeur
|pages-in-progress for the Oubapo project, Journal Directeur|
It's a good start, I think.
Thursday, June 20, 2013
One form of poetry I have not previously played around with is the haiku. Its brevity and relative simplicity of rules made it a good candidate for a warm-up activity. So after reviewing the traditional rules and reading a few examples in French and English, the students and I spent half an hour or so coming up with quick "haiku comics".
(leer en castellano)
(lire en français)
Before starting we looked at a few examples of haiku comics that already exist to see what ways the form has been adapted to our medium. One of the things I find interesting about the 5-7-5 syllable structure is that there are a number of ways to think about how that might translate to comics.
Here are two very different haiku comics I found online. The first is by John Porcellino and you might describe it as evoking a haiku rather than adapting it faithfully: the sizes of the three panels seem to refer to the 5-7-5 structure, and the text, though not observing the syllabic rules, observe many other principles of the haiku: the present tense, a reference to nature, the obersvation of a fleeting moment. One student pointed out that the framing meta-panel could be seen as uniting the comic in a single, cosmic instant.
The next example is a webcomic by Mysh called Imaginary Encounters which uses the haiku has a base structure for a series of autobiographical one-page stories. In this case, the text is a fairly orthodox haiku (even if the subject matter, a dreamy gay travelogue, is far from traditional!) but the comics seems to mainly echo the three line structure in the form of three equally-sized tiers. One thing I particularly like about this example is the ironic counterpoint between the phrase "mountain top", a fairly classic nature reference, and the image of two lovers looking out their "mountain," the top-floor of window of a building. In another odd touch, we see that the place where they are is utterly flooded:
[NOTE: if you like what you see here, Mysh is currently trying to raise funds on indiegogo for a book collection of these strips. Please consider contributing here.]
We discussed other ways the syllable structure might be adapted, generally agreeing that Porcellino's relative size approach worked well. As a counter-example: we all agreed that though a three-page comic of 5 panels, 7 panels, 5 panels would be feasible it would be too long and against the spirit of a haiku. We left it up to each student to decide which aspects of haiku to adapt and which to disregard.
|some ways to adapt haiku into comics|
Here are a few examples from the class:
|© Elisabeth Holleville|
[translation: On the mountain/amid the high grass/of your fur]
|© Timothée LeBoucher|
|© Lise Lamarche|
[translation: Along with the birds/the great crane floats/above the water.]
I also made a few attempts myself. In the first one I tried to write a traditional haiku, referencing the present, a season, a moment in time, and so on (it was easy to think about nature and the seasons because it's been a long, gray spring here and in most of France). That said, I couldn't help put a modern, pop culture twist to it, since I was drawing all this in spitting distance of the Musée de la Bande Dessinée, which has a statue of Hugo Pratt's Corto Maltese keeping watch along the footbridge across the Charente river:
You can see that I used the 5-7-5 relative panel height principle here, cutting the space from top to bottom as the eye descends.
For the second comic, I flipped it sideways, thinking that was a more natural movement for the gaze of the haiku poet, surveying the landscape around her. An unusual aspect of this art school is that it is located on a small island right on the Charente, so when you step out, as I did, to the coffee machine, you find yourself surrounded by rushing water on all sides. It is, in fact, about as haiku-inspring a moment as you are likely to find in the middle of a city. It occurred to me that it might be interesting to translate the syllable count in to drawn lines, so in this second version I drew five lines in the first panel, seven in the second, and five again in the last. I stood in the middle of the river and looked first to my left, then straight ahead, then right:
You may have noticed that I also used the words left, center, and right, in the three lines of text. The crane referred to and minimally evoked in the drawing is a construction crane over a new student center being built across the river. Of course, the association with the bird is intentional. What's interesting is that my student Lise did the same play with "grue" (above), which as in English refers to both the bird and the construction equipment.
I drew both of these comics quickly, without pencilling or much planning, with a fountain pen on letter size (A4) paper. I had in mind an interesting detail I came across which is that a haiku is intended to be read in one breath: how can we translate that idea to drawing or looking at drawings?
After I scanned the pages, though, I had the idea that the second one might work better with a less rigid panel height, something more organic and evocative, again, of the haiku's syllable structure:
June 24 Update
I showed my haikus to Jacques Jouet of Oulipo and he surprised me by asking why the third panel of the Corto Maltese haiku had "2 x 5" drops of rain. I was confused until I went back and looked at the page again: as it happens, if you count the raindrops in that comic you'll see that the first panel has five raindrops, the second one seven raindrops and the last panel ten (or: "2 x 5") raindrops. Total coincidence, but in Jacques' honor I've Photoshopped a Jouetian variant featuring properly syllabic raindrops:
[A slightly different version of this post appeared on the Drawing Words & Writing Pictures/Mastering Comics blog]