Cold Weather, Truck Cleaning, Comic Conference, Comic Slams
Winter has returned. Burrr. I’m glad I didn’t switch out the winter clothing yet. I didn’t need to bring in the ferns last night. Beric, my staghorn, is huge. He was a house warming gift from my mother many years ago, and now he weighs about fifty pounds. It’s no easy task hauling him inside when the temperature drops below freezing. He’s made that trip four times this winter.
Tomorrow I’m having breakfast with Marlow, and I need to get the Phillips Center box office by noon to pick up tickets for the Jared Diamond talk at 8:00pm. And in between I’ve got to work all day. It’s going to be a long day.
After work today I washed the truck because it was coated with pine pollen, and was starting to take on a yellow tinge. It was cold weather for a car wash, but I was in the mood to get it done, and since that almost never happens I bundled up and did the deed.
I enjoyed the Comic Conference immensely. I spent all weekend at the Headquarter’s Library listening to the presentations. I took some artwork with me, and managed to finish a couple of drawings. It appears that comic books and graphic novels are posing difficulties for scholars who are trying to work out common critical vocabularies with which to discuss them.
Most of the presentations, this year and in past years, have been historical assessments-- trying to establish a chronological and hierarchical ranking of all the important innovators. I expect this stage of critical focus to continue for a long time. But it is frustrating that there appears to be a lack of scholarly interest in the actual methodology of comic construction and design elements and how they relate to other graphic trends in electronic and traditional media. Book or textual orientation, stymies scholars when they are called upon to describe a medium that merges text and picture. The language that can successfully describe the fusion is in the process of being invented. And it ain’t happening fast—and there is no consensus about any of it, and lots and lots of bickering going on.
The late Will Eisner and artist Scott McCloud are the two creator-critics who have thought the deepest about the physicality of how comics work. But many academics dismiss their approaches because they inherently suspect a practitioner as being too’ inside’ the process to describe it with scholarly rigor.
I’m not making this up, it is weird to watch this attitude play out among academics who have never actually tried to make a comic, but are convinced, because of their honest appreciation, they are the only authorities capable of interpreting the process. But I was good, and decided, for politeness sake, to keep my mouth shut, even when there were several presentations where the scholars had their facts wrong. That’s the problem with knowing this stuff from direct experience; it makes the scholarly virtue of distance seem distressingly clueless.
I went to Mr. Matt Madden’s workshop. I had never done comic slams before, and really enjoyed his exercises. Essentially you make mini-comics with a different artist/writer doing each panel. Mr. Madden did a quick survey of the audience, gageing our backgrounds or comic IQs and then he decided which exercises made the most sense for us to experiment with. There were about twenty-five artists participating,
An Aside about the New Shape of Comic Culture?????
What I found interesting about his survey was that of the twenty-five of us in the room, only two people had come into their interest in comics via the Marvel/ DC route. That flabbergasted me. Most of the young artists that showed up to participate had come to comics via newspaper strips or Manga. The college kids mainly through the alternative art comics/comix, and the post-college crowd, like me, shared my background
of undergrounds and early-wave alternatives. The other surprise was that half the artists in the room were female.
For most of my life comics fandom has been dominated by the fanboy types, that these guys were missing from our workshop really surprised me. It made me realize that the demographics of comic buying crowd has experienced a seismic shift. The Comic Journal’s prediction-- that if comic shops didn’t start catering to women, they would lose an historic opportunity to absorb a very lucrative rising-market in female centric Manga and art comics--has come true. Because the market for these has gone to suburban book stores, not comic shops.
Back to the Comic Slam.
We managed to produce about fifty single-page comics. Some of them were hysterically funny; others were delightfully non sequitur. I chose to start an imageless comic, (only words and/or word balloons, no pictures.) That was hard because I’m very image dominate in how my brain works. My innocent start became a bizarrely perverse story of ‘off panel’, cannibalism. The Wag next to me changed my quirky ‘intro-panel’ about ‘disappearing feet’ into a podfest of limb-munching hilarity--other people then proceeded to add very creative lettering to great humorous effect.
Several of the slams were drawn backward. Meaning the last panel is drawn first, and then the next to last until the first panel is last drawn. That was a very difficult form to make work. What surprised me was how the whole meaning of a narrative changed by just the tweak of one added word or image. I also discovered I have an unsuspected ability to write and draw post-modern gags. I’m not a particularly, er, funny person, so that was a surprise.
What amazed me when we posted our communal efforts was that about a quarter of them, once cleaned up and re drawn, could have been publishable. That’s an amazing amount of successful efforts, especially considering a third of the panels where drawn by kids. If you ever have a chance to draw or participate in a comic slam—do so, all of us enjoyed the end results as well as the process itself. I learned a lot.