AN: Just my little shout-out to The Hawkeye Initiative. Ngl, the “Brosie the Riveter” story actually made me tear up.
DA if needed.
AN: Hey, greekhoop, do you remember that time we were talking about the secret shame of Angry Thoughts? Okay, good.
DA link just in case.
Contemplation of a Serious Nature.
AN: Of course, all the drawing practice in the world won’t help you if your emergency paper bleeds and you have to switch to a felt pen half-way through. Still, that is one of the kinds of formalist realism.
bigislandrachel asked: Technical question! How do you manage to convey so much detail with so few lines? There's a lot of negative space in your panels, but the characters and their facial expressions are so distinctive and clear--how do?
There’s really only one answer to this, and it’s so pretentious I feel like I need to apologize to everyone in advance. I AM SORRY EVERYONE, THIS IS VERY PRETENTIOUS. AND VERY LONG. I’M SORRY AND THERE WILL PROBABLY BE A COMIC LATER TODAY.
But the answer to the question is this: years and years of obsessive work. (God, that is so pretentious! I’m sorry everyone! I’m sorry!)
(It is true though, unfortunately. I’m getting good at facial expression (and note I say getting good because jeez, there is a LOT further to go) because I’ve spent literal years drawing and drawing and drawing faces, and rubbing them out, and drawing them again, over and over and over and feeling for nuance and the kind of things I call “between faces,” since my favorite kind of face to succeed at drawing is one where the character’s emotions are ambiguous, complicated or overwhelming. So now, when I do a simple comic like this one, where the point is that it’s not laboriously drawn, and the format is forgiving, it’s all just… there. And I did that work because I wanted to, and I think that’s the single biggest factor in practicing anything - wanting to. Feeling like there was something there, if I could just get at it).
Regarding technical advice for cartoonists who are interested in the same stuff, probably the major thing that helped me do that work was learning to loosen up. One thing I came to understand eventually was that facial expressions in comics have almost nothing to do with facial expressions on real faces. I mean, they have something to do with them, as a moment’s studying oneself in the mirror, or those old-fashioned expression charts from the Renaissance will tell you, but honestly, not that much. Cartoon faces are like hieroglyphs, they use a simplified visual language. To me, comics are not about replicating. Comics are about communicating. So in the pursuit of learning to bend those lines into language, copying life is not as helpful as playing the lines out to see what they can do, what you can make them convey.
In this regard, I was pretty influenced by folks like Roberta Gregory:
and Peter Bagge,
Both of whom taught me to draw loosely, and to play around, and to remember that even realist stories can be told expressively, and especially if it’s comics because that’s kind of comics’ whole bag.
Also, people like la Tour:
Because there’s such narrative in these gazes. Narrative, in the sense that a story is being communicated, that the facial expressions introduce a sense of duration (oh god, this just hit the pretension stratosphere. I am so sorry). But that’s it. To me, comics are about communication of narrative, so that’s the thing I work on and have worked on. Obsessively. For several years now. So that’s what I do.
That and limiting my deck, I guess. My deck for AmCap is two eyebrows, two eyes, one line for a mouth, and nose. I use the occasional eyelid or expression line, but the vast majority of the expression comes from the variance in the three lines, and the position of the eyeball in relation to the eyebrow and nose. I’m not kidding. That is maybe the single biggest factor in what the expression conveys, the position of the eyeball relational to the eyebrow. It takes, as I’ve said, obsessive work to get good at that, but once you’ve done that work for a while, it does get heaps easier. Much like life, relationships, and cooking.
AN: This comic is incredibly sad. I didn’t TW it for anything because nothing actually happens in it (even the needle that’s in it doesn’t get used). But I’ll just tell you that I actually wrote it on ANZAC day, it’s just taken me this long to draw it.
Sizing-wise, it should be okay if you click through to the white screen, but if not, here.
estoreal asked: But really, do you EVER get tired of being awesome? I'll spend the rest of my writing life hoping that just once I'll write one line of dialogue as elegant as what you deliver every single time. I won't get there, but hope will keep me trying.
In keeping with my policy on technical questions, I’d like to answer this one publicly, but first let me say that, believe me, you probably already have. Most people have a negative impression of their own writing. That’s just fact.
But there are particular tricks to dialogue, I think. Mostly character work (which is to say, spending way, way too much time thinking about the characters and how they do. I do that all day when I’m supposed to be doing other things, often with a couple of good friends, particularly Johanna, who is credited on the “about,” page for the contribution she’s made to that process, which is invaluable). I think, if you do that a lot, then comics and novel characters become closer and closer to improv actors, and when you tell them to speak, they just do it.
Then, of course, you’ve got to hack out everything you’ve written that’s too obvious, then you enforce a structure to the piece (and in a comic like this, try to make it as short as possible), and there you are: acceptable dialogue every time. There are cheats to it, seriously - it’s skill based, not natural. And I really took a lot of influence from a film-maker friend of mine who is fond of saying, “story should be a function of characters, characters shouldn’t be a function of story,” and “always depict how people are by what they do.”
That said, in answer to your question, it’s true that being awesome is frequently draining. The weight of my genius is so heavy sometimes I don’t know I manage.
AN: Fun fact, “Ms.” is actually a lot older than Steve, it just didn’t gain it’s popular feminist usage until much later on.
AN: He’s right, folks - it’s not real autobio comics until you start angsting about fucking (and bonus kudos to you if you can figure out which comic he’s reading!)