Archive | August, 2011

It Takes Two: Collaboration Within Indie Comics

26 Aug
By Darryl Ayo

Why don’t indie comic cartoonists collaborate more often? A large part of it is obvious when you look at the name “INDIE” cartoonists. Independent of all interference. That’s cool, I can respect that. Indie comic dudes (and ladydudes) just want to do their own thing and pursue their own vision. But on the other hand, not all of these solo cartoonists have the full range of skillsets to truly go it alone.

I’ve been talking to people about this weird duality: on one hand, the indie comic scene is full of people doing their best at working on their own stuff as best they can–for better or worse. On the other hand, there’s a whole lot of friend-based groups, cliques, geographic alliances and both formal and informal partnerships in the indie comics scene.

Part of it is simply that friends or no, indie cartoonists want to remain fully autonomous. Again, that’s cool, but I wonder how much of that is cultural. Since the default and assumed position in indie comics is that each cartoonists is doing all tasks, maybe it never fully occurs to some people as a legitimate option.

I think that the idea of the “auteur theory”– that comics are at their best when they come from a single mind–is perhaps not a sound theory, but rather a cultural reaction against mass-produced and micro-delegated corporate comics. I don’t see why the “auteur theory” should suffer if the authorship of a work is split between a writer and and artist rather than one person who does both.

This concerns me because it seems like potentially good comics are not being born because many people who *might* be able to enhance one another’s work may never even consider working together. For example, when cartoonists get together, lots of times, we’ll come up with some silly joke that could make for a fantastic strip or comic book, but will never be pursued because the people who came up with the joke decide to leave it on the table.


Which brings me to:

Last year at the Small Press Expo, I was impressed by the work of Maris Wicks who had not one but TWO wonderful minicomic collaborations. The first was a picturebook/minicomic called Yes, Let’s. This gorgeous storybook was written by Galen Longstreth and featured full color illustrations by Wicks.

I later ran into Wicks who tipped me off that she had another collaboration, this time with Liz Prince, both of whom would write and draw the minicomic Duddits.

Wicks:

Prince:

Other forms:

One thing that I find pretty interesting is the webcomics tradition of “guest comics.” I don’t see too many of these anymore, at least among the webcomics that I personally follow, but it’s worth mentioning. Guest strips are not true collaborations, but they relate to my earlier point about what can happen when cartoonists get together and start sharing ideas, jokes and so on.

Collaboration 2: The Marvel Method.

There’s more than one way to make a comic. Continuing with my exploration of the idea of creative teams in independent comics, I want to raise the notion of the old-school “Marvel Method” of comics creation. Most comics that are made by more than one person are created in a way that you’d expect: one person writes a whole story and another person draws it. And sometimes the drawing is broken into components such as “pencilling,” “inking,” “coloring,” and what-have-you. For a long time, this completely sensible system was the norm. Of course there was some variety.

DC Comics were known for their “full script” method in which a writer writes a complete story, dialog and everything which is sent off to the artist to render and bring to life. Cool.

EC Comics (see also: Kurtzman) were sometimes known to have scripts that included (or perhaps consisted of?) thumbnails. A comic made of comics, as I often think of it! [note: I’m going to just make stuff up for this paragraph] I personally work this way. I write down little notes for myself, but generally I do little thumbnails of my comic pages to work out my scenes in my notebook. Having a sense of the shape of a comic before going forward with drawing the final pages helps tremendously. I don’t give myself a script though, I basically make stuff up on the final page. That differs greatly from what I tend to think of as the EC method, but leads us directly into the madness of…

THE MARVEL METHOD.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

The Marvel Method of making comics is totally crazy. Two guys (usually named Stan Lee and Jack Kirby) will sit around and talk about comic ideas. They’ll basically shoot the breeze like buddies and the resultant effort would be approximately (more or less) a single typed-page of story. A general plot outline for the issue of the comic. Then the artist (Kirby) will lock himself away and draw the whole thing up however he sees fit. He may have to include pertinent notes for the next stage. But the artist here is a full controller of the situation. He may not have written the plot or he may have assisted in that stage. But whatever the case is, he completely directs and controls how that loose plot plays out for 20-plus pages. When the artist turns in his pages, the writer looks at this glorious mess and has to make sense of it. This is where it gets hilarious. Now the writer (or primary writer, since the artist is essentially a co-plotter) will go and write the entire script from dialog to captions to thought balloons after the major storytelling decisions have been made by the artist.
The results of this method are similar to how I like to think of jazz music. You have the vision of not one master performer, but rather multiple intelligent forces driving the project simultaneously. At their best, these collaborators will know when to take charge and when to fall back and allow room for their respective partner to take the lead. Part of it is intuition, part of it is communication, a BIG part of it is mastery of craft on the part of both contributors.

Indie comics.

So I got to thinking: man, it would be off the chain insane if indie comics people let their guards down and started to work this way. I know that I’d love to try it out. I’ve heard it said that indie comics have gotten a bit stagnant. I think that it would certainly liven up the game to have some smart, but sort of bored cartoonists bounce ideas off of each other and give each other’s batteries a charge (sounds romantic), even if only for a side-project. Sometimes two heads is better than one, and sometimes, you just need somebody to shake up your comfortable processes.

Let’s go.

Images (c) DC Comics, (c) Marvel Entertainment, (c) Galen Goodwin Longstreth + Maris Wicks, (c) Maris Wicks + Liz Prince, (c) Darryl Ayo Brathwaite

An Excellent Host – A Pioneering Webcomic

24 Aug
by Kevin Czap

If you’re the kind of person who feels strongly about not having Homestuck spoiled for you, you might think twice about reading further. I’ll be addressing the most recent events of the comic, although probably not in any more detail than you’re sure to find surfing around on Tumblr. Either way, consider this a Spoiler Warning

Folks who’ve been following my opinions on comics are familiar with my feeling that Andrew Hussie is making some really clever, intelligent, daring and important work. His Problem Sleuth is one of my all time favorite comics for many reasons. Hussie’s current work in progress is the far more complex epic Homestuck. Aside from the top-notch comedy, engaging characters (maybe an understatement?) and labyrinthine plot, Homestuck has also given Hussie an excuse to pull off some really fascinating experiments in pushing the boundaries of what comics on the web are capable of. My intention is to take a look at one of the most recent.
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Comics Is A Mean Business

22 Aug
By Darryl Ayo

Comics is a Mean Business. November, 2009. Darryl Ayo. Still true to this day, I really do this.

It is so very important to have a schedule, to have a pattern upon which you can rely. Waiting around for inspiration to strike is for the birds. I have a few techniques that I have been harvesting over the years. They include:

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Digital Comics Need To Be Smarter And I Know How

19 Aug
By Darryl Ayo

It’s Friday again, welcome back to my column. Before I get started, let me suggest that discussions around the topic of digital comics should hopefully bleed into Twitter with the hashtag #digitalcomics. I enjoy writing the blog and I view these posts as documents. Twitter is conversation, however; it’s talking. Let’s keep the dialog flowing, shall we?

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PACC 2011

17 Aug
by Kevin Czap

PACC

Ah, feel that in the air? It’s the first refreshing signs of comics season. After three months of sitting around in the heat, I was eager to start hitting the road again and start selling books again. This weekend was the third year (I believe) of the Philly Alternative Comics Convention in good old Philadelphia. Kudos are really in order for Pat Aulisio, who once again pulled this whole show together. PACC being a small show doesn’t make how well-organized it all is – and how smoothly the show went – any less impressive. Even though the weather was terrible and the roof was leaking and the Rotunda was packed like a can of sardines, everyone seemed to be have a blast.

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Best Comic and a couple other things

15 Aug
By Darryl Ayo

Good morning! I found THIS on a Tumblr blog (Link: NSFW) http://methhh.tumblr.com/

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Rainy Sunday Confessions

14 Aug
By Darryl Ayo

 

I’ll admit that I haven’t read all of the issues (specifically, I’ve read three nonsequential issues), but I really liked what I have read of FF (from here on, referred to as “Future Foundation,” because those two letters get confusing). So just now Marvel Comics has announced that the Fantastic Four comic series will be resuming with issue number 600. No surprise there. Future Foundation was over too soon for my liking, but Marvel won’t pass up an anniversary issue. Wait, what’s this? FF (Future Foundation) is resuming as well? Alongside Fantastic Four? Oh brother!

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I’ll Have To Ask My Daddy

13 Aug
By Darryl Ayo

In 2010, a book called Black Comix: African American Independent Comics Art and Culture was published by Mark Batty Publisher and directed by Damien Duffy and John Jennings. I’m a contributor, you can see excerpts of my webcomic Little Garden Comics “Beautiful Monster” on pages 36 and 37. Today I am more concerned with pages 106 and 107, which contains an essay written by a Mr. Turtel Onli, who founded the Black Age of Comics Convention in Chicago in 1993. He puts forth that this is a “Black Age” of comics (as in: Golden Age, Silver Age, Bronze Age). Seeing more and more black professionals working in the field Onli decides that the “Black Age” is upon us. Nevermind that the other comic “ages” don’t refer to single demographic trends, but overall industry trends. Onli’s essay contains the usual rah-rah hollow talk that is common among people who suppose themselves as leaders of a community. What really hit me between the eyes is the following passage:

Some refuse to even acknowledge that there is a movement at all. Some say the idea of a distinct black movement in comics hurts them. They maintain the egotistical stance that their work is beyond categorization, yet they still lament racial tensions or the isolation they feel working in settings with few blacks. They will still lament the sting of being unknown to other blacks for the amazing work they create.”

“Egotistical?”

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That Old Black Magic

12 Aug
By Darryl Ayo

For those of you just joining us (in Western Civilization), there has been a past of some level of acrimony between white European-descended people and black African-descended people. Rumor has it that this hostility continues to this very day. The above panel is from a well-regarded comic called The Adventures of Tintin in which we see the title character being carried about by crudely-drawn black Africans. Today, such images are generally frowned upon and not encouraged.

This man is not amused by what he sees in that comic book. Can you blame him? The Africans in Tintin in the Congo, along with several other of the books in the series are depicted as barely sentient slabs of black ink with few individual characteristics and little sense of humanness. The depictions are harmful both in the visual sense of how Africans are drawn and how they are written. In Tintin and many other early comic books, black persons lack personhood on the page and that ties directly into the extreme degree to which blacks had been pushed out of society and treated as “there-but-not-there” by the white mainstream of society.

In later years, we would see a retreat from such imagery in mainstream comic books, but there was a cost. After some point in history, comic publishers began to feel it not wise or politically inopportune to allow such images in their products. What ended up happening, however, is that black characters largely vanished from many comic books.

And eventually they returned, drawn more naturally, and even starring in their own adventures here and there. But what I find particularly interesting is the way black characters fell from being marginalized figures in society to non-existent for a period in time. And to be sure, to this day, black characters, major or minor, are fairly rare in Western comic books, given the relative population; particularly since many Western comics are set in cities–where blacks tend to live.

I was reading through some old racist comics (because I like old racist comics) and suddenly I felt a burst of lightning; at one point in time, black people were acknowledged in Western comics, followed by a period in which they weren’t. Granted, the portrayal of African people was usually condescending to say the very least–but it was an acknowledgement. There was an awareness of different people, persons different from the white authors and their intended audience. There was a very crude attempt at indicating that Western society is comprised of various cultures. Subcultures that operate within as well as without the white base of power.

And this is where I get into trouble:

I actually like some elements of the racist depiction of black figures in old comics. It first happened to me years ago, I believe in 2003 when I was reading Jim Woodring’s The Frank Book featuring his strange fantasy monsters. Here’s an example of Woodring’s designs:

I kept feeling uncomfortable when I saw Pupshaw and Pushpaw in the pages of Frank due to their graphic similarity to old racist comic strips. Woodring’s iconography is borne of the early Twentieth Century cartooning style. Then it hit me all at once: this is good design. Damn good design!

These are my sketches. I’ve been toying with this idea mentally and decided to lay it out on paper to see how it works in reality. The idea that I came across as I went through Woodring’s work is that the images derived from old comics are very graphically powerful–but not for their political and social implications alone. These images are powerful because they use strong, solid and bold black shapes, detailed with white slivers cutting the ink into recognizable planes. It doesn’t reflect the reality of having dark skin, but it makes a figure stand out and be bold against any graphic background.

In Woodring’s work, this graphic power is harnessed and allowed to run free because it’s used on characters that don’t even approach being human. It’s removed enough from the original context to avoid being hurtful to people. But what if I wanted to bring this graphic approach full circle? What if I wanted to bring it all the way back around to being about humans again. And what if I wanted to take the concept further and use it to show dark skinned humans not as creatures, but as beautiful, stark and striking figures on their our own? WHAT IF I WANTED TO DO THAT?

Strong Feelings about Alan Moore

10 Aug
by Kevin Czap

Alan Moore Dodgem Logic

I was chatting with Liz about it the other day and the subject of Alan Moore came up. She asked me what I responded to so strongly in his work. Here’s an very-much-extended version of what I said to her.

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