24 Hour Comic, Failure with Advantage

17 07 2017

IMG_4594Last weekend I attempted my 14th 24 hour comic. By all measures, I didn’t finish. I penciled 13 pages, inked 11, and finished only 3 pages with fills and tones. I stopped drawing at 18 hours (2 hours after everyone else at my home 24HC event had gone home, just sayin) and at best I’ve got half a story. So, not 24 pages, not 24 hours, and not a complete comic.

What I do have is close to half a story on paper that I’m really excited about. I’m definitely going to finish it. If it’s not mostly done by October, I’ll finish it on the official 24 Hour Comics Day.

So what happened? And what should I do next? And what good is any of it? I tend to turn everything into a referendum on everything (see the title of my blog). But for real, in the wake of this fruitful failure, I had to examine what my goal is with 24 hour comics, and what that means for my art in general.

I’ve done a lot of 24 hour comics. By the 4th one, I figured out all the tricks necessary to succeed. If you use smaller paper, bigger panels, and favor expression over realism, you can pretty much finish as many pages as you want. So I started adding little wrinkles for myself to keep it challenging. I’ve had what I consider some big successes.

I love me some cartoon logic nonsense, which is what drives most of my 24 hour comics. This time I decided to try for a real story, using a scenario and characters that have been languishing in a bundle of notes since my days with the Eugene Comics Guild (for the handful who might know what that is) as if I’m someday going to turn them into a series of graphic novels. I decided it was time to bring the thing to life. I would just have to find the right kind of minimalist drawing style to finish the story while doing it justice visually.

Well, obviously that didn’t happen. But what’s more important– gaming the system to get to 24 pages, or making a decent piece of art? The latter of course, but the rules of 24 hour comics have served me really well. So, again, what am I doing, and why??

To answer that, I’m making the following assessment of my present and future creative life:

  • I have lots of stories to tell.
  • Comics is my art.
  • I write better than I draw.
  • My drawing will never meet the standards I want it to.
  • I will always draw my own comics. I will most likely never have the resources to hire an artist, and my drawing, being mine, is the most appropriate for my stories.
  • The parts and the whole of each comic will be the best I can make them. The whole of each comic will be the best I can make it, regardless of the faults I perceive in it’s parts.
  • I will always try to get better.
  • I won’t be satisfied with how it looks, but I will create it, complete it, and share it anyway. I can only draw how I draw. I will make my comics, and their imperfection won’t stop me.

 

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My Unsolicited Dissertation on The Matrix, Part 4

19 05 2017

The Matrix Trilogy: Truth

“There is no spoon.”

Several years ago I started writing these long winded posts about The Matrix trilogy, because I like the movies a lot, and I’ve always felt they don’t get enough credit for the challenging questions they raise. My plan was to write four posts, one for each of four words that recur significantly in the movies’ clipped dialog, and which reflect the primary themes of each movie: Belief (The Matrix), Choice (The Matrix Reloaded), Purpose (The Matrix Revolutions) and Truth (the trilogy as a whole).

But after I got through recapping the films and analyzing the first three themes, I found I had nothing much to say about Truth. I tried a few times, but never got very far, and after awhile I quit trying.

That was in 2011. We are living in a different world now.

In the films, there is the Real World, the Truth; and there is the Matrix, a virtual reality, a fiction, an utterly convincing illusion. We human beings have always had our convincing illusions, but they have never been more powerful than they are today. We know this because different segments of the population live according to different, and incompatible, realities. Climate change, vaccines, gun violence, police violence, immigrants, gender, health care, the EU, Donald Trump, Hilary Clinton — people in different camps have polar opposite views of these things. Presumably only one viewpoint can line up with objective Truth. The other viewpoint must be a fiction. But for those who believe, it is true. The illusion on one side is just as much a guiding principle as the truth is on the other side. Whether it’s objectively true or fictional, the preferred belief is perceived and experienced as fact. We are embedded in our chosen realities as fully as any coppertop in the Matrix.

I’m not going to get into which of our competing realities is the most real. I’m just here to lay down the long-not-awaited conclusion to my unsolicited dissertation. I’m going to try to find the role and the meaning of Truth in the Matrix trilogy. You can decide how much bearing it has on real life.

In my post about The Matrix: Revolutions, I concluded that belief, choice, and purpose are intertwined. Each theme is a lens looking at the same thing: the exercise of free will. Humans make choices, informed by belief (itself a choice), according to and in search of purpose. The words “belief,” “choice,” and “purpose” crop up in all three films, but each occurs with emphatic weight and frequency in only one. The word “truth” has more or less equal emphasis throughout the trilogy. Truth exists separately from free will. One hopes and assumes that one’s Beliefs, Choices, and Purpose align with the Truth, but it is not necessarily the case.

As Morpheus says to Neo when he is first acclimating to the Real World, “What is real? How do you define ‘real’? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.” Our senses are all we have to go on. If they can be manipulated — if we can’t trust them — then we can never be certain of what’s real. But second-guessing our senses is useless. There is no external frame of reference we can access. We have no choice but to accept what we sense and do our best.

Cipher embraces the concept of sensory reality. He is fed up with the misery of the Real World, and conspires with the Machines to betray his comrades in exchange for the chance to re-enter the Matrix. He knows his actions will cause his crew to die and humanity to remain in bondage. he also knows that once the Machines wipe his memory, nothing outside of the Matrix will be real anymore — not in any sense that will matter in his daily virtual life. His plan fails, but he raises a crucial question. Is there any meaningful difference between personal truth and objective Truth?

“Yes” is the strongly implicated answer. The Machines and their virtual slave engine are clearly the bad guys. The Resistance are clearly wiser and more powerful then the sleepers still plugged into the Matrix. But as we learn in The Matrix Reloaded, Truth is elusive, and illusions come in layers. The Resistance believe they know what’s true and what isn’t, because they’ve broken out of one imprisoning fiction. However, larger illusions still grip Morpheus, Neo and the others. The revelation that The One is another control mechanism create by the Machines almost shatters Morpheus. Discovering that he can hack into machines from the Real World, wirelessly, puts Neo in a coma. The Resistance may have peeled back one very powerful illusion, but can they claim to know the Truth any more than those still victimized by the Matrix?

The Matrix Reloaded ends with Neo breaking a cycle of control — the Machines’ narrative of the One — that has been in place for generations. The Matrix Revolutions deals with the fallout of breaking that cycle. The humans are more enlightened than they ever have been since the Machines took over. They finally have some leverage on the Machines. Neo and Trinity fight their way to the Mainframe, and Neo is able to negotiate for peace. To reach that point, Neo and the others had to break through layers of deception. But Truth is not invalidated just because more illusions remain. It is true that the Matrix is a lie, and a prison. Everyone in the Resistance has to absorb that truth before they can have any notion of resisting. Misconceptions about the One don’t change the relationship between the Matrix and the Real World.

Pure Truth may be unattainable, ever receding like a mirage (how’s that for irony?). Still, there is value in piercing each illusion, even if another one waits beyond it. New discoveries and baffling new questions arise in all the sciences, but only through the use of ever more advanced tools and practices, built on previously unearthed truths. We may not understand all the building blocks of the universe, but that’s no reason to abandon what we do know. The Earth is still round. Opposite charges still attract.

The pursuit of  Truth — the endless, arduous struggle to understand — makes us human. If we passively accept received truth, we give up our free will. We make ourselves tools. We become machines.





Daredevil Season Two

29 03 2016

All the buzz right now is about Batman vs Superman, which I have not seen and don’t plan to see. Being familiar with Zach Snyder, the critiques don’t surprise me at all. They say the story doesn’t make sense, the characterizations are all wrong, the palette is muddy and dull, and the whole enterprise is buckling under the weight of moral profundity, even though it’s not profound, or moral really, or interesting at all. This is superheroes for grown-ups done all wrong.

No one is talking much about season two of Daredevil on Netflix. Everything wrong with BvS is right in Daredevil. Sean Collins is recapping the episodes and is a far better writer than me, so I refer you to him for the details.

Unfortunately, superheroes for grown-ups done right is making me question all my life choices as a fan of the genre, probably more than seeing it done wrong ever could.

It’s hard to remain a fan of someone who routinely beats information out of people. The esteemed Mr. Collins sees the show as grappling with Daredevil’s questionable morals, and I don’t disagree, but by the end of season two the show seems to have thrown up its hands. It makes me think that the only way to tell a philosophically consistent super hero story is to make it completely self contained and finite, á la Watchmen. Daredevil does so well with the real-world implications of powered vigilantism, the philosophical flaws of the setup become unavoidable.

Nobody wants me to drag politics into this, I’m sure. But in the current climate of terror attacks, mass shootings, and candidate Drumpf legitimizing bigotry, bullying, and worse, I can’t watch a show and ignore the implications regarding violence and the use of power.

Maybe DD season two is setting us up for a more thorough wrestling match of morals. There is certainly a lot more to come, with Luke Cage in the works, and Iron Fist, and the inevitable massive crossover event. I will watch all of that stuff. I hope I can watch and enjoy with my whole brain.





Star Wars: The Force Progresses

8 01 2016

I’ve got a spoilery feeling about this…

The major complaint I’m hearing about Star Wars Episode VII is how closely it mirrors Episode IV, beat for beat, motif for motif. That’s accurate, but it doesn’t bother me, for two reasons.

Reason 1: there’s a line in the movie about fighting the only fight, the eternal fight between good and evil. This could be taken to imply an Incal-style cyclical nature of the Star Wars universe; the same events played out by more or less reincarnated spirits in the endless ebb and flow of light and dark. I realize this is a stretch, and far too wooby-wooby for most. And it doesn’t change the simple fact that rehashing a successful original is the lifeblood of Hollywood. Many fans who both love Star Wars and hunger for fresh, rich stories are wishing The Force Awakens had taken more risks.

Which brings me to reason 2: the movie did take two very large risks. It is an action blockbuster starring a woman and a black guy. It shouldn’t be risky to put someone besides a white dude in the spotlight, but again, we all know how Hollywood works. Now, for the first time ever, a woman and a man of color are leading the biggest entertainment franchise in the western world. If the rest of the movie had to be overly familiar to make that happen, I’m okay with it.

Episode VII had to do one thing (besides making boatloads of money, which it could hardly fail to do): it had to redeem the Star Wars universe from Episodes I-III. It had to bring back the magic. I admit, when the music started and the words “Episode VII” appeared on the screen, my reaction was less plunging into a beloved imaginary world and more “holy wamprats, the grip this thing has had on my entire life.” But soon after that, I was hooked. The magic is absolutely back. With that mission accomplished, I’m hoping the movies to come will push the narrative boundaries and strive for real cinematic greatness. But if they end up being more of the same, I’ve still got my Incal-y half-assed karma theory.





24 Hour Comic #11: The Crystals of Kwa-Bulawayo

13 10 2015

It’s been awhile since I got to do a 24 hour comic. Last year it was pretty much out of the question with a 3 month old. But this year, the artsy cartoony community of the Twin Cities came through! Organized by the local chapter of The International Cartoonist Conspiracy, hosted by the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, supported by Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and sponsored by The Source Comics and Games, 20-plus artists gathered on October 3rd to take up the challenge.

targetcomickitA couple years ago, as a joke birthday present, some of our new friends gave me a comic making kit for kids. It came with markers, some sound effect rubber stamps, and two 32 page books of blank panels. While designed for kids, it seemed like a great tool for drawing a spontaneous story. Normally I like to draw on much bigger paper, with fewer panels per page, so I knew I would have to change my style to make it work. I stuck to my larger format for the Bunnirah comics, and held the kit in reserve for a completely spontaneous story. I tried for a pared down style that would read well as very small images. I had a half-formed notion of doing the whole thing after the fashion of Chris Ware’s semi-stick figures, with a static camera, but I didn’t stick to it. I also thought I might have a page or two with lunatic colors and rubber-stamped effects, but that didn’t happen either. Still, I think there are a couple pages with very effective interaction between panels and content. I’m happy with it overall.

tcok_thum01My go-to story seed generator sites are all gone. This time I turned to Wikipedia, and did three random article searches to get a jumping off point. Wikipedia gave me the old capitol of the Zulu empire, a Columbian airline from the 30s, and a bad 2001 caper movie. I knew I wanted a female main character. As a privileged white male doofus I’ve been tripped up by blind insensitivity before, so a black character felt risky, but what’s the point of art if you don’t risk anything? I did some quick image searching for Zulu dress, and tried my best to make Bapoto a real person, at least within the context of my usual cartoon weirdness. I’d also been reading Philip K. Dick and listening to a lot of Legendary Pink Dots, so an atmosphere of post-disaster dystopia crept in. The result is The Crystals of Kwa-Bulawayo.

I still have the second book of blank panels, which I will probably use in a more dedicated attempt at a super-iconic, semi-stick figure comic, but not a 24 hour comic. Next October (or next May if I can make it work) I will go back to my large format for 24 hours.





Mad Men: Bridge to History

19 06 2015

(Spoilers. Why would I do that?)

[This would have been way more relevant back when I started writing it, when the series actually ended. But I’m not bothered if you’re not.]

I always enjoyed Mad Men most as a history lesson. A dramatic, unpredictable, emotionally turbulent history lesson. Surely that’s the wrong way to watch it. The show was never a mere nostalgia fest, but was driven by vibrant, three dimensional characters, as any story should be. Still, I’ve gotten more interested in history in the last ten years or so, trying to form a coherent mental picture of the decades and centuries flowing one into the next. TV dramas have been my primary tool, and probably what sparked my interest in the first place.

I knew some things about the 60s, and didn’t know a lot of things. Of course I’ve always heard about how it was a dynamic time of sweeping social change, but you always hear that in a way that emphasizes the goals and outcomes of the counterculture. Mad Men focused more on the entrenched old guard, and seeing them struggle really brought home the psychological violence of all that upheaval. Even as it happened gradually, almost in real time over seven seasons. The key to the whole series is Don’s reaction to Kennedy being shot: “We’re not who we thought we were.”

The last half of the final season takes place in 1970, the year before I was born. That makes the show a bridge from history to my lifetime. For the kid I was, the 70s was all fun and games. I was too young to understand the cultural vein of deep cynicism brought on by Vietnam, Watergate, economic recession and the failure of the Age of Aquarius to materialize. That understanding I gleaned later on from Philip K. Dick, Network, The Ice Storm, and so on. In Mad Men’s final episodes, we see the seeds being sown.

Out of a dissatisfaction he could never understand or articulate, Don has finally walked away from his whole life; his job, his home, his assets, his identity that was never fully his anyway. His family too, although I had the sense that he maintains a tenuous connection to Sally. He’s gone as far west as there is to go, and fetched up in a new age hippie commune. He attends workshops designed to plumb the emotions and access the truth. And it works, to a certain extent. The efforts of the gurus and the pilgrims are genuine, and the methods make sense in a time when so many longstanding, reliable traditions have been turned inside out. But we know where it all leads. It leads nowhere. The communes all failed, the gurus gave way to crooks, self-actualization degenerated into petty self-interest. (Is my Gen-X mistrust showing?)

The final shot is a cut from a meditating, ohm-chanting Don, with a smile spreading across his face, to the famous “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” ad. The prevailing wisdom among viewers said that Don conceived the ad in that peacenik love den, and brought it back to McCann Erickson (a real ad firm by the way, which really did make that ad), having learned just enough from the Aquarians to exploit their optimism and change the face of advertising forever.

I didn’t see it that way. Because I couldn’t imaging Don going back to the company after disappearing without a word for so long, I saw that cut as Don breaking away from the cynical world of advertising. He had stepped out of his fog at last, learned to see himself objectively, lost all interest in corporate achievement and could maybe start his life over for real. Meanwhile the company, absent Don’s sensitivity, ushered in a new era of advertising with a piece that was highly successful despite having none of the emotional truth of, say, the Carousel campaign.

Except the more I think about it, the more that outcome seems impossible. If Don is our window into history, it’s only fitting that he would design the Coke ad. It’s only fitting that he would transform the promises of the 60s into a cash cow. The Coke ad is the perfect summation of a cultural failure to awaken, and Don is the perfect vehicle to bring it to life.

Maybe it comes down to whether the show is about history, or about its characters.





The Best Opening Sequence

28 04 2015

The Best Opening Sequence For a TV Series Ever, in my expert opinion, belongs to Mad Men.

It perfectly captures the slow but inevitable disintegration of white male privilege, experienced through a cushioning haze of alcohol. With only a couple episodes left to go, it seems Don Draper’s whole life may disintegrate in similar fashion.
Am I wrong? Got a better opening sequence contender? I bet you don’t.