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.

 





Walking Dead, Ya Lost Me

6 04 2016

(Hordes and hordes of spoilers)

Okay, not lost. I will be tuning in for season 7. But I hated the finale of season 6.

I get it, The Walking Dead. You are a show about brutal circumstances, heartbreaking losses, intolerable pressures, and you have a high stakes, no-one-is-safe attitude. I like those things about you. What I like even more is when you depict the struggle to remain human and decent under such horrendous conditions. During season 6, you actually caused me to re-examine my own real life attitudes toward my political opposites (and there are some doozies out there right now, you know). But then you threw all that away in favor of nihilistic torture porn.

I get it, Negan is some ultra-villain from the comics, which I have not read. Having no previous investment in Negan, I was not impressed. He’s just another asshole sociopath, only more cartoonish than the Governor or the people of Terminus. I liked the misdirect better, when one of his people a couple episodes ago said “we’re all Negan.” A leaderless yet organized mob would have been an interesting twist.

I don’t object to landing in a desperate and despairing situation. I stuck with you through the death of Beth, and that was hard, but it had a kind of integrity. Not like the unearned menace in the season 6 finale; that felt like a D&D session where the DM has a specific, unpleasant outcome in mind, and no amount of inventive role playing or ingenious problem solving will sway him (we’ve all been there, right?). Suddenly Negan and his group can just do anything. Negan and his “awesome” baseball bat lording it over the characters we care about was excruciating and it went on way too long. I really wanted to shut it off, but I was hoping there would be some twist or glimmer of hope worth hanging in there for at the end. Instead there was just withholding of information. The event happened, but we don’t get to know who died. That is some arbitrary, American Idol-style dead air phony suspense bullshit.

Honestly though, I don’t even care about the cliffhanger. I felt like the episode left the realm of smart, powerful drama and just gloried in pain and misery, Saw style. I know you love your overblown head splatter sound effects, Walking Dead, and I generally find that little affectation amusing. But if you really wanted to be dramatic instead of gratuitously grotesque, you would have ended that final shot with one blow, maaaaybe two. Not half a dozen head splatter sounds playing over a black screen.

Come on.





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.





Just Bozos in Tights

19 11 2015

Alan Moore recently said of superheroes: “this embracing of what were unambiguously children’s characters at their mid-20th century inception seems to indicate a retreat from the admittedly overwhelming complexities of modern existence … it is, potentially, culturally catastrophic to have the ephemera of a previous century squatting possessively on the cultural stage and refusing to allow this surely unprecedented era to develop a culture of its own, relevant and sufficient to its times.”

I also saw this from Jeet Heer: “Superheroes work best as all ages entertainment because the roots of the genre are in the children’s daydreams: to be able to fly like Superman, to wield a lasso like Wonder Woman, to run like the Flash, or to leap from building to building like Spider-Man.”

Moore’s comment expresses a nagging doubt I have every time I read and re-read superhero comics. But, I think what he’s talking about is a symptom of a larger cultural stagnation (see this article again). We are awash in reboots, remakes, and rehashes, from the upcoming Star Wars Episode 7 to the exploitative cash-grab of Go Set a Watchman.

Heer piling on forced me to walk back a bit from my view of superheroes as urban fantasy, with veins of cultural ore akin to classical folklore (I have a tendency to– guess what– take these things too seriously). Together these articles had me scrambling to defend my enjoyment of the superhero genre. But that’s a pointless exercise. I like what I like, that’s enough. But maybe I’ll try harder, in my own little way, to inject some originality into our stagnating culture.

 





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.





Daredevil

28 04 2015

NFddThe post without spoilers…is not this post

I feel I should say something about about the Daredevil series on Netflix.

And that is, it’s excellent. (Okay, we done here?)

(Not quite.) Blogger Sean T. Collins is recapping all the episodes and extolling their glories better than I could, so I will just mention some of my favorite things about the series.

1. Universes. I know, just one post ago I was whining about having to keep up with interconnected stories all happening in one universe. But Daredevil and The Avengers enrich each other. The Avengers gets grounded in the fallout seen in Daredevil; New York is still recovering from the repelled alien invasion, and the lucrative rebuilding contracts fuel a burgeoning criminal empire in Hell’s Kitchen. And Matt Murdock’s decision to put on a mask and beat up criminals makes a lot more sense in a world where Iron Man and Captain America have already made headlines. Also; The Avengers and all the movies leading up to it (together making a series just a bit longer than Daredevil’s 13 hours) tell a sprawling, colorful epic of repulsor rays and flying demigods. Daredevil is a close, intimate, bloody tale, involving two only slightly superhuman people, both struggling to determine right from wrong. The contrast fills out the setting of both series. Together they are greater than the sum of their parts. That’s how to make a universe.

2. The Kingpin. Another thing I’ve sort of been meaning to whine about is a tendency toward non-bad-guy-bad-guys. Maybe I’ll get into that in another post. Suffice to say, I’ve been annoyed by cheaply sympathetic antagonists and essentially toothless conflicts. But as with universes, Daredevil does it right. The show gives us plenty of material to sympathize with Wilson Fisk, but doesn’t neglect his repulsive, monstrous side. Vanessa is complex enough to make their romance convincing, humanizing but not sanitizing. Most of all, while Fisk is the antagonist to Murdock, they are also interdependent; defining each other, constantly creating each other, locked in an eternal struggle that is about much more than one guy winning and one losing. That kind of narrative is the best thing about the superhero genre.

3. Violence Has Consequences. Matt Murdock’s mission as Daredevil is difficult. It would make most of the Avengers give up and run away to the Bahamas. He gets severely injured over and over. During the riveting corridor fight scene in episode 2, he repeatedly collapses in between thug attacks. HIs friends get hurt, or hurt others and face an even greater psychological toll. Murdock is a catholic, and a lawyer, and from both of those perspectives his actions as Daredevil are at best highly problematic. He knows he’s giving in to rage, and he struggles to reconcile his good intentions with his base actions. HIs priest offers him a wonderfully Manichaean solution; even the devil can serve the greater good.

4. The Costume. My one complaint about the show (and it is small) is the shying away from costumes and superhero names. Arguably the colorful costumes and names are the most childish aspects of the superhero genre, and people who want to tell sophisticated superhero stories try to avoid them. I think this is a big mistake. The name and the iconic look are integral parts of the superhero, offering a window into the character as expressed by their powers and/or tactics. No one in Daredevil ever calls Fisk “Kingpin,” which is just a missed opportunity given that he doesn’t want his name spoken aloud. Neither the name “Daredevil” nor the signature red costume appear until the final episode, in effect making the whole series an origin story, something I wish we could spend less screen time on in general. However, when Matt finally does appear in red horned body armor, it’s worth the wait. Because he looks batshit crazy. I don’t know if that was the intention, but seeing him in that mask made me feel that a line had been crossed, that whatever separates Daredevil and the Kingpin is more tenuous than anyone imagined.

Daredevil is reportedly the first of four series coming to Netflix, which will culminate in The Defenders. I’m on board, Marvel and Netflix. Don’t blow it!





Universe Fatigue

8 04 2015

Mere days after my last post about the upcoming shake-up at Marvel Comics, DC has announced that they will make another round of big changes this summer. The plan is to bring more diversity to creators and characters, and de-emphasize universal continuity in favor of letting stories and characters breathe. Hooray DC!

As for Marvel…I keep searching the internet for some indication that they’re not really moving everything to a patchwork planet where everyone will just duke it out all the time, but I have not found any such indication. Of course, nothing is really permanent in superhero comics, and when everyone gets sick of Battleworld in a few years they will surely return to Earth. Battleworld would make a fun miniseries, but as a master plan, it’s just so aggressively dumb. I guess one way to maintain universal continuity is to throw out those pesky plot points altogether.

I’ve read comics pretty much my whole life. I’ve never tried too hard to get to know the whole universes of either Marvel or DC, until the recent reboots gave me a chance to follow along from the beginning. Marvel’s Ultimate Universe was great for several years, but a pile-up of crossover events and mini-relaunches eventually made it impossible to follow.

(At least, impossible to follow in the trade paperbacks, which are published a year or more after the comic magazines and are generally not shelved in any sensible order in the stores. But I’m sorry, I’m not paying $3-$4 for a 22 page pamphlet that is only a fragment of a story.)

DC’s New 52 was more uneven, and much more short lived than the Ultimate Universe. (For an excellent breakdown of the New 52 launch, and the market forces driving both Marvel and DC, read this.) But over the next couple of years, I’m guessing DC will put the smack down on Marvel. At least in their paper publications.

Marvel Studios still seems to have the lock on the movies and tv series, with several popular, interlocking franchises, and DC/Warner Brothers struggling to get a decent movie out since The Dark Knight. I should be thrilled at the mess of Marvel movies coming out over the next 4 years. (I am super excited about Daredevil hitting Netflix on Friday, despite all my complaining.) But part of me is just tired. It’s great that all these characters live in the same universe, it’s great when they interact with each other, but does every movie, episode, and comic have to be true to a universal canon? Can’t we all just relax a little bit, and accept that different authors will tell different, sometimes contradictory stories?

I read an article recently– and my apologies, the article and it’s author are lost to the mists of the internet– that talked about the difference between keeping an archive and telling a story. I think actually it was a review of The Battle of Five Armies. And the critic felt that instead of telling a story, Jackson was obsessively archiving Middle Earth. And that there is this impulse among nerds to archive all the background and history of fictional worlds, which can be a fine hobby, or (and here I may be mixing the article with my own opinions) an unhealthy variety of escapism that deadens the story by reducing it to a set of statistics.

All that energy spent archiving would be better spent seeking out new authors and new stories, or better yet, creating one’s own. In a worst case scenario, the marketplace gets flooded with remakes, reboots, and tweaks, by people who are better researchers than creators.

Is that where we are? It kinda looks like it. Between the lack of originality and the clear cash-grabbiness of multiple interlocking properties, I wish I could turn my back on the whole thing.

But I can’t. Not yet. Daredevil on Friday!!