Monday, April 19, 2010

Mr. Comic with Dave and David

The second comic with David Greenberger of Duplex Planet fame. The original sketch (below) shows just how much I rely on black and hatching to get my effects. Both Greenberger and I agreed that it was way too gloomy that way - so I settled on trying to make it as positive as possible. Which meant no hatching and no solid blacks, and open space with primary colors.

Since the scripts come dialogue-only, I've decided to use the strips as a platform for pushing myself into different areas. This time around, the experiment wasn't so much playing around with the whole time/space mash-up that comics allows, but in trying to dispense with any pen and ink trickery and in going for a Hergé-inspired ligne claire piece.

Which is to say: contours with no differentiating weights, no crosshatching or any other pen shading effects, and flat colors with no real hierarchy - - which is what the emotional tone of Eleanore's speech seems to call for.

I didn't get there, of course. It's a style that many great cartoonists have pursued without much luck, and these are people who worship the Hergé school. I'm largely ignorant of it, so to do a perfect version on the first try would be something, no?

For starters, I realized about ten minutes into the inking phase that to really do things right, I'd need a mechanical pen. And I somehow don't have one, anymore. Weird, because the Rapidograph was my primary tool for the better part of my teen years, and I always kept a functional one around for clean up and panel borders long after I switched to dip pens.

For those not steeped in comics inking issues: dip pens have a nib that flexes while you draw - meaning that the line weight alters with the amount of pressure you apply, and how much ink is on the nib. A Rapidograph delivers a fixed-width line and has a constant ink flow. Both tools have their uses, but as I've moved even from nibs to brush inking, my need for a Rapidograph has declined sharply over the years.

Mostly, the Rapidograph is a architect's and draughtsman's tool, and with the exception of the ligne claire style, it has no use in comics. It's a dead line, and most comics need a living one. But given how lumpy all of my architectural details came out in this piece, I sure could have used one.

The other issue was with color, which is always a spooky voodoo area for me. I realize that the colors are a cheat here - even leaving aside the gradient sunbeam, I just lack the experience to trust myself to use no color clues as to the depth of the space. A true ligne claire artist would be able to use one single tone for the entire wall, and it would work. For me, it just looked like a giant lump of blue. So I treated the space as four layers, and darkened each layer as it moved towards the viewer in space by about fifteen percent.

I did resist the urge to do any highlights or lowlights, usually a big crutch for me, and I guess I'll be happy to accept the bronze medal for that. Two out of three.

I realized after the fact that - although I don't have any Hergé in my influences, a strong hint of Bil Keane, of all people, came into play. Also a cartoonist who used flat color and simple linework very effectively (although Keane was a brush man, a trait I've picked up), and who did may strips that featured one character in multiple places over single backdrop. The main character here also owes a debt to Keane's Thel, the bosomy yet rail-thin mother from The Family Circus.

Here's a look at the blue pencil grid.

Can I tell you what a pain it was making sure all the steps, rails and risers were spaced out properly?  Those math classes are starting to pay off!



Ansley said...

Thats just awesome.. totally impressive..

when are you gonna do a goddamn graphic novel with that drawing talent?

Unknown said...

Thanks. I've been gun-shy, given the complete mess that 'Sister' turned into. But I think I've learned from that - write a full script and thumbnail the thing out in advance. 'Sister' was done Marvel-style, with only a (very sketchy) plot in advance and dialogue written after the page was drawn. Sheer laziness on my part.

I do have some ideas, all I really need is the time and the incentive and, really, some support/competition. To that end, I want to start a monthly salon with all the cartoonists I know. Not so much as a collective as a get-together (somewhere in NYC, presumably on a weeknight) where the goal is just to sit down with like-minded friends and draw. The names I've come up with so far are you, Bran, John, Dave and Sarah. At this point, you know more cartoonists than I do, but I think the rest are already part of such things.

I should say that Sarah, Dave and John are all deeply non-committal on the subject, but I'm going to keep applying pressure. Seriously: if you don't have one night a month just to hang out and draw, why fucking bother?


Noah Baerman said...

This is really impressive and intense. Keep up the good work!

Dave Kopperman said...

Thanks - I was kind of thinking this piece wasn't successful, but it's been getting a lot of positive feedback. Greenberger and the editor were both highly effusive. I need to put it down for a couple of days and come to it with fresh eyes, because it's likely that I'm seeing it almost as a cheat - there was so little actually drawing involved (although there was plenty of work) that I never quite connected to it the way I usually do.

Also, it came out looking almost exactly like I'd originally pictured it, which is incredibly rare, for me - but it also meant there wasn't that thrill/fear of incipient failure that sometimes lurks behind making art.