So I have to start thinking about art history again, since it’s back-to-school season and I have to restart teaching. This is really just a way to excuse my laziness in coming out with new pages of my comic… Here’s another justification – starting to think about comics and traditional painting… When I finally do get down to work, I find that dA is a useful resource, since I don’t always have to refer back to the originals of my earlier pages; I can just look at them on dA. The cool thing is the way they’re presented first as thumbnails. Because of that, I get to see what they look like as a pure “design” composition – in other words, as a composition solely of shapes and tones. It helps me think about how the entire page looks, as opposed to the single panel. But this presents problems as well, since comic pages aren’t just something you’d do in 2D design class. The way they’re meaningful is totally different and, at times, approaches traditional post-Renaissance painting. But they’re not that, either. One of the things I’ve posted on previously is the way that narrative is intimately connected to how we lay our pages out. So the big question is what, exactly, does a knowledge of classical painting give to us? Anything?
The difficulty in answering the question has to do with how we expect our comics to be read – sure, we want individual panels to be looked at, but, with the exception of splash pages, they’re never not part of a larger composition. When I was in college (in the mid-90s), my friend, who was in a fine art program, was looking at my pages and asked me if I ever thought of the “whole page” as a composition. I couldn’t answer him, but not because I didn’t have a ground to stand on, rather because I didn’t know how to formulate what the “whole page” actually was. There are easy answers – it’s what you see when you’re looking at the physical object (which only lets you look at two pages at a time). And there are hard answers – since the writing continues (usually) beyond the page you’re seeing, the idea of the individual page isn’t the largest unit of meaning (in other words, it’s not something that’s understandable by itself, since you have to read the rest of the book). So how do you coordinate it? What actually organizes it for you in your mind when you’ve drawing? I have my own answers, which I’m about to give, but I hope to get other peoples’ ideas as well, since I want to expand what I’m doing.
Because I spent a lot of time studying Renaissance art (five years, until I got tired of trying to learn Latin, and switched my focus to modern art), I have an innate tendency to think about the unifying principle of the comic page as something like perspective. But not completely. In individual panels, I like to think about how meaningful the viewer’s position is, but then I realize that you don’t look at a comic like you look at a painting and I stop myself (the painting stands by itself, mounted on a wall, so it’s more like looking out a window – your whole body is involved; comics are held in your hand, and you flip through them relatively quickly because you want to get the story as much as anything else). So when I think about the whole page, I end up doing something that seems kind of Byzantine to me. I’ve noticed this in my more recent pages – it seems like the whole page has an axial symmetry, and a number of my characters are facing outward. I don’t know if it’s a good thing. Comic pages tend not to address the viewer, but when you do that, It tends to make the work seem less dynamic; that, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily a virtue, but you want to be able to do other stuff as well… (I don’t know if seeing thumbnails of my work on dA has encouraged this. But it has made it seem more noticeable). Back in the 90s, when I was first trying to be a comic illustrator, I got a rejection letter from Marvel that said my work lacked “oomph.” I didn’t think it was wrong, but I’m not sure if the editor had the right idea of what a more dynamic page would have been (remember, the mid-90s was the height of Rob Liefeld’s popularity, so it probably meant guys with huge muscles and even bigger guns jumping out of the page at you). There’s a dynamism to comics, for sure, but it has more to do with the way the panels flow into each other. So you have to find a happy medium between the Byzantine/design page and totally ignoring the fact that the panels add up to something. It’s partly why characters in comics panels have such trouble addressing audiences directly (it always feels to me like that stupid ending to Breathless, where Jean Seberg faces Jean-Paul Belmondo as if she’s talking to the audience – and feel free to write me hate mail in response to my total dislike of Godard…). If you do that, you break up what links the pages together. But if you ignore the viewer, you end up ignoring the way the page looks as a whole… I don’t know what to think – help!