Sunday, December 10, 2006

DRINKING, DRAWING, DEDINI AND DITKO

Computer! I've been doing a lot of work on the computer end of Kaiju Jugoruma when I haven't been busting my ass at the day job. Some of the panels I did were so over-worked with pencil (from 8Hs to non-repro blue to non-repro violet) that no amounnt of scanning magics could hide the build up. There were also a couple other things that needed to be done in the computer like replacing handwritten signage with typesetting and dropping this advertisement:



into the action. The fellow on the left is Kaiju Jugoruma, the giant nuclear bullfrog. He's coming to a movie theatre in the comic soon. Or is he? I killed a brush making him. Then I killed it some more. By the end of the drawing, I was doing pointilism with a three-pronged #4.

Another thing I've been doing is reading a chapter a night of the first Dr. Strange Marvel Masterwork, given to me for my birthday. Ditko gets smoother with his brush line in later chapters, but it's a lot of fun looking at his earlier, slapped-on lines. It's a strange (eh-hem) mix of delicate thick-thin brushwork, rough textures, fat, broad lines and big, impressionistic, goopy blacks. It's fun stuff.

Bu the thing that strikes me the most is Ditko's compositions. Backgrounds are dropped out entirely or suggested with a minimum of details. In the foreground of one panel, the dash-mark-textured Ancient One is talking to a Baron Mordo dressed in a tunic seemingly cut from stone, while Dr. Strange looks on from deep in the backgound. An archway sits in the middle distance, placing Strange in a different room, but the archway is completely unanchored by anything resembling a wall or ceiling. The colorist accentuates the separation of space by coloring the negative space outside the arch differently than the negative space inside, and you have to consider the image for a moment longer to see that this is more of an Our Town production than a Lord of the Rings set design. When the backgrounds are more fully realised, they still maintain that impressionistic sensibility. And it's a reverse impressionism, not suggesting the dappled texture of light, but the soft edges of overlapping shadows.

Then there's his use of forced perspective to create compositional frames. It's not something unique to Ditko, especially from the time and in the genre he's working, but there is something that stands out about it. He's more likely to use figures to create these framing objects than he is to use architecture or props. It's big closeups of faces turned into frames for background figures to perform in. And their performaces are often so understated that they become secondary frames for Ditko's dynamic negative spaces. It's in these spaces where the excitement really lies. These bold, empty spaces filled with flat color. It's a focus on negative space that requires a way of seeing the world backwards from the way most people percieve it. When we look at something, we usually look AT something, and not at the space it occupies. It's a way of two-dimensionalizing perception that doesn't differentiate beween the details of something and the shape of something. That gives equal importance to what is there to what isn't there. And it's an artistic choice that works particularly well in the context of Dr. Strange, whose early battles often take place with people just standing around and whose later, more dynamic confrontations take place in realms other than the real.

Anyway, these things seeped into my subconcious bfore I really started thinking about them. The other night, I was doing a couple drawings with Jude (she's got me doing collaborative doodles with her) and she wanted to draw something nice and Christmasy. We wound up putting a fun little nativity scene together. The first thing I drew was a big camel head in the foreground and I continued populating the scene with silouetted wise men and suggestions of manger details, all framing Jude's Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus. It's a nice doodle I can't show you (she has most of our drawings), that struck me as being awfully Ditko-esque. At least my portions. And, at least, compositionally. I refrained from throwing in any Ditko hands.

These drawings are a lot of fun to do, and they're a great way to keep you drawing while your doing something else (like drinking out at a bar, or sitting in a meeting). It's also fun to see her lovely cartoons integrated with my grotesqueries. But this last session has got my brain actively thinking about compostion instead of just letting the composition of a drawing determine itself. It's good to be forced into that way of thinking every once in a while, because it's easy to take these things for granted when you're knee deep into the next page.

Over the course of this drawing and Ditko week, I also decided to pop in the dvd included with the stunning An Orgy of Playboy's Eldon Dedini. Dedini has always been one of my favorite things in Playboy, even when I was sneaking them out of adults' hidden spaces as a kid. I was reminded of how much I enjoyed his painted gag cartoons when I got Playboy's 50 Years of the Cartoons for Christmas last year. When I heard about Fantagraphics releasing a big collection of his work, I couldn't wait for it. And it's a fabulous book.

In the dvd, Dedini talks a bit about the importance of creating a strong enough composition that can allow him to just be free and loose when he approaches the finished drawing. It's this confluence of compositional advice (some that can never be repeated enough), theory and practice that has me aching to get back to the drawing board.

I just don't give enough attention to composition when I'm drawing. I focus a lot on the direction of action and the theories of storytelling. I try to make sure all the compostional elements are there and in the right place, but I sometimes leave out the step in the thought process that holds these elements together. All too often, I look at an image of mine and revel in a line a might be fond of, but ignore the shape of the image. It's something I want to make a stronger component of my work. It's the next problem I want to have a sack of solutions for when a particular image stumps me. The sack of solutions is that place you reach into when you're confronted with a blank page and need to get certain things out of the way so you can get to the business of drawing.

So, it's back to school time. It's reinforcing the fundamentals time. It's activating the space with form, rather than mark-making, time. It's time to pump some tunes, crack a pad of bristol and think about the shape of things to come.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

one thing i'm beginning to enjoy and study more is just looking at comic art. seeing the compositions, the contrast, the backgrounds with out being in the magic of the story. a great cartoonist will fool you. youll read page after page before you realize theres no back ground and the composition is just a tree and a person, ( not a real example). One thing i m trying to learn is how to let the compositons guide it, let myself not be afraid of blank space and pure line.

11:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That Image and logo are awesome, good job!

I thought it was Kaiju Jugarama, no Jugs?

3:07 PM  
Blogger Marcos Perez said...

Marcos:
Part of me thinks it's a time issue. When you're reading a comic, you're spending less than a minute on a panel, but when you're drawing it, you might be spending hours. Learning to strip is a neverending learning experience.

Kenny:
I think this is the final spelling. It's probably changed everytime I've written it in the past.

I'm mostly impressed that all that stippling even shows up at all. I rhalf expected it to just turn into another Black Mass.

12:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nevaeh ni tra ohw rehtaf ruo!










Black mass, get it!

2:27 PM  
Blogger Justin J. Fox said...

upsidedown t /upsidedown

3:34 PM  

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