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visual effect

Here’s something special, not because it’s much of a drawing but because it’s a first for me: a sketch from life on the subway in New York. The surreptitious sketch is something I liked to do when living around D.C. years ago, especially when I had to go somewhere by Metro. But though I still always have a little blank-page book in my back pocket, it’s taken two years in NYC to finally break it out and let go on the train here.

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Been watching comic art demos on YouTube again lately, and it’s led, as it evidently must, to another late-night superhero drawing. In this instance I wanted to draw a little something without being quite as careless about it as I’ve tended to be with these things, and started leafing through my ancient (though only purchased last year) copy of the famous How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way. Stopped at this page; I’ve had occasion to re-watch Captain America 1 & 2 recently. Told myself it would just be a head and shoulders, but drew the whole figure. Fit on the page suggests that I knew better where this was headed in the back of my mind than in the fore. At any rate, it seems like Cap came out of it alright, on the whole. If he’s embarrassed to be outfitted satisfactorily neither in the classic nor the contemporary manner, he doesn’t show it. Standing tall — it’s what we require of him, I guess.
 
 
captain_america2

It bears mentioning in this space that one of the things that helped me through a difficult period of months in the latter half of last year, here in NYC, was comic books. Not reading them particularly; I wasn’t doing a lot of that, any more than I ever am. But the persistent, never very reasonable late-adolescent idea that, hey, if I wanted to, I could always succeed at drawing superheroes stuck with me when other old mental tricks for keeping up hope were distant.

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Without thinking about what I was doing, I ‘liked’ a friend’s propagating-profile-change Facebook post last week, consenting thereby to replace my usual image with one of a comic book character of his choosing. The character he assigned me was the Punisher. Well, I’ve been much preoccupied with work &c., and was under the weather besides, and I never got around to the switch. I did find occasion to break (yet) a(nother) long drawing fast the other night with a little 3 x 5 card Frank Castle before bed, though.
frank_castle

Frank is at ease here (for the artist’s sake), sans gear, a bit deadpan — letting his chest insignia do the communicating, it seems, if any needs doing. Interesting to note that he bears a slight resemblance to the actor who’ll be appearing as him on Netflix’s Daredevil in the 2016 season. I didn’t know the character was coming to the show until after I did this; it was the sketch that led me to some googling and the discovery.

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One of the thoughts about comics & cartooning knocking around in my head for a while is that the way comics works has something in common with puppetry. I’m not thinking of Jim Henson-style puppetry or the complex animatronic creature-machines that CGI hasn’t quite yet (as far as I know) made obsolescent in the movies. It’s carved or molded puppets that I have in mind, and the kind of performance they make possible or likely — performance not very concerned with an illusion of lifelike action, but built of routines, with a catalogue of stock elements both verbal and visual. I don’t mean to suggest any particular historical connection to puppetry in the emergence of comic books. (Maybe there is, who knows. I imagine it would be a hard thing to demonstrate, if so.) All I’m thinking about here is the way things work, basically, in the comics.

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Haven’t drawn anything in months, and I’ve been itching to. Itching worse, this week, because I started playing YouTube comic con sketch demos on the tablet next to me while working at my desk. I should have resisted, because there’s really no time, but finally I dug the sketchbook out of a box. I just wanted to do a little Superman head, something along the lines of these. It started off badly, though, as it was bound to, and I kept playing with it for a long while — contrary to plan in every way.

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lev01_sm

Mignola’s graphic style in the H.B. and BPRD books evolves quite a bit in the titles’ first few years. That’s a common enough observation, and nothing specially to do with Mignola as an artist or a writer, for that matter. (Take, e.g., my cartooning idol Richard Thompson: the way he drew Cul de Sac — already at the height of his career as a cartoonist and illustrator, his style well established — underwent a similar period of refinement and simplification after it began in the Post Sunday magazine, and then again after he took it to syndication as a daily.) I’m interested in talking more, sometime, about the evolution of Mignola’s graphic approach in relation to his evolving approach to the stories, but for the moment, let’s just look at an isolated aspect or two of the change, in very brief terms.

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The last two posts here cracked open the door, just a bit, to some discussion of visual stereotyping and race. I didn’t have any definite plan to open that door further, but it’s interesting stuff, to say the least, and a good way to go for a wider historical field on the subject of graphics and human figure. So let’s just push it open and encounter the dangers within as we may.

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I may not draw a lot these days, but it’s no real exaggeration to say I think about drawing all the time. What I think about — or have in back of mind at least — particularly is the problem of representing human form, not so much in the sense of portrayal and its possibilities, but in the sense of iconography, visual language, linear phraseology. It’s what makes comics and cartooning so compelling for me, I believe, in spite of my general feeling of disappointment with the medium’s evolution.

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