That Terrible Pain

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click on images to enlarge

Concept: Okay, first off: I hope no one is too upset with how they were portrayed—visually or otherwise.  If it’s any consolation, the Chris character’s face changes from panel to panel, and he certainly doesn’t come off as any better than the Mark or John characters—isn’t it cool, we’re all now comic characters!

You’ll recall that I proposed the challenge for this month’s ArmzRace.  I said something like:

I think it'd be neat to do a comic based on a shared experience.  That way, we could get three different perspectives on the same event.  I realize that the 3 of us haven't spent a lot of time together, but we did have a few memorable moments.  In particular, the Kidney Stone adventure would make a reasonably dramatic story.

You should know, however, that even though the original idea was mine, I had no notion of what to do with it.  In fact, it wasn’t until I got the image of myself as an old man retelling the story that anything began to jell for me.

Originally, I wanted to make the story funny--after all, it was a pretty absurd event; but the more I worked on the damn thing, the more serious it became.  I still think there’s a real disjointed-ness to the story because of the struggle between the humorous and serious aspects; but overall, I’m reasonably pleased with how it came out.  I guess I sort of think of it as a Spooky Comic (that is, one of those cheesy horror titles of the 1950’s and 60’s).  Even more interesting were the questions that the story raised (more later).

Putting it Together: Not to make too many excuses, but I was in Atlanta most of the month that this baby was due, so I didn’t get to spend a whole lotta time on it at my desk.  I wound up taking a day or so longer than I was supposed to, but I felt that was permissible since I was mostly finished anyway.  So if the artwork looks rushed, well, it is; but I need to be serious about sticking to the deadline rule.  I think that the deadline, more than any other aspect of this ArmzRace exercise, is the most important part for me, because it forces me to do the job.  Sure, I could do a better job if I took more time, but for me there’s a big grey void between doing it “better” and never doing it at all.  Anyway, enough sermon; enough excuses.

This one came to me in sporadic images and text, and I jotted or sketched them down in my sketchbook in a pretty haphazard way.  Even though I started with the Old Chris, and I knew that the story would be basically chronological, I wasn’t sure what to include and what not to include.  I think that’s another failing of the story—trying to do too many different things (and I cut out several ideas!).

Layout: I knew that I wanted to try an actual “book”; but that presented several problems.  Number one: at a minimum, that meant four “pages” of work.  No problem, I thought, I have enough material for that.  But I knew I couldn’t really call it a “book” with only four pages—I’d have to go for eight.  I decided to take the challenge—after all, I had a lot of stuff sketched out (very rough), so the real problem was time (and endurance) rather than material.

So I made a tiny mock up of the comic—2 leaves = four pages—and kinda sorta figured out how everything would fit.  I got most of it right on the first try, but I did have to come back with smaller pieces of paper and tape over my first draft in order to get everything to fit.  It was fun, and a real challenge, because not only does everything need to fit in a readable way, but I was also concerned about making each page work as a page.  What I mean by that is that I wanted to try to make some sort of statement or feeling on each page—make each page have an emotional impact.  Each page should kinda stand on it’s own, but still flow into the next one.  Clear as mud?  I won’t comment on how successful I actually was.

The bad news is that, in some ways I like the mock up better.  It’s a better size (proportional-wise) and some of the sketches (although very very rough) still have more punch to them than the final version.

Problem number two: since I knew that my time would be limited, I thought about putting this on smaller paper, but things just wouldn’t fit right, so I wound up using 4 of the big 11x14” sheets.  Each sheet represents one side of a leaf.  So basically, I’d be doing 4 times as much work as I had done on the first ArmzRace.  I thought I’d never finish.

Even though there are a lot of things I like about the layout, I think I probably still need to practice with the basic 6 to 9-panel grid before I try to get too fancy.

As to how the pages actually got drawn, hopefully the following illustration will be sufficient explanation.


Lettering: I thought I’d be clever and save some time by using MS Word to do most of my letting for me.  Big Mistake!  I should have listened to Mark.  The measurements were way off—this is obviously the ruler Gates measures his dick by.  Not only that, but my glue stick sucked (okay, I stole it from work, so the gods must be getting back at me); and after I had pasted some of them down, I realized that I put the wrong text on some parts.  Everything says basically what I wanted it to say, but I had several versions, and I wound up gluing the weaker ones in some places.  Overall, I would guess it wound up taking me longer than doing it by hand. Arggh!

Inking: I really wasn’t happy with the inks on this one.  Like last time, I used a Pilot Precise V7 Fine for small lines and an AP Chartpak Marker for most of the large blacks.  I used a Rapidograph in a couple of places for really thin lines.  Like I said, in some ways I liked my mock up better (which I did with a pen).  I don’t care what anyone says, a ballpoint is a great tool!

I think for a future challenge, we should mimic the 24hr comic and make ourselves do a comic from start to finish in 3 hours or so.  Sometimes the spontaneity is what makes it great.

Reproduction: Putting this thing together was a nightmare.  I’ll spare you the long version and just say that it helps to have a good copy machine, large margins, and a patient girlfriend.  Luckily, I had at least one of the three.

1. Not all copy machines are equal.  If you’re doing it yourself, I recommend trying several until you find one that reproduces at the right black-white tone and keeps the paper straight (lined up) as it photocopies.  I wasted a lot of time thinking that the machine I was on was a good representation of all copiers.  One of the reasons that the final version is so tiny is because of all the hoops I had to jump through to get everything to work right. 

2. For God’s sake, give yourself some decent margins.  I did something like ¼” around the page, but I would now recommend a MINIMUM of ½”.  Additionally, your center line should be about 1/8” thick, not a single black line.  The reason for this is, the more leeway you give yourself, the easier it will be to line things up; and when things don’t line up perfectly (and they probably won’t), the more room you have to play with, the less screwed up the pages will look.  (If I ever reprint this thing, I’ll probably slice it up in order to increase the margins.)

3. Last but not least, JoAnn helped me a lot in keeping me from driving a stake through my brain.  The whole process took probably 3 hours, and she was very helpful in lining things up and in coming up with ideas as to how to overcome obstacles.  If you plan to do this yourself, feel free to call me for suggestions.

Overall: I easily spent the whole of February playing with this one.  In actual hours I’d say it took me 3 to 4 full days to get it all together—not including all the wasted lettering time, and not including the original sketching and mock up, which probably took another 3 to 5 hours.  And none of this includes my “walking around and thinking about it” time nor my “thinking while I really should be working” time.

The More: Obviously, I suggested this one because I thought it’d be kinda neat, but part of the reason that I proposed this was because I’ve always been intrigued with the idea of subjective reality.  Even though we were all there, we each had a unique experience—and this was a neat way to bring it out.

It also raises some interesting points (for me):

1. How accurate is history? Especially if there are three different versions?

2. What is the nature of biography/autobiography?  How do you decide what is and isn’t important?  What do you leave in and what do you leave out?

3. Who is right?  The boy at the end of the story (the one in the memorable striped shirt) or the old man?

I think if I were to do this story again, I would either go the full cartoony route, or I would go the full serious/horror route.  In some ways, I decided too late that this should be almost an homage to Dante’s Inferno.  I know—you’re laughing, but the more I worked on it, the more I wanted it to be a kind of “decent into hell,” with the ER being like the realm of the damned, and the nurse being like Chairon (I think that’s the name of the guy who leads you across the river Styx).  Anyway, doing this comic really encouraged me to believe that I could do a fairly serious story.

What People are Saying

Mark sez: As to the latest comic, I’ll respond more to the NFTB to express how I reacted. By talking straight from the comic itself I feel that I will be overwhelmed by the pleasant shock of seeing a full mini. After I was complaining that I was having trouble sticking with the one pager you have jumped the gun by going beyond it. The end result was a story within a story that tackled intellectual questions while still being humorous. I was very impressed to the point of shock over your ability and long to see more. I wasn’t upset or anything from how I was portrayed. Even if it was negative, I, hope, that I could see it in the light of the situation. I was very pleased with the way I looked on p2 panel 3 perhaps because it looked the most cartoony and like the little pictures I make of myself. Also, I am mentioned and portrayed as a “take charge” guy when my feeling of helplessness over the situation was probably more than yours (after all, I’m 3000 miles from anything familiar). What was especially poignant to me was when we found the hospital but not the entrance (how retarded) and you were driving, I was running around, and John was hobbling. Even though I didn’t include it (I focused on making it comical and in part wanted something to play off yours and (I was hoping) John’s) it is what I remember most clearly. I disagree where you feel the comic is disjointed. I think that you nicely divide the story into Memory and Now, with the later focusing of the humor. I do think that if you want to have that 50’s feel to the intro you need to have the title’s typeface change into something cheesy. You felt a little down on your art but what I look for is the distinction of the ages of the characters and there are truly great visuals such as p. 4 panel 1, p. 5 pan. 3 and p.7 pan. 2. I’m glad you did this format first cause I leant a great deal from your notes, although I wish you could have said the same instead of foolishly putting faith in Gates. You bring up 3 questions in The More that I want to save for tape cause I think I can express my views better orally (one of my debilitating curses for my dreams of writing). I do think that this has the room to grow into a larger short (did you notice my love for these contradictory terms). Be carefully in your reading of this. I don’t want you to think that what I am saying means that this is good and something else is bad or that this is bad and others are good. That is not the case. I am simply stating that the topic and style of this particular issue invites itself to have add on’s. I don’t think that you have to be all one way or another (funny/serious), in fact I think that being able to cross the lines and merge concepts makes for a deeper story. I like this concept of Dante’s journey and I see many hints of it (PS Charon is the boatman. Close.). I never saw a reason for you to believe that you couldn’t do a serious story and was going to suggest that for a topic you do a story in general. By this I mean a non-bio piece with the well roundness that is demanded by “story” as opposed to anecdote.