Conspiracy (2)

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Launch Date April 1999

Watching You First off, Happy Birthday, John!  This one’s for you.  Now…Hopefully, you’re not scratching your head and thinking “what the hell is this thing?”  I realize that this one’s a little different from the usual set of comics, but hopefully it isn’t too weird to figure out.

I think the best way to “read” Conspiracy is to start with one picture and follow the arrows around until you can’t go any further.  Then pick up another picture, and try another path.  You can always “go backward” as well: for example you could read “Big Business…funds…Politicians…who make up…the Government…which funds…the Military…who buy from…Munitions Factorieswhich are owned byBig Business”.  So basically, you would read the “opposite” idea if you follow an arrow backward (i.e., “owns” becomes “is owned by” in the opposite direction).  I realize that what I just said may make no sense at all.

Concept This idea started as a “sketch” in my sketchbook from almost a year ago.  I’m putting quotes around the word “sketch” because there really weren’t any graphics involved—it was all text with some connecting lines.

This was another busy month for me, and when I realized that it included John’s birthday, I had to cheat a little by making the comic count twice.  I hope John won’t think it any less special.  What was nice about this AR was that it satisfied many things: 1) it counted as an AR entry; 2) it doubled as a birthday present for John; 3) it made me put together an idea that I had captured a long time ago; 4) it  presented an interesting visual challenge; and 5) it made me put down on paper some of my thoughts on “what I believe.”

I really wanted to continue the conspiracy theme that I had with my last present to John, but I also wanted  to produce something closer to what I think is true.  You’ll note that every one of the connections that I make is 100% provable (except perhaps the money laundering connection).

Putting it Together Well, this one was a bitch (see the layout section for more detail).  After the initial “sketch,” I started to put together real sketches for the individual panels.  After about four or five of these, I had a general “look” that I was going for.  Then I sat down with paper (actually bad copies of AR2—recycle, recycle, recycle!)

And cut out little 1” x 1” squares.  On these I drew thumbnail sketches of all the panels (again, some of these are better than the finished product--I especially liked my Corporations, but I couldn’t quite match it in the real one).  I took the thumbnails and placed them on a huge piece of paper, trying different arrangements until I got it as good as I could.  Then I glued them down and made the lines between them.  All this work gave me a mock up of the actual piece.

Then I started to work on the actual drawing.  I sorta took the Chester Brown approach.  (Lots of people do this, but Brown is one of my favorites.)  That means that I drew the individual panels (3 ½” x 3 ½”) and the title on 3 pieces of Bristol paper.  Now normally, the next step would be to cut out the panels and to put them on the actual comic page; but I took a side step.  There was no way that I had paper big enough for what I needed, so I photocopied and shrunk all my panels.  Then I cut them out and pasted them on the larger paper. 

I did consider putting this on two 11x14 sheets, but I was worried about the split.  I was already running late and I didn’t want to add another complication.  I do plan on doing a double spread in the future though.

Once I pasted them on the 11x14, I drew the connecting lines and the text.  I kind of like the idea of doing panels separately and then putting them on the actual page.  It allows you to move them around and make changes.  Of course, you have to decide early on what size you want everything to be, so there are drawbacks.  I do recommend that you go directly from finished panel to comic board rather than detour through some size changes (see the reproduction section).  Of course, I only cut up the copies, not the originals as would be the normal course.  So that means that I can revisit this one in the future if I ever want to redo it.

Layout I think I purposely choose layouts that will be difficult!  Obviously, this thing is all about layout.  I tried many different combinations and this was the best of the lot.  There may be a better one, but I couldn’t find it.

There were some ideas I couldn’t seem to work in without cluttering too much, like

--“Corporations…sell…Inferior Products

--“Corporations…set up in…3rd World Country

--“Corporations…hire…Peasant Workers

--and I don’t know how to show this: Big Business encourages the Military to fight wars in 3rd World Countries to deplete the Munitions stockpile and create a need for more weapons”

And I already see ways to enhance this baby that wouldn’t clutter it, like making a link “American Workers…losing jobs to…3rd World Country” which makes another curved web line.

Lettering The biggest news is that I did my first title for this AR.  The word “Conspiracy” is a completely separate picture all its own.  Can sound effects be far off?

Nothing terribly special about the rest of the lettering, except that, looking back, the sizes are all wrong.  If I had made the web lettering smaller I could probably have fit more text, and it might have been more readable.  My note and signature at the bottom are also way too big relative to the rest of the comic.

Inking One of the reasons that this baby took so long is that it was done almost entirely with a brush.  I have been wanting to get better at using the brush, but I am still so slow!  I can tell that I’m getting better, but it’s incrementally at best.  I have no idea how people are able to whip out a page of this a day.  Except for some of the super straight lines on the countries and the lines (webs) connecting the pictures, I would say that this thing is about 95% brush—which should help exlplain why there are few hard/crisp edges.  I’m better than I thought at getting those nice lines with a brush, but I still have a long way to go before I’m doing work like the greats (I’m especially fond of Joe Matt’s brush work).

Even though I’ve said that the AR deadline is terribly important to me, I also think of AR as a learning laboratory, and I feel good about the brush work that I put into this baby (even if it ain’t perfect, and even if I started to rush at the end—see Military and Munitions Factory).  So I’m forgiving myself (just a little) for being late (besides, that means that you get some extra goodies in your package).

Last time I recommeded using one brush size at a time, but I have not been able to put that into practice.  I still jump back and forth between different sizes.

Reproduction This AR was all about reproduction.  The original pictures were 3 ½” square, which means they were shrunk (copied) twice to get them down to 1 ½” square.  Then they were copied again once they were pasted to the main board.  (Two trips to Kinko’s!)  I’m actually surprised that they held up as well as they did.  Obviously, some of the detail was lost, but so were some of the mistakes.  The biggest problem again was the copier itself—be sure to try several if you are doing it yourself!


  • Brushes: same as before
  • Eraser: I recommend “Magic Rub” (no joke).  It’s a grey eraser.  I find that it works much better than those pink ones.
  • Ridgeways Horse Hair Brush: this is a luxury that I had left over from my drafting days.  It’s great for when you erase because it allows you to brush away all the crap very quickly and easily.  Of course, you still have to vacuum.
  • Exacto Knife: these are simply the best for the kind of fine line cutting that I needed to do on the pictures and the title.  However, make sure you get one with a cap.  I can’t believe they can legally sell one without a cap!  I’ll sue!
  • Avery Disappearing Color Glue Stic: again this is great because you can see what you’re glueing.  The only drawback is that it still has a tendency to clump.

Overall I’m reasonably happy with the outcome.  As always, it isn’t as good on paper as it was in my mind, but just having done it is really important to me. 

Hopefully, you’ll spend a little time looking at this one.  I realize that it’s the kind of image that you may not want to spend more than 30 seconds on, but I did put a lot of time and thought into it.  If you look carefully, you should see “resonances” between the pictures—even with some of the detail blurred by reproduction.  That was a conscious decision.  I wasn’t trying to draw the same picture over and over again, but I was trying to put enough similarities between the panels that it would pull everything togther on several levels.  Some of these “resonances” should be somewhat entertaining and revealing.  For example, follow the cigar…

Of course, if I did my job properly, you may start to see things that aren’t really there…..

More Obviously there must be an easier way to lay this out—so I may re-do and expand it at some point.  That’s the thing: I kept thinking of more panels to add.  Obviously, you have to stop somewhere.  One thing that I may do with this is blow up these pictures real big and use them in my stand up act.  Oh, did I not mention that I wanted to be a stand-up comedian/journalist?  Yeah, yeah, I know…..