For Whom the Bells (pp. 1 & 2)


click to enlarge (2 images)

It’s hard to believe that it’s our first Anniversary of this whole ArmzRace shindig.  In many ways it’s kind of a mixed blessing.  On the positive side, I have 12+ new pages of comic art, which is pretty cool.  On the down side, it hardly seems like much output for a full year of my life.  I do feel like I’ve learned a lot.  To wit: I have much better control over a brush with inking my work—something I knew nothing about a year ago.  That’s not to say that I’ve mastered it by any means: I look at professional work, and I wonder how I could possibly get to that level of control.  But then I sit down to work, and I feel like some things come more easily than they did the first time around.  I also know that it is possible for me to be disciplined and to crank stuff out on a semi-regular basis.  I’ve also learned (or been reminded of) some things that are less than satisfying.  Like, it takes an inordinate amount of will to get started on these things.  I still don’t understand why it is such an uphill battle to get myself to sit down and just work, especially since once I start, I generally work fairly steadily until I get done.  The problem is that discipline is a difficult thing to maintain; it’s not like you get disciplined once and then it just sticks.  Somehow I seem to have gotten just enough discipline to meet my (modest) goals, but I’m still not persistent enough to have turned these actions into habits.  I will say that I am absolutely convinced that the time factor (i.e., putting out at least one page a month) is absolutely critical to my continuing this endeavor.  Real or imaginary, that deadline has often been the single factor that has gotten me off my ass to work.  Obviously, there are no consequences if I never draw another line.  Instead, it seems that imaginary guilt is my taskmaster.  Perhaps I’m a sick puppy, but I can’t knock my muse—even if she is just the manifestation of some deep-seated self-loathing.

In ritual celebration of this landmark, I thought that I might do another “Medical Mishaps” comic.  I had really intended to make this one similar in tone to the original cartoon about swallowing the quarter, but somehow it just didn’t come out that way.  It was different, I think, for several reasons.  I have been a bit depressed and stressed out lately for various reasons, and I think my frame of mind contributed to (or detracted from?) my tone in this comic.  Instead of light-hearted, it stops just short of serious.  Hopefully, that doesn’t make it too dull (or worse, uninteresting)—although it may be too soon to tell since this is only the first couple of pages.

 Secondly, I was struggling to come up with the right style of art for this piece.  I’m still searching for that area between cartoon and realism.  I want to base my art on the real world (i.e., I want things to be recognizable as real people, places, etc.), without completely resorting to a generic cartoon shorthand for everything.  I want enough realism to have some three-dimensionality in my artwork, but enough cartoonish-ness to have flexibility and pliability in my characters’ and objects features so that I can exaggerate a mood.  Maybe that’s too tall an order, but I’m still groping for it.

In any case, I spent some more time trying to come up with a self-caricature.  Self-portraits are a pretty difficult task, I think, because it is partly biased by one’s self image, and partly by years of seeing a mirror-image rather than a true image of oneself.  In any case, as will hopefully become clear over the next few pages, this story is largely about self-image; so in a way, it was important to spend a little time deciding how to portray myself.  I still think that I don’t quite have it, but I feel like I’m getting closer.

As to the tone of the piece, it may lighten up somewhat as my mood does, but there is also something appropriate about this piece not being too comedic, since it does represent a fairly serious event that took place—at least it seemed serious at the time.

While the artwork is still far from where I want it to be, I feel that I’m on the right track with the levels of black and white that I’m trying to achieve.  That is, I think I’m much closer to the balance that I want on a page.  However, I still overdo the number of lines that I put in any drawing.  I just never feel like I’ve communicated enough information, so I make line after line on the page, and after awhile, it’s too many.  Partly, that’s an attempt to find a shade between black and white.  Some artists pull it off pretty well; I’m still experimenting. 

Page 1: While there are still too many lines on my face, I generally like the way that the main panel came out.  The “pain” around my ear seems unclear, but I was afraid to put more lines or too much white.  Overall, I’m happy with the general plan of having one large panel with a few smaller panels.  However, I keep telling myself that I really need to go to the simple 6-panel grid before I try this fancy stuff.  My face is not terribly consistent in this page, but it seems more consistent that it usually is for me.  I’m really not happy with the third panel.

Page 2: The main frame really became too crowded.  I think that I could have put less stuff in it and still communicated the same feel.  The pillow, for example, gets lost; and the swirls around my head got too cutesy to be effectively communicative.  The amount of black feels right to me, but I really did a poor job of showing you the bed.  The second panel actually turned out somewhat like I intended it to, but in the finished page it seems a little out of place graphically.  Similarly, 3 and 4 are close to what I wanted, but I think they could be done more simply.

I think my biggest concern at this point is story movement.  A lot happens in just these two pages, and I’m not sure that I’ve done a very good job of transitioning from panel to panel.  Specifically, I want to say more so that the story is not too abrupt when the reader moves through the panels; but at the same time I don’t want to have a text-laden comic.  For example, in the transition from page 1 to 2, I go from mild interest in my condition to outright panic.  Is this too abrupt?  Do I need more time? More text?  It seems to me that this might be corrected by a simple text change: “it really started to freak me out” should become something like: “over the next few days, things got worse, and it really started to freak me out.”  I don’t know that the amount of information that I need to convey warrants a page in between or even a whole panel (because I don’t want to bore the reader with too many details), but I don’t want to be text heavy either.  I feel like I already tell too much rather than just show it.

On a related note, story movement may be abrupt because I have a tendency to do one-panel summaries rather than linger in a scene.  I go from pain to eating to looking in the mirror to sleeping to calling to doctor’s office all in a short space.  Is it even clear that I’ve gone to the doctor and he’s examining me in 2:3?

More next month.  I’ve already sketched out about half of p. 3.