Friday, August 21, 2009

Outcomes assessment #7

This is the seventh in a series of analyses of exercises and activities from the Graphic Novel Intensive class at PNCA.

Number 1 is here.
Number 2 is here.
Number 3 is here.
Number 4 is here.
Number 5 is here.
Number 6 is here.

Dan's major assignment: (Studio work, days four and five)

On the afternoon of Thursday, the fourth day of instruction, Dan put us into studio mode. There was no lecture or class discussion; we were just to begin creating our final piece for the class. Working together in the classroom, we were to conceive, write, design, and draw a two-page comics story. All the comics would be collected for publication as representative of the GNI class. There were no parameters to the assignment, other than the suggested length.

My own participation in the assignment wound up being curtailed. The class continued until Saturday, and the intention was to use Thursday afternoon, all day Friday, and all day Saturday to create to the piece. My own plans had changed and I would not be able to stay for the Saturday session, so I unilaterally reduced my contribution to one page, preferring a complete shorter work to a rushed or incomplete longer work. I also made the decision to create an imaginary comic book house ad rather than a sort autobiographical piece, which was the the form of choice for most of the class (a strong Forney influence there, I thought); I wanted to work more on my actual art and rendering than on the plotting and storytelling, and to play with the techniques we had been working on all week.

I started with rough thumbnails instead of an actual script:

The premise of the imaginary house ad was that an upcoming series would feature the Universal Studios movie monsters as private detectives. This is an idea I had been kicking around for several years without any product, so the content came easily (nice for the time constraints). I thought on the initial layout had a nice balance.

From there, I moved on to pencils:

I decided on the twelve-panel grid probably because in my mind I was envisioning some Sandman stories (perhaps by Creig Flessel) that used such a grid to good effect. I used some photo references for the art, such as pictures of Humphrey Bogart for the collar and hat brim details, and (believe it or not) an anatomy shot for the foot detail in panel two. As I laid the page out, I thought I was introducing too many characters, so The Phantom of the Opera was cut. I did the pencils on plain copy paper, the better to work with a light box on the inking stage, in the manner of Ellen Forney.

Speaking of inking:

Since my intent was to thrash around with new tools, I tried to stick with the brush pens for most of the inking and pay attention to line weights and such. Given my limited skill set, I'm not sure how successful the approach was. I did make the conscious decision to do minimal hand-inking and no hand-lettering; Photoshop was going to be a big contributor to the final product.

To wit:

All of the black backgrounds are obviously Photoshop fill; I can't imagine trying to do this with hand lettering. I also threw some grayscale fills in, most noticeably on the Creature's hat and trenchcoat; I'm not sure how successful that choice was without complete consistency. One detail that I think worked particularly well was the reversing of the Invisible Man's glasses from black to white in the final panel so they would show against the background. All the lettering was done in Photoshop, of course, and I think most of it works with the exception of panel three, where it gets lost. And panel four shows the most computer work: not only has the figure been reduced and moved, but the streetlight was added in

The obvious deficiency in the page, regardless of the techniques used or the relative lack of drawing ability, is the almost complete dearth of background detail in the panels that could have really used some. The Bride may have an iMac (with poor perspective), but that appears to be the only thing in her office - even the wall appears to be a caption box (with poor proportions) - and the cast appears to be posing in some sort of dark gymnasium for the final shot.

The point of the exercise - for me, at any rate - was to experience, at least in some small scale, the pulling together of all the pieces, particularly on the art side, that go into making a comic. As someone who routinely reads and criticizes comics, I felt it was important to have this experience, and in regards to that outcome, at least, the exercise was successful. My appreciation of the level of engagement and the attention to detail necessary to produce comic art with both the communicative and aesthetic properties intended has been expanded and deepened. I only have to look at my own meager effort, and be reminded that even with photo references in front of me I forgot to render the classic P.I. trenchcoat as double-breasted, to sustain my awareness of how much actual work goes into the making of a successful page and how easily one can miss the target.

As an opportunity for developing talents and techniques, I am not as sure how successful the exercise was. Perhaps I cannot speak to this with sufficient qualification, since I missed almost half of the time allotted, but the work-all-day-with-the-instructor-wandering-around method didn't seem as helpful to that objective as some other models might have been. The differences in level of artistic ability and familiarity with comics form seemed pretty great, however, so I'm not sure what that approach might have been.

And perhaps that was the most problematic element of the whole class. Making comics takes the synthesis of a wide array of skills that come from the writer's toolkit, and the painter's and the graphic designer's, as well as from that very specific toybox of comics conventions. My lingering impression is, that as far as instruction goes, a focus on one of these dimensions of the craft at a time is more successful, at least in the classroom environment. Pulling them all together is a great capstone demonstration.

That's the final entry in the assignment-by-assignment breakdown of the Graphic Novel Intensive class. If you are interested in seeing the final products from all eighteen students - many of whom produced work a lot better than mine - you can buy the class album from Lulu Press.

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