Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sabbatical, Day 28 (Mystery and the Artist)

Yes, I know, it's been a while since my last post. Sorry about that. I've been busy...and as a result, Friday I finished the final page of pencils for the story.

So here's what we've got so far:

Not bad. But I had an internal debate over whether to show this to you. It all comes back to my thinking on Mystery and the Artist.

When I was a kid just starting to read comic-books (some thirty-five years ago), I didn't at first understand that there were human beings behind the scenes creating them. They just existed, and the characters within the stories were more real to me than the writers and artists who made them up. Then I would ask my father to re-draw my favorite panels from the comics, and it dawned on me that real people drew this stuff. And when he finally said the magic words...

"Why don't you draw this one?" became fully tangible: I could create comic-books. Myself. With my own little hands, I could be a magician.

Sometime down the road I realized that if I wanted to practice my storytelling skills, I needed actual stories to tell. Out of necessity, I began writing, and took to it all well enough that I never felt a need to search for a partner. All throughout this strange journey, I collected and read tons of comics. And they were a mixed bag of genres and creators...I read everything from super heroes to funny animals, to Archie comics, to monster comics (even when they scared me enough to leave them outside!), to Richie name it and I read it.

But the creators, specifically the artists, always remained a mystery.

I read all of my own comics, even when I was very young. And I'm sure I built up an association of styles and characters with specific artists early-on as well. I read comics in their entirety, including the credits and letter-columns. Once I knew people made comics, I wanted to know about the people who made comics. Needless to say, I had a lot of Superman comics in my collection, so I became intimately familiar with the work of Curt Swan. But when I stop and think back on the names of artists who I learned to recognize - Rich Buckler, Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, Don Newton, Jim Aparo, John Buscema, Gil Kane - I understand where my storytelling sensibilities came from.

But as acquainted with their styles as I became, I didn't know the creators at all. They were names and art styles and feedback and my own perception, and that was all. When I first read Stan Lee's ORIGINS OF MARVEL COMICS, it was my true introduction to the work of Steve Ditko, who's art I was familiar with in passing - I recognized his style - but I knew nothing of him. I certainly didn't grasp the significance of his being the first artist to work on Spider-Man. I had no idea of his importance in the comics-creating community. I had no idea that he'd already been around for a while at that point.

I also had no idea that of all the artists who have worked in this field, Ditko achieved the highest coupling of acclaim and mystery. He's the J.D. Salinger of comic-book artists. But I liked Ditko's work. And I aspired to do what he did.

There was something mystical and intriguing about this notion that what you were behind the scenes in comics truly didn't matter. You could be anyone and be a comics creator. You could be anyone, of any background, and be a STAR in comics! How wonderful is that? Where else do you get that form of freedom?

Another artist Lee praised was Gene Colan. I was very familiar with his name and work, because of his idiosyncratic style, dark and twisted, naturalistic and distorted all at once. (I found out years later he's one of very, very few artists who shades his pencil artwork. That may not sound like a big deal to most people, but if you're an inker working over his pencil artwork...that's a TREMENDOUS deal.) I mention Colan because he'd been around forever at that point, and to this day is still out there in the world, making comics.

Yet, until fairly recently, I never knew what Colan looked like. He never had an age or a history...he had his artwork. And it was amazing.

Another aspect of creator mystery is the actual genesis of the work. In this day and age of instant gratification, it's not uncommon to see a work in its earliest stages, and be able to follow it through to completion. (Not just my chosen media -- movies and television shows are also guilty of this.) A number of artists seemingly thrive off of the instant feedback, which is understandable. Comics aren't performance art, and they exist without the degree of audience interaction of a musical or acting or dancing performance. Creating comics is a solitary profession, but if you can upload a work-in-progress and share it online, that comes close to creating an instant audience.

Except the problem there destroys the mystery.

I haven't had a new comic out there in the world for more years than I care to mention. And now, working away in the midst of creating a story that challenges my skills in every way possible, I can't wait to show off what I've got planned. I'm channeling everything I've got into this, and have shown some people bits and pieces of it all in progress. But that's all I'm giving away for now: bits and pieces.

I want my readers to be surprised with every single aspect of HERO CORP. -- the writing, the art, the sheer momentum of the story, and what I believe to be its uniqueness. I want the people who have characters in this book to still be taken aback when they see what they're actually like. I want it to feel instantly recognizable and completely new at the same time.

I set monumental goals for myself. But it all begins with me knowing when to pull back, shut up...and tease you all.

I want to maintain the mystery.

*     *     *     *     *     *

Today I returned to Page One, held a brush in my hand and began to ink this book. (Today's Music: The Rolling Stones, starting with PAINT IT BLACK!) Inking is weird because it's permanent. Spreading graphite over paper is one thing, because that can be changed anytime. But inking represents total commitment to the art. As mentioned before, I'm no speed demon, and every single brushstroke I lay on the page is mightily considered.

And this page started with a LOT of ink -- the very first thing you see in this story is an establishing shot from outer space. You might think, space should be easy to render, right? Just throw a lot of black ink down, add a few stars, and you're done. Except nothing could be farther from the truth.

Space is the ultimate mystery. It's full of color, and depth, and light. If you're just throwing ink down and calling it a day, you're missing a Hell of an opportunity. And a true artist should never shy away from the opportunity to make magic with their own little hands and explore a great mystery. When done right, it can strip the artist of personal history and age and everything else that doesn't matter.

The only thing that matters is producing amazing artwork, and making a reader scratch their head and contemplate how you did that. Give them a mystery on paper.

But I also like to here's that first page. But in pencil. After all, I don't want to give anything away just yet.

What's the fun in that...for both of us?

More to come...!

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