Show & Tell [Part #1]

After several weeks of writing essay-like posts in which I devour and analyse new and old favourite artists, books, exhibitions etc., I decided to take a little break and write about my current project.

I don’t usually share my work-in-progress, nor do I document it step-by-step. For one thing, I get completely immersed in any new artistic venture, so that I don’t have any mental space to think about presenting some fresh ideas, which I am still moulding in my head, to an audience. Secondly, and this is perhaps a little infantile on my part, I have always felt that revealing too much too soon somehow takes a bit of the magic away. “Good ideas have lonely childhoods,” as Hugh McLeod says in his book Ignore Everybody.

But because this year I’ve decided to challenge myself in many ways, I thought that writing about my work will be a good start. Especially since this is a very new endeavour and an enormous learning experience in which any feedback I get will be very useful. (Also, this is a chance to give an answer to people asking me what I spend my days doing, who might otherwise be sceptical not seeing the fruits of the labour I claim to be performing).

So I am working on a comic called The Hour of the King. Until recently, I enjoyed saying a “graphic novel” because the word “comic” has always made me think of funny things whereas the text I wrote is quite melancholic, if not sad. However, I changed my mind after reading a comic adaptation of Paul Auster’s City of Glass, by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli, which made me cry almost as much as John Bergin’s From Inside. In a fantastic introduction to the book Art Spiegelman demystifies both terms, which are used to describe books with sequences of drawings and text:

In the mid ‘80s some well-intended journalists and booksellers tried to distinguish a handful of book-format comics from other, less ambitious, works by dubbing them “graphic novels.” But even though my own book, Maus, was partially responsible for making bookstores safe for comics, the new label stuck in my craw as a mere cosmetic bid for respectability. Since “graphics” were respectable and “novels” were respectable (though that hadn’t always been the case), surely “graphic novels” must be doubly respectable!

Of course, there are even more extreme examples of comics whose contents requires a viewer with a high level of emotional immunity, like Andres Nilsen’s Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow is an extremely painful, intimate account of his beloved girlfriend dying of cancer. I’ve only seen fragments of it online but it was enough to bring a fountain of tears into my eyes.

But hey, this was meant to be about my work, and I’m already digressing.

So the comic I’m working on is about my childhood memories of my grandmother and her slow mental decline and isolation. The text, which is in its third draft, was inspired by Neil Gaiman’s and Dave McKean’s works such as Violent Cases and  Mr Punch, though I must say that the very first embryo of an idea was already present about 9 years ago when I was doing my foundation at Camberwell College in London. I did a photo and installation project about my grandma (who was still alive then), which was an ambitious endeavour that sadly got very much affected by a 2-week long course of mumps that kept me in bed. I had been meaning to revisit the theme for quite some time now, albeit not knowing what form it could take.

I began the project by writing the first draft and recording visual ideas in my sketchbook. These were very general sketches of places, people, compositions etc. that were already coming to my head, even though I knew the text would be revised multiple times. But since this project will incorporate paintings which I will be showing at the Gasoline Rooms Gallery in April this year, I thought that it was important to think not just in pen and speech balloons but also in brush and paint. One or two of those early sketches are most certainly making their way onto canvas.

I then looked at the text very critically with my boyfriend, analysed its strengths and weaknesses, and began writing the second, a much longer (4600 words) draft. This one got revised one more time, and then I began exercising my imagination by sketching a storyboard. Now, I am aware that there are standard ways of doing this when you’re a serious and respectable cartoonist, but since I am a rebel who usually escapes any confinements and labels, I decided to do it my way.

“My way” meant drawing very small (approx. 4x6cm) thumbnails, mostly without any text, to visualise the story. I used the cheapest printing paper, a 0.4 Pentel pen and an old Tombow brush pen that was already running out as I began drawing. Over the last few days I’ve completed well over 200 of these, which I am happy to share below. Initially I thought that I would do draw ultra-simple sketches with a stick man figure to economise on time, but I quickly realised that a stick man doesn’t really communicate enough for my purposes. As someone preoccupied with portraiture, I had to visualise facial expressions, even in a very crude way. So I went for these rough sketches with more or less details which would be understandable for me. I didn’t worry about perspective etc., and some of these are really quite bad, but this is just a sketchy visualisation of the narrative which I am now going to edit. Some bits of the text will change, and as for the frames – some might stay, some will be drawn horizontally, some vertically, and some will be full-page illustrations which will debut on canvas before being photographed and incorporated into the comic.

So the next month will be fully devoted to painting and drawing. I have eight canvas stretchers, some decent paper and I’m just waiting for the delivery of col-erase pencils. These pencils are apparently very easily erasable which sounds perfect for a temperamental expressionist like me.

So, bring on the fun. The next Show & Tell should hopefully happen in a month’s time.