About two weeks ago I wrote about a potential project based on my travels in Egypt, and promised to finish thumbnailing the pages for a full length story by February 23rd. “Did she finish?” asks one. “Is it brilliant?” asks another. “Can I read it right now Katherine? When will it be available on Amazon? Will you be doing a promotional tour across America?” That last part, I am quite certain, no one is asking.
The answers are as follows: YES! February 17th (5 days EARLY!!) I finished, printed and bound a 186-page booklet of a thumbnailed graphic novel. NO! It is not brilliant. Not even close. I’m lucky if half of it is even legible to anyone but me. BUT! I think I know where it is going, and that was really the point of the journey: to see if anything was there underneath the mental snapshots of our two week trip, and I think I’m onto some good leads. Tim Stout (my wonderful, talented husband) sat down with me on Sunday and helped me to extract the POINT (theme) of my story from a certain thumbnailed sequence I’m rather attached to, and I’ve spent the week diving into the pencils based on what I’ve learned about that same scene. I am excited about the road ahead over the next two months as graduation closes in. By May I should have a solid idea of where this project can go, and some sample finish pages to show for it. And, in the meantime, I will continue to do shorts, to try out different styles and approaches to cartooning. I will post excerpts from the process as I go.
Here is a sample thumbnailed spread from the Midpoint. This was executed by drawing with a wacom tablet and using photos from our trip to create page layouts on my computer:
And here is a sample thumbnailed spread from the latter half of Act 2:
This method of working has treated me very well. Using photos feels a little like “cheating,” but, hey, I took them, right? They are placeholders for drawings until I get a little farther along, but when trying to get through 10 pages a day, it was one of the best ways I found to keep moving. “Hey, I already composed this image– in a photo!– so I’ll borrow from myself. Thanks self!”
After a day or two of recovery, on January 25th, I sat down at my desk to begin composing a “long drawing” about Egypt, in the tradition of a 25 foot drawing that I did while living in Rome. I had anticipated that the project would be a few feet long and take about a week’s time, and I would then recommence the projects I had left in December when I went home to Christmas break. But Egypt had other ideas, and I immediately discovered that a long drawing was all wrong. ‘Longer!’ a voice demanded. ‘Panels!’ It said. ‘No!’ I cried, ‘I have to do a thesis project! I’m already behind! GO AWAY!’
But the voice just didn’t listen to me. ‘You have to draw it out! Think of what you saw, what you learned, what you thought about…’
Now, about three weeks later, I find myself closing in on finishing the thumbnailing for a graphic novel. Am I crazy? Probably. Yes. Most definitely. But tackling this isn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be. I am leaning on our 4,200 photos and all of my notes and sketches to draw out the things I remember, impressions and thoughts, wisps of conversations and my experience in a new culture.
This is my first test drawing, seeing if I could steal some style from Baudoin of L’Association (“Steal from the best!!” Thanks Alec!) and approach this story in a whole new way. It’s just the beginning, a little scratch at what I want to do with it. How do you capture thoughts on paper? Sear a reader’s soul with ink? How do you convey the experience of the spirit on the desert edge of the world? I don’t know. But I am determined to finish a first draft of this story by February 23rd, one month after we returned, so that I can put it away for a time, that it may resurface with clarity later.
But I am filled with renewed hope in what the arts can do.
Last week I had a break through with my thesis project direction! My story isn’t a drama… it needs to be a satire! This realization changes everything, of course, and makes the vast majority of my writing and drawing thus far obsolete, but I no longer want to do the serious and personal rite-of-passage story about weddings and family relationships that I originally intended, because it wasn’t going to be a FUN story (and God knows there’s enough anxiety in comics, anyway). The story I’m now planning is TECHNICALLY still a rite-of-passage, but with all of the new wonkiness and antics and escalating chaos, it should be a blast to write and draw and still get my point across. I will still be thinking a great deal about scene writing, dialogue, and Blake Snyder’s advice (in Save the Cat, a fantastic book about story and screenwriting), but I feel much more satisfied with this new approach.
I thought this blog would be a good place to show (and, sniff, mourn) all of the work being laid to rest in pieces and temporarily shelved on it’s way to the garbage. It took this stack of writing and thumbnails, page break downs and drawings to get me moving forward and find what the story is really about, what amounts to one Binder Inch of work:
I’ve put in about 8 months off-and-on of thinking time and wheel turning, which isn’t much time at all in the big scheme of things, and I count myself lucky to have this break through in November (instead of March or April) for the sake of my thesis! I have a lot of months and weeks left to act on my new instincts and keep things at a draft level.
On Friday I met with my thesis advisor David Macaulay and showed him the chapter synopsis of the new draft. He said “This is good.” Which, coming from him, is more than enough outside validation to last me through the month, even if by December I’ve ruined the entire thing with my new ambition!
Flaubert wrote to his lover in his second year of working on Madame Bovary that “everything one invents is true,” and that “poetry is just as precise as geometry. Induction is as valid as deduction, and after a certain point, one is never wrong about matters of the soul.”
Roald Hoffman, Nobel Prize winning chemist, finds that science has a great deal in common with poetry. “The language of science is a language under stress. Words are being made to describe things that seem indescribable in words– equations, chemical structures and so forth. Words do not, cannot mean all that they stand for, yet they are all we have to describe experience. By being a natural language under tension, the language of science is inherently poetic. There is metaphor aplenty in science. Emotions emerge shaped as states of matter and more interestingly, matter acts out what goes on in the soul. One thing is certainly not true: that scientists have some greater insight into the workings of nature than poets… Poetry soars, all around the tangible, in deep dark, through a world we reveal and make.”
Graphic designer turned rock star Chip Kidd states in an interview that books are very much theater of the mind, and that “writing is really designing with words, taking language to create a pure experience in the reader’s mind.”
I like all of these ideas.
They inspire me to be a better writer, a better designer, and a better visual storyteller.
Now back to work!
Jules Feiffer has offered to looked through some of my past work this week to see what I’ve been doing during my time at the Center for Cartoon studies along with some sketchbooks from RISD. He has responded best to the drawings and stories I love while instinctively critical and unimpressed with the work that I, too, am unhappy with, or fought my way to complete. He can see the inspiration—or the lack thereof—however much I try to hide it. I never knew it was so transparent to the outside world. So where can that come out next year? How? How do you bring yourself to be inspired? Show up, do the work, commit to putting in the hours as your desk. We’ll see what happens in the fall.
I’ve been thinking a lot about thesis projects for my second graduate year at the Center for Cartoon Studies, and continue to return to the idea of doing something that takes place during a wedding, basing some of the plot on our experiences during our engagement and big event. I just ran across this quote in Wedded Bliss:
“In Western Societies today, the white wedding prevails as the dominant form of this popular ritual, and is rapidly becoming the standard for weddings internationally. Although considered traditional, this type of wedding is anything but. The stereotypical, lavish white wedding that has become a highly prescribed spectacle featuring a bride in a formal white wedding gown, a formally dressed groom, some combination of attendants and witnesses, a religious ceremony, and an elaborate– and expensive– wedding reception is largely the product of a host of marketing campaigns. The white wedding has become so overdetermined in the popular imagination that to consider an alternative seems unthinkable.”
Surely there’s something that can be said about this through comics? While keeping the theme from being so heavy handed that it becomes unreadable?