Weekly Comics: A Problem With English

English is a ridiculous language sometimes. The more I work in the MSU Writing Center the more I realize how difficult it must be to learn English.  This week’s comic is all about those words that have multiple meanings, and the confusion that undoubtedly arises from that madness.  I pity the ESL students I work with.  ON WITH THE COMIC!

I Speak Comics
The English Spring

What I Like
I love this comic. It’s simple, it’s something that I’m familiar with, and I think I did it really freaking well.  I like the guy in the second panel, especially how it looks like he’s looking at the spring in the third panel.  I really liked the WEEEEE that follows him into the fourth panel and while I don’t really know what spring looks like, I think it kinda looks like spring in the fifth panel.  Lastly, in the sixth panel I giggled when I made his nips hard. Spring water in the spring isn’t warm yet.

What I Wish I Did Differently
I wish I had colored in the top of the spring in the first panel and I’m now wishing that I hadn’t underlined “Spring” in each panel. I’m not quite sure how I feel about the flowing hair in the first and third panels either, how do you even do that on a stick figure? I dunno. Also the actual lettering, props to letterers. That shit is hard!  I definitely should have measured out that last “English” better.

Final Thoughts
My favorite comic yet. It turned out almost exactly how I wanted it to. I like freestyling the panel borders and not stressing about the measurements. Other than that? Awesome sauce!

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Editorial Edits – Going From Horizontal to Vertical

This week in Editorial Edits I want to talk about something that we don’t see very often in comics: changing the page orientation from horizontal to vertical.  Again this particular trick isn’t used all that frequently (though I did just see it in Infinite Vacation #4), but it’s still an interesting artistic move that I think has both strengths and weaknesses that drastically influence both the narrative and the reader’s level of immersion.

My favorite example of this type of transition comes from Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing #34.

Here Abby has consumed a piece of fruit from Swamp Thing’s body.  It contains a fraction of his elemental consciousness and opens Abby’s mind to the astounding interplay of energy, life, and death in the natural world.  Moore and co. invite us to join Abby on her psychotropic journey.

Notice how panels two, three, four, and five gently guide the reader into this new vertical orientation?  It’s subtle but calculated, mirroring what Abby herself is going through as the fruit does its work. Huge vertical panels follow, depicting images that simply wouldn’t work in the standard comics format.  But more than that, it serves to take us deeper into Abby’s trip in the heart of the swamp.  The narrative strangeness for the character becomes physical strangeness for the readers.

What’s even more awesome is that Moore, Bissette, and Totleben guide us back to reality, back to the standard comic format, the same way we started, a subtle, gradual, but calculated return to normalcy for both Abby and the reader.

Next we have a spread from Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman #10.  Check it out.

Here Gaiman transports this young lady to the Dreaming, where she meet Cain and Abel and their Houses of Mysteries and Secrets.  The second, third, and fourth panels work the same way as in the Swamp Thing example, gently guiding the reader to the new orientation, which again leads to some brilliant spreads that make the citadel of Morpheous seem even more hauntingly beautiful and grandiose.

I didn’t have a chance to scan the pages where the young lady awakens, but it’s just one small narration box that says something like, “Wake up dear, we’re here.”  The box is written as though the comic were being read normally, so the reader has to switch back to the standard format to read it comfortably, and when they flip the page they’re suddenly transported back to the waking world, just as if they’d been rudely awoken from a dream.

Strengths
I think the strength of these transitions comes from forcing the reader to physically reorient themselves as the character goes through their change.  There’s a deeper connectedness inherent there that maybe we don’t even notice.  That and the vertical pages allow for some totally awesome images that you couldn’t do normally.  It allows for higher vistas, towering scenes only limited by the artists’ imagination.

Weaknesses 
I think that the major weaknesses of this method come from the physical turning of the book as well. Regardless of how well you guide the reader into the change they’re still going to be flipping the comic, not just turning a page.  That’s new and different, so while it may mirror the narrative, it’s strange and unfamiliar and if not done well, it absolutely kills the immersion and all you’ve done is reminded your reader that they are in fact, reading a comic book.

I wish I had a good example of an occasion where it’s not done well, but there were some X-Men comics from the 90’s that have you reading along normally and then BOOM, no buffer, no sign whatsoever indicating that we might go vertical and then you turn the page and you have to turn the book.  I remember the first time it happened and I was just… I was just so annoyed.  There was no reason for this to happen, one minute characters are talking to each other, the next they’re doing it rotated 90 degrees to the right.

That’s doing it wrong, when there’s simply no reason for it to happen.

Final Thoughts
I think if the horizontal to vertical transitions is done well it can lead to one of the most gratifying experiences in comics, but even so it will always cause a break in the narrative.  The sheer strangeness of actually flipping the comic pulls the reader out of the story and back into the real world.  The change must be facilitated with grace and subtlety to achieve its full potential.

Also, it must fit the story! Swamp Thing and Sandman are two titles rife with the supernatural and are no strangers to odd twists of perspective.  Weird things happen and I think these types of transitions work well simply from a genre perspective.  That’s not to say it can’t be used elsewhere, but it has to be done for a reason and done right.

I think that’s all I have for you guys.  Hope you enjoyed and come back for more

Untitled Comic: Man and his Monster

Below is Part 2 of my strange boxing/monster comic.  I’m not quite sure how I feel about it.

What I Like
To be honest, now that I see this on a computer there isn’t too much I’m a fan of.  I suppose I like that I actually made panels and used a ruler and all that.  I like the way I drew the face of the dude getting hit in the second panel.  I also like that I actually finished this one to a degree, oh and panel five looks kinda sick.

What I Wish I Did Differently
I wish I had been more consistent with some of my line work while using the inks.  I think the story itself is pretty obvious, but using tiny pens and then much bigger pens, I think I could have done a better job with that.  For example, I think that panel six looks very strange compared to the other five.  In panel four I would have centered it a little more,  in panel three I would have made our boxer’s fist bigger.  Gosh, I dunno, there’s just so much that I could have done differently.  Good thing is that I don’t any of the artisstic decisions actually hurt the story.

Final Thoughts
I’d just like to give a shoutout to every comic book artist EVER!  Son of a bitch just using that f*ing ruler on my 8.5×11 piece of computer made me want to stop.  I suppose when it comes to drawing I’m not very detail oriented.  I think I’m going to stick to stick figures from now on…  Anyway, let me know what you guys think!

Untitled Comic: The Beginning of Something

The idea for this most recent comic has been boiling in my head for a while now.  It started after I read The Barfighter by Ivan G. Goldman.  I love boxing, having done it for all of one summer between my sophomore and junior years of college, and the book follows a down and out boxer taking anger management classes.  It’s a great little read, but one specific moment stuck in my head.  The main character, while he was boxing for the army/navy, something like that, when he was on the ropes, would dig deep and unleash someone he called “The Mongolian.”  The Mongolian was an engine of destruction.  He didn’t know fear, couldn’t be hurt.  I thought that was the coolest idea, that you could awaken this thing inside your mind, become it, and overcome.

That little moment provided the spark, but a book about the history of boxing laid the foundation for this cool new narrative I was planning.  You want to talk about manly men?  Look no further than some of the original boxers in ancient Greece or in less-ancient Britain.  Brutal contests of physical fitness that could last hours.  I wanted to focus on a specific time period, right after the British boxing community, ragtag as it was, decided to ban kicking and wrestling from the matches.

This is just a taste of what I’m working on, a very rough draft, and the very first time I’ve ever put this narrative to pictures.  And I used my fancy new pens, which I really don’t know how to use yet… Anyway, enjoy!

Watcha think?

What I Like
Oh my gosh I got something on paper!  I got to use my new pens!  The monster looks kinda cool!

What I Wish I Did Differently
I got super carried away with some thumbnails that I was doing.  It was just meant to be a couple of sketches, but then I got cooking and couldn’t stop.  I should have taken a step back and done a page of story.  I don’t know how to use my pens yet though, so I’m going to try and get that under control while I get a ruler and some other stuff to make my work look a little cleaner.

Weekly Comic: The Magical Belly Button

Belly button lint inspired this latest comic.  I don’t always find lint in my belly button but when I do I get more excited than I probably should.  It’s so much f*ing fun digging it out!  Calm down Ben. Anyway, the comic that follows is all about a dude with a totally gnarly navel.

The Magical Bellybutton

The Creative Process
I noticed that I had done my last two comics in a horizontal format and while I think that works great for web-based comics, I wanted to try something a little different this time.  I like how it came out.  I thumbnailed this one on a piece of scrap paper I found at my parents house and from there I just went right into the pencils.  Very quick turnaround for this one.

What I Like
I love the first two panels.  That’s me getting ready for a shower and playing with my belly button.  I think I captured the boredom waiting for the shower to heat up and then the surprise at pulling a treasure chest out of your belly button really well.  Also, I love that last panel.  It was just straight fun to draw and the word balloon?  I don’t know.  It’s silly and I love it.

What I Wish I Did Differently
Looking at in on a computer screen I can’t help but notice that there’s tons of pencil everywhere.  I need to maybe go back and start erasing?  Actually I really probably need to use a lighter pencil.  Up to this point I’ve been using some your standard #2 pencil…  Also, the ballpoint pen just isn’t working anymore.  I want to experiment with different line widths, thus I bought a pack of technical pens that I’m hoping will help improve some of my detail work.

I regret not putting a title on this comic.  I think panels three, four, and five need some work.  I could have put a ton more detail in there.  Lastly, I’d like to try working with a longer narrative instead of these one-and-dones.

Final Thoughts
I think this is my best comic yet.  It’s clear and concise and it was really fun to draw.  Other than that… I learned that drawing boats is freaking hard and that I still really need to work on perspective.  And basically everything else…  But I have new pens!  We’ll see what happens with that madness.  And I’m going to try to find an eraser.

Let me know what you guys think!

Editorial Edits: Fairest #1

Awesome Adam Hughes Fairest #1 Cover

Here at good ol’ MSU everyone is recovering from their undoubtedly awesome Spring Break shenanigans.  Me?  Well my girlfriend and I went down to visit my best friend and his wife and spent 4 days in a lake house in South Carolina.  It was a blast, but we’re not here to talk about the copious amount of beer I drank or the number of Yahtzees I rolled (3), not even how much I owned in Clash of Heroes.  No, we’re here to talk about comics, and more specifically, Editorial Edits!

This week I want to take a look at Bill Willingham and Phil Jimenez’s Fairest #1, edited by Gregory Lockard and Shelly Bond.  It was a great read, if not exactly what I was expecting with the gorgeous ladies of Fabletown adorning the beautiful Adam Hughes cover.  I’m not quite sure where the book is going after the first issue, but if you read the first page it lets you know that we’re not jumping right into the thick of things, “Prince of Thieves: Chapter One of Wide Awake, In which we inaugurate our bold new series of tales concerning the fairest flowers of many lands, starting with a small mystery and ending with a small miracle.”

Fables is quite honestly the most solid comic that I get each month, hands down.  I’m always excited when I see it on the shelf, a feeling that’s unfortunately passingly rare these days.  In this issue we follow Ali Baba, the Prince of Thieves as he attempts to find a way home after the Fabletown War.  He finds a fancy bottle and, well I bet you can guess what happens next.

Let’s take a look at the page in question shall we?  There’s no previous page that directly leads to this one here – What you see is what you get.  Can you spot a problem?

Is there a little hiccup here? BTW totally property of DC Comics.

The Edit
What do you think?  Did you spot anything that comes off as a bit unwieldy?  My personal problem is with the first 5 panels.  Here we have Ali Baba running away from something, and in the second panel it’s revealed to be a big terrible beasty.  Here I was initially confused by the depth of the image.  If you look at Ali Baba in the first panel he’s much higher up on the “ground” (indicating he’s farther away from the panel), while in the second panel the demon creature’s foot is almost flush with the bottom border.

Initially I thought that the monster was part of a stampede, but the third panel I think reveals that’s not the case.  Then in the fourth panel Ali Baba is back down off the high ground, much closer to the bottom of the panel and it sorta looks like he’s still running straight, which seems a bit strange considering that would mean now he’s chasing the monster that was chasing him!  Finally in the fifth panel we get a close up of Ali Baba, who I assume is still running, and then in the sixth the creature is somehow magically behind him again.

Upon my first read through this was my imagined sequence of events: 1) Ali Baba running from something, 2) Maybe running from stampede of weird beasts, 3) Hurdling a beast, wait he’s probably running from that thing, 4) Why are you still running?

However, upon closer inspection I think what happens is that in the fourth panel Ali Baba stops running after hurdling the monster and that the fifth panel is meant to show him taking off in another direction, possibly to his right, or straight at the reader, as indicated by the closeup.

PHEW!!!  Does that make sense?  I think that my own misunderstanding of this sequence arose between the fourth and fifth panels.  I thought that Ali Baba was still running straight, because even though now it looks more like he’s coming to a stop, the disappearance of his rear leg kinda threw me off a little.  Then we have a closeup of Ali Baba.  This is the problem, the closeup doesn’t indicate any change of direction.  Did he start running a different way?  Who can say?  I thought that maybe the camera had just panned to in front of the thief and he kept running.  Imagine my surprise when the beast was suddenly behind him again!

What do you guys think?  Did you come across any issues while reading this page?  If I were editor and I felt the same confusion while looking over the page I think first I just would have asked a question: What’s supposed to be happening here?  As an editor, as that first reader, I don’t want to assume anything.  Assuming is bad.  If he did start running another way, I might have suggested that the fifth panel possibly zoom out and show the beast scrabbling to turn itself around and continue the chase.  I honestly think that’s all it would have taken.

Ok… So I think that’s that!  Again, when it comes to the Editorial Edits series I’m not trying to throw anyone under a bus or call out anyone in a mean or disrespectful way.  I think as artists and writers, transforming something from words to pictures is an inherently difficult process and as editors we need to attempt to massage the fusion of the two into something that’s easily coherent.  Sometimes things fall through the cracks.  Those are the things that I want to talk about.

Until next time my friends!

Unlimited Highlights: Doctor Strange

Unlimited Highlights: Doctor StrangeUnless Doctor Strange is making a guest appearance in one of the books I’m currently reading (Defenders anyone?) I don’t hear too much about the ex-Sorcerer Supreme, so I was pleasantly surprised to find our Unlimited Highlights was shining the spotlight on the good doctor.

All the stories here are great, but my personal favorite was STRANGE #1.  It just felt so fresh after reading through some of the older stuff and it was just fun.  Doctor Strange plays baseball against demons?  C’mon, you don’t get any better than that!  So take a read and let me know what you think of the Master of the Mystic Arts!  Get reading!