I haven’t been able to throw much up on the blog lately that isn’t In The Frame. That’s largely due to spending most of my time (when I’m not working on the comic) drawing concept art/sketches for various exciting things that require an NDA – so I can’t share it here (for now).
But here’s something I’ve been working on now and again at the end of the day when I’m winding down, or using as something to kick off the day if I need a warm-up. It’s not quite a sketch but not really a finished illustration. A doodle I made up as I went along. I tried experimenting with the linework, adding washes, and played around with different ways of scanning and colouring it. Doubtful that any of that comes across but suffice it to say it was useful to try a different workflow process. I think I mainly figured out what I don’t want to do in the future… Having said that, I’m happy with the final image and it was very relaxing to work on in-between everything else!
There’s a retrospective of Roy Lichtenstein on at the Tate until May and, amid the coverage it’s been getting, some comic artists have been asked about their opinions on his work. Marc Ellerby faced some fairly vocal criticism last week for having the gall to suggest that maybe the original comic artists should have been credited while Dave Gibbons faced barely concealed contempt from Alastair Sooke when he admitted he’d prefer an original copy of All American Men of War than Lichtenstein’s WHAAM! (currently valued at $45 million). All this prompted me to produce Retrospective this week.
Cards on the table: I love some aspects of pop art and have absolutely no problem with appropriation of imagery in the right context. There are even some parts of Lichtenstein’s work that I enjoy, but I do have difficulty with this period of his work. A cursory glimpse at the fascinating Deconstructing Roy Lichtenstein shows just much verve, vitality and beauty was lost when Lichtenstein translated original comic panels to the canvas.
While some will muddy the argument by talking about the value in the representational aspects of the original versus the cold, clinical abstraction of Lichtenstein’s work, I think what can often be overlooked is just how perfectly designed those originals are. The colour choices, the composition, the lettering, the linework… draftsmanship aside, the original work sings and there are some pieces where I genuinely can’t understand what Lichtenstein was adding to the mix. Comics are, by their very nature and the visual vocabulary they use, an abstraction already.
It saddens me to think that many who see Lichtenstein’s work will think that this is what a comic looks like. That his crude, disjointed faces, poor lettering, and kitsch clinical distance is actually representative of comics. I think it’s fairly on record that Lichtenstein had no love of comics nor viewed them as an art form in their own right. This work was never asking us to reconsider the everyday mass produced artefacts in front of us as art – in the way that Warhol’s work did. No, if anything, these pieces seem to mock their original sources. They come across sarcastic. Punching downwards at an art form that had few defenders. Another stick for the arbiters of “high” art to beat the comics medium with. That the original artists were not even credited, acknowledged or paid for this shows an alarming lack of respect for them and for their work.
I genuinely have a lot of time for post-modernism and completely understand that all artists steal, but as Austin Kleon notes in Steal Like An Artist:
I suppose what really annoys me about all this is not Lichtenstein or his work so much as what it represents about the way the medium I love is viewed and represented within the art world. And down that road leads madness really, so I should just be happy I can produce a weekly comic like this and get it out of my system.
I like breaking up the more topical comics with something directed at news reporting in a general sense and this is always something that has bugged me. You could back up any spurious opinion or analysis with the words “some say” and it just seems lazy. Someone has commented on the NS site that another mythological being, the Sourcescloseto, could also have made an appearance (which reminds me – if you’re enjoying these comics, do go and say so on the NS site and comment on the comics – it’s nice to see what people have to say about them).
I enjoyed drawing this one. It came out really well in print and I think I’m finding my groove with the colouring and voice of the comic now.
Osborne – despite his porcine, cartoonish face – is actually a lot harder to draw than you’d think. Try as I might, I found his likeness next to impossible to capture in this strip. Though I feel I started to get a handle on George’s features towards the end, I’d love to give this comic another try.
Despite the slight frustration I had with Osborne’s likeness, I’m really happy with the rest of this comic. I had a lot of fun coming up with the more ridiculous get-rich-quick schemes. I had a comment that it let Osborne come off as too innocuous and naive – which I think is fair – but sometimes a light joke gets the point across better than righteous anger.
Bit of a silly one this. I liked the idea that Tarantino’s next film would also be an exploitation revenge film set against a different genre-bending setting (I’m right in thinking his last 4 or 5 films have all been revenge films right?) and went from there. It seemed a fair assumption this would be a joke about the horse meat story that no-one else went for. Then the idea of a tense, testosterone-fuelled thriller about the search for a new pope popped in my head and I had a comic start forming…
I liked playing with a limited greyscale/sepia vs. red palette on this one. Felt right for the subject matter. I’m also enjoying working the title of the comic into the panels. I did this last week and the Hollywood sign seemed perfect for it this week. Will try and do this as often as I can.
Here’s another wind-down sketch that I’ve been colouring in the late afternoons when my main work is finished for the day. It’s nice to do something for myself and to test out new colouring techniques like this. I’m enjoying doing more with the sans ligne style colouring of my linework lately so may keep coming back to that.
I visited the Friern Barnet Library a couple of days after the council had made the decision to give local residents a two year lease to the building. For more information about the library, visit their website here.
I like breaking up the more comedic commentary pieces like the Bell Jar riff from last week with these reportage pieces. Particularly because I have an excuse to get to meet interesting people and have engaging conversations with them.
Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror kicked off its second season last week with Be Right Back. If you’re in the UK, you can catch it here. I thought it was a fantastic piece of TV. A creepy, thoughtful, touching ghost story for the 21st Century with stylistic and thematic nods towards Never Let Me Go and Frankenstein.
It really feels like Brooker is really at home with the idea-driven Twilight Zone short story format. His writing was beautifully economical, with an off-camera death explained with a shot of flashing police car lights and a moving montage of grief quickly setting up the conceit of the story without coming across as glib or manipulative. He seems like a much more confident writer than before. Had there not been a few telltale lines in there, I’d have had difficulty even knowing it was Brooker who wrote the episode.
So I liked it. The next day, I drew this for my afternoon-wind-down drawing that I sometimes like to do. I had all these disposable brush pens lying around that were waiting to be thrown away so I picked a couple up and dipped them in ink and just used them like normal brushes. It was actually a lot of fun and the results were fairly successful I think so I might do more of this.
The 50th anniversary Bell Jar cover is here alongside the original design. Guess which is which.
It was crucial that, in order to make this joke work, the classics I chose to re-design were well known enough that people understood the gag even if they hadn’t read the books. Think it worked. I had a very fun time after last week’s Crunch The News throwing book titles around with John Luke Roberts, Deborah Grayson, Nat Guest, and Becky Luff so they should all share credit with me on this one.
Aliens was on the TV the other day and, despite having seen it only a few weeks ago as part of a cultural education for a friend who hadn’t seen it before, I couldn’t stop myself from watching it again.
I think I saw it for the first time when I was about 9 or 10 and re-watched the tape more times than I care to admit. Enough to be able to recite the script verbatim. And yet I never get bored of watching it, nor can I tear myself away if I ever catch it on TV. It has a flawless screenplay and remains a wonderful sequel that manages to stay respectful to the original while adding something new. While it’s ostensibly an action film in space, I could probably write a few thousand words about why it is one of the most significant and important films of its era.
But I won’t. Instead, I drew this illustration of Ellen Ripley – one of my favourite cinematic heroes of all time.
I used a brush and indian ink on this rather than the usual brush pen I like to use. I thought it might encourage me to be a bit less precious with the linework and I found I really enjoyed it. Much more than I have done with brush and ink before in fact. I think all the practise I’ve had with brush pens has helped me to relax with an actual brush. Will try to use it more I think.