Thursday, July 15, 2010

Drawing on Vertigo

Inked page 37 of Big City Otto, Volume One of Elephants Never Forget.

I suffer a bit from vertigo. I think I first realized this when I was five. Having just broken my brand new tommygun squirt pistol (received that very morning for Christmas) over David Longstaff’s head (he deserved it) I fled to safety in a nearby tree and then couldn’t get down. Stuck in the tree, there was a moment there when the idea of letting go and falling seemed so much simpler than trying to climb down. I was eventually rescued.
When I was inking in this page this week it got me to thinking again about why I’m so often drawn to these perspectives. Suffering a bit from vertigo one would think I would shy away from some of the perspectives like the one above. But if you look at vertigo as less a fear of heights, and more a potentially lethal fascination with heights, or perhaps even a primordial desire to throw yourself off the nearest cliff and engage in flight, it all makes a bit more sense. I love drawing images from this perspective, and, like all of my work, it gives me a chance to break the bonds of reality and enter into imaginary worlds.

When drawing this perspective, I’ve found over the years that the rules only get you so far. This is true in almost any perspective-based drawing, but especially in views from above. I’ve adopted those rules to a vague sense of where the vanishing point is, and then altering that as I move though the drawing. As a result, you get more a sort of vanishing idea, altered continuously with small adjustments in the direction of what looks right, and in the end creating a sort of fish-eye lens approach to your drawing. There is no real scientific way to describe this (and I expect others have described it better) but it really is a skill gained through a lifetime of continuous drawing and observation and learning to trust in your intuition. This is especially true in aerial one point perspective. If you look at the image below, which at first glance would appear to be a simple case of one point perspective, you will see how the cacophony of vanishing points helps create that sense of vertigo. Even the horizontal grid lines, that you would think would be pretty rigid, bend and bow as they move away from the cross created by the main streets.

Aerial view from page 23 of Big City Otto, showing the cacophony 
of perspective lines used in creating this image.

Friday, July 9, 2010

So an elephant and parrot walk into a bar …

I was inking in this bar scene this week (see above) and it got me thinking how it’s funny how ideas morph. When Esperan├ža (my co-writer and sounding wall on this project) and I were originally hashing out the ideas for this first book of Elephants Never Forget I had it in my head that it would be funny if the only human in the city that sees Otto for what he is (an elephant) is a drunk. It was consistent with the cartoon logic that donning an overcoat and fedora is enough to make Otto invisible to the people he meets, or at least not visible as an elephant. It’s sort of a running joke throughout.
So I wrote that in, and then realized that it offered the chance for a double pun with the old chestnut “ So an (insert animal here) walks into a bar …” joke. My original script and first thumbnails had one drunk telling another the joke as Otto and Crackers walk in.
But then it seemed a bit lame, the whole drunk at the bar thing, so the joke got axed, the drunks relegated to non-speaking parts (and technically not drunk to satisfy the concerns of my children’s book publishers, although clearly they are). 

      Thumbnail, second draft, of the bar scene.

About this time my editor, Tara Walker, points out that there is a real dearth of female characters in my story, so drunks out, joke out, male bartender out, female bartender in. In my thumbnail above you can see the first take on this, but then I’m thinking I don’t like her look, knock it around a bit more with E. on one of our brain-storming walks and come up with a character loosely based on an amalgam of some of the great female R&B singers, giving us the worldly yet caring bartender/owner, Georgie who you see above (no, another Georgie).
And that’s the way the comic script scrambles…  

Sunday, July 4, 2010

A Star is Born - Imagining Otto

In the fall of 2007 I had the honour to be invited to a francophone comic book festival held in Hull, Quebec (Rendez-vous International de la BD de Gatineau. I was one of two token Anglo artists, the other being Tom Fowler, a brilliant and irreverant Canadian cartoonist who is now one of the self-described “Gang of Idiots” down at Mad Magazine The other participants were mainly European comic book artists, flown in from France, Belgium and Switzerland, as well as some local Quebec artists. The star of the gathering was Emmanuel LePage, a French artist, an awfully nice guy and one of the best currently working in the genre.
I had been invited on the strength of my “Good Times Travel Agency “ series
that I created in conjunction with Linda Bailey. I felt a bit like an imposter, like someone who had snuck into a room full of the great via the service entrance, but my guests, with Gaelic charm, made me feel at ease, assuring me that I was a legitimate participant.
European-style comic book festivals differ from their North American counterparts. These are serious affairs, with the invited artists feted and wined and dined, signing books for hours for fans, mostly adult, who line up equally long for the opportunity to have their books signed. The fans are a different breed, men and women with a deep love and affection for this art form who travel many miles to be there. Even the signing was something I have never seen before. The artist would spend 10 to 20 minutes with each and every person in their line, inscribing their book (or albums, as they’re called) with an original sketch at the front.
Being a virtual unknown in this world, my own line was short (well, non-existent). But one of the BD enthusiasts asked for a sketch for her wall, and I put down on paper a quick image of an elephant in a trenchcoat and fedora. Why an elephant in a trenchcoat I'm not sure, but I have always enjoyed drawing animated elephants, that combination of bulk and poise, and it just seemed to work. The image stuck in my mind, and when I came home from the festival, mind abuzz with all the terrific creative energy that had been generated there, I sat down and put down a couple more drawings in my sketchbook. I didn't know it yet, but Otto had been born.

Below are two sketches of early Otto, the first somewhat sinister-looking as I really had no idea where all of this was going, the second closer to the Otto that appears in the pages of Big City Otto.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Blogging my Graphic Novel

Okay, here I go. After years of failing to put together a web site, I'm finally taking a big leap and starting a blog.
Why? Because I'm in the midst of working on my magnus opus and thought it worth sharing. At this point in my life I've finally come to the realization that I'm in a permanent state of arrested adolescence. The things that excite me these days are (in no particular order):

1. Shinny
2. Playing with toy soldiers
3. Drawing comics

Coincidentally, the exact same things that intrigued me at, say, age 12. But as it's summer, and I refuse to play hockey when it's 30 degrees outside and my passion for toy soldiers is too weird even for these pages, I'll restrict myself to chronicling my daily adventures with Otto and Crackers.
So that's what I'll be blogging about. Otto, an elephant who thinks a trench coat and fedora are sufficient disguise to hide his elephantininess from the denizens of New York City (and he's right!), and Crackers, his Jiminy Cricket parrot pal who tries to keep him out of trouble. Oh, and their epic search for Otto's childhood pal, a chimp named Georgie, snatched from the jungles of Africa by the sinister Man with the Wooden Nose.
But mostly I will be sharing my adventures exploring their adventures over the next few months. It's a journey that is already well on its way. There will be lots of works in progress postings and updates on where my thinking is about this process of creating a "graphic novel", as well as tips around the writing and illustrating.

My goal will be to post at least weekly on how the work is going, including new bits that I can share as well as other stray bits of information on related book work that you may find interesting.

So I hope this amuses. I will try now and post a favourite page recently finished and in colour from the story (once I learn how to do this sort of thing!)

To be continued …

Below: P. 20 of Big City Otto. Otto and Crackers wheel it into the city on a stolen baggage cart.