I never imagined this would happen, but I guess it’s old news that everything is on YouTube these days. You kids with your digital video!
Archive for the ‘Berlin’ Category
Fed Ex dropped of my copies of City of Smoke today. Clem appears delighted, but it may just be the off-gassing of industrial Chinese printing ink that’s making her smile like that. I’m not as excited as I should be, for some reason. There it is, seven years of my life in 196 pages of story. What is that, like 28 pages a year? Oh yeah, maybe that’s why I’m depressed.
Anyway, here’s to getting the next one done in four!
The above images show the four stages I recently went through to complete the cover illustration for the German edition of Berlin: City of Smoke. You can see in that first sketch that my drawing often starts out looking pretty awkward, and gets improved through a process of refinement. Figure placement gets readjusted, facial features are shifted, tiny details added or removed. The hardest part about this drawing was making the composition work with the Siegessäule (Victory Column) in the background, and I think it’s marginally successful. The only part I’m not really happy with is Kid Hogan’s head, which in retrospect looks a little squished.
This working method, as some readers and critics have noted, often leaves my finished work looking “cold” and “stiff.” I don’t disagree with that assessment, but neither do I think that there is a single visual standard to which all cartoonists should aspire. Between Gary Panter and Joost Swarte is a rich and multifarious spectrum of visual potential, and I’m happy with my place near the cooler end, having arrived here after many years of experimentation and hundreds of pages of comics.
Still unhappy about the squished-looking head, though.
* Nothing like a bad pun that doubles as an unintentional Tolkien reference.
I don’t know who reads these sorts of online reading lists, but I have to assume that the Wall Street Journal pulls in a fair number of eyeballs. You have to scroll down, click on the “See our summer reading list” link, then the “Historical Fiction” tab and then the title of the book in the left-hand sidebar. Seems kind of buried, but I’m not complaining! I’m really happy that they put it under “historical fiction” and not a “graphic novel” category, and they say some nice things. Bob Hughes, the WSJ books guy, was also refreshingly kind and well-informed on the phone.
I turned 40 last December, which underlined both the fact of my own mortality and the feeling that there is so much more I want to do and so little time in which to do it. I’ve been laboring over my book Berlin for more than ten years now, with (crossing fingers) four more to go, and my phlegmatic rate of production has been a source of great anxiety for me. So I made a decision not too long ago that I would find ways to “cheat” and take more shortcuts in my work — or to put it more palatably, to “streamline” my working process.
One way I’ve chosen to do this is to trace photographs. Many if not most cartoonists rely on photography for visual reference, but tracing is generally considered bad form, because when you do it you bypass the challenge and learning experience of drawing from scratch. More importantly, from my perspective, you run the risk of producing an obviously traced drawing, which can have a dissonant effect on the reader.
So, in the interest of saving time, I recently began to trace selective images — about 6 panels total out of City of Smoke‘s 192 pages. My rationale is pretty simple: in my philosophy of comics, content trumps technique. Visual incongruity is the only real potential drawback to tracing, so I take pains to make sure the traced image feels of a piece with its surroundings.
The Reichstag figures prominently in Berlin #16, but at the thumbnail stage it’s a harmless little blob, as you can see in the first panel here:
One of the reasons I keep my thumbnails so small is so I can conceptualize scenes without having to worry about how the heck I’m ever going to draw them. Which means when I get to the penciling stage I often review a crowd scene or urban panorama — rendered in my thumbnails as a few little squiggles — and then promptly begin beating my head against my lightbox to the refrain of, “What the **** was I thinking?!?”
Confronted with the above example, I hunted up images of the Reichstag that would roughly suit the angle of the shot in that first panel, and settled on the postcard image that leads off this entry. I began sketching away, flipping the angle mentally (the façade of the Reichstag was essentially symmetrical), and promptly stopped about 25% of the way into it. I’ve drawn pages and pages of street scenes and architecture over the years, but I balked at this one; partly because it’s such an iconic building that I didn’t want to get it wrong, and partly because I just didn’t have the patience. Who has time to draw the Reichstag from scratch? My life is half over already!
So I flipped the image in Photoshop, printed it out, and taped it to the back of the penciled panel:
And when the time came, I inked right over the top of it:
Note the word balloon conveniently placed smack on top of the building so that I don’t have to draw that part of it. That’s right — there is no low to which I will not sink! Ha ha ha ha ha!
The last four months have been gruelling for me, as I taught two classes a week, took care of my daughter half time, and spent every spare hour hunched over my drawing table, trying to finish the second volume of my comics trilogy Berlin. I had missed self-imposed deadline after self-imposed deadline, and I felt like the struggle to get the last chapter out the door would never end — like I was laboring under some sort of Tartarian curse that kept putting un-inked pages under my nose no matter how many I got done. Which, I guess, describes the normal life of a working cartoonist.
Anyway, a little over a week ago I finally shipped Berlin #16 off to my publisher, and the coincidence of that event with the long-awaited arrival of spring could not have been more a more fitting metaphor for my mental state. Within a few days, the four foot accretion of snow and ice outside had dissolved completely, the skies had turned from gray to blue, and everybody on the street had gone from woolen pants to skirts and shorts. There was hope!
I still have some revisions to do in the next few months, but the weight is off for now, and the collected second volume is scheduled for release on July 24th at the San Diego Comic-Con. The above image is a cover “sketch” for the book by Michel Vrana of Black Eye Design.