In addition to cartooning and designing heavy metal logos, my ‘other’ day job is graphic recording, which is the practice of live mural-sized note-taking, usually at business meetings. People talk, and we draw what they’re talking about. And now, through the magic of TV, this practice is coming to … TV! Or, at least, I think it is.
Last week I was at CBS’ television studios in Greenpoint, filming a graphic recording sequence for the upcoming season of The Good Wife. It was the same thing as we do in real life – people talk, and I drew what they were talking about. The only difference was that this time it was actors, so I was either really drawing a fake conversation, or I was fake drawing a real conversation, or I was fake drawing a fake conversation which was actually improvised according to a real script. I’m not really sure. But when the director looked at the clips, it was determined that I wasn’t really acting, which is a relief – otherwise, I would have been paid millions of dollars. Click here to read full post
At last night’s Steam Powered Hour at the Jalopy Theatre in Brooklyn, I had the privilege of joining a great Halloween-themed multimedia event: horror/suspense writer Jack Ketchum read one of his stories, and I did a live illustration for it, along with illustrator Natalie Ascencios. Kris Gruen and the Bowman sisters accompanied on music. Here’s a little teaser montage for the second of Jack’s stories, with drawing by Felipe Gallindo, Matthew Diffee, and R. Sikoryak, and music by Jacob Tilove, Rick Snell, Bridget Kearney, and the Party People:
I just finished reading Nicki Greenberg‘s tremendous graphic adaptation of Hamlet, and I can only hope that it gets a worldwide distribution. It’s a monster of a book at over 400 pages (it was delivered to me not by postal truck but by forklift), but they’re lush and glossy and striking pages, with the characters’ action set against a wildly colorful montage of what might be called “psychedelic Victorian” imagery, laden with thematic symbolism. If you’re a person who couldn’t ever picture yourself saying to somebody “Hey! I’m reading this book by this guy called Shakespeare and I can’t put it down,” then I urge you to get your hands on Ms. Greenberg’s Hamlet. But you will have to have big hands.
What I liked about Nicki’s version was the way she combined the unorthodox with the conventional. Hamlet is apparently an ink blot, and when we see him conversing with Barnardo and Marcellus in the opening scene they are wielding brushes, bringing to mind the old saw about the pen vs. the sword and foreshadowing Hamlet’s choice of using lines spoken by an actor (the actors consisting of red ink, not black) as a potential murder weapon. The characters are all living ink blots dancing across each dazzling page, as they sometimes dissolve, like Ophelia, or bleed into each other, like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The King and Queen’s attendants are octuopus-like blobs. Each character is some slightly mutated beast, whose personality is partially revealed by some physical attribute that Ms. Greenberg has given him (or her, or it). I loved the inventive way they were conceived of and drawn.
Whereas many graphic novels (and admittedly the ones I am naturally drawn to) are laid out cinematically, employing close-ups, panoramas, and multiple vantage points in conveying the story, Nicki more or less uses the frame of the single panel as the stage. I would normally think of this as a weakness; the advantage of the graphic novel being that one can manipulate the viewer’s experience in ways that one can’t in the written word or on the stage. But this was definitely one of the strengths of the book. It is a play, after all, and Hamlet is the one thing that does not need a wholesale reimagining, especially when the book presents itself as such a visual feast to begin with. I give her a lot of credit for that.
The bottom line is that I didn’t just “appreciate” this book, the way I have sometimes felt after reading Shakespeare. I very much enjoyed it. Imagine that! The Australian publisher, Allen & Unwin, is here, so stay tuned to them for publication details in October.
If you are reading this and you haven’t already seen it, check out the preview of the comic I did for the seventh volume of the popular Flight series, published by Random House and edited by the amazingly talented Kazu Kibuishi. Or better yet, go buy it on amazon.com. I was thrilled to be included in this volume. It’s a handsome one, with lots of other great work in it!
Last night is one of the reasons I love New York, because it’s one of the few places that you can see stuff like this (even from my, umm… less than optimal view, below). Lincoln Center hosted a free performance of “A Checkroom Romance,” the story of a man so obsessed with coat checkrooms that he decides to convert his daughter’s room into one, written by Ben Katchor and Mark Mulcahy. Katchor’s inimitable comic artwork formed the visuals for the story, and Mulcahy and band performed the score.
Mark has long been one of my favorite musicians and he’s simply getting better, providing a lively and evocative narrative without being melodramatic or show-tuney. Katchor‘s drawings are great, and the oddball story was clever, satisfying and affecting. It’s a shame that they are doing so few performances. Guys, you gotta take this thing on the road. I’ll make sure there’s a coat check.
Recently I have been enjoying Fantagraphics’ second volume of comics by Fletcher Hanks, the mysterious man who wrote and drew an impressive number of comics all by himself from 1939-41, then abruptly quit. Hanks’ own son never even knew that he had been a cartoonist. If you’re not familiar with these reissues, they’re irresistible reading. Hanks’ wrote primitive sci-fi stories with some kind of impending armageddon in every panel. His wild and imaginative characters speak in hilariously stiff dialogue, and his powerful compositions and amped-up color schemes showcase “action” figures that are drawn in the most awkward and artificial poses. It’s a fascinating combination.
One of the things that’s making me chuckle is his obvious use of repetition. When Hanks had a face or a pose that he liked, he would seemingly cut corners by tracing it and using it over and over again. Now, I’m a big fan of cutting corners, and like most cartoonists, I basically draw the same nondescript face in every cartoon, because that’s part of what helps the gags to work. But Hanks uses the same face for all of his protagonists: Big Red McLane, the hero of one comic, basically changes his clothes to become Stardust, the hero of the next. Still, it’s great fun. Here is a gallery of his main character (notice how I did not make that word plural):
Big Red McLane, King of the Northwoods
Whirlwind Carter, of the Interplanetary Secret Service
Stardust, the Super Wizard
Yank Wilson, Super Spy
But wait – how do you draw a bad guy? Wait for it…. wait for it….
add the mustache, and he becomes the evil scientist!
You often hear people say, defensively, that they can’t draw a straight line, as an excuse for not drawing at all. I usually reply that I can’t either: that’s what rulers, or the sides of cereal boxes, are for. Drawing requires looking and thinking and experimenting. If you can do this then the physical process of representing an idea will become immeasurably easier, and you might discover that you don’t even need to draw a straight line. They’re overrated anyway.
The April issue of Print magazine has a graphic representation of the story of Jack and Jill (based on a classic assignment given by Richard Wilde, chair of the Advertising and Graphic Design department at SVA), done by New York-based designer Joe Marianek. The story is told with a single heart shape, using variation and repetition to communicate the essential characters, events, and even emotions of the story (even the “hill” is merely an upside-down heart, enlarged and cropped). It is simple and brilliant:
You’ll want to pick up the issue in order to see the other graphic assignments and solutions, in addition to Marianek’s comments about this particular one. I unwittingly did the same thing a few years ago with this cartoon (below). I arrived at it backwards because I was going for comic effect, but the principle is the same: taking a single symbol and manipulating it in a way that tells a clear story. It could have been accomplished with an even simpler drawing or with photographs. And if I can do it…