Archives of Articles

Articles, essays and opinion pieces on comics, writing and anything I happen to be thinking about.

This article about the brain’s recognition of movement in drawings has got me thinking.

We understand that man is an animal, an extremely complex biological machine, built piecemeal over many millions of years of evolution.

We know that incredibly complex and unpredictable systems can be generated by very simple rules, but we don’t currently know in detail the rules behind the seemingly indeterministic nature of the human mind. The fact that the human body is a machine evidently does not stop it from having mysterious properties like consciousness, and we’re constantly confounded by the apparently irreducible and immaterial nature of these properties.

Art (for the sake of clarification, I’m going to limit myself to figurative drawing here) is much like a reflection of this conundrum. It’s a skill to be learned, involving the interaction between subject (the observed and the imagined) and object (the created drawing), but the nature of the drawing is as complex, nuanced and mysterious as the human that creates it.

There are many different opinions on whether the climate is being affected by human activity and it’s fair to say that even the most trusted sources might be biased. As always, we’re in a storm of emotional and political arguments, obscuring the reality of the issue. Add to this the incredibly tricky task of assessing complex data, one that even scientists (whose profession it is) fail at sometimes, and we’re left truly snow-blind.

To find our way, it’s best to figure out first why it’s such an emotional topic. It seems to me that this is because if climate change is caused by humans, then each and every one of us becomes one of a guilty party, accused of a crime of global proportions that we were only indirectly aware of committing. Being accused of fault is one of the worst feelings there is; it’s like human-kind have been caught with their collective hand in the cookie-jar, and there’s this instant attractive feel to denials and excuses since they protect our collective ego. However, there’s a different attraction to owning up: it feels noble, the “right thing” to do. This “rightness” is a strong emotional weapon, and it’s pitted against an equal and opposite resentment of the “high and mighty” attitude it represents. Xkcd sums this up amusingly.

As promised in my expo entry, a review of Fehed Said‘s Talking to Strangers, featuring artwork by Nana Li, Wing Yun Man, Chloe Citrine, Sonia Leong and Faye Yong, and published by Sweatdrop Studios.

First of all, I’d like to say that this anthology exhibits something I love to see in comics: a writer who obviously works closely with the artists illustrating their work. The style and presentation of each story in this anthology clearly matches the content, and the artists have obviously been given room to let their own story-telling styles influence the flow of each piece. I’d be tempted to say it’s worth picking up Talking to Strangers for this fact alone, but that would cut the review a bit short!

Of the six short stories on offer, there were three that really stood out for me, and of those three my favourite was Static. Without giving too much away, it’s a story about a lock-in whose television stops working, told in a simple yet effective style where the character’s extreme and sometimes comical emotions really carry the narrative. Of all the stories here, I think this has the most subtly handled and well presented theme, and I genuinely found myself thinking hard at the conclusion. There’s also some wonderfully inventive use of framing, which despite being clever never dominates or obscures the story. Comic storytelling as it should be!

It can be a daunting task to face the world and try to figure out any kind of universal truth from the storm of reality that greets you. It’s like looking out on a hurricane whose swirling winds are made up of countless images, voices, ideas, policies, religions, studies and proclamations, all of which bellow their unchanging truths, many of which contradict each other directly, clashing in an eternal struggle for dominance. THIS is the way, proclaims one religion, THAT is the truth states one scientist, THERE IS NO TRUTH say some people in reply, and it’s easy to sympathise with them in the face of this onslaught.

Those of you reading this as you face the hurricane will have your own approach to interpreting reality…

There will be readers with an established belief system, a religion, god or gods to look to for truth, a church, synagogue, mosque or brotherhood within which to shelter. If this is the case, you look about you and the world must still be tumultuous, but your faith probably helps you to organise the chaos into a coherent system of morals and a sense of personal direction.

Style is an incredibly tricky thing to grasp. Especially when it’s your own. I find myself looking back on my older work and holding back a small gasp as I “see” for the first time what my style looks like to the eyes of independent observers. It’s a strange and incredible process that I’d love to know more about. Whatever it is literally changes what I look at whilst I draw it, and while the drawing is still fresh and my mind’s influence strong, it can look like one drawing to me, and another to someone else.

To my mind, my drawings look closer to what I intended straight after I’ve drawn them, but I wonder if there’s anyone else out there who has a different experience… the artistic equivalent to body dysmorphia?

So, disregarding the fact that I’m not 100% sure what my style actually looks looks like right now, I’m still not happy with it. It’s changed pretty drastically since I left uni, and even since I started Freakangels, but I’m forever searching for that perfect balance between detail and simplicity in the way that I compose the face. Something with enough plasticity to make for diverse character designs, whilst maintaining a characteristic look across the board. Something that feels and moves 3 dimensionally, whilst not being slavishly realistic. When it comes to the stylisation of face and body, my benchmark is the affect achieved when Satoshi Kon’s character designs are on screen. The drawings in the Paranoia Agent ending sequence make me weak in the knees:

So, as part of an attempt to “see” my style clearly and to push it further in the directions I want, I’ve taken to doing quick sketches referenced from the styles of artists and character designers I admire. My hope is that this will help my imaginative process as I come up with ways to stylise facial features, whilst providing a crucial part of any animator’s training that tends to be missing from most formal art education: copying. An incredibly underrated skill in my opinion – easy to begin doing, but far more tricky to properly understand and master, and I’m no where near there.

Here is a collection of some of the style sketches that I’ve been doing for a while.

These sketches also make for great warm-up exercises at the beginning of the day, but more on that another time, I want to write a full post on warming up later. I’ve been growing a bit slack with these lately, so hopefully writing this post will enthuse me to do a few more. Comments on how well I’ve matched original styles and what persistent mistakes I’ve been making would be most helpful!