Saturday, November 18, 2006

Dave Sim's blogandmail #67 (November 17th, 2006)







Phone call from Siu and John, making final arrangements for my visit next week (this week where you are). Siu has just finished shooting the first episode of The Best Years where she plays Boston U student Cynthia and which will be airing on Global/Canwest here in Canada and on The N Network in the US starting in September of `07—so I've got plenty of time to bug you all to watch it. She isn't in every episode but it's a meaty part so she's having a good time and it definitely qualifies as a Siu Ta (so far) strip when I get around to it (I still have to do Episode One and it will be Episode Six. John's flying out to France and England to shoot some footage for a documentary on the descendants of the veterans of the Plains of Abraham (Wolff versus Montcalm, just outside Quebec City: the epic battle which helped end France's direct claims in the New World). They should be driving me back to Kitchener tonight as you are reading this and we'll be going to see the Rangers play the Owen Sound Attack. Excuse me, I must run and get the tickets up at Centre in the Square. Well, one of us is getting a rail seat and two of us will be in standing room at ice level in behind her it looks like. This is what happens when you want more than your usual single seat at The Aud (The Kitchener Memorial Auditorium) and the Rangers are 5-1 in their last six games.

Okay, continuing my review of Create Your Own Graphic Novel:

It would be very easy to get bogged down in discussing where my opinions and the opinions of Mike Chinn and Ilex break ranks because there are a number of them. An obvious example is that I stopped reading when I came to the "Computers as Creators" section. I mean, "Let me count the ways." I will be giving it another try tonight.

[Made it a little further the night of November 8, writing this parenthetical insertion November 9. They definitely seem to take Scott's side that a "primarily computerized" future awaits the comic-book medium and it's not hard to see why when you look at the emphasis that they have. Virtually everything they talk about in the section on computers, for me, falls into the category of enhancements (or, more often, "enhancements"—is it an enhancement when everyone and everything in your graphic novel looks like the back end of a Buick? There is really only one computer texture and that's "shiny chrome"). Very different from my own emphasis, to be sure.]

But at least as far as the first two sections go—"So What is a Graphic Novel?" and "Structures and Elements"—I really think it's only fair to take the work on its own terms which, to me, is as a really simplified primer for an undetermined age group with no familiarity with comic books and graphic novels. It could be subtitled "Graphic Novels for Teens" or "Graphic Novels for Dummies". Going Scott McCloud five better, there are six cartoon narrators at a fictitious College of Comic Book Arts: The Professor (Franklin Eisner, which obviously verges on misappropriation of status: what next? Jefferson McCloud? Who, coincidentally, "likes" A Contract with God), Yumi Hokusai (a cute Oriental girl for that "Multi-Culti" quality which I sincerely hope isn't pronounced "Yummy" who "likes" Lost at Sea), Kevin Siegel (17, "likes" Cerebus) Navinder Kane ("likes" X-men and Bone), Jonathan Miller ("likes" Love and Rockets) and The Headmaster. You tremble on the authors' behalf just imagining what the review in The Comics Journal would be like.

So, I guess the primary question that I have is: Is this book even necessary? Aren't we just better off steering people towards Understanding Comics and, if our inclination extends that far (which mine doesn't) to Reinventing Comics? And I guess my answer would be: it depends on whether you think a) Understanding Comics is accessible to everyone and b) that any primer that purports to address the comic-book field as an introductory volume is rather obligated to address genre (Scott's answer being a Vehement Yes and Vehement No respectively). Put another way, you can take the metaphorical pg.9 fanboy out back in the alley and even metaphorically work him over, but metaphorically you're still going to serve at his pleasure in the long term because the non-metaphorical context is his: without Batman and the X-men there's no room for Understanding Comics at the inn and before I have to come up with a metaphorical manger and flatter Scott out of all proportion of everything except his own ego, I'll just let that one slide.

I don't think there's any easy answer to the "is this volume necessary" question. I go back and forth between actually reading the book and skimming through it. The impression that I get is that it could very likely serve as a primer for what Scott himself has been driving at depending on the extent of your own computer literacy: not only "don't rule computers out" but let's take a closer look at everything that computers can do in order to facilitate creativity. Being completely computer illiterate, I always note that the dramatic expansion of the options offered by Photoshop and other computer programs can be as much of a hindrance as an advantage. If you can pick your palette of effects and limit yourself to those then I think you can achieve a balance of creativity and computer but, just from the computer-heavy work that I've seen, the computer can very quickly overwhelm creativity so that, as an example, you really "lean into" the idea of the artwork just consisting of holding lines for colour and start spending more time on computer enhancements than on creating the page. I also understand that if you are already "Inside Computers" such a distinction becomes meaningless: computer effects and how they are used are the same thing as a brush or a pen point or ink—just raw materials. It will be interesting to see how the generation coming along that has never known a world where computers weren't pre-eminent will respond to that exponential expansion of options and where they will put "meatspace" artwork in relative terms. I think there's still a "too slick" quality to Computer Everything so that classic animation and pen-and-ink cartooning (to cite two examples) will always have a marked, self-evident quality advantage but then the same argument applies to illuminated manuscripts. I'd much rather have a meticulously hand-lettered copy of the Bible with multiple gilt and water-colour enhancements bound by hand but obviously my 1611 King James facsimile (which was probably produced with the help of a computer) is a more practical choice particularly when I'm taking it with me to the Registry Theatre or trying to fit it into my carry-on luggage at the airport). It's very possible that, starting with this generation, people will just train themselves to see in computer terms and will ultimately come to expect the computer look in everything from entertainment to advertising to illustration. I kind of hope and expect I'll be long gone before that happens, but it's hard to imagine it going any other way.

Seeing everything as if it's the back end of a Buick is probably the first step in evolving those giant black eyeballs the aliens have.





If you wish to contact Dave Sim, you can mail a letter (he does NOT receive emails) to:

Aardvark Vanaheim, Inc
P.O. Box 1674
Station C
Kitchener, Ontario, Canada N2G 4R2

Looking for a place to purchase Cerebus phonebooks? You can do so online through Win-Mill Productions -- producers of Following Cerebus. Convenient payment with PayPal:

Win-Mill Productions

Or, you can check out Mars Import:

Mars Import

Or ask your local retailer to order them for you through Diamond Comics distributors.