Thanks tons for the support last week. I should be on the road when you read this. You safe and snug in your bed while I am out in the wilderness with fire in my belly like Lightning Bolt on tour. You on your phone by the glow of your computer screen checking emails from the boss and me on Route 66 ready to rock and devour the unknown! I’ll be your guide. Follow the signs.
Last week was supposed to be part two of my New York diary – but programming was interrupted by circumstance. So, here we are this week and I thought I’d piece together my NY trip a little more. I might need to do a part three, who knows.
4th of July was spent in Pittsburgh. Great fireworks by the river. Ashton had come up for the holiday and left on the 7th. The plan was for her to go back to the southwest while I went to NYC for work. Her mom is very ill so we are in this weird, precarious time warp. All plans could change at any minute. Things have turned on a dime often enough already that I’m jumpy. Time is like a vise-grip this summer. And it has me by the balls.
I took a train to NYC from the Pitt – kind of had a meltdown walking around the old neighborhood. In New York, I mean. I used to live on Astor Place for a long time, a long time ago. I was meeting Cometbus for soup but I was early and I didn’t spy a familiar face at all. Manhattan is like that. Living there though, you get to know who lives where you do and who is passing through. But that nite, it was desolate in the way summer is and I just felt hollow inside. How can you live somewhere for so long and not see anyone who saw what you saw then?
Well, thank god for Aaron. And B&H too. (The restaurant on 3rd Ave not the camera place, you schmuck!) The guys who work at there remember me, which is good – otherwise I would have felt like I was actually gonna melt down. Smiles all around and it’s just like old times, but it’s the future and here we are. Wait, how long ago was it that you left?, Aaron asks. 2007, I say. But I came up for the summers every year after so you didn’t notice, I remind him. I’m glad you’re back, he says. More coffee, I say.
Then it’s the long A-train subway out to Dash’s house. He’s watching Star Trek the animated series from the ’70s with a video projector. William Shatner’s drawn visage is ten feet tall and takes up the whole side of the darkened studio. I laugh and Dash laughs and the cat pukes up a hairball. Jane is out back watering the garden even though it’s 11pm. It’s Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, in the summer. The sounds of people on the street, on their stoops and in their yards is like an orchestra. Like a Spike Lee joint. Mixed with William Shatner’s dialogue.
I crashed down in the studio every night, sometimes watching old noirs on Netflix. Check out Cry Vengeance. That’s a good one. Great location shots. It’s funny to be a movie buff in the digital age. I saw Cry Vengeance like 20 years ago in a rep house somewhere and I can’t believe it’s available now. Like finding an old comic that was a big deal for you as a kid but you forgot about it. So, watching old noirs and old cartoons like Jonny Quest are making me remember ideas I had about movies and comics and drawing – that I sort of forgot I had in the first place.
Mostly, the ideas are about framing and movement. Ever see Toth or Kirby’s storyboards for the animations they worked on? Well, they read like comic strips, essentially. They were drawn like guides for the camera movements. Pans, zooms, jump cuts – it’s all clearly drawn and diagrammed so that the animation could be planned carefully. And the drawing is full of life – very fast and economical. Lots of great black spotting and simple shapes. Clear framing and clear action.
I would look at those storyboards and think that Kirby and Toth sort of transposed this contrast-y framing that was one part comics strips and one part film. It looked like Roy Crane dailies stacked on top of one another with a little more space for dialogue and notes. No word balloons or text to clutter up the images. The storyboards read super clear. I think it makes the images read differently than with comics and obviously that was the goal – it’s just interesting to think of it in terms of flow and how shapes move past our eye.
The contrast-y light and framing of the cartoon Jonny Quest is mostly still images – Toth’s classic framing (and Doug Wildey’s) – but happening in time. There is little actual movement. It’s more in the camera work and simple action. The camera work and lush still images that move slightly and hint at movement. More comics than film. To me anyways.
So there is a borrowing back and forth between the three mediums – comics, film and animation. One is never “pure.” How could they be? Especially these days. But I think there is a thing about drawing that can be reduced down. I would hesitate to call it “pure.” Nevertheless, contour line drawing with black spotting is the basis of drawing. And, I think it’s interesting that all the mediums listed can be reduced to the framing. And, in my mind, that framing is drawing. Planning. Designing a room and the furniture and the order of events of the story. Writing it out. Then drawing the sequencing in little boxes. Thumbnails that plan a panel, a storyboard, or a camera movement. Drawing. Lines.
“Lines, my son, make lines,” an aging Ingres implored a young Degas.
I don’t know what movie directors do to plan a scene. Maybe they let the DP worry about it all. But I imagine on some level they are thinking like a comic strip. Strip, not page. Single panels in sequence. Left to right linearity like in life. Sort of. No zig zag mural space time warp simultaneity. This is one frame at a time – jump cuts, zooms, wide shots and pans. Look at Buz Sawyer. To me, this Roy Crane strip reads so well because it sort of reduces itself down to shapes moving in and out of the frame very efficiently like a black and white movie from the ’40s. Clear. Graphic. Silhouettes and contours.
Can you dig it, can you dig it? So, what I’m getting at is that it’s less about animating every movement but more about the framing and the sequencing. And the frame – the movie screen – has it’s own sweet spots just like a painting or a comics page. You can play with overlays and dissolves, match cuts, you name it – where one frame wipes another away within the same space in time. That’s of course different than in comics where you would use a sequence of panels to show that transformation. It’s all the same ballpark though. Framing and sequencing and drawing.
Anyways, THIS is what Dash and I would bullshit about all day while drawing. I’d oscillate between talky and grumpy. Dash would just draw, draw, draw and I would try and keep up . And then we would take a break and watch a cartoon on the projector. I made a game out of trying to figure out how some background effects were done. Like in Speed Racer there is a way they do flicking light on water – and if you watch it enough you realize it’s just like three drawings alternating in a pattern.
INTERMISSION FUNNIES with MICHAEL DEFORGE
Then one night I, Dash, Dan Nadel, and David Mazzucchelli went out to dinner. Dan and Dash have been around David enough times that they don’t get starstruck – but I still do. It’s embarrassing only because I drink too much and start yelling and Dan has do that hand gesture thing where he is saying calm down when Mazzucchelli isn’t looking. Whatever. I was having fun. We ate and then went to the Grassroots for drinks. I got David talking about Steranko and was trying to tell my story about my dad going to Reading, Pennsylvania for business and how I found an address for Supergraphics also in Reading in an old fanzine when I was a teenager and asked my dad if he would go to this place and buy me the books in the catalog – and Steranko answered the door! “A little guy answered the door”, he said. “Whaddaya want?” Haha!
That’s when Dan waved his hand again because I was being too loud. What-ever! I was having fun. I can’t help it! See, the cool thing about comics is that if you hang in there long enough your heroes can become your friends. And what’s cool about comics people is that we all know how hard it is to do comics or publish comics or write about comics – and so there is a certain comfort in sharing stories because no one really outside of comics actually gets what comics is about. So this was an occasion to celebrate this most crossroads-y, interzone-y – most impure art form on the planet. I was happy.
I should speak for myself, I guess. Smiles for miles. It was before the dog days of summer. Everyone seemed chipper. This was before Dan went to Japan. David was in the city and I was visiting. It all worked out that we could together. I think it was Dash’s idea. And it was really fun. I got loaded. Mazzucchelli is like a hero to me – and what I mean is that he’s had a real effect on the way I read comics and make comics.
And for me, that’s pretty heavy. He definitely had a big effect on me in 1986 when I was 14. I was the perfect age to follow him from project to project. He changed and I changed with him. As a reader and as a maker. It was David’s work with color, and also Richmond Lewis’s work with color, that helped me unlock something in my brain and I just took off. I tried to do my own thing but I know I stole from him a lot. Mazzucchelli, Katchor, Crane: My favorite artists in 1992 when I was 20 and trying to figure my style out. And Douglas Sirk’s movies. I think that’s was a good list for 20.
So here I was 9 months shy of being 40 and, I’m sorry, am I talking about myself too much? I do that when I’m drunk and I was definitely drunk that night. Not now, no, no, no. Too much coffee. Should I continue, or save it til next week..? I still have to tell you about Dan telling me about his Japan trip. And my Kramers Ergot story that Dash and I did. And walking home from the subway late at night in Bed-Stuy. It was fine. Just saying. It felt like Astor Place in the old days. Sorta overgrown and welcoming in a way that can be scary. But I still didn’t see anyone I knew.
Over and out.