Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Day in the Life

So finally we get to Claire, the last member of our psychic team. Claire is an interesting character to write because of her disparities: a Catholic who is a scientist (a psychiatrist) with astounding psychic abilities. Also, unlike her other teammates, she is the only one that is not all too comfortable about her gifts. As an empath, she pays an emotional price every time she uses her talents. These elements make for a challenging, yet satisfying character to bring to life.

Another tidbit about Dr. Winslowe is that she was inspired by a real person. When I was still going through the character creation process, I was going through the challenges of finding a name and a look for the character. I knew it had to be a blonde since Acantha was a brunette, but I wasn’t satisfied with what I had come up with so far. Then I had dinner with a couple of friends and I was introduced to a blonde with short hair by the name of Claire, and it just hit me. There it was! Both the name and the look of the character knocked down with one stone. That was the first and last time I saw that person, but the influence lived on.

One of the greatest things about any creative endeavor is that inspiration can come from anywhere. Even in the most trite, disconnected moment, if you are paying attention you can find the answer. I’ll see you in the page.

Oddman Out

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Sounds of Silence

Sitting in on a writer’s lecture at a comic book convention some time ago, the lecturer, an established comic book writer, was talking about the intricacies of writing for a visual medium. He elaborated that aspiring comic book writers usually wrote phrases like “there is a message in the answering machine…” and he argued that it is nonsensical in sequential art because there is no sound. After the lecture I was going through my head about what the writer had said, and I found that I disagreed with his take about sound. In fact, I took that on as a challenge.

As you might have noticed by now, there are no sound effects in Metasearch. That was a personal as well as a stylistic choice. As a writer, I never felt comfortable with sound effects in comic books. I found them cheesy and unnecessary. That doesn’t mean that I feel sound effects should be excluded. I believe there is room for everything in this world, but I never felt comfortable doing them in my books. I'd rather challenge myself in finding creative ways to deal with the lack of sound in graphic novels. If I do lament the lack of sound in the medium, it is the lack of a soundtrack. Then again, in the age of web comics that might soon change. You never know.

All in all, what someone sees as a limitation, another one can see it as another form of expression, or a style. More often than not people like to take the proven path, if it’s not broken why fix it, right? But I found out that by taking the path less traveled, you always gain something in the process. If worse comes to worse, you can always go back to the proven path, only this time you’ll have a greater understanding of what you are doing. I’ll see you in the page.

Oddman Out

Thursday, April 24, 2008

21st Century Digital Boy

Even though I stand before you in the digital realm, one of my childhood dreams is still to see my works published in print. What author wouldn’t? When I created Metasearch, the concept of publishing online was nonexistent. So Metasearch was done as a good old-fashioned graphic novel, CMYK and all. Nowadays you can check web comics on your cell phone in their own native format, which of course wasn’t even an option a few years ago. Think of the possibilities!

I have mentioned in the forum--which by the way you’re more than welcome to join and start your own discussions--what a thrill it is for me to see people from all over the world reading my work. The reach and freedom a creator has on the web is truly breathtaking and quite exhilarating. There are works that might have never seen the light of day in traditional outlets and can find their niche online thanks to the digital revolution.

Viva la revolución! I’ll see you in the page.

Oddman Out

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Out From the Shadows

Out of all the characters in Metasearch, Acantha is the definitely my favorite to write. Her irreverent look at people’s taboos and her agent-provocateur personality are great devices to explore the so called “ordinary” human behavior. Another thing I love about her is her name. Very rarely do I nail a name down with the degree of satisfaction I got from Acantha. Usually it takes me a long time before I’m happy with a character’s name, but Ms. Czigany found hers as if by magic. This sexy button-pusher was the second character I created for the book, and one of the three that survived the novel’s different incarnations.

Acantha’s introduction scene didn’t change much from its conception except for the dialog that had to be revised a number of times to make it work. It is the most minimalist page in the whole book because I wanted to focus the attention solely on the two characters. The fact that there are no panels and all the blacks in the page are merged together gives this scene a very atypical look, which I was hoping to achieve for the séance setting. I’m sure you’ll be charmed by Acantha.

By the way, I just created a forum for Metasearch (see right column) where you can rant about the book. I’ll see you in the page.

Oddman Out

Monday, April 21, 2008

Things That Make You Go Hmm

Last week I talked about cool little details and private jokes, and this page is an example of it. Gabriel’s hospital badge was one of those page details that I had a kick doing. I even get a bigger kick when people ask me if I’m not worried that “The London Royal Hospital” might sue me for using their name. I would… if such a hospital actually existed. It probably took me as much time to create the badge as it did to create that panel. It might be insignificant to the reader, but to me, it grounds the novel in its own reality. I think about those little things as Easter eggs in a way; something that creates a multi-layer experience for the reader. Being aware of them doesn’t affect the story itself, but it gives joy to a reader who has a keen eye for the author’s indulgences. Of course, others are meant as private jokes only known to the author and those close to him.

As an aside, starting this week, Metasearch and its respective blog will be updated three times a week: Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; to ensure uninterrupted publishing. Also, you might have noticed the little banner at the very bottom of this page, or at the lower left corner of the Metasearch page where you can vote for the novel. Please do! This whole project means nothing without your support. Thank you and I’ll see you in the page.

Oddman Out

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Same But Different

When I refer to my book, I call it a graphic novel instead of a comic book. Usually people equate a comic book with superheroes. “So your book is about a team of psychics with superpowers fighting the occult?” they ask. “No, my book is a supernatural thriller about a group of psychics solving paranormal cases.” That, or some sort of permutation, is usually my answer. I guess the separation comes from the need to move away from the stigma that comic books are childish, crude, and lacking any artistic value. I often wonder why this is the general consensus in the west. In Japan, it is a valid and cherished entertainment venue with no gender, class, or age limits. Even in Europe, comic books are generally more mature. But largely thanks to films, American comic books have started to gain some modicum of respect by the general public.

Most people are shocked when I tell them that “Road to Perdition,” “A History of Violence”, and “Persepolis,” are all based on graphic novels. It is seemingly hard to believe anything with any substance can come out of the two-dimensional realm of sequential art. In my opinion, thanks to the internet age, comic books are the last bastion of artistic nihilism. It’s relatively cheap, it’s a visual medium, it can be done by one person, and it can find an audience regardless of commercial outlets.

There is a notable distinction between a comic book and a graphic novel. Post-Will Eisner, the term gained popularity in describing more mature, complex stories that shared the same storytelling medium of traditional comics. Some people might argue that it is just a matter of semantics. I firmly believe it is a matter of essence. I’ll see you in the page.

Oddman Out

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

The interesting thing about mixed media, especially in the digital era, is that you get to experiment endlessly until you hit a combination that is just right for your vision. From its inception, Metasearch was meant to be a mixed media book. I had two ideas in mind: 1) I wanted to have my own style. 2) I wanted Metasearch to have a unique and signature look. I knew I wanted to lean on digital painting as much as I could. But as I kept experimenting, I found that if I added other elements like illustration, a particular look started developing and I fell in love with it. It was a “Eureka!” moment indeed; one that took a very long time and a lot of trial and error to achieve. Art is definitely an ever-changing, ongoing process.

In the past, I have met people (all of them non-artists) who really can’t understand the concept of development. They think you just sit down and hit the nail on the head right at the get go. Otherwise you are just wasting your time. Take a look at any artist in any art form in any era and you will always find growth. You might argue that such and such period was their best, but the undeniable fact is that their work changes with time. The longer we experience this world, the more it affects the way we express it. I’ll see you in the page.

Oddman Out

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Even Flow

I remember writing this scene many moons ago. It was by far my favorite scene of the first chapter. I’m very fond of the dialogue and the setting, and to see something that was mere words on paper, become alive exactly as you envision it, is pretty amazing. The other thing I like about this scene is that it’s the first exterior scene at day. After going through six pages of cloistered settings, the spacious, bright, and relaxed atmosphere of these panels are a nice contrast. Every time I hit page seven, I just want to breathe in deeply.

When I started writing Metasearch, I was experimenting with different styles of narrative. I wanted it to be non-linear, but I didn’t want it to be the kind of story that keeps jumping around. Also, I wanted readers to stumble into Metasearch’s world as if already in progress instead of making it your typical origin story. I thought it was far more interesting to see something that has been going on since who-knows-when; thus adding to the mystery of the book.

It is also worthy to note that Gabriel, our protagonist in this page, was the very first Metasearch character I created when I first thought of the book. The first draft of Metasearch was about one psychic investigator named Gabriel, but I soon ditched the idea when I saw it was much more interesting to write this book as a “team”, playing off the personalities of the other characters.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy reading this scene as much as I enjoyed creating it. I’ll see you in the page.

Oddman Out

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Needless Things

I never liked to do backgrounds very much. To me it was a hassle to deal with perspective and all the objects. I considered myself a character artist and didn’t care much for anything else. Of course this is not a good prospect for a professional and working artist. But I soon discovered that as laborious as it can be, once a good background is complete, it gives the scene a sense of grounding reality, whatever that reality might be. Take a look at Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido’s book “Blacksad” as a great example of… well, everything.

I also started to see the storytelling value of the background and started to treat it as a character itself. A character’s surroundings can give as much sense of their personalities as any action, dialogue, or piece of wardrobe. In Inspector McConnor’s case, I wanted to convey a sense of a man whose overwhelming amount of work was piling up on him for lack of time. When I design a panel, everything in it has a specific purpose to add to the larger picture of the scene, the character, and the story. Nothing is placed randomly. In the background, I've put little private jokes and some cool details that have become a pleasure within a pleasure for me. I’ll talk about those in the future.

When I finally found enjoyment in doing something that I used to detest in the past, I came to the realization that I was definitely working on something that I really love. Is it hard? Sure! But I love every minute of it. I’ll see you in the page.

Oddman Out

Monday, April 14, 2008

Once Upon A Time...

Some odd years ago I went to a comic book convention trying to find work as a penciller. My portfolio was a mixed bag of known characters and my own creations. Needless to say nothing job-like came out of the excursion, but I did come out with some wisdom.

I had the chance to show my work to a couple of professional pencillers, and in their critique, a few of them said a variation of this: “Your storytelling is kind of old fashion; it is more European-like than American. Do so and so to change it…” What they have pointed out as a mistake had actually made me very happy, because that was the whole idea. I wanted to have European-influenced storytelling rather than an American one. We’re talking the 1990s here, so this is the time when the Image Comics style of storytelling (or lack thereof) was all the rage. That meant splash pages peppered with no more than three small panels and no storytelling to write home about. As much as I still admire some of those artists, I never cared much for their way of cutting corners around deadlines. And don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for all the advice I got from the pros at that convention. Just the fact that they took time to guide an aspiring artist is reason enough to thank them.

Right or wrong I wanted to achieve a certain narrative style with my work other than what was “in” at the time. In Metasearch, I tried to work the storytelling aspect to the bone and making every panel as interesting and appealing as I could; since the pace and mood of the story are so integral to the overall experience of the book. I challenged myself to make even the most boring conversation visually interesting in order to keep my readers engaged.

I guess the bottom line is that, just like in any other art form, the success of the desired effect of your work is in the hands of the public. As an artist, one is left hoping to be right. A storyteller without an audience is like a swimmer in the desert. I’ll see you in the page.

Oddman Out

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Artistic Side of Art

I’ve always been fascinated by the work of the director of photography in movies. The junction where art meets science to create beautiful images is always overlooked, but nonetheless haunting. From the dream-like opening images of the desert in The English Patient, to the amazing candle-lit scenes of Barry Lyndon, to the symbolic exposures of Traffic. The way a film is photographed is as important as the direction, writing, score, or acting.

One of the things I wanted to do in Metasearch was to give each scene its own unique look and feel; not only in the quality of light, but with the use of shadows, a distinctive color palette and textures. I designed each scene with the overall mood and impact I wanted to convey as part of the storytelling process. It is a facet of the creative process that I take into consideration almost at the very inception of every book.

I believe with the advent of the digital artist, comic books have taken an unprecedented artistic quality that has been missing from the medium with counted exceptions like Simon Bisley, Sam Kieth, Alex Ross, Jim Steranko, and David Mack, to name a few. I hate it when I go to a comic book store and I see a really cool cover only to find that the content within looks nothing like it. I understand that the tight schedule of a mainstream on-going series doesn’t allow much room for art development, but it is refreshing to see that there is still room for less conventional voices in the medium. I’ll see you in the page.

Oddman Out

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Thinking Outside the Box

Along with word balloons, panels are inherent to the comic book genre. No other media encases their art in tiny boxes arranged to tell a story. Throughout the history of comic books, we’ve seen artists explore the boundaries of this art form in very creative ways. Sergio Aragones used to draw little vignettes outside the page panels of Mad Magazine. Todd McFarlane used Spawn’s cape and chains as the boundaries of some of his panels. Sam Kieth drew some of his panels as puzzle pieces (apropos).

I’ve seen panels in the shape of a large sound effect; a panel shattering after the hero beat the living lights out of a villain; characters literally coming out of the panel. As an artist, I’m interested in pushing the intrinsic characteristics of the comic book medium.

For Metasearch I came up with the concept of panels coming out of shadows. This not only gave the book a signature look, but it helped create the mysterious atmosphere I wanted to convey. I especially liked the effect of the panel’s shadows mixing with the borders as if the figures were defined by negative space. Also, it looks as if the panels were lit by candle light, or were projected by an old 8mm projector, which adds to the mood. It is interesting how something that could be viewed as a limitation can be so freeing. I’ll see you in the page.

Oddman Out

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

More Than Words

It’s funny because when people think about becoming a comic book artist, no one ever thinks about lettering. Everyone wants to be a penciller, a digital artist, a writer, a colorist, or even an inker. Who ever thinks about being the unglamorous letterer?

I remember a skit on a now-defunct Marvel Comics parody book called “What The…?!” where Wolverine (Wolverweenie) and the Punisher (the Pulverizer) had to settle some sort of dispute at Marvel HQ in New York. Of course mayhem ensued and one Marvel staffer bit the dust. When someone asked if the diseased was someone important, the reply was: “Nah! Just a letterer.”

The truth of the matter is that once I got around to doing my lettering I discovered it's not as easy as I thought it was. The issues are not only functional such as legibility and composition, but artistic as well. Lettering can convey mood, a certain speech pattern, and even affect your writing. Make a speech too verbose and that word balloon will be cutting some character’s head off. I definitely gained a new found appreciation for lettering and its artistic value. I hope to explore it more in future projects.

Oh well, where would art be without learning and development? Live and learn. I’ll see you in the page.

Oddman Out

Space Oddity

So I finally got around to creating a website to showcase my graphic novels. After years of peddling them to the comic book establishment and getting nowhere, I finally decided to self-publish them on-line in hopes to find some kindred minds who will appreciate them. After all, it is better than having them sit in a hard drive gathering dust, so to speak.

My first offering is Metasearch, a paranormal thriller designed to work as a series of open-ended graphic novels. I created it back in 1998 when I was looking to do a graphic novel about psychics that wasn't driven by action, but rather by characters, plot, and mood. The idea was to immerse readers in the story instead of treating them as spectators. The style is mix media influenced by French impressionism that gives it a painted, rough look just creepy enough to carry out the mood of the story.

Time permitting I will post a page daily and talk about each of them as well as other related issues. Feel free to contact me since a big part of this project is to find readers, and I would love to hear from you. Now, if you are in the bashing business, do us each other a favor and just click away and enjoy the rest of the virtual world. I don't have the time, the energy, the patience, nor the inclination to engage and I'm sure you have better things to do with your time. So let's see how this whole experiment turns out. I'll see you in the page.

Oddman Out