Following New Banks Book 5

Ok two more sketches and we're reasonably caught up.

The important thing here is sketching towards those next few pages. Adding dialogue, trying this and that. Was toying with condiment as war paint, but instead, as you'll see in the inks, just went for big sandwich mess as ritual mask. Also, just realized he's talking to his sandwich there. Sad I didn't follow up on that. Some other strip, I guess...

This one thumbnailing up to page 8. Page 7 is exactly what the first moments after a seizure feel like. Did Banks have a seizure here, or really fly? Dunno!

NExt: Inks to page 2.

Following New Banks Book 4

Not much here, except really the first sketches for page 1. I knew Barney was running away from being fired in panel 1, and eating or about to eat by the end.

The important thing on this second sketch above is the list of "THINGS I KNOW", including "Banks has epilepsy", "flies is rescued by kids" , and the thing that makes me most nervous, "has many points of view." This last thing is something I'm determined to make work. Change the POV, or the timeframe, the narration, etc. I'll know more when I get there, but for now I am thinking of a formal structure that sets every other chapter to be a unique style, POV, something, with the main in between sections being more traditional. WHO KNOWS?!!!!!!

This one, starting to think about page 2. He eats the sandwich wildly, with such primal self-assurance that he feels he can do anything.

Following New Banks Book 3

Working on page 2, getting these postings on page 1 and other prepartory things up to date.

A few more sketches, all examples of what I'm talking about in How To Say Everything...

This first one some dialgoue, some ideas of his character- I was a fast runner! I'm a force of nature!

This next one some thoughts and dialogue: You know very well you can't fly! Etc.

And some more:

I'll tell you about the bear costume, and the robotic thing a little later. Right now, trying to draw for real page 2 and finding much difficulty. It's not the drawing, it's the ideas. Is this even the right character? How can I make him ugly but not repulsive? Would it better if he were some generic homunculus? More on this later.


Following New Banks Book 2

It's imperative to locate other artists who have moved you, and to aim your own cannon into their atmosphere (or something.) To have models.

There's a note above my desk that reads "Your model for this is Orange Guy."

"Orange Guy" here is Yoshida Sensha, manga artist and weirdo. I first discovered him in the early 90s in Seattle. Mike Buckley knew his name, I could never remember it. I always called him Orange Guy cause the book I book at Kinokuniya had a great second orange color on the black and white interiors. These images of weird characters in costumes, or strange squids or squiggles in mini-dramas always pleased and befuddled me. In fact all the manga I saw at this time did. It was bolder than any American comics- they would put anything on the page. Nothing mattered except the imagination. This was deeply inspiring.

So I realized I want the weirdness and boldness "Orange Guy" gets. He's fearless, tells wacko stories. You never believe you're in the real world. In my own notes and sketches I always stay grounded, and I want lift off. Sensha lifts off. The imagination has to be the core.

So at some point I realized I need something to keep me UNgrounded. To keep me and the reader aware that this is imaginary. I always wanted to infer Barney had been fired from Arby's ("I was in restaurant management.") And also, I never had the right image for HOW BB gets to the campground where this is to all take place. Then it occurred to me: he should fly. If he flies, we are in the realm of the imaginary. It gets him to a strange place, and in a strange state. Yes, let's do that.

Below, some notes once I figured out this beginning.

New Barney Banks story sketches, beginnings, notes

Ok I've decided to put my money where my mouth is and show the development of my next project as fully as I can- sketches, notes, etc.

Sadly, I've got about a 5-year head start. I remember setting up a new studio around the time I started Hutch Owen as a daily strip. New shelves, new systems, new teaching folders, etc. There was also a blank plastic binder I had been carting around from place to place. I kept this on the shelf, empty, until one evening alone, I scrawled hundreds of little notes for it. The idea would be that this would be my next story. It would incorporate a larger arc and more dark subject matter than I was capable of doing in comic strips. I was consumed by these ideas:
--A campground, with lots of men. Yeah, it would be male-centric, this book. The campground would be a sort of place where guys go to convalesce. Or bide time. Run by a woman, Mathilde, basically inspired by the Scott Walker interpretation of the Jacques Brel song. ("Fellas, don't leave me tonight, tonight I'm going back to fight, wretched Mathilde's in sight...")

--Other ideas: Fen, from the Sands would be in it, as a sort of magician/guru. The guy who has pierced the veil, and maybe delivers supplies. Aleki and Banks, from Banks/Eubanks, and others. It would be about men: men evolving, men devolving, men wanting women, men misunderstanding other men. Stuff like that. I dubbed it "Sick Men."

So, this notebook became a series of index cards with Barney Banks on the front. I soon realized the only character I was certain of was Barney Banks, and maybe this Mathilde character- more about her later maybe.

My wife Leela wonders why the characters in my books are so asexual, and why they don't "get any." I argue it's because my skills as a cartoonist better serve the goofy, and not the erotic; the angry and vehement, but not moments of adoration or love. Hmmm. But also because I think the issues between men and women are horribly complicated and difficult. Like Spike Lee avoiding drug use in Do the Right Thing, I thought dealing with men/women would just be opening too many other doors.

But I started letting Banks' eye wander. I've used him as a character to explore where I fear I could have wound up: old, alone, full of vague big ideas and no history of having achieved anything. No one to love him because he is too full of his own self-image to allow anyone near. Despised but determined but not capable.

I started to collect notes about the kind of "some" a guy like that would try to "get" and daydreamed in the context of this campground what he would do, how he would behave, etc. I started adding to the stack of cards, and slowly the book seemed like it needed to be about him, trying to attract a young woman, possibly as a surrogate for his lost youth, or even possibly for having lost touch with his own daughter (still playing with that one). Really just to get a smile would change this guy's life (Chris Rock on Stevie Wonder: "Can the brother get a peek!? Just one peek!"

A few images sit with me that kick-started this:
-- Banks hearing from outside a tent, the object of his adoration in the throws of (*ahem*) with another guy. He is compelled to listen and interpret. (This comes from a moment in my history I'd rather not go into...)
-- Banks trying to get near her but there are dozens of guys around her already

And an idea:
-- Banks WANTS SOMETHING TO HAPPEN. He'd LOVE to find a dead body or something. His life is awaiting a kick-start, but he's too fearful to do it himself. He almost calls into being this dead body. ("It's like Stand by Me!")

Of course, no good book only about one character. It needs to go deep into all players. This woman- where, who what? The other ideas, Fen, Mathilde, Aleki- are they still there? And more importantly, is Banks his own worst enemy, or are there other characters impeding him?

This is where we reconvene. After either weeks or months or years of thinking, (frankly I think the best thoughts has been in the past few weeks) I've come to the point where I am convinced of the following:

-- Banks is epileptic. I am epileptic and have recently wanted to explore it. It's horrible, and underrepresented in comix (despite David B's great book, and subtle clues from inside Julie Doucet's work.) It could become an even further way he is outside society. This feels right.
-- He adores a girl who works/lives at the campground. She's got braids cause I like drawing braids. Her story will reveal itself, but I think she is wounded and stuck, like Barney. But this alone doesn't mean they are meant for each other.
-- Banks doesn't fit in in the younger culture of the campers. Though they think his epilepsy is cool.
-- Formally, this must adapt to quick, improvisational ideas, and allow me to have ideas and draw them quickly. I'm about to have a baby (Hi, Lightning Bug!) and I know I will have little time to make this happen. So the format has to be flexible, as does the plot so that I can throw in new ideas now and then. This being one of the joys I came to experience while doing comic strips.

So that's about it. And I still didn't know where to start it.

Next posting, where some more inspiration lies, and an idea of how to start it.


Poetic Combinations

John Gardner: "Particles of the action, 'event ideas' such as kidnapping, pursuit of the elusive loved one…; or particles that go to make up character, such as obesity… In isolation, each element has relatively limited meaning; in juxtaposition to one another, the elements become more significant, forming abstractions of a kind- higher units of poetic thought."

Poetic moments then, are moments abstracted, crafted by a creator maybe from specific meanings, but with an atmosphere around those meanings for the audience to imagine further. Not random moments, but considered and thoughtful combination of images, language, ideas and a conscious understanding of the spaces between them.

Some people have called this the difference between "illustration" and "art." Illustration being an exact rendering of the (dramatic, political, etc.) point the creator is trying to make, with art being an inexact rendering of that point, filtered through or combined with some other product of the human imagination.

David Mamet, in his terrific "On Directing Film" discusses the need to make the story happen in "the cuts", that is, in the transition from image to image. He is adamant about knowing the point you're trying to communicate so you can do it via the transitions. Mamet is smart- he implores film makers to know what it is they want to say, but to say it indirectly, not with narration or "illustration" as I say above, but artfully, with transitions and space in between, so the viewer can become involved.

But strangely, Mamet's book seems anti-poetry. His advice on the set is to "stay awake" and "follow your plans." His only use for movie making is for drama, for "telling a story" and he reserves one of his only negative comparisons in the book for my favorite, Werner Herzog. Herzog for whom "poetic moment" is not even enough, says his goal as a film maker is "ecstatic truth." I fall on Herzog's side here. This book called How to Say Everything, is much more about that ecstatic truth than the precision of saying what you already know. Mamet's ecstasy comes when he is writing, and not filming, not working with actors, not making his story come alive. It's alive for him when it's a script- full of dynamic dialogue, explosive ideas and events. (When I'm on my way to the grave, you can bet it's going to be sequences from a Herzog film I'm going to want to see before I die, more than Mamet's great plays and movies.)

Can you create a space in the reader for something else to appear? In comix, this is where we see the transitions between the panels at work. What can those transitions mean? Over what personal chasms will your readers leap when moving through the sequences of ideas and images you've laid out for them? How much do you give the trusting reader to create a dialogue between her/him and the work?

More about this later or elsewhere or somewhere...


There's a guy in a ditch

There's a guy in a ditch. It's Barney Banks maybe. He's determined to die there. He thinks everyone will be horrified, will try to stop him, but no one cares.

Why should the reader? This is my dilemma.

Been reading two plays by Sophocles that use these themes: Ajax, and Philoctetes (also last year: Oedipus at Colonus). Both are characters damaged by the Trojan war, each in a unique situation and expressing their despair in a unique way. Ajax goes crazy, tries to slaughter his army platoon and instead slaughters a head of livestock, flaying and torturing them in his own tent. Philoctetes, suffering a festering foot wound is set to die on the random island Odysseus left him behind on.

Banks is just a jerk. Never liked, no one ever loved him. He's fed up, and rightfully so.

But the fed up character who is interesting DOES SOMETHING.

Going to lie in a ditch is STOPPING DOING SOMETHING. It's not doing anything. Is it active? How can this become a story?

My ideas: a series of past friends and loves come by. Suddenly he has a social network. Who are these people? And if Banks suddenly has old friends and family, why is he so fed up? Now we have to get more specific.

Another idea: he rattles off all the things he's done in his life. Most of these false, but at least gives me something to dramatize. But it still leaves the question: what the heck is Barney Banks so upset about? The important question is


If he lived his life unconsciously, stupidly, but now he's cogent enough to be specific and resentful, when did he wake up, and who did he confront? Who got the brunt of that? Going to die in a ditch is a last action, after all else has failed. Reconciliation has failed. Social integration has failed. Revenge has failed. Begging for love has failed. Then you go die.

So why do I begin so many stories in my head with a nothing character doing nothing?

And where does Samuel Beckett come in?

Just thinking out loud.

More About Attention and Attaching

Attaching images to images, stories to stories, scenes to scenes, consciously investigating; this is the assembling that all narrative works from. Pulling from your collected store of images and stories, pulling from the culture around you and creating more connections, while exploring and expanding the existing paths already between them. This is what makes works of narrative art that speak in your voice and connect with your audience.

Want to make a giant graphic novel? The connections will start to make sense via plot. Of course the mother who discovers the knife is the woman you imagined crying at the zoo... She went there because it was where her husband was a custodian. She discovered the knife when she found him dead in the pool. The woman’s story begins to emerge. She must find her husband’s killer, and will learn more about ... Themes will emerge about deception. Pictures will emerge from those themes.

Look to your store of other images and fragments. What else suggests a double life, unsolved mysteries, or what else just calls out to be part of this larger story? Guide this all to a narrative which allows the deepest exploration of those themes.
Want to work in short forms? You’re more than halfway there. Connect the two images... Tick that story clock one or two notches and and let the reader alone to imagine and believe in other connections. Why is it short rather than long? To allow the reader more identification? To free the reader from too much authorial control? Consider these questions as you guide it to the right size.

Regardless of your larger goals, the process is always the same: mixing ideas, images, marks and dedication.

Stanislavski again: Put life into all the imagined circumstances and actions until you have completely satisfied your sense of truth and until you have awakened your sense of faith in the reality of the sensations.