About a million years ago my buddy Nate asked me if I would design him a tattoo depicting the Buddha-to-be sitting under the Bodhi tree:
Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha-to-be, sits under the Bodhi tree and vows to reach enlightenment and break the cycle of death and rebirth. The demon Mara, who is temptation and death personified, attacks SG with his army in an attempt to thwart his enlightenment. In one fantastic scene, the arrows shot at SG miraculously turn to lotus petals mid-flight and rain down on him. After his army fails, Mara sends in his three hot daughters to tempt SG back to the world. Ultimately, Mara fails and SG awakens as the Buddha. This all happens over the course of one night.
And here I am, giving him a tattoo of the Buddha, but without the tree. (Or the hot daughters.) What kind of friend am I?
The real truth is, I couldn’t figure out how to put the tree in there without it totally overpowering the cool Buddha-to-be.
First, I started out with our best friend, Mr. Google Image Search:
I thought a kind of punky, badass young Buddha was appropriate for Nate:
Now all we need is videos of the tattooing—if he decides to go through with it….
I really didn’t want to go for the obvious slutty-girl-reading-a-book theme, so after about a dozen abandoned ideas, I sketched this one:
Decided Jefferson would be my muse (the pixellated color cartoon is from the wonderful 1993 computer game, DAY OF THE TENTACLE):
Thought ol’ Tom needed a companion:
No idea whether the design will actually get used, but there you go.
I did this for our IT department at the Law School. It’s one of those ideas I didn’t have to think about very much: if you walk around a law school at finals, you don’t see students doing much but tapping away at laptops.
A rough sketch for the general idea:
Start cutting and pasting stuff into Photoshop from Google Image Search:
Draw a (slightly) tighter sketch:
Then see a much better-executed idea in the NYTimes:
“I have felt, for some time, a connection between comics and poetry. It’s an obvious connection to anyone who has ever sat down and tried to write a comic strip. I think the idea first occurred to me way back in the late 80’s when I was studying Charles Schulz’s Peanuts strips. It seemed so clear that his four-panel setup was just like reading a haiku; it had a specific rhythm to how he set up the panels and the dialogue. Three beats: doot doot doot— followed by an infinitesimal pause, and then the final beat: doot. Anyone can recognize this when reading a Peanuts strip. These strips have that sameness of rhythm that haikus have— the haikus mostly ending with a nature reference separated off in the final line.
As time passed I began to see this connection as more and more evident in how I went about writing my own work. Certainly, it is not a process that is very tightly worked out — but when I am writing a comics page (or sequence of pages) I am very aware of the sound and ‘feel’ of how the dialogue or narration is broken down for the panels. If you have to tell a certain amount of story in a page then you have to make decisions on how many panels you need to tell it. You need to arrange these panels — small, big or a combination of the two — and decide how to sit them on the page. All these decisions affect how the viewer reads the strip; there is an inherent rhythm created by how you set up the panels. Thin panel, thin panel, long panel: this rhythm is felt by the reader, especially when you put the words into the panels. When writing a comic strip I am very aware of how I am structuring the sentences: how many words; one sentence in this panel; two in this one; a silent panel; a single word. These choices are ultra-important in the creation of comics storytelling, and this unheard rhythm is the main concern for me
when I am working out a strip.
I imagine poets feel this same concern. If you read any free verse poetry you can see how the poet has made certain decisions for how to break the thoughts apart and structure them, often in a way that defies a system.
It seems to me that the language of poetry is very dependant on setting up images and juxtaposing them against each other. A poet will create an image in the first two lines of his poem and then he will create another in the next two lines, and so on. I do find this jumping from image to image in poetry to be a very interesting, comic-like element. Many poems are almost like word comics.
Comics are often referred to in reference to film and prose — neither seems that appropriate to me. The poetry connection is more appropriate because of both the condensing of words and the emphasis on rhythm. Film and prose use these methods as well, but not in such a condensed and controlled manner. Comic book artists have for a long time connected themselves to film, but in doing so, have reduced their art to being merely a ‘storyboard’ approach.
The underlying rhythm seems to have gone unheard for literally decades in the world of commercial comic books (a few noticeable exceptions: Kurtzman, Kirby, Stanley).
The ‘words & pictures’ that make up the comics language are often described as prose and illustration combined. A bad metaphor: poetry and graphic design seems more apt. Poetry for the rhythm and condensing; graphic design because cartooning is more about moving shapes around — designing — then it is about drawing. Obviously when creating a strip about a man walking down the street you are drawing pictures of the man and the environment…however, you are also trying to simplify these drawings down into a series of more iconic, graphic renderings. The more detailed the drawing — the more it attempts to capture ‘reality’ — the more it slows down the story telling and deadens the cartoon language. Don’t get me wrong; the cartooning can be very specific, it doesn’t have to be generic. It simply has to properly ‘cartoon’ the images. The drawings become symbols that are arranged on the page (and within the panels) in the most logical way to make the reading of the story work; you place these cartooned images together in a way that does what you want them to do. You aren’t concerned with drawing a proper street scene so much as you are concerned with moving the reader’s eye around the page in the way you wish it to move. Trying to draw realistically just sets up a myriad of frustrations for the proper use of cartoon language. Think of the cartoon language as a series of characters (letters) being purposefully arranged to make words.”
The work continues. I’m sitting here listening to my 30+ episodes of Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio. Life is good. Last night I dreamt about a Civil War veteran with a pet tiger. Meg dreamt we had hinges behind our ears, and after we got married, we went back to the hotel, pulled off our faces, and there were two little aliens sitting behind controls in our heads. I said, “That’s a terrible dream.” Meg said, “No, because we were both relieved that we could tell each other the truth!” An anxiety dream, sure, but a sweet one, I thought.
While working on an online portfolio, I decided to put a flash edition of “Birdseed” online.
So what else? I’m reading Eddie Campbell’s Alec: How To Be An Artist (good review here), after reading his Fate Of The Artist. Both of them are really good. The man behind the From Hell visuals, Campbell’s one of the greats. Here’s a good short interview with him.
Ok, boy. Quit stalling. Get drawing.
An (abandoned) graphic novel-in-progress: