COMMUNITY NEWSWhat's new in Comics & Cartoons
Build a Better Mousetrap contest by Jamibug. The object of this little exercise is to create an elaborate trap/torture machine in the spirit of those good ol' villains who explain their plans and then leave the heroes to try and escape just in time. Full details in this journal.
Independent Comic Artist Feature vol.1: slapthebully
COMIC NEWSHappenings in comics worldwide
Paste Magazine's 10 Favorite Things About NYC Comic Con 2009
Of "mad ideas" vs "big ideas" in comics
SPOTLIGHTA closer look at one deviant, author, comic series or graphic novel
This week: Edmond Kirazian better known as Kiraz.
An Armenian from Cairo, Kiraz started out as a political cartoonist for Egyptian daily newspapers, with David Low as his rolemodel. He only discovered Paris after World War 2. The first contact was a revelation: "I saw dragonflies", he says, referring to the sight of these women, so different from the heavily dressed women of his homeland, who looked so light he wouldn't feel them if they stepped on his feet. For a whole year he did nothing but sit on a bench and watch them and then, his savings gone, he was finally forced to look for work, his head full of the visions that would soon become his trademark. Ever since, over 50 years ago, he has drawn them in their city, at home, on the beach, and though his images have never explicitly designated Paris as the setting, the ambiance he creates is so unmistakeable that they have long been known as the Parisiennes. They are familiar figures in French magazines, but also in Playboy and Japanese Vogue.
I was lucky enough to chance upon an exhibit of the Parisiennes in Paris in 2008, and look closely at over 100 of Kiraz' originals. They are all done in gouache, and no larger than A4, which personally amazes me. The artist says: "The important thing is to bring light into the compositions. Sometimes I take 4 days." That's an unusual amount of time to spend on a cartoon! There we touch on what makes Kiraz stand out so much among cartoonists: the high rendering of his work, which makes it endure far beyond their original appearance in an ephemereal publication. Each is worthy of reproduction as a self-sufficient piece of art. The connection between image and caption is quite loose, so that the images on their own look like an artist's impression of young women's lives. The caption gives the scene an unexpected twist, gently mocking these female visions, revealing the frivolousness and cheek that underlies their dreamy appearance.
Cartooning is so associated with caricature that we often feel the one can't exist without the other. Kiraz shows us that this does not have to be the case at all, that a highly aesthetic approach can serve the purposes of humor just as well, and as a bonus, be very marketable!
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TROPE OF THE WEEKStorytelling devices and how to use or NOT use them
Deus Ex Machina
"Deus ex machina" means "god out of the machine", and refers to situations in Greek theater where a god was lowered onto a scene with a crane to resolve everything. In today's storytelling, it is "an outside force that solves a seemingly unsolvable problem in an extremely unlikely (and, usually, anticlimactic) way. If the secret documents are in Russian, one of the spies suddenly reveals that they learned the language. If the writers have just lost funding, a millionaire suddenly arrives, announces an interest in their movie, and offers all the finances they need to make it. If The Hero is dangling at the edge of a cliff with a villain stepping on his fingers, a flying robot suddenly appears to save him." Source: tvtropes.org
In real life, we call it a stroke of luck or, if it's amazing enough, divine intervention. In fiction, we call it cheating! Sure, the writer is the "god" of his or her world, so to speak, but it's not supposed to show. When it does, the reader is yanked out of the story and reminded that someone is pulling the strings, and not so skillfully at that. It's already described as "unbelievable" in life, and it's all the more un-believable in a story. It also, often, robs the lead character of their achievement: how disappointing is it when your hero/ine has arrived to the final battle, and instead of pulling a moment of awesomeness with all that s/he has learned along the story, triumphs not by his/her abilities but because the big villain tripped?
There are numerous examples where the DEM was used successfully, or subverted, but in most of them the script was intentionally written around it it wasn't thrown in for lack of a better idea at a sticky point in the plot. An example of straight DEM is Batman, who is, or at least was in the past, a repeat offender, seeming to always have a gadget on him to solve any situation. The writers abused the character's inventiveness so that it became a readymade explanation for the presence of that particular gadget, no matter how ludicrous it became in the end (and by now completely inappropriate for the more serious angle under which the character is written). The same usage of right-gizmo-at-the-right-time, however, works in the James Bond movies because the grand unveiling of each episodes' gadgets is a ritual part of the movies, which have to be understood as tongue-in-cheek on all levels. The more a story takes itself seriously, in the sense that it draws the reader into an experience from which he must not emerge till the last page is read, the more damage a Deus Ex Machina inflicts on it.
Here are some questions to ask yourself as a means of scanning your plot for DEM:
- Did you solve a situation by introducing something out of nowhere? (See examples in the description above).
- Did you introduce an element early in your story to solve a situation that arises later but fail to tie this element with the frame of the story in a way that looks natural? For instance: your character acquired a tool at the beginning of the story, that ends up saving the day in the end but there was no particular reason for him to acquire it in the fist place. So the tool is floating in the story and what's more, by bringing it to the reader's attention (through its acquisition out of the blue), you announced loud and clear that this thing would save the day. (There's something to be said for making the readers feel intelligent, because they guessed what was going to happen. I don't however, think it's a good thing when it also makes them feel the writer is witless.)
- Did you solve a situation using circumstances or characters that belong to the very setting of the story but in a way that is contrived and not believable? For instance, to use an example from the site: "the local militia bursts in and shoots the villain. Maybe it was established earlier that the militia protects the countryside, but for them to somehow divine that there is a fight going on at this isolated farm and to burst in just in time to save the day is a Deus Ex Machina."
- Does your resolution rely entirely on one character's particularities, so that it only works because the situation involved that person and no other? For instance: the bank robbers pick one hostage to shoot, not knowing that they picked the very person that can't be killed by bullets? (If the character volunteered, knowing his ability, it would improve the story by removing some of the "luck" element.)
In the end, since this is not an exact science, what works and what doesn't is really to be judged on a case-by-case basis, so getting feedback on your plot before you start drawing may save you much regrets. The definite rule to be derived from this is: Avoid injecting "luck" into your plot as much as possible!
BOOKMARKBlogs and stuff to keep an eye on
The blog of Guy Delisle (Shenzhen, Pyong Yang, Chroniques Birmanes) who is currently living in Jerusalem and doing his usual thing. French only, but he posts lots of sketches and cartoons.
Craig Thompson's blog (Goodbye Chunky Rice, Blankets), with among other things sneak peeks of his graphic-novel-in-progress Habibi.
Shop for comics online at Instocktrades.com. "They have generally 30% mark off for graphic novels, and free shipping over $50.00. They have a wide selection, and I've always had great service from them. Sometimes their search engine is a little wonky, but if you browse, generally you can find what you want." Suggested by JesseAcosta
Deviations that didn't make it as DDs, but are still worth a look!
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What is she going to come up with this time?
Comics Grammar and Tradition by Nate Piekos: A breakdown of the Unwritten Rules of Comics Lettering, or Comics Grammar, by a professional letterer.. Suggested by GoldeenHerself
See you next week!
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