About a month and a half ago I had the sort of epiphany art students have. So, not the kind of epiphany that involves you going, "I should totally put spikes on that sword! Dude." I'm too far gone for that. No, this revelation flashed into my head containing words like "support", "concept", "sequential narrative", and "spatial freedom". I've had ideas for comics running around my head for years now. I blame whoever got me into tabletop gaming *coughbriancough*, where I discover the term backstory and decided that for me that meant writing a short novel to explain where my character came from, what war his father had died in, and what his mother was eating while she was pregnant. I'd made attempts at turning these stories into outlines and the outlines into scripts, and most of them are coming along rather well. Where I got stuck was turning script into comic page. I discovered with chagrin that I had no idea where to start in the process of telling a visual story. I began poring over books written by Will Eisner in an attempt to better understand. As art school's critical theory took me over by osmosis I started reading comics more analytically, studying the patterns in art and sequence and loving the medium ever more intensely. Most recently I had Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics recommended to me by my friend Professor Jason Tondro ("Doctor Comics"), and it blew my world wide open. I knuckled down at the beginning of the year determined to make my comics a reality, but soon ran into my same old blocks and lost motivation. Then there was the epiphany.
I was running into the edge of the page. All caught up in mapping out my panels and page layouts, I had lost sight of the linear nature of the narrative I was endeavouring to spin. With no real concept of which images need to supersede each other to tell an effective story, I was being held captive within the borders of my 11x14" sketchbook, trapped on a rectangular page. The thought hit me while I was looking for a reasonably-priced 3-hole punch at Wal-mart (clearly there is no such thing) and came face-to-face with a value pack of adding machine paper. Almost three inches wide, three rolls to a pack, $3.99...and nearly limitless horizontal spatial freedom. I snatched it off the shelf, paid, and made my way back to the studio. I had been working in my sketchbook for five hours on an introductory section of narrative; two hours later that same section and more was laid out six feet long in stark red and black ink, and I was (if you'll pardon a pun) on a roll.
The rest is history. The format I discovered isn't practical for publication; in fact it's one of the only times you'll hear me say a comic is better suited to the digital form than physical reading (it's long and unwieldy as paper, but digitally it would work well as a perpetual-scroll file on a tablet). What it is the perfect brainstorming tool. It's taken me out of the rectangular form that was holding me back, and allowed to play. I won't claim to me a masterful storyteller by any stretch...yet. But inch by inch I'm coming to a better understanding of how sequences of imagery can be used to effectively tell a story, and it's liberating. I'm doing what I set out to do, and that always has and will be a beautiful feeling.
A few weeks back our class was tasked with creating a project for gallery presentation, and I sat down to the task of adding as much as I could to my comic strip before the deadline. Presented with the challenge of how to display something of this nature in a gallery space I did what art students do best and though outside the box/page/strip. I'm a traditionalist; I love looking backwards and paying my respects to old ways of doing things. My wandering imagination landed on Trajan's Column in Rome, a 125 ft. stone shaft wound about with a continuous narrative frieze carved in bas relief. It tells the story of a great victory won by the Emperor Trajan, a monument to days gone by and a long abandoned form of storytelling. But it worked; the columnar form proved to be the ideal way for me to present my comic strip while grounding the piece as a whole conceptually in the 2nd c. BCE. Perfect.
I finished installing the piece on its plinth in the gallery about two hours ago. The story is far from over. Far. Someday I'm gonna fill an entire gallery with these rolls, more inkwork than you can shake a stick at. But it is not this day; this day I am simply filled with pride at what I've accomplished, and I will sleep well tonight in the knowledge that I have a foothold in the realm of comics. As stated on the dowel that currently holds a blank roll of future story, To Be Continued...