Saturday, May 31, 2014

What happened with me and comic book drawing

When I discovered a while back that Creepy and Eerie were being published again I got super excited. I used to love the Warren magazines, and I dreamed of being an artist for them, so I swallowed my suddenly pounding heart and decided to put all my effort into becoming a comic book artist, specifically horror, of a style that I hoped would land me a chance to work for Dark Horse. It literally seemed like it had fallen into my lap - here I was, pushing to try to become a professional illustrator of some kind, and lo and behold, the very comics I grew up on and loved immensely were back now!! Almost as if fate or karma or something had set this up just for me.

I bought digital downloads of a bunch of the issues and all the tools and materials I thought I would need, including Manga Studio Paint (now re-branded Clip Studio Paint Pro), and started drawing. At first I was mostly just looking at the artwork in those digital comics - the art was always the thing for me. Incidentally I used to feel the same way when I was interested in superhero stuff too - it was almost entirely for the art, though in both cases I occasionally found a story or 2 that stood above the rest.

One thing I noticed right away was a lot of cartoonish looking work or work that looked like it belonged in a mainstream superhero comic rather than a horror comic. Mmmmmmm, ok, that used to happen back at Warren too sometimes. I guess there aren't a lot of artists who really do good horror art, especially considering that, aside from Warren back in the day or Dark Horse now, nobody is publishing black and white horror comics, so there isn't really much call for artists to learn to draw horror. The reason those Spanish guys were so good at it was because they could draw ANYTHING - many of them were illustrators in addition to comic artists. Plus of course in Europe comics weren't like the mainstream superhero stuff published here, they tended to be more free in artistic terms and - I don't know quite how to word it - more human. Whereas superhero comics tend toward spectacle and special effects like Hollywood action flicks do now, the European comics are usually more humanistic. Therefore the Spanish artists like Jose Ortiz, Luis Burmejo, and Jose Gonzales to name my 3 favorites, could really draw people expressively, even if those people were just ordinary people wearing normal clothes in very mundane settings. They could also draw period stuff excellently - Bermejo had done a lot of western comics (which is why he did it so well for The Rook) and all of them were able to do their research and draw period clothes and architecture as if they were born to the age.

But I'm getting off topic. Anyway, a quiet but very insistent little alarm started going off in my head when I noticed so much cartoonish art that didn't look to me like it belonged anywhere near a horror comic. I mean, ok, I get that they hired Peter Bagge (creator of Hate!) to do single-page bits about the Creepy Family or whatever, to provide some comic relief and tie in between stories, but in addition to that, it seemed like usually 4 or 5 of the stories also had very cartoonish art or very superheroish art. In fact often I was only able to find one story in each issue that looked like horror to me, usually the first one in the issue. Plus of course the classic Warren reprints when they started doing those.

Then I noticed a little blurb - don't recall where, probably in the letters or something,  that proudly proclaimed their devotion to producing Modern Horror. That sent a chill down my spine far more than any of the stories had. Modern horror? What exactly does that mean? Does it mean what's happened to horror movies, which have become pointless crapfests more concerned with gore and heavy duty computer-processed STYLE and a lot of cheap shock scares than characters you can relate to and anything actually scary happening? In fact, what does it ever mean when someone proudly proclaims their Modernness? I've come to the conclusion it means a rebellion against quality mostly. Against the classical. These rebellions against the classical usually start off with good intentions, but after a brief foray by excellent (and classically trained) artists who actually have great ideas that don't fit into the classical model, it usually degenerates into nothing more than a mindless rebellion against what's now seen as old-fashioned, but with none of the actual quality that made it classic in the first place --- only reactionary shock appeal, and it's usually done by or made to appeal to the young, who are in a stage of life where they hate their parents and everything they stand for (which is the classical).

I read a few more stories, and it could just be that I stumbled upon a group of very similar ones, or maybe there's a trend going on, but they all shared a group of traits that made them feel very limited in scope to me - in the same way all those ridiculous sub-genres of heavy metal were in the 80's and 90's, which seemed to define themselves entirely through limitation. The stories I read were all psychological horror, but they shared a lot more than that. Essentially they were all "is this guy really a gritty anti-hero murderer/savior chosen by god (or whoever) to kill the abusive, as he believes he is, or is that just his own psychological defense mechanism and really he's just a serial killer?"

When done well, that's a pretty good idea for a story. Or even 2. But when you begin to feel it taking shape again in a third, it feels like you're being swindled. Come on - really? I don't know, maybe I just stumbled across a run of stories by the same author when he was suffering from writer's block. Nope. Different writers for each one. So it seems this is some kind of editorial choice, as if the writers are being coached in what kind of stories to write* - see note below. In fact I can't hep but wonder if this is actually Postmodern Horror. Ugh - now there's a truly horrifying thought!!

* It's possible I was looking at a themed issue and didn't realize it. They do those sometimes. I ought to check.

Oh, and also at about the same time, I realized that I really dislike drawing ordinary people in ordinary clothes and settings - pretty boring stuff!! This surprised me, because for the most part that's what the Spaniards always drew, and I loved looking at their work. But then they all have amazing styles, and can draw anything and make it fascinating to look at. I'm not there yet myself, and I know you shouldn't be trying to draw with a 'style' while learning your fundamentals. That will happen naturally when you're through the learning curve and drawing all the time, you can't rush it or force it or it's just artificial and will actually impede learning.

So that's where me and comic book drawing stand right now. I lost my drive for it. Though I do think I could get it back, and I also think I could most definitely bring myself to work for Dark Horse as long as I can draw the way I want to. Obviously they do print what I consider horror art, I don't think they'd try to make me draw like a cartoonist or anything! Oh, and I did run across some very different stories too when next I looked inside. Maybe that really was just a run.

I do wish they'd do some sic-fi or fantasy themed stuff like Warren used to do, though it does make sense that they'd want their horror comics to feature horror. After all, they have a lot of other titles as well, they're not like Warren who only had a few titles going and had to squeeze everything into them.

Another thing that disappointed me about the new format is the letters page. Every response - and in fact every letter - is done in Creepyspeak - that Cryptkeeper style of graveyard humor littered with bad puns on the theme of death and decay. It's the kind of thing that's very addicting, like Piratespeak or Pythonspeak, and the editor let them get carried away with it. I busted out some of my old yellowing Warrens to check, and while there was an occasional Creepypun, most of the responses and almost all of the letters were written seriously. There was a good deal of actual CONTENT in the letters pages, and Warren was famous for not censoring things - he'd publish even the most critical letters. I haven't seen a single even remotely critical letter in the Dark Horse reboots, in fact the whole letters page feels like a silly punfest.

But of course there's no sense in criticizing Dark Horse for not being Warren, or as good as Warren (especially considering Warren Publishing at its best was a high water mark in the comics industry). Are they postmodern? I don't know. Does it matter? Probably not. Would I work for them, even if they do turn out to be the dreaded P word? Why not? A chance to draw comics for Creepy or Eerie? Hell yeah!! That's a lifelong dream, even if it's a resurrected Creepy or Eerie that, like the ones who come back in Pet Sematary, just aren't like they used to be when they were alive…

But it's a big decision. Do I concentrate on drawing comics, or on painting? My gut instinct tells me that I'd get really sick of drawing the same characters in slightly different poses day in and day out for essentially the rest of my life. I know from experience I'm not that kind of a workaholic. Though of course, doing stories for Creepy or Eerie means 12 pages in a month, opposed to 32 for a superhero title, since Creepy and Eerie are anthology magazines featuring several short stories per issue. It also means no guarantee of steady work (but then does anything guarantee that really?)

I suspect I'm better suited to doing an illustration rather than a dozen pages of little intricate drawings. Comics is one of the most labor intensive jobs there is in the arts alongside animation.

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