Recently I have started a postgraduate degree at the University of Dundee: the MDes in Comics & Graphic Novels, convened by Philip Vaughan. The aim of the degree, at least for me, is to come out with a graphic novel to publish. This past week we had to pitch the class our concepts for a short 8-12 page comic. Mine will be rolled into my final project, to make a graphic novel of an estimated 40-45 pages. Below is an edited version of my pitch.
Following on from my portfolio work in my comic-strip “Golgotha,” I would like to continue this thread of existentialist / religious theme. My concept is a graphic novel set in a historically-accurate medieval period. A wandering knight, who has been to war in the Crusades, is running from his personal trauma endured through the war. The things he saw caused the loss of his sense of self, and most importantly his faith, as he saw the violence wrought in the name of Christianity. Now he is reduced to a vagrant, a coward who runs from conflict and fails in his knightly virtues. He has a personal crisis when he meets a demonic, Mephistophlean figure who forces him to face his compromised morality and face the possible truth that perhaps God does exist, but doesn’t care about a morally compromised universe.
The artists who I have been looking at for as sources for this inspiration are many; the three that it really comes down to for me are Mike Mignola, Hal Foster, and Sergio Toppi.
Mike Mignola’s Hellboy in Hell is a very strong influence on me. After having done a Masters thesis on Mignola’s entire Hellboy work, this particular series left a profound affect on me. His abandonment of traditional narrative for something more medative, and soaked in mood and atmosphere is something I wish to replicate in my graphic novel. His excellent use of pacing too is something I adore: take the example to the left. It’s three panels, nothing particularly important is happening, but it’s expressive of Hellboy’s character, the atmosphere of the setting, and the beauty of the composition and illustration draws you in; it slows down the reading pace, something I want to do with my work as well.
Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant is another, enormouse fountain of inspiration. Foster’s excellent period detail, utilisation / adaptation / expansion of traditional Arthurian mythology as well as the beauty of his illustrative style, something more akin to the era of golden age illustration than traditional comic-book art, are elements that I’d like to carry over. Most importantly he creates a sense of place and time, a definitive existence for his characters. I wish to carry across his life-like illustration and portraiture into my graphic novel.
Finally, Sergio Toppi’s Sharaz-De is something I wish to draw from. His use of abstracted panel arrangement and portraiture slows down the reading pace; taking in the beautiful composition, extraodinary drawing, and the general sense of design is something I’d like to carry across, particularly in scenes where characters are monologuing; there is nothing more uninteresting in comics than rows on rows of talking heads, and I feel this approach will be better to impart a sense of psychological depth and the sense of ambient unease I want to capture.
As well as comics, I want to draw influence from international art-house film; directors such as Ingmar Bergman, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Bela Tarr, and F. W. Murnau are important filmmakers who’s influence bears weight on this project.
Bergman’s film The Seventh Seal’s excellent portrayal of the medieval era, as well as the conflicts of religion, society, and wide-spread poverty in the period are elements I wish to replicate. Particularly, as seen in the above shot, the eerieness of landscape, it’s deep ties to cultural tradition, but also the sense of displacement. The individual as the micro and the natural world as the expansive macro, which one can be lost in, are themes that are important to my work on this project.
Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, particularly in it’s excellent use of close-up, is something that I draw much influence from. Dreyer’s framing of Renée Jeanne Falconetti’s profile allowed for a psychological expression of such intensity that few films have been able to rival it. The portrayal of Joan of Arc’s intense moral crisis, her abuse, and torture is emotionally overwhelming. I hope to replicate this crisis in the faces of my characters, but unlike Dreyer, I wish to juxtapose it against the expansiveness of nature and landscape, ultimately creating a psychological link between the intensely personal traumas of my characters and the expression of it over an unsettling landscape.
There is a particular scene in Bela Tarr’s Werckmeister Harmonies were János Valuska, a man living in poverty, pays to see the dead body of a whale that a circus has brought into town as an exhibit. It’s an incredibly moving moment in the film – not just for Lars Rudolph’s incredible performance, or Mihaly Vig’s incredible score, but the way that Tarr’s camera suggests the beauty of the divine in the natural world. János is humbled before such a magnificent creature, a manifestation of God’s beauty, but the tragedy at the centre of the scene is that such beauty is unknowable; the whale is only beautiful in it’s own, imagined environment that is inacessible to János. For this whale to be brought here, it must have been killed. The death of nature is thus equated with the death of the divine. The meditative camera movement and pace, the editing, and this manifestation of the divine in nature are elements of Tarr’s thematic work that I wish to introduce into mine.
Murnau’s silent classic Sunrise, as well as the rest of his films, and his sense of visual storytelling imparts a great influence on me. Sunrise in particular has very few intertitles, so most of the narrative is reduced to its primal essence and mapped onto the visuals of the film, as well as the expressiveness of his actors. I would like to also have this near-wordless experience with my comic. Of course there will be the occasional monologue, in the style of Andrei Tarkovsky, but for the most part I want to communicate the trauma of the characters through the visual component.
Gearing up for this project I did some practice sketches in an attempt to capture the eerieness of landscape and the expressiveness of portraiture. Below you may see a Yorkshire landscape at nighttime, and a portrait of Nick Cave.
I also prepared a few concept sketches below: these first couple were an aim to capture the setting, the mood, and early character designs.
I also created two thumbnail pages – a flashback for our main character, as he reflects on the source of his trauma in the crusades. He remembers a city on fire.
Finally, I had a very distinct image in my head; an uplit demonic face. This will be the central antagonist of the piece, a devil that has laid waste to his country and is the zenith of evil in this world. I want to have a restrained approach to visualising the satanic in this comic; something that could be witnessed in real life, but on the edge of the reality and the religious.
As well as filmic and comic sources, for my writing I take inspiration from literary sources. Below are some of my inspirations.
Then she drew the curtains down
And said, “When will you ever learn
That what happens there beyond the glass
Is simply none of your concern?
God has given you but one heart
You are not a home for the hearts of your brothers
And God don’t care for your benevolence
Anymore than he cares for the lack of it in others
Nor does he care for you to sit
At windows in judgement of the world He created
While sorrows pile up around you
Ugly, useless and over-inflated.”
– “As I Sat Sadly By Her Side,”
by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Nick Cave’s use of religion in his song-writing is something I wish to replicate in my character’s monologues. Their philosophical consideration of God, his relevance to a modern world and the effect religious history has as a weight that sits upon these people is something that really inspires me.
Not hear? When noise was everywhere! It tolled
Increasing like a bell. Names in my ears
Of all the lost adventurers my peers, —
How such a one was strong and such was bold,
And such was fortunate, yet each of old
Lost, lost! One moment knelled the woe of years.
There they stood, ranged along the hill-sides, met
To view the last of me, a living frame
For one more picture! In a sheet of flame
I saw them and I knew them all. And yet
Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set,
And blew. “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came.”
“Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came,”
by Robert Browning
Robert Browning’s epic poem “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” and it’s sense of doom is something that I wish to replicate. The sense that the end of Roland’s quest will also mean the end of his life – as the weight of all his experience bears down on him in the appearance of ghosts of all his former friends and lovers – is such a doom-filled image that it continues to fascinate me. It is the perfect expression of the unity of the interior and the exterior.
He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like ground-foxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it.
Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.
– The Road,
by Cormac McCarthy
McCarthy’s nigh biblical text is something that I wish to recreate both in imagery and in dialogue. His similar expression of the divine in nature, such as the brook trout with their “vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming,” continues that thread from Bela Tarr’s Werckmeister Harmonies. The atmosphere of dread, bleakness, and depression this imparts on the reader is an atmosphere I hope my work has.
I also prepared monologues for my three main characters – the knight, the old man, and the devil, in an attempt to discover more about their viewpoints and feelings about religion and the world.
In particular I was inspired by this scene from Andrew Dominik’s documentary One More Time With Feeling, which documented the recording of Nick Cave’s album Skeleton Tree and also documented the affect that significant trauma had on the album. In this clip, Cave discusses the way that this trauma has affected his appearance. The juxta-positioning of close-ups with this monologue creates an incredible intimacy.
Have you ever seen a world on fire? I stood atop the plains, and before me the black horizon was infinite. Flame wreathed it in crimson agony, and I heard the screams of the dying as they were butchered by flame and blade. Have you ever heard someone beg? Not for the lives of their loved ones already gone. Have you ever heard someone beg for the pitiful right to an existence, even after all has been taken from them? It is a sound that should never be heard. It is a peculiar note that rings in my hollow mind from that day until the ending of my days. It is the sound that extinguished my faith and my soul, for they were the same, but once severed, they crumbled into dust and were blown away by a foul and filthy wind. I hope you never hear it, old man. It is a sound worse than silence.
The Old Man
The silence here echoes about the valleys and forests. It’s a silence deeper than time. It burrows into the very fabric of being. It’s a silence that tells you that you are nothing, and that you will always be nothing. It whispers to you when you sleep, and when you wake you only have a faint recollection of it. But it exists in the dark corners of your home and of your mind. I know my place. I know that my place is in this hovel, and that I will be here, ploughing the fields until I die of starvation or disease. And some poor soul will be forced to take the plough from me. And his life will have very little variance from mine. Do you know what they call that? They call it the silent cry. A cry so painful that it cannot be expressed. It tolls in the death of your future.
You say that you believe that God does not exist. And yet I am here, before you, proof that he does. For if I exist, the sheer capital of all the evilness in this world, then surely my opposite must reign in a heaven far from here? I believe he does, though I have never heard him speak his words. Perhaps that is a terror that you are not ready to face. Perhaps the idea of a God that has ceased caring for a world so utterly lapsed in its moral judgement is just too horrible for you to comprehend. I pity you, that you would carry sadness for such a nonsensical thing. If morality has ceased to exist, then surely this is your opportunity, to take what you want from those that have it? There is no one watching you. No one. The world has been screaming in a pain so abysmal for longer than you have walked its surface, and no one has answered that cry.
Thank you for reading my pitch! Please check back soon for updates on this project over the next year.