Below is a reflection on my assignment for the V&A Dundee, soon to be published (hopefully) simultaneously on their website and on Tales from the Border.
When I received the brief from V&A Dundee for the webcomic, the museum’s focus on design lead me back to an idea I had had a couple months before. I had wanted to do a comic about Francisco Goya, his house la Quinta del Sordo and the creation of his Black Paintings, and I felt experimenting with this in the webcomic format would be an interesting way of asking questions about the real life of Goya, his views on women, the darkness of the paintings, and what sort of world view could produce such desolate works of art. I saw it as an opportunity to challenge the format of webcomics – often bite-sized works that mirror the comic strip form in their weekly instalments – and imagine it as something that could push beyond those boundaries. I also saw this as an opportunity to do a comic that was less interested in narrative – a non-narrative, non-fiction comic – which I felt would distinguish myself from the other webcomics being produced for this brief.
I read a few books about Goya, and the one that chiefly informed my work was Juan José Junquera’s The Black Paintings of Goya. In my initial research about Goya, there were two elements about the idea that really stuck out for me. The coincidence that La Quinta Del Sordo translated to “the Villa of the Deaf,” and the fact that Goya himself had gone deaf in the years before, and his views on women. This focus on silence, and the idea of working on a “silent” comic with no dialogue really appealed me. The image of an artist at work on his greatest works during his mental and physical decline, in a totally silent atmosphere appealed to me in the richness of that human experience. As for his views on women, it is easy to see looking at these paintings that he had a troubled relationship with them. All the women are portrayed as witches, hags, or disgustingly deformed (not that the men come off much better – I think Goya equally hated and derided all people). In my reading I discovered that a daily sight for Goya was the women on the opposite banks of the River Manzanares, washing their clothes. I decided to link this image with his painting “Two women laughing,” as I felt this probably fed into his ideas about women at the time. I wanted to question, subtly, the validity of Goya’s misogyny and ask questions of the reader about how we view his paintings as a result; how does his misogyny intersect with his damning views on humankind? Does this problematic element obfuscate his message, or does it entirely invalidate the questions the Black Paintings pose?
Another theme that I wished to articulate was the element that Goya’s vision played in this story. Having his hearing taken from him this became doubly important; especially in terms of the unique quality of his vision in regards to how disturbing these paintings are. I decided a repeated motif I wanted to use what a central panel on all the pages of Goya’s eyes; we wouldn’t see his eyes in another panels. This would also serve to ask questions of the reader about the role the audience plays in these paintings; considering that they were entirely private for many decades and were not supposed to be seen by the public. They are anomalous in the history of art for this.
When beginning work on my first page, I decided that due to previous experience I would not be inking the panel borders of the comic so that I could digitally do it on an exact straight edge in Clip Studio Paint. Previous comics have had a slight tilt to the panels and not been exact in their edges, and since this would be seen on the internet I wanted those edges to be exact as I found the tilts easier to detect on a screen than in person. I also decided that the outside scenes in the comic would be bleached white, so as to contrast with the darkness within; no heavy shadows, only inked details etc. I went sketching trees in the North Yorkshire Moors for a weekend to get some practice at drawing trees from life.
The last two pages of the comic were the most complex to draw. I decided to turn the borders black rather than keep with the white as I felt this better portrayed Goya’s mental decline and better framed the absolute darkness of his paintings. One the third page, I decided that rather than recreating complete paintings I wanted to recreate several of the faces featured therein – his vision of the human body was so grotesque that these faces are incredibly disgusting and shocking. On the final page, I decided to end with a doubled image of Goya shrouded in darkness and Saturn devouring his son – their gazes staring back at each other, implying the meaning of Nietzsche’s abyss. I didn’t portray Saturn in complete darkness as his darkness at the end of the day is an artificial one created by Goya. There is tone and texture in the shadows of that painting so I wanted to create something that spoke to that, using the crosshatching effect to do so.
In the digital stage of the production process, I added the white and black borders and lettered the pages too. I was going to go with my usual font, Digitalstrip, but decided to go with the Zits comic strip font instead as it was something slightly cruder and edgier than the formalism of the former font.