Graphic Novel Pitch

MDes Comics & Graphic Novels, University of Dundee

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.

Concept

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.

Comics Inspiration

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.

Hellboy in Hell 8

Mike Mignola’s Hellboy in Hell #8

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.

Prince Valiant Hal Foster

Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant

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.

Sharaz-De

Sergio Toppi’s Sharaz-De

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.

Film Inspiration

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.

Seventh Seal

Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957, Sweden)

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.

Passion of Joan of Arc

Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928, France, Denmark)

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.

Desktop

Bela Tarr’s Werckmeister Harmonies (2000, Hungary)

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 Sunrise

F. W. Murnau’s Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927, United States, Germany)

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.

Practice Sketches

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.

That Quiet Earth

That Quiet Earth (2018)

Nick Cave

Nick Cave, after One More Time With Feeling (2017), directed by Andrew Dominik

Concept Sketches

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.

Literary Inspiration

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.

Character Monologues

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.

The Knight

IMG_5644

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

IMG_5643

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.

The Devil

Devil Face V3

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.

One Year Later

Opinion

One year ago, I graduated from university.

One year ago, I felt like the world was ending.

I remember the day with great clarity – I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I had a great sense of unease. Whilst everyone else was celebrating a well-earned achievement and laughing with their many close friends and family, I could do neither. Sure, I put on a face and laughed when I should, and smiled when appropriate, but underneath I felt like I was on the edge of a cliff, swaying, trying to stop the momentum that would plunge me into the rocks and water below.

The month after was one of the hardest and most fucking miserable of my life. With no direction, a placement in a University masters degree that I had no desire nor energy to do, stuck in a relationship which had died months before, and the inability to follow my passions over my last “summer break,” I sweltered in the heat and fell into the worst depression I’ve ever had.

I still have that depression one year later. It’s not budged at all, and sometimes it’s nearly impossible to keep it down and just remain functioning. Some days I lie in bed doing nothing. But unlike that month after graduation, I am functioning. I am still functioning one year later.

Granted, the year has taken it’s toll. A break-up that destroyed me as much as it hurt the other, a string of very unhealthy and toxic relationships, a deep-set depression, a lack of interest and desire to do any of the work for a degree that I frankly saw as pointless, and the kind of heartbreak that only someone at 21 years of age can feel, when you’re on that blade’s edge between the structured path of childhood and the utter abyss that is adulthood, with no plans and no safety net either to boot.

But I can also say something else about today.

A year ago, I could feel the ground slipping beneath my feet, but today I sit at a desk in the postgraduate research centre at York university. I’m writing a dissertation about a comic-book that means so much to me, and has genuinely changed the direction of my artistic desires. I’m calm. I’m not happy, perhaps not content, but I’m stable. I can look out the window without worrying about the future, because I’ve finally accepted that I don’t have any control over what comes next and whether I will fail or succeed at my dreams of becoming a professional comic-book artist.

This year has been hard. But it’s also been great. I’ve made an international group of friends, with people hailing from Germany, Italy, Bombay, and who would’ve known, fucking Bolton too. And what’s more, I know all these people are gonna stick by me, just like I’m gonna stick by them. And that is something to be cherished.

A year ago, I felt utterly alone and out of control. Today, I feel none of those things. I’m doing something I genuinely enjoy and have a great circle of friends, many of them for life. Little did I know one of them was standing less than three meters away from myself in my graduation photo that very day. I’m no longer trying to fit in, feeling displaced at all turns. Because now that I’ve accepted who I am, warts and all, I’ve accepted that others can, and do, want to know who I am. I’m more content with myself than I ever have been before.

So to those who may feel at the end of their ropes, and ready to give up on everything – don’t. You can’t know what’s coming in just one year’s time. Sure, that’s part of the anxiety. I can’t promise that everything will get better, because it won’t. But a year ago today I felt like I had nothing. Today, I count the things I do have, one day at a time.

Sure there are still bad days. But the good ones outnumber those.

So hang on. You never know what is just around the corner.

On the ethical implications of punching Richard Spencer.

Opinion, Uncategorized

You’ve probably seen the footage by now – circulated around the world. Richard Spencer, creator of the “alt-right” term and a key figure of this movement, is being interviewed on a street. From the left suddenly comes a sucker-punch that hits him right on the side of his head. Both the attacker and Spencer run in opposite directions.

There’s been plenty of debate on social media on the ethics of punching Richard Spencer. Though Spencer claims that he isn’t a Nazi, he has often espoused views closely linked not only with the Nazis but other white supremacist groups. One only need to look at the article, “Is Black Genocide Right?”, written by Colin Liddell and published on a website formerly run by Spencer.

It strikes me that one of the main things about having a good debate is how it is framed. Get that right and the chances are something good will be the outcome. However, for too long now, when we consider questions of race, especially questions concerning the Black race, we have been framing things in completely the wrong way. Instead of asking how we can make reparations for slavery, colonialism, and Apartheid or how we can equalize academic scores and incomes, we should instead be asking questions like, “Does human civilization actually need the Black race?” “Is Black genocide right?” and, if it is, “What would be the best and easiest way to dispose of them?” With starting points like this, wisdom is sure to flourish, enlightenment to dawn.

Some of the arguments against the ethics of physical violence against white supremacists such as Spencer is that violence is never an answer; we must engage with debate, we must argue and give counter-point, we must educate those who could fall victim to the vicious and disturbing rhetoric that Spencer and so many of his cronies espouse. Others, on the other side, not only find the video entertaining but approve of the violence; after all, nothing is more American than punching a Nazi, right?

However, I personally find both of these arguments not only false, but startlingly simplistic in the face of increasingly complex times.

We live in an era where the populist far-right is gaining more and more political control than ever before. In Britain, we have the Brexit era looming over us all as the Tories continue to eviscerate not only the NHS but public housing and grants for the disabled, with a divided left that is struggling to pose a realistic alternative. In the United States, we of course have the rise of Donald Trump. And Marine Le Pen is only so far over the horizon in France.

We live in an era where “the truth” means less and less every day. Where a politician can openly mock a disabled reporter who criticises him, who is recording advocating the sexual assault of women, and not only is there no repercussions to his actions but his devotees love him all the more for “saying it as it is.”

We live in an era where someone like Kellyanne Conway can call a lie an “alternative fact.” The implications of such a statement are terrifying. Now that the far-right are in power, and already savaging the media that dare critiques them, they now are starting to change the meaning of the truth. Such a change might seem whimsical or even silly, but it’s arguably one of the most important things that’s come out of Trump’s election. By changing the nature of truth, Trump can dictate who is telling the truth. Once he is able to construct his own narrative, Trump can do whatever he wants. He can erase the LGBT community, demonise ethnic minorities, and claim that climate change is a hoax, all of which seem to be on his radar. Within a couple of hours web-pages referencing these disappeared from the official White House website.

Of course, we’re not so far gone that Trump has authoritarian power. Just two days ago, women led marches around the globe in protest at Trump. Whilst we might be divided, at the same time never have those opposed to people like Trump been so united. Trump’s rhetoric is inspiring action. With this inspiration, violence is going to become an issue.

Whilst I personally can’t condone wide-spread violence, I can’t help but feel amused at the video of Spencer’s attack. It’s a manifestation of what many people are thinking. Spencer was shut-down and his interview was ended. His rhetoric, however briefly, was finished. That’s a good result.

When debate is no longer possible, violence occurs. We’ve seen this before. Anyone who is saying that there should be no violence against people who advocate genocide against any race are frankly being ridiculous. The Nazi analogy, however complicated, is an apt one. And whilst I would be one of the first to disparage anyone equating Trump to Hitler, you can’t fail to see the similarities in modus operandi.

We can’t afford to take the moral high ground if it means that all we do is say that this is wrong and leave it at that. Hope is a fool’s dream. It’s dangerous to hope right now, because hope can lead to inactivity and passivity to the events around us. The new challenge is to actively start calling out and challenging those who speak like this. It’s no longer acceptable to just let it pass you by in a haze of non-confrontation. Call it out. Speak out. When lies are becoming more and more acceptable every day, that’s the only thing to do. We have to start looking at these issues more carefully, and not with such a black-and-white view of morality and the world. We can’t end the conversation on “this isn’t right” or “this isn’t right.” We have to start looking at the consequences of what this judgement means. We have to think, and we have to speak. We can’t afford not to anymore.

Whatever the ethics of physical violence against white supremacists, we can’t afford to continue giving them a platform. I’m disgusted at Simon & Schuster for publishing Milo Yiannopoulos’s new book. Free speech isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card for spewing racist and misogynist views. Free speech isn’t about the equal pushing of all ideas. It’s about the freedom to combat any and all ideas. If enough of us start now, Trump’s rhetoric, Marine Le Pen’s rhetoric, none of it will be able to latch. Don’t normalise it. Fight it.

Comic Review: Love in Vain, Robert Johnson, 1911-1938 (2016)

Comics

love-in-vain-high-res

Love in Vain tackles one of American pop-culture’s most enduring, mysterious, and interesting figures, bluesman Robert Johnson, and retells his life-story in a widescreen graphic novel format. Some might say that there is a certain redundancy in telling the life story of a musician, particularly one who’s sound was as unique and prophetic as Johnson’s, in a soundless medium; but J.M. Dupont’s non-fiction / prose-poetry writing style (newly translated into English from it’s original French by Ivanka Hahnenberger) and Mezzo’s scratchy, seedy, and filthy art style captures the existential darkness that was the center of Johnson’s best songs.

Love in Vain is quite a short comic, clocking in at 56 pages. It can easily be read in one sitting, and that’s how I did it and would recommend all readers to do it (It might also be advisory to have a copy of Peter Guralnick’s brilliant summation of Johnson’s life, Searching for Robert Johnson, by your tableside). The sparse, stripped down writing style, echoing the non-fiction that Dupont so fearlessly searched through, communicates Johnson’s life-story with the bare minimum of detail. This sparse prose is punctuated by haunting pieces of original poetry. Take for example, the opening rhymes of the comic:

Poor Robert, your life ended in tragedy – which the angels must consider well deserved…

But before judgement is served, they need to understand your choice – to be a sinner with a demonic voice…

And why you burned your life to hell.

This is the tale I’m here to tell.

Dupont’s prose / poetic style is simple and clean-cut, and suspiciously doesn’t try to invoke the lyrical simplicity of Johnson’s own writings. There’s a clue here in who the true narrator is of the comic – a revelation that comes in the final page’s glory of excess and debauchery.

However, as good as Dupont’s writing style may be, the true artist-supreme of the book is Mezzo, who’s scratchy, stark black and white illustrations illuminate each and every wide-screen vista. Where Dupont’s writing might skip on some of the psychological ramifications of Johnson’s costly lifestyle, in Mezzo’s artwork the costs are writ clear on Johnson’s tortured face. He might be portrayed as debauched and amoral, but Mezzo imbues his illustrations with the secret, silent suffering that Johnson endured through all his trials. No illustration communicates this more than a scene set just after Johnson has buried his wife and child. Mezzo’s illustration invokes Bertolt Brecht’s silent scream – a howl of pain that cannot be uttered for fear of revenge from a force beyond your comprehension. It’s a howl of pain that carries throughout all of Johnson’s bleakly nihilistic music. It’s a howl that his many imitators have crafted into the very bones of all contemporary music, from hip-hop to rock.

planche-love-in-vain-blues-bd-robert-johnson-glenat

Hahnenberger’s translation reads: Some would say that God made Robert suffer to test his faith. I’m not so sure – I think he knew that this lamb was a wrong ‘un, and so he struck him down and cast him out of the flock.

There are few faults that one can find in Dupont and Mezzo’s extraordinary exploration of the life of Robert Johnson. I can only say I finished this comic wanting to know more – it’s brevity is both it’s success and it’s failure. I suppose it corresponds to the general lack of information regarding Robert Johnson’s life and death; the mists of time have obscured him forever beyond our reach. To extend the page length, Mezzo provides an illustrated song book, setting a few of Johnson’s lyrics alongside some murky charcoal portraits. His illustrations evoke the lyrics brilliant way. Ultimately, this graphic novel ranks among the best artistic expeditions into the life of Robert Johnson. You’d be a sucker to miss it out.

10/10.