Developing Comic Further – Environment, Characters and Panels

Playroom

The previous post on this comic idea had some sketched hints at the ‘playroom’ kind of aesthetic I wanted for the bedroom, so I thought to try working on some different angles/compositions/framing for panels that would give the reader the impression that the wall was in fact being projected on to, and that the images on the walls are moving animations.  I keep coming back to the Rugrats, but in particular, those scenes where we are seeing the world through Spike’s eyes – all distorted with fish-eye aspects.  I can’t find any examples online, but it’s quite a nightmarish viewpoint.  Add the playroom from Akira into this, along with that age-old futuristic ideal of images everywhere*, and I’ll arrive at something scary/recognisable/cute in time enough.

This isn’t the bit I mean at all, but I can’t find any images of the playroom online either. I think it’s the ominous lighting in the fight scene with Tetsuo that has me referencing it more than anything, though, so this image will more than suffice.

*A fine passage from Cybersexualies essay Technophilia, by Mary Ann Doane, refers to the impressive amount of imagery in science fiction (though it certainly isn’t something we’re unfamiliar with in every day life):

‘Garrett Stewart remarks on the over-abundance of viewing screens and viewing machines in science fiction in general – of ‘banks of monitors, outsized video intercoms, x-ray display panels, hologram tubes, backlit photoscopes, aerial overhead projectors, slide screens, radar scopes, whole curved walls of transmitted imagery, the retinal registers of unseen electronic eyes.’  And in his view, ‘cinema becomes a synecdoche for the entire technics of an imagined society.’ (30)

It seems like having this ultra-‘natural’ scene projected onto the bedroom walls will be quite an obvious illustration of the use of technology to create a new, ultra-human, and un-Other-based environment, a central theme in my dissertation.  Having the child in the scene playing with a tablet-type device feels a little lazy, but I was also aware of the importance of including very recognisable technologies in order for the story to be relatable; tablets are pretty ubiquitous right now.  Here are some goofay designs:

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Gaming

Struggling at the minute to decide what language the child is learning on the device – if I choose Japanese, I’m giving myself an opportunity to practice my own learning, but I am aware and wary of the whole Orientalism cliche in so much science fiction… We’ll see.

I am having some trouble deciding on what the two characters (mother and child) should look like too.  Every time I make a conscious effort to draw a person, a character that I have made up, I suddenly find myself drawing hideous, hideous faces, the kind of which I’d never draw when I’m just doodling, and drawing faces for my own enjoyment.  At the same time, if I try looking at other comic artists whose work I love, I’ll copy them, and then hate myself for being that unimaginative, that lazy.  The only real solution to this problem is to keep drawing every day (as absolutely everyone advises), and eventually the brain-to-wrist connections will get stronger.  This is what I got from this recent exercise:

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Kiddo

Madre

Rockabye

So, that’ll be something to push harder on tonight, and hope that the aesthetic comes out when I have at these (more definite) panels in the next few days/weeks:

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Child comes into room after following baby’s cries, and sees mother-robot breastfeeding little baby sibling.

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Snaps out of that. Mother-robot comes over to pick child up, child has knife, slices open veil (onto which the image of mother’s head is being projected)

This is another fantasy/dream sequence, and when it finishes (with a detailed image of the mechanical head under the veil), the child goes back to their playroom and is happy when greeted by its tablet.

While at home in Northern Ireland for three weeks, I’ll use this time to draw out the comic, in black-and-white – probably using ink and a paint brush, potentially working in fineliner – once I know what I want it to look like/which tool I can use more skillfully, that decision will make itself.

Comic Cover

I have been working on cover ideas, using many different colours for the face in the mother-robot’s veil, similar to the work of two artists I came across in the last few months, who use colour with bold, electric energy:

And someone who goes by the handle 8 9 3 9

Less half-clothed ladies for half-clothed ladies’ sake though.  Also looking closely at the colour palette of Wesley Allbrook’s comics, particularly the pink-pink of Montmartre à trois.  She’s incredible.

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COP Creative Response – Story-forming

This comic tells the story of a child whose natural biological mother is now permanently absent.  She died shortly after giving birth to their younger sibling.  The father – a wealthy, successful, busy man – sees that the children need a mother.  Humanoid technology is at this time progressing, though it has not yet reached a point at which these androids are indistinguishable from humans.  Engineers are having particular trouble getting facial movements just right, and as a way of bypassing this problem, came up with the temporary solution of projecting animated human heads from the inside of a veil which is draped over the head, and securely attached around the shoulders at the base of the neck.  The father of our family decides this is the best course of action, especially for the baby, who he believes would suffer greatly from the lack of its mother’s nurturing.

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Automaton Idea (basix)

This is a quick crap sketch of an idea for a potential ‘made piece’ – but until I know a little more about building automata, I’m a little stumped with it.

Automaton Idea

This documentary from the BBC was wonderful at scaring me into the realisation that they are not a thing to be taken too lightly, however.  But, my god, John Joseph Merlin‘s a dreamboat if I ever knew one.  Just look at his swan, JUST LOOK AT IT!

Chen Man exhibition at the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery

‘Young Pioneer and CCTV’ 2009

Chen Man, described in her Twitter bio as a ‘representative of modern Chinese visual artists’, is a photographer working in Beijing.  Though her work is most associated with the commercial fashion industry, it was the playfully hyper-futuristic aesthetic of her personal projects which attracted my attention most.  In particular, her Pioneer series exemplifies her wish to combine the two concepts of beauty which can often seem utterly disparate (by the consensual understanding of ‘nature’).  She discusses this in what her interviewer describes as ‘a lazy Beijing burr’ in this article from Time Out Shanghai:

‘There are two kinds of beauty: natural, real things – flowers, children, the sky – and artificial, manmade things, things derived from human wisdom like iPads, cars, design. Now I’m trying to combine those two kinds of beauty.’

A fairly simplifying approach to take to the subject, but one that produces images which are almost startlingly contemporary in their dedication to the surface, to the aesthetic value.  The skin-tight plastic of the Pioneer’s dress; her lean, straight frame; the uninterrupted smoothness of her skin and hair – all combine to give the impression of a commercial product.  The fetishisation of plastic, of sleek functionality, is projected onto this model, and one can’t help but note that when identifying the ‘beautiful’ in this image, we tend to find ourselves admiring more the ‘artificial, manmade’ category of Man’s description.

This is by no means a new phenomenon, and I do wonder at the perseverance of the appeal of beautiful lady-machines.  In particular, the potentially more modern occurrence of female artists (particularly in the pop culture spectrum) appropriating these ideas of the indisputably female cyborg and applying this to themselves, or their subject (I can’t help but think of Janelle Monáe… and not just because I’m listening to her Electric Lady album as I type).  The objectification of the female form has been long-practiced in art, this is an inescapable historical fact, but is the sentiment so changed when a female artist is doing the objectifying?  The image of a technologically-empowered female figure has been noted by many to serve as an illustration of the ‘Monster’ of modern times (Maria from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is a well-known, early example of this), and is very much present this photograph from Man’s Pioneer series (I can’t find the name for this anywhere – should’ve taken better notes in the S&A Gallery):

The model here has produced a satellite from under her skirt.  Her face belies sexual arousal, with no hint of shyness in the direct eye contact with the camera.  The troubling infantile costume is my only (yet overriding) issue with the series.  As an extreme vision of the strictures put in place by the mass media of our patriarchal society, and at the same time playing right into the overt sexualisation of prepubescent girls, the costumes in this series are a worrying indication of an all-too-common theme (particularly in science fiction) of the female giving up her womanhood, for an immortal life steeped in reticence.

Presentation, presented in silence.

Here is the fairly shambolic attempt at the COP presentation, another to add to the pile I haven’t delivered to the class after relapses in the ol’ anxiety issues.

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Some of the slides need expanding on, yes.  So let’s:

  1. This is me trying to create a flowchart of a kind, organising the bits of disparate thought.  Read away,
  2. This is introducing some of the topics from the flowchart – in another dimension I’d have talked them out a little in the presentation.
  3. Here, I was beginning to figure out where I wanted to drop my thinkin’ pins.
  4. This is a sentence, I’m sure of it.  I wanted to say something more about recovering from the trauma of abandonment issues after leaving the womb, and Freudian jazz like that.
  5. NGE – this, I was just going to try my best to explain coherently.  I wasn’t feeling too confident about that idea, but I had hoped the whole hype around having giant robots and mounds of archaic religious references would be enough to dazzle my audience, and that would be enough.
  6. Then this slide, which I would skillfully lead onto:
  7. Japan’s integration with technology, and more recent falling population, along with the idea that Anno’s anime comes from a subconscious connection with the zeitgeist of the time
  8. Look to my post on Masaaki Yuasa (I was winging this too).
  9. More winging – this sequence in Jan Svankmajer’s Faustus – just some reanimation fright through the medium of animation.
  10. Dancing Diana, from Conrad Shawcross – bringing robots into our arts scene, further infiltrating into extra aspects of our lives – marks the beginning of my research into robotics as a launchpad into automata.
  11. Just drawing – enjoying shapes.
  12. More drawing – having problems.
  13. Idea of future baby environment – thinking on replacing traditional mother figure with technology in very literal sense.
  14. Automaton idea.

Cutie Automata

These wind-ups from Japanese designer duo Maywa Denki are extraordinarily cute, and may prove to be a worthwhile inspiration point for creating something lovable rather than harrowing.  I haven’t yet decided whether I’d like my creative response to be outright horror, yet I think Masaaki Yuasa’s Happy Machine short exemplifies the fact that the two (cute and terrifying) can go hand-in-hand quite effectively.

Babies, babies, gross, gross babies

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Babies are gross.  Just look at Sparkle/Ricky, the baby BMO finds in ‘BMO Lost‘, a heartachey episode of Adventure Time.  (S)he is one of the most perfect gross/cute babies I have seen in a cartoon, and an important undercurrent of my thoughts when drawing out some stupid babies to project my hologram-fish-mobile-night-light-thing on top of.  I was just running through some ideas built around babies getting raised in very close quarters with digital technology from the outset of their fat little lives these days.  Here are some babies:

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Here is baby with fish pencil drawing:

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Such a fat Sparkle/Ricky.  Working through with colour, trying to highlight the fact that these fish are holograms, but it just got uglier still:

FishBaby2

This is more an idea of setting for a story set a little further in the future than ideas of what I could make for our practical response – due to the fact I won’t have time to produce the kind of comic/animation I would class as finished before Christmas, and I want to make an automaton – but it’s all pushing me further into thinking about children being raised by non-human machines.

Manchester’s got Brains

 

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In a bid to grasp an understanding of my own pitiful existence, I sought out the celebrated source of consciousness at its current home in the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry, on display in the exhibition, Brains: The Mind as Matter.  Though it was a delightful display charting the history of neurology down the years, I left without much moved in me.  I felt a certain sense of despondence at the realisation that, in all likelihood, I will never see such an exhibition dedicated to the lungs, the liver, or even the punchy pancreas.

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Illegal photo of a very delicate cast. Its beauty made me blush.

We place a great deal of stock in the fatty coils stored inside our skulls, and they are beautiful, and they are intricate, and they are fascinating, baffling and surprising.  They are just another piece of this body, though.  I am reminded of Roald Dahl’s short story, William and Mary, in which William Pearl is given the opportunity to cheat death, by being kept ‘alive’ as only his brain, and one attached eyeball.  I love the neurologist character, Landy, in this story.  So unbearably optimistic and unstoppably self-involved, he will carry out his great experiment whatever the outcome, whatever this would mean for William’s own well being.

Ah, I don’t know where I am going with this…  I enjoyed both of these things, and considering the importance of the brain to our consciousness (still struggling with my own definition/interpretation of this, wildly subjective as I am).

As well as this, we came across Wall of Art in the upper reaches of Spinningfields (where we were visiting a rather important craft fair).  I picked up a postcard with this piece on it:

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Such a beautiful, simple, striking method of charging an inanimate object with life!  The card is now on my bedroom wall.

Hideaki Anno and Neon Genesis Evangelion

OK, so here, I will attempt to outline why the anime, Neon Genesis Evangelion, is a heavily influential factor in my Extended Research Project for Context of Practice 3.

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Omono otaku

Firstly, my serious interest in the show feeds on the topic of my essay for Context of Practice 1, ‘Otaku culture in post-war Japan’.  During the course of my research into the key components of otaku culture, Ikari Shinji (NGE’s teenage protagonist) was a near constant presence.  Shinji is a tragic figure, and knows it.  In this character, Hideaki Anno seems to have created the ultimate otaku stereotype: Shinji is lonely, self-involved, sexually frustrated, distant from his father – a victim of his environment.  He is expected to pilot Eva 01, in order to assist NERV‘s attempts to defend the earth against the Angels‘ attacks, but he is usually unwilling to do this, because it is scary.  He has understandable, relatable emotions in the face of this terrifying proposed task:

  • the angels are really, really scary creatures (I will expand on the goodness of this shortly)
  • in order to pilot the Eva, Shinji has to effectively relinquish his conception of his own identity, allowing it to merge with that of the Eva (which, by the way, is inhabited by the soul of his dead mother – oedipal much)
  • the responsibility they put on his shoulders is phenomenally weighty

My interest in otaku culture is has been renewed though this research project, especially when viewing it as a national syndrome which has (at least in part) arisen from a society deeply integrated with technologies that encourage escapism and increasing engagement with virtual reality.  This interview with creator Anno is confusing and seems to beg negation of any in-depth analysis into the meaning of his story.  The Ideas Channel produced this interesting video discussing the relevance of Anno’s opinion on his own creation, which is fantastic:

Either way, I have come to accept the fact that I have no way of getting around Evangelion as a pivotal point of interest in getting this project off the ground.  I wanted to pick apart what exactly about the series (television series  and films – as is often the case in many anime franchises, there is a series, followed by a feature-length reinterpretation of the series, and now a new series of films re-imagining the basic story with new characters and shinier special effects) that strikes such fear into my heart, but still keeps me coming back for more.  I acknowledge that the dramatic music and frantic editing (especially evident in Death and Rebirth) will have had something to do with the adrenaline pumping through my veins as I feed on this hyper-stimulant, but the fact that I can’t quite shake the things I have seen, or the almost-disabling sense of fear I have when recalling certain scenes, led me to believe there is something in the ideas presented that directly attacks something essential to my humanity.

I went on to do some research into Monster Theory – in a way continuing on from the studies into cyborgs and the fear of the Uncanny in my Context of Practice 2 project.  By way of the omnipotent Google, I came by this very interesting publication from Jeremy Jerome Cohen.  I particularly enjoyed his presentation of the ‘Monster’ as a culture’s own exploration – and simultaneous distancing from – their fantasies and desires.  This quote:

‘The habitations of the monsters (Africa, Scandinavia, America, Venus, the Delta Quadrant – whatever land is sufficiently distant to be exoticized) are more than dark regions of uncertain danger: they are also realms of happy fantasy, horizons of liberation.’ (18)

The idea that our fictional monsters are a fairly risk-free method of playing out our risky desires has really lodged itself snugly in my mind.  Applying this theory to Evangelion aids in understanding the appeal of the horror the show brings to me.  To wield enormous power, to become something more than myself, to (eventually) transcend the human form I was born with and connect, wholly, with a collective consciousness – these are fantasies explored in Evangelion, and the baffling, disorientating finale to the television series is an animated approximation of how we might experience these fantasies, were they to ever actually happen.  Cohen’s Monster Culture (Seven Theses) again comes in very useful in wording things right:

‘We distrust and loathe the monster at the same time we envy its freedom, and perhaps its sublime despair.’ (17) 

I watch the Eva entering ‘Berserker Mode‘ and am at once in awe at its unrestrained brutality in tearing the Angel apart, and completely horrified – sickened to my stomach, much like the employees at NERV who can’t seem to take their eyes off the scene unfolding on their observation screens.

As well as the powerfully scary giant robots, the underlying themes in Evangelion can often pose an even more sinister threat to the viewer.  This, I think, boils down to the loss of identity, a kind of death.  Not a particularly new fear, but now repackaged in technophilic terms.  This, I am now joyfully realising in a rather late-in-coming revelation, is the very same kind of idea discussed in some of the essays in Cybersexualities, where the concept of the womb is diabolical in its very biological function as it challenges the commonly accepted Cartesian ‘individual’ – and this is perfectly paralleled when the pilots in Evangelion enter into the belly of their assigned unit, where they are submerged in amniotic fluid which sustains their survival inside.  Their ownership of their own consciousness is sacrificed.  This is scary, and important.

I feel as though there is a great deal to examine in the psychology of the sexual tensions between the characters too.  The pilots are a bunch of hormone-driven teenagers when it boils down to it, but this ties into another aspect of the studies in otaku culture that interest me, which explores the idea that Japan as a nation has strong tendencies toward reticence, and ah, this is a different post.  I’ll come back to this.

I would very much like to dedicate large portions of my time to studying this show as an incredibly effective depiction of the modern, Japanese monster.  I’ve got some work to do.