“Everything changes. Nothing changes at all.” Anthony Bourdain, Parts Unknown (Scotland episode)
Welcome back! What has it been, two months? Three? It’s been a busy summer, and not entirely in good ways, but it was what it was. I won’t get into a lot of personal stuff here, because my vision for this is to keep you up to date on my creative work. Of course, the personal stuff can also impact creative work, both in negative and positive ways, and that is part of the reason why it has been a while since the last newsletter. I feel like things are settled down enough now that you can expect more regular updates, so.. here we go.
I actually updated this a while ago, so some of it is a little stale by now but if you haven’t looked lately, hey:
If it looks different, it’s because I updated (and hopefully simplified) the website too.
As for offerings, if you can read this you are entitled to a free copy of a new little photo zine I made called Spaces Between. If you want one, reply with your postal address! I might even throw something else in there.
When I last wrote, I believe I had just attended East Coast Comics Expo in Moncton. Fast forward to last weekend when I tabled at this year’s incarnation of DCAF, the Dartmouth Comic Arts Festival, and as usual I had a very good time. I was able to finish a new comic zine that I’m very happy with called Microdose, composed mainly of single-page comics that are essentially outtakes from a larger project that I have been working on for a while. I had originally intended to try to finish the first installment of the larger project, but once I started to seriously look at getting that organized, I realized that it needed more time and workshopping, and I realized that I had a bunch of disparate, mostly personal little comics that might make a better collection together rather than being sprinkled through the bigger book. What the heck, here’s one now:
Anyway. DCAF was great, I had the Making Comics Meetup table next to mine, got to say hi to lots of people who make comics that I hadn’t met before, got to see people from the Meetup tabling for the first time and selling their very first comics, got to say hi (briefly) to the Cartoonist Kayfabe hosts Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg, and just generally had a good time.
My next show, and the last of the year as far as I know, will be at the Halifax Zine Fair on November 2nd in the North branch of the Halifax Public Library. It’s not so much a comics-oriented show as a zine show, but considering that most of my comics appear in zine form, it’s been a good fit for me these past few years and my increased involvement with the Radstorm collective space makes it even better. So if you are in the area, I hope you’ll check it out. I hope to have at least one new mini-comic and one or two other non-comics zines done in time for it.
A different kind of flashback for you this time, inspired by my recent reading about ontologies and how we organize information. My reading was prompted by a project from my day job, but it reminded me of the linguistics class I took in college, which in turn inspired the MA thesis which I wrote about comic books and how they can be analyzed mechanically, in addition to the usual kind of textual analysis that academics are used to. I used several short comics as examples, but the big effort was spent on applying what I called “the blueprint method” to what was then the most complex comic book I could think of, Moore and Gibbons’ Watchmen. What follows is an excerpt from my MA thesis, for which I drew panel by panel maps of every page of every issue on a series of twelve large sheets of paper (one for each issue).
The origin of blueprint analysis is truly a case of necessity parenting invention. Presented with the problem of analyzing a very complex graphic novel called Watchmen, I struggled with my usual practices of folding the corners of pages and sticking loose notes inside the book. I attempted to make separate pages of lists for each theme and character of interest, but cross-referencing became an enormous task and was eventually frustrated by the ongoing discovery of new connections. I found it particularly frustrating to articulate within my notes the structural curiosities of the comic in question, because there were so many purely visual devices at work which defied description in pure text form.
I ultimately decided that I had to analyze the comic panel by panel, working as exhaustively as possible and paying close attention to every aspect of the visuals: composition, page layout, body language, recurring visual symbols, and other devices. At some point in that process, I realized that by drawing a facsimile of the original comic page with blank panels, I could use the resulting “blueprint” as a space in which to make notes and to show the visual techniques employed in an equally visual fashion.
A blueprint of a “typical” six-panel page, for example, might simply consist of six empty boxes drawn on a sheet of paper in the same layout as on the original page. Each box would be understood to represent a corresponding panel in the comic page (the upper left box, for example, would represent the first panel of the comic page); logically, notes could be made in that box which relate to the contents of the panel. Such notes might include relevant passages of dialogue, the description of a visual symbol, and so on; in short, whatever type of information might be highlighted or underlined by those reading a text.
The largest advantage of the blueprint is the fact that it not only organizes notes with solid visual associations, but also provides a skeleton of the comic’s structure. I soon found myself drawing lines between boxes to show relationships between corresponding panels, drawing arrows to represent the movement of the “camera” (the reader’s point of view) from panel to panel, and other symbols which represented aspects of the narrative progress.
“Blueprint analysis,” as I have come to call it, preserves the dual-track reading experience by providing a dual-track method of study. It allows for easier and more comprehensive structural analysis than one would manage by relying on memory, folded pages, or marginal notes; and it allows the critic to gain a sense of the deliberation used by the authors in presenting each page. The practice of “mapping out” the panels of a comic book reinforces the reader’s impression of the panel arrangement, an impression which does not often remain with most readers; plus it gives one ample space to make notes on the contents of specific panels, providing a reference guide to panels of concern.
The reader should fill relevant panels with whatever points of interest he discovers while reading the comic. Such notes may consist of quotations, observations, thumbnail sketches, codes; whatever he feels may aid the analysis. Another advantage of blueprint analysis is that such notes may be customized to suit whatever comic one is reading, while the blueprint framework drawn by the reader provides a constant and stable format which permits comparative analyses of different comics. Notations may also be usefully added outside of the panels: page numbers, marginal notes which highlight groups of panels or discuss the progress of themes, arrows which indicate where scenes begin and end, and so on. A completed blueprint will allow one to draw conclusions about every order of magnitude in the narrative, by showing every order of magnitude at once: the whole narrative, chapters, scenes, pages, panels, and the panels’ contents.
We now have six meetups under our belt and have published the first issue of our group zine, Proxima, with a second issue coming out in October. The next meetup will be on Saturday September 14th, a post-DCAF roundtable where I ask three of the group members who tabled at the show about their experiences, as well as a larger discussion among the group. The October meetup will be on the last Saturday of the month, another collation party for Proxima’s second issue before the zine fair on Nov. 2nd.
If you are in the HRM and making comics, we’d love to meet you!https://www.meetup.com/Making-Comics/
There are some really interesting comics being published right now. Keiron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie are wrapping up The Wicked + The Divine, but Gillen is already working on a couple of other good series: the already-established gaming/fantasy series Die and a new book called Once & Future, about modern day fascists trying to sieze the power promised in Arthurian myth.
One of my favourite creators for a while now, John Allison, is wrapping up two books: the beloved Scary Go Round spinoff Giant Days and a shorter unrelated series called By Night. He has a new series coming out right after GD wraps, but I’m not sure what it is about. He will also apparently keep SGR going in the form of new Bobbins comics.
My current favourite book is Azzarello and Llovett’s Faithless, a sexy and perverse book that feels like it belongs in the pages of Metal Hurlant. It describes itself as “an erotic depiction of faith, sex, and the devil in the tradition of the Divine Comedy.”
Over in the prose world I finally got time to finish Faith Erin Hicks’ charming debut YA novel called Comics Will Break Your Heart and am currently working through a recent biography of Lou Reed and Kris Bertin’s collection of short fiction called Use Your Imagination! I have also been re-reading a favourite old non-ficton book called Rework by the artists formerly known as 37 Signals, now called Basecamp after their best-known invention. There is a Rework podcast as well which is worth checking out.
Finally, I have been buying a lot of zines lately thanks to DCAF and the zine fair that was hosted this past weekend at Radstorm. Indeed, my DCAF haul was almost entirely made up of zines that I bought or traded for, and I look forward to doing the same at the zine fair in November.
I am late to the party but I have become a fan of the Cartoonist Kayfabe video podcast on Youtube. I resisted at first because of the elevator pitch that a friend put to me - a show where Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg go through old issues of Wizard and talk about 90s comics and wrestling. I’m not especially interested in any of those things, but I couldn’t resist the episode where they did a deep dive into the issue of The Comics Journal where Todd MacFarlane was the feature interview, and once I heard their back and forth, I got the appeal. So, even though I largely ignored superhero comics in the 90s in favour of Love and Rockets and Eightball and the like, I think I am closer to their sensibilities than I thought and it is interesting to hear them talk about these comics that they know very well and I don’t know much (if at all).
Meanwhile over on Netflix, I watched all of Anthony Bourdain’s last show, called Parts Unknown. Like pretty much all of his shows it involved him travelling to a place, meeting people who take him to delicious local food, and him hanging out and letting them tell their stories. I pretty much love shows like this - Street Food, Ainsley Eats the Streets, The Getaway, etc. So why didn’t I watch Bourdain much until now? I don’t really know. I have always enjoyed his writing, but as a TV presenter something put me off before. Probably how he would keep eating stuff that I would rather not eat. Plus sometimes if a series has had a bunch of seasons I might be interested in watching it but I have to make a kind of mental space for it first, if that makes sense.
I think one flaw or weakness of the streaming era is that after a while, everything starts to look and feel the same when it’s just one little picture in a grid of pictures. Why not design an interface that allows you to enlarge the preview for the kind of movies you want to see and minimize the kind you never watch? So your grid could have a big art house poster in one corner flanked by little blockbusters, with an Errol Morris documentary taking up a chunk of the opposite corner. Feel free to steal that idea, nerds.
Anyway, what made me think of all that was a movie on Netflix called Quake, an unusually thoughtful and well-crafted disaster film from Norway. The way Netflix lists it, it seems like just more filler that they have pulled in from around the world. I’m glad I decided to watch it while I was working today - it turned out to be riveting and I didn’t get my work done. What more can you ask?
On the big screen, my wife and I went to see Midsommar at the beginning of the summer and Hobbs and Shaw a couple of weeks ago. Both very entertaining, in very different ways. A few days ago I went to see a Japanese film called Kingdom that is yet another tale of the first emperor of China, but with a bunch of other martial arts film tropes. If you like that kind of film, it’s certainly worth checking out.
Finally, there is a delightful 10th anniversary reunion of the cast and creator of Parks and Recreation on YouTube. It made me laugh and cry, just like the show.
My friend Sean Jordan is a talented and hilarious rapper-slash-musician who just released a new CD called SpaceVerse, a collection of “Science Diction” songs that are mainly about either Star Wars or Transformers, plus a lot of other pop culture stuff. You can find out more at his website: http://wordburglar.com/
One of the more prolific posters on the How Did This Get Made? message boards has started an amusing podcast with his wife called Magnum, She Wrote, in which they are recapping both Murder She Wrote and the original Magnum, PI, alternating episodes. It’s a lot of fun so far and it works out well in our household - I have loved Magnum since I was 12 and my wife is equally passionate about MSW - in fact she is rewatching the third season as I write this, with no sign of stopping. Anyway, you can find Magnum, She Wrote on iTunes and on Soundcloud, among other places: https://soundcloud.com/cameron-hill-419568165
I have been spending more time playing games lately, especially video games, to try to balance out my work/art/everything else schedule. Recently I finally managed to put the time in and finish the main story of Super Mario Odyssey after owning it for a year. It’s a deeply weird game even for that franchise but it is fun.
I finally pulled the trigger on buying a used PS4 and have been catching up on some of the essential titles for that end-of-life console, like Spider-Man and Final Fantasy XV. As it happens the “free” games on PS Plus this month are two other favourite franchises, Sniper Elite IV and Wipeout. It is tempting to also get their streaming service to replay classics like Rez (which has a VR mode, fittingly) and Rogue Galaxy, but it’s not $20 a month tempting.
The nice thing about buying a console late in its life cycle is the games are much cheaper, but I am looking forward to an upcoming new release called Death Stranding, created by the iconoclast and Mads Mikkelsen superfan Hideo Kojima, best known for the mind-bending stealth action series Metal Gear Solid. If you haven’t heard of Death Stranding, go to youtube and look it up. You will and won’t be sorry.
We were pleasantly surprised to finally receive a copy of Trogdor!! The Board Game, inspired by the wonderfully strange old Flash cartoon Homestar Runner and one of its more memorable StrongBad Emails. The object of the game is to guide the titular dragon-man around the countryside, burninating the peasants and their thatched-roof cottages. It can also be played as a solitaire game, which is a nice touch.
The big achievement since last time, as mentioned above, was finishing and printing Microdose #1. I am currently working on the art for another mini-comic called As Seen on Your Nana’s Wall, and I like how it’s going.
I also managed to get some new prints and stickers (!) made in time for DCAF, like this:
I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to do NaNoWriMo this year. I don’t think so. I might not even do Inktober. I still want to do some drawing and writing but I would rather try to finish off some older projects (including past NaNo books), and since I am trying to follow my instincts more these days creatively, I think I will divide my time between that and working on new comics. I’ve also been thinking more seriously about doing more music, more recording of strange comedy-adjacent material, just to get that momentum going. You have to start somewhere, right?
Of course, those instincts also tell me it would be funny to make a comic about Superman getting repeatedly dick-slapped by Dr. Manhattan, so.
Thanks for reading all the way to the end. I hope you had a good summer. See you in about a month. Peace.