October 7, 2008
Back from a relationship seminar with Kathy over the weekend. Flew to El Paso on Friday, drove up to Cloudcroft, New Mexico for a two-day John Gottman retreat for couples. Biggest insight: 69% of couples' issues are unresolvable (Gottman and associates have video-taped and tracked thousands of couples for some 30 years!). And yet we keep fighting about the same things for decades. For Kathy and I, our main issue in this arena is our house. It's my dream house, but it's somewhat of a burden on her and now that the kids are gone she wants to downsize and travel. I won't budge. She feels resentful. Believe it or not, we actually came to somewhat of a resolution through the exercises at the seminar.
More details, later.
So, Kathy and I are going to be married for at least another 24 hours. One poor guy, a cowboy from Austin, I don't think was as lucky. His wife filed for divorce two weeks ago and when he asked how he could make amends, she told him he could come to this seminar. Ouch! Felt for the guy.
Meanwhile, here are selected comments from the Mickey Free PDF roughs I sent out last week to a dozen readers. First the good news:
The Good News
“The art and the design are absolutely wonderful. Seriously. Your style is perfect for telling this. There's not one picture that I would change. It would be impossible to pick one as a favorite, because they're all so strong. And Remington's voice is charming. It's a very smart solution to narrating the story.”
"It is so cool. I have been reading your blog now for a couple of years and what's really cool is I have seen 80% of the art work on the computer before it went into the book. It kinda of makes me feel like I've been involved with the project. I can't wait to see the finished work and get my signed copy. WHEN WILL IT BE FINISHED?"
“I feel like I've just watched the preview of an exciting coming attraction for a great Western movie.
“Please understand, I have never read a graphic novel before. This was my first experience and I'm very impressed. The artwork is really nice, as usual, Mr. Bell; the sketches, paintings and drawings look as if they were produced a hundred or so years ago. Hutton's words left me with a very comfortable feeling; they indeed felt as if they came from Remington's pen.
“Once I got into the style of the project, it finally opened up for me what you two are accomplishing. At first I had a little trouble with the written narration on the one side while pictures and dialogue were on the other; until I found if I read the narration first then followed with the pictorial, it moved along very well for me.”
“HOLY COW! What can I say? It's an incredible piece. It's a great story woven through your art stringing them together like pearls. The story-line is incredible, the writer bringing the history and the perspective of the narrator, artist, and participants on a roller coaster ride through the viewers mind. No, I didn't have mushrooms for breakfast. I'm trying to convey that it's a great ride and a lot of information that goes along with the fun. It's a pleasant change from the sci-fi or ‘comic-y’ themes out there.”
“Color, layout and imagery are all amazing. Loved the sepia tone to the pages.”
“EXCELLENT!! Continuity and story are great.... hats off to you and Paul, a job well done. I can't wait to see the finished piece! Loved the overall look of the piece, especially the hand written sketchbook notes, and the background wash ‘spills.’”
“It's a compelling story with fascinating characters. It's well written and beautifully illustrated. I'm glad you and Paul are telling this story. I can't imagine a better team to tell the story.”
The Bad News
“You're right to be concerned about the narrative tracking. You're cramming too much into 20 pages”.
“The only thing I saw that was a little disruptive to the story line was the many styles of illustration. It made me feel as if I were walking through a gallery of many artists work centered around a theme. I'm not saying that's a bad thing. It's very distinctive. It made me feel like I was jumping from the central story to the story as told by many people. I was seeing many sides, as in a trial where you hear from many witnesses. At the end, I felt like I could reach the truth on my own. That being said, it was just different from other pubs, usually done by one or two artists and one writer. I think the word balloons are a little out of place, but it's subjective.”
“There are too many different kinds of text deliveries and it's a bit confusing. You might introduce Remington journals with a standard text box (think Watchmen) and eliminate those blurbs in the black border, or find a way to make them more obvious.”
“I saw little about Mickey Free and a lot about other people. All the stuff about Sieber and the Apache Kid was interesting but could not find the narrative. If it is about Free then make it so and use these others as interesting diversions and background. Who is narrating? If it is Remington then keep it that way. I counted three different voices. Was difficult to determine which story I was supposed to be reading. Balloon dialogue doesn't work well with your art. I don't have a suggestion for you but didn't think they went together at all. Perhaps coloring the balloons? Curly is carrying a Winchester and not a Henry. Narrative is telling rather than showing. Don't have Remington tell me about the snowstorm and following activity. I wanted
to SEE that.”
“When I think of graphic novels, I base my limited understanding of the form on my reading of Max Allan Collins' 'Road to Perdition', Frank Miller's '300' and Art Spiegelman's 'Maus.'
So, what I have to offer has limits and really boils down to one question posed by every page: how do I read this? If I were to read only the marginal text--Remington's narrative--would I get the whole story? I presume so.”
Okay, end of comments. Yes, I admit there is a bit of a train wreck between Remington's narration and the comic strip elements in the story, and yes, we covered too much ground for a mere 20-page excerpt. It does take some cross referencing between Remington's voice and the comic and the footnotes, but here, if you have forgotten, is my manifesto, which I wrote a couple years ago:
The Triple B Graphic Novel Manifesto
Whereas I believe the vast majority of graphic novels today are nothing more than comic books on better paper, I vow the following:
• I intend to emulate and cannibalize all of the visual arts I can get my hands on. Graphic should mean "graphic," including numerous techniques (scratchboards, gouache, pencil, crayons, et al.). Layout should emulate magazine formats, with cutlines, pull quotes and maps that fill in back story and provide clues about exposition without long, cumbersome word balloons.
• Word balloons are a necessary evil, but should be used rarely, if at all. There has to be a better way to tell a story without ridiculous thought balloons coming out of character’s heads. Narrative and dialogue does not have to be part of the drawings (I often hear the term "movies on paper" but most GNs seem to be "cave drawings on paper").
• Narration and dialogue should be separate, but ideally there should be story information in the visual images that does not appear in the narration. And vice versa. The end result being if you only read the narrative you wouldn’t completely understand the story and the same on the visual side of the fence. Ideally, both should stand alone, but important information should be hidden, or planted in each, so that you have to go back and read and look at the story again to see the secret compartment on the tapadero. It wasn’t described in the text, but it was there for you to see if you looked close enough to the drawings.
• Straight scene for scene storyboarding is dull and passe. Skim action and jump cutting is where it’s going. We have seen tens of thousands of TV shows, movies, documentaries, magazines and books. It is time to blend all of these genres into something that could rightfully be called a “Graphic Novel.”
So, in that regard, our "graphic novel" experiment (which will run as a 20-page excerpt in the next issue of True West magazine) has succeeded. And, in our defense, we will have much more room in the book length version (128 pages vs. 20)) and I have a learned a thing or two from the effort here and from the comments above. It's still a bit too schizophrenic and needs to breathe more, but I still love and believe in, the various elements and I want to utilize them even more so in the book.
"Plans are nothing; planning is everything."
—Dwight D. Eisenhower
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