Channel the entity "Jeff Parker" from beyond the Ether

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

The Greatest 

I see that Will Eisner died yesterday. It's impossible to overstate his importance to comics, and I wouldn't know where to start talking about that. Instead I'll just say that he impacted me.

It's the 70's and I'm spending most of my day around the comics spinner rack and magazine shelves at my dad's grocery store. I see THE SPIRIT among the Warren magazines and am immediately pulled in by the logo. From that point on I'm always checking for new issues of the hat wearing hero who gets beat up in sewers all the time. I put on gloves and fold the back ends forward when pretending to be The Spirit, and poke my tongue into my cheek because Eisner drew him doing that. What I don't realize at the time is all the subtle lessons that are sinking in-- the importance of atmosphere, inventive composition, believable environments, the fun of design, and most importantly, that one person can do all of these things.

Years later I'd meet Will at one of John Hitchcock's ACME conventions in Greensboro. Now I'm a college student with samples from a '30's period story, pacing nervously before going up onto the dais to show my pages. The other guests are heavy hitting talents, but I'm not as intimidated by them as by the man who practically invented the medium I'm hoping to work in. I know that I won't be able to hide my cheats and weaknesses from him, and he won't care how pretty my pictures are if the storytelling isn't up to par. I put off showing my work to Eisner for much of the afternoon, then I finally suck it up because I know this is the kind of opportunity that doesn't present itself much in a lifetime. Mr. Kubrick, will you watch a short film I made? I shake Will's hand and mumble something as I hand him my boards, reminding myself to shut my trap and not defend my weak drawing as young artists always do. He goes carefully through my pages, nods occasionally, and after a few minutes looks up as to make a pronouncement. Pointing at my word balloons, he explains that I have to leave more space between lines of text, and describes how to use an Ames guide. I also need to leave space between the balloon itself and the text. He shakes my hand again and smiles and I find myself standing over by the chairs wondering what this all means, as if an Oracle had just given me a cryptic message that might take me a lifetime to translate. Is my drawing and storytelling so good that it needs no mention, or so hopeless that we're not going to talk about it? How important is what he didn't say? What did he mean?

I've had several years, and now I know what he meant. He meant I needed to leave more space between the lines of text and the balloon, that's what he meant. I've looked at hundreds of young artist's portfolios since then. Some need me to point them to good text on process (Eisner's of course), some need me to hammer in the need for life drawing, some need to be focused on improving composition, or abandoning noodling, incorporating research. And every now and then I see someone who seems to working on everything equally, and I can tell that they're on the way to being a professional, all they need to do is not stop. Almost every last one of these newbies lags behind in the one area they're least interested: lettering. They assume it will be typeset or someone else will do it, like I assumed. Yet it's still there poking me in the eye on the samples, and like Will I just want it to look right so I can read the story. Without meaning to, I give them the same critique: neaten up that lettering, stop running it into the balloon. But what about my drawing? What can I do to make it better? Oh... just keep going, you're doing fine.

Thinking about that again, I do remember one art point Will made to me: you should be able to make a peephole in a piece of paper and moving it all over your page, be able to tell what you're getting a glimpse of through the hole by the texture you've put down (Years later Joe Kubert also gave me a texture lecture). Thanks for the advice to a young cartoonist, Mr. Eisner and special thanks for showing that someone can do this work at such high standards for a lifetime.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com
Site Meter