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comics drawing, story telling

January 7, 2011 at 6:34 pm

Whoa, sorry for a long time of no updating — I’ve been vaguely overwhelmed by holiday times, business stuff, traveling to see people, and working!

Now… the holiday crunch is over, and I got sucked into working on writing and drawing a comic. I know, this is not a “productive” silkscreen-type project like I probably should be working on, but it’s pretty exciting to me. It’s an adventure story based on a comic book character named Scar, made up by a middle school kid. Andrew Oesch and Walker Mettling had the kids in their after-school comics classes (at public library branches) draw and write a bunch of characters, and their attributes and backstories, to then write comics about. Grownups (or should I say, “grownups”) also made up some of the characters, but this one was written & drawn by a kid.

scar character page, drawn by a kid

Here is Andrew & Walker’s project blog with about ten of the many, many characters, and songs by Amil Byleckie to go with them!

The characters were all made into “rogues gallery” type books (as seen in the photo* above), which AO offset-printed at AS220. Using the books as reference, the kids made comics about and around the characters, which I mostly haven’t gotten a chance to read yet… and the character books were also handed out to various artists around town so they could also make comics & drawings based on the characters. (Here’s one: Mickey Z’s comic, and the characters it is based on.)

Upon seeing the full-color drawing that Alec Thibodeau (a dedicated vegan) made of “Tofoon”, a giant block-shaped warrior made of radioactive tofu, I said, “oh my gosh, I have to do this, what do I do, is there still time, I have to make a comic for this project.”

I looked through the books & to Andrew’s amusement, found a character that is maybe one of the more brawny / classic-superhero-y of the collection… at least as the kid drew him: so far I have drawn three pages that are pretty emo, and then there are two pages in progress that are more active… but I have a feeling there’s going to be a good deal of action eventually. Though, as AO said (in response to my worry that I wasn’t gonna get the action scenes done because all I wanted to draw was love scenes), “love scenes are kinda like action scenes.” ehhhhhh…


Anyways, I was trying to keep this update brief, and just say, “I’m making a comic & it’s really fun!” But now that I got into it, here’s the origin story of why I’m working on this comic that promises to be super epic, based on a little kid’s idea…

Thanks to the diligence and stubbornness of our mother, my brothers & I grew up throughout the 80s and 90s without a television in our house. Although we would go to a movie occasionally or watch TV at other kids’ houses, reading — books, picture books, newspaper comics, and Tintin comic books — was our main source of narrative and visual entertainment. When I went to college in Chicago in the late 90s, I drew a couple of comics & illustrations for the independent school newspaper there, and I was introduced to self-published zines and comics, but I never made anything long-form — I didn’t have any good ideas for what it should be about, and I didn’t want to make something just for the sake of making something.

Arriving in Providence at the end of the 90s, I was extremely inspired by the comics artists here, as published in the newsprint periodical Paper Rodeo and other small, hand-made formats around town.** I would dedicate hours of coffee-shop patience to deciphering what was going on in the tiny, odd-sized panels filled with scribbly lines. Stretches of narrative unfolded and then fell away, characters were introduced and then re-appeared, maybe, fleetingly, with a different name or years later, hardened and world-weary. Little guys got stomped on by giants, scrappy weirdos and machine-men fought against forces of corporate ownership, people tried to build structure and spaces and logic for themselves in a confusing world that was beyond their comprehension.


I loved how these stories created fantastical, imaginary worlds, filled with the adventure elements that I had loved as a kid & teenager — that at the same time served as metaphors for the world that we lived in in Providence, with its magic, struggles, and difficulties. Going to shows, making our homes in weird industrial spaces, and making art in Providence was the first time that I had felt like I was actually living in an actual place, living my real life — I didn’t have to live in medieval times or in an imaginary fantasy world to live authentically and experience exciting things. Biking manically through the car-clogged, snowy streets, climbing up dark, steep staircases to dance wildly at noise shows, exploring the city and meeting new people, staying up all night to finish making something important and beautiful — these were the real adventures of my real life in the broken, vibrant, difficult, actual world.

My ambitions to make comics continued to grow, but I knew that I still didn’t have a story to tell: I shied away from a personal narrative of my own life, because I felt like it wasn’t coherent or important enough. Translating things metaphorically seemed like the only way I could make a thing that would feel far enough away from me to be able to put it together as a story, as opposed to a shapeless, self-indulgent splurt of what my high school english teacher Mr. Reinke might call “logorrhea”. But what story did I have to tell that even merited translation?

After a friend of mine had a bad hand injury a couple years ago, I spent some time sketchily scripting ideas and scenarios for a comic about people in a world “not unlike our own”, where there’s a fascist military police force made up of people who’ve been augmented with metal/robotic weapon arms (with one thread of influence branching from Mat Brinkman’s Multi-Force comic epic, which is set in an underground labyrinth in which the monster/warrior characters have giant interchangeable battle arms…). The protagonist of my story was a young man who is recruited into the force and equipped with a weapon arm, but then deserts, thereby losing control of the arm. Removing the weapon leaves his own arm totally useless. He must figure out how to to hack the weapon arm and restructure its abilities from scratch, and how to use its weapon nature for good, or if that’s even possible.

So yeah, themes of physical vs. mental strength, the struggle with the body and its control, ability and communication, and a sub-narrative about neighborhoods and fascist urban planning strategies… also a love story between the young man and a nice lady who has a fiance who’s a legitimate member of the force, and the story of how she becomes politically radicalized… anyways! I have a bunch of pages of basically-illegible notes for this story in an old sketchbook… it was decent stuff, but I never made anything happen with it — partly because of time constraints & other projects, partly because I was self-conscious about the science fiction-y, comic-book-trope-y aspects of the story, partly because I was intimidated by having to make *so* *many* *drawings*.

When I read the character description of Scar (see the image at the top of this blog post), the parallels to my old story jumped out at me — all the old themes still tugged at me — plus the powerful idea of the flawed body & the search for completion. I was also psyched to try to write a tough superhero character, and to have the “trite comic-book-story” aspect of the character & the plot excused by its origin in a little kid’s imagination. I started writing a little bit of the backstory script — how he finds the arm, why Scar killed Black Death’s brother, what happened after his hands got cut off… and found myself totally thrilled and sucked into the process.


I’m way more compelled than I expected I would be by the demands of making drawings that tell the story, by figuring out how to do that. How to pace and time the action or sequence of actions, how to combine text and drawings in a way that leaves a lot to be filled in by the imagination, but sets up a coherent story for readers to grab on to. Still feel like I am totally ignorant of the “right way” of “how to do it” — but the first steps in figuring it out are very exciting. And — I finally feel like I have a story to tell.

So, the past couple of weeks have found me…

doing technical research:

conscripting my friends to be the photo reference for characters / people’s faces:

Ben as Brian/Scar:
pictures of a young man

Andrew as Time Stopper:
a drawing of a person and his superhero identity

combing my past photos for other visual references (in this case, cityscape, wide street):
cityscape view

making an actual balsa-wood model of the robot arm (I know, crazy, but totally awesome — I like having things I can look at to draw them, and the arm is as much a character in the story as Scar is…):
drawings and materials on a table

early version of the arm, now it’s a lot cooler than it is here:
balsa-wood model robot arm

Okay, that’s what I’ve been up to, also new year’s was awesome, and things are generally confounding and beautiful and transformative. I want to write more, and there is more of the backstory of why this story feels like it demands to be told, why it demands that I tell it. But! I also want to draw & write new pages of the story itself! Time time time…

I’ll post complete pages on the website here somewhere, when I have some more done. The first five pages will be published in the anthology that AO and Walker are putting out sometime “soon”, along with a bunch of other work surrounding all these characters, by kids and adults. I’m worried that I will never be able to finish my version/vision of Scar, that the story will spiral out of my control and that I will never be able to tell all the parts of it that are important to me (or that I’ll get distracted by the love scenes and never get around to figuring out how to draw the action scenes…!). But I know I need to just keep working on it, moment by moment, piece by piece, and let it accumulate slowly.

Also, the lesson that I ultimately take from Providence comics-makers, and from my friends alongside whom I am delighted to draw, is to remember to let things be loose, to not worry about connecting up every episode, but to concentrate on drawing the parts I want to draw, the parts that are the most fun to draw, the stories that are the most interesting to tell. Readers will make their own connections between them, and create a narrative out of my stumbly efforts…

okay wait, I can’t write about comics without linking to a couple of friends:
Melissa Mendes who is going really deep & intense with her self-investigative comics work right now;

James McShane whose total dedication to the form inspires & intimidates me daily;

and Brynocki C’s comics review blog, which might be one of the best blogs ever.

* apologies for all the blurry photos, I am reduced at the moment to using my cellphone camera since my old camera’s batteries seem permanently drained to the point of unusability, and I didn’t realized how much I depended on the macro-focus feature on my old camera. Acquiring a functional camera is on the to-do list…

** A small selection of this late 90s / early 2000s work, including Ninja and Maggots by Brian Chippendale, and Teratoid Heights and Multi-Force by Mat Brinkman, has been collected and re-published recently. Also, CF’s Powr Mastrs, though new work, is a product of the same scene/mentality… and Mickey Zacchilli‘s comics and print work are also in the Providence lineage of surreal, energetic scribble narrative…


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