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My Comic Book Journey - Ex Machina - Wow! - Salvador Dali in a lawn chair.
I'm invisible without 3D glasses.
My Comic Book Journey - Ex Machina - Wow!
I just finished reading "The First Hundred Days" compilation of Ex Machina. I actually put it down three or four times with weeks in between readings, thinking, "This is really good; I've gotta get back to this." I can't believe I set it down so often; that is no reflection on the quality of this graphic serial.

It has everything I could ask for in a comic series. It'll be easier for me to describe my affection in theatrical/film terms (and occasionally, overstretched culinary metaphors), and later you'll understand why. Each of the characters is so interesting, even the ones who have just a few "lines". The supernatural/super-hero aspect is only a portion of the story, and it often acts as just supernatural spice to the flavor of the "character soup". Mmmmm, characters. The dialogue is sharp and punchy and, in this television-perfected world, believable. The issues or sub-plots of the administration are totally believable, too.

But the artwork, oh my, the artwork, is incredible. It's not just that the drawings are beautifully rendered and perfectly saturated (because they are). It's the "direction" of the action within the artwork that is equally amazing. Since so much of the action and story are carried in the dialogue, those conversations had to do everything - provide exposition, create conflict, develop character, build to a climax, convey emotion, and conclude the plot. That's hard to do in moving pictures, much less still ones. But they did it; they did it so well that the even the most seemingly mundane of conversations was a page-turner.

The authors/artists included a few "behind the scenes" pictures at the end of the compilation, which gave me one of those "Oh.my.god. THAT'S why it works" epiphanies. The artists storyboarded this whole series with real models and took photographs. They then used those photographs as "studies" for each scene. They regularly used the same models for the same corresponding characters. In essence, they did a photo-based comic first before they drew it. And that's why characters look so much like real people; it's because they are based on them. The same poses, the same crooked noses, the same gestures of each person - that's why the rendered imagery is so believable, and ultimately beautiful. Sure, everything is a little stylized, but you get real body types and sneers and movements.

And that's SO FREAKIN' SMART. Most artists working on long-term pieces use a studies (sketches or photographs) to keep them on track, to make sure that their renderings don't get distorted during the course of all that manipulation of line and color and movement. In my mind, comic books are more closely kin to movies than to single pieces of artwork, so it makes sense that their studies would be serial. And why not storyboard it with real people? It is so much quicker to pose a model and click a photograph than to sit and sketch each panel before doing the real rendering. Plus, you have a nearly complete proof of concept to make sure you're getting what you want.

Not only will I (hopefully, if spiderknight has the rest) be finishing the series, I am also encouraged to try this myself. It means that working with an artist will be much easier (whether this artist is local or hundreds of miles away) should I decide to use this medium to tell one of my stories. It also means that I can probably block whole segments of the story work with several friends in just a day. Sure there will be hours upon hours of dialogue and story to write, but it means that I can put the action together quickly and convey instantly to the artist what I want my audience to see.

I am really blown away by this. If this is some kind of industry standard in the development process, it probably seems mundane to the rest of you. But to me, it removes one of the big obstacles to working with this medium.

Tags: , , ,
mood: amazed
music: (I'm embarrassed to say this) The theme to "Forever Knight"

18 Voices in a Chorus | Lift Your Voice Aloft
mandis13 From: mandis13 Date: September 2nd, 2008 01:38 am (UTC) (link)
Okies... to start: How you feeling? Last we heard you was a bit poorly... you doin' better?

Now, Question #1: Have ya read Watchmen yet?

Question #2: Does this mean ya gonna read "Y: The Last Man?" It was written by Vaughn as well; I think ya'd dig it a ton. :)
amazingmrparker From: amazingmrparker Date: September 2nd, 2008 01:55 am (UTC) (link)
I concur, I was about to post recommending Y the Last Man. I juuuuuuust got Volume 10 (which I haven't yet read), I was about to sit down and start cover-to-cover-ing the series.
From: spiderknight Date: September 2nd, 2008 03:55 am (UTC) (link)
Actually, I was testing the waters when I gave her Ex Machina - - I'm considering starting to buy YTLM in trades again, and move those on to her.

I gave her Watchmen already, as well as Understanding Comics (which went over well also).
amazingmrparker From: amazingmrparker Date: September 2nd, 2008 04:22 am (UTC) (link)
If she didn't live so damn far away, I'd have her going from one end of my bookshelf to the other. Anyway, good reads all around. Sounds like she's in good hands.
lost_angel From: lost_angel Date: September 2nd, 2008 03:51 pm (UTC) (link)
Don't spend any money on comics just so I can read them. I'm sure someone I know can loan them to me, and if not, I'll find some way to get them. There's just no need to pay for something out of pocket for me to read them.
From: spiderknight Date: September 2nd, 2008 09:46 pm (UTC) (link)
I'm back and forth on the matter. Y: The Last Man is a great series, but I'm not sure if I'll want to re-read it. I may not wind up buying it, but there are plenty of other things that I'll be buying for myself, and you'll get to read as a benefit of that.
lost_angel From: lost_angel Date: September 2nd, 2008 03:50 pm (UTC) (link)
I am MUCH better. Thank you for thinking about me. The doc says I don't have any more kidney stones that she can tell, and she told me to ramp up the amount of water I drink every day.

Watchmen was the first thing I read in this foray I've started into the comics world. I really enjoyed Watchmen, although I'm not sure I was able to enjoy it as much as other people who have had a twenty-year relationship with superhero comics and are able to fully understand how ground-breaking it was within the whole genre. I salute Watchmen for (I think I've said this over in mistervimes journal before) its fearless ending. I also got a lot out of its exploration of the ethics of super heroes (both their internal quest and how their actions are weighed ethically by the world at large).

I didn't fall in love with the characters as I have in other series. I wasn't emotionally invested in them enough that when something dramatic happens to them, it wasn't as cathartic of an experience. I loved Rorschach and I liked both of the Night Owls and I would have loved to have spent more time (page wise) on The Comedian, but the rest of them didn't strike as much of a cord with me.

I know that my words may offend people who love love love The Watchmen series, but I always read very critically. All-in-all I enjoyed the series and am so glad I read it.
mandis13 From: mandis13 Date: September 2nd, 2008 07:55 pm (UTC) (link)
Watchmen is, for most long-time fans, much like the original Star Wars movie. To those of us who saw it 'back in the day,' Star Wars has a mythic feel, and re-watching the original 3 movies does nothing to deter that. Even tho, when taken critically (which often happens with new viewers of the original movies), the acting was OK at best, the special effects, while AWESOME for their time, are now horribly dated, and the plot was a bit simplistic for todays audience, OURSELVES INCLUDED.

But, its STAR WARS, so we never see these things. :)

Watchmen is a lot like that. All us comic nerds pretty much gauge a person's comic worth by whether or not they have read Watchmen; I however, do not require the same adoration for it that I have.

Glad ya feelin' better, buddy!
From: spiderknight Date: September 2nd, 2008 09:53 pm (UTC) (link)
I have to second that - - and it was my primary concern in handing Watchmen to Ginger. Not only is it somewhat dated, but a great amount of its strength is in what it meant to us when it came out, or when we first got to read it. For many comic fans, it can be likened to a loss of innocence - - a vital experience that shows you everything the medium can achieve, and it fills you with wonder and awe...

...for other people, it's like seeing a 30-year old copy of Playboy and wondering what ever made you think that girl was so hot in the first place.
sxyblkmn From: sxyblkmn Date: September 5th, 2008 09:53 am (UTC) (link)
don't think i buy that man

i know a few non-comic readers who, while trying to learn more about the movie, came across Watchmen and were just blown away by it
From: spiderknight Date: September 5th, 2008 09:57 am (UTC) (link)
You're right - - it's still very strong. But I've also seen non-comic readers finish and walk away "meh."

Still, it's undeniably an important and potent work, even today.
amazingmrparker From: amazingmrparker Date: September 2nd, 2008 02:00 am (UTC) (link)
As far as the photos-as-storyboard technique is concerned, my only criticism of it is that the figures tend to look somewhat stiff if it's not done correctly - Alex Ross uses this technique to great effect (all of his stuff is painted), but his characters aren't as dynamic as more drawn characters are. It's been forever and a day since I've read the volume of "Ex Machina" (must add to list!), but I don't remember this being a problem there, so I imagine they were doing it right :)

If/when you decide to write comics, let me know - I'd love to audition. Sure, it'd be a third job for me, but I think I'd be able to handle the deadlines with a writer breathing down my neck for pages ;)
From: spiderknight Date: September 2nd, 2008 03:55 am (UTC) (link)
...and actually, I might be in the market for an artist myself, at least as a test, or a means of seeing if that style of writing interests me more than straight prose.
amazingmrparker From: amazingmrparker Date: September 2nd, 2008 04:25 am (UTC) (link)
Let me know! I only have tattoos up on my website at the moment (www.terriblyuncreative.com), but email me if you're interested(terriblyuncreative at gmail dot com), I'll see if I can dig up some samples of my other stuff. No ego or offense here if you find an artist that you like better (or lives closer).
lost_angel From: lost_angel Date: September 2nd, 2008 04:06 pm (UTC) (link)
You are the first person I think of working with when I consider writing a comic novel. I know you (although from the distance and the years since I've seen you, I don't know you as well as I would like to). I know your passion for the medium. I know you're talented. I know your SCAD training is unparalleled. But I also know that you have so many other awesome things you're doing with your life, that if I approach you to partner with, I'd better have a damned perfect story to tell.

I agree — having deadlines and working with a partner who is equally excited can help to keep the project focused and the energy level up. I'm a long way off from that point, but it's definitely something I want to do. I've got so much more to learn about comics as a medium. I've got to find a story to write, either write something from scratch or let a story coalesce from the hundreds of idea fragments I've had over the years. But one day, whether it's a comic or a ream of prose, I'll have something to tell the world.

Edited at 2008-09-02 04:07 pm (UTC)
amazingmrparker From: amazingmrparker Date: September 3rd, 2008 12:37 am (UTC) (link)
I'm flattered that I'm the first person that you think of :)

It's funny - I have characters and the start of stories that I want to tell, I just have no idea how to sit down and write them, and I have no idea what would be the best way for them to go. Hmmm...

I think this weekend is going to be a tattoo-designing weekend for me to get some of that off my table so I can start working on other stuff...
mandis13 From: mandis13 Date: September 2nd, 2008 04:33 am (UTC) (link)
Also, if you can get ahold of it, I HIGHLY recommend "Transmetropolitan." Probably my fave comic story evar; and I think its RIGHT up your alley!
From: spiderknight Date: September 2nd, 2008 07:33 am (UTC) (link)
I'll have to dig that out, but I think you're right and Ginger'd enjoy it~
18 Voices in a Chorus | Lift Your Voice Aloft