Wednesday, December 15, 2010

ROYGBIV: a one-page comic challenge

I was recently invited to Belfort, a city in the east of France, to present 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style and to give an Oubapo workshop to art school students. I devised for the workshop, very much at the last minute, a brand new constraint which I call ROYGBIV.

The ROYGBIV constraint is straightforward but fairly difficult to pull off. Once I realized how challenging it was I felt a little bad for throwing my unsuspecting students off the deep end but they rose to the challenge.

Here's how it goes: draw a comic of 7 panels, each one corresponding to a color of the rainbow: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet. No color allowed (that would be too easy!), black & white only. You need to find non-direct ways to reference each of the seven colors. This could be an associated object, as in a banana for yellow; a textual reference; an emotion represented (red for anger), or any other analogy you can think of. In addition to the sequence of colors, you might also consider the image of the arc, the movement between warm (red) and cool (blue) colors, as well as cultural associations with rainbows (pot of gold, LGBT, etc).

For this class we had about two hours to work so I only had the students produce rough thumbnails. A few examples follow (I apologize for the crappy iPhone pix. No time for proper scans.)

This simple yet pleasing solution made a little story of a little round creature traversing a world of fruits and vegetables: strawberry, carrot, egg, peas, (bottled) water, blueberries, finally going to sleep in a violet.
In this comic, a grad student in economics put the rainbow in the service of a narrative of the worldwide economic meltdown: a pot of gold leads to piles of green dollars floating out the window into the blue sky. Meanwhile the profit line on the graph goes into the red as the stock market symbols (commonly displayed in orange LCD) registers the crash. And we end, perhaps hopefully, with the flashing red and blue alternating lights of the NYPD coming to arrest the criminal bankers. I like how this student—in his first comic ever—used graphic elements to guide the eye through the page: the drifting dollars, the banker's laser pointer. I also like how the window and the graph function as panel borders as well as images.

In this comic there's a hidden arc in each panel in addition to the colors. Here we get a tragic life story of potential (that word!) cut short, from rosy cheeks and heart mobile to the icy violet ice floe of a frozen corpse. This is one of the few comics to make a real distinction between blue (water) and indigo (night sky)--the hardest color to indicate, we all agreed.

The kids (well, mostly teens, one 20-something grad student and two middle-aged women) were almost all energized by the challenge and most of them asked for my e-mail, promising to finish up and e-mail me their inked pages (au boulot, les enfants, j'attends toujours ces planches!).

Incidentally, on the way home from Belfort (in the midst of the nationwide strikes that paralyzed the country that October weekend) I spent the night in Montreuil, outside Paris, with my fellow-oubapian, Etienne Lécroart, who shared with me a few constraints Oubapo has been using or planning to use in France. I'll try to post about those later, possibly with examples from me and Tom Hart.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Tic Tac Toe Jam--a new jam comic constraint, for two players

I'd been kicking around an idea for a jam comic based on the game of tic tac toe. Recently I invited Tom Hart to meet up with me at a café before class at SVA and give it a try.

I posted about an earlier aborted comics project that led to this idea here. The idea is fairly simple: one cartoonist is X the other is O. You lay out a 9-panel tic tac toe grid on a page and play tic tac toe, only instead of simply putting an X you need to draw a comics panel that incorporates the X in some creative way. The game proceeds alternating players until the comic is finished. (Keeping track of who wins is optional.)

Tom Xs and Os...
...while Matt Os and Xs
What appeals to me about the idea is that the constraint works at a few different levels: there's visual play and word play and there's also an unsual storytelling challenge since you're not telling a story in a linear fashion, instead you're jumping from panel to panel, alternating with someone else, and trying to mold it all into some kind of coherent narrative.

game record of the above comic
In the comic above I started with the top right panel: I drew a bald guy because that seemed O-like and had him say ""Oh" as he opened and read a letter--that seemed like a story starter. Tom did the next panel and made an X out of a stack of envelopes, deciding they were summonses. We talked back and forth as we worked but didn't always know what the other had in mind. So when he wrote "24 weeks" I couldn't for the life of me figure out the reference. I decided that six more would make 30 which is XXX--a winning game in tic tac toe. It turns out he was thinking of X being the 24th letter of the alphabet. And so it goes. With the bald guy and all those X's Tom found it irresistable not to end up filling this strip with X-Men references, though we barely even know the characters (yes, we know Johnny Storm isn't really one of them).
Our other strip took a totally different direction, as you can see. In conclusion: a bit of a silly game but the results are not bad and we had a lot of fun doing it and talking about the process. This would make a great minicomic anthology. If anyone out there ends up doing this kind of comic, please send it my way and who knows, maybe I'll get enough to put a mini together.

PS As Tom points out in the comments, what we did to save time (and ensure a nicer looking final comic) was to pencil only during the jam session (as in the pix above), then we each took one home to finish up and ink.