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.

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