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I built myself a nice little cage

It must be that time of year again; I’m preparing another book. It’s been more than a year since When the last story is told came out, and I’ve had a couple of false starts in the meantime, but a few months ago an overarching concept came together. It has gestated in the back of my head until this week I started doing the groundworks for my ninth book — it’s obviously not signed to a publisher at this early point, but I’m fairly certain things will work out in my favour (he said, enigmatically).

gridPicking up on an expression and process like the one I used with Last story, I started by deciding on a master grid, pictured above. Two notes on this template, compared to my previous book:

  1. I’m consciously working in single-page mode this time, whereas most of the Last story works were produced as spreads; and
  2. The outer borders in the new grid are actually the page edges, meaning that I’ll be working with full bleed (or, for the less print savvy, the artwork will be printed to the edge of the page).

The grid is a comfort zone of sorts that I have taken with me from my comics maing days, but not one that I care to follow too slavishly. One obvious reason why comics artists may favour a rigid, monotone grid is that it provides a steady rhythm to their narrative; I’m sure some do it out of sheer habit or lack of originality. I’ve always thought the malleability of the comics panel, and the puzzle that goes into fitting them together to a page layout, are intrinsic disciplines to making comics.

And I’m still doing the same thing in Last story, as well as in my new bathroom-tile layout: Although the cells may often frame or dictate the size of some image components, other discrete elements will surely break the grid to indicate different structures and rhythms. I may start out with these squat little near-squares all lined up in rows, but that’s only a first neat step before I deliberately stumble into disorder and asymmetry.*

So grids are important to me mostly as a framework for more complex or even disorganised structures to grow upon; an echo chamber that allows for sound to carry in the dark — not to drop a too-obvious hint about the grander concept of the work. That’s for a future update.

grid-collageIn Last story, I used a base of crude paper collage, mostly monochrome surfaces that let me add my own brush and stamp textures on top, but in a few places I had used found photos instead — several more, in fact, that didn’t make it into the book. On starting this new work, I decided to explore that direction further, and the preliminary collages I prepared so far are made mostly from magazine clippings.

There are intellectual property pitfalls of using other people’s work, of course, but because I use these as a base for further work, and then only for their pattern, colour and tonal value, my conscience is quite clear — at least on that subject. I also want to point out that most found photos I use are cropped (and in some cases rotated) to eliminate discernible motive which would just distract from, rather than add to the (non-)narrative.

With the work that became When the last story is told, I would work on one piece from start to end until it was finished; this time I mean to produce a large number of collages over a short period before I engross myself in a ink monotype sprint. At this point I’m working on the book as my day job allows it, but over the summer I’ll try to produce several batches of work at a staggered pace, so that the brunt of the artwork should be ready by fall.

Watch this space for updates as the work progresses!
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* It wasn’t until I settled on this 5×3 formation — and had started whipping out the first batch of template pages — that I realised it aligns with at least one Santoro dogma that I’ve tried to steer clear of in the past. Frank Santoro is a comics artist and teacher who has formulated his own, partially convincing theory of comics page composition. My major gripe with that is how he bases it on sacred geometry, and so views each page layout as a monolithic unit, when a comic is usually laid out (or at least reproduced) as pairs on the spread of a book. In one particularly grating absolute statement, Santoro claimed that “I never give up the center of the page” — upon which I decided to always disregard that space going forward, because screw balance. Yet here I am, with a cell stuck right in the middle of a page that isn’t intended for paired presentation… I guess I’ll have to get creative to avoid it!

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