Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Xanadu: a challenge in layouts



Here you see two different products inspired by Jack Kirby's Machine Man comics published by Marvel Comics between 1977 and 1978. One is Marvel's professional continuation of the science fiction hero in more of a straight super hero treatment, and the action is as close to Spider-Man as possible. Marv Wolfman is also writer and editor of the Amazing Spider-Man at this point in time. His partner here, Steve Ditko, is credited with having created the idea behind many issues of Amazing Spider-Man, and drew the wall-crawler from his first appearance in 1963 until 1966.

This is the second time Steve Ditko followed Jack Kirby on a title, counting the Hulk during 1962 to 1965. This character is solely created by Jack Kirby, who deliberately chose to work on titles mostly of his own creation, after stints on a revival of the Black Panther and a run as writer/editor/ artist on his old creation with Joe Simon in 1941, Captain America, and just in time for America's bicentennial.

So here, we have the created or artificial man with consciousness living a dual identity and superhero life, complete with raving enemy who uses the media hype for his own gain. It's Spider-man without Peter Parker.

My interpretation, the mock epic, in the Stuckwayze, is about a rather silly race of psuedo-humans who consider us Psuedo-Stuckwayze, whatever that means: a distinct cast, centering around Ogie and his friend Willie and the fun they have trying to discover their origins. Sometimes the meaning of existence is to laugh!

I won't go into the connection with the concept of Jack's Eternals book from 1976 here. I just wanted to say that while our "Uglies" my sister and I created back in 1982 and onward predated Machine Man in my awareness, actually reading issues 1,2, and 4 of Jack's book inspired a model for my homemade, never-replicated 1987 comic book. Perfect preoccupation with a bright but awkward boy, if something more socially-conscious was not otherwise available.



I am blessed with people to help more now these days, but my Stuckwayze is about the awkwardness of communication itself. It is a humorous science fiction story whose characters bear none of the intellectual facilities on display on the genre's classic heroes, but it's surprised me what a good place to push my artistic skills outside of portraiture, complete with their cartoony Stuckwayze expressions.

And now, the layout challenge!

YOu can work from either of these; I recommend drawing your own version of either of them! Try it with the same character: either draw Machine Man or your own character, but try telling the story both ways. Here's Jack Kirby in Machine Man #8:


I'm going to offer you some classic Ditko art here, and I want you to notice what sorts of pictures he chooses in packing the story with details. Kirby was offering bigger panels in his style, while Ditko economizes. So how do the figures and actions break down in the panels across the two pages?

From Machine Man #13 Art: Steve Ditko

I mean, try drawing stick figure versions of each of the panels to begin with. Include the minimum of detail. Notice how each panel works as a cinematic still, while its surrounding context gives you a moving scene somehow distilled in the representation. Ditko's not going for poster art here, and his naturalistic figures may seem simple, occasionally devoid of detail. All that is in service to pacing a story packed with characterization that is as important as the action scenes!

Next time, I'll come back with "thumbnails" or rough sketches that present the flow of the figures. You can do the same. Here's a twist: as you tighten them up, you could try a character of your OWN design in the same poses, hero or villain. See how the pictures are cropped so as to center around the point of dramatic interaction, sometimes only suggesting the whole of a figure or building or background with pieces, proportioned so as to generate the illusion of layers of space. Feel free to break away from the template and just draw your own sequence of events, one picture leading to the action in the next! Pretty soon, you'll be creating your own comics.

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