creative writing, graphic design, illustration, sequential art

underlying components of good character design vs. good writing

This is just a note to myself as regards the graphic novel issue.

I’m not entirely certain how deeply I should get into this, but I happened to check out a copy of X-Men:  Eternals a while ago.  Attempting to read this made it clear to me why the X-Men movie series was so heavy-handed and apparently one-sided.

I don’t have a great amount of literacy in graphic novels — I can recall reading Bone and Blade of the Immortal; and Generation X before the franchise-wide reboot of the X-Men series (which really ticked me off), plus a couple of more mainstream Japanese things like Fushigi Yugi (which I didn’t particularly enjoy, much as I didn’t enjoy Tenchi Muyo! [though I only saw the latter in anime]) and Neon Genesis Evangelion (which I got into because of the anime).

Then there are the series which I picked up even though I was at the time fairly illiterate in Japanese, like Inu Yasha and Bastard!, along with Yuu Yuu Hakusho (the flame-like banter in which I was not entirely aware of, until I happened to read some of it in English translation), and which I incidentally only got into because of the doujinshi (and because I was at the time learning to read Japanese).

What I’m thinking is that the same traits which can make a person a great character designer can also cripple them when it comes to good writing.  I’m not saying this is true across the board — it’s just something which has come up in specific regard to my own trials with trying to script establishing scenes in “graphic novel” formats, and I see it reflected in what I read going on with X-Men:  Eternals.

If you’re designing a character so that all elements of the character attempt to describe that character in a visual manner, that is fine.  But reality doesn’t work that way.  In reality, the way people look does not always (I would say often does not) relate to who they are.  This may not be quite as easy to see when the makeup of society is more or less homogeneous.

But when you have multiple minority categories in a society, and these minorities have strength in numbers and voices in regard to their own portrayal, it makes it clear that the thoughts which come to someone’s mind because of the way people look is not equivalent to who those people actually are.  This is especially clear if you happen to be one of those minorities and you happen to see how people constantly misread you (in addition to misreading your family).

This is a way in which my own philosophy diverges from what I’ve seen…whether we are looking at older American comics or whether we are looking at the less-complex graphic novel material coming out of Japan.  What people look like is not equivalent to who they are.  Of course there are materials coming out of Japan which acknowledge this (for example, in Legend of Zelda:  The Windwaker, in which the fairy who accompanies you acts like someone who would ordinarily be drawn as a big, tough male character who had the burliness to back up his language — but this is used to [actually, quite delightful] comic effect).

What I’m trying to get across is that in a good piece of writing, it’s very often the case that characters are not one-sided.  Characters are complex and have many different layers.  They’re often not surface-readable — you don’t immediately know what their role is just because you can see what they look like.  In graphic design, and I believe likely in character design, the goal is the opposite:  to be able to look at an image and glean a more or less solid idea of the intended communication fairly immediately, just from the visual elements of the composition.

I am not certain how to reconcile these two perspectives, but I wanted to make a note of the conflict.

calligraphy, drawing, graphic design, illustration

leaning toward graphic art

I meant to make this post last night but somehow got sidetracked…

I tried experimenting with my NuPastels.  What it’s told me is that I probably don’t want to be working with pastels so much at this point in time.  My first mistake was using vine charcoal.  It’s been years since I used vine charcoal, so while I was expecting it to smudge, I wasn’t expecting it to have no adhesion whatsoever to the paper.  Which meant that when I was trying to blend colors with my fingertips, the colors kept becoming dirtied with the charcoal, and I kept wiping white areas into the drawing by touching the vine charcoal areas.

After I left the NuPastels for another time…I started drawing in large format with a set of graphite sticks I have.  I believe their brand is Cretacolor Monolith.  I was impressed with these — the tin runs from HB to 9B, and even the HB smudged well, and using the 9B and my Pitt 9B graphite stick (which is slightly closer to black), I was able to attain a good range of tones from light to dark.  Basically, white to almost black.  It was also easier to cover large areas of dark value easily, by using the edge of the graphite stick.  And then I could highlight with an eraser, as the graphite — at least the HB — is very easy to erase, even when used heavily.

Plus then there’s the point of the stick for drawing in detail, and I have a set of freaking tortillons which keep squeaking on the paper and not blending very well (though I did learn how to grind fresh tips on one of these, last night).  The thing I’m missing is my triangular eraser.  I have no idea where my triangular detail eraser went.

I did end up doing a graphic-novel-style character drawing…which is one of my fallbacks when I don’t know what to draw.  I need to work on things which are not people, though, really.  That factor alone is a big reason I haven’t been doing graphic-novel work.  (Though I probably shouldn’t go too deeply into that.)

After I had experimented on these two counts, I used a white calligraphy ink that I had stashed, on top of a rubbed-in charcoal ground.  The ink was very thick and very white.  I used the glass pen that my late grandmother bought for me, which I normally don’t use anymore, because the nib grinds down every time I use it.  But the upshot is that it’s easy to clean — the nib is cylindrical.  I think, though, that that particular calligraphy ink might be best used with a brush, due to its thickness.  I didn’t want to use it with a metal calligraphy nib, because I didn’t want to ruin the nib.  (Calligraphy nibs are two pieces, and it’s difficult to clean the areas where the flats of the pieces touch each other.  I have a jar of Higgins Pen Cleaner, but I don’t know if it will work on an ink that may have some acrylic in it.)

But what that, and subsequent experimentation with a calligraphy nib showed me, though, is that I probably want to get back into calligraphy.  I should probably look for a better book on it.  There’s just a graphic quality to calligraphy that I really, really like.  I also wanted to note that I did also use my glass pen with Higgins Waterproof Black Calligraphy ink, which I believe is the blackest ink I have — and I really liked the results.  So I may be attempting to learn to draw with metal-nibbed pens in the near future.

Doing a quick search, I find a note from 2007 that says Higgins Eternal is fully pigmented ink, while the Calligraphy ink has dye…meaning that the Eternal is more likely to be lightfast.  I’m not sure that in the past I’ve run across a selection of inks where Eternal has actually been on the shelf (as opposed to sold out).

And at this point I believe I’m closer to an illustrator or designer than to a fine artist.  From my work yesterday it’s apparent that markmaking is one of the things I really find enjoyable, high-contrast markmaking in specific — which leads me to believe that drawing (markmaking) and graphic elements are one of the things that really get me going.  And calligraphy seems closer to graphic design than to fine art.  That, combined with my recent work with felt-tip pens and brush pens…also points me in the direction where it seems that I’m drawing with liquid media, not painting with it.

And that in turn really helps me narrow down my options to what I’d be most likely to enjoy.  And if we are loosely considering the possibility of one day going to art school (as I suppose could happen), it’s good to have some direction, prior to entering.

It was refreshing to be able to work on a large format again, and to be able to use my arm gesturally, and vary my grips on my drawing implements.  That’s something I’ve been missing while working in small-scale.  The work I did yesterday shows me where my interests lie, so I’m glad I did it.