Class with Frank part 2


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Yummy Fur #19

Howzitgoin’ CC faithful!? Good? Good. This week we are studying the evolution of Chester Brown’s grid layouts in Yummy Fur issues 19, 20, and 21. Seriously. What? You don’t have these comic books in your collection? What? How old are you? It’s okay. I know it’s hard to collect comics. But you gotta try. For me. You can have a better sense of the maker’s intent if you dig up the original issues. Track these comics down. They are essential reading. Yummy Fur #19 contains “Helder” and issue #20 contains “Showing Helder” both of which are collected in The Little Man from Drawn and Quarterly. We will also be looking at Yummy Fur #21 which contains the first chapter of The Playboy (originally called Disgust). FYI comparing Chet’s original comics with the eventual collection is a sport in and of itself. Things change and rearrange.

The set-up: Yummy Fur 19 came out in the fall of ’89. It was a big deal at the time because Chester had stopped doing his Ed The Happy Clown feature and switched it up to produce something more personal. Issue 19’s “Helder” is a ridiculously rich story that I can’t even begin to describe here. There was also a short Gospel of Matthew story in the back. Plus a great letters page. Man, did I love Chester’s letters pages. Anyways, Yummy Fur 20’s “Showing Helder” was the making of the Helder comic essentially; the drawing of it. And finally YF 21 would be Chester’s first longform auto-bio strip, The Playboy. To me, this is a rapid and remarkable development not only in content but in structure. Why? Because in three issues Chet abandons the fixed 6 panel grid that he has maintained for the entire five year run of the book – 18 issues – and replaces it with a more organic collaged sequencing using panels of a more varied shape. And where it hinges is on issue 20, “Showing Helder”, where he uses no panel borders at all – but still maintains the grid’s left to right zig zag reading.

Yummy Fur #20 - Showing Helder

The invention, I believe, is that Chester found a way to balance the rigidity of the grid with the informal way he composed and arranged the panels which was direct and collage like. Chester was sequencing images one at a time on individual sheets of paper and ordering them on the grid – so it was very immediate, like writing. Chester wasn’t setting out to draw a complex mural-like pages – he seemed more interested to me in timing. The pages become more like careful diaries. He abandoned the grid’s panel borders and then eventually escaped the “tyranny” of filling the page with panels. If the page only needed two small panels to convey what needed to be conveyed then why not do that? Fill the rest of the space with black. Make a powerful composition out of what is not there. It worked very well. Chester’s thinking process was right there for us all to behold. And you can see it change so clearly over these three issues. He shows us exactly how he does it and how he adapts his process to the new “personal” work.

I think what’s interesting to consider is what Chester may have learned during those grid years and how he applied the skill of balancing the grid to his more organic approach .

Ed The Happy Clown was a heroic, action-adventure story and it read like a Kirby monster comic, like a 70s Kirby grid. Quick, like a storyboard almost, but depicting moments a movie would not – it’s all timing – the way all the pieces, moments fit together. The grid accommodates the heroic and the banal moments all the same. It’s like a metronome. Then Chester switches to autobio and he now has the spacing to make the everyday seem heroic – look at the distortion in The Playboy! – it’s KIRBY – yet Chester manages to be so spare and clear in tone like Miles Davis wiping away all that re-bop noise chatter and just creating tones and simple phrasings – Chester’s work reduces so beautifully – The Little Man collection is smaller than the original comics but it looks fine – imagine reducing a current Marvel comic to book size – so while mainstream work has gotten more clogged because of the format, Chester’s 5 inch by 5 inch squares are perfectly phrased notes, simple melodies strung together on a metronome that sound just right at any volume.

And then, he makes the phrasings even more clear as The Playboy storyline goes on. Chester is is still “on the grid” when he is creating his organic grid but he is centering things in the middle of the page like word balloons – something he could not do when he maintained the rigid fixed grid. So for example the below page’s word balloons become a “center focus” in a way they could not in a fixed grid. And this text is relevant to the story so it is a focus; a center. As the storyline continues through the next few issues and Chester begins creating very spare pages, one can almost feel him composing new arrangements to old songs. Meaning he’s still on the grid but he is using the invisible architectural power of the fixed grid to reinforce his own “intuitive” phrasings. Sort of like playing spare and sometimes “off” notes along a familiar melody.

Yummy Fur #21 - Playboy

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10 Responses to “Class with Frank part 2”
  1. oliver east says:

    is there an earlier blog post that explains what the diagram in red pencil is all about? feel i may have missed a meeting somewhere along the line.

    • The red pencil denotes where the center of the page is – the two half circle arcs are taken from the center axis on each side – it’s the almond shape you see in the middle. That’s just me showing you were the lay lines are and how they form the center.

      • oliver east says:

        ta very much

      • Jeremy says:


        I see these arcs and lines on many of your page layouts, but I’ve never heard/read you describe how these actually work. Do you have a post somewhere that goes into more detail?



        • No. It’s too complicated for a blog post. but I may try soon. In the meantime, I suggest picking up “Sacred Geometry” by Robert Lawlor.

          All I’m doing is finding the centers, halves, etc – if you bust out the compass and start pulling arcs from the corners you will see for yourself how it all works. It’s just mapping.

  2. Box Brown says:

    Chester apparently is returning to the 8-panel grid format for his new book. I forget where I read that (but I definitely DID read it somewhere) maybe Joe Matt mentioned it on his Inkstuds interview. The preview image from the announcement seems to indicate it as well:

  3. […] Item: Frank Santoro on Chester Brown’s use of grids in Yummy Fur. […]

  4. I would love for there to be a collection of those Gospel strips finished or unfinished, don’t care.

    Showing Helder has always stuck in my brain as an interesting way to do comics panel by panel.

    I had Chet draw me an Ed panel years ago when he was trying to raise money for something.

  5. […] I’m reading: The Odyssey. Also, after reading this great Frank Santoro post, I reread Chester Brown’s Helder and Showing Helder. And I was feeling nostalgic for feeling […]

  6. […] on to the floppy serialized-comic book stage in 1999. Brown’s relentless, understated nine-panel-grid structure and retro-Harold Gray stylings mark a new epoch in terms of the depth and devotion that comics […]

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