Saturday, January 1, 2011
Hello and welcome, True Believers, to 2011. For my first post of the new year, I wanted to do something a little more personal, and well, positive. I thought about writing something on the comics I got for Christmas – but the only one I really liked was King City #12. And if I write about the end of that series I’ll just spoil it for those among us who haven’t been able to track down the back issues. Should I list the comics I got for Xmas that I didn’t care for? Nah. I’m gonna try and write only about things I like this year. I’m getting tired of reading “oh I hated it” reviews. So I figure I’ll just do one of my typically rambling posts about the only book I really did enjoy reading over the Xmas break. Please enjoy this riff.
The book is Dizzy Gillespie’s memoir To Be or Not To Bop. I’m a big jazz fan and this book really set the record straight that Dizzy was truly the founder of the modern style in jazz. It’s basically an oral history with lots of interviews with his contemporaries in the 1940s. Time and time again each interview reveals that it was Dizzy who taught the modern style to everyone else. There were plenty of guys playing the modern style – or trying to – but Dizzy would literally show his bandmates and friends how to phrase things on the trumpet, on the piano, on the bass, on the drums. Apparently he could play just about every instrument in the band and birthed this modern style that would eventually become known as bebop.
The thing that really struck me reading the book was the idea of collaboration and of learning from others on the spot. As a visual artist it’s hard not to be jealous of musicians. I wish I could play standards, write original songs, cut a record in a day, go on tour and play in front of an audience. The visual artist’s life is pretty lonely by comparison. Hole up in the studio, shut out the world, create something and maybe have a reception in a gallery or a bookstore.
I’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with some great artists and I feel like those projects have made me a more well rounded artist and a better person. But those projects are generally of the assembly line type and don’t involve the same give and take of a musical setting – of a band. Reading Dizzy’s book I couldn’t help comparing the way he dreamed of putting bands together with my own dreams of collaborating with artists/cartoonists whom I admire. I kept thinking, wow what if I could be in a band like that in order to learn modern cartooning? What if I could be in a “band” with some of my heroes like Ware, Clowes, Panter, Jones, etc? God, I would learn so much so fast. But every time I imagine putting a band or a dream team together – it still feels “off” because the process would be assembly line – not a unified “sound” – not all happening at once.
The closest thing I’ve experienced to having a live band in visual art was probably when Dash Shaw and I were making the demo teaser for his animated movie. He’d draw a storyboard and then I’d paint a background right in front of him and then we’d go back and forth on how it could work best. Then we did a stop motion sequence where I painted waves crashing on the shore “live” – one frame at a time – painting over the same painting some 50 odd times. He was giving direction, working the camera and moving the board I was painting on after every frame so that it would be like a tracking shot. We had one chance really to make it right and we nailed it. But again, most of the process of animation is more like an assembly line. He’d do a storyboard and I’d interpret it and then give it back to him for changes. Rarely was it all happening at once and “live” like music.
Working on Cold Heat with Ben Jones was almost like having a band but despite the back and forth way of composing it was a very assembly line like process. Ben wrote it and then handed it off to me; I drew it and handed it off to Aaron Cometbus for lettering; Jon Vermilyea or Ray Sohn would put all my color layers together on the computer; Tim Hodler would write a fiction piece; Dan Nadel would organize the printing and publicity. It was a group effort and it was awesome. But I would hesitate to call it a band in the way I’m fantasizing about having a band that could make comic books.
Still, I learned a ton from these collaborations. I learned how to read someone else’s “arrangement” and how to “phrase” things differently for that particular “song”. I learned how to play together and how to change my “tone” to match up with what my collaborator was going to do next – which if you think about it is like harmonizing.
It kills me that there are all these guys (and gals) who I’d love to collaborate with – but the nature of comics is so different than music or film or animation. I was trying to think of any comics that are collaborative but less like assembly line kinds of things and more immediate. And the only thing I could come up with are Crumb’s collaborations with with brother and then his later collaborations with his wife, Aline. There they are each drawing their separate parts, separate characters on the same page. But of course those are still traded off and done assembly line.
I know, I know, I’m comparing apples and oranges essentially and it’s just a pointless game trying to come up with a way that I could collaborate more effectively in my chosen medium. But still, it’s a fun game.
Miles Davis was interviewed in Dizzy’s book and he talks about how there are passages in music made by Dizzy and Charlie Parker where he couldn’t tell who was playing which note – “They played the same chords, the same chords. Dizzy and Bird played the same thing. They used to play lines together just like each other. You couldn’t tell the difference.” Again, this made me think of collaborating – especially with Ben on Cold Heat where I was taking his layouts and trying to draw just like him to the point where one couldn’t tell who drew what. Same with the animation project with Dash – I’m trying to draw figures and backgrounds so that it all seems like the same thing – seamless. I dream of collaborating on a comic where there are two pencillers where the reader couldn’t tell who drew what; of having two colorists so one couldn’t tell who colored what – like take all the separate processes and unify them somehow by harmonizing in order to create a fuller “sound”.
I know sometime, somewhere on this blog there is a comments section about collaboration versus “autuerism” or whatever – the idea of the solo artist versus the assembly line team – and that’s not necessarily what I am trying to argue here. I’m saying I want both, I like both but that I wish there was another choice. A third stream.
Alright, I’m outta steam. Happy New Year everybody.