I have always been attracted to the idiom of the comic or graphic novel. I consumed large quantities of superhero comics as a youth. I wrote and drew my own versions during school holidays. DC and Marvel cranked our their wide range of magazines on a monthly or bi-monthly basis, using a stable of writers and artists who might work in differing combinations over several titles. The artwork of these publications varied greatly. The workload was large and considerations of quantity overshadowed quality. Many comics had a generic, low common denominator look about them, so the stronger artist’s work stood out from the mass. I responded to different stylistic elements from different draughtsmen: the ‘sketchiness’ of Carmine Infantino; the anatomical foreshortening of figures drawn by Gil Kane. The artist whose work most encouraged me to experiment with the medium of drawing was Neal Adams. Though he occasionally scripted as well as drew strips, his more memorable work creates narrative drive solely through the images, with all text excised.
Neal Adams: Strange Adventures no.209 Feb. 1968
Adventurous layouts [often across two pages], sequences of several action panels which share one common background, action seen from unusually high or low viewpoints, experiments with colour tints and monochrome; all suggest an interest in movies.
Neal Adams: Green Lantern/Green Arrow no.85 Aug/Sept. 1971
I returned to the genre of the graphic novel as I storyboarded my film, ‘Tatsuko’. I wished to create something of an ‘artist’s book’ in concertina form. The more important sequences of the film were painted as a series of panels to a ‘fine art’ standard. Because the film is silent, no speech or thought balloons were required.
TATSUKO: the Artist’s Studio storyboard panel
I subsequently worked on a more conventional strip intended for publication. ‘Nemesis’ is a visualised flight from menace while in thrall to uncontrolled paranoia. Text and image are here combined in a more conventional manner. Medium varies from pen and ink through acrylic and collage from panel to panel but the whole is unified by a decision to publish in monochrome.
“NEMESIS”: Nant Publishing http://www.blurb.co.uk/b/3307723-nemesis
The funding I received from Wales Arts Internatioal for the trip to Japan was dependent upon organising some sort of artistic collaborative project with a Japanese artist or artists. From the very outset of preparation for the trip, I was minded to work with a calligraphic artist on some kind of comic strip. Japan is now the centre of graphic novel production and consumption so there was a high likelihood that both of us might be thoroughly familiar with the genre’s peculiar syntax.
During the period of grant application, I looked up sources of information on the Japanese artists who would be showing with us at the Arton Gallery. I was particularly taken with the work shown by Hiroshi Ueta.
His calligraphy is of a very personal nature. Though readable to his native audience, he nevertheless plays with his character forms in a way that gives them added visual appeal. I sensed that I could incorporate these characters into my images –or indeed, vice-versa! [My initial idea was of a central figure like the victim in ‘Nemesis’, traversing rock face, hacking a way through an understorey, following some kind of pathway; each component comprising calligraphic marks. Drawing and text would thereby be completely integrated.]
The Homeless Community below the road bridges crossing the Gawa, Kyoto
The high visibility of the homelessness issue during the trip re-routed my thinking from my initial preconceptions. This is what travel should do, of course. Plastic tarpaulin-covered ply huts proliferated at the edges of urban green spaces in areas of both Kyoto and Tokyo. They are occupied under license by the homeless, many of whom are former white collar professionals who fell victim to the recession which hit the Japanese economy before the general downturn in the west. The Japanese welfare system is predicated upon and exploits the all-pervading national sense of honour. After a period of six months redundancy benefit, further family welfare is difficult to obtain, unless the former breadwinner vacates the home. The man must effectively desert his wife and children in order for them to secure state benefits. There is a very cool logic at work here, which has created a new social strata, subsisting on city –organised canteens and the voluntary sector. Many of the homeless dwellings are surrounded by bags of crushed soft drink cans which former executives now collect to earn small sums of pocket money. This is a desperate situation, though because the incidence of drug and alcohol abuse within this underclass is so much lower than in its U.K. or U.S. counterparts, one does not feel in danger near these dwellings. I saw no evidence of violence, drug use or alcohol misuse while I was drawing nearby. I never saw anyone beg. [This activity seems to be the preserve of Buddhist monks] Conversely, the homeless feel confident enough in human nature to leave durable possessions outside their huts. Furniture, bicycles, and pegged out washing seems safe from theft. Whether this mutual goodwill continues to operate as Tokyo’s desire to present a clean face to the Olympics selection committee as it pursues its bid for the games remains to be seen.
For all that the temples, gardens, architecture and birdlife captivated me, my enduring image of Japan in December 2012 is a vista edged by a congregation or terrace of blue temporary dwellings, incongruously juxtaposed beside Little Egrets fishing, standing stones in a Zen garden, by the gates of zoo entrance. This is what I hoped to flesh out in graphic novel form.
In the months following my return to the U.K. I developed a scenario. The homeless issue would be seen from within, through the eyes of a young boy.
the screenplay: page by page
Page 1 young teenager downloading photographs taken that afternoon in environs of local park, onto laptop. Images seen as a sequence on screen
Page 2 this action continues with mother at sewing machine making kimono with kite pattern fabric
Page3 leads to memories of childhood; flying kite with father
Page 4 description of father. Handicrafts: kites and chopsticks
Page 5 Father is made redundant fails to find other work
Page 6 departure from family home
Page 7 mother takes in work sewing kimonos and repairs
Page 8 Mother makes delivery accompanied by son, who notices homeless dwellings
Page 9 Mother distracts son. Before making delivery [food and/or clothing] to homeless dwelling
Page 10 social authorities visit mother; warned that continued assistance given to father in the camp will threaten future family benefits.
Page 11 several years later son grows up from 8 to 14 present 6 years have passed. Has exchanged kites for cameras transformation shot
Page 12 continuation of page 1 Sequence of down loading photos image of father appears by one of the huts at edge of park…
Page 13 He races out to investigate , mother protests…
Page 14 runs across town [blurred figures and shop fronts as background]
Page 15 Arrives at the site.. it has been cleared. final shot of boys feet; his fathers chopsticks seen as a foreground motif
I worked on the pages out of sequence; on pages for which I had a strong image in my mind. Other pages might develop dependent upon how these images manifested themselves on the paper. The following features would shape the appearance of thenovel.
1 No uniformity to panels different shapes overlaps
2 One panel placed within another to convey memory, or simultaneous activity in different locations
3 Action pushes beyond confines of its panel boundaries and into next as a method of directing the reader around the page in the correct sequence [Western and Japanese readers follow different directions down a page and through a book.]
4 Different styles per panel b/w and colour; soft, watercolour edges; hard, inked outlines; collage
5 Pictures of more import than text; speech and thought balloons and narrative panels kept to a minimum.
The Collaborative Process:
The collaborative working method was established with Hiroshi while still in Kyoto. I would send him a page as a jpeg attachment to an e-mail, with a few explanatory notes. He would translate these into Kanji characters These he would e-mail back to me, both as a separate image, and as a layer over my page jpeg. I would then add this character to the original painted page.
Before commencing work on the graphic novel, Hiroshi sent me the calligraphy spelling out ‘Tatsuko’, which I needed to design a film poster for the movie showing at Theatr Gwaun; Fishguard on February 1st 2013
He had also posted the large pieces of calligraphy which GaynorMcMorrin, Ian McMorrin and I had written/drawn during our visit to his studio in December 27th.
23 Jan 2013,
I send you some “tatsuko” and my stamp.
“Tatsuko2” is standard one.
Usually we use like a sample.
But you can choice any “tatsuko”.
And also any image processing OK.
I hope you can make nice poster!
23 Jan 2013,
thanks very much for that. Thank you also for the calligraphy from our workshop with you; they arrived safely this morning. I will treasure them, and give Ian and Gaynor their pieces at the weekend.
I have some ideas for our graphic novel, which I will send to you next week.
Hope you are both well. -snowing here!!
26 Jan 2013
Hope everything is well with you two.
I gave Gaynor and Ian their pieces of calligraphy. They were delighted and will contact you I am sure.
I have been working on a storyline for our graphic novel. I wanted to do something on the theme of homelessness. I saw a lot of evidence by the Kama Gawa and around Uena and Shinjuku parks in Tokyo. I believe that state welfare is more easily available if the head of the house has ‘deserted’ his family. I have decided to go with this theme. I enclose the following notes. See what you think and I will then begin to work on the first few panels for you to add text to. We have lots of time on this, so work on it when your other projects allow.
A Story told in flashback, by a young man remembering events in his childhood.
Aged four, happy memories with his devoted father; flying kites together, walks in the country,
Watching his father practice his calligraphy. Watches him shave, sits beside him as he eats with a long, decorated pair of chopsticks.
Helping mother prepare his father’s lunch box
Watching father leave for work each morning
Then, from the top of the stairs, he watches as his father opens a letter [a notice of redundancy from his business/ company]. Watches his father’s shock…
Sees his mother and father cry together about the news…
… later, sees father depart the house… he never returns…
months pass in which Mother takes on jobs; applies for welfare/ state benefits. A struggle which leads to her ageing prematurely.. They shop together, but take a long way round a nearby city park.
One day, in poor weather, they take the shorter route to the shops and he glimpses his father across the street by a group of homeless shacks. A bus passes between them, and when it has passed, his father has gone. Mother drags him awa. Boy has tears in his eyes.
He is 6 years old when he ventures out towards the park and the temporary homes. When he gets there, the area has been cleared. There are only a few pieces of rubbish to indicate there was ever anything there…. Including a pair of decorated chopsticks half buried in the mud.
Best Wishes, Glenn
I hope you are both well.
I have been working on our graphic novel and have a couple of pages, which are ready for you to add some calligraphy. I have sent them as attachments. You can write over them and send the results back to me and I will transfer them onto the original artwork.
The first sheet is the sad departure of the father from his family
“He left after dark…. He waved once, then walked away… into the city..”
You might like to add some sound effects –perhaps cicadas [insects] trilling from the trees in the top picture
And some busy traffic noise; perhaps a police car siren to the lower image?
The second page is a memory of a young boy flying his kite with his father.
“ The Kite attracted crows; they attempted to drive it out of their territory /airspace “
add crow calls as sound effects, and perhaps wind whipping through the kite’s fabric.
Put the calligraphy anywhere you like on this page.
I am planning to do more pages for you in the next couple of weeks. I have a show planned for the summer and hope to show a selection of this project. I will photograph the exhibition for you.
I look forward to seeing what you do with the images.
On 1 May 2013
Thank you e-mail.
OK! I gonna try some.
But today I have to go to Tokyo.
And back to Kyoto is next Tuesday.
So give me time.
I have a question.
You wanna calligraphy in Japanese, don’t you?
OK. I have to go.
Good to hear from You.
Yes; calligraphy in Japanese, in your beautiful style!
No rush; you have plenty of time. Hope you enjoy Tokyo.
Have lots of fun!!
Hi Hiroshi, I have 5 more pages for you to look at. I will not be able to complete any more pages for a couple of months as I am working on some other projects. Take your time with these: I will not need them until early July.
Sound effect of thunder and lightning
“Ten o’clock in Kyoto. Mother is making a kimono.”
“red silk with a kite design”
Page 4: Father
Panel 1“Father seemed like a giant in those days.”
Panel 2“He made himself a pair of long lacquered [urushi] chopsticks.”
Panel 3“He performed tricks” Can you shape a length of noodle into a kanji message –perhaps ‘joy’, or ‘smile’ in the empty space between the bowl, hand and face. Hve it connected to the chopsticks and the face, as if it is being sucked up!]
Panel 4 “There was always laughter in our home.”
Page 5 Redundancy
Panel 1“Then one night, the laughter stopped….”
Panel 2 –4 “For six months, father only read the newspaper. He looked so tired.
Page 5-6 “He grew quiet and old in his garden”
Page 7: Walking by the park
Panel one “Mother delivered packages to her customers. She walked everywhere.”
Panel two “What are those huts, mother?
Panel three “ Would you like an ice cream?” [or lollipop/ popsicle]
Page 8: Lollipop
Panel one “Mother would buy me a lollipop.”
Panel 2-4 She left me on a park bench while she delivered a kimono to a client.”
“ I listened to the birds” add a birdsong sound effect across these panels
panel 5 “She would come back with another large, heavy package. Fabric to make into another kimono. “
I hope all is well with you.
I am preparing the exhibition of work, which will take place in August. Frames and mounts for the manga graphic novel have been ordered, so I thought I would get in contact again. Have you been able to get any calligraphy added to any of the pages? If so, could you send something through for me to add to the original drawings?
Many of the artists whose work we showed at the Arton Gallery are curious to see what you have done.
my computer got a problem so today’s mail from yahoo mail.
I send you 2 kind works.(5 photos)
1&2 is put my work on your drawing.
wakare & kioku is original work.
first work is “WAKARE” mean Parting.
second work is “KIOKU” mean Memory.
both works are use HIRAGANA Character.
I write at SUMI-ink so that work is black gray.
but If you want, you can change to a any color.
like a “1-a”.
what do you think?
is that OK? for you.
I was relieved.
OK. today I send you another works.
3 is I put a “chichi” and “yorokobi”
“chichi”mean father. “yorokobi” mean joy.
4 I put a “haha” and “hibiki”
“haha”mean mother. “hibiki”mean sound.
“chichi”and “haha”are KANJI character.
“yorokobi”and “hibiki”are HIRAGANA character.
5 I put a “fuan” this mean anxiety or worry.
6 put a “meguru” this mean work around or around visiting or wander.
but we sometime use for season of change too.
7 put a “saezuri” this mean (twitter of bird) sound of a bird .
every character are “HIRAGANA”.
that all. I got pictuere from you.
I’m glad if you like it.
These are BRILLIANT! I love the noodle held in the chopsticks; it is exactly what I had in mind.
I have been working on a film script based on this story and I am going to call it Eclipse [a solar eclipse] which I believe is ‘Nisshoku’. Could you write this also please?
“NISSHOKU”: work in progress film poster
June 27Hi Hiroshi,
thanks for the Kanji; perfect! The film will take some time to develop, but I will Keep you informed of developments. I will add your name and mark to our August exhibition poster as you contribution to my work is now very substantial. I will send you photographs of the work.
Hiroshi had chosen to summarise the whole page with one or two characters; something which actually gave greater visual style to the work. I strengthened the image’s colour saturation and tone, I transferred the writing [both English and Japanese] onto tracing paper overlays, and placed these on the page in areas where the visual flow was least disturbed.
“MEMORY”: page 3 Kite-flying with Father
“ANXIETY”: Page 5 Redundancy and Unemployment
“WANDERING and the TWITTERING OF BIRDS” Walking with Mother
Our work together continues; there are more pages to develop….
Four of these pages will be exhibited as part of the “Dialogue” show at Tregwynt Mansion in North Pembrokeshire August 18th – 24th 2013