Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Comic artists and English

Foyles had an event with two of the biggest US comics / cartoon / graphic novel artists, Daniel Clowes and Chris Ware. The theatre it was held in (Cochrane Theatre by Central St Martins School of Art) was full so they clearly have a huge clientele over here -- including son Jim who took me along with his animator mate, Alex Potts.

Chris Ware in particular had things to say about drawing comics that struck me as consistent with my understanding of writing as they it be occurring in school English.

Kids want to draw/write fiction with exotic characters but can’t because they haven’t enough experience. Turn them therefore to their own real lives, and even away from fiction. An account of a gym lesson, according to Ware, could be far more exciting than anything from what we usually think of as imagination (and, I would add, would involve as much real imagination). This is what Harold Rosen and those who thought like him at Walworth School and elsewhere were onto in the mid-fifties, and it’s consistent with the advice and practice of, say, Ted Hughes.

As for process, if I got it right, neither is in favour of sketchbooks and rough versions (for writers that would be notebooks and drafts). For Clowes going out every day to sketch when he was learning to draw was a drag and brought no pleasure; similarly doing his strips in rough to work out the ideas. Both felt the final version lacked energy and drawing it was a chore, so they now go straight to the final paper (they specified the brand, size and gauge!). The experience is 100 per cent pleasure when you don’t know what’s going to happen two pages ahead. In English at certain times the orthodoxy drafts and revision and may still be. James Britton expressed the same objection to it as Clowes and Ware, and emphasised the value of what he called ‘shaping at the point of utterance’ (‘utterance’, obviously, being used to include written ‘speech’.)

Drawing/composition should above all be a process of discovery.

Ignore thoughts of your audience. You know in general the sort of people you’d like to read your stuff; beyond that just make sure it’s intelligible. The transaction is between you, your stuff and your medium, so concentrate on that.

Ignore form, don’t try to develop a distinctive style. Focus on the content and draw/write it whatever way you do.

When I have my own school I'll have these guys in to teach drawing comics (as Jim in fact does now), and I’d get the kids to speculate about the implications for writing.

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