Monday, January 12, 2009

Foreign Webcomic Vernaculars

Want to add depth to your repertoire of facial features and overall cartooning technique? Have a look at webcomics from non-English-speaking countries.

American and Canadian comics are pretty similar. Comics from the UK, Australia and New Zealand are a bit different. Comics from Norway, or Bulgaria, or Argentina speak significantly differrent cartooning dialects.

Mind, I'm not suggesting ripping off other artists. But by copying their work in your sketchbook, you broaden your cartooning vocabulary, and the marriage of their ideas with your own gives you a more distinctive style.

The face at right is an interesting blend of Simpsons
eyeballs (which of course pre-date Matt Groening), 
detailed eyebrows, and expressive mouth and nose 
choices. It's a potent combination. From Arild by 
Eirik Andreas Vik (Norwegian)

Note the mountains with glaciers, and the clouds. Also from Arild.

These days I spend less time copying art (except Pug's) but I routinely carry ideas in my memory and try them at sketching time. This may be partly due to anxiety about lifting someone else's ideas, but it's pretty silly to fret. The greatest cartoonists of our age, like R Crumb and Charles Schultz, recount how copying taught them what they know. Crumb's work in particular is filled with reinterpretations of images from childhood comics and toys, and a few minor characters, like Bill Ding*, are direct lifts. I am lucky to own some of the original Bill Ding stackable blocks, salvaged in a recycling plant.

Joonas Sildre is a wordless 3-page strip that 
uses excellent black and white balance to 
support a child's sunny - but savvy - world 
view against the darkness of historic Baltic
geopolitical anxieties. Take a moment to 
view it. The girl is stylized but still looks 
Estonian. Consider how this is achieved. 
The Estonian comics site where I found
this allows viewing in English, if you 
want to see more Estonian work.

I find a lot of black and white work produced in America to be unsatisfying (Adam Rutten is one black and white artist I admire), if not unreadable. Too many people seem to regard it as the absence of coloring, but it requires planning in execution and precision balance. I hope "Little Warm-Hearted Guest" is instructive. After reading it, consider: Which one is the warm-hearted guest? And how do Sildre's choices in light and dark influence your choice?

panels about how clothing moves gracefully with 
the body in the current episode, but I chose this 
panel for a clever touch I've never seen outside 
of the vampire arena: a tooth line that depicts 
the canine teeth. From Spain.

I include Spain's A Bit of Sand as an example of
 a foreign static art comic. The stylized stickman 
art, above, is repeated in every frame. Only the 
number of frames and dialogue change. This one, 
a single panel, says, "You may proceed to the next 
strip." I regret I haven't yet determined the 
author's name.

I'll stop there, so as not to burden the reader, but we'll visit different countries another day. Or, you can explore the links I already have archived: Foreign Webcomic Links and Foreign Webcomic Hub Sites.

* Here is Bill Ding, the toy. Unfortunately, the Crumb version is not online, so I'll have to dredge it out of my archives and post a side-by-side another day. I'm fairly certain it's in one of the early Zap Comics.

Suffice to say, the Crumb character looks almost like the toy.