Monday, May 10, 2010

Dylan Horrocks Masterclass, Wednesday 21 April: Go Deep

Okay, well, continuing this account of this masterclass at the Wheeler Centre with Dylan Horrocks and a roomful of crackerjack comics construction talent, let me embark upon attempting to describe the action on day three, which is where it started to head into Another Realm, at least for me.

As you can probably divine from the figure above (who it is I don't rightly know, but he sure wears a cap/hoodie combo much like Patrick Grant Esquire, MBE, OBE, PhD), this was a day on which -at least internally- one stood up from the drawing table, glanced down at one's single large hand and thought,


The day's discussion began with Dylan asking us all to answer the following questions:

1. What don't you like about making comics?

2. What don't you like about your own comics?

3. What are you afraid of?

These seem like innocuous enough questions, simple even, and you can imagine having them asked in a workshop which you might do for work (and I mean here labour work, work that you don't love but you do for the money etc) and gritting your teeth and answering them in the most painless and/or entertaining way possible and hanging OUT for the morning tea break.

The difference here was that we were all talking about something that we care about dearly, the difference WAS, I suppose, was that here, there was something at stake. It mattered. And it mattered that we tried to get as close to the truth as we could. In this, Dylan fearlessly led us by answering the questions first.

This process hollowed out a new space in the room, a new space between us. Related aside: I am currently enjoying (very much) reading 'The Otaku Encylopedia' by Patrick W.Galbraith (Kodansha 2009). This evening I came across this Japanese word:

Ma: Empty space and time. Also a literary concept describing places in
a story where the reader must fill in what's missing from the narrative.
This is quite common in ANIME and MANGA.

This is not exactly a description of what was created on Wednesday at the Wheeler, after all we were all answering the questions as best we could, words and thoughts were flying, the room was full of them. BUT. We had moved from a primarily technical discussion on the Monday and Tuesday to a more personal one, describing our struggles with comics. What was under scrutiny was our relationship to comics, and more radically our relationship to OUR comics: what do YOUR comics mean to you? What do they say to you? Looking back at you through the paper as the images form, what do they say?

This is less comics-as-communication and more comics-as-exploration. In the definition of 'ma', above, replace the word 'reader with 'cartoonist'.

Anyway I will try to tease this out a little more in further posts, but let's move onto the afternoon. I had begun the week with the thought that I would use the arvos to re-begin work on my long-abandoned graphic novel, I Knew Him. Early in the week though, I got a request for comics from a literary magazine, and a comic began to form out my doodlings and drawing play:

One of the afternoon show and tells was by Michael Camilleri. Now it just so happens that the two folks I have shown doing these, Jo Waite on the Tuesday and Michael today, it just so happens that they were the two people I am most close to, in the room, my closest friends there. And so, with both of them, I was familiar with all of the past work that they presented and showed images of. However, with both of them, I was flabbergasted by the extent and the range of their work, by their dedication and work ethic and high seriousness and gigantic senses of humour about their work. To make this clear - I was struck in this way by everyone's show and tell, but with Jo and Michael, I was wrong-footed by thinking that I knew their body of work. But being shown it it a gigantic volcanic vomit in the space of 20 minutes pretty much blew my mind off, both times.

It is impossible that I know these people. How do they possibly have time for a cup of tea or to share a meal when their surely every minute is concerned with the sculpting of worlds from words and pictures?

The other nice coincidence here is that both Michael and Jo are proponents of the 'biro school' of comics making. The ball point pen that I had rejected as hopelessly low-class, they both wield with ferocity and finesse. And this was the week, in the big chunky 200 page 'Costcutter' A5 Giant Jotter Pad, that I took all my notes and drawings in the wonderful medium of black biro.

And you know what? It's pretty nice to draw with.

Above, a blurry Michael shows us all, but Tim McEwen and Andrew Fulton in particular, an image from his experimental picture story comic book narrative painting fictional autobiography, 'Catholic Boy'.

NEXT: Here comes the sun.

Monday, May 3, 2010

A Word or Two on Curriculum

So. Day Two. The drawing day. But how, you're asking, how does a comics masterclass GO? How does it run? What happens? Well, in general we'd get to The Wheeler Centre each day at about 9.30am, collect our wits and our morning beverage of choice, then have a chat for about an hour or so, led by Dylan. On this morning he had a slide show (or power point as the young people call them) to show us, of many of his drawing influences.

We'd got a bit of an inkling of this on the Monday, but on the Tuesday Dylan confirmed that yes indeed, he is

That is to say, he is very interested in comics at the point at which they break down, at which they don't work, at which they betray their makers' blind spots. It's an interesting idea and line of enquiry: that the fault lines in an artwork point towards the heart and the humanness of the creator, their fallibility and their shadow. It's a picture of the artist as vulnerable to, rather than as master of, their work.

On some mornings the talking would be followed by an exercise. So it was this morning: we'd been talking about drawing and Dylan suggested we do some life drawing. Rats, I thought, in my organiser mode, I HAD thought of getting a life model in but had jettisoned it from the plan about a month previously.

Luckily it turns out that you don't need a life model if the New Zealander in the room doesn't mind standing still for 2 and 5 minutes at a time. Dylan gave us itty bitty bits of paper (were they A7? A8?) and we drew him. Appropriately for a room full of cartoonists, they were about the size of a comics panel...

The mutt above ain't Dylan, but was lifted from a couple of pix that Dylan showed us from Rudolphe Topffer, the early 19th century schoolteacher and comics pioneer.

It was certainly a week of great t-shirts. Andrew Fulton was wearing this one on Tuesday. It was sort of a warning for the discussion that we were going to have on Wednesday morning.

After a chat and some work, clearly you're going to be hungry and clearly it's around lunchtime, so it's time to head out and grab a bite. Luckily the Wheeler Centre is right next to the QV Centre on Little Lonsdale Street and I quickly discovered the sweet and crazy delights available from Bread Top - deep fried donut anyone? And because the weather was warm you could then sit out on the QV's octagon of fake grass and talk, well talk comics with the other masterclassers.

Upon our return in the afternoons, we'd start in on working on the projects that we had on the go at the time - the idea here was that the masterclass time wouldn't be taking away from valuable drawing/writing time but adding to it.

This particular afternoon, we'd been asked by Anna at the Wheeler Centre if it would be okay if a crew from the ABC TV show 'Stateline' could come in and do some filming to go to air on Friday of that week to promote that weekend's talks/focus on graphic novels, 'Drawing In, Drawing Out'. The masterclass gang graciously agreed, little knowing that one of the crew would be part of the Australian comics world:

(you might need to click on the page above to get it to a readable size)

Yep, Stuart Thorne - Tony Thorne's brother, and writer of some strips from the great Melbourne-based FOX comics anthology from the 80s. Check out 'All Men Are Bastards' on this page from Tony's rather magnificent blog.

Once the press had left and we'd got back to our fart jokes and rude drawings, it was time for Show and Tell. Each afternoon tea time, two folks in the room would get up and talk about their work, show some pictures and speculate on where they were going with it. When we were constructing the program for the week, this seemed like a good 'extra bit' for each day, but in the week itself, these sessions were amazing - revealing and very important, for the artists du jour and for the others of us there, to question, appreciate and suggest.

Above, light floods the room and our consciousnesses, as Jo Waite unfurls her incredibly detailed street map for the town of Maversham.

Above: Chris Downes, Andrew Fulton, Mirranda Burton, Tim McEwan, Jo Waite, Dylan Horrocks and Mel Rowsell huddle around some more of the art from Jo's 'maximum octopus' (I think that's how she describes it), '*Lucky'.

NEXT: Wednesday. The horror, the horror...