I read an interesting graphic novel this week. It’s called “Alan’s War” by Emmanuel Guibert. It’s a French comic that was first printed in France in 2000 and then translated and printed in the U.S. back in 2008. It’s the story of an American G.I. Named Alan Cope who became friends with the younger Guibert and told him stories about his life. Guibert, being a cartoonist, decided to turn those stories into comics. This is not a review of the comic itself (which I liked a lot so go read it) but a look at a couple of ideas that the comic brought to my mind.
The first is what I think is at the heart of this book. It’s basic concept. Well into the book, on page 280, Cope tells us about a boring post-war job he has. He’s an American in Germany working as courier which basically means driving a truck/van from place to place day after day. It was neither a fun nor exciting job. To combat his unhappiness he decided to “Think on my past and make some sense out of it. Because I’ve had a strange life”. That is what I think this book is really about. Living an examined life.
Most of the book took place during World War Two but it’s not a typical soldier’s story. Cope spent two years in the army in the States before making it over to Europe for the last half year of the war. He was certainly under stress, in danger, and saw some bad things but he was never in any big battles as is usual in soldiers’ stories. His story is not about the day to day life of a soldier in combat. His stories were more about small incidents and friendships that shaped his life and the path it took. He’s remembering the good times and some of the regrets. The regrets mostly had to do with friendships lost. It’s the story of an examined life and that’s a fairly rare thing. Guibert also says in his introduction the Cope is an excellent storyteller. I think that’s partly because he tells stories that have a point. At least they have a point in Cope’s life. I found that to be interesting stuff made more interesting when I got to page 280, read that passage, and could see Cope’s intentions even more clearly than before.
The second idea that came to mind while reading this comic wasn’t really an idea in the comic but a concept that came to my mind as I read. It had to do with Cope’s friendships that he lost. It happened over and over again in this book. Cope was born in California but at the age of eighteen was drafted. He didn’t make it over to Europe until he was twenty so he had plenty of time in the army around the US. After the war he spent some time in Europe as a civilian worker but eventually went back to the States to settle down. But he never settled down. A few years later he went back to Europe to live for good. He eventually settled down there.
Being in the army in World War Two was kind of like going off to college in that you’re thrown together with a bunch of people from all over the US. Cope met and became friends with people from all over the States. He also met plenty of people in Europe. He befriended Germans, French, Poles, and any other people who crossed his path. He was a friendly guy, who though a little shy, liked people. He also didn’t like the army’s rules and often snuck out to do things and see the sights.
Eventually he either left where he was stationed or moved onto another job or opportunity. So how did a person maintain a friendship in the mid to late 1940s when the other person lived far away? The answer is letter writing. I’ve done a bit of letter writing myself. All the way up to the mid 1980’s long distance phone calls were not cheap (especially if you were a poor college student). Letter writing was the only way to maintain a friendship. The problem is that every one of Cope’s long distance friendships ended the same way. He and his friend wrote a few letters to each other but then stopped. That seemed to always be the way. It reminded me of my own letter writing days.
It seems odd now but back in 1945 if a friend or acquaintance moved away you generally never heard from them again. They disappeared from your life forever. That’s the way it was. That’s what a lot of Cope’s regrets had to do with. Never seeing people again. And during the war he didn’t even know if that person lived or died. When he was older and living a more examined life he tried to track a bunch of them down with varying degrees of success. He did it, of course, by letter writing. He’d send a bunch of letters to locations or people who he though knew where the person he was looking for was. Sometimes it would work and sometimes not. Sometimes if he found someone they’d exchange a couple of letters and then trail off again. Other times they stayed in touch. On occasion he found out the person he was looking for died years ago. That’s how it worked. Someone who was in your thoughts for years but you hadn’t talked to in a decade died and you had no idea.
I lived through the tail end of that world. The internet and social media has changed all that. More then the telephone ever did. As easy as it is to call someone people still don’t do it. It’s just plain easier not to no mater how good your intentions. Of course with today’s social media it’s no longer the norm to have no idea what happened to someone who moves away. Now I’m in touch with friends, acquaintances, and even people I only have met on-line. Even if I’m not actively communicating with them I have some idea of where they are and how they’re doing. That’s a huge change. Nowadays if you move away you’re still easily in touch. It would take a conscious decision to cut ties with your past and pay no attention to anyone from it. It would be thought of as weird too. The world has changed in that way. Now there is no reason to not know what happened to so-and-so. It’s easier than a phone call ever was.
I felt for Cope’s regrets in regards to friendships lost. It was a day and age where if you or someone else moved far away communication was difficult. But now that age is gone. Until I read this book I didn’t really even notice it.
I’m back from the comic shop this week and I got eleven new comics.
Check them all out here:
This last Fourth of July I did something I hadn’t done in a long time. I read a bunch of comics all in one day. Not a lot of different types of comics but a single series. I always think to myself “I want to go back and re-read that whole comic book series” but I hardly ever do. This time I did. I picked “Stray Bullets” by David Lapham and it has forty one issues in volume one. This isn’t a review of “Stray Bullets” because the review should be obvious. I like it. I bought the series in the past and continue to buy the new issues as they come out. If I buy it then I like it. That’s my review. Now go check out the comic for yourself.
I’m writing more about the experience of sitting down and reading forty one issues of a comic. I didn’t read them all in a row without getting up. Instead I read a few, did something else for a bit, and then read few more. I read the first one around 8 AM and finished the forty first one about 11 PM.
“Stray Bullets” made it’s debut with a first issues that is cover dated March 1995. I wasn’t on board with it then but I began to hear some rumblings that it was a good book. I think I hesitated on it even after hearing good things about it. The first “Stray Bullets” issue I have is number twelve that’s dated January 1997. I though I bought an issue of it that was in the single digits but I must be misremembering. Either way I didn’t like the first issue of it that I read. It didn’t click with me.
The next issue I bought was number fifteen and that one is dated July 1998. I guess I wanted to give the series another try. It had been a year and a half since I read an issue and this issue was the beginning of a new story arc. I liked it and “Stray Bullets” has been on my pull list ever since. I even bought the oversized hardcovers of the first two story arcs that I missed. I liked them too. I have no idea why I didn’t like issue twelve the first time around.
By the time the third story arc was done I bought the oversized hardcover version of that one too. That was in 2001 and I read all three hardcovers in a row at around that time. That was the last time I read a bunch of “Stray Bullets” all at once. Twenty one issues. Fifteen years ago. Time sure does fly doesn’t it?
I like monthly comics. I enjoy their periodical nature. Some people complain that they don’t like monthly comics because they want the whole story right now, and I understand that, but that misses the point to me. Everyone has only one chance to read a comic as it comes out. And it’s a completely different reading experience. A new issue comes out, you read it, maybe reread it, talk about it, maybe talk or read about it online, and then the next issue comes out giving the previous issue new context. As each piece of the story is released new excitement is built. I find that fun. I also find it fun to read four or five different comic series each week. I enjoy the variety.
Of course I also like reading collected editions and back issues of comics but that’s a different reading experience. There is a finished product in front of me and I won’t be talking about it or pondering it with anyone until I finish reading it. And cliffhangers don’t work if you just have to turn the page to see what happens. That’s a little bit of a drawback. But with comics I bought off the shelf I have the memory of that cliffhanger. A little bit of that adrenaline can come back. Not so much with comics I’m reading for the first time in their collected form.
“Stray Bullets” number forty is dated October 2005 and then Lapham left us hanging until March 2014 when he wrapped up volume one with issue forty one and then launched a new volume of “Stray Bullets”. That means it’s been over a decade since I read issue forty. That’s a long time and one of the main things I noticed upon rereading this is that I had forgotten nearly all of the details of the story. Volumes two and three have been coming out steady since 2014 and they must have colored my memories of the original run.
The other thing that’s interesting is that “Stray Bullets” jumps around in time a bit. Most of the stories are from the early 1980s but some cam jump forward and back a bit. The stories that are fresh in my mind from volume 3 actually take place before the very first volume one stories. That was strange. But it was even stranger that it all seemed new to me. It had been fifteen years since I read those first twenty one issues and it felt like it. I would estimate that only about ten to twenty percent of the story felt familiar to me. I found that a little amazing.
Another thing I noticed is that the pace of the stories sped up a bit at the end. Maybe by issue thirty. I wouldn’t call the early issues dense or wordy by any stretch of the imagination but I found myself getting through the latter ones at a quicker pace. Hmmm… I just checked and that could have been because the issues were actually smaller at the end. Issue fifteen has twenty nine pages and issue forty has only nineteen. No wonder I was getting through them faster.
Overall it was quite a treat to get to read all forty one issues of “Stray Bullets” in one day. It’s a good series. In case you’re not familiar with it “Stray Bullets” is a crime series. There are recurring characters, one shot characters, and characters who get killed off. It’s all about how random crazy violence can affect a person’s life. This series is often about the bad guys. More often than not I’d say. Sometimes they get their just desserts and sometimes they don’t. Either way it’s a good comic. Give it a read.
I’m back from the comic shop this week and I got five new comics.
Check them all out here:
I draw in layers. Most artists do. A thumbnail sketch becomes a pencil sketch, then a finished drawing, and then maybe an ink drawing. This can all happen on one piece of paper or on a few pieces of paper. One of the ways I do it is with tracing paper. Throw a piece of tracing paper over a drawing and redraw on the new piece of paper. That can free the mind from the fear of making mistakes and saves erasing. Or in the case of a finished ink drawing where I can’t erase anyway it let’s me redo something.
There I was with a “Pretty Danger” faux comic book cover that I had just finished and didn’t like very much. It wasn’t terrible but it was a little bland. I especially didn’t like her passive and emotionless face. I threw a piece to tracing paper on top of it and drew a new face. Since I have been drawing a lot of monster faces over the last couple of years that’s what I started to draw. Actually it may have started out as a cuter Dan DeCarlo Betty and Veronica type face but it didn’t stay there for long. DeCarlo draws these cute eyes with the pupils floating or near the bottom of the eyes. He does a great job of it. When I try to copy that style I often end up drawing crazy eyes. I think I did that in this case but it inspired me to further draw a crazy monster face.
I’ve found the key to drawing one of my monster faces it the mouth. Nothing says “Monster” like an open mouth full of sharp and jagged teeth. After I drew the crazy eyes I moved down to the mouth a and drew those crazy teeth. That made it all come together in a moment. I suddenly had an idea I liked. Monster pin-up girls. Zombie pin-up girls in a Zombie Pin-Up World. Suddenly I had a name.
As hard as the “Pretty Danger” logo was to do the zombie one was easy. It’s barely a logo but I wanted something bland to fade into the background. I even went for a two font solution because, despite me not liking that solution very much, I think it was appropriate here. Two fonts, a box, and two underlines later I was done. I think this one took me about an hour. But I had already been working on the “Pretty Danger” one for twice that amount of time earlier in the day so I was warmed up for logos.
I printed out the the same basic pencil drawing that I used for “Pretty Danger” #1 to redraw for “Zombie Pin-Up World” #1. It was a fairly easy drawing to make since I had just drawn a similar one. I just made the face more monstrous and added extra lines to the body. Those lines sort-of define the form but also serve to give the body more texture as if it was a zombie body. I’ve noticed that the more “Detail” lines I add to the female figure the more people seem to think the drawing is ugly. I took advantage of that for these drawings. What are those lines? Scratches? Filth? Stink lines? Who knows, but they seem appropriate on zombies.
I liked the way the first one came out. It was still missing something so I came up with the background technique. It’s not a complicated technique but sometimes simple is the way to go. It involves defining the background space geometrically with just some simple lines. For the first issue I used just two horizontal lines with vertical ones comic off of them which makes the middle of the background into a positive shape as the top and bottom of the cover move into negative shape territory. I even went back to the “Pretty Danger”#1 cover and used this background technique on it. I think it helped the cover a lot. I especially like the circle around the character’s head that acts as a halo. I was okay with the “Pretty Danger” cover after that.
After I finished the first issue cover I immediately worked on two more. I got caught up. That’s what happens when an idea is going my way. It’s a bit amazing that it all started with an idea that wasn’t working for me. I pulled a couple of more basic drawings out of my stockpile and zombied them up. One of the problems I was having using these older photo referenced drawings was that they weren’t quite pin-ups. They had more to do with my usual “Female body as canvas” drawings since that is what I usually work on. I still like the way they came out but they had more flatness to them than a usual pin-up drawing. Flatness is something I work with all the time in my work but I wasn’t sure how much I wanted to use it here.
A few days later I made a fourth cover and looked around for a photo to draw from that was different than my normal ones. I found something with a little more twist to the body and shot form more of a pin-up angle. I followed that one up with a fifth one where I returned to the flatter angle that I had used before. I need both numbers four and five at the same time and it was a struggle to get number four to work. I liked the drawing but with the graphic background flattening things I had to find a way to bring her body twist back to life.
I had been using stripes and dots the decorate the tops the women were wearing but I couldn’t get that to work with cover number four. That was flattening things too much. I finally abandoned that whole approach and went with the black shapes on her top. That worked out for me. I liked it and it became my favorite one. Now I’ve got to make more.