Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Graphic Novel Master Class: Ariel Schrag

While just getting into the mode for working on the first story The Carnival: The Human Hourglass, I received a flyer for SF's Intersection for the Arts doing a number of graphic novel/comic related pieces in the month of May. While busy, I signed up for Ariel Schrag's Graphic Novel Master Class because, while my work is nothing like hers, I wanted to see other approaches apart from my own experience inside the "mainstream" comics world.

It was an interesting evening, and I did get some new ideas out of it. It must have been tough to go into the class for Schrag, not knowing exactly what level of students she would have, their backgrounds, their ambitions, their skill level. Certainly the intro discussions of materials were the most interesting, but I'm sure that someone ran out the art store the very next day to find these new fangled "rapidiographs", so you do have to cover all your bases.

Schrag's four graphic novels run directly in the alternative comics spectrum, falling as neatly into that catagory from just about every angle: autobiographical, a looseness in art that could be either brilliant or sloppy depending on your attitude, and less concerned with so many of the technical points in terms of lettering and straight borders.

What I found most interesting was almost a dislike for "craft", along the same lines as beat poet Ginsberg railing about editors and needing to get it all down straight from his brain. Why take away the reality from what you're doing? There may be a point to that, but I found myself disagreeing with it to a point. What we've ended up with, in many cases, is the alternacomic confessional, one that wallows in "what porn do I like, how bad am I to my girlfriend, what dreams have I had, how many times a day do I masturbate". Very little great literature has been created solely in the autobiographical sense.

And yet the artist that avoids learning the craft of fiction never is going to move beyond those particular themes. "But they're real!" is the usual defense, and, true, they are. But that doesn't make them good.

Certainly, the best of the artists that Schrag uses as her examples are counter to the high speed DIY ethos that many in the class would subscribe to: Speigelman, Ware, Pekar, Sacco all have a great deal more craft that a Joe Matt. Spiegelman famously spend up to a month a panel on Maus, editing and editing til what was left was a masterpiece in pictoral literature.

All in all, it was an evening well spent, apart from the photocopier breaking down and not reproducing the jam comics that we knocked out as a class that night.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice post, and an interesting situation to find yourself in.

I read a brief interview with Schrag not long ago, and then realized that I'd reviewed one of her early comics in the mid/late 90s (and I wasn't very impressed with it at the time). I admire that she was just making comics without letting the limits of her artistic ability get in the way. I just find that kind of spiral-notebook cartooning really unappealing. Her work obviously connects with certain people, though, so it's worked for her.

I do love comic art that's rough in a gleeful, charming way (like Julie Doucet's early books) or in a twisted "Outsider Art" sense (say, Mark Beyer's "Amy & Jordan" strips) but the middle-of-the-road approach is not something I wanna immerse myself in.