Thursday, October 25, 2012

Charles Burns & Chris Ware: Talking Comics

The audience was all artists. Really, you could have held a very interesting Mini-Con in the aisles.

I'm talking about last night at Jewish Community Center in SF, which hosted Charles Burns and Chris Ware talking comics and showing art and generally being raconteurs about a profession that delights in hiding in your room hunched over your drawing table. And it was utterly fascinating on a number of different levels. Ware and Burns come to the table with a veritable ton of critical accolades, and a couple decades of material behind them, so to see and hear process from them is terribly interesting if you're an artist, but it is hearing the thinking behind the work that is even more interesting.

Ware, in particular, has always presented work that very clinically seems to rip apart seconds and minutes into tiny fragments and present them in both a combination of logical progression and dream order. Your eye gets pulled, sometimes, into the negative space surrounding the moments, and for the dizzying combination of images presented in the two page spreads in his latest Building Stories box, when he illuminated the under drawing and progression that it took to build such a page, it was quite a bit more organic that you would originally have thought. The interesting part: Ware's comment that, and i'm paraphrasing here, that "he continually looks drawing the next panel in context of all the panels that he had done prior." One of his best quotes: "I consider the writing of comics to be the writing and drawing of the comics." while showing a full page of blue line under sketches with black ink lettering on top. For all the division of labor in corporate comics, Ware's work in that stage looks no different that an old Snuffy Smith page in progress.

Burns' work has always carried a more organic quality to me, it was obvious the amount of ink that was being loaded up on the brush, and how he was feathering the dual lighting that highlights his darkest works, so it was doubly interesting to see him present the Tintin images that formed part of his childhood, and that now influence his current trilogy, of which "The Hive" is book one. When one thinks of Tintin, you think of well constructed panels in the "clean line" aesthetic, not the ink heavy noir of Black Hole, but it all starts to make sense in context. The surreality of some of Herge's work fits perfectly into the Burns aesthetic.

Moreover, it was interesting to hear two artists coming from a completely different background than i usually see. After having worked the mainstream business of superheroes, its not unusual for me to look at guys like David Mazzuchelli, who broke free from that style to form his own unique work. Much like the guys i knew growing up who read only undergrounds, and idolized Rick Griffin, Robert Crumb and Gilbert Sheldon, here was a compeltely different aesthetic, and whole different way of approaching the look of the material. Artists who weren't necessarily burdened with the need to shed any lingering Kirby or Swan influence before moving off on their own. Really, the blue line construction of Ware's looked for all the world like very simple and very solidly constructed drawings ready for inking. It is in the ink and color stages that they take on that utterly unmistakable "Ware look and feel". Burn's mainstream influences were global ones, such as Tintin, and it has left him with an organic legacy to his work that feels both familiar and much like the other.

Major props to the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, which put on this panel, for free, on a night when people could actually come. Excellent work by them. They deserve support and kudos for makes talks such as this available to the artistic community. Also props to Isaac Brynjegard-Bialik, who alerted me to the talk talking place as it had slipped beneath my radar.

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