I made a new comic. You can read it here. In hopes of getting more of my blog readers over to my comics, I decided I'd start posting the short process essays I include with my comics over here too.
The life of Lou Gehrig was only equal to the story of Galahad and the collected works of Curt Swan on Superman as a heroic and even like, mythic narrative for me as a kid. I could never figure out what attracted people to figures like Jesus when constructs with more immediate power and greater apparent purity existed. Lately I've been feeling a sort of contemplative sadness about the fact that the rational mind can't just force itself to believe in God, so I thought drawing comics about the substitutes I used for that idea when I was a kid might be a good way of getting at some kind of spiritual solace.
I've also been looking at a lot of triptych paintings in an effort to pull as many of painting's lessons about picture-making as I can from a strain of it that still has a lot in common with comics. Triptychs usually carry a very sincere type of religious imagery too, which is a big plus for me right now. The idea of doing what I could to deify Gehrig (who I think has the most tragic and poetic life story of the 20th century, hands down) by creating a triptych of him was really appealing. I thought I'd make a "triptych squared" -- three pages of three panels each -- to bring the piece a little more in line with comics. It had to be wordless, of course, so the real effort of it was distilling thirty-seven years of life into nine images that told as much of the whole story as possible. I read a few biographies and narrowed it down to these ones from a list of fifty or sixty possible one-panel scenes, about thirty of which I drew thumbnail sketches for. I made an explicit point of not watching the Gehrig biopic "Pride of the Yankees"; it's a phenomenal film but I saw it so many times as a kid that I didn't want its visual dictation of these scenes in my head any more than they already were.
Animation art is the other thing I've been trying to absorb a lot of recently. The stylistic dissonance between line animation of figures and painted backgrounds in 20th century cartoons has always really fascinated me. I explored it a little in that "Haunted Bike" comic I did a while back, but that was before I had really begun to make a study of this stuff, plus I drew that one in like two hours while I was drunk. I tried to do it the right way this time. Disney films pre-1980 probably have the most sumptuous and impressive painted backgrounds I've seen, but those are just impossible to follow, it's like trying to outdo Rembrandt. And I didn't really want to use paint, because I don't have an effective way to superimpose my figures over the backgrounds. I found a model to follow in the backgrounds for the Bruce Timm/Eric Radomski/Glen Murakami Batman and Superman animated series: basic color shapes, good use of shading but never too meticulous, and you can always see the brushstrokes if you're looking for them. Something between Art Deco and Impressionism, but such a basic, utilitarian use of paint that it also recalls the "paintooning" done by Jerry Moriarty. Backgrounds that drop out and push the figures forward but have enough life and prettiness to them to stand up by themselves. It's very "comics" to me. I marathonned my Timm DVDs while I drew this strip.
It didn't come out exactly how I was picturing it -- at one point I seriously considered erasing all the backgrounds and just leaving the inked figures floating in a blank space, which I still think would have made a stronger graphic statement. But I didn't want this to be some crazy conceptual avant-comix thing. I just wanted to make a tribute to Lou Gehrig. So click here for that.