Sunday, June 21, 2009

Willow Loves Sequential Art

This is the orignally, totally random sparked post on why I love comics & animation that I've been talking about.

It started because I read the word thrupt somewhere online and there was mention of it as a sound effect. Which made me think of pffsss and clonk and clinkdink, which made me think how it's possible to have those sounds as the prelude to visual and audible media (music or tv/movies) but how difficult and perhaps odd it would be to start writing and only have sound effects with nothing to describe what else was happening. Where perhaps the reader was left to assume these sounds were happening in the dark.

And it hit me right then, that this is why I love comics and animation.

What? You knew my brain was weird when you decided to read me. Buck up and follow along now, be brave.

Comics in my head is the perfect expression of imagination. It's the perfect combination of visual images of the mind, with words (the mental narrator) telling a story. Animation is the perfect expression of mental media made manifest (try saying that three times fast). There is no need to think human bodies can't do that, therefore actors can't do that; Or those costumes would be expensive; Or where would we film this, how would we build that set?

Comics & Animation only require someone to draw what can be envisioned and someone to plot out the story. I'm not even getting into voice acting and dialogue, because there can be animated film with no dialogue at all (Fantasia is the easiest example) and possibly there could be animation with no sound effects, no sound at all - which wouldn't be the perfect merger of aspects of the imagination, after all imagination includes sound (except perhaps for the deaf). But it wouldn't be impossible to do.

Now, to some extent a lot of what I've said, especially the part with no sound, could be used to describe only comics; sequential art. And that would be correct. And it does explain why I fell in love with comics from the start - someone wanted to share their mental pictures with me, and here were words to guide me as part of their inner narrative voice.

Later I would learn that it's often not one artist who is also the writer who is also the colourist. But that didn't change my first groove concept of comics as - 'this is what's in my head and now I share it with you as exactly as I am able'. It's never seemed lazier to me than reading a purely prose book, because I still had to engage.

Animation goes beyond graphic art for me, because it's closer to the actual movie of the mind. Putting aside the awareness of the world, I can think 'This is how they see Batman's cape waving in a Gotham building downdraft. This is how they see the steely reserve and muscle tension in this cop's eyes. This is how they see the body-language of an infuriated mother. This is how they see the casual, lazy slouching walk of the kid with no particular destination in mind.'

Actors are great. And I love moments when they are in the moment and eyelashes flutter, or nostrils flare for that one last sturdying breath the way I would imagine needed to happen in a scene - the way I'd see it, or be anticipating seeing it in my mind.

But actors don't always get it right, unfortunately, or many times don't end up playing to their strengths or don't think, sometimes, to add little grace-notes that ground a scene or a moment.

Example, I would probably pay cash money to see Vin Diesel in a movie, in a starring role, where his character had no dialogue what so ever. I'm not talking about making the character somehow mute and somehow involving sign language (of some type). I'm talking about a movie where it was accepted that his character didn't need to speak.

I believe Diesel's characters when he's in a fight scene and when he's reacting physically off another actor. As soon as he opens his mouth, I usually lose all connection to the emotion of the scene or for the character.

Aside:This is my personal scale of physical and emotional (via dialogue) connection to the audience.

Vin Diesel ------ Dwayne Johnson ------ Keith Hamilton Cobb (cue the seraphim chorus)

In animation the physical is part of the art (the drawing). It's part of the visual. It's seen as important. It's planned ahead. Those little moments of grace notes; the clenched fist, the wind in the hair, the eyes flickering to the side - it's part of the creation. It's known (in my ideal perceptions) as more important than a celebrity face, or enough scenes where someone cashable takes their shirt off.

Of course, the vision in animation might be coming from the director. And I've learned that many different artists draw many different scenes and they're gone over again and again (especially for computer generated animation) and there's a consensus to be reached about what is a good position, good posture, is it moving the story forward by showing and not telling, is it confusing, or awkward, does it look impossible by human body standards for some reason. And all that no doubt often gets debated and contrasted against time and deadlines.

But I love imagining that. I think that's why I love dvd commentaries so much, because they make a movie with physical actors into a study, for me. It makes it very clear that someone had a vision and then I find out whose vision ended up in the final cut. It helps me appreciate moments I may have missed, because I don't stare at film the way I stare at static art - I'm too busy following the actual physical action, instead of having a moment of pause in my head to intuit the action, as in comics. And with animation there's a split second pause in my head where I wonder how they'll do it, what choice will they make, how will that flow with the style they're going for - that makes animation seem somehow slower to me, but in a good way - whereas physical actors often seem too fast to track.

I can remember being so intrigued when I first saw Jackie Chan Adventures and how the city and surrounding environment seemed barely actualized, all hints and suggestions and mostly colour for the movement of the characters in the foreground. On the one hand I figured it was done that way to make it easier for the tasks of drawing action (similar poses over and over again - without specific detail to make the movement seem choppy). But it also left me feeling like the world the characters lived in was in soft focus, thus setting them apart as the heroes. They were more real, for having more knowledge.

And Cyber9, I adored the blockiness of the art there in a world where the plot often felt (to me) as if every character of import was a puzzle piece in a larger picture.

I don't know, maybe I should blame Sesame Street, for giving me ideas about people in paintings stepping out of the frame; and in the end I was drawn the most to the art that made that possibility seem real - as if any moment leaves would rustle, or someone would laugh, or leap.

I want to say it's the unique facsimile of life that I think draws me, but that feels tongue twisted and just a shade off, unbalanced.

Maybe it makes no sense to figure out why I love animation and comics - sequential art - as much as I do. It's just unabashed delight. I was confused with myself earlier (in the week), at being drawn to an artist's style despite his subjects and content. But isn't that what various people who try to push art appreciation on every generation of kids want us to feel? Some connection to the flow of a line, or a unique use of colour? Don't they want us, encourage us to develop independently an appreciation of certain eras in art or schools of expression?

Comics and animations are my art appreciation and my preferred viewing art style - liking the lines that hint of motion and life in a way many, more considered (appreciated? denoted?) styles aren't.

I don't think I've come to any real conclusion at the end of this, except to say that I understand more of my dislike for porn face and tracing - there's no life (to me) in that art until the colourist tries to bring some; tries to engage the imagination. There's no sense of movement when one traces a still vs thinking of the entire scene as alive and in motion. And I understand now, it's more than 'childish' love that makes me think people are idiots who say 'It's just a cartoon' when it comes to animation.

Semi Random: I've never thought the term elitist was necessarily a bad term in and of itself, but now I want to call those who would look down their noses at sequential art, elitist when I think what I really want to say is close minded, closed off, maybe even small minded and snobbish.