For the last year or so I’ve been writing a newsletter.
This Sorry Spacesuit it’s called, and it’s been a great way for me to figure out some things about myself and my goals as an artist, my process and my values. I’ve made some great friends with it and had wonderful in-depth conversations about art and music, the kind of conversations that you can’t get on most social media.
Here is an installment where I explore a bit about my relationship with webcomics and my process and theories on constructing them. It’s all delightfully retro and seemed a good fit for this site; the archive of the time I devoted to such things.
I hope you enjoy it. And if this kind of thing interests you, you can read more samples and/or sign up for the newsletter here: http://www.nealvonflue.com/newsletter
How you never know what you’ve got till you’re gone; On stepping back in order to see things clearly.
I realized the other day that I’ve almost completely forgotten about webcomics.
If you’ve known me for some length of time, you know that I spent over 5 years in the heady bubbling primordial ooze of the internet, creating sprawling and obtuse visual experiments to break web browsers and the temporal constraints of visual storytelling. I got kinda good at it too. Comics luminary Scott McCloud recognized my work. My collaboration with Alexander Danner made it to a museum. My work was put in documentaries and books about comics and webcomics. I was cited in scientific studies by people WAY smarter than me. And a very nice lady wrote her doctorate thesis specifically about my work (and presumably someone gave her a diploma for that effort, which is totally insane to me.)
All of this is kind of like saying I was a mid-sized mosquito on the satin lining of an old vampire’s coffin, but my point is that it was a huge part of my accomplishments and my identity as an artist. It pulled me out of my shell. And I almost never think about it.
So I was trying to figure out what I had learned from all that time. I mean, I taught myself Photoshop and Illustrator, Flash, HTML, coding, web development and lots of technical things like that. I learned about marketing and promotion, I learned about rejection. I learned how the internet works, the rhythm and the hive-like emergence of it’s personality.
But bigger than that, I learned a method of working and of storytelling. That’s what sticks with me most. I’ll write a future installment about that. About Will Eisner and the Metapanel, about recursive storytelling, and holding the reigns loosely while you’re working.
I also learned that you can’t find the true meaning of a piece until you step away from it, and that there is sometimes a real difference between meaning and intent.
I thought I’d go back to those ideas and see if they still work. So here’s a new webcomic:
This new piece uses a symmetrical metapanel technique but flips the color at top and bottom. It starts in black and ends in white. Confining in the beginning then slowly opening. Let’s step back and take a look at the whole thing:
In different ways it’s a study of contrast. The center “earth” part of the comic works as a sphere and is shaded as such, with contrasting backgrounds.
And our visual journey is in contrast to the text narrative. The balloons rise into space then come back down, changed. And we head from the darkness of space to the ground and then are dropped into the white space of this newsletter at the end, breaking the confines of the edges of the comic and the narration boxes. Just like the balloons, open and free.
Another way of seeing it is that visually, we drill down through the Earth. We come out the other side upside-down.
And at the center of the comic is an example of the wildlife in the narration, sitting on the little globe we made, like the Cosmic Turtle, the mythical animal who carries the Earth on its back. he has no judgment or motive and is in complete contrast to our narrator, who has a secret to lord over us.
All of this is true, and its also true that this comic is a haphazard collection of the pictures I had on my phone, taken in the desert where I had the first inkling to write this balloon poem. I came across that turtle on a hike and I had no plan to make a webcomic about him when I took the pictures. The self-portrait at the top is stolen from one of my old webcomics and the other images were randomly pulled out and tested for fit, including the image of my son. I sanded them down and cut their edges until they fit each other, until they were seamless and worked together to tell a story that wasn’t clear to me until I was done.
All of these things are true. Even though it’s haphazard, so much of it works with precision. Sometimes it’s hard to believe words and images that were tossed into a blender fit together so well and have so much to say. Maybe I’m just reading into it, but the final result can give you an impression that it was all carefully collected and painstakingly curated, to convey a single message right from the start.
But believing that is kind of like believing that a turtle can hold up the world. Because your next rational thought is “What holds up the turtle?”
And the answer is obviously another turtle.
As a matter of fact It’s turtles all the way down.