Corban Wilkin: Illustrator


“One Weekend, Not Long After the Divorce”
April 30, 2023, 08:56
Filed under: comics, drawing, graphic novels, illustration, my comics | Tags: , , , ,
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Out-take Stories

Sometimes your favourite bits of writing aren’t a good fit for the story…

When I’m writing a graphic novel and I find something that works, there’s this tendency to ‘over-write’. One small element of a story will suggest a side story or something in a character’s past, and when I sense that there’s something there, I’m almost obligated to follow it.

Writing fiction is a weird process.

Doing it at all seems to require entering a sustained state of lateral thinking. Finding something that really works, that takes on a life of its own and gets up and starts walking around, feels so miraculous when it occurs that you sort of have to let it do its thing and see what happens. What can happen is you end up with stuff in a story that does something effective in its own right, but doesn’t actually benefit the story as a whole.

A result of these tangents is that you can end up with a large project that appears complete but still doesn’t feel fit for sharing. At least three times now, I’ve experienced the immense relief of cutting a big chunk of material out of a larger work, and realising that it never really belonged there, that it was getting in the way of the real story.

The stories I love the most are very simple, but suggest deeper things going on just before, just after, just off-camera, just under the surface. Explicitly expanding a story too much robs it of mystery or space for the reader’s mind to work in. You have to cut the part to save the whole.

Cutting something out of a story can be agonising.

When you’ve found something good, you’re desperate to hang on to it, even when doing so doesn’t make sense. You can’t discard something that you like this much, you think, and you rationalise keeping it in by convincing yourself that it makes the larger work ‘eclectic’ in some vaguely-defined way. Some writers can do ‘eclectic’ and make it work to brilliant effect, but don’t you just hate it when you’re enjoying a book, and a new chapter starts, and the viewpoint changes, and suddenly it’s about something else? ‘Hey,’ you think, ‘I was enjoying that.’

So to convince myself to remove these parts that I like but which weigh down the larger work, I have to ‘save’ them in some way, to gain some kind of closure and move on from a story that’s still living in my head. They have to expand into their own full story, or stand alone as a short story, to in some way find a final form. Maybe by itself it doesn’t necessarily have a firm ending. Maybe, in the same way you’re trying to acheive for the main work, an excised sub-story like this can sit as a fragment, suggestive of something bigger.

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Amy & Kay

There’s a time in your early twenties when you start to realise that you’re not cool anymore.

You start to see all your friends getting real jobs, getting real relationships, moving into nice homes, and meanwhile, you’re still the same punk you’ve been since you were fourteen, the one who all the kids used to think was the coolest person in your local town, the one who everyone used looked up to, the one who always knew where to find a good time, but now you’re twenty-five and all of a sudden it seems like no-one cares anymore.

At least this is what it’s like for Amy and Kay. Life used to be so simple, but now it feels like everything’s slipping away. And when the painfully uncool Laura inserts herself into Amy’s life, it becomes painfully obvious that adulthood has arrived, and if Kay chooses to ignore it, who knows where she might end up…

I’ve been drawing this thing with a 4B pencil for a year or so now, fitting it in to spare days and watching it grow. As it nears completion, I thought I’d share a short scene from the second chapter. I’ve been gradually working on several graphic novels over the last few years. Call me scatterbrained, I can never seem to focus exclusively on one project. But Amy & Kay is getting close to completion at around two-hundred pages, and I can’t wait to share the complete story with everyone who’s ever wondered if they’re about to be left behind.

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Wabi-sabi

“Nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.”

Comics has a spontaneity problem.

Chris ware said that, unlike writing prose or playing music, it isn’t really possible to get into a creative flow when making comics, that the technical demands are too complex and the rate of creation too slow.

The classic way of drawing comics is pretty convoluted. Script, thumbnails, roughs, underdrawing, inking. In fact, almost all comics were traditionally made by teams of three, four, five, or more people all doing their own separate bit to cobble it together.

But what really matters? I care about dialogue and relationships between characters more than anything. Do I care about comics having stunningly beautiful artwork? Well, yes, to an extent. But most of the time, artwork that is too involved, too complex and eye-catching, actually distracts the reader from the story. In a comic, the drawings should be in the service of the story, not in the service of themselves. So when we agonise over every panel, trying to make it a work of art in its own right, we may actually be doing more harm than good.

In trying to find a way to make art without being neurotic about it, I’m making myself work in ways that force me to embrace imperfection. The way I see it, however hard one tries, the result is bound to contain imperfections.

In fact, the acheivement of ‘perfection’ in art is asymptotic, i.e. you can approach it, but never reach it, and as you get closer, exponentially more energy is required to make further progress.

Or in other words: the first 90% requires 10% of the work, and the last 10% of the work requires 90% of the effort.

So maybe it’s better to embrace imperfections rather than engaging in the desperate struggle to overcome them all.

I’m starting to realise that the attempt to iron out all kinks in a piece of writing or drawing is mostly a barrier to progress.

Wab-sabi is a concept originating from Japan that embraces the transience and necessary incompleteless of anything humans create. Starting from this idea leads one to principles of simplicity and finding natural approaches to creation.

I’m having a go at drawing comics with the most natural approach that I possibly can. Two projects I’m currently working on, my graphic novel Amy & Kay and a daily comic strip Faith in Strangers, are both drawn in pencil without much planning or any underdrawing, and with the intent to embrace imperfection as far as I can bring myself to do so.

When things go right, drawing this way looks more spontaneous and interesting than any laboured-over drawing. When it goes wrong, it’s imperfect, but somehow hangs together with everything else, and balances with the parts that are more successful or complete.

Make the unfinished and imperfect nature of the work part of its essence, like a painting with areas of blank canvas, or a song that cuts off in the middle of the climactic moment.

Thomas Gainsborough’s The Painter’s Daughters With a Cat. Unfinished, and all the more beautiful because of it. The loosely-sketched areas create a contrast that allows you to really see the more fully-realised areas. (This was probably not left intentionally unfinished, but still.)
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Running the Home Stretch

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After a long hiatus, I’ve just finished drawing the gigantic project with G.Neri (author of Tru & Nelle), that’s been ongoing for some time. I’ve generated a four-inch-thick stack of pages with roughly the heft of a small child. Still much to do, but the complete, unedited thing is there, in a big box under my desk.



Inkin’ it Large

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I’ve been in the habit, for a long time, of drawing TOO SMALL! So right now, working on the Low Carbon Future graphic novel project with Leeds University, I’m drawing these pages at the largest scale I’ve ever done for a comic, and I have to say, it’s very refreshing.

These pages I’m doing are to be printed around A4 size (210x297mm), which is large, so I’m drawing them at something like 500x720mm, not far off A2, which is gargantuan. I think people used to draw comics on paper that large, to be printed on big full newspaper pages, and they scanned them with those massive old drum scanners you don’t see anymore.

Admittedly, I am making this easier for myself by using the ‘french graphic album method’ of drawing two half-pages and then printing them together. It makes having the thing on your drawing board a lot less cumbersome. Anyway, more on this when it’s looking finished.



A Way That Works

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My graphic novel project with G. Neri has been in progress for a year now. The end may or may not be in sight, however.

I’m actually now redrawing a number of early pages. I started drawing the book at too-small a size, and I decided I wasn’t happy with it, and reformatted to a weird paper size I’m cutting myself (I’m envious of US paper sizes, since the standard formats we get here in the UK never feel quite right (or maybe I’m just that picky)). So I knew I needed to come back to those pages. Since I’ve had something of a deadline extension, I’m able now to go over some of this huge project and spend a bit more time on what’s be2en some truly tricky drawing.

In addition, I’ve been writing a ton of comics short stories, which has been a lot of fun.
Redraughting and drawing them up is a different matter, though. That’s the curse of comics: it’s all so time intensive, but I’d love to find a way to draw my comics quick n’ dirty in a way that works. At least I’m not an animator.

Currently obsessed with: Toulouse Lautrec’s sketches and drawings. He’s very much an illustrator’s fine-artist. Drawings have to have outlines or my puny mind can’t make sense of them.

Also: Scott McCloud’s The Sculptor. Which I’ve read about four times now and may be the most novel-like comic I’ve ever read. Nothing else I’ve seen by a single creator is as successful as this at giving you the scope and depth of a novel. I understand it divides opinion, mostly due to the kitschy nature of the eponymous sculptor-main-character’s art (according The Comics Journal, anyway), and I’d noted that, too, but in book on this scale, there’s bound to be criticisms of some elements. But the thing as a whole: wow, it’s a great comic.

And that’s Corban’s totally-late-to-the-party review.



Horsing Around

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You’d be hard-pressed to find any visual artist who would disagree that horses are hard to draw, but I’m working with Greg Neri on a comics project heavily involving horses. Like my short comic If Not Now then When?, we’re looking at working with a nice brown wash on ink lines, which seems to give it the right feeling.

Not going to say a whole lot about it at this point, but it should be a great project.

Gail

I have to share Kim Jung Gi’s portfolio with anyone who’s not familiar with him. Somehow I’ve only recently come across his unbelievably rich and detailed and living line-drawn panoramas. Do yourself a favour and spend some time looking at his interiors and street scenes, because I certainly am.

Below: just a little sketch of nothing in particular that was drawn digitally but looks sort of like pencil!

Untitled-12 copy

 



The Long Journey

stewwebres‘The graphic novel’ is being worked on and will be for a long time, and that’s all I’m saying.

Although it looks this way, I haven’t, in fact, dropped off of the face of the earth, but I have been extremely busy (haven’t we all?), with, as well as ‘the graphic novel’, a full-time job which I might talk talk about in a later post.

Some of my work from Dreams of a Low Carbon Future is currently on display in The Cartoon Museum in Holborn and will be until 1st June 2014.

Have you ever noticed that to tell another about a planned project intended to be completed on one’s own steam, or a mighty ambition one has every intention of carrying out, often ruins the possibility of making said dream a reality? I read somewhere, at some time, that to explain a hitherto secret idea, for a story, say, to someone else actually gives us some facsimile of the pleasure we associate with great and self-motivated achievement. By revealing that we have every intention of writing the greatest screenplay in history we in fact feel that the friend we simply had to confess this ambition to thinks highly of us for planning to do so. We imagine to ourselves that they are in some way impressed with our plan and our motivation and it thereby robs us of the ability to make real what is already so comfortingly extant in the shared consciousness, which seems almost good enough to replace the real thing. Making something real takes a tremendous, in fact inordinate, amount of time and energy. Making anything significant must by necessity take over one’s life. If we can feel, subconsciously or otherwise, that we have already been a bit impressive to the people whose opinions we value then the effort seems futile. We’ll give over a chunk of our lives to creating or realising something, and to present it to those we first mentioned the idea to will be anticlimactic: “See? I told you I’d do that thing and look at me now. I’ve gone and done it!”

How much grander and more exciting to step out from behind a doorway and present a fully-formed piece of brilliance to one’s peers, the excitement of their response to this wholly unpresaged, fully, or perhaps, at least, mostly, accomplished idea a powerful motivator in the graft of hours upon hours doing the labour of creating the thing in reality. Rather than presenting a now-poorly-motivated shadow of a grandly (or, indeed, failingly) expressed idea, one instead has a grand statement, all laid out and out of the blue, with no grand idea that it tries in vain to live up to.

Resist blurting out every idea to your friends and peers; explaining your bold vision to them. An idea that is just an idea ought to be kept a grave secret until, through work, you ripen it and cause it to exist: make it ready to be enjoyed. Until that time, all you have is an idea and all of the experience in my short life so far has taught me that an idea alone is worth next to nothing.

Of course there are exceptions even to this rule: the idea for chocolate-covered peanuts, for example.

Above and below: VECTOR DRAWINGS. Remakes in fact of some old children’s book illustrations. I liked these and haven’t bandied them about enough yet.

stew2webres



Pre-order Breaker’s End, the graphic novel, at Kickstarter now!
July 22, 2013, 20:53
Filed under: breaker's end | Tags: , , , , , , ,

The Kickstarter to fund the printing of my graphic novel Breaker’s End has now begun.

It’s only £10 (or around $18 for US residents) to get a copy of the complete 200-page book, so what are you waiting for? Read chapter one here.

Breaker’s End is about an ageing couple who live their lives in a tent in a dingy forest somewhere in England. Chloe sells paintings and seashells for a bit of money. Isaac wiles away his days playing a tuneless upright piano someone dumped in the forest years before. It’s miserable, but it’s the only life they know. But then the government passes a bill authorising the sale of England’s remaining forests to private interests, and the simple little life they’ve managed to eke out is split apart…
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