We all got em. We all love em. I think the trick is narrowing down your influences to a point where they are useful in a specific project. In some ways, all your influences show up in everything you do. You can’t deny that or fight it. However, I believe that artists should be aware of their direct influences and try their best to capture the essence of those influences in creating a new work.
When I started Gary, I wanted the book to have a tone. I enjoy art that puts me in a place or mood. It’s easy to try to cram in a little of everything. Especially when you have that pressure of selling books. But when you try to make your work funny and scary and profound and sad and happy, you end up with something inconsistent and unreadable. By setting a consistent tone, panel structures, themes, character models, etc, I felt less intimidated when starting each page. These aspects become like signs and clues for your readers. As a reader, I like to to see those road signs along the journey. The little clues that I’m on the right path and there is something neat coming up and “oh man that reminds me of where I’ve been!” Structure is vital to a books success, no matter how zany it is. Of course, Gary isn’t a zany book, but you get my point. In choosing my restrictions or modes of operation for Gary, I zeroed in on a specific aspects of some of my favorite influences:
OPTIC NERVE by ADRIAN TOMINE
Restricted panelling, clean lines, zip-a-tone, neurosis, failed relationships
Tomine is a master describing his characters, but not painting them as perfect. There is a sobering reality to each person in Optic Nerve. Tomine refrains from extreme characterizations in his portrayal of faces and bodies. The subtlety of his panelling and character design were a big influence on Gary.
BLACK HOLE by CHARLES BURNS
The darkness beneath the surface, harmful & helpful relationships
Black Hole is twisted. But not twisted in light-hearted/fast-paced stylings common to many independent comics. Burns gradually takes you beneath the surface of characters’ personas, slowly revealing those emotions and thoughts that are hidden. Don’t you just love the way the book cover has that normal, flat b/w portrait, but with eyes blotted out with ‘black hole’. This person is a vessel. What’s inside that vessel?
BIG QUESTIONS by ANDERS NILSEN
Long silent scenes, clean lines, morality, lack of inner monologue
Silence is so powerful in comics. I think it’s because they are (by default) silent objects, which means to show sound or voice, they generally use text. There is also a pressure to depict only the most vital moment of action in a scene, as to not waste a panel or page. But something amazing happens when you let the scene breathe a little. When you are presented with one limited panel layout. And the characters just shut up. And you see the action unfold slowly in tiny motions within consistent panels. As a reader, you slow down with the panels and you think. I love all methods of slowing readers down into a state of contemplation.
PUNISHER: BORN by GARTH ENNIS & DARICK ROBERTSON
Morality, events that change participants, apathy, murder
Yep, a Punisher book. In my opinion, Frank Castle (The Punisher) is the most interesting character at the ‘house of ideas’. Born shows people who interact with the world in violent ways and how that affects them. Obviously, a work that directly explores a character who has murder as a constant in his life is going to be a huge touchstone for Gary.
TERRENCE MALICK films
Juxtoposition of seemingly disconnected scenes, humanity, nature
Malick has a special way of showing images in succession that are not connected in the normal temporal arrangement. Upon seeing this stream of images/sounds, the viewer is struck by an emotion or thought that is cumulative. It’s as if he’s tapped into our brains most intimate relationships with sense memory and used those to focus in on a singular state. I was extremely interested in the idea of memory and how it functions when working on Gary. Relating disparate events by connecting motions, textures, and composition is a signature of Malicks work that I tried to employ in Gary.
ELEPHANT by GUS VAN SANT
Objective view of horrible events, personal interactions, ambiguous conclusions.
An objective viewpoint is impossible to achieve 100%. However, Van Sant comes close in Elephant by allowing the viewer to just spend time with the characters. Much like Big Questions, you are able to get to know them not by a character description, but by simply being around them. When things start to dive into dark territory, you have already formed your own view of them based on your time together, and your expectations of them are your own. The last thing I ever wanted to do in Gary was TELL you WHO Gary was and WHAT he’s all about. You don’t know someone until you’ve spent time with them. Of course, no piece of art is 100% objective, but I always prefer to have a little room to draw my own conclusions when confronted with a film or comic.
Whenever I hit a wall while working on Gary, I would turn to these sources for inspiration and guidance. This was vital in creating a consistent style for the series. Who are your influences? Do you have different touchstones for different works of art? Where do you draw the line on referencing another’s work?
I leave ya’ll with a small sneak peek at what I’ve been cooking up in the comics kitchen:
I’m stoked to announce that Gary: Book Three is now available at these fine retailers:
Graham Crackers Comics (downtown)
IN ST. LOUIS
I GET AROUND
I’ve been traveling a lot lately. From LA to Vegas to Missouri. Crazy times:
That never gets old
I’m still plugging away at the sci-fi reading list. Currently entrenched in one of the more well known steampunk books The Difference Engine. Good stuff. I also wanted to mention two great independent sci-fi comics I recently purchased:
Expansion: Part 4 (the conclusion to a fantastic series)
Thank you all again for your support! If you haven’t already gotten your copy of Gary: Book Three, please stop by the fine retailers listed earlier and take a look!