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Posts Tagged ‘Herge’

chamberlain_1This week, I begin in earnest on my big project for 2018-2019: illustrating a graphic biography of Neville Chamberlain, written by Ben Dickson – author of New Jerusalem (out now from Myriad).

It’s a biography which re-examines the role that Chamberlain’s policy of “appeasement” played in buying time for the UK to re-arm, and in convincing the United States to enter the war. Much of Ben’s position is based on revisionist histories which have looked more closely at the events leading up to World War II, and at his own analysis of his aims and objectives as Prime Minister.

The day may come when my much cursed visit to Munich will be understood. Neither we nor the French were prepared for war. I am not responsible for this lack of preparation…It would be rash to prophesy the verdict of history, but if full access is obtained to all the records it will be seen that I realized from the beginning our military weakness and did my best to postpone if I could not avert the war.

It is all too easy to judge people with the benefit of hindsight. For us, World War II is a fact of history – for Chamberlain, it was only a possibility, and one that he had a chance to avoid. He appears to be a far more complex historical character than the “Guilty Man” he was painted during and immediately after the war. Ben’s script shows him as someone grappling with a country still traumatised by the consequences of the Great War, and ill-prepared – and ill-equipped – to engage in another. In many ways, the script demonstrates Chamberlain’s understanding of the coming 1939-45 war as “The World War – Part II”: for both victor and vanquished, a consequence of unfinished business left over from 1914-18 – “The World War – Part I”, as it were. This longer, entangled view of the two European wars of the Twentieth Century is something we are only beginning to fully appreciate.

I am drawing the book in a ligne claire style that strongly echoes comics artwork of the 1930s and 1940s – particularly that of Hergé, which, I am sure, will come as no surprise to anyone already familiar with my work! The style will suit the time-period of the book, of course.

I’ve started already – doing research this morning on the layout of the Downing Street Cabinet Offices, c. 1937, and drawing various views of an Austin 10. Lots of more that to come over the next nine months!

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Just about ready for launch. Bottle Oven cutaway graphic for Middleport Pottery.

Just about ready for launch. Bottle Oven cutaway graphic for Middleport Pottery.

Phew! It’s been a long month, but this is the last week of the Middleport Pottery job, and all the graphics are just about complete.

My latest set of graphics for Middleport Pottery has been some building cutaways and site plans. The largest of these so far is a cutaway of the pottery’s surviving “Bottle Oven” – the impressive, bottle-shaped structure that housed the main kiln. Originally, Middleport had six of these, and for almost a century the whole of the Potteries region was peppered with these distinctive structures. Their function and operation was, once upon a time, familiar to anyone living in the Midlands; nowadays, most people would be hard-pressed to put a name to them, let alone say what they did.

I’m doing the cutaway in “comic style” – that is: with the same linework and colouring as I’ve used in all of the comics I’ve done at Middleport. The Bottle Oven cutaway, for example, will be visually related to the comics, but is a static image, not a comic. Or is it?

As I’ve been drawing the cutaway, I’ve been thinking more about the connections between detailed visual information and comics, and I was reminded of Herge’s elaborate drawings of the moon rocket in Destination Moon. His rendering of this piece of technology – though obviously part of a “comic” – has all the qualities of a static cutaway. A few labels, and Herge’s panels of Calculus’ tour through the rocket would look right at home in The Eagle. Indeed, the inclusion of plans and elevation drawings within the book edition (I’m assuming these weren’t part of the original serialised publication), make it clear that Herge wants the reader to understand the structure of the moon rocket, not just look at it.

So is this comic as informational diagram? Or is it informational diagram as comic? Herge’s objective was clearly to add a certain amount of “apparent verisimilitude” to the story as an exercise in world-building; in the same way that maps and historical background function within other stories (the historical leaflet in King Ottokar’s Sceptre, for example).

But here’s a question: does this trick the other way around? Does starting with information and moving towards “comics” add what might be called “apparent narrative” to a diagram? Does the use of comics-styled linework and colour in my bottle oven cutaway also function as a kind of world-building, giving what might otherwise be a fairly dry visual a sense of story and context?

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searcher_1It’s no secret that one of the biggest artistic influences on my drawing style has been the work of the late, great Moebius. Like thousands of other illustrators, I owe Jean Giraud a debt of imagination and visualisation. Many, many years ago, a film-maker friend flatteringly compared my hatched, sub-comix style of pen-and-ink-work to his – a comparison I really didn’t deserve (but, of course, loved).

But I discovered Moebius the year before I went to University, and so I read Arzach and Le Garage Hérmetique at the same time as I read Ancient Egypt: A Social History, and L’Incal Noire and Aedena at  the same time as The Island of Meroë. Moebius, Adamov and other Metal Hurlant artists were always part of my archaeological world – and like Hergé, Carlos Ezquerra, Eric Sloane and Edgar Hodges – stars in the constellation through which my evolving illustration style would orbit.

So it’s no surprise then as I get older and start drawing more comics, that my work falls back more and more on those early influences. And, as I’ve discussed on this blog before now, I’m happier now to explore and acknowledge the full extent of those influences, more confident in my own individuality of style.

As a result, I decided to go ahead and embrace that Metal Hurlant style for my guest contribution to Ivy 2. The main character even bears a passing resemblance in some panels to a certain wandering Major from the first half of Le Garage Hérmetique! There’s only a month to go before I deliver the finished comic, and as the art for the pages comes together, I suppose my stylistic heart is being very much worn on my sleeve.

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