Wednesday, December 30, 2009
I was chatting with ye olde JSH way back when, and he was talking about how his stock sarcastic reply, which I am paraphrasing, when any old hippie nostalgic would say, "Man, things aren't like they were in the sixties," was, "Oh yeah, me too. Things just haven't been the same since the 1860s. Can't wait for those days to roll back around..."
Got me thinking about the tools of my particular tirade. Used to was, I was carnivorous as a visual artist when it came to materials. Crayons on barnwood. Felt tip markers picked up from the Conway flea market. Cheap new acrylic paint from Wally World on vintage canvas boards that were found in a dumpster.
But as I've turned over the years from a catch as catch can gallery artist (which went astray from my original roots which as a kid I was always making comics) to more and more strictly a cartoonist, or comic book artist (Will Eisner called it sequential art, but narrative art, graphic novels, hieroglyphs...next wave, new wave, it's still comics to me, and while we're on it, for the record, I don't see any distinction between comics and any other approach to art, it's only that I'm more about the book than stand alone finished pieces hanging on a wall these days), my style has become more focused and, following, the tools which help me best to elucidate the cross-hatching of my soul, I realized not too long ago, consist of a set of instruments, none of which were introduced to the world stage any later than 1928.
In many ways, my over-wrought pen and ink style looks like it was formed in the late 1800s...if I drew like I was in the 1800s and could have yet foreseen to Post-Expressionism and film noir, but also somehow exposed to EC comics of the fifties, and Jack Kirby, and, after all of that, I was still in the late 1800s, and I still wanted to draw the way I do now.
Like most comic book artists, I draw on bristol board (basically an illustration paper, tough and absorbent enough to handle intense pen and ink (or brush and ink)). As I got more and more detailed with my cross-hatching, I was buying the highest end bristol board I could find at local art supply outlets. Then I eventually got hip to the fact that Strathmore, the standard maker of bristol board (note that Dan Clowes named the school in question in the film version of Art School Confidential, Strathmore), made a 500 series (the plate as opposed to the vellum surface is what I'm talking about here, for those of you taking notes) that I had to special order, as no stores in my neck of the Kentucky woods carried the high end stuff. The 500 series bristol was developed in 1893, and, as Robert Crumb has said, what used to be the standard bristol board when he was starting out is now almost impossible to find. Yeah, it's expensive stuff. But I figure I'm worth it.
My finished drawings, for the record, are usually done with a combination of the two following types of pens, both often used in congress on the same pages.
Joseph Gillot (1799-1873) invented the steel pen, as in nibs that are dipped in ink, as we know them, that is, between 1830-59, essentially adding the slits that one expects for the ink to flow. The company that he created still exists to this day, and for cartoonists and other folks that are serious about drawing, and who are in the know, still make the finest dip pens known to man. I got hip to Gillot and started using them relatively recently (just since starting my newest graphic novel The Organ-Grinder), replacing my off-the-rack Speedball ignorance (although I still employ some of my old favorites of the cheaper variety that have life in 'em yet when I feel the situation calls for 'em, kind of like when you're just feeling some cheap beer, in a poor man's drunk, as the Stones once sang...or from another angle, to respond to KISS, the cheapest stuff isn't always necessarily all I need). Sure, Gillot nibs are expensive, but, again, I believe I'm worth it.
In the search for pens to cartoon with, the rapidograph, what they call a technical pen, is my favorite cross-hatching tool, especially when I'm on the go. I can fill up the pen and take it with me anywhere to sketch in the sketchbook, or even work on actual comic pages on location away from the studio. The German company, Rotring, was established in 1928, with the narrow steel tube as an alternative to the nib of fountain pens. Although, oddly enough, technically speaking, the steel tube of the technical pen style actually predates the fountain pen, go figure. But it was the Rotring company that established the tube of the technical pen as we know it today (or as most people don't know it, as the case may be), and by 1953 had established itself as the premier manufacturer of them, with Koh-i-noor as its U.S. subsidiary, which is the brand I make marks with. I can't get the precise lines with any felt tip or disposable art pens that are out there on the market. Rapidographs can be hard to find (the internet and its eBays and such, has made this easier), and they can be expensive. Then yet again, I figure me (and my art for that matter) are worth it.
So, in summary, I don't use dip, not even dip pens, that was created past 1928, for the most part. I ain't preaching about tools, nor am I particularly dogmatic; it's just what I got in my toolbox, childrens. I use the past to let the present flow. And there's a calm sense of gnosis that with tools of the past the future can be discerned more clearly. It can make something of an inky soothsayer of thee.
You see me drawing my comics, and you see what my hands can do. And you wish you were the one that I was doing it to (for those not anointed into the Old Order, that's another KISS reference, alas).