Storytelling

Harold Foster On Story V. Illustration


Fred Schreiber: Do you consider yourself primarily a cartoonist or an illustrator? And where do you draw the distinction?

Hal Foster: There’s no distinction. One runs into the other. Of course, I can’t “cartoon”; I am an illustrator. But where the cartoonist ends and the illustrator begins is pretty hard to say; it all hinges on the writing, on the story. In my estimation the story is the most important thing. The illustrations are just meant to give another dimnension to a story, which has to be cut down into little captions; the illustrations are necessary to carry the story on from captions. But, of course, it doesn’t make any difference how well you illustrate the story–you can get away with a good story poorly illustrated, but not vise versa.”

FS: What is your opinion of the current state of the comic strip? How would you compare it to that of the old days?

HF: It’s not as individual. Before, in the early times, each cartoonist had his own individual ideas and carried them out alone; one man did the whole thing. But now so many facets have come into it that you need assistants to do backgrounds and other things. Sometimes the work is divided between writer and illustrator. But as you take it down to each degree, it loses some of its personality, so that no matter how beautiful the drawings, no matter how good the story, somehow there seems to be something lacking that was present in the old comics. Of course, these were crude–but somehow they had more personality than they do today.”

– Interview for SOCERLID, 1969
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Although his name has passed into obscurity today, Hal Foster is the definitive force behind action comics strips. He single-handedly created the crossover success of Tarzan and then went on the write and illustrate his own work in Prince Valiant, the longest running action comic in the newspaper business. As you can see, the man’s artistic skills bring an incredible level of realism to the art form. The quality of his work makes the panels seem to move with the action.

It is fascinating, then, to see such an awe inspiring illustrator who is more interested in the telling of the story than the stunning visuals. “The story is the most important thing.” He goes on in this interview to explain that his preference of working in action comics over humor strips is not that he prefers reading them so much as it is that he loves being a story writer first and foremost. It is obviously this quality which has kept his strip alive long after his own demise.

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In even a quick overview of the original great comics, it is easy to see the honesty in Foster’s qualifications of “the old days.” The old comics were, first and foremost, essentially quirky. Each had its own surrealism, it’s own fantasy that transcended dreamscapes and talking animals. A comic strip created and sustained by one man offers a unique look into the world within another man’s head.

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Keep Reading

Bill Watterson, Michaelangelo, and Play

Samuel Beckett and The Value Of Depression

Bill Watterson On A Creative’s Ethics

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Horrible Start # 2 – Roast Beef


As I wrote originally, the Bulwer-Lytton awards are something that should elicited endless hours of enjoyment for the average English major. I have devoted a menu here to creating my own, but the mood has rarely struck me as of yet. Here’s my second entry to date.

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“As he chewed, swallowed, and digested the grocery sample roast beef on marbled rye, he contemplated the metallic, rainbow, fishing-lure sheen of the meat and proposed that surely no animal existing outside of a Lisa Frank binder should ever display such morbidly brilliant chemical coloration upon dissection; he cut a wide birth with the rusty wheeled cart and made for another slice.”

The Tragedy Of Having A Baby


UPDATE!!!

My wife is 41+ weeks pregnant with our third child. Even though we’ve done this (twice) before, we are attempting a VBAC home-birth and we’ve both been running the full gamut of stressful and nervous emotions. All signs point toward a healthy and comfortable baby who just doesn’t want to come out yet(who can blame them?), but expecting to go into labor every hour for 3 weeks is exhausting.

The other day, after a solid cry session, my wife expressed again her current emotions in the constant waiting and said “I just feel like something bad has happened and I have to convince myself to be okay and bear it.” The truth is that anything we put significant hope in is a tragedy until it is fulfilled. It’s not tragic because we don’t want this baby, its tragic because we really, REALLY want this baby and we can’t do anything to get at it.

From a storytelling perspective, this makes a lot of sense. The goals that any characters hope toward and how their actions and fate play together are the plot of a strong story. The only difference between a traditional comedy and a tragedy is whether the hopes of the protagonist were eventually fulfilled. In a comedy he gets the girl and the happily-ever-after. In a tragedy he dies alone. Either way, the plot along the way is tinged with some level of fear that his hope is misplaced.

I think life should be full of these experiences. They suck pretty badly, but if we want to cultivate things like faith and hopefulness then we have to pour a lot of them out before we start seeing them rewarded. We live in a world that mostly let’s us down. Whether its the people we care for or the general negativity of circumstances, cultures, or political structures, we have more reasons to stop hoping and cut off faith in beauty and love and truth-acted-upon. But there is reason to hope, though we only do so in weakness now.

We’re pushing in to this idea. We’re recognizing the confusion and frustration and are choosing actively to have hope that we will look back in joy and laugh at what becomes a comedy in hindsight. We want ever stronger and stronger muscles of faith, persevering to trust in the truth regardless of attacks or whispers against it. As a farmer plants his seeds in the spring and watches the seasons change in eagerness, we have hoped and prayed toward this child’s birth and will continue to seek and find rest in the future healthy delivery of a son or daughter (we don’t know which!)

UPDATE!!!

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Further reading

What Daughters Should Expect From Their Fathers

Wanna Change The World? Shake Someone’s Hand!

What Christians Can Learn From Atheists

Author Quotes: Dave Eggers On Why Publishing Is Scary


“Publishing other people’s work is a hell of a lot more enjoyable than publishing your own. Publishing your own work is fraught with complicated, even tortured, feelings. Invariably you believe that you’ve failed. That you could have done better. That if you were given another month or another year, you would have achieved what you set out to do.
Actually, it’s not always that bad.
But usually it is.
Publishing someone else’s work, though, is uncomplicated. You can be an unabashed champion of that work. You can finish reading it, or finish editing it, and know that it’s done, that people will love it, and that you can’t wait to print it. That feeling is strong, and it’s simple, and it’s pure.”

– Dave Eggers, Introduction to the new collected volume The Best Of McSweeney’s

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I’m sure anyone that writes fiction and takes this action seriously experiences at least fleeting questions of whether everyone else with think they are crazy for what came from their mind. It is somehow easy to feel, simultaneously, a very deep human connection with a story and a fear that no one else will connect with the same elements. It’s much easier to read a new manuscript, know that it’s wonderful, and instantly validate it because we are not responsible for it and because we have already made a human connection with the author. Two people that grasp the value of a work is all that is needed to be sure of its merit.

I recently self-published an odd little children’s book that I have come to love. Self-publishing has been a really fun and positive experience and using Kickstarter to fund it provided a lot of community support that made all the difference, but having very little outside editing and really only printing on my own approval made me all the more apprehensive about the reception of the story.

People have finally started receiving and reading the book with a lot of positive responses, but the most impactful came last night, when my aunt contacted me and expressed a deep understanding of the simple story. Having at least one person grasp the human elements makes all the difference.

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Excerpts from my aunt’s response to Wandlung.

“Got your book today. Read it five times to six different people. . .It took me until the third read to really warm up to it partly because I like happy endings. Yet, in life, especially when our lives interact with others, we can’t always expect a happy ending. Sometimes friendships are only for a season and we go our separate ways. It’s not always a pain we acknowledge or even stop to properly grieve.”

My First Review and What We Can Learn About Our Kids


Recently, I self-published my first book. It is a picture book called Wandlung, and is itself unique in that it is the only idea I have ever had for a picture book. I am writing mostly short stories (some found on this blog under “Fiction“), children’s chapter books, and a fantasy/mythology epic. Wandlung is also unique because it is the only thing I have published this far (using the word “published” generously considering I published it myself with the help of my wonderful Kickstarter supporters!).

Yesterday Jen at WhatMyKidsRead.com did the first review of the book and I couldn’t be more pleased with her critique! Her family’s reviews are really helpful if you’re looking for books for a variety of ages as all of her kids provide their own input along with her perspectives on each title. For Wandlung, she gives a more detailed synopses of the story than I have yet done and goes into each of her family member’s thoughts about the story and illustrations. There is even a video review with Liam, the articulate eldest!

Part of Jen’s review that I really appreciated was something I am expecting to hear often. She reports that her kids liked the story a lot more than she did. She doesn’t prefer the premises upon which the story is founded and the story ending. Jen has wonderful taste in books, so if I wasn’t expecting many adults to respond this way I might have been devastated. But I’m glad about it, because I think out-of-the-ordinary picture books like this one actually teach us something about our children.

I may have said it before, but I’m a bit of a subversive at heart and a large part of what drew me to this story was the fact that the plot is probably more challenging to adults than to children. Wandlung challenges a lot of our modern preconceptions about stories that are good for children.

Kids have a knack for grasping concepts we don’t give them credit for understanding (which can be a good or bad thing in different circumstances) and they can often hear of a hardship befalling a character without flinching. Kids do not require a happy ending. What’s more, I believe that they should continue to cultivate this attitude toward stories and toward life. We learn to be disappointed when we refuse to accept anything other than our preconceptions of a “happy ending.” Kids start out with far fewer expectations than adults.

Anyway, I hope you will take the opportunity to check out the back story posted on the Wandlung page as well as the story itself. I am a much harsher critic of my own mind and I continue to think that this one warrants merit. If you think I’m crazy, please let me know!

Is Life A Narrative And Does It Matter?


Last night I read a new article on a great blog I follow called The Bully Pulpit. The blog is mainly philosophical in bent with large doses of political thought and heaps of great quotes from thinkers throughout the ages. If you enjoy the Author Quotes section here you would probably like The Bully Pulpit.

I really find just about everything ol’ J.R. says over there to be fascinating and last night’s post didn’t disappoint. The post is titled “Is A Human Life A Narrative?” and it basically quotes a couple of authors on their thoroughly-devised philosophies of how life is distinctly not a narrative. They point out that life is simply a collection of random events to which human beings naturally assign a plot. J.R. seemed to readily agree with their logic.

The post has stirred up a lot of contemplation in me and I can tell it gets to others as well in an almost surprising way. Even though most people don’t frequently consider their own narrative or effective story-processing skills, it can prove quite unnerving to contemplate one’s own world as invalid or, worse, an illusion. As this simple blog can attest, I have made myself a student of story and creative inspiration. I have devoted a great deal to these concepts and even read some good books on the science behind the natural human behavior of narrative-based risk-weighing and decision-making (I highly suggest Wired For Story if you are a writer. While it is not a science text, it is a very light read on narrative design that builds upon scientific research into how we process information.) I would not say, however, that I have given an adequate amount of significant thought to the question of whether life is actually in fact a story. It seems that most of us interested in recognizing this axiom are already determined to validate and love on it.

I think it is easy for anyone to agree that, yes, the tuna sandwich I ate for lunch last Tuesday plays little to no role in my preconceived life narrative. While every little experience may be a grain of sand upon a scale which changes our attitudes over time, we would not include 90% of the actual content of our lives in a memoir. The things we do recognize as valuable are usually pivotal because they are sensationalized in our memories and because they are a cumulative representation, a turning point of events we would recognize as changing chapters or entire narratives from before and after said key memory. Regardless of these facts, the much larger and less theoretical question immediately becomes “should human beings continue to process information as narrative and do we even have a choice?”

I personally would argue that we have no choice in the narrative framework and that this is really a very good thing. Narrative is important. It gives life meaning. While “meaning” is a highly subjective concept, I still find it very hard to even conceptualize any sense of purpose outside of a larger set of implications termed as a narrative. It is also the starting point for processing concepts like relationship, responsibility, time, and cause-and-effect. Narrative as a cognitive tool is not invalidated by that fact that every detail of a life may not be an aspect of a consecutive narrative or by the fact that we cannot adequately process it. Many people use their narratives to successfully navigate life decision making, while many are deluded to make horrify decisions. It is not the narrative process that is at fault, it is the narratives themselves which are prone to great flaws.

This question on our minds also leads into a spider’s web of intricately related and equally daunting questions of fate, time and space, creative inspiration, and relationships.

If narrative-based cognitive processing is invalid, what are we to make of the repeated interactions between beings and/or objects?
Can we measure relationships in the scientific process without believing that we have a starting relationship, an added variable relationship, and an alter resulting relationship?
Can two human beings develop beyond strangers without a joint narrative?
Can we build an idea upon one formerly supposed without calling it a narrative?
How can you read and follow the (supposed) logic I’ve put forth in this article if not by some form of following a narrative?

So many good questions included here, I would love to hear your thoughts, further questions, and rebuttals!