Visual Memoirs

I had an assignment in college for a “Drawing Graphic Novels” class, taught by Ivan Brunetti, wherein we took a random person’s obituary and turned it into a single page comic.  It was a pretty daunting task; we didn’t have to know the person and we didn’t have to send the project to their families (unless we really wanted to) but even then, the thought of compressing a person’s entire life down into a single page terrified me.  I don’t know why.  Some of my other classmates focused on the death of the person, or some specific aspect of their lives.  For example, one person did theirs on the then-recently-deceased film director Satoshi Kon, a man whose films almost always dealt with dreams and distortions of reality.  Her depiction of his life was fractured and distorted like one of his films.  But I didn’t want to just take a chunk of their life, I felt like I wanted to do the persons ENTIRE life, and compress it down.  Here’s what I came up with.

John Q Butterly

A man’s whole life.

I wanted to focus on the use of the comics medium.  The page is divided into four panels that clearly divide the different sections of his life; growing up in the Depression, serving in the Pacific in World War II, being a fireman, and retiring to Florida.  The idea was to build each panel into a setpiece and have Butterly reappear repeatedly throughout that set.  I wanted to give it a sense of flowing.  The land of Japan is one large chunk, his retirement is one as well.  In the fireman scene, the frame itself bends to give structure to the scene.  The fire hydrant in panel one is connected to the fire hose in panel 3, the plane in panel 2 flies up into panel 1.  I was shooting for a sense of inter-connectivity.

Anyway, my mother really liked this idea, and she commissioned one from me for my grandfather for his birthday.  He turned 81 this year.  It seems like I’m doing a lot of family related art lately, but I’m okay with that.  I have to power to make something personal and with a great deal more meaning than a gift you could buy at a store, and that’s what really matters.  This is the rough planning draft of the project that I worked out the other night:

Not really, it's just scribbles.

It’s more than just scribbles.

This isn’t always how I work.  Usually I’m very clean and precise.  This is how I work when I’m the only person that’s going to be seeing something.  I know what all these lines are saying, and that’s all that matters.  The whole reason for this post was to talk about drafting and the process… I guess I got carried away talking about the idea of the project itself, and now I’ve run out of time.  Got work to do!  This is due next week!

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