Anticipating Eisner Week: Gliding through the night

4CP: Gliding through the night

The Spirit from a December 1940 issue. Wowee zowee! Courtesy of the 4CP Blog.

New Project: Analyzing how folks read comics

The biggest thing that I’ve been up to here in the ivory tower is work related to developing a way to quantifiably analyze how people read comics.

Here’s a peek at the eye tracker that I’m trying build. I’ll be changing the code so that eye movement paths are recorded for later analysis.

The hypothesis that I’m moving forward with is based upon the recent work of Frank Santoro regarding page layouts. Do the natural harmonics of the comics page determine how the reading experience flows?  It would seem like they intuitively do, but it doesn’t seem that we know how. If one deviates from respecting the harmonics of the page, what does the reader’s eye do? Is there back tracking? Are sections read over multiple times?  It is my belief that with this quantitative data you can begin to have a way to explain why some comics read better than others.There are many directions that this work can go in.

Unfortunately, due to budget constraints, I can’t seem to find a way to capture how comics are read on paper and will have to settle with having test subjects read off of screens or projections. I know that Frank would probably argue that the reading of comics project by light on a screen is a wholly different one from reading print comics, but for now it’s going to have to do. This is an exploration after all.(Here’s a device that could possibly handle eye tracking of print comics:the EyeSeeCam.)

On a side note, while I’m focusing this particular work on analyzing the relationship between semantic units on the page, page layout and effectiveness of storytelling related to comics, this kind of work is applicable to any kinds of visual documents. Does a poster read well? Why does that infographic blow?

If you have any recommendations of comics pages that I should have people read, let me know in the comments. (One page stories would seem to be best in that they contain complete ideas that don’t need further context. That is to say, Big Tex by Chris Ware would be good, as would most of Ivan Brunetti’s work.)

I’ll keep you posted on the development of this work.Santoro Format

Wilfred Santiago interviewed at the Comics Journal

 In the mainstream most of the time they make cartoons and such look like this dumb thing, but whether it’s the most powerful cartoon known to man, Mickey Mouse, the cartoons that can piss enough Muslims off to commit acts of terrorism, or the inspiration of some imagery for contemporary movements like Anonymous or the OWS, it’s obvious you can’t fuck with cartoons. 

Wilfred Santiago

Wilfred Santiago talks a bit with Eric Buckler at the Comics Journal. It’s a short, but interesting little interview. Check it out.

Odds and Ends: Pillbox Cover

I’ve recently been working on covers for the Tartan’s arts and culture magazine, Pillbox. I’m using this as a way to teach myself the basics of visual composition, clean illustration and strong typography. Hopefully the Tartan let’s me keep making the covers. They’re nice challenges.

Here’s the digital version that I sent for approval. Nothing too fancy. I’ll let you know how it looks when it prints.

Odds and Ends: Work for the Tartan

A computer science program for women in CMU’s Qatar branch.

How Antihistamines work. Real Science.

Color and Design in Comics

A while back, Gene Fama put together some essays online that explore the process of effective comics production. I found this courtesy of Ed Piskor’s blog. The process section that I found particularly interesting was on coloring. I would certainly argue that unless making art comix or anything avant garde as a commercial illustrator, your best bet is to respect the principles that Fama puts forward.

Truth betold, No one wants to see the Incal recolored nor does it ever need to be. (Before - After)

Here are some morsels to pique your interest.

Computers are wonderful. They’re especially good at reducing the costs that prevent entry into fields of endeavor. People who can’t afford rent on a comic shop can now open an online store with very little overhead. People who can’t handle Dr. Martin dyes can color and “undo” their mistakes with a click of the mouse. The only problem is that the people with the discipline to master Dr. Martin dyes are more likely to be those with the discipline to use good taste.

And another:

If you look at Herge´s coloring in Tintin it’ll look strong and primary, but if you actually try to match his colors you’ll find they’re quite pastel. Similarly, good painters almost never use colors directly from the tube with no mixing. Good coloring is often about finding a shade just outside the primary shade.

Can dead men die again?

Thanks to Phantom of The Attic Comics in Pittsburgh, I’ve gotten the pleasure to experience the 1986 mini-series put together by Andrew Helfer and Jose Luís García-López. They were kind enough to bundle the 4 part series and to sell it at the ever reasonable cover price of 75cents a pop.

If you’ve read this blog, you’ve probably picked up that I’m not too huge a superhero fan. Nevertheless, these Deadman stories have really caught my fancy. They’re fun, extremely well drawn and have a great sense of page design. I’ll scan some pages to show you what I mean real soon.

For the uninitiated, this was at a time when DC was reinventing its characters. The story is intended to follow directly on the heels of the events in original series (at that point just recently reprinted in a 7 issue mini-series)…thereby ignoring and negating most of the other Deadman stories published in the ’70s and early ’80s.

Helfer’s Letter in the first issue was interesting and particularly helpful in contextualizing the 4 part story arc in the history of the Deadman character. It’s a weird story that evidences the narrative puzzles that the idea of continuity poses to the hundreds of different illustrators and writers playing together in the DC and Marvel sandbox. This aspect of the DC and Marvel Universe is one that is odd, and that Grant Morrison rightly expands upon in his Animal Man series.

I’ll keep you posted on more of my reading and how the editorial shift of Deadman’s character evolves away from mystery towards a consistent style and reality of essentially no more than a superhero.

Big Blog of Kids Comics

I must be late to the game, seeing as how I just discovered the great repository of children’s comics that Mykal Banta has put together. Truth be told, though, so long as I get to see these comics I’m happy to even be playing!

Here’s the stellar Big Blog of Kid’s Comics. Visit the site for full stories scanned at great resolutions. If you’re looking to tap into the bold aesthetics of mid-century comics, I can’t imagine a better inexpensive way of doing so than checking out the site that Mykal Banta curates.

Here are some covers that might catch your interest.

Lively jazz nights rekindle flame in Pittsburgh

A recent article that I wrote for CMU’s newspaper, The Tartan:

Interval Mondays and Space Exchange promise vivacious weekly performances

A city that used to be a veritable hotbed of American Jazz, Pittsburgh has seen what could be described as a process of jazz atrophy. Cultural institutions like the August Wilson Center and the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild feed off a legacy of jazz, not a vibrant scene.

Traditional venues, like CJ’s in the Strip District, have strict age restrictions (CJ’s is closed to patrons younger than 30) and prevent jazz from being experienced across generations. Additionally, WDUQ, formerly Pittsburgh’s only jazz radio station, changed to an NPR news station last year. There are simply not enough lively hubs for the cultivation of an innovative jazz scene in Pittsburgh.

In light of this seemingly atrophied jazz environment, two events in Pittsburgh reveal that the local contemporary jazz scene is rekindling: On Mondays, AVA Lounge in East Liberty hosts Interval Monday, and the Thunderbird Cafe in Lawrenceville hosts Space Exchange on Tuesdays.

On what is considered the week’s dead night for entertainment in Pittsburgh, AVA Lounge offers one of the hottest jazz jams, incorporating silent film projections and an open stage. The weekly session was founded by pianist Howie Alexander in July 2007, and is now known as the premier event for jazz music in Pittsburgh due to the local and nationally recognized talent it attracts.

Typically, the sessions consist of two sets. The first set belongs to the Interval Trio (Alexander, Paul Thompson, and James Johnson III), while the second set opens up the stage to musicians in the audience. The jam session features both jazz standards and original compositions, and resident DJ J. Malls (also known as Jason Molyneaux) spins classic jazz vinyl during breaks. A documentary-style web series, called The Interval Trio & Friends, is currently being produced that focuses on the lives and sessions of the musicians.

In contrast to the Interval Monday jam sessions, Space Exchange at the Thunderbird Cafe is marked by an approach that resembles a New York City artist residency, something rarely seen in Pittsburgh. Saxophonist Ben Opie, drummer Dave Throckmorton, guitarist Colter Harper, bassist Matt Booth, and guitarist/drummer Chris Parker are the core members of Space Exchange, and they collectively oversee the programming for the evenings.

In 2011, the group decided to approach Thunderbird Cafe owner John Pergal for a shot at a weekly residency. Because Pergal has supported the group’s past efforts, this collaboration seemed natural. However, the group has actively argued that Space Exchange neither be billed as a jazz event nor as a jam session. As a result, patrons won’t find musicians casually strolling in to display their skills in a specific genre. Rather, they will find a variety of ensembles associated with the core members, rotating in and out of the Thunderbird Cafe, waltzing across the boundaries of styles.

Aiming to develop a lasting presence in Pittsburgh, the group draws on the public interest in some of the collective’s established bands like Opie and Throckmorton’s Thoth Trio, Harper’s Rusted Root, and Opie’s audacious free jazz orchestra, Opek.

Given the history of Pittsburgh’s local jazz scene, events like Interval Monday and Space Exchange give hope for a playful and innovative scene in the future. As it stands, jazz enthusiasts need not fear a continued atrophy of the local scene. Jazz is happening; now it is up to the audiences to continue sharing the experience.

Future performances at Space Exchange will feature Opie performing the works of American composers Thelonius Monk, Anthony Braxton, and Ornette Coleman, alongside bassist Jeff Grubbs and Throckmorton’s “Book Exchange.”


Santoro Waxing Some Poetic Layout Type Shit

Don’t have much to say today, so I thought I’d let Frank Santoro do the talking. He’s out doing a West Coast Layout Tour, which, by the looks of it, seems to be going really well for him.

Comics are THE ascendant artform. We are the ones who are making the most exciting art. We are dusting the competition because it is a real community of readers, writers and makers who care about the form – no one is in it for the money or glory. It’s a golden age and we all know it.

The talks have become less about the rules of making comics and more about comics language and the agreed usage of it in 2012. Take a look at any bookshelf of comics and there is every size and shape of book. It’s madness. Everyone is using different “time signatures” and none of us can agree what the unit of measure is. Is it the panel or is it the page? Or maybe the spread? But what about when you reconfigure a spread for a scrolling blog? Do you compose “reveals” differently for the blog?

This is moment in comics history that is so unique because of all the different entry points that exist to attract readers. Text and image – comics – is the internet. We are the masters of text and image. We rule the web.

And hell, if I haven’t been good enough to you, here’s some of that real scientific abstract type shit courtesy Mo Wax records.


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