Friday, December 30, 2011

My Panelists Archive: Comments on "Porcellino Re-Inked"

These are the comments occasioned by my piece on Porcellino's line for the now-defunct Panelists blog.

My friend Ben Towle was the first to comment (on 
January 10, 2011 at 9:17 am):
Your changes also introduce an increased concern with mechanical reproduction: you’d have to worry about getting a photocopier with good, rich ink and you’d have to tinker with the contrast settings a bit to make sure the variations in the line quality are reproduced accurately. Porcellino’s style is married to its physical format in a way that few other artist’s are. It’s perfectly suited to mechanical reproduction on a black and white analog photocopier.

And I said:
What would really get me in trouble with a photocopier is if I re-inked his work with cross-hatching, or with (shudder) gray tones. I think you make a really good point, Ben—and it’s something I should have been thinking about.

(By which I meant, in part, that one has to think about Porcellino's awareness of his own means of publication, and the way that the xerox machine informs his choices in style.)

Sean Michael Robinson then said:

Benjamin- This depends on what type of copier he was using, how well it’s been maintained, how much toner it has etc. A decent copier from the mid eighties up until, say, 2003 would have been able to produce a perfect reproduction of Isaac’s panel without many problems, assuming it was well-maintained and had enough toner. Certainly copiers earlier than that had major problems with black areas, and more “modern” copiers can have problems, especially if you don’t make some adjustments to their settings. (more modern copiers have gotten better at reproducing greys, and thus have gotten worse for most of the tasks required for cartooning- i.e. crisp, black lines. Most, however can be put into a “text” mode that will reproduce crisp black okay). But I can see how Mr. P’s image would be pretty impervious to a bad photocopier. 
Anyway, I’m not lecturing you, I hope- just a public service announcement for anyone that might be reading :) I can’t tell you the amount of minis I’ve read from local cartoonists that have all types of grey variation in what should be crisp black lines…


To which Ben replied:
Exactly my point! 
And, yeah, for sure modern copiers aren’t exempt from those issues. I’ve made enough minis to know that first-hand.

Sean Michael Robinson also said:

This is a bizarre, and pretty inspired, idea, and I have to say that I prefer your version of the panel! (apologies to Mr. Porcellino if you are reading this.) Dead line weight really bothers me- you’ve separated foreground from background and added a hint of lighting implication with the variation you’ve placed here. 
That being said, if I may critique the newly created panel… you’ve added two things that I would consider undesirable- with the little bit of curve you’ve added to the drummer arm you’ve made what was already an uncomfortable joint look closer to a broken arm. Second, the proximity of the left drum stick to the cymbal has added a tangent to the picture that becomes a new focal point- meaning that they’re too close now, and that close proximity draws the eye.
Anyway, this is a great idea. I’m pretty stoked to see where you take this process.

And I said:

The thing with the drumstick was a mistake on my part, and if I could have fixed it easily in Photoshop before preparing the post, I would have. I’ll stand behind the weird anatomy on the drummer’s arm, though, because I really was trying to duplicate Porcellino’s forms, not to “correct” them.
I don’t think it’s such a “bizarre … idea”, really, to imitate or alter someone’s work in order to understand style and its implications. I encourage poetry students to do this sort of thing all the time. Cartoonists do it, too, when they’re learning their craft; why not add it to the critic’s toolkit as well?

And Sean Sean replied:

I meant that it’s bizarre for a critic to do so- I was just thinking recently about the overlap between critics and practicing artists in the cartooning field just recently, actually. I guess partially I’m drawn to the idea of a loop- that, after you’d posted your panel, others would critique your panel :) I don’t consider “bizarre” a bad thing, by the way… I’m intrigued.

Then he posted a link to the nib-pen re-inking of Porcellino that I posted as an update to my original post.

He said, of it:

Here’s a different take, done with a pen nib (Esterbrook 356 for those pen fetishists out there). Kinda reminds me of Gene Deitch with the extra bit of bounciness and variation combined with the simplified drawing.

And I said:

Now, see, that’s what I should have done. I took the easy way out, though: my nib pens are all packed up, and I had a brush pen right beside my keyboard.

Charles Hatfield said,
Dead line weight really bothers me…
It doesn’t bother me in Porcellino at all, for the reasons Isaac suggests. But uniformity of line can pose legibility problems for me in work that is denser, such as some of Ron Regé, Jr.’s stuff, or in certain early minicomics I’ve seen by Simon Gane. Both are very interesting cartoonists, mind you, but at times I have difficulty parsing what I see. Porcellino, I think, has an ideal style and sensibility for uniform line weight.

And Derik Badman replied:

I think this contributes to the tone of his work, since the distance between near and far, in autobiography, is often also the difference between self and other. To give the environment the same line-weight as the central character is to suggest something strong about the permeability of identity, or the influence of world on self (and vice versa).

I love this reading, very astute, Isaac.

Then Jason Overby dropped in to add:

I like John P’s original panel, and I think it’s because it’s devoid of stylization that gets in the way of the transparency between maker and consumer. Porcellino’s lack of “polish” could be read as a lack of trickery, getting away from slickness so that only the core, pure communication is left.
I don’t really like John’s drawings as drawing, but I think his comics are almost better than anyone’s. Similar to Daniel Johnston and others, they’re so immediate that you trust him. I think a lot (as a cartoonist) about how technique can get in the way of content. This is a central struggle for me in comics.

but we have to be skeptical about romanticizing purity, I think, too.

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