niffenegger, ware & clowes

Last night I met up with Viviane Schwarz and Alexis Deacon to go see a panel discussion organised by Paul Gravett and chaired by Audrey Niffenegger of Chris Ware and Daniel Clowes.

Of the three of them, I’m actually the biggest fan of Niffenegger’s novels, I really loved The Time Traveller’s Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry. I love getting into her world, she creates such fascinating characters with such strange, twisted personal issues they have to deal with, all within a setting that’s laced heavily with her appreciation of arts and crafts. I like her graphic novels, but I prefer her text novels, where she really digs in and revels in pitting her characters against each other. Here’s some fan art I started early this morning; I hope I get time to take it beyond a rough sketch. I lent someone the book (and I’ve forgotten who) so I couldn’t check up on a few things. If I’d had even more time, I would have liked to have researched the furniture and made it a bit more William Morris or Robin & Lucienne Day or something. (Agh, so many things I want to do!)

This is the scene in Her Fearful Symmetry where the ghost Elspeth realises she has some effect over electrical appliances, and accidentally kills the twins’ television.

I made some very rough sketches at the talk, but it was quite dark and I couldn’t really see my paper. I was interested that none of them keep sketchbooks, just make notes, although they recommended that people just starting out, or younger people, keep sketchbooks. Clowes said that if he put his efforts into his sketchbook, then it felt like anticlimax when he went to do his actual work, and he needed to save himself up for that, so the work was his main outlet of creativity. Ware said he’d got to the stage where he could just draw and be happy with it, he didn’t need to practice. It reminded me of a talk I heard by Dave McKean, where he’d launched some published sketchbooks of cities, and he said that they were the first time he really felt confident in his drawing, that he could just draw.

I think I still have a very long way to go before I get to that stage. I like my drawings, but I always feel they could be better, and I love trying out different techniques. I don’t keep organised, beautiful sketchbooks (unlike Dave Shelton). I’m always picking up one, using a few pages, then going back to another book with some empty pages, and then doing other sketches on random bits of paper. But I do try to keep them all, it’s interesting to go back and look at what things got me going at different stages. I suppose this LiveJournal is sort of my sketchbook, if I didn’t keep track of things here, I might forget them entirely. When a rumour went around that the blog was being deleted (totally untrue), I must confess to panicking a bit. Losing this blog would have felt like getting a partial lobotomy.

Someone in the audience asked Clowes if he gets sent lots of minis. He said he used to get nearly a hundred a week through the post. But when people switched to e-mail, his flow of minis pretty much dried up. But he encouraged people to make mini comics as a way of showing off their work. If he sees someone who wants them to look at their comics, and has to write down a website, he pretty much knows he’ll never get the time to go look it up. But if someone hands him a mini, he can get an idea about their work almost instantly.

Ware encouraged people to push themselves in their character development and storytelling, but not to go beyond their own understanding. He bemoaned young people’s comics, ‘full of faceless people walking around in a void’. Clowes piped up, ‘I get naked elves.’ Ware said he wished young people would tell stories about their experiences in school, and about stuff they know about in real life, or related to the emotions they know from real life. But I can sympathise with the kids, until you’ve left school, started a new life somewhere else, and been able to look back at it from a different perspective, it’s almost impossible to imagine why your life in school could possibly be interesting. At that age, I was naturally drawn to anything that felt at all exotic, and I would have tried to make my stories as unlike my life as possible.

Links: Just bookmarked this fascinating looking comics blog by Sam Henderson, The Magic Whistle. Got a giggle from a church campaign in comic form to clean up comics here (You are Citizens – Now!).

And mondoagogo sent me a link to a website showing various museums along the newly opened East London Line on the tube. Lots of things to visit.

And London, don’t forget the Comica Social Club meets this Thursday at the central bar in the Royal Festival Hall, 6-9pm. Look for Peter Stanbury wearing the green fez! Facebook page here.

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