Saturday, August 30, 2008

Tooth Son of Regional Dimensions

I like and dislike this one at the same time. Naturally when I saw this in print without a single word from my publisher it really cemented my belief that truly anything went in terms of content. I half-expected to be fired for this one! This is chronologically then the first page I did for them without a single joke. Plus the comic offers no real resolution (well no overt solution to be more exact) and on top of everything else this is one of the first public comics I did mostly in "Helmspeak". What I mean by that: it is my belief that human beings go through life cultivating their personal story at ingress. We like stories so much because we view our own selves as stories. We write our own stories using very personal symbols and terms, lingual or otherwise. Recurrence is the only thing that signifies what is just backdrop and what is symbol. Our story longs to be communicated, but it cannot be easily conveyed due to being written in an idiolect so personal as a fingerprint. There is a tenderness to the process of unraveling the symbols, a reader that just reads such a story as a series of cliches will never hope to approach the personal language of the creator. For them a door is just a door and a dog is just a dog at all times. They serve to continue the plot, plot plot endless plot. The real story is in the cracks around the plot.

There are a few ways to get the reader to read your story and not just a story in what you make. To just harsh infodump that idiolect and hope the reader, after the initial shock, makes the effort to sort it (Ulysses by J. Joyce comes to mind) is perhaps one way to achieve this, but it would take the talent of a Joyce. Another, which I started to incorporate into my more 'serious' comics at around that time, is to infuse an otherwise linear and communicative story with bits of idiolect and then just repeat them in later stories while always meaning the same things by them and hope that the reader will start to pick up on what you're trying to do. In the case they did, there is a second reading in some of my comics. In case they would not, I hoped the narrower view of the comic still held up.

In a way then, this comic along with a few others to follow are the dictionary of terms of Helmspeak. What is the difference between what I am doing here and the sickly regular practice of dropping pop-culture references everywhere that a lot of comic writers indulge in? The difference is that these references are not meant to ignite that spark of recognition in the reader that construes familiarity for intimacy. I find that shortcut crass and for the most part unethical, from an artistic standpoint. It's much the reverse: the initially incomprehensible symbols serve to ignite a slow-fuse connection between artist and reader. In time, through consistent repetition perhaps a more significant connection is created there, puzzle pieces fall into place.

This process - at least to my capability - seemed half-faulty and I do my self-criticism in the very last page I were to publish for the paper. A lot of 'personal' symbols were instead read as pop culture references (lyrics of songs, Lovecraft contraptions, poetry). It was very strange for me as a creator to have inadvertently sparked the "ah! I know this!" reaction in readers while trying to do the exact opposite. It might seem you know this, but you really don't! Look at it in a new context, I tried to say. It is therefore meaningless to underline the references in this comic now and explain their deeper significance because all things considered, I still have a belief in this process and it is a subconscious one that cannot be examined through questioning the readers overtly. If by the end of the run of this website you feel you closer to a complete stranger that has made these comics, then it must have worked on some level.

Metaconceptual concerns aside, I have to say I am uncomfortable about the subject matter of this comic nowadays. On one hand it comes from a real place emotionally, on the other I simply have no first-hand experience with homelessness and I never will, probably. Is my vicarious approximation of how such a life might be in good taste, or even needed? I lean towards probably not. I did not write many comics after these which required a large leap of faith in terms of experience from my own life inside the lives of others. The "shell" of this comic, from prime emotional material to the formalist shape of panels and rendering is far better than the actual story I decided to dress it with, I feel.

A note about the next update: I intend to post a series of photos and explanations about how these comics were done, from conception to rough penciling, to finished art and whatnot. Would such a thing be of interest to the reader or should I just carry on and post the next comic instead? Please leave comments to steer me in the right direction. And if you do, I'd also enjoy some critique on the form of this blog. Do you enjoy the explanation text after the comic? Should I be posting just the comics and let them speak for themselves? Am I being needlessly obtuse with the text? Whereas critique on the comics themselves is less useful nowadays (as they are 3 years old or so) critique on how I am handling my material in the blog is very much timely.

Thank you in advance for reading and commenting.



Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Conan the Librarian

I'm back from a wonderful vacation. This is why there have been no updates for a couple of weeks. No complaints! (I promise regular updates again) Let's talk about this comic instead.

Jacob (Ιάκωβος in Greek) is based on a mixture of real-life people I've associated with, and in part on myself as well. The "anatomy of the role-player" in this comic is therefore not mean-spirited as I used to count myself as one of them for many years. I'd like to say that I no longer role-play just due to time constraints but as it stands I could manage the time if I really wanted to. What with being a lazy unemployed no-good artist and all. What is closer to truth is that I no longer role-play because at some point I realized that for all its creative merit, this hobby creates mainly a space of introspection. It is a positive palette for the imagination of an introvert child as I was, and its type of 'private communication' that occurs between role-players that have shared vicarious experiences is surely a great first step for someone trying to communicate at large. However later on it is exactly in its communicative range that the hobby is self-limiting. Nobody besides your game mates really cares about the exploits of your imaginary orc bard and neither really should they (I posit). As I grew my own expressive and communicative impulses metastasized to the comics you read right now, to music, to creating video-games. Granted, I may have not exactly have "become a man and left behind the childish things" but at least I am out of my shell, effectively looking at what binds people together, common ground.

There is therefore I suspect, an entrance to the pathological at some age for the role-player. It turns out there is such a thing as spending too much time inside one's own head especially if what you do there is heroic fantasy. All these brave deeds and personal accomplishments, yet with none of the actual personal sacrifice that is required to live a good life. I've met amazingly charmismatic people with great people skills... that they have cultivated through role-playing games, yet with little or no actual drive to get 'down and dirty' in real life and achieve something with these skills. It's just easier to go for the virtual dragonslaying. This tangentially could lead off to discussion to even worse forms of role-playing games, like World of Warcraft but eh, the internet has done that for me well enough.

All that said, I still do suffer from 'idealization' of the world to various degrees. Though philosophically I would not count myself as a friend of the Platonic concept of the Ideal (much the opposite, actually) it appears emotionally the pull towards perfection - and the various critical dissections of imperfect things against that ultimately arbitrate concept of perfection - is a deeply ingrained one. Part of what these comics try to do is to remind myself (and hopefully others) that things we think we know, things we've safely categorized and compartmentalized perhaps might require more investigation, several more investigations at different times of our lives. Just a series of reminders, I guess.

On the formal concerns front, there's just a little bit of cleverness in the chair of chairliness panel. I thought a bright ideal world would not only be rendered sans shading, but it would also cast deep black shadows. For what use is it really to consider things perfect if not to have an excuse to condemn something as less than perfect? The same emotional distress trick that I used on spaceman closeup is used on 'hmph.' panel. It seems crosshatched slight offset parallel lines create the effect of weariness and stress well enough so I decided to do it more. Also, I wish I had done just 5 minutes of research on how to render flame and smoke in black and white before having drawn the funeral pyre panel, it would have been significantly stronger for just a bit more effort... I swear I like my comics, I do!

I have no excuse about the ending though, it's just a reversal. A funny comic is supposed to have a reversal at the end, right?

Also, 'aak'. It might seem like a strange thing to say when stabbed in the gut but I find it most appropriate. In this blog we have taught you foreign savages to laugh like a Greek and to sigh like one. Now you know what to say if you have to die like one.



Saturday, August 16, 2008

Geometry Girl

This is the official jump-point as far as I'm concerned. When this was published without any sort of "uhh... what are you doing, Helm?" from my publisher I knew I pretty much could get away with anything. If you read it back to back with The Collector below you'll see it's not too much of a change of pace, but it's decidedly not centered on being funny anymore. There are jokes but it doesn't end on a funny punchline like The Collector does and ultimately that sets the tone of the page. Things will only get more morose from here on end. The meta-hilarious thing will be when I'd feel guilty for doing downer comics in a 'DESIGNATED: FUNNY' newspaper space and then rush to do absurd funny comics to make up for it for a couple of weeks and then back to the maudlin. The rest of the material will stand between those two polarities, with a significant bias towards the darker side after a few months, when I slip into a slight case of depression.

This is - perhaps not completely accidentally - the first piece from the backlog that I seriously still like even today. I had and still have my concerns about whether I should allow myself to portray a person with a serious psychopathology with right conscience, and indeed digging for laughs in this respect is not what I'd consider decent in the abstract. What saves this from being exploitationish is that I believe the execution gives it a human quality. The actual effects of Katerina's illness are - as anyone with even a casual interest in psychology would tell you - a hodgepodge mixture of slight ADD a heavy dose of OCD that manifests in anxiety. It is a comic, after all, as ADD and OCD don't go together very much as far as I can tell, but I didn't feel it too much to discuss this issues anyway since most modern people - especially in urban areas - suffer from degrees of them, I certainly do not speak without some personal experience.

There is some heavy experimentation with paneling in this comic, and you'll see me carry this further with every week's new one. For those of you with an active interest in the craft, check 'behind' the panels, see where the borders darken. When the pathology is most acute, there's pitch black behind the panel. This sort of thing one could argue doesn't make much of a conscious impact and I would concur; where it does count is on the subconscious level, and it is there were the 'humanity' of a comic stands to grab the reader. In how a character grabs a coffee mug, in how a panel lacks vertical borders to signify a sort of surreal timelessness, when a panel crops out the eyes of a character uncomfortably... it's there that a comic is telling a story visually, in these sort of choices. Not when you just draw supermodel super-cool, super-blaze anime chicks with guns just being their super-cool selves from panel to panel.

Or maybe I just tell myself this to excuse my inability to draw like one of these amazing deviantart 19-year-old illustrators! "It's the story that matters, it's the story that matters!" heh.

The experimentation isn't without it's toll however. The trick with the pavement falling in the darkness just upsets reader flow from rightwards to downwards. It is not without some merit as it signifies the 'plunge' towards the sad ending of the comic, but at the cost of what, making the reader skip three panels, one of them the most important of the whole comic? Nonsense. Not a good bit of storytelling there. The 'towards a lonely, predetermined path' panel is the focus of the comic for me and whereas the text talks of a sad determinism, it is juxtaposed with a picture of rooftops and sky and with a wide, clear border signifying that perhaps that is not as sad a road that will follow (an expectation I upset with the ending). To make my reader skip that panel by mistake is just self-defeating, heh. Also looking back at it it would be best if that panel simply lacked a border completely, just was bordered by pure white.

Last panel is mirrored, I think the 'photoshop shortcut' here serves a valid artistic end, which is more than what I can say for a lot of strips I did after this where it was mostly a matter of tiredness or boredom!

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this one, if it's successful or not for you and what could be done to make it better. It might be old but it's one of these comics that I still am happy with so critique would still be timely.


Oh! I neglected a bit of Greekness to be explained here. She asks herself "did I enter with the left?". In Greece it's considered bad luck to enter a house with the left leg placing the first step. I have no idea why and I don't know if this occurs in other parts of the world, but there you have it.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Collector

When I went to the paper to start doing this I hoped for a degree of healthy feedback and criticism on my work, which has been the context on which I am used to doing art anyway. I hoped both my employer and readers would communicate to me their thoughts on how they think the pages are going. Around a month and a half in (early publication being an especially tender and volatile place to be and all) I began to realize that this wasn't going to happen. My employer seemed to not read the pages besides perhaps a cursory look (the real proof of that is how many spelling errors he let fly -- I am a notoriously bad speller in Greek) and besides friends and family there was zero reader feedback that I was made aware of.

Granted, it might have not helped that I didn't provide any sort of contact info in or around the page and that all a reader who would like to communicate have would be a cryptic 'Helm' at the bottom of the page. I was at the time - in light of how many meaningless e-mails we get every day - endorsing the view that making your reader work for it a bit to communicate with you isn't a bad thing necessarily. I have since drastically revised my views on this particular matter -- hence this blog.

In any case, it became so I felt I was working in flux. Left to nobody's judgment but my own on how things were going, I was also starting to feel the limitations of the format I've chosen (yes, a mere 5 comics in!!). Consider a strange mixture of anxiety over touching the metaphorical ceiling, sadness for feeling completely alone and underappreciated (this particular facet of the emotion would peak slowly over the next 6 months) on it and an odd pinch of sadism against the phantom audience "I will show you, the next comic is not going to be funny at all!... b - but will anybody notice?". But that's a post for the next comic, not this one. This one is funny.

I'm not sure if I did this before or after Chessmaster boy below, heh. They're certainly back to back though. This one has been a bit of a tribute to the pathological psyche of the collector. If you detect some underlying disdain it's because I live in a house with two manic collectors. My dad is heavily into war miniatures and military vehicles while my brother is into scaled model cars of a certain caliber. Literally, a small fortune has gone into their hobbies and I personally - apparently in complete lack of a collector gene - fail to understand the appeal. Furthermore it is clear to me that such an obsession leads to dehumanised relations with other collectors who one treats foremost as 'threats' in how they can outbuy them or get there first on a 'hot piece' they want. Ugh. But my approach is based on understanding and sympathizing when making 'human condition' comics. Cynicism doesn't befit me (and neither should it you, dear reader!) so besides of my stated dislike of this way of life I hope Nectarios comes across as a good guy, even if he's a shut-in and prone to constant daydreaming. I gave him a likable shape just for this, heh!

I like the former-mother's-room in terms of characterization. From the 'KRIEG' poster hilariously juxtaposing with the totally nonthreatening fuzzy ball of introversion that is Nectarios to the suspended Tie Interceptor... you tell much more about your characters if you place them where they live than by pages' worth of wordy exposition.

The Stormtrooper reference, as blatant as it is is one which I personally desired to externalize. I am not a big Star Wars fan or anything, but it's completely annoying to the point of getting unwatchable for me to see them shoot like morons. This is my metaphorical way of punishing them, though I'm sure mister Lucas has retconned an idiotic reason for which they can't shoot straight like I don't know, their targeting hardware inside the mask was early generation and faulty or whatever.

This particular comic is extremely better done in terms of lettering in Johnny's version than the original Greek one. I leave lettering last when I make a comic and that time I was extremely tired and close to the deadline so I just slapped the lettering on there with a fat lazy marker and it... didn't help matters. I think I subconsciously disliked this comic for that exact reason and now is the first time it's ever been easy on my eyes, so I guess thanks, Johnny!


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Cosmic Bummer

I think that one was the third full-pager (I'll post the first four strips I did as one update later on. Didn't seem as notable to update for two strips yet) I did for the paper. As you can see the format changed to slightly fatter than A4 size. These were incidentally drawn at print-size. A lot of comic artists prefer to draw at double (or more) size than the one they end up printing in order to get a tighter, more detailed page. I tend to do this as well for personal projects but for the paper, which printed in a pretty huge size as far as comics go (30 x 36 cm) it would have been very ineffective time-wise to work at 60 x 72. First of all, who has the time to draw practically a painting every time they want to do a comic page and second, given how I put so many panels in a single page, working at actual size insured that the comic was always readable.

This story is a pretty straightforward reversal, but it's the things that happen prior to it that were of interest to me. Basically the exploration of the introvert who for some reason has found success in a specific field. That sort of personality type fascinates me and I write variations of them regularly. In some ways all these teenage angst super-powered tight-wearing people the Americans do also fulfill this archetype and it is there when they used to capture my attention. Spider-man I guess, is the poster boy for this, especially the Ditko original crazy-fingers everybody-hates-me Parker, not the more soap-opera softer one that followed.

Speaking of American superhero comics, the look of this character is a homage to Major Bummer, a comic that ran in the late 90's, written by John Arcudi and penciled by Doug Mahnke, both amazing at their craft. It's a brilliant series of reversals on the superhero stereotype and I urge you to read it if you ever get the chance. The character in question that is similar to Miltos is this one:

If you squint a bit you'll see Miltos wearing a 'Major Bummer' button also. I'd like to stress this is not so much a pop culture reference in spirit as it is a heart reference. I simply loved the comic and did that sort of private homage that I didn't think anyone really caught nor were they meant to, neither did any aspect of the plot rest upon them getting it. More about my hate for pop-culture ridden self-referentiality in future posts. I am sure I won't be able to contain it forever.

Artistically strangely I find this one mostly solid even 3 years after. Only the Mars landscape panel is complete bullshit. What the hell, past Helm, couldn't be arsed to look up photographic references for Mars? Did we send the rovers up there for nothing? Oh well, the rest is alright. I have a fondness of the teary Miltos panel in terms of rendering. It's fun when you get the chance to render cartoon characters as if they have actual volume that occupies 3d space. Slightly unreal also, but if it emphasizes the human qualities of the character, so be it.

The Russian chess-master replying 'your mothers' in broken Russian (I didn't know any actual Russian people to have it cross-checked) is a fortunate pun on 'Mate - mat'. In Russian 'mat' it turns out, is 'mother'. It's great when Babelfish helps you write a comic, you know?

On a final note for this update, a big thank you for the people that left comments in the early entries, I appreciate the support. I'd do the whole pack of the comics with zero comments I think if I had to since they're already drawn and an archive of these should be somewhere on the internet lest I forget they (I) ever existed, but it's wonderful to see friends and strangers come over and give me a welcome. Also Johnny, who isn't doing this 3 years ago but right now, for no money, probably appreciates it too.

- Helm


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Intergalactic Infidelity

That was the second piece I did for the gig, it was made a couple of days after the first but before I made my pitch to the paper, so both of these were not informed of the proper size of the paper's... uh, paper. From the next piece you'll see me adopt a more 'squareish' aspect ratio for the pages to accommodate for the shape of the printed edition.

I have a soft spot for this one though it also suffers from slight untranslatability. For example in the line about M'nnrgh the dodecapus where Kostas threatens to mop the floor with him... the Greek pun is lost as there's an expression we have that literally translates to 'I will beat him like an octopus'. The expression comes from the common fisherman practice of actually beating an octopus against a wall or floor to soften the tissue up before letting it dry. So that doesn't work, sadly.

Also the Ano Liosia location funny is probably lost to non-greeks. Ano Liosia is a very slummy location in downtown Athens, very dirty and cramped and generally an exhibit of all the worst aspects of urban decay. Not the place where you'd expect a spaceport to be built in the heavily 70's affected future that the comic goes for. The Ano Liosia joke is a recurring one as you'll eventually see. For American audiences one could substitute naturally, for New Jersey and have that joke work.

Which brings me to a small discussion of what I had in mind when I was making these: I had the notion that a many-panel comic such as this shouldn't serve just as support for the end-panel punchline, but that every individual vertical strip of this should be a smaller tiered joke in itself. Hence the octopus pun, the 'he's had his eyes on her' for the Yogsothothian entity and the Ano Liosia pun in the third strip. And yes, these were supposed to be 'so bad that they're good' as puns, heh.

Three years from then I find the actual drawing technique quite weak, but I am happy about the conceptual design. Since then I have made many full-page 'funny comics' and I have not strayed from the 'tiered jokes' approach. It seems a waste of space to do a huge setup for a joke that can essentially be told in 3-4 panels without losing any momentum, so why not actually use every 3-4 panels for a smaller joke that builds the atmosphere cumulatively?

The only panel I like in terms of drawing technique is the cross-hatched distraught spaceman one in the beginning of the third strip. It's a good idea to use ink rendering to express emotion rather than just to convey texture and naturalism.

Again, I am indebted to Johnny for putting in the effort in the lettering, like the 'WIFE WHAT are y--' bit or the shaky 'Heelp'. Believe me, if I were to do the new lettering I'd probably have flaked out and just slapped Comics Sans on these and called it a day.



Saturday, August 9, 2008

Meet Babis

This is the very first comic I did for the paper. In fact this and the next one were the ones I showed them beforehand with the concept and got me the gig. Now, being a paid comic artist in an artistically somewhat backwards country like Greece isn't a very dependable idea so I was at the time pretty happy with how the situation developed, even if the paper itself wasn't much to my liking.

As to the comic itself, I still like it though there's a few issues with how it works. It was difficult to come to grips with how lots of panels on a single page work so it's cluttered, though not so much as a few of the comics to come, heh. A word about the translation issues: First of all 'Babis' is a Greek name you'd think fits a slightly naive, perhaps a bit simple, middle-aged male. The reason we don't localize the names is because these comics are meant to be quite 'Greek' not just as in the original language but in terms of culture and effect. So when you see weird names of people or places expect to have to read a small note below the comic such as this explaining what effect I was going for.

Furthermore, the punchline isn't very easily translatable either. In the original Greek version Babis exclaimed that he was the victim of what we call "aposirsi", which is Greek (not sure how often this happens abroad, leave comments if you want to let me know) for when the government offers monetary returns to urge citizens to relinquish their very old vehicles, most of them running on very wasteful and environmentally hazardous engines, for new ones. So Babis is mostly complaining about how his group of savage yet homely rockers have "traded up" for his uncle. I know, the punchline doesn't work as well as it could in English, but eh, the comic still stands regardless. I tried to make every 'strip' of the page funny on its own.

Oh, this is also the first of many times I will thank Johnny for his work, I really love the fontsetting here and it's the comic that initially convinced me someone can do this with fonts instead of just redrawing everything by hand (as I originally thought was the only way to do justice to the lettering). It's clearly computer fonts, but subtle things like leaving in squiggly exclamation marks give it a more human quality. Three cheers for Poland!

Also, it's worthy to say that the whole idea about this comic initially came from this screenshot of a c64 rpg game called Newcomer:

I often am.



Thursday, August 7, 2008

Welcome to Asides-Bsides!

Hello. I am Helm. I am 24 years old, from Greece. Here's a picture of me I enjoy:

This blog will be about comics I have made in the last 3 years or so eventually leading up to what I am doing currently. I do my comics in Greek predominantly, so this blog will be for those that Johnny, a wonderful Polish friend of mine has graciously decided to typographically edit into English. There's a lot of backlog to go through so hopefully updates will be coming once a week or so.

Besides that, there will be occasional posts of comic art, storytelling or drawing theory though that's all up to how much free time I have and what the response is going to be. I also wouldn't hold it below me to occasionally post doodles and so on though that really won't be the focus of this blog at all and if it ever seems to become so do notify me and I shall get on with due flagellation. Naturally all comic page posts will handily be tagged 'comics' so you may be able to browse all the pages later on without any of our babbling.

A few words on the comics you'll be seeing posted here for a while to come now. They will almost exclusively be single-pager, many-panel comics that I did as a pay gig for a greek newspaper for a period of 9 months or so, a couple of years back. The theme of these comics on the strength of which was hired (I will make a more informative post about this later on) was 'humorous, odd stories about people and their obsessions, one person a week'. As you will gradually see - for I plan to post these chronologically - I strayed from that theme... significantly, over time, until my being let go. I am finally currently working on doing a Greek collected edition (called "Ektos Thematos", which is greek for what an essay examiner would write in bright red on top of your paper if you strayed off subject) so I decided it would be worth it to translate them into English for a wider audience while I'm at it. Well, that's not exactly truth there. It's more accurate to say that I was hesitant to do both the collected edition and the English versions for a couple of years because I wasn't sure there'd be an audience for it, but after much goading and convincing by friends, the process is now underway. Johnny is being super-helpful with this because though I can fairly easily translate my work into English, actually going in and re-fonting everything is a huge chore for me as I've spent many hours perfecting these comics and stips and don't really want to bother with them anymore! Plus, I suck at computer fonts and using them well for comics, but Johnny doesn't!

We've translated about 15 of the 40 or so pieces of the collection before we started setting up the blog. When that's all done we will post a handy cbr version collecting all of them, and naturally provide means to get the actual (though Greek) physical edition if anyone feels up for it. Hopefully it'll also be out and about by that time. Then if Johnny feels up to it we might do all my odds and ends comics I've done during that period (hence the name of the blog) which vary wildly in format and length. Who knows, the blog might even catch up to my then current comic activities! One can only dream!

That's it for now! Rather naturally by the time anyone stumbles on to this message there'll be a boatload of comics to read above, so feel free to read the archives and let me know what you think in the comments!