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  • Writer's picturethebyronmcbride

I don't want to get graphic...

...but I have had an obsession with European graphic novels for as long as I can remember. Certainly, M.C. Escher was one of my earliest Artistic influences - the solidity and complexity of his work meshed so seamlessly with my own initial ideals - but it was probably Asterix the Gaul by Goscinny and Uderzo that originally fueled my need to put my own imaginings on paper. It blended history (yes, often loosely) which has always fascinated me, and artwork that North American comics that I read as a kid could not match for detail. The opening panels of Asterix and Caesar's Gift blew my tiny mind! That something like a comic - that I always equated with simple line drawings and jokes up to that point - could bring ancient Rome to life in a way that I'd felt only the more noble Arts (specifically, painting) did was shocking!

Herge's Tintin, a more simple linear execution, still held an incredible level of detail, but, for me, it was perhaps more in the level of detail in the stories that enraptured my young brain that I could not turn off; that was always thinking; creating stories for itself to stop from going crazy. The brochure that Tintin reads on the plane on the way to Syldavia in King Ottokar's Sceptre was an important and interesting detail, but most people would probably have found a way to deposit the necessary background information into a quick speech somewhere rather than creating a plausible travel brochure with the made up country's own artistic heritage included. Where was that in Justice League? Yes, the space station headquarters did make up for a lot there, but still! you didn't get a tour of it! Creating those incredible little details make a story more real, more engaging.

The strong lines of Herge's work led me to a later interest in Tardi's work, in particular the fantastic Adele Blanc-Sec (fantastic in the sense of fantasy - the world needs more rampant dinosaurs, etc! - the stories are a lot like the James Bond novels: where you know as much about what is going on in the story as the protagonist does, often more!). The combination of the strong traditional looking comic line and the somewhat looser counter-culture inspired Art was baffling and intriguing. Much like how I avoided reading Hellboy for years because I couldn't understand why I liked Mike Mignola's heavy handed execution that was so contrary to my own style that was becoming more and more detailed, before finally succumbing and becoming obsessed with it and its liberal use of underappreciated myth. It's because of Hellboy's climatic arc that I finally started working on a painting of the Wild Hunt (it's still in progress).

Tintin gets more interesting (for me anyway) once you discover how much history and the contemporary events in which they were written; King Ottokar's Sceptre is a very thinly veiled criticism of Germany's invasion of Austria - the criticism of Germany would later get him in trouble and radically alter the focus of later Tintin stories, completely dropping the politics. It's a situation that reminds of Botticelli being Artistically curtailed by the madness of Savonarola and the Bonfire of the Vanities centuries before. The environment, the social and political landscape that an Artist works in and is influenced by is interesting and frustrating to me: I've managed to keep myself, or rather my work, isolated from much of the madness of the 21st century by the sheer volume of randomness and ideas that I develop; perhaps to counter the world outside myself, to deal with the impossible situations of the common people.

My feeling is that those alive today know what is going on and those to come probably won't care; the work needs to stand for itself, or risk falling into irrelevance by being unrelatable. That is also kind of ironic coming from myself, as I am not very relatable - my work is obscure and that is a large part of it's appeal, apparently. Not that there isn't a place for showing off your contemporary situation in your Art - you can't help but describe your world to your audience in some fashion, it's literally what Art does. But to be so heavily influenced as to abandon yourself to the whims of the time; that is a nightmare scenario to me. I cannot imagine being in what is essentially a life or death situation simply because of my Art, and yet that is the reality of so many Artists throughout history and today.

Maybe that is the reason for my Art being so isolated: to express what others cannot simply because I can. To dip into the fantastic and whimsical because it is acceptable - and that is something! Calling yourself an Artist and painting such things even back in the 1980s would probably have gotten you a great deal of scorn. You certainly couldn't be a proper Artist, even if you were very successful. Escher wasn't an Artist, he was a Graphic Designer - that was not a compliment at the time Artistically, but he took it in stride and continued on because it was what he wanted to do, for which I am very grateful. Because of the rise of pop culture and many other matters that would take too long to get into properly here (but that are much more important), it's okay to experiment more as an Artist with subjects and the like - it doesn't have to just be landscapes and still lives and portraits to be acceptable: paint Mario riding Yoshi in the style of Napoleon Crossing the Alps by David and it can be proper Art today. There was always so much more to express, but it always had to have a reason or purpose that was commonly understood; at one point you couldn't just write a fanciful story without setting it in whatever country your country thought was weirdest, or implying that you, the author, had heard the story from someone else - because otherwise it was just made up! And who wants to hear some crazy story someone just made up?!

That graphic novels and comics are generally more acceptable in society means more Artistic freedom. That society has become so much more open and accepting generally, allows for ... well, I'm just going to say for me to be influenced by these amazing Artists and use that influence to create my own worlds in my own style: with strong lines and copious amounts of detail (wait until you read the book I'm writing...). But it also allows for so very many good things to happen that we mustn't lose sight of; all of which build a more complete and detailed world to live in, each in our own unique ways that no one else has to fully understand for it to be okay.

As much as I could ramble further, I will keep this one brief and end before I completely stray from my point once again - i don't want to kill off this blog off on the third post. And good writing teaches us to always go with the Rule of Three, and I do not wish to seem unlearned. I stuck to three more popular, and maybe obvious examples of European graphic novels, but they are popular for a reason, and sometimes I want to be a bit more accessible or relatable. Right now, in terms of graphic influences, I am probably most influenced by Japan (especially the sprawling Bakemonogatari series), but I will forever be that boy reading Asterix way too late into the night, scribbling on sheets of loose leaf paper, trying to make my lines feel as real as their lines felt to me then.

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