CIP: The Shadows

Oooh boy. This was one for the history books: a brief I couldn’t understand. So the final main project for CIP was called The Shadows, and we were to, well, I don’t really know, to be honest. We were to go in teams to take photographs of somewhere of our choosing, staying in one position each. Then we were to compare our photographs and note any contrasts that were apparent. Things as direct as light vs dark and as abstract as funny vs sad. Then, we were supposed to use this as the foundation for… something. This something was to take the form of a series of posters, sculptures, photographs or a short film. It could also be a narrative, series of contrasts, some sort of concept… Perhaps the point of the brief was to be open-ended. The beyond limits brief gave a large amount of latitude, so it’s not inconceivable that this brief was written in the same vein.

Right from the start, I took the Bill O’Reilly approach of ‘@£$# IT! I’LL DO IT LIVE!!!’, so I went and took some pictures in Brick Lane near the university, went home and tried to find contrasts from which to make… something. I went to some sort of building site/car park/street art thing close to where the art shop Atlantis used to be before it moved in 2015.

Time restraints meant that I didn’t take as many picture as I should or would have otherwise, and not from as many different positions, since I missed the boat to work with a group. Also, as a brown skinned man with a beard in 2016, I was reluctant to spend too much time in one place taking pictures of stuff for no apparent reason, and I’m only half joking there…

I had intended to react to what I saw on site instead of doing the typical thing I do of having a goal in mind right from the start. Perhaps this was more because I had no idea what I was supposed to end up with, but never mind that. When it came to drawing distinctions from the pictures I had taken, I did the best I could and came up with a series of five images that I thought looked quite nice. Now, if you know anything about me, aesthetic sensibility is never number one on my list when it comes to the work I produce. It’s usually something like 1. Function, 2. Cost, 3. Ease, 4. Aesthetics. Now don’t get me wrong, sometimes the order shifts, but functionality usually trumps ‘prettiness’. This time, I was thinking of the final presentation of the work to resemble some sort of gallery showing of photographs, with single word titles under each image. Very minimalist, very provocative. Very hit or miss. So I picked my five, tried to put them through some process which would enhance their visual impact.

Happy face.
Happy Face.
Sad Face
Sad Face
Hungry face
Hungry face
Internet face
Grass... face?
Grass… face?

After that, I had a look at some of the recommended persons of interest mentioned in the brief and realised my error. After looking at JR’s global Inside Out campaign and the trailer for Salt of the Earth, a film about photographer Sebastião Salgado, I realised I’d missed another opportunity to do something big. Fenced in by my inability to realise anything ambitious within my current time constraints, I resolved to create another selection of images with a more mature feel to them. It’s entirely possible that all I ended up with were hackneyed tropes, but you do the best with what you have…

The gallery space would be titled 'Hope'. All of the images would have no titles.
The gallery space would be titled ‘Hope’. All of the images would have no titles.
Yes I know you've seen this one before, but it seems more appropriate for this series than the other one really
Yes I know you’ve seen this one before, but it seems more appropriate for this series than the other one really
Hope 3.
Hope 3. I feel that the colour in the greenery makes me think that the greyscale sky is actually blue. Perhaps I’ve been staring at this screen too long…
Hope 4.
Hope 4.
Hope 5. The most enigmatic of them all. I wont deny this is more fine art than design
Hope 5. The most enigmatic of them all. I wont deny this is more fine art than design.

I feel a black and white colour-scheme gives a stronger sense of urgency and relevance to photography by helping distance it from all the packaging and selfies and whatnot we find ourselves surrounded by these days. (It doesn’t hurt that it usually tends to be cheaper to (re)produce either.) I’m a fan of the Sin City films and comic books and do like the idea of the reduced colour palette of black, white and one or two other colours sparingly used, so I took the opportunity to create some images using that technique, even though I suspect photography as an art-form is at it’s most powerful when it’s authenticity is beyond reproach.

All in all, I’m not sure I met the brief, but we are continuously being told to push the boundaries of the briefs we’re given. Had I not backed myself into a corner with how much time I could devote to this project, perhaps it could have taken on a life of its own. I think I would have liked to have gone quite abstract in the end, simply having my series of contrasts be purely form based.

A brief like this is a lot like that Press Pass brief I had that was mostly graphic design; it’s good to aim high, but for an illustration student to have to judge his photography against some of the worlds best practitioners? Well, who knows. If I’d given myself another week…


CIP: Beyond Limits Final Posters

The rough idea was to have a promotional poster for each concept; one for enhanced smell, sight and mobility. They were to be representative of the technology being out on the market, just after prototyping and trying to get the general public to overlook the unusual appearance of the technology in favour of the benefits it would provide.

First up was the enhanced scent detection technology. Dogs have been used by the police for many years to help in detecting illegal substances ranging from illicit drugs to bomb making materials. They also help track missing persons and convicts on the run, My premise was to take the dogs incredibly advanced nasal capabilities and have them available to law enforcement agencies in some sort of headwear, budget notwithstanding. This would make going through customs a nightmare for smugglers and stop and searches almost a formality. This of course, assumes the spectacular increase in scent detection can be interpreted correctly by the user. We are making that assumption.

If any one was going to be field testing these devices, it would seem logical to give them to customs agents. the government could justify the expense by putting under national security and playing the patriotism card (I certainly did in one of my posters). I chose to visualise the Drug Enforcement Agency  (DEA) in the US as the agency in question using the dog nose helmets since they tend to deploy officers in full tactical armour when the situation arises and the helmet seems more out of place when worn by British customs agents, who from what I can tell, tend to just wear office attire.

The design of the headwear closely resembles a dog nose to represent the technology still being in it’s infancy and scientist haven’t yet found a way to make it work without directly copying the infrastructure of an actual dog’s nasal system.

While conceiving how the nose would fit on the user’s face I did a little collage mock up. The relevance of this is that I can now graduate from the poorly held notion I used to have that collage is for primary school children and accept that collage can be awesome, you just have to start with the right imagery.

Collage can be fun!
Collage can be fun!

As I assembled elements for use in my posters, I became increasingly aware of how long it was taking to visualise the concept. In the end, I had to make the decision to create three posters on the same concept and leave the spider legs and chameleon eyes in developmental phase. This was a great shame, as I was really looking forward to realising the soldier of tomorrow with his great big ogilly-googily eyes. The concept was to be similar to the dog nose, but focus more on special operations soldiers, like the SAS or Navy Seals. the fully articulated chameleon eyes would allow the soldier to look in two directions at the same time, helping prevent ambushes, locating targets of interest, watching multiple targets of interest at the same time, offering things like sight magnification, infra-red and night vision, that sort of thing. Looking around corners without sticking your head around it, the list goes on.

Based on my research into spiders and their uncanny ability to walk on ceilings and stick to glass, I had considered some sort of spider-harness not unlike the one spiderman had at one point in the comic books. Science fiction usually has an impact on science fact, with touch screen technology, virtual reality and all sorts of things we take for granted today having first been imagined in the past. The harness would allow for extreme manoeuvrability in extreme locations, like navigating terrain after an earthquake for rescue operations, cleaning skyscraper windows on the outside with no need for a safety harness, mountain climbing, and so on.

Spiderman! Now with the appropriate number of appendages!
Spiderman! Now with the appropriate number of appendages!

Anyway, back to what I did manage to get done. My first poster shows several DEA agents at an airport terminal processing luggage at an x-ray machine. The poster is designed as a warning to those intending to import illegal goods into America and give them another reason to ‘think again’. It also serves as an advertisement to the american people of the efficiency of the DEA and thusly,  of taxpayer money well spent.

My first poster
My first poster

The second poster plays heavily on American patriotism with the flag in the background. The no nonsense message also plays with the brashness and directness that one can identify Americans with.

'murica! 'nough said!
‘murica! ‘nough said!

The third poster was designed as more of a marketing tool to promote the technology to those who would use it more than to those it would impact. I had originally intended to have some sort of x-ray cut out to show the internal mechanics of how the system works, but it quickly dawned on me that I didn’t know enough about how the dog’s nose works or mechanical design to create the intended visual outcome. I wasn’t able to find any examples of what I was looking for to anchor my work to either. So in the end, I settled for something akin to a presentation graphic that investors might be shown. I do like the simple layout, and yet again, the DEA provided the colour scheme from their logo. I hadn’t intended to appropriate the DEA’s identity like that originally, but after drawing the conclusion that the DEA would be the most suitably equipped to wear the technology and still look mostly normal, it seemed rational to present the technology in use under their umbrella. Even though I just said the last poster was not conceived for public display, since no patents or secrets are given away, it could be used simply to promote how advanced the DEA are, both to potential criminals and to prospective employees.

Third poster
Third poster

All in all, the potential for this brief was limitless. I could have spent the entire year doing nothing but this and still barely scratched the surface. I would have loved to create a sleek video package to advertise something, or made a 3d render using something like cinema 4d. It was my great misfortune that this brief came after Christmas and not before. It could have had a significant impact on my overall engagement with the course this year, which, basically, fell off a cliff some time in March. Alas! Alas! What could have been! Still, I did end up with three A1 posters and I did realise some of what I’d hoped to. And finding out that collage can be cool is something I’m going to take with me to the grave. Along with where I hid the bodies.

CIP: Sensory Design: Beyond Limits

Another core project for Creative Industry Practice was called Sensory Design: Beyond Limits. The idea was for us to reimagine a body part or sensory organ or something like that to enhance human abilities beyond the norm. I immediately thought of the bad guy from Wild Wild West, the western with Will Smith in it from the 90s. The bad guy had no legs. Well actually, he had 4 legs, since he was a mad inventor who had a wheelchair which had 4 spider-like legs. I also thought of the video game series Deus Ex, which is set in the near(ish) future where one can augment oneself with cybernetics in the same way one can undergo plastic surgery now.

Wild Wild West with Will Smith and Kenneth Branagh.
Wild Wild West with Will Smith and Kenneth Branagh.

I was intending that my enhancements be surreal and intimidating, like those spider legs. One of my first ideas was some kind of mask that would incorporate hearing aids and eye enhancements to help people who are deaf and/or blind. I wanted it to look like some cross between an Iron maiden and a serial killer’s hockey mask. Unfortunately, in conceptualising the idea, the mask didn’t really need to cover the nose or mouth at all. It’s very interesting to note the importance of getting the idea out of your head and into the real world and seeing if it survives the process.

'When Captain America throws his mighty shield!' Not very intimidating mask which allows the deaf to hear and the blind to see.
‘When Captain America throws his mighty shield!’ Not very intimidating mask which allows the deaf to hear and the blind to see.

Thinking back to the spider legs, I liked the idea of human modifications conceived by a computer. Or perhaps, simply a rational mind unhindered by conventional aesthetics. Human beings have been functionally the same for thousands if not millions of years, so how about some upgrades? looking at some of the most successful examples in the natural world, how about a man with spider legs, a chameleon’s eyes, a dog’s sense of smell and so on.

Sketch book page with my chameleon eyes. They offer a good mix of practicality and looking downright ridiculous.  Some people used to think Batman looked ridiculous too. Then he made Hollywood all that money...
Sketch book page with my chameleon eyes. They offer a good mix of practicality and looking downright ridiculous. Some people used to think Batman looked ridiculous too. Then he made Hollywood all that money…

I then researched those specific examples and started thinking about the benefits one would get from those abilities; who would actually fund research and development and who would find real world applications for them? If history has taught us anything, it’s that nothing speeds up technological advancement like a good war (which is any oxymoron, to be sure). Or to put it another way, if you’re looking for the most advanced technology, try looking at the military. Any sensory enhancement could prove exceptionally useful to a small crack-team of military commandoes deep behind enemy lines on a covert mission. Enhanced eyesight would allow for more accurate tactical observation and target acquisition over longer distances, enhanced smell could help with bomb detection, identification and disposal and enhanced hearing: to avoiding patrols, gather more intelligence and so on.

Having considered my content, it was time to pick a form it should take. We were given a list of options to choose from including several posters, some sort of sculpture, a short film or something else. I decided to go with the posters since they were far bigger than I would have liked them to be, but overcoming the logistical challenge of getting them made would prove useful in the long run.

In the next post I will discuss the poster designs. See you then.

Duke of Uke: My GIF

Although I’ve never desired to throw myself head first into the deep end of animation, I had always fully intended to dip my toes a little, so, naturally, making my first GIF seemed like a good way to get a feel for animation techniques without needing a dedicated team of staff to animate around the key frames. Heaven forbid I ever do it all myself! I went online and searched for GIFs and how to make them. After watching quite a few of them, I decided it was essential to have a GIF that looped in on itself.

I had intended to use the crow-man mascot as a key character and wanted to take the opportunity to use my inherent illustration style, which isn’t always visible in my work (at least how I perceive my ‘style’). I figured the crow should play a ukulele to a small gathering of people, promoting inclusiveness and fun and all that, and that, as he was playing, the camera would go down his throat and all the way at the end of the tunnel would be the original scene of the crow-guy playing the ukulele to a small gathering of people.

It was something of a gamble going in for this. Simple knowledge of photoshop will familiarise you with the concept of layers, which when I explain what they are, I usually compare them to the acetate layers used in traditional hand drawn animation. I presumed, with my moderate knowledge of the program, that I could use that infrastructure in such a way, and after establishing the key frames, as one does in animation, fill in the gaps in movement using photoshop’s opacity options as a makeshift light-box.

My assumptions bore fruit and I was able to end up with a GIF which was not so far off what I had imagined in my head. It is worth noting that in photoshop, solid foundations bare the heaviest loads; the way I constructed the characters and applied block black was not optimal. As a result, I had to redraw several key frames to facilitate the slight movements I had planned. And as always, failure to ensure that you’re working on the right layer at all times will lead to disaster.

I had always intended that the GIF be black and white, perhaps with a hint of red for the bow tie. This would have suited the existing representations of crow men on the Duke of Uke website. I believe it also dramatically simplified the corrections I had to make when something needed to be redrawn. It would have been great to offer a full colour alternative, since presenting a variety of options is good professional practice, but there’s what you want to do and what you have the time and skill to do before the deadline.

At the end of the project, Matt and Paul from the Duke of Uke came into the university to see what all the students had done. After seeing mine, they gave me some helpful feedback. Firstly, the frame by frame speed was perhaps too long and should be shortened. Matt said that he was really looking forward to where this thing was going to end up, once the camera went down the crow’s throat, but was a little disappointed to see it just loop back on itself. To the first comment I would reply that I animated the whole thing out of photoshop, so I suspect my frame by frame options were more limited than if I had animated it in another program. That said, since photoshop is one of the core programs I use, I reason it was worth using this old war horse in a new way, for my own future reference. Of course, I’m not against changing the speed or anything, you can only do your first thing once, right? As for  Matt’s comments, I had really only conceived of the GIF as a technical test. The core parameters for success were that the animation frames were all in the right order and that it looped back on itself seamlessly. His idea that it should lead somewhere else opens up the possibility of turning the GIF into a series of sorts, with the destination always being different, like linking to a new product on sale, or to the same scene, but with variations, like more crow guys, or more people in the crowd.

My Duke of Uke GIF
My Duke of Uke GIF

The absenteeism which plagued some other projects took its tool here as well. Had I been present regularly, I would have been able to make those improvements instead of just talk about them. I still can, of course, but just not in time to be marked on them.

All in all, a very useful, enjoyable project, which helped me achieve one of the primary goals I had, when I enrolled on this illustration course: to do a little animation and not die of exhaustion in the process. This is definitely something to revisit in the future.

The Duke of Uke: Introduction

Duke of Uke is a ukulele shop in East London which has been conducting its business in it’s current form since 2005. We students were tasked with producing something to celebrate their 10 year anniversary. We were to create a window display, animated GIF, series of images for Instagram, or something else which I can’t remember. 

The Duke of Uke shop
The Duke of Uke shop

We went to the shop and listened to shop-owner Matt and in-house designer Paul talk us through the history of the business, ukuleles in general and some of the core design elements they incorporate in their public image. Chief among them was a 1950’s crow mascot (which may or may not have had underlying racist connotations. I find racism is like bad kerning; once you’re aware of it, you start seeing it everywhere, and I did just finish writing an essay which delved into race politics, but I digress.) I wanted to use the crow-man in my work, since I gravitate towards illustrating people and focussing on form more than colour or pattern. Then we all the left the shop for some communal idea generation up the road at the university.

Two Black crows. Does this reinforce subtle (or not so subtle) undertones of racism? Let's say no, since I used it as reference and all my friends of multi-national cultures and backgrounds will be so disappointed if using this image makes me racist too.
Two Black crows. Does this reinforce subtle (or not so subtle) undertones of racism? Let’s say ‘no’, since I used it as reference and all my friends of multi-national cultures and backgrounds will be so disappointed if using this image makes me racist too.

One of my fellow students struck on the brilliant idea of telling a fictional history of the ukulele, using famous paintings such as the colonial Americans meeting the native Americans for the first time and exchanging ukuleles, as well as parodying the Lincoln/Calhoun portrait by having a ukulele in it. Naturally, all heads would be replaced with crow heads. It was a good idea, and no artist worth his salt is above stealing good ideas, but I didn’t want to rip him off (firstly, he’d do a better job with it than me and secondly, he’s my friend, so that would just be a dick-move), but like I said, it was a good idea. I decided to play around a little with very quick mock ups, I did one of Lincoln just because the irony of sticking another head on John Calhoun’s body was just too good to pass up, but then I veered off into parodying famous musical album covers. Actually, I think I only did the Beatles Abbey Road one…

My crude Lincoln mock-up
My crude Lincoln mock-up. They say Lincoln’s head was painted on top of an existing portrait of John Calhoun, to create a ‘heroic’ portrait of ol’ honest Abe.
dou blog 2
The Beatles, but not as you know them…

I wasn’t especially inclined to continue this line of inquiry, so I dropped it. While I make a (lifelong) habit of referencing the work of others through parody and laugh in the face of copyright law and it makes sense, as teaching customers to play cover versions of famous music is a part of what the Duke of Uke offers, even I balk at taking references from the music industry. #shiver# 

At this point I had decided that the outcome I wanted to move towards was to create a GIF, so I went of to do some research in that area.

But that is a tale for another day…

Grafik Takeover: My ‘Zine’

The other part of the Grafik takeover was to create a ‘zine’ using content from Grafik’s website. Being obtuse when it comes to graphic design and what it has to do with me, the majority of my time working on this zine was spent being conceited. I spent years telling people that I had no interest in doing a graphic design degree, just like I had no interest in animation (more like no interest in doing the animation) and now, here I was doing an editorial task where I was effectively relegated to layout design. As an illustrator on an illustration course, I felt more than entitled to drag my feet with this, especially since this was my first visit to Adobe Indesign since the book I made last year.

I decided to pick several letterform articles to use for the content of my zine, half because looking at the letter at such a scale that it ceased being a grain of sand on the beach and instead became a skyscraper, made me consider how much effort can actually go into designing a typeface, and half because it was the first suggestion on the brief.

I went looking for the most bizarre looking letters I could find, to really emphasise the letter as the focal point of each spread. It’s funny how little I know about design (and funnier how little I bother to pick up). There are no doubt conventions that are routinely applied in the production of graphic design, but being unaware of any that aren’t strictly speaking, common sense, I decided to pursue a minimalist approach to the layout. (Also, from quotes I’ve heard, but can never remember properly, the ‘best designs do the most work with the least elements’ or something to that effect.) Every letterform would be massive and accompanied by only the title of the article and the body copy. No other elements. I didn’t want to play it too safe, so I went with white font on a black background. Using solid colour as the background hasn’t worked out well for me in the past, but I wasn’t convinced that it was an entirely futile endeavour. I spent some time trying to pick an appropriate font, and settled on Futura. It has a weight to it which helps it stand out in white on a coloured background. I also like the relative scale and density of the letters. 

One of my spreads. Note the subtle symmetry.
One of my spreads. Note the subtle symmetry.

Honestly, the only thing I felt enthused about doing was the cover page, since I was effectively naming and marketing the zine. I showed my work in progress to our resident designer Sarah Boris and Angharad and they gave me some feedback on font types, colour schemes and other considerations.

Designers On Design. Issue 1. Coming to a store near you never.
Designers On Design. Issue 1. Coming to a store near you never.

Sarah really helped me bring together the cover. It should be interesting to see how the publication is taken as a whole, should I ever witness anyone flicking through it. I looked at some random magazine layouts online, to get a sense of where my design was in the grand scheme of things. While I had been particular about my placement of elements in relation to each other, I can’t claim to have used an extensive grid system. Nor could I, with so few elements. My colour pallet is unorthodox to be sure, but if now is not the time to experiment with such things, when is? I have the rest of my life to be boxed in by clients saying ‘I want this’ (pointing at someone else’s work), ‘but in red.’ I tried to keep an eye out for orphans and widows and eliminate them with extreme prejudice. (Of course I’m talking about one word lines of text at the top or bottom of paragraphs, not people, but I wanted you to be unsure about that for just a little while.) The extreme prejudice part I should redact as well. It was more like mild disinterest. I did actually alter at least one column of text to remove a widow though, so yay me.

Another spread
Another spread

The back cover was intended to be reserved for the local printers who had offered to print all of our studio’s zines in exchange for free advertisement. While the initial conversation I had with them as one of the studio’s representatives went very well, and most students did end up getting their zines printed, my sporadic attendance resulted in me missing out. As a result, my back page is slightly different and you will either think it very clever or utterly asinine depending on whether you are me or not.

The back page of my zine. Like I said, you either like it, or you're not me.
The back page of my zine. Like I said, you either like it, or you’re not me.

The process of readying the indesign document for print has not been an enjoyable one and I do wonder what I would do If the internet wasn’t full of people who’ve already gone through the disasters that confront me. A prime example would be the alarming amount of difficulty it took to even produce a PDF where the black I had used throughout my entire zine would actually show as the same colour it was in the Indesign file. And we’re not talking about CMYK vs RGB or anything, we’re talking about black. There’s a sketch from an old TV show called the Fast Show that comes to mind, so it’s time to move on.

Sketchbook page considering cover treatments
Sketchbook page considering cover treatments
Another sketchbook page. Not only did I cleverly work a Prinny joke in there, I had to redact someone's contact details off of it. It's like all my Christmas's have come at once...
Another sketchbook page. Not only did I cleverly work a Prinny joke in there, I had to redact someone’s contact details off of it. It’s like all my Christmas’s have come at once… because redacting is awesome. Take that Freedom of Information Act!

Graphic design is a school of study in it’s own right. It has it’s own principles, sensibilities, history and purpose. It always bothers me when I’m supposed to learn about another school of study than the one I signed up for. Especially due to my woeful lack of knowledge when it comes to the school of study I did sign up for. I understand the course is helping ground all its students with a solid knowledge-base in all sorts of things, but I can’t help but feel being a jack-of-all-trades will simply leave me a master of none. Being just as good as the next guy, or 10,000 other people applying for the same position, doesn’t help me stand out, now does it?

An unfair claim to lay at the door, when the course made no secrets about its content and delivery? Perhaps, but It’s almost time to have that awesome portfolio that knocks people off their chairs while looking at it, and I’m not seeing it happen.

The irony of all this is that editorial work is effectively just taking stuff that already exists and repackaging it; the hard work has already been done. This was not a time or effort heavy project that required months to compile and present. Honestly, I like what I ended up with and I did get to play around with the cover quite a bit.

The technical difficulties of creating hi-res images from the tiny files on the website was an issue for me as well. This is the problem with relying on the internet all the time. Not every solution some random guy puts on a forum is the right one for you.

I also had to reprint the finished zine twice, since the purple printed considerably darker than it appeared on my computer screen. And that is the most important lesson to be gleaned from the whole experience: never expect it to all go right the first time. Give yourself time to account for unforeseen difficulties, technical hiccups and have some wiggle-room in your budget to get past all that stuff.

Grafik Takeover: Take 5

After completing our manifestos, we were to prepare for our ‘takeover’ of the design website Grafik. Angharad Lewis, one of the core staff in our studio who also, conveniently enough, works on the website, had intended the students to create two end goals: an editorial ‘zine’ using existing articles on the website and also pitch ideas and then create our own articles for the website.

Since I stalled with the first project while I did the second, let’s talk about that one first. We were asked to pitch three ideas for articles to Angharad based on the pre-existing article categories on the website. We could try to commission a designer to write a short piece on a letterform, logo, cover-shot or something along those lines that interested them, or personally write an article about an up and coming talent .

My three suggestions went in order of safety, safest first. I started with the obvious, suggesting contacting any of the professional designers assisting our studio to write a letterform, logo or whatever, article. Then I suggested writing an article on an up-and-coming illustrator who goes by the name of Certain Streeks. (Who lives here)

A screen-grab of Certain Streek's website.
A screen-grab of Certain Streek’s website.

I was aware that his style might be an odd fit for Grafik but looked at it as an opportunity for them to diversify. Thirdly, I suggested some sort of list of ‘graphic novels everyone must read’. As I explained this idea , Angharad suggested using the ‘Take 5’  format already on the site, where writers, you guessed it, talk about five things with a common theme, however specific or vague that may be. I thought this idea to be the least likely to gain traction, since comic books are rarely talked about as actual graphic design, you know, in the same sentence as the Bauhaus, or even in the same book.

Angharad decided to go with the ‘five graphic novels for everyone’ suggestion. I think I had already made a presentation on Maus and possibly Persepolis at that point, so it might have been obvious I wasn’t just going to list a bunch of Batman comics (and don’t get me wrong, from Arkham Asylum to Year One, there’s plenty of Batman that I recommend, just not to everyone). I wrote some rough copy using a phrase somewhere along the lines of ‘ for those who don’t want to get bogged down in capes and spandex’ which I think helped my case immeasurably.

The entire point of the article was to bring attention to the medium and its potential for involving narratives (which there is clearly no shortage of a market for, looking at how TV series are doing right now). The combination of image and text is simple to understand, can be visually striking, but you can also have subject matter as complex as you like. Just because there’s that dude with the pointy ears and that other one who can fly, doesn’t mean that they are the be-all and end-all of the medium. The fact that most of the books I put on the list were actually available to borrow from the design library of the university shows that at least someone else out there shares my belief that these comics have worth as a reference point to professional designers, or designers in training, at least.

After the words came the pictures, so I contacted Gosh Comics in Soho to see if they would be amenable to me photographing their versions of the graphic novels in question. They were, so I did. Unfortunately, the lighting in the store and the stiffness of some of the book’s spines made high quality photography a little too difficult for someone who photographs as intermittently as me. I bought all the graphic novels that I didn’t already own and finally picked up the full set of Transmetropolitan, my favourite comic book series ever, and went on my way.

Persepolis's spine was too robust to allow me to photograph the pages without having my hands in-shot.
Persepolis’s spine was too robust to allow me to photograph the pages without having my hands in-shot.

The gloss paper of the Sandman comics plus the nature of the in-store lighting combined to screw up my pictures.
The gloss paper of the Sandman comics plus the nature of the in-store lighting combined to screw up my pictures.

It was at this time where my attendance was, let’s just say, a little choppy, so I emailed what I had to Angharad, she agreed with my concerns that the photography needed to be redone, so I redid it at home, with natural lighting (and a little less concern about getting in the way of paying customers), sent the new photos and resent the copy for the article, which apparently didn’t get there the first time, and, er, went about fighting crime in my underwear instead of attending university for a while.

Luckily for me (and you), Angharad published what I sent her and now you can check to see if your favourite non superhero graphic novel is on the list here. Hopefully we can all agree that the images in the article are a little more polished than my first attempts.  

In a year full of missed deadlines for me, at least I managed on several occasions here to say ‘I’ll have it to you on Wednesday’ and actually get it done and delivered on Wednesday.

Despite my lacklustre attendance towards the end, this was a very enjoyable experience for me (and not just ‘cos I got to buy a S#@t-tonne of comic books). I picked the Press Pass studio to ‘unlock my inner wordsmith’, as the studio selection presentation advertised, and while you’ve no-doubt noticed from the average length of my blogposts, it could afford a little more time behind bars, writing is something I enjoy doing, probably more than art, actually. In this project I got to write about something I have a genuine interest and passion for, hopefully share that interest and passion with others, fight for a cause and buy a S#@t-tonne of comic books. And also dubiously claim to be a published writer.

The opportunity to do some photography is always welcome. It helps me appreciate the length professionals go to, to ensure they get the best lighting, composition, subject material and clarity in their work. You know, I can’t help but think that, one day, someone might run an educational course on that. Wouldn’t that be something?  On top of all that, this might have been the first time in my life I actually imported photographs into photoshop to like, y’know, edit them? To use them later as photographs?. I’ve had photoshop for years. It’s my core illustration tool and here I am, messing around with colour saturation and contrast and whatnot. I know, right? Madness.

Also, go check out Gosh Comics. They sell comics. And, oh boy, will you go ‘Gosh!’ when you see how many. Once you’ve read my list, you’ll have at least five books to pick up, so on your bike, I say! And yes, sigh, they do sell Batman…