Cartoonist Edie Everette is working on a comic book commissioned by Public Art 4Culture and the Local Hazardous Waste Management Program. Exploring the relationship of hazardous materials to public health and environmental quality, Edie is deep in the research phase of the project. In this second guest blog post, originally published by Pyragraph, Edie shares a behind-the-scenes look at her design process.
The preliminary sketches I had worked on for weeks are not what the panel wants. Don’t you hate that, when you are in shock yet at the same time thinking ‘I’ve got to be mature, I can’t let them see how confused I am!’
I mean they love the color and the humor, but this commission is supposed to be a comic book – and I am a cartoonist. It sounds simple enough to get around but it isn’t. A comic book uses sequential art – multiple panels – to tell a story in time whereas cartoons are single panel gags that occur in one moment. I brought a stack of cartoons – ‘vignettes’ if you want to get all euphemistic about it.
I tried to sketch out a comic book story but the results were so phony I couldn’t handle it. Because I was out of my single-panel comfort zone I was uptight and created what I thought a story ‘should’ be – a cerebral approach that makes all Muses run for their lives.
My panel’s latest suggestions include wanting me to use some stories (i.e. sequential art), wanting me to make the comic book a springboard instead of a bible (I had jammed in a ton-o-facts), and wishing that I show more than tell (this rule doesn’t only apply to writing!). They told me a few months back that they prefer the work where my images tell the story – but I got side tracked into my usual ‘making more makes me a better person’ mode. My favorite part of the meeting was near the end when the Project Manager looked at me with a pained smile and said “don’t be afraid of leaving space on the page,” and I looked back at her as though my finger was getting sawed off but I couldn’t show it.
I took what the panel said to heart and I took notes. Deep into my discomfort zone, I now take midnight walks with no radio on, inviting the Muses to come. And they do! They deliver images that I describe into my phone’s voice memo app.
In one story I ‘saw’ while walking, a man who had been using weed killer from a spray bottle has a household hazardous waste epiphany and purchases a stand and step-on weeder. Over time (as Scott McCloud writes in Understanding Comics, “…space does for comics what time does for film!”) using the manual weeder causes the man to go from flabby to buff, a physique that is rewarded in the last panel by his partner’s delight. I won’t draw what happens next as this is a family book.
In another vision my cartoon alter ego stands at a sink about to pour solvent down a drain. She has a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other, and behind each of them are long lines of people who via distance turn into little dashes that head up into the sky where they align to create a giant pair of eyes.
I am having fun! This book can be art! As poet Theodore Roethke would say, I am learning by going where I have to go. It’s scary, but who wants to go where they’ve already been creatively? I am on a crash course that feels like Evelyn Wood Speed Reading Dynamics adapted for comic book making. It doesn’t matter anymore that I have Garrison Keillor’s voice in my head saying, “If you can’t tell a story don’t write.” I am doing this and it’s finally me.