Posts Tagged ‘art’

It’s rare, but occasionally, even on the Internet, I stumble upon something that seems almost beyond description.

In the beginning of our digitally literate journey, we had to do some digging and discover what exactly it meant to be digitally literate. If we had to dig deeper and find something, like an online class, that perfectly embodied putting what digital literacy is into practice, it would be ds106.

digistorytellin Photo CC-by digistorytelln

Digital Whosawhatnow?

Digital storytelling. In a nutshell, without Wikipedia’s help, digital storytelling is the usage of all mediums of technology both audial and visual: written, filmed, recorded, drawn, photographed, read, etc. for the sake of telling one’s life story and sharing one’s life experiences. Each and every one of us is on a journey, and no two are ever the same. We feel a basic need as human beings to connect with one another – how better than to swap stories, even if by non-conventional methods?

ds106 is an open source, open-enrollment online course, originally offered at the University of Mary Washington and now available as a drop-in, drop-out, all resources available online course. No enrollment fee, no grading, all it takes is some participation, and a hell of a lot of creativity.

Something in me is inherently leery about something this open. Where’s the catch? All these resources, all these testimonials at my fingertips. I’ve been here before. “Hear our glowing customer testimonials!” “See what others think!” Page after page of falsified reviews and bogus claims give the Internet and I a love-hate relationship.

The thing is, I see no reason to disbelieve. All over the place there are videos offering reviews / advice to oncoming students about the class. Everywhere you look: Twitter, Gravitar, YouTube, WordPress, you see the real work of real people as they try to flex their creative muscles and learn a thing or two about technology in the process. As an educational tool, this is the real deal.

opensourcedotcom Photo CC-by opensource.com

Talk Techy to Me

I’ve made the analogy several times already that creativity is a muscle, but it’s something I truly believe. Use it or lose it – great ideas are good, but they benefit no one trapped inside your head!

Scam or no scam, cult or no cult, aliens or no, ds106 wins in my book for two reasons.

  1.  Promoting Digital Literacy
    1. A huge part of ds106 is learning how to tangle with the Internet’s different beasts: Twiter, YouTube, Gravitar, WordPress, Facebook, Internet Radio, Flickr, video manipulation software, photo editing software, etc. all are part of the many various creative assignments offered by ds106. In order to participate, you’ve got to be ready to tackle some serious tech. This is a great way to introduce those unfamiliar or leery of some of the many services offered online: I was the type of person to scoff at both blogs and Twitter feeds until I was forced to maintain ones of my own.
  2. Creativity
    1. “Storytelling”. That’s the focus of the class. It just happens to be digital. ds106 offers an untold number of different ways to put your creativity into practice. Writing prompts about fanfic characters? Check. Conversations with celebrities using soundboards and audio editing software? Check. Photography exercises focusing on colors? Check. Creation of old-school, 50’s style educational videos in favor of a topic of choice? Check. The possibilities here are nearly limitless. There are even assignments focused around creating animated GIF images, and if that’s not outrageous enough, there are 3D Printing based assignments. Holy hell.

The applications for this class, to me, transcend the bounds of education. Teachers who are passion-focused or looking for ways to hack education: this is it. Students learn practical / new skills, students learn (and tell us) about themselves, and students are allowed to be creative and kept from doing needless busywork. Hell yes. For others, it’s a great crash-course in Internet-ing. For others still, it’s a good chance to experiment with different forms of creative expression.

So, it’s a free, open-source, do-as-you-please class where all the material is available online, the assignments are all open to tweaking, and you’re heavily encouraged to share your work with others and network with people about what you’re doing and what you’re learning?

Sounds like digital literacy 101 to me.

Ex nihilo

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So, I do my best to make a weekly blog post that sort of “reviews” my latest find in the world of graphic novels. In a true example of applied learning, I got to thinking about alternative means that graphic novels (or comics) are published. Marvel offers a subscription service titled “Marvel Unlimited” that lets one read nearly their entire catalog for only $10 a month. My Kindle is loaded with comic books.

Recently, the most funded Kickstarter campaign of all time was headed partially by the artist at The Oatmeal, which got me to thinking about how web comics and art as a medium on the Internet seems to be growing exponentially. This week, ashamedly, I didn’t make the time to pick up a new graphic novel.

But I did catch up on some of my favorite web comics.

92419582_ba92b71876_o Photo CC-by Roadsidepictures, tangentially relevant, and absurd

Why Web Comics?

I know a lot of people who aren’t familiar with web comics as a medium, or don’t take them very seriously. Granted, the freedom of the Internet means that anyone can get on and share extremely poor work, but self-publishing is a genuine vessel for success. I’ve done it, and I’ve worked with dozens of others who have as well.

The fact that the Internet is free range tends to make most people write independent artists, authors, and musicians as instant hacks. You haven’t heard of them before, they haven’t achieved commercial success – so why bother? This is an incredibly narrow scope. The Internet is a tool to be used for good or evil, all it takes is a little digging to find the good.

As I stated above, web comic artists are on the rise. Many of my favorites that I follow have several novelized versions of their strips out for purchase – which makes it a graphic novel. There are no shortage of tones, themes, or subject matters to be found even in web comics. Want funny? Dark? Nerdy? No problem. Many of these mediums are single-shot, updating weekly with strips that may have no continuity between one another. Others are long, sprawling plot lines, or at the very least have gags / plot points that show up time and time again.

Do I still have your attention? If so, I’m going to use the rest of this post to share with you some of my favorite web comics that I follow weekly. I’ll do my best to get some variety in here, a lot of the ones I follow are video game-related because I am a nerd.

11085522084_4a153845f0_b Photo CC-by Drew Brockington, found on Flickr – Internet art!

Four of my Favorites

Penny Arcade – (Warning: Vulgar Language / Humor) Written by Jerry Holkins and illustrated by Mike Krahulik.

As far as web comics go, Penny Arcade may be the most successful in jumping to real-world business. Largely video game, technology, and tabletop gaming themed, Penny Arcade follows (mostly) the exploits of Gabe and Tycho as they offer humorous, often cynical or critical looks at the gaming industry. There are frequently breaks in the humor in favor of Medieval or Sci-Fi one-shot pieces where Holkins flexes his diverse set of muscles. Penny Arcade began as a webcomic and has branched out into the Penny Arcade Expo: a yearly convention where the biggest comic book and game developers gather to show off the year’s hottest releases. PA also started a charity called Child’s Play, dedicated to raising money to provide games and entertainment to children who are stuck in hospitals. PA is an example of comics being taken seriously as a medium through longevity and ambition.

Zen Pencils  – Illustrated by Gavin Aung Tan

Zen Pencils is a strip done by a former graphic designer who was unsatisfied with his job. Tan’s approach is unlike many others: he takes inspirational quotes or poems and puts them in a comic strip form. Literary buffs will appreciate tan’s knowledge of poetry, but he covers all ends of the spectrum with quotes from the likes of Teddy Roosevelt, Henry Rollins (former Black Flag frontman), Bill Watterson (creator of Calvin and Hobbes), the Dalai Llama, and much more. Readers need not worry about following a plot or vulgarity for vulgarity’s sake. Tan’s work is inspirational, heartwarming, eye-opening, and motivational. Plus he has his own collection of recurring characters. Pretty good stuff.

Poorly Drawn Lines(Warning: Vulgar Language) Written & Illustrated by Reza Farazmand

I don’t have many words that can really explain Poorly Drawn Lines. The art style is often simplistic (but not childish), and the jokes are always off-the-wall. Fans of random, absurd humor will be right at home with Poorly Drawn Lines. Jokes are sometimes pointed / critical of society, but more than often are eyebrow-raisers with little underlying meaning. I can’t really describe this. I’ll just show you:

whole-world

Cyanide and Happiness(Warning: Vulgar Language, Humor, and Graphic Content) Written & Illustrated by Kris Wilson, Rob DenBleyker, Dave McElfatrick, and others

Cyanide and Happiness is a webcomic classic. Almost everyone you know has shared a comic of C&N. Initially a project for fun by one person, C&H has expanded to several artists updating weekly strips with often crass, and explicit humor. The art style remains simplistic, but jokes are often pointed, offensive, and highly critical of most components of society. Fans of dirty (yet smart) humor will be right at home with S&H.

There’s no shortage of subject matter to be found in web comics. There’s also no shortage of writing and artistry talent to be found. At the very least, you now know what it is I do when I’m supposed to be being productive.

ars longa vita brevis

I’m not sure about you guys, but I would hardly call myself a fan of modern art. I mean, between Andy Warhol’s neon florescent soup cans and Jackson Pollock accidentally spilling paint onto a canvas, I’m not sure I really grasp the meaning here. Is there even one? Is it one of those lame, modernist takes on “the meaning is there is no meaning, maaaaaan!” Maybe it’s above me.

Or, maybe, as Scott McCloud would have me believe, I’m looking at it the wrong way.

Copyright Jackson Pollock – I call this one, “condiments a la mode” 

The Book

This week, I finished Scott McCloud’s aforementioned “Understanding Comics: The Individual Art,” and the last few chapters dropped some pretty big bombshells on my conventional way of thinking. Just a few heavy-handed bulletpoints that may or may not have anything to do with graphic novels:

  • a single, still picture is a cartoon, not a comic. Comics = sequential art
  • Cultures cut off from the world-at-large tend to develop stylistically independent (like Japan’s manga vs. conventional comics)
  • Creation is a 6-step process, beginning with an idea and ending with the surface of the creation
    • However, the order people take this process in is often non-linear!
  • Comics (or at least cartoons) are an ancient artform, cave paintings and hieroglyphs do count!
  • Human instinct has 2 critical components: Reproduction and Survival. Anything outside of these is… art

I think any teacher hoping to include graphic novels in their courses, even just a few, could stand to throw in a few chapters out of this book. It offers some interesting commentaries on the relevance of cartoons and comics in society throughout different periods of time. Besides that, though, it also offers some interesting perspectives on artwork, and the manifestation of ideas into creative formats.

Regardless of whether or not I think Pollock’s “paintings” count as artwork, McCloud makes an interesting assertion: anything that doesn’t fulfill our primary human functions of surviving and reproducing is art. It’s self expression, even if nothing is being created. McCloud says that if anything aside from our basic animalistic instincts are cutting through, that’s artwork. It’s an interesting and perhaps radical way to look at creativity. This little bit of the book is worth the price of admission in and of itself. Scott has done his research. He’s scoured artists and contrasted their styles, done historical and sociological research, the whole nine yards. There’s a textbook’s worth of knowledge in here, cleverly hidden behind

The Artwork

The six step process of creation, Copyright Scott McCloud

McCloud hides genuine research and good information deep within each line and panel of his book. His art style throughout the book varies wildly depending on the chapter. When McCloud wants the emphasis to be on the information, the art style often takes on an extremely simple look, so we pay more attention to what’s being said. When an emphasis is being placed on the art style, the necessary touches are added; for example, the only chapter of the book to feature any color is a chapter on.. color.

Rather than opt for the lazy way out, when McCloud makes reference to hieroglyphs or the artwork of another famous painter, he does his best to draw these things himself. He emulates the style of other cartoonists (sometimes directly referencing their own panels), and points out the stylistic differences between artists. When discussing the importance of panels and shading, McCloud toys with those particular aspects to demonstrate their importance. The same can be said about most other topics Scott touches on. When he describes the collaborative process between writer and artist, he doesn’t simply opt for panels of himself speaking to us. He shows us:

The Verdict:

McCloud’s book was surprisingly dense for a 9 chapter graphic novel. A little research helped me discover that it’s part one in a trilogy, with the other two dealing with Reinventing and Making Comics. It’s hard to really compress parts of this book down into a blog post, at least for me. McCloud hammers the reader with a wealth of information in an easily digestible format. However, a lot of what he says is augmented infinitely by the panels and drawings that accompany it. It isn’t enough to summarize his points, they have to be seen for one’s self.

Ars longa vita brevis

You know, I’ve never been on “vacation.” Not in the idyllic, get-away to a beach or a cabin in the woods sense. I’ve had time off, and I’ve travelled, but I’ve never been able to just laze about on a beach. It’s a dream of mine to be able to take the ladyfriend and I on a cruise or something like that eventually, but right now the moths in my wallet are starving.

All that being said, Jillian and Mariko Tamaki’s graphic novel “This One Summer” is quite the one-two punch. In a nutshell, it deals with the coming-of-age tale of Rose Wallace and her friend Windy at their summer cottages at Awago Beach.

13948564676_69e3c03e6f_z

Photo CC- by Kim Seng – is this really paradise, or just what we’re tempered to consider paradise?

The Story:

I’ve gotta give it to Mariko Tamaki, I was never a teenage girl, but she nails all the struggles of the transition between being a kid and a teenager / “young adult”. Rose has been going to this cottage with her parents since she was five, but something’s different about this year. The rose colored glasses are starting to crack. Rose’s parents are fighting, her dad is immature, her mom is reserved and on-edge, and her friend, Windy, is a bit immature for her tastes. The book is filled with its fair share of carefree summery fuckery; Rose and Windy take an affinity to horror movies, swimming, the freedom of being able to spend their own money (on candy, but still), but for every carefree moment there are three that are emotionally exhausting.

Rose and Windy (moreso Rose) take a fascination with some local teenagers who run a c-store. They’re your typically crude, bumbling teenagers, but the mysterious of their romances and where their crude behavior / vocabulary comes from fascinates the younger girls. I remember being a kid and incorporating certain.. uh.. explicit words I didn’t quite understand in my vocabulary, and being red-faced when I was caught using them.

Largely, the story tackles the conflicts people come across in their life, despite being in “paradise.” Pregnancy, puberty, relationships, issues everyone deals with one way or another. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the story after I first finished the book. I had to chew on it for awhile. There are some loose ends that are never tied off, but that’s how life is. There is often no answer to the question. It was interesting to peer into the world of a pre-teen girl, though. While the book is by no means “feminist,” it is very new-wave, demonstrating how certain sexist misconceptions get placed into girls’ heads, featuring non-conventional characters (adoptive parents, lesbians, larger women who don’t look like Barbie dolls). The story really has to be read to be appreciated.

Copyright – Jillian Tamaki

The Artwork

This is where “This One Summer” really shone. Jillian Tamaki has made some of the best artwork I’ve seen in a graphic novel to date. Her style consists of some very stylized backgrounds, with some simpler looking characters – a technique Scott McCloud in “Understanding Comics” mentions is often used to make it easier to substitute yourself into the character’s shoes. The colors are very de-saturated, mostly blue line shading that makes the entire book feel like a memory.

Copyright – Jillian Tamaki

And that’s precisely what the book is – a memory. Not just of Rose, but of any of us who have experienced some difficulty coming into adolescence. Tamaki makes frequent usage of some interesting techniques, including crazy shaped speech bubbles, written out sounds in true comic book fashion (click, splash, whif, etc.), and a really great shot of the ocean that, after a page turn, becomes the sky for the next scene.

When it’s necessary, characters are drawn in more fleshed-out detail to add some weight to the seriousness of certain scenes. The artwork of this novel is what kept me page turning, perhaps even moreso than the story. I love it. It’s simplistic enough when the mood is light, like when Windy dances around Rose in what is surely a Calvin and Hobbes throwback panel, but when Rose’s parents (Alice and Evan) are going at it, the detail becomes much more surreal.

The artwork is highly non-conventional in that there are multi-page spreads, often no panels at all, and often entire portions of blank page sectioned off for text. It helps to break up the pacing of what is actually quite long for a graphic novel.

Copyright – Jillian Tamaki

The Verdict

“This One Summer” evokes this feeling from me like there’s so much under the surface that I’m not quite scraping up. It’s there. I know it is. It’s hidden right under the sand. But even just looking at the surface, I enjoyed “This One Summer” thoroughly. I think it would make a great staple for Young Adult lit classes, as well as those looking to break into graphic novels. It’s more serious (to me) than something like Laura Lee Gulledge’s “Page by Paige”, has an art style I’m in love with, and despite having weighty elements, isn’t serious to the point of inspiring depression. I’d say give it a go. It was, after all, one of Dr. Ellington’s favorite books of 2014. 

To close, here’s this:

Aestas

Was that title profound enough? I sure hope so. It is an attention getter, after all.

If you haven’t gathered yet, there’s no real rhyme or reason to when I post. I’m trying to make it at least weekly. Hey, I never said I was perfect. I’m an artist (ugh, did I really just say that?), I’m allowed to be wishy-washy and unreliable. It comes with the territory. I have to wait for my “muse” to visit, even though that’s the perfect way to not get shit done. Also, something interesting that was pointed out to me last time I posted: my blogs take the format of Cracked.com articles. Seriously. Go back and look at all of them. I never even kind of realized this. Now I’m self-conscious.

But I’m gonna keep doing it.


Wikipedia “creative insomnia.” It’s a thing. It’s also scary.

So, publication number seven is in the pipes. The lovely ladies at The Siren’s Call have accepted my newest tale to be featured in their Halloween issue. That’s great! What’s not great is that my tale for Demonic Visions #5 is stuck in my brain and refuses to come out onto the page. What’s also not great is that I still haven’t reached out to any other publishers besides DV or The Sirens Call save one, and I haven’t heard back from that one since August, so I’ve no idea whether to be expecting an acceptance or rejection letter. The realist in me says to expect a rejection one, that way when/if it does come, I’m not disappointed. Sad, right?

My new goal as of late has been to convince my friends around me to give writing a try. If not writing, than some other creative medium. After talking with a lot of them, I find that they’ve got some pretty incredible ideas (that they inevitably claim as suckish), but they’re in the stage that I’m all too familiar with: being afraid of the transfer from mind to medium. It’s painful when you have an idea that glimmers in your head, but upon its placement into a tangible form, it’s nothing like you thought it would be. It’s pretty lackluster, you think. Why did you even bother? I have advice for those of you stuck in this part of the process.

relevant, and awesome

Do it anyway. I don’t care. I don’t care what your reasoning is. I don’t care that you aren’t a good writer, you can’t draw, you can’t sing, I don’t give a single shit – because until you try and fail, you don’t know. You have no right to say these things. After you put your neck on the line and have it mercilessly split, then you can say you “can’t” – but you can’t.
Wait, what? Yeah, paradoxically, by trying and failing, you still completed something, which means you can. So boom. You literally can not can’t. Seriously though, I understand the frustration. It’s scary as hell to try and breathe life into an idea you hold so dear. But hey, as soon as you tell someone else about the idea, it’s already began to grow. It’s already taking a life of its own, so why not help it along? It’s way too strangled in your head. You’ve got too much shit going on in there, anyway. Let it out! Even if it sucks something awful (which it won’t, and if it does, can be revised), it’s still something you made. I feel 3000 times better about myself for writing a shitty thousand word story than I do after sitting and playing Super Smash Bros for the 3DS for two hours.

but guys it’s so awesome holy shit there are so many characters and it’s so cool and and and

I feel like everyone needs a medium of creation. Maybe that’s because I’m a writer and a performer, and it still feels strange to write that sentence. To call myself a writer or a performer, I feel like I’m that guy. Would-be writers, music or otherwise, are constantly updating everyone on their “work” that never seems to appear in a public medium. I’ve written pieces that people have read in newspapers, books, and online. I’ve gotten up on stages and made an ass out of myself. By definition of the words, I’m a writer and a performer. The thing with artsy types is that they don’t like giving themselves those titles. They feel unworthy. Stephen King is a writer, okay? Not you. But that isn’t true. The first step to being a writer, performer, artist, esteemed lord of the mimes, etc. is to admit that you do that thing. At this point, me saying “I’m not a writer” is stupid. “Commercial” success aside, I’ve proven that.

There are some that contend there are just some people that aren’t cut out for self expression. I call bullshit. There are so many infinite mediums to put yourself into that it’s literally impossible to be unable to express yourself. You can make old-school 1930’s style film posters. You can make sculptures out of shit you find at a scrap yard. You could sneeze onto a blank canvas with a bloody nose. I think to claim anyone isn’t cut out for self-expression is a pretty fucking ignorant thing to say. You know what makes people feel insignificant? Elitist assholes telling them to give it up. Life isn’t a movie. Not everyone gets a fire lit under their belly by discouraging remarks. Some people take them to heart, and actually give it up.

Don’t.

gettin’ a little inspirational in here, don’t you think?

nunquam sing Imp