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The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics

I’ve been drafting chapters for a comics craft textbook and also rethinking my co-taught ENGL-ARTS Making Comics course for spring term, both of which have me experimenting with image-text art. Not all image-texts are comics and not all comics are image-texts, but the overlap in the center of that Venn diagram is massive. I’ve been particularly intrigued by the possible ways words can be incorporated into images, which has led me away from most comics conventions (thought balloons, talk bubbles, caption boxes, sound effects) and into what I think of as poster art–or at least single-panel comics (which by some scholarly definitions, including my own, isn’t a “comic”). I created the above art over winter break. It’s titled “nevertheless” and combines three generations of feminist imagery. It’s hard to be sure, but I think that’s FEMEN leader Inna Shevchenko being arrested in the background.

In case it’s of interest to anyone, here’s my process:

STEP 1: Select a photograph of members of the Ukrainian activist organization FEMEN striking a 1940s Rosie the Riveter pose.

STEP 2: Isolate one figure and white-out everything but outlines, then eyes, nose, and mouth. I work in Word Paint because I’m an idiot and also because there’s something appealing to me about its pixellated simplicity–the digital equivalent of wood-cutting.

STEP 3: Experiment with words.STEP 4: Experiment with the female symbol that represented feminism in the 70s and 80s.STEP 5: Flip the image (because the original Rosie faces right) and add the word “nevertheless” to evoke Senate Majority Leader McConnell’s silencing of Senator Elizabeth Warren last year: “Sen. Warren was giving a lengthy speech. She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”STEP 6: Experiment with placement and negative space.

STEP 7: Try it in pink (because of the Women’s March)

STEP 8: Try it with flag stripes (because America).

STEP 9: Simplify.

And that’s probably where I should have stopped. I’d say that’s a fairly decent poster image, and if you like it, feel free to use it (I’ll even email you the artwork). But then I got another idea …

STEP 10: Try overlaying it onto protest photographs.

STEP 11: Go in a completely different direction.

STEP 12: Try historical photos instead.STEP 13: Think that you’ve settled on a “Votes for Women” c. 1904-14.STEP 14: But then have your artist friend Carolyn Capps look through your drafts and pick this one as the best. Carolyn liked how the flying background hair becomes the hair of outline face too, and how the cop’s hand seems to be on her neck, with his thumb pressing her throat. And how his holstered baton ends the image in the bottom right corner–which is how comics artists think too. Since comics juxtapose images, “nevertheless” is also a comic. But instead of placing images side-by-side, it combines its five elements in layers: Rosie the Riveter figure, female symbol, “nevertheless,” U.S. flag, and the photo background.

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