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The Patron Saint of Superheroes

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

Nesting dolls might be a good metaphor, with medium as the largest outer container, which twists open to reveal technique, which twists open to reveal the tiny center doll of style.

My medium is, as usual, MS Paint. Though officially “deprecated” since 2017, the doddering grandparent of graphics software remains my preference in part because post-Photoshop tech intimidates me, but also because limitations are paradoxically freeing. I use no pre-set or built-in effects. It’s all idiosyncratic invention.

The resulting technique is hard to describe, but it leans heavily on the “Transparent selection” button. I tend to start by scribbling an embarrassingly simplistic sketch of facial features using the touchpad on my laptop on the thinnest “pencil” setting. Next I copy and past layers and layers and layers until the original lines get lost and the image grows thicker and soft edged. I use that new conglomerate image as a filter over itself, creating multiple partial versions, that I then recombine in new layers. Final steps vary, but there’s a lot of scissoring out sections and rearranging pieces, usually with overlapping edges.

Style is even harder to define. I’m told the effect is charcoal-like, but that may have more to do with the oddity of the technique. I also suspect that someone else following the same steps would produce images that look different from these. The style is also emergent, meaning I don’t know what things are going to look like until they start looking like something that I didn’t exactly plan. Someone else might not-plan something that ended up evolving very differently.

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