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The Patron Saint of Superheroes

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

While I was sketching cartoon heads on my laptop during the flight to Delhi in December, my daughter was seated next to me. She leaned closer and said, “Oh. It’s art.”

The final product looks less art-like than the process — an idiosyncratic technique I developed on MS Paint and that I really should film myself performing as my daughter suggested, since it’s hard to explain (each line is actually two lines digitally scissoring the white surface to expose the black underneath).

Since I liked the last of the nine heads above, I tested how well I could recreate it in slightly different poses. That’s the key to creating a recurrence effect for viewers, but without exact recurrence of the lines of the artwork itself. (I’m tempted to cue a mini-lecture on discourse and diegesis, but will control the impulse.)

Satisfied with the recurrent head, I contemplated the body — loosely sketching my daughter (who was scrolling on her phone on the couch across from me in my son’s best friend’s family’s Bangalore apartment where we were staying for a couple of nights post-Delhi).

I eliminated the phone, and invented a settee:

And then a room:

The fireplace is Descartes’s, from “First Meditation,” which I have been thinking about adapting into a comic. I mocked up a page, planning to replace the electronic font with my own hand-drawn letters later.

But then I didn’t.

The hard thing for me when searching for a story to write (and, in this case, draw): I have no control over what ultimately compels my brain to commit to an idea.

So I kept searching.

Which at sometime point inevitably involves reopening old projects — like my unpublished long poem “Blue Like the Air,” which was based on a dream that (I assume) my subconscious based on Disney’s The Little Mermaid, except with a human girl raised by fish after growing gills through the scars in her neck from the shark attack she survived as an infant when her father inexplicably threw her overboard.

I liked the test panel, but the narrative decision-making area of my brain wasn’t hooked. (The more conscious areas of my brain didn’t object to not drawing repeated images of a half-naked girl on the edge of puberty.)

So I went back to the unnamed character of a previous post, now arranging some of the test drawings into a sequence and adding a couple more for a full page:

Again, I liked the results. But my brain didn’t turn the page to see what happens next.

Returning to the sketches at the top of this page, I again followed my own advice from Creating Comics and drew my next favorite cartoon multiple times to learn what marks I needed to repeat and within what range of variation.

Still feeling no narrative impulse, I combined characters:

Using a detail from Hopper’s 1942 Nighthawks:

And for whatever reason, my brain said: yes, more of these please.

Specifically, more two-person poses cribbed from paintings:

Which is what my brain and I are working on now.

(Hopefully more on that later.)

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