Wednesday, 18 November 2009

COLOUR OUT OF SPACE 4 (Part Three: Malcy Duff’s Comics Workshop)






NB: There is no particularly good reason for the late posting of this final installment, covering the Colour Out Of Space festival!

As anyone with ears will know by now, I’m a fan of the left-field comics of Malcy Duff so when I heard this year’s Colour Out Of Space was running a comics workshop by him, I excitedly signed myself up

After some warm-up exercises, it transpired that Duff was not aiming to overexert his charges during the workshop – in fact our task was to complete one single panel. But there was an inevitable twist! Duff handed out copies of an already-drawn two-page strip, Blue Peter style, but with one panel on the second page left blank for us. Our instructions were, and I quote:

”Find an object which may appear at some point in this action and use the [blank] panel to present it. The panel should look nothing like any of the other panels, so it sticks out immediately, it catches your eye first.”

In fact, even the object had already been found for us – and was in fact a cauliflower. Our task was simply to work out how to present it. Typically, Duff was thinking of something which could only be done in comics. When we see a double-page spread our eye cannot help but cast itself over it, before our brain tells it to pull back and stop reading at top left. This means that anything unusual-looking will be taken in during this first glance, but semi-subliminally. We will assign an importance to that object without really knowing why. When we reach it through reading, we’ll stop at it like at a landmark on a trip.

Duff showed us various experiments he’d already made, including with collage or expanding the panel so it overflowed around and behind those surrounding it. As, for the main part, characters in the strip were side-on and in semi-long-shot, I experimented with a sudden leering close-up of a cauliflower seller – the equivalent of someone in the street leaping out to eyeball you, then being gone. (A whole sequence of actions you can simulate just by juxtaposing three static images.)

The beauty of it is, you can think about if for a few minutes and find your own. You don’t need to be an accomplished artist or knowledgeable about comics history, you just need your imagination. What’s in the panels is always secondary to how they connect.

Another notable feature of Duff’s strip (one he didn’t mention during the workshop), is that it’s structured around a character posting a letter – yet not a word is spoken throughout! We don’t even get to see the writing on the envelope. Ironic, with the frailty of communication so much one of his themes, that Duff is able to run such an involving workshop!

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