Jim Keefe: Introduction to Comic Art - The Biography Comic

Thumbnail image for The Dreamer.jpgIntroduction to Comic Art.
Jim Keefe Instructor, Spring 2010
Minneapolis College of Art and Design

The Biography Comic

For this assignment we will illustrate a two-page biography of a Comic/Manga artist or writer. In can be a memorable moment from the Artist's life or cover a lifespan.

Our first step will be to study an excerpt from Will Eisner's "The Dreamer."

Will Eisner published "The Dreamer" in 1986. It tells the story of the burgeoning comic book field in the 1930s; a story Eisner was quite familiar with having lived it. In Will Eisner's own words, "Intended as a work of fiction, (The Dreamer) ultimately took the shape of a historical account. In the telling it, it was inescapable that the actors would resemble the real people. Their names, however, are fictitious, and they are portrayed without malice. It all comes out of the cluttered closet where I store ghosts of the past, and from the yellowing memories of my experience."

The excerpt from The Dreamer (pages 22-32) introduces us through a series of vignettes to the Eyron & Samson bullpen (a play on the Eisner and Iger Studio name. Lou Fine becomes "Lew Sharp," Jack Kirby becomes "Jack King", etc).

Eisner deftly uses quick defining moments, narrated by "Eyron" to give us a clear idea of who these characters are. Then the spotlight is turned on the central character as he has an after hours drink with his secretary where romance is in the air. Dancing between the words and the pictures Eisner ends the sequence wordlessly, rain falling, as our protagonist ends up the solitary figure at his drawing table... pursuing his dream.

The ability to know how much to say with words and how much to say with a glance or gesture is illustrated her beautifully and worth careful consideration.

Some of the most widely recognized and prestigious works done by Cartoonists are the personal stories drawn from their own lifetime of experiences, from Keiji Nakazawa's "Barefoot Gen (Hadashi no Gen)" to Art Spiegleman's "Maus."

In "Barefoot Gen" the title character is a stand-in for the author as he gives a first hand account of the bombing of Hiroshima and its aftermath. In "Maus" Jews are represented as mice and Germans as cats as Spiegleman relates the story of his own father's experiences during the Holocaust.

Granted, this type of narrative can also take a more light-hearted route. Eddie Campbell's "Alec" stories use brief episodes from the artist's life to chronicle his artistic career, where Rick Veitch uses a dream diary for his source material for "Rare Bit Fiends."

For the assignment: Researching an artist's bio is of course essential, but I'd also recommend searching out any podcasts so you can hear the artist's words firsthand, then sketch out ideas while you listen. Another option (that was brought up in class) is to follow the Artist's Tweets, then use that as the driving narrative for a memorable moment.

As with any story you try to illustrate, if you aren't interested in it neither will the reader. Find an aspect that grabs you, something you can relate to, and run with it. Eisner mined his own personal history and experiences to great effect to produce his Contract with God trilogy. It's the personal stories, told masterfully, that will always strike the biggest chord with the reader.

(Following the completion of the students work, we will return to share it with you on this site).

Jim Keefe is a graduate of the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art. He has worked extensively with King Features Syndicate coloring such strips as Blondie, Beetle Bailey and Hagar the Horrible, ghosting Secret Agent Corrigan for his mentor, George Evans, and was the writer and artist of the Flash Gordon strip from 1996 to 2003. His current Clients include King Features Syndicate, Viz Media, Jantze Studios and Manuscript Press. As an educator Jim has taught/guest lectured at SVA in Manhattan, Hofstra's UCCE Youth Programs, and most recently at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. www.jimkeefe.com

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by GaryC published on March 3, 2010 11:07 PM.

Sara Witty: Illustrative Text: Transformed Words and the Language of Comics was the previous entry in this blog.

Tom Kaczynski: Notes on Will Eisner's 'The Contract With God Trilogy' is the next entry in this blog.

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