Today I’m sitting drawing and I’m really struggling. Every item I need to draw in a story- from the LA skyline to a courthouse exterior to the jumpsuit a prisoner would wear- I have to google image it. The whole reason I turned to photography as a teenager is because it was a more natural means of expression for me, where I didn’t have to think about how to best render something because I could just take a photo of it. Now, once you get beyond basic photo classes, the challenge becomes “HOW should I take a picture of ____ to express an idea?” But if the goal is to realistically render a person, place or thing, photography is the natural choice over illustration.
Now I’m working on a mixed media project that, at its heart, is an illustrated comic book. There is no escaping that I have to do some drawing. And I look at illustration every day, probably since 2nd grade, in the form of comics, children’s books, museum and gallery work, etc., and I’ve been almost jealous of the talent of these artists. But in the work of artist/ writer Jeff Lemire, I’ve found someone with lovely storytelling and unique art that doesn’t conform to any expectations of realism.
Jeff is a Canadian who worked for years in indie comics before moving on to mainstream work with DC Comics. His early work “Essex County” involved tales from his own life that had a meandering quality to them- a boy befriends a local hockey legend with suspected brain damage. The stories of “Essex County” fall in the category of “character study” rather than “intricate plot with critical insights into human nature,” but that’s okay- often it’s those character studies that make for the more interesting art. A typical “Essex County” page has 3-4 panels of art and minimal dialogue, making the book a very quick read, but the art is so warm and soulful it’s worth lingering over.
His follow-up work of “The Nobody” had a similar theme with a small community, this time featuring the Invisible Man. Jeff’s epic “Sweet Tooth” came next- the elevator pitch being “Bambi meets Mad Max.” A virus devastates humanity and only animal/ human hybrids are born after the plague strikes. The art again is long on establishing details and the story keeps the dialogue minimal. It’s the work of a creator who has a simple story to tell and strives to make it as good as possible. There is some experimentation- in dream sequences, Jeff swtiches to watercolor washes, and any exposition dumps are accompanied by uniquely designed double page spreads.
I can relate to Jeff’s rural sensibilities and his interest in what I’d describe as “low tech sci fi” (invisibility serums and god clones vs., say, nanobots and Tony Stark-ish tech). I really like the nervous quality of his linework, and the imperfections of his characters, partly because I will never be a realistic artist myself. Even as I break down my page layouts I find myself referencing Jeff’s pacing and panel placement. Specific shots he has illustrated all would make for lovely photographs.
How much of my final product will be drawn and how much collaged from photos I take isn’t clear but for sure, between the lines there will be a lot of cribbing from Jeff Lemire.