I finally put the finishing touches on a project that begun last year. It’s a surreal, wordless comic called Maelstrom. It was an experiment and a bit of an undertaking. My goal was to get one page finished in roughly a week’s time so by the end of the year I would have something to show. It ended up getting much bigger than I anticipated, to say the least!
The whole thing started just before lock-down began in January 2020. The first page was posted on January 19, although work on the project really began in December 2019. 2019 was an odd year for me. I made little, if any, progress on the comics I had started and was really not feeling it. I chose instead to focus on other things: illustrations, drawings of characters, and art during Twitch streams.
The art for streams allowed me to be expressive and play around more. I felt like I was starting to fall into a somewhat rigid style and it really help me loosen up. Doing art for streams also gave me a wider audience and lead to some unexpected and amazing things. While my pen and ink drawings were getting more detailed and more solidly constructed, I also started playing with different types of mark making and textures. My art was finally evolving into something interesting again and I was itching to return to drawing black and white comics.
However, that wasn’t enough to get me to jump back into comics. I had ideas, but none of fully realized and and could barely be called stories– simply half baked concepts with some “cool things” I wanted to draw. As much as I wanted to draw “cool things” and say “to hell with a comprehensible plot,” I knew that would never fly. Or could it? Certainly there’s more than one way to tell a story. Enter Cartoonist Kayfabe. Their videos of commentary on great comics from all over the world, vlogs that discussed their creative process, and mailbag videos showing off tons of unique and wonderful things their viewers made really inspired me to give it another go.
I still didn’t have any ideas for what I wanted to do. I needed one more nudge in the right direction and before the year ended, I found it. I began reading a collection of stories by Sergio Toppi. Not since reading Uzumaki nearly a decade earlier did I feel so blown away by the potential of the medium of comics. Whereas Uzumaki got me to completely re-evaluate horror, Toppi’s works got me thinking about the form of comics and the way stories could be told. I needed to try it for myself! Obviously, I’m nowhere near Toppi’s level, and you probably won’t be able to see many, if any, similarities between my work and his in Maelstrom, but his non-traditional approach to comics storytelling truly inspired how I tackled the project.
Ideas started coming in, new ideas, ones far more enticing than the ones I had before. Despite being in the middle of another comic with 20 some pages to go, I dropped it and started work on something new. It came to me when I was trying to sleep, the image of an old man looking out at sea– staring into the endless ocean, wondering. I continued to think about it and add to it– this is before I even put pencil to paper– until I had to get it down before it slipped away like so many nighttime fancies. I struck while the iron was hot and started sketching what you see above, going back and forth between writing and drawing.
The writing aspect was very light, nothing more than a simple outline and some narration. Yes, there was going to be narration! Maybe even *gasp* dialogue! I didn’t like it at all and didn’t feel like going through the headaches of dialogue editing, so I simply didn’t include it. If that sounds lazy, that’s because it is. But I just wanted to draw this story, take the path of least resistance, just get it down on the page and, most importantly, share it with the world. Then I got to thinking about a video Cartoonist Kayfabe did on wordless comics and remembered I wanted to try something like that. I always felt like the best parts of my older comics were the wordless sections, anyway. Why not give it a go? There’s no time like the present!
While it may seem like no dialogue would be more of a challenge, and it was in regards to some scenes, not having to bust out an Ames Guide and do lettering or, worse, mess around with fonts in Photoshop meant a significant portion of time was cut from how long it would take to finish a page. I also decided to work smaller. No more laboring over 11×17″ pages covered in panels while my back aches from having to work on the extremes of the board. Working in 9×12″ also significantly cut down on the amount of time it would take. Despite spending a little more time on the first page, I thought, with this new process, I could potentially get one of these out a week! I’m just as surprised as you are that I was able to, for the most part.
There’s still a lot more to say, but I think it’s best to save it for next time. I can get further into the process and talk more about my influences. Once again, a physical book is Available on Etsy, and it’s almost sold out as I’m writing this. At this rate, it is likely I will have to order more copies!