The entire Internet being down is beginning to annoy me and makes me worry about the social cohesion of our world. What will happen if our British men are rendered incapable of downloading pictures of American women? Denied constant reinforcement, the sexual peccadilloes of the free world could begin to drift asunder. Given the rate of current carnality distortion, two weeks would be enough to make ourselves and our American cousins physically incapable of being aroused by the same object.
The reason I’m doing a new webcomic is simple: Jim asked me to.
I told him I wasn’t sure I could provide something regular, for a variety of reasons.
He told me “Oh, go on.”
And I folded, as I am weak.
Not really true. I said “I’d think about it. If anything comes up suitable, I’ll consider it”. Of course, having put my mind on the track of thinking about what a regular Big Robot photocomic would entail meant that my obsessive mind would hack away at the problem until it hand rendered a solution. Within ten minutes I had the basic idea. By the end of the day I had the entire story arc of the thing.
The two main problems Negativeland was designed to overcome were simple:
i) No artist is reliable and/or willing to produce comics regular as Jim required it. Monthly could be do-able, abstractly, but would involve a lot of effort chasing people. This would be bad as…
ii) I’m a busy man and haven’t time to write a regular comic for Jim on top of all the other things I’m meant to be writing. Whatever I did, it had to require a minimum of effort. It had to be fast.
However, despite this, I wanted it to be serious work. Minor work, yes, but with serious intent. Various other artistic shortcuts didn’t appeal to me, and I ended up thinking of doing something with the old-fashioned photocomic. This creates new problems – instead of worrying about artists you worry about your models, making them do what you want and their availability. My solution was simple: Naturalism. The vast majority of the stories would be fairly normal people in fairly normal environments. I could get whatever images I needed just by logging a digicam along with me.
Which lead the problem that between my lack of skills and the lack of posing, the photos would be of hugely variable quality. Equally, since most of my friends are journalists of one sort or another, I didn’t want people’s reactions to be “Isn’t that Alec Meer of PC Format magazine” when looking at them.
So I turned all the images into negative. This, along with a little gamma-tweaking, is the only processing I peform – some of the more impressive effects are entirely artefact. When we get to the club scenes, this is especially noteworthy. I think this has been fairly effective so far – the images look like someone, but no *specific* someone. The fact that girlfriends are incapable of identifying their boyfriends – for example, Jane thought the serial killer was me – is a good sign.
Turn your inadequacies into a style. It’s never a bad motto.
I wanted the individual stories to step away from standard archplot narrative, and wander more towards slice of life, mini-plot, moments captured. Simultaneously, however, I wanted to have a hook and a more unusual context for the characters to react to. This lead to the idea of a fairly authentic-sounding reality-television setting, which would allow me to use naturalistic images to tell stories at an odd angle to reality. It also hits some of my favoured themes and obsessions, as well as letting me say some of the things I want to say about the shows. The latter is very much the latter reason, however. Commenting on the shows isn’t really that interesting. Commenting on people? That’s always worth doing.
When I had the setting, some of the characters quickly started to present themselves. Enough to give an idea of structure, which lead to a conclusion and a surprisingly arch-plot twist. I also threw in a character who’s a robot, just to add a link to the name of the site and a little oblique surreality. I’d hate to do anything that could be easily accepted as literature.
Choosing the title as a vague nod towards the sound-collage-cut-up anarchist band, I started work. Or rather, I didn’t start work. This is the complete opposite of what I normally try to do in comics, which is straight Alan-Moore clockwork-design bollocks. This is comics as Jazz. Bad jazz, admittedly, but enthusiastically played.
When it comes to write a story, I have a vague idea of what I want to happen. I take photos. Then, through the images, I tell as story which it suggests and – more importantly - allows. With only so many pictures, there’s huge limitations on what’s possible. I don’t have a picture of something I want? I can’t go back and get it. Work out another way. Or work out another story. I get to a point and I decide two characters should talk, and I just hammer out a conversation (Rather than processing dialogue into snappy, efficient bites, here I’m letting it sprawl, including as many awkward pauses and stumbles as possible.). No time to think. In fact, thinking too much just makes it all the more likely it’ll never get finished. Don’t think. Do.
It’s a different approach.
While only slightly into it, one of the major elements seem to be it functioning as a fictional blog of real happenings. Since I’m taking photos of real people and what they’re doing, it results in the characters they’re playing doing similar things. When we reach the first club scene – episode 5, according to my chart – you’ll see that Walker’s character has a similar moment to real Walker seen down page. Except not.
Put it like this: While I know where the story is ending, and certain landmarks alongh the way, I have almost no idea about the fine detail of the journey at this point. I don’t know what characters are going to appear. I have no idea what they’re going to say. I have no idea who is going to sleep with whom, who’s going to go out looking for Condoms at three in the morning and… well, who’s going to live, in every possible definition of that word.
Anyway – that’s an introduction to the thoughts behind Negativeland. This iteration of Big Robot is to run for a year. It’ll update every second week, adding a new episode. That makes 26 episodes, including the prologue and the epilogue. It should add up to getting on for two hundred pages of comics – maybe more, but unlikely to be less. I’m gleefully using techniques that burn pages, because there’s no reason not to and it’s interesting to see what they look like. The smallest one I’ve done so far is four pages. The largest is fourteen.
If completed, it’ll be my first extended graphical work.
And, no, I'm not telling you who the actors are.
Kieron Gillen's Workblog, foo'.