This is the textual introduction to MadInkBeard No.5 (now available to order).
As evidenced from previous issues, I’ve been making a lot of four panel comics over the past year. For non/semi-narrative work the format offers a concision that lends itself to experimentation, variation, and speed. Four panel comics can be seen all at once, in toto, before being read in a conventional sequential manner, which, more than most comics formats, brings the page/strip composition to the fore. The consistent format also acts as a kind of constraint, taking away certain decisions (how many panels, how big, etc.) for structuring the creation process.
As all my work is made digitally, I have a template file with panels marked off, that allows me to quickly get to the creative process without going through much prep work. I can sit down at my computer and start adding to the page. In early January, I decided to put a black background on my template and see where it took me, forcing myself to work with white as the primary foreground color. I was inspired at the beginning by the painter Robert Motherwell’s series of “Iberia” paintings that are primarily black with bits of white peaking out on the edges of the canvas (the fourth strip in this issue is the most directly inspired). [Edit for web: Here’s a nice one.]
I have also been purposefully avoiding “drawing” in a conventional sense. I didn’t use my Wacom tablet for any of these strips. All the imagery is generated from photographs (often manipulated into abstraction) and the occasional vector shape (clicking a few vertices for the shapes in the sixth strip is the closest there is to drawing in this issue). Even the panel borders are all found lines and rectangles. The photographs were all taken by me (the lines, the abstractions) or came from slides my father-in-law took many years ago (the landscapes). This use of varying sources has increased my sense of comics as collage, a juxtaposition not just of sequential images/panels but of images within the panels (a juxtaposition of juxtaposition).
Like much of my recent work, all the text is appropriated. In this case words and phrases (occasionally rearranged) have been copied over from the Gudo Nishijima edition of Eihei Dogen’s Shinji Shobogenzo, a collection of zen stories (a.k.a. koans). I’ve been reading one or two of the stories every morning before I get to making comics, so when it came time to find text for the strips, that volume was where I looked first.
In designing this volume, I ended up scaling up the strips (rather than the conventional way of scaling down) so they would be as large as I could manage (within limits of keeping the printing bill reasonable). I hope this encourages you to linger on each image rather than quickly moving from one page to the next. The strips as a group were not meet to be sequential, though, due to the imagery and text, they share a certain relatedness, more like a series.