Tag Archives: graphic design

Of “Here”, Chris Ware, and transcendence in the graphic novel.

There are numerous developments that have traversed my inbox this week, so it was a bit of a debate with myself as to whether I would blog about technology or a new graphic novel that is hit the streets this week. Moved by my artistic side, I decided to comment on a glowing review, by none other than Chris Ware, of the graphic novel Here. The “game-changing” graphic novel is the work of artist, illustrator and apparent bass player Richard McGuire.

According to Ware’s review which appeared in the guardian, the idea for the book originated with a short story in the pages of RAW in 1989.

“Across six black-and-white pages, it simply pictured the corner of a room from a fixed viewpoint, projecting a parade of moments, holidays, people, animals, biology, geology – everything, it seems, that defines and lends human life meaning – on to windows of space labelled by year (1971, 1957, 1999, 100,097BC). Birthdays, deaths, dinosaurs. In 36 panels, the universe.”

After putting down the magazine, Ware says, “It was the first time I had had my mind blown.” In other words, in those few short pages, in what was for all intents and purposes a comic, the author was able to transcend time and space by evoking the thought of the reader to probe deeper into their own existence. Ware continues,

“You could say it’s the space of the room, the arbitrary geometry imposed by a human mind on a space for reasons of shelter and as a background to this theatre of life. But you could also claim it is the reader, your consciousness where everything is pieced together and tries to find, and to understand, itself. This is a big step forward for graphic novels, but it is so much more than that. With those first six pages in 1989, McGuire introduced a new way of making a comic strip, but with this volume in 2014, he has introduced a new way of making a book.”

 

Here by Richard McGuire
Here by Richard McGuire

Wow, what a review, and by a legend no less! I will have to get it this book, but it also made me think—again—about the power of visual narrative and perhaps the power of art in general. I admit that at times i can get so wrapped up in moving my story forward and completing each panel with all the technical 3D gyrations and rendering passes, that I might forget about the potential power of the narrative itself. Ware and McGuire are visionaries in the field of comics and visual narrative. Ware breaks the boundaries of time and space continually in books like Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, and most recently with Building Stories. He engages readers to stop not only to think but to touch and even to make. This takes the already multi-modal experience that is so unique to comics into new dimensions literally and conceptually.

I believe that the highest achievement of any literary form is to make you think about your world and your place in it—maybe even your purpose in life. Having your “mind blown” seems too lofty a goal, but as I creep toward the midway point in The Lightstream Chronicles, I think about the day when it may be in print, hardbound and laying open while nestled in the lap of a reader. As they turn the page, they pause, look across the silent room—and think.

Nice.

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The Naked Future. Are you ready?

Ed. note: Due to problems with my ISP, The Lightstream Chronicles was posted late this morning. Perhaps the subject of a future blog rant, after hours of something loosely called “tech support”,  I had to drive to the local Starbucks to upload the pages. Long live Starbucks!

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If you zip back to my blog about page 53 you’ll see a somewhat lengthy but not all that coherent post on the interaction between humans and synthetics. That post centers more on how synths, once they became realistically human, were quickly exploited as slaves, both menial and sexual. Though not all of the future society in The Lightstream Chronicles was to blame as soon as there was a device that could do your bidding, there were those who abused the technology. Some will see this is pure dystopic fiction but it is difficult to argue that the past is littered with the precedent for technological misuse. And as we move toward a more ethically relativistic society, misuse will have a narrower and narrower definition. Therefore, even in a society that should be more enlightened, it is completely plausible that we could treat our synthetic co-workers with less respect than real humans. The irony in this future speculation is that the technological enhancement of humans and their symbiotic fusion with the technosphere, along with the ever more emotional and empathic capabilities of synthetics, the line between real humanity is almost nonexistent.

The Naked Future

Thinking about the future is more than a geeky, sci-fi pastime. I believe it is our responsibility to engage with the political, scientific, social and ethical decision-making happening around us. Because, whether we know it or not, those decisions will make a huge impact on the shape of the world we live in tomorrow. It’s just one of the reasons that I am a card-carrying member of The World Future Society. As a member, I regularly check in with wfs.org to see read the latest prognostications on the future. If you look closely at the predictions or forecasts of any futurist, it’s possible to see where they are coming from as well. In other words, everyone comes at his or her vision of the future with an opinion: Is this aspect of the future all positive or is there a cautionary tone?

This is, of course, at the core of my design fiction research at Ohio State. So, as I was meandering around the wfs.org site I stumbled upon an article by Patrick Tucker, an editor at The Futurist magazine, a publication of WFS. This happened on March 5th. Coincidentally, I saw that Patrick’s book, The Naked Future: What Happens In A World That Anticipates Your Every Move? was about to be released on March 6th. Since this topic is dead center on my radar, I clicked over to iTunes to see if it was available as an iBook, and sure enough, it was. Nevertheless, I couldn’t wait so Googled up a YouTube video moderated by David Wood for the London Futurists and featuring the aforementioned Tucker along with futurists David Orban, Evan Selinger, Gray Scott, and Rachel Armstrong. It was a lively (though, at times, technically challenged) Skype meet-up that touched on some timely topics.

I hope to have a full review on Tucker’s book in a future blog but I think that the meet-up touched on some of the thought-provoking ideas that I’m sure are in-store for the reader. Naked is a perfect term for this idea of our lives being transparent and the book (though I am only partially through it) documents the shrinking evolution of big data from unwieldy complexity to smartphone accessibility — as a fearsome tool of the powerful over the weak to what is becoming an open resource. Therein is perhaps the most interesting part. We may as well accept that fact that this is a reality, and as Tucker explains (11) the big data era has already morphed into telemetry, “Telemetry is the collection and transfer of data in real time, as tough sensed.” The fact is we leave tracks. Extrapolating this is easy, walk the same path, explore some dark corner, innocently tweet and you are adding to your data. After a while, as much as you may wish to disbelieve, it is easy to predict where you will go next. As computing becomes more ubiquitous, all of our surfaces become live, as everything we touch leaves some sort of metadata fingerprint, eventually our lives will be, well, naked.

How will we deal with that? Some say to relax, that we’ll adapt to that change just like we have to every other change. I have some ideas on that, but I will save them for the next blog. Cheers.

 Tucker, Patrick The Naked Future: What Happens In A World That Anticipates Your Every Move? New York, Penquin, 2014.
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Progress update: webcomic and graphic novel.

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In this scene nobody seems too talkative about the case at hand. Perhaps they are just trying to process everything that has just transpired — but it is late —and Detective Guren is still stewing over the comment from Col. Chen back on page 58.

On a side note, I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I redesigned the elevator that our characters are standing in front of. Finally, I opted for a sleek, silent and fast shuttle that could bound multiple stories in short order.

Progress update

After completing multiple pages of prologue material — similar to the approach I took prior to Chapter 2 — I have begun work on Chapter 3. The rationale for the prologues is to present what I believe to be rich, and important, backstory. If you are a regular follower of the web comic/graphic novel, then the backstory and nuances of what is going on in society as well as history, help to immerse you a bit more in the characters and their lives. At times, it feels as though there is so much backstory that I wish I had written a conventional novel. But then I think we would have been hard pressed to consider this as a work of design fiction.  It is, of course, the diegetic prototypes that are so woven into people’s lives that we can look at and contemplate their affect on the culture and the behaviors of the characters.

Chapter 2 will wrap up on page 84, in case you were wondering.

 

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How important is realism and what makes it real?

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This week, the governor flashes a rosary and crucifix, and while our team may be trying to conceal their surprise, we can see that they are more than a bit shocked. If you haven’t read the backstory on the government’s stand on religion, you can find it here, early in chapter 1, and in the chapter 2 prologues. I’m going to let you sort that out for now.

Kristin Broulliard's silent commentary.
Kristin Broulliard’s silent commentary.

Today I thought I would center the discussion on realism. 

The future of The Lightstream Chronicles is built with “artifacts” that, by virtue of the narrative, become infused with meaning. At the same time, they are intended to provide a sense of realism and increase engagement, as well as foster discussion and debate. Because design permeates culture, and is an inextricable part of daily life. Design and technology quickly blend in, and the people living in, and with it, don’t particularly take notice of it.

There has been a document floating about that I came across while stalking the pages of Carnegie Mellon’s Design Fiction and Imaginary Futures blog, called the Critical Engineering Manifesto which appears to be co-written by a group from Berlin in 2011. The team, Julian Oliver, Gordan Savičić, and  Danja Vasiliev, have put together a rather ominous truism of the power of engineering and design in our culture today and especially in the future.

If we assume that the critical engineer shares at least some definition, in principle, with critical design popularized by Dunne & Raby, then its purpose, is a critique on engineering and perhaps technology and their affect on culture. As Dunne & Raby help to define critical design, it “uses speculative design proposals to challenge narrow assumptions, preconceptions and givens about the role products play in everyday life.”

The Critical Engineering Working Group and their manifesto share a similar spirit. Number 5 of the 10-point manifesto reads:

     “5. The Critical Engineer recognises that each work of engineering engineers its user, proportional to that user’s dependency upon it.”

As I have written many times our smart phone, is a prime example: a designed technology that brings with it new efficiencies, and at the same time, engenders new behaviors. It has undeniably engineered us as well.

Therein lies the role of the diegetic prototype for design fiction. iPads, smart phones, vibrating reminders, 160 character thoughts exchanged with total strangers are likely just the beginning. But, to fully absorb the impact of our creations that have begun to create on their own, we need to think. Somehow, our speculative design needs to break through and become real enough to provoke us to think about the future and become more engaged in it.

Realism, I believe plays a significant role in this breakthrough objective. Realism, however, can be achieved in many ways beyond the most obvious, material fabrication. Indeed, the realism that made 2001 A Space Odyssey, Minority Report, or even Her so memorable, was not real at all, it just seemed that way. Yes, these artifacts from the future — the devices and technologies made scientifically plausible and logically designed — were so believable that they blended in, but what made them seem most real was how commonplace they were to their users. It was the way the characters interacted and behaved with these devices.

The Lightstream Chronicles quite obviously stops short of material fabrication, and leans heavily on the realism that can be conveyed through CG. But though the digital forms of these artifacts have dimension and virtual physicality, the emphasis is on how they can go unnoticed. Just as with our present-day artifacts like smart phones and laptops, they blend into the scheme of everyday. They are ubiquitous in the culture, yet they serve to influence social interaction and individual behavior.

The use of diegetic prototypes can suspend disbelief about the future scenarios, and through an examination of culture and context, individuals can contemplate present-day decisions that will affect the future on an individual basis.

Indeed, I believe that realism is key. It is important to examine what makes it real to us and ask how real it needs to be to actually provoke us to think and encourage us to engage in our future.

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Chapter 1 — First world’s HD graphic novel?

For those of you who thought this might never come to pass, I am pleased to announce that I have just sent out to my “10-most-trusted” friends the contents of a preliminary chapter 1 of  The Lightstream Chronicles. (If you weren’t on the list, it isn’t because i don’t trust you, but because these 10 are much closer to the project). I spent what might be considered a luxurious amount of time on the splash page; an aerial view of Hong Kong in 2159, but I think that week spent tweaking the cityscape proved worthwhile. I am pleased with the way it turned out. Chapter 1 consists of 42 pages (including the cover) or 21 spreads. Not that many when you think that the final book will consist of just over 100 spreads, but nevertheless, I see this as a definitive “proof of concept.” In fact, I can’t wait to get to the first page of chapter 2. I have invited my 10 to provide feedback. Then I will make the final, final tweaks and begin Phase 2.

On to Kickstarter

According to my current plan, which I am still praying about, Phase 2 is Kickstarter. With a proof-of-concept out of the way there is still an enormous amount of work to do to get a Kickstarter project off the ground. Some of the obvious: a dedicated website, a video, premiums for the contributors, a huge mailing list. I have started on the website while working on the other elements.

 The first HD graphic novel?

So, what about this “HD business” that I stuffed into the title tag? Well, this may indeed be my hook. While it could be hard to convince people, at this early phase, that this is book to invest in — because it is a great story — there is a definite difference in the way I have illustrated it. Everything is built and rendered in CG. Some of the CG purists will, no doubt, dismiss me for having used Poser® for my base characters, but I spent uncounted hours morphing and customizing the faces, bodies and textures to move well beyond the conventional “Poser look” (and , yes, there is such a thing). However, and just to be fair, I have seen many CG characters in some of the most renowned video games that look more like Poser characters than my cast does, So there!

 But what about HD?

OK, OK, I labored over chapter 1, and will do so through the rest of the book to infuse as much detail as possible, trying to eliminate all of the cliche CG stuff. Caveat: Now, let’s get this straight: CG is CG. The only example that i can think of where the CG was virtually transparent was Avatar, and according to Wiki, it, “…cost between $280 million and $310 million for production and … $150 million for promotion….The lead visual effects company was Weta Digital in Wellington, New Zealand, at one point employing 900 people to work on the film.”1  So, I am short-staffed. This is not an apology! I think you will thoroughly enjoy the characters, the environment, the settings and the ambiance of the book.

Plus… there is a huge difference in the fact that you can zoom-in 2, 3, even 4 times into each and every panel (if you are so inclined) to inspect, or hunt for more information. Personally, I think the experience is enhanced the more you lingeron the page and probe through the background data. It’s all part of the story.

It’s big (in Mb), but lots of opportunity for zoom and pan.
It will “work” on an iPad with a pdf viewer, but that’s like watching Prometheus on your iPhone. This is meant for the big screen, preferably an HD cinema display with  1920 x 1200 or larger.

Some have suggested that you take in the story at a normal graphic novel pace and then, perhaps, go back at the end of each chapter and scan it for more info. I like that idea.

So what we have is chapter 1. According to plan, chapter 1 will go to Kickstarter by summers end, then each subsequent chapter will be sent to Kickstarter contributors on a thumb drive for a total of 6 chapters. Ultimately a book will be printed — 220 + pages.

That’s the plan. Gimme feedback. If you are absolutely dying to see chapter 1 before it goes live, email me at scott@scottdenison.com and tell me why.

 

 

1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avatar_(2009_film)

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Working on Hong Kong 2159.

Although I have not revealed the storyline for my graphic novel, I am prepared to reveal a little about the setting. As you guessed from the title it is set beyond the near future — 148 years to be exact. The city is Hong Kong. Without going into too much backstory, this is where the global government is located. Countries, as we know them, are gone. New Asia is the broader amalgamation of  the Asia of today, Europe and the former United States. The city has evolved through building continually upward. The “road car” is gone, replaced with the air version. With the advent of air taxis and all manner of flying craft, the top of the city is the new facade. Instead of entering at the bottom of a building and riding up and then to rooftops that are essentially abandoned places, the world becomes reversed. The show is at the top and so is the money and prestige. The layers as it were start at 150 stories and work their way down. Under 25 you find yourself in a city of disrepair and darkness. The bottom city is a place of crime and poverty, even in 2159. And while mankind has made quantum leaps in technology, crime has managed to keep pace in new and creative ways. Much of it legalized. But that’s going too far for today’s blog.

At any rate, the top world is where you will find all the advertising, the glamour, the enticements. Every rooftop now has a docking zone or an airlock (it gets windy up there) for patrons to offload and play. Lots to think about.  More to come in the August synopsis.

 

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The otherly graphic novel. Part 1.

The Urban Dictionary describes otherly as “Different in a specified manner or in the manner of that or those implied or specified.” We might suffice to say, particularly different. This comes up as discussion for today’s blogging as I am ankle-deep in the 356 pages of William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition. After just completing my screenplay and not yet ready to hit the “convert to screenplay” button in Celtx, I am feeling envious of the traditional novelist’s ability to wax on about the way things look or the clothes people wear. In the prose novel, the author can call attention to these things overtly and more easily. In effect the author can say, “Pay attention to this. This is what it looks like. It has meaning.” In my effort, the graphic novel, while I do not  have the advantage of the same deliberate and unavoidable syntax of pure prose, I have the decided advantage of showing what it looks like. Because I intend on adding, strategically vivid detail, I can be as obsessive about the visual as the author is about the description, limited only by my command of the visual language. Of course, even in a graphic novel, I am afforded the opportunity to add words. There is nothing stopping me. Indeed, you will find pages of pure prose exposition or backstory in some of the most renowned graphic books. In my mind, however, if you have to apply a belt and suspenders either one is overkill or something is not functioning properly. So, if I’m not careful, I run in the danger of having the audience miss it entirely.

Ah, but therein lies the challenge. In the aforementioned Gibson novel, the presentation case of a particularly snobbish and, well, bitchy designer, Dorotea, is described thus, “On the table in front of her, perhaps a millimeter too carefully aligned, is an elegant gray cardboard envelope, fifteen inches on a side, bearing the austere yet whimsical logo of Heinzi & Pfaff. It is closed with one of those archaic fasteners consisting of a length of cord and two small brown cardboard buttons” (10). I see it clearly. So, how would I show it? Exactly as it looks, of course, and then close up, maybe, camera low to the table with Dorotea’s slightly out of focus knees in the background. Maybe if it is of particular importance, it could be a separate panel absent of words and any other possible distraction.

Therein lies a specifically different, otherly aspect of the graphic novel (there are more for another day). In Robert C. Harvey’s The Art of the Comic Book- An Aesthetic History, he states, “Only in comics can the field of vision be so manipulated: the size and arrangement of images control our perception of the events depicted, contributing dramatically to the narrative effects produced” (162). Just one of the differences, I thought I’d mention today, an advantage perhaps for for a visual artist, and serving to separate the medium from the prose novel; not necessarily superior to, but particularly different.

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Preparing a paper.

Here’s a new twist, especially for those of you who have never seen me as particularly scholarly. Mastery is something like scholarly but not quite the same. Each requires a level of knowing, amassing some amount of information, expertise or experience. I think you can define mastery as a level attained at which point you are capable of passing it on to others. Scholarly, to me, is more about attaining a level of knowledge and then sharing the remaining questions with others. In scholarly, there is no finish line. I’d like to think there are some things I’ve mastered, but one of the great privileges of becoming a full-time student again is the ability to keep asking questions and to probe the great what if. Who wants to stop at mastery?

So much for the long introduction. At the encouragement of my thesis committee, I have been looking for ways to further the discussion of my thesis topic through symposiums, conferences and the like. Many of these more scholarly venues have a “Call for Papers” that goes out many months in advance of the event to get the latest thinking on issues that would enlighten, inspire or provoke discussion among members and attendees. Along those lines I think I may have found a good match for my topic. The International Design Alliance (IDA) hosts the 2011 IDA Congress. This event is dubbed ICOGRADA. To add to the “I” words, there is Iridescent: Icograda Journal of Design Research, which has extended a list of new topics for this years event. The one that caught my eye was, “Understanding How Graphic Design is Animated through Use.” Part of the description includes this, “Papers submitted under this theme might offer new modes of analysis with which to illuminate the public’s more complex, nuanced and subtle relationships with the emerging forms, methods and behaviors of graphic design practice.” I think the idea of design fiction visualized in a graphic novel might be the perfect discussion for this forum. I have a June 30 deadline. Should be interesting to see where this leads.

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Design word of the day

gestaltGestalt.

A configuration or pattern of elements so unified as a whole that it cannot be described merely as a sum of its parts.

A great word that has particular significance when you are talking about brand design. A well conceived and executed brand vision is truly a gestalt. When it works together it is stronger than adding together the sum of the parts. The term is appropriate for any successful design from visual to industrial or interior, in art and photography.

Definition courtesy of: wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn

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Is design becoming a commodity?

Is design becoming a commodity?

I was looking over my skill set today and felt compelled to ask the question of whether or not some of my expertise has fallen into the realm of commodity. 

Take for example the art of 3D illustration, modeling and graphics. There are a number of offshore firms doing this and cranking it out really at a fraction of what it would cost in the States. They probably have more processing horsepower, faster rendering speeds and obviously lower pricing. Can a really talented small business or freelance designer compete in this landscape?

Here’s another example. Visit the site called 0Desk. (www.oDesk.com). You will see that there are hundreds of designers out there who are doing logo design for an average of $8 an hour. If you were formally trained at a university or design school in the art and science of corporate identity then the notion of a solid, versatile and sustainable logo that costs $20 makes your head spin. To make it even more challenging,  a lot of the clients posting jobs on this site are asking for “sketches” up-front before they hire. Nevertheless, these clients are getting what they need and (based upon the number of designers that bid on these jobs), there are lots of people out there willing to do the work. 

If you did enough of these jobs could you actually eek out a living?

I had an acquaintance in the consumer electronics business that used to say, “There is very little nourishment in a bowl of volume.” (And that’s an industry that should know.) I have seen this proven out many times. Becoming a commodity, no matter how much you sell, is a slow road to nowhere. Most would agree: The key to big success is in differentiating your brand from everyone elses.

So where is this going? I think that with the advent of the personal computer —specifically the Apple computer and its emphasis on graphics and graphic software — even faux-design became accessible to the masses. It’s the idea that with just enough technology,substance doesn’t matter so much. (Take a look at most PowerPoint presentations.) 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that great design has to cost a fortune or that designers who work cheap are hacks — I dare not. I’ve done dozens of design projects of all sizes and scale on tight budgets. I’m not whining either — just reflecting. I think that the conclusion from all this is still the client’s ability to discern the differences in good and good enough. If you have a discerning eye, much of what you see from the 3D rendering farms has two distinct components: superior realism, and average design. As for logo design, the design master Paul Rand said, “Ultimately, the only mandate in the design of logos, it seems, is that they be distinctive, memorable, and clear.” If you can do that for $20 you are under charging.

Therein lies the difference, and I’ll admit it’s subtle. Even in product design, the difference between the iPod and all the other mp3 player choices is the subtle difference of great design. And yet, there are many manufacturers out there selling a steady clip of “average”. 

So how do I summarize this and answer my original question: Is design becoming a commodity? I believe almost anything can be commoditized in today’s world. It’s the nature of technology: faster and cheaper. So the answer is: Yes. Great design may well be in the eye of the beholder. If it functions and is pleasing at the same time, I think you have a winner. At the same time there is, and will always be a place for the exquisite, which can be simple or complex. And even those designers will, at times, do the $20 logo. 

One thing I think remains true: Even the best technology can’t supplant the human spirit and the vision it can produce — tough to commoditize.

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