Soap Strip Folk II

Episode Eighty-Seven: Soap Strip Folk II which the maxim fits. Originally published June 31, 2018, in the Quechee Picayune-Emetic. Reprinted with permission.

1 comment:

  1. There's a tracking shot that I'm sure I've seen dozens of times. An urban brownstone row: the shot starts in the trees, looking down the street, as the protagonists walk toward us. The camera tracks vertically downward, focusing on the approach, ending as a close up.

    I'm sure this shot must be a staple. In my mind's eye I'm seeing it all over Woody Allen films, and it must be in nearly every police procedural. Easy, right? I can find it in a second, right? Wrong.

    The dirty secret here is that I trace my comics. Each frame starts its life as a collage in GIMP (open source Photoshop). I assemble clips of drawings, pictures, and text balloons in a frame often sized to accommodate dialog. This is printed, taped to a light box, and then traced onto the blank page. The full strip is then scanned back in, and re-assembled in GIMP. I add faux halftone, clean it, fuss the title, add the date. There is a lot of messing with color levels, contrasts, sharpening, blurring, effects. Each week asks for its own look and feel, and even this final step can eat up the better part of a day. It's an avocation, and no other place in my life gets this level of engaged attentiveness.

    The conceit that Latent Oats is a collage of four separate comics requires that they appear to be drawn by different people. It seems that, regardless of my (in)ability to convey different artistic styles, using four different fonts is crucial to conveying this impression. I do not have the skill to consistently pull off four fonts without (or even with) reference, and, so, tracing the fonts became part of the process from day one. Why do I feel guilty about this? Looking at contemporary newspapers I've found that many current running comics use generated text for dialogue. At least I'm actually putting ink to paper.

    Occam's Razor, from 13th c. English Franciscan friar William of Ockham, is the principle that, when faced with competing hypotheses, the simplest explanation is likely correct. "Occam's Emery Board" is a joke I came up with over a decade ago, and recently it struck me that it would work as a Soap Strip comic. The idea presented itself under the guise of that tracking shot, and so I set out to find a reference to capture the first three frames. Tracing screen caps of an established shot would preclude my having to calculate the changing vanishing points myself. Simple. Time saving.

    I could not find that shot. It was not anywhere. Most of the establishing shots that I remembered, such as in HBO's Westworld (2016), involved extensive L-R pans as the crane moved up or down. I needed a simple vertical looking down an urban residential street.

    The best I could find was from the BBC remake of Sherlock (2010). When we first see 221B Baker Street, the camera is looking in the window of Sherlock's study, and then pans away and down, swooping out over the street and then pulling back in toward the building. The view affords us both Watson approaching on his crutch, as well as Sherlock's cab pulling up.

    I grabbed some screen caps, and erased Watson from the sidewalk. In a happy coincidence, there were two women approaching, and they became my protagonists. A man walking away from the scene provides a reference point in the action between frames one and two.

    There's an unintentional effect here in that the first frame, the widest shot, is highly detailed in background detail, and the final frame is highly abstracted. Conversely, the characters grow from abstract to specific. That reversal in focus is satisfying.

    I'm not sure if the perspective works. I feel like the camera's 'swooping out' complicates the angles a little in a way that I am not talented enough to overcome. In the end, though, the peach color gives it a vintage feel that makes it plausibly look like a vintage strip one might see for sale online. It could have been printed in the 60's or 70's. A coworker genuinely had no idea I had drawn it, which is perhaps the greatest compliment. Very happy.



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