Departures is a comic made of drawings that weren’t meant to be comics. Each drawing was done in my travel sketchbook, in a different location, in 2016. Y’all remember 2016? For me it was a year of much travel, many places, usually for work so very short, very busy trips.
Example of a sketchbook drawing:
I like photographing my drawings as it’s faster than scanning as a way to share images of my work online . It also marks a difference between the drawing and the photo of the drawing: partly because I ♥ Walter Benjamin, partly paranoia based on having seen other people’s drawings knocked off by unscrupulous companies and unthinking individuals, partly to show it’s drawn by hand in ink on paper in a book. A digital way to show that it’s analogue. Probably most of all, I like artsy sketchbook photos that give some indication of where I was when I drew the thing. My first big book Celebrity Homes was drawn from photos, and whilst I’m still mega proud of the book I think my drawing is better (better = it looks better to me + I enjoy the process more) when I draw from real things, preferably outdoors.
Example of sketchbook photos as shared online:
But a series of drawings (photos of drawings) is not inevitably a comic. I wanted to pull a year of travel into some sort of meaningful collection. The drawings weren’t really background images, and even if they could be used as such, I didn’t much fancy writing a fiction version to link the peculiar series of locations I’d had real-life reasons to visit. I didn’t want to retell all details of why I’d been to each place, partly because of colleagues’ confidentiality and partly because I prefer snippets of autobiography to tell-all confessionals. To an extent I can turn down ‘precise thinking researcher brain’ and turn up ‘no limits artist brain’ for a while, but I don’t want to turn off one in favour of the other. Everything is in everything else.
But pictures tend to tell stories. Looking at them, some of my drawings had more of a story in them than others. Cautiously, I cut them open to find out what was inside. I scanned each drawing to do the autopsy digitally: I’ve dissected sketchbooks before and will do so again, but wanted to keep this sketchbook as a travel souvenir. And, I wasn’t sure if the cutting up would work. Digital cutting meant I could try different combinations of what became panels in a series of 1-page comics. Photocopies and scissors would’ve done some of this, but high resolution digital files kept the fine lines and wrinkles clear enough to eventually print.
What does it mean to say something ‘works’ as a comic? Here’s a comic I think works well:
Looking around, seeing a person, getting some sense of a travel hub (airport, or whatever), noticing that the person is looking at or for something (screens, signs, whatever). There’s enough of a story to make it readable.
Here’s a comic I think works a bit:
Left page: crossing a road. Right page: the repetitiveness of going to cafes. Neither one going to change the world, but enough narrative to have some sense of progress.
Here’s a drawing I started cutting up into a comic, but it really didn’t work. So I stopped:
It’s nice, but there’s no story. However you look at it it’s just roofs. It could set the scene for a story, but in itself it ain’t no story.
There’s something about readability. Is there some sort of progression, even if ‘narrative’ is too strong a word? Can a reader hook onto some understanding of what I’m trying to show and tell them? Readability, in these wordless examples, is less about font choice and more about content. Some panels, some pages might be ambiguous enough to trigger multiple possible readings, but overall I wanted enough clarity within which there could be areas of ambiguity. Clear but with fuzzy bits. And bits missing, fragmented, waiting for a reader to fill in the gaps.
Making a double-book (z-fold cover, 2 sets of pages in one book) was a way to keep the original sketches and the remixed comics together-but-separate. Digital printed pages on cylus paper was a way to keep both the clarity of fine lines and a bit of texture. Pamphlet stitched bindings and letterpress labels on the covers was a way to keep a handmadeness in a series of 100 books. All in all, Departures is a well-balanced book.
I’ll post more pages on the Tumblr, and/or buy a copy here, and/or read my example copy whenever I’m next at an event (dates will be on Twitter, as and when).