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Jun
08

Comics Documentary: Folktales and Airships (Featuring Me!)

Did you know that Wake Forest University here in Winston-Salem has a documentary film-making department? I didn’t until I was contacted a while back by filmmaker and MFA candidate Peter Salomone who was interested in making a documentary about comics-making–featuring me. I’m sure you know how exciting and interesting the life of a cartoonist is: there’s lots of, um, sitting…. and also you put stuff on and off a scanner a lot… and sometimes you get up and make some coffee, and… well, I guess that’s pretty much it. I attempted to dissuade him from making a film on this subject, suggesting that any number of things–someone making a sandwich, or changing the oil in a car–would make for a more engaging subject, but he was persistent, so I said “What the hey…” and he came over one afternoon and filmed.

I’m actually a big fan of documentaries in general and comics documentaries in particular. It’s precisely because I’ve seen a ton of comics documentaries, though, that I was also admittedly a bit worried about how the final film might turn out. The comics documentaries I’ve seen (and I’d wager I’ve seen the bulk of them at this point) run the gamut quality-wise, from really well-done examples like the Terry Zwigoff documentary about Robert Crumb to the cringe-inducing Comic Book Confidential.

One of my big personal pet peeves with comics documentaries is how the actual comics artwork is filmed and shown on-screen. Filmmakers (because they’re used to moving images I assume) have a tendency to want to make the comics images move and this often works out really really badly. It also seems to me to imply that the original static comics images are somehow deficient and need to be “augmented” for use in film. A particularly egregious example of this is Tintin and Me, in which Herg√©’s artwork is separated into foreground and background elements and then subjected to some sort of half-assed animation effect. On the other hand, I can certainly see some reasoning behind not wanting just a static image on-screen for long periods. There are a lot of ways to handle this problem in film, and I had some trepidations for sure about how it would be dealt with with my artwork.

Fortunately, I think Peter (and Roman Safiullin, who assisted) did a great job here all around. It’s testament to Peter’s directing skill that he was able to extract enough interesting bits from my ramblings to structure a solid eight-minute film around. I was particularly impressed with how he handled the still artwork. The motion effects he’s used are very minimal–enough to keep things interesting on-screen, but never over-doing it. They’re subtle and basically just mimic the first-hand experience of reading a comic. I also really enjoyed how some of the things he’s done with the images show the process of how the comics are made, with the various Photoshop layers made visible or invisible to show how a particular panel is put together.

Anyway, enough of my rambling. A big thanks to Peter for Roman for all the hard work. Here’s the film. Please give it a “like” on Vimeo if you have an account (and assuming you actually like it–you will!):

Direct link to video: here.

2 comments

1 ping

  1. Jordan says:

    That’s really great, Ben! I read about the documentary film program in the alumni magazine, it’s fairly new, and I think moved to Wake from another university. I see they’re doing good work.

  2. Ben says:

    @Jordan – Yeah, it’s new for sure. I thought they did a nice job with this one. I should dig through the department’s website and check out what some of the other students are doing as well.

  1. Ben Towle talks cartooning on film | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment says:

    [...] Salomone, a filmmaker who is working toward an MFA in filmmaking at Wake Forest University. Towle confessed to having some misgivings about the project: One of my big personal pet peeves with comics documentaries is how the actual comics artwork is [...]

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