On May 14-17 2018, some 40 students at the International Program in Communication Design (CommDe, Faculty of Architecture, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand) attended in two groups to 4-day parallel “Open Studios” led by Belgian cartoonist and illustrator Ephameron (aka Eva Cardon) and American cartoonist and illustrator Anders Nilsen.
〈Anders Nilsen wrote his own account of the 4-day “Chulalongkorn Comics Workshop Phantasmagoria” on this blog post.〉
“It was a remarkable experience in about a hundred different ways, but in particular the students were amazing.” Anders Nilsen (blog post here)
The current post presents the two first days of the Open Studios, and a second post will soon display pics from the last two days of workshop. Students were able to experience two completely different approaches in comics composition during these Open Studios, as Ephameron focused on capturing the essence of a short story and its breakdown and visual adaptation in comics form while Anders Nilsen explored “non-standard” panel layouts and constrained comics exercises (inspired by OuBaPian experiments from the Pierre Feuille Ciseaux international comics residency-laboratory) in order to generate unexpected characters and plots. I do apologize here for the far too invasive presence of my noisy camera, and thank all participants for the patience and understanding. Nicolas
Here are the presentations of Ephameron and Anders Nilsen’s Open Studios by the CommDe program which invited the two artists and hosted the event.
“Eva Cardon leads CommDe Open Studio on Graphic Narrative. In this open studio on Graphic Narrative each student chooses one of the short stories from American author Raymond Carver collections What We Talk About When We Talk About Love and Cathedral and turns it into a graphic narrative that explores the limits of comics, and experiments with storytelling techniques. Eva works under the pseudonym Ephameron and is based in Flanders. She publishes and exhibits internationally.”
“Anders Nilsen leads CommDe Open Studio ‘Where Do Your Ideas Come From: A Comics Workshop.’ Anders will lead students to explore their own creativity in developing characters and narratives. Anders Nilsen is the award-winning artist and author of nine books of comics and visual narrative including Big Questions, Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow, The End and Tongues. His work has appeared in the New York Times, The Chicago Reader, Medium, Kramer’s Ergot and elsewhere. His comics have been translated into numerous languages and his artwork has been shown internationally. He lives in Portland, Oregon.”
DAY 1: MONDAY, MAY 14
DAY 1 in Ephameron’s Open Studio. Part 01: story-boarding of a Raymond Carver’s short story. The Belgian artist introduced the life and works of Raymond Carver and proposes a warm-up exercise. All students had to break down an imposed short story Why don’t you dance? (from Raymond Carver’s collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love) into a storyboard of 10 illustrations.
DAY 1 in Anders Nilsen’s Open Studio. Part 01: the Comics Loop. Meanwhile in the classroom below, the American cartoonist proposes a first exercise to generate imaginative character designs. Each student randomly draws a name card on which a stock character is named (“beggar child”, “drug dealer”, “elephant”, etc.). Each student is then asked to divide an A4 page in four panels and is given a few minutes to create the character design of his/her assigned character in the first panel. When done, students are given a few more minutes to come up with completely different interpretation and graphic rendition of their assigned character, in order to avoid the obvious/common portrayal they might have provided in the first panel. When the second panel is completed, students must redraw their character in the two last panels but in graphic styles different from their personal style in order to leave their confort zone.
When done, the same exercise is repeated but with name cards of objects, then name cards of settings/sceneries. All character/object/setting designs are then separated and taped to a wall. Each student must then designates his/her 3 favorite character designs, then objects, then settings.
After voting, the three favorite character designs, objects and settings are brought together.
As the three selected objects (like the fish can or the anthropomorphic chair) could be turned into characters and would be redundant with the initially selected characters, Anders and I decided to substitute them for a meteorite (which could also be used as a setting), a “bone trapped in a crystal”. The “top of a building” setting was discarded in favor a snow globe, being an object and holding a potential setting. The 9 definitive elements were then used as references, and limitations to maintain coherence, for a collective comics composition assignment -in the form of an exquisite corpse– based on the constrained exercise La Boucle/The Loop developed by the ChiFouMi Association. This exercise had been already implemented at the Faculty of Communication Arts in 2015 with 17 participants, whether professional Thai cartoonists or enthusiasts (more info on this dedicated post). Here is the “protocol” of the constrained exercise. Let’s note here that the story remains “wordless” to facilitate the development of the narrative, as the presence of dialogues might complicate the action of linking the first and last panels together.
Step one: defining 9 elements (3 characters/ 3 objects/ 3 settings). See above.
Step two: each student draws a 6-panel regular grid on an A4 page. Every student must start the action of his/her story in the sixth (and last) panel using one or several of the 9 imposed elements. When done, he/she gives his/her page to the artist on his/her left. Time limit: 15′.
Step three: in the first panel of the page he/she got from his/her seatmate, the artist must continue the action he/she started on the previous page. Time limit: 15′.
Step four: all pages, with only the first panel filled by an artist and the sixth panel filled by another artist, are gathered together. Each student randomly draws a number and -following order of the numbers- can select a page on which he/she will have to fill the four remaining panels (or panels 2 to 5), and link panels 1 and 6 into a somehow coherent narrative.
Step five: each student must now fill the four empty panels (or panels 2 to 5) on the page he/she picked, and link panels 1 and 6 (each drawn by another student) into a somehow coherent narrative.
The Final Story: As presented by the Association ChiFouMi, “the story that is made through all these joints makes an infinite loop, where all the elements that were produced before gives some kind of common road where each author can intend its own singularities and its own imagination, while following a protocol nearly invisible.”
It is interesting to note that a series of recurring motifs appeared throughout the narrative, without any consultation among the students. If “transformations” are obviously to be expected in order to link two disparate panels together, the frequency of “transformations by digestion” was here quite remarkable. Recurring motifs include ingestion, swallowing, vomiting, excretion (maybe in connection with the importance of food in Thai culture, or with gluttonous Brahmin Chuchok whose belly would burst in the Vessantara Jataka, or Krasue spirit with their internal organs hanging down from the neck?), and some related scatological elements, to which -and quite logically in a Buddhist culture- the recurring lotus flower raising from mud would balance. Karmic retribution, and Inception-like worlds inside worlds, were quite present too. The resulting comics was wild, and hilarious at times, as the following pictures show.
The PDF of the complete loop is downloadable on this link: CommDe Comics Loop.
The PDF of the complete loop is downloadable on this link: CommDe Comics Loop.
DAY 1 in Anders Nilsen’s Open Studio. Part 02: the comics “scrabble/domino”. Anders Nilsen proposed another exercise to which the students were invited to participate whenever they wanted during the 4-day Open Studio. The American artist scattered some illustrations on different walls and asked the students to add new illustrations after, before, above or below his own in order to generate strips, and narratives which would slowly spread across the walls.
DAY 1 in Ephameron’s Open Studio. Part 02: figure drawing. Meanwhile Belgian artist Ephameron lets her students release some steam, after a challenging and focused day of short story analysis and story-boarding, by proposing a “figure drawing” session. Each student was invited to draw one of his/her classmates, respecting proportions and attitudes, and exploring various facial expressions.
DAY 2 in Ephameron’s Open Studio. Part 01: comics adaptation of various Raymond Carver’s short stories. At the end of previous day, Ephameron provided each of her students with a different short story written by American author Raymond Carver and mainly taken from the collections What We Talk About When We Talk About Love and Cathedral. Each student has the three remaining days to adapt his/her assigned short story into a comics.
DAY 2 in Anders Nilsen’s Open Studio. Part 01: Taming the Beast. As the Comics Loop resulted in a wilder-than-expected exhilarating narrative, the American cartoonist decided to go for an additional exercise in order to “tame the Beast” and channel the energy.
Anders Nilsen presented the students with Daniel Clowes‘ comics page “What Is the Most Important Invention of the 20th Century?” published on October 1989 in the first issue of his comics series Eightball. The page is a visual adaptation of “the work of David Greenberger, who asked questions of nursing home residents and transcribed their answers in his zine The Duplex Planet.” Other Duplex Planet-inspired comics -with each story’s title is the question Greenberger asked, e.g., “Where Do Wiseguys Come From?”- appeared in Eightball #2 to 4, and 6 (see below for pics).
Here are some results from the “What Happened? – Clowes/Greenberger” assignment by the students.
And an extra constrained comics assignment:
DAY 2 in Anders Nilsen’s Open Studio. Part 02: Finding Anders Nilsen. The American cartoonist did a short presentation of his journey as an artist, with the various defining steps and realizations mapping out his career path, such as stressing the importance of his sketchbooks in all aspects of his numerous projects. Some 25 of his books (from zines to graphic novels or collaborative productions) were on display in the classroom for the students to consult.
DAY 2 in Anders Nilsen’s Open Studio. Part 03: “I Almost Died!” assignment. After a lot of fun, students were asked to work on a more dramatic and/or intimate (or humorous if preferred) 8-panel comics page starring two characters. The first character would talk about a time that they almost died. The other character only speaks once, to ask a question. Seven panels show the two characters, and one panel (selected by the student) shows something else.
DAY 2 in Ephameron’s Open Studio. Part 02: comics adaptation of various Raymond Carver’s short stories. Students pursue their comics adaptations of assigned short story written by American author Raymond Carver and mainly taken from the collections What We Talk About When We Talk About Love and Cathedral.
PART 2/2 COMING SOON…