Getting Lost in Comics

Chanan creates a cyclical comic that never ends while experimenting with the physicality of the form.

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Power Point

Perennial

At the beginning of the semester when I was trying to conceive of what creative projects I’d like to pursue, I already knew I wanted to create some sort of short or comic book, but I didn’t know what about. When we watched the Down the Graphic Novel Rabbit Hole video in class, I was inspired to create something relating to time and cycles. Perennial is my answer to this inspiration, it is a cyclical comic, both literally and symbolically.

When I started working on Perennial, I decided to worry about figuring out the physical form of it first and the narrative second, letting the form mold the narrative. Of course, I had some vague ideas about what I wanted the theme of the story to be (i.e. faerie tales, wandering in the woods, cycles in nature, etc.) but I felt like I didn’t have a way to properly approach writing it until I figured out the physical form. I knew I wanted the book to be a literal circle, something where the reader could read right back to where they started with little interruption. At first, I tried to figure out how to construct an accordion book with circular pages that would connect into a flat circle of pages when laid out completely (imagine a circle made up of smaller connect circles?). I couldn’t quite parse that idea out with prototype books, so I prototyped another accordion book that would be a half moon when closed and would open into a standing ring of circular pages. What I didn’t like about this model is that it didn’t allow the reader flip through the book and view pages that were entirely circular (the were all half moon shaped until it was completely open). So, finally, I made a prototype where the book appears as a half moon when closed, but each page opens as a full circle and, when opened fully, the book forms a sphere. I was able to figure out the construction of this idea thanks to those paper honeycomb balls that are often cheap party decorations (the ones made from tissue paper that come packed as a half moon shape but stretch into a sphere when opened). When I began to construct the book, I cut out 12 individual circular sheets of paper (5 pages for moon phases, 6 pages for panels, and one page for the cover). After I’d finished illustrating the pages (which I’ll get to later) I folded each page in half vertically and glued the back of each page to the back of the page next to it with PVA bookbinding glue. I then took the cover page and cut it in half, gluing one piece to each remaining outside page-back. Lastly, I cut out a strip of thin Oriental paper which I glued to the outside spine of the book to seal the binding.

Once I figured out the physical construction of the book, I had to address the narrative and page layouts. At first, I thought I’d have about six pages, with each page having a theme about different cycles (a page for moon cycles, time, life and death, seasons, etc.), but that didn’t really seem like a narrative at all, so I decided to set the story in a bit of a faerie tale context. I that decided my main character (who is unnamed and ungendered, but I tend to think of them as more feminine) would be wandering in a circle through the woods, lost in a sort of faerie trance (hence the mushroom ring on the cover and reoccurring mushrooms throughout the pages) and speaking with or being spoken to by some unseen entity (the idea for the unseen entity came from the phrase ‘whispering in the woods’ which popped into my head while I was trying to figure out the narrative and just wouldn’t leave; I blame the alliteration for making it stick so well). At first, I imagined the voice as some sort of fae creature of hobgoblin, going along with my faerie tale inspired theme, but after more thought (and a kind suggestion from Ashley) I decided that the voice would be the moon. At this point, I was still not thinking cyclically enough in terms of narrative, and still thought that each individual page would have its own theme, unconnected from the other pages. I had, however, decided that I would have two types of pages instead of one. The first page would be a ‘story’ page (a page with panels and illustrations) and the next page would be a ‘moon’ page (a page which shows the phase of the moon at that particular point in the story). I decided I wanted the ‘full moon’ page to be directly in the middle of the book, and that the cover page would be an implied ‘new moon’ (which is why the cover has much more shading than the other pages, but also shows no moon because you can’t see a new moon). So, because of that, the ‘first’ moon page you encounter is a waning crescent, followed by a third quarter moon, full moon, first quarter, waxing crescent, and implied new moon cover. I decided to leave out the waxing and waning gibbous moons simply because I knew I didn’t want to have more than six of my other story pages and I liked the way the quarter moons looked better than the gibbous moons.

Before I figured out the actual content of my ‘story’ pages, I had already figured out how I wanted the panels to appear. I knew I wanted to use some sort of Celtic knot to act as my gutters, not only because it would be aesthetically pleasing with the circular shape of the page, but also to reference my continuous and cyclical theme. At first, I had though to use a typical trinity knot, but I decided on using a quadruple knot, not only to give myself more panels to work with, but also to reference the four seasons and their cycle. Using this type of knot also gave me an independent center panel, which I decided would always be a shot of the protagonist walking through the pages. I decided to make a point not to show very much of my protagonist at all (legs and a hand are all that are ever seen). I did this partially to make them more relatable (like McCloud exampled with why authors often make characters more cartoonish) but also because I wanted this book to be something that is experienced in the peripheral, like a dream. You only ever get glimpses and short shots of what’s actually going on. I wanted the tone of Perennial to be slightly surreal and mysterious, and maybe a bit existentially frightening, but overall just fuzzy and strange like a dream.

Eventually, I decided to do away with the individually themed pages and opt for pages that were more connected. I wanted reading this to be somewhat like the experience of wandering through the woods and coming across small and interesting things along the way, partially in the format of medieval faerie tales where the main character is just out galivanting around when they suddenly come across a mysterious castle or magic sword or some such thing. Also, because I wanted this to be surreal, I decided that it would be fine if events were out of time (as in outside of time, not running out of time) and took place in an order that may not completely make sense. Doing this actually helped me a lot with being able to put together a cyclical narrative. For my first ‘story’ page, I decided that it would be a shot of the protagonist entering into an arch leading into a woodland path. Perhaps they’re actually entering the woods for the first time, or perhaps they’re just reentering from a clearing in the middle of the woods (note, the cover actually shows the layout of the path the protagonist is on; I imagine that once inside the forest, the small path which they entered though would be very difficult to find again and that they’ve probably circled past it dozens of times). You can view the arch which they are about to pass into in the peripheral picture panels. The protagonist shows hesitation about entering, noting that it’s a bit dark, but the moon comments that it’ll get brighter (which it does, as the moon progresses from a crescent to full moon). As a mirror, the last page is also a shot of the protagonist about to enter or exit a path. This time, they think it might be the way out, but the moon tells them that it only leads further in and going back wouldn’t help them either. This loops back around to the first page where the protagonist decides to enter the path again. On the second ‘story’ page, they come across several cairns (stacks of rocks) and wonder who put them there. The moon tells them that they did, which they think is ridiculous, and it seems that way until the third ‘story’ page, where the protagonist notes that they’re feeling lost. The moon suggests that they could mark their path, to which the protagonist responds by stacking some rocks so they’ll remember. The moon is awkwardly silent, because they know that the protagonist will only forget by the next cycle. This is the first evident hint that the protagonist is stuck in some sort of amnestic loop or faerie spell, which the moon is aware of but not saying anything about. The page with the rock stacking is the only page in the book in which the panels act to show sequential action, all of the others show the setting of the scene in periphery. This wasn’t really something I did on purpose, but it just sort of turned out that it was the only page that I really felt needed sequential action to get my point across (and I sort of preferred the peripheral scenes because I felt that they fit the mood I was going for better). The third ‘story’ page features the protagonist coming across the corpse of a squirrel, from which mushrooms are growing. Initially the protagonist thinks this is sad, but the moon disagrees, noting that new things are growing from it (note, the question mark without any accompanying dialogue in the protagonist’s speech bubble is meant to denotate a questioning silence). The fifth ‘story’ page is the mirror to the third one, in which the protagonist encounters a living squirrel. The protagonist is relieved to see what they think of as the first living thing they’ve encountered, but the moon corrects them bluntly. The third picture panel zooms in on a few mushrooms growing from the ground. These two pages are meant to hint at the ‘circle of life’, and to note that even things that may not be thought of as ‘alive’ in a traditional sense are also living and should be acknowledged. I’m not sure that there’s really a ‘point’ or ‘moral’ to this narrative in general, I tend to think of it more as an experience for the reader to follow along with.

Going back to the form and layout of the book, the way I chose to lay out the reading order is perhaps a bit confusing. I’m not completely sure why I decide to have the book read from right to left. I think perhaps it was partially my initial instinct of how to read a comic (I’ve read mostly manga, so whenever I pick up a comic I expect to read it from right to left) but I also think it makes sense with the rest of the surreal and off-kilter tone of the book, it works as another way to throw off the reader. As far as individual panel order, I decided to have it be read clockwise starting from the 12:00/1:00 position partially because it mostly fit the right to left reading order I’d already established, but also to reference the moving of a clock and continuation of time. The right to left reading order is also why I have the protagonist walking towards the left in each center panel, as a hint at which direction you should be reading and so that you feel like you’re following the protagonist into the next page. As for my material and color choices, those were fairly straightforward. I knew I didn’t want to do color, not only because it would be more difficult, but also because this narrative takes place at night and I think that means all colors should be desaturated. At first, I had intended to use black and white only, but after I’d begun illustrating in that way, I felt that the panels were flat and needed a mid-tone, so I added the grey wash to the backgrounds. This also allowed me to fill in the moon’s speech panels with the wash and write their dialogue with a white pen, making its speech seem like moonlight. I also added white stippling to the top panel of each ‘story’ page to hint at the moonlight which illuminates each scene. I chose to print the ‘moon’ pages and the gutters for the ‘story’ pages with linocuts simply for the sake of consistency and ease.

My last decision regarding this project was what to name it. This was honestly one of the most difficult parts to me, and I went back and forth on it for a long time before finally deciding on Perennial (other names included Moonlit, Phases, Cyclical, etc.). I decided on Perennial because it’s perhaps a bit less obvious than the other names I’d thought on, but also because the word references the regrowth of flowers and continuity.

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