29 December 2007

Christmas Delirium

Brother the Elder was over in England the other week, this time visiting for reasons other than the crack, and found himself at Sister the Eldest's house, musing upon my Christmas card, which had, in breach of my personal festive tradition, arrived spectacularly early.

Clearly, my siblings agreed, this card had been drawn last year. Nothing else could explain its punctuality.

This was, I feel, a rather harsh judgment, especially in light of the fact that the card as delivered to Sister the Elder's hadn't quite been hand-drawn, after all. I really think this should have given them a clue. It had clearly been printed, thereby facilitating me in getting this year's cards out on time.

I know, you might think of this as cheating, but Hal Foster used to do it, and if printed cards showing personal illustrations were good enough for that grand old man of American comics, then they should surely be good enough for the likes of me.

In truth, my plan this year had been to draw all my cards by hand, but having taken three hours to pencil and ink just this simple line drawing, I reluctantly concluded that hand-drawn cards wouldn't be practical if I hoped to send more than a handful this year. So onto the flatbed it went, there to be scanned and then opened in Photoshop, where I could comfortably grayscale, clean, darken, and tighten in various ways before getting stuck in with the paintbucket, airbrush, burn, and lens flare tools. After that it was just a matter of printing and setting to work with my scalpel on the backing boards. The first card -- bound for Brazil -- saw me experimenting with calligraphy as well, but the ink bled too much for my liking, so while that slightly wonky prototype was the first card in the post, I decided to skip the French Ronde on the subsequent cards.

All told, I'm pretty happy with this year's work, which probably betrays to some degree my recent obsession with Brian Bolland, at least in how slow I've worked, if not how well. Certainly, brushwork like this takes an immense amount of time -- I reckon I'd have drawn at least nine of my usual cartoon snowmen cards in the time it took me to draw this year's one -- but I think it's worth the effort, and I'm rather inclined to go for a similar approach next year, printing them again in a daring attempt at being timely two years in succession.

The only disadvantage of sending printed cards rather than originals is that people are -- I imagine -- more likely to throw them out rather than keep them. I have friends who revive old snowmen cards each Christmas, feeling they work rather well as decorations, and now that I think of it, Sister the Eldest has a framed set of cards from me and Brother the Elder on one of her walls. Still, that's just an ego thing, and best ignored.

The main thing is that people get their cards in the first place, that I'm letting them know that they matter to me, and that they're in my thoughts at Christmas time.

It's funny that I've only just remembered Sister the Eldest's framed set of cards. A few weeks back I mentioned in a letter how I had spent a night at Sister the Elder's house back in the summer and was rather startled to realise that hanging on the wall was a drawing I had done years ago. It was, I thought then -- and claimed in my letter -- the only picture of mine that anyone has ever framed. Evidently not, though. There are a couple of others. For all I know there may be more; on this point I must claim agnosticism, or at any rate admit ignorance.

Anyway, the picture in Sister the Elder's house shows Delirium from Neil Gaiman's Sandman, here depicted not by me but by Jill Thompson. Jill made the character her own when she drew her in 'Brief Lives', a wonderful story that was only hampered by issues with the colour separators just opposite my local church; I've read a few times that they seem to have had an annoying tendency to ignore instructions. I'll be looking forward to seeing their screw-ups being rectified in the third Absolute Sandman volume.

Jill drew this for me at a convention in London years ago, back when I had hopes of becoming a comic artist myself, thinking that I might someday be good enough. I was amazed then at her astonishing speed, grace, and confidence with a humble ball-point, something which I'd forgotten until a few weeks ago when she wrote on her blog about her fondness for the biro. Her blog's well worth reading, actually, and I was gratified to see the other week that she too has embraced mechanisation in making her Christmas cards:
'I used to paint each one individually in an assembly line like process and would make about 25 to 30 of them. I think one year I made 50. And then I wised up and got myself to the copy center. The only downside is they used to be mounted on a nice colored background.'
You should take a look at some of her cards. Little watercoloured jewels that leave me feeling quite inadequate, they're really rather beautiful.

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