Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Secret of Drawing: Storylines

by Drew Martin
Pictured here is The Great Wave off Kanagawa from the early 1830s by Katsushika Hokusai who is considered to be the father of manga, which means "random sketches" and is an art form that actually can be traced back more than 700 years earlier to the Scrolls of Frolicking Animals from by Toba Sōjō, a Japanese artist-monk-astronomer.

These two artists are featured in the BBC production, The Secret of Drawing: Storylines, the second episode in a four-part series dedicated to the art of drawing. The writer and presenter of the show, Andrew Graham-Dixon starts the show off with by saying,

Human beings need stories, myths, tales, legends... And history shows that the drawing has played just as crucial a part in satisfying that basic need as the word. But there’s a big difference between what happens when you tell a story and what happens when you draw it. And I think the great French artist Henri Matisse put his finger on it when he said that whereas the writer has to use the shared language of speech, every artist uses his (and her) own self-invented visual language so every element of every story that he (or she) draws out is shot through with his (or her) own personality and idiosyncrasies.

Graham-Dixon explores the idea of drawing as storytelling through American comic book artists, British political cartoonists, Japanese manga and anime creators, a Hollywood storyboard illustrator, and an old-school French animator. He seems genuinely fascinated by the comic book culture in America and the artists who produce such a wide range of material. Surprisingly, for me, he dwells on what he sees as a dark streak throughout all the American comics, even with Peanuts, whose creator [Charles Schulz] he introduces as a depressive. 

Graham-Dixon adds to the mix some of the greatest political cartoonists from the 1700 and 1800s, including William Hogarth and James Gillray of England. Hogarth's Gin Lane is a loaded scene with layers of narrative and social commentary, such as a drunk mother dropping her baby. Gillray continued the tradition but took it to another level by perfecting the cartoon with a quick read, greatly exaggerated reality, and sharp wit, so much so that his Plum-pudding in Danger, which mocks George III and Napoleon, is considered one of the best political cartoons of all time, and has been continuously copied, and referenced every since.

Martin Rowson, a modern British political cartoonist a.k.a. visual journalist interviewed in the show offers,

We read images in an entirely different way to the way we read text. Ultimately, the most effective, quickest, sharpest instrument for getting a political point across is using a cartoon.

Graham-Dixon takes this a step further by introducing artists such as Goya and Picasso who made very politically charged works such as Goya's Disasters of War, and Picasso's cartoon-like mockery of Franco by depicting him as a penis-turd-creature, and ultimately his Guernica.

While all these styles and artists are fascinating, I feel like the part of the show that is most aligned with what I thought the entire series would be about is when he interviews the motion-picture storyboard artist, J. Todd Anderson.

"It’s my job to get what’s in a director’s head onto paper. It’s not my job to create the shots. It’s my job to interpret their language into a visual language."

"It’s very important that I get as close to the images in their brain onto paper so that everybody when they walk on the set is making the same movie. They’re not all imagining what’s going on." 

Graham-Anderson explores the early start of animated movies and then concludes with Sylvain Chomet, a French animator who expresses that animations should not always be directed for children, but rather that creative, youthful soul still inside all of us.

The full documentary of this second episode can be watched here: