Eye in the Sky | Farel Dalrymple, Paul Pope, & the Seinfeld Calendar | Flesh Machine
 
I was drawn deeply into the film Eye in the Sky (which structurally could well have been titled Trolley Problem: The Motion Picture). Eye in the Sky is an intense, emotional, high-stakes drama unfolding in more or less real time, raising difficult ethical questions about levels of certainty and the value of a single human life, using the War on Terror as its context.

The acting work is suitably grounded, giving priority to telling the story. Standouts include Helen Mirren as a military figure who wants to kill someone on the most-wanted list, even if she has to bend some rules to do so; Barkhad Abdi as a focused man whose character is revealed almost exclusively by his actions; Babou Ceesay, whose soulful eyes give his performance a truthful nuance, speaking volumes in what he doesn't say; and the late Alan Rickman, in one of his last performances, as a soldier in power who's seen what terrorists are capable of.

(And the U.S. representative deflecting the moral question of killing a U.S. citizen with an invocation of the president's kill list and the concept that a U.S. citizen gives up their rights as a citizen when suspected of terrorism is a troublingly accurate detail.)

Not only a challenging work of barely-fiction, Eye in the Sky also serves as an example of strong craftsmanship in filmmaking and visual storytelling, being able to wring drama out of as simple a sight as that of a little girl lining up loaves of bread on a table.

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Farel Dalrymple, the cartoonist kind enough to give me the blurb about my comic Flesh Machine that I'm using on my site was interviewed recently for a podcast called Comics Manifest. The interviewer seems smart and well-intentioned though hopelessly corny (referring to his listeners as "The Dream Team", I kid you not), but Dalrymple has some interesting stuff to say. He talks frankly about the economics of being an artist, his advice and experiences related to productivity, and a bit about his process making comics.

I enjoyed hearing about how Dalrymple finished his New York bestselling graphic novel The Wrenchies by working on the last 50 pages as one batch. When my schedule allows, I prefer to work on my own comic that way, doing all the thumbnailing for a bunch of pages, then drawing the panel borders and doing the lettering and word balloons for all those pages, then drawing the linework, and finally wrapping up with the gray tones.

Rockstar-like cartoonist Paul Pope has written about a similar process being his most efficient way of working — what he refers to as "an assembly line procedure... where I'd pencil, letter, ink and finish 16 pages at a time, using two rows of eight [hanging on my studio wall] as if they were a gigantic comics tableau." I typed up Pope's process notes five years ago and shared it on my Mutineer Studio Facebook page here if you're interested.

Back when he was just a working comedian, Jerry Seinfeld would buy one of those huge calendars that have the whole year on one page, and he'd draw an "X" through a date when he wrote stand-up material that day. The idea is to make sure you work on your project every day, if only for a little while, and to not break the chain. I tried the "Seinfeld calendar" method for the early part of Flesh Machine, and it has its merits, but I find I'm most productive working in large chunks, even if it's not every day; for me, it's better to draw comics seven hours one day than drawing one hour a day for a week. But your mileage may vary, and the Seinfeld Calendar is certainly worth a try for creative work.

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I work on pages of my first comic, Flesh Machine, in big batches when I can, and in multi-hour chunks each week. I have the whole story worked out through the ending, and I hope it ends up raising moral questions in a similar way to Eye in the Sky, though viewed through a science fiction lens. I post new pages at MichaelAvolio.com every Tuesday.

"X" on the calendar,

Michael Avolio