Eisner

 

It's certainly true that my form of photorealism involves tracing photographs. Al Williamson evidently used black-and-white polaroids until they stopped making black and white polaroid film at which point he went back to "making it all up." "Why couldn't he use colour polaroid film if he was only using the photos for reference? Well, because there are nuances to colour photography that are anathematic to making black and white drawings. I photocopy colour images and "trace" them but it's "tracing" rather than tracing because all the tonal values are altered. A light pink shadow under the nose in a colour photo becomes a harsh gray smudge when photocopied. The challenge of photo-realism is translation -- the light pink shading is too light, the harsh gray smudge is too dark -- so how do I decide what size and shape the shadow should have been when rendered as a precise black shape? In the photo-realism school as originated by Alex Raymond (and, to me, perfected by Al Williamson) the goal is to judge correctly. If the shadow under the nose is this size and shape then the shadow next to the eyelid should be what size and shape? Should it define the edge of the nose or advance no further than the edge of the eyelid? The traced image always needs to be fixed, repaired, modified. You can erase the same shape and redraw it a dozen times, slightly smaller slightly larger, with a bulge, without a bulge, with a clean edge with a feathered edge. All of the problems need to be solved and all of the decisions made before the inking stage. And then the inking stage has to be done smoothly, cleanly, almost carelessly or the picture is going to look "laboured over." If all of the stages have been fully accomplished -- either by inspiration, accident, sheer hard work (or usually all three) -- then you have a favourite page. Everyone's favourite page. If any stage has been flawed then you have what you hope is at least a competent page although it's unlikely that anyone will single it out for praise.

When I decided to do a piece on the Holocaust, one of the major selling points, artistically, is that all (or most) of the source images were in black and white, particularly those shots taken by military photographers during the liberation of the camps. Relative to the artistic tradition in which I was working -- The Raymond School -- I was violating too many cardinal rules; foremost among them "Thou shalt not use an excessive number of pen lines." Because different shades and densities can be developed and built up by using thin pen lines -- " hatching" (areas of thin pen strokes) and "cross-hatching" (areas of intersecting and overlapping lines) -- and can be modified be adding new layers of pen strokes, there is far less pressure at the pencilling stage than there is when your finished image is going to be composed exclusively of sharply defined shapes marked by a single outline and areas that are either black or white with only a handful of tiny pen strokes to intimate a slight curve to a cheek or a dimple in a scarf. A mass of pen lines looks like a lot more hard work to the civilian eye when contrasted with a stark black and white version of the same image when nothing could be farther from the truth. If you allow yourself an unlimited number of lines to capture a

likeness (as I did on many of the pages in Judenhass) then you aren't so much solving your drawing problems before committing them to permanence in black ink as you are fixing your initial and subsequent mistakes, layer upon layer, for as long as you care to.As a result, I am far more pleased with my renderings of Jerry Seigel and Joe Schuster than I am with the double page Arbeit Macht Frei image even though I know which is going to have the greater popular appeal. This was, at least partly, a thematic decision on my part originating in my desire to come as close as possible to doing portraits of as many Holocaust victims as possible to render good likenesses created by building the image with as many pen strokes as necessary. At least temporarily I was able to individualize the victims for myself, personally, to differentiate each one as much as possible back into the individual he or she had been before the catastrophe of the Shoah had overtaken him or her.

 

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"My people did this." That is, all of these individual Jews, all of these individual human beings, none of them very old, most in the prime of life came to the state in which I was capturing their likenesses through the actions of the non-Jews like myself. To set myself the task of capturing likenesses and expressions meant that I couldn't look away or see the Shoah through distanced overview, impersonally. How could I? Each death had been experienced personally, each death had been individual, each death had ended in a final eloquent...and horrific... expression. The only thing to me more horrific than those final expressions was the all-too-human urge to look away.


How dare I? How dare any of us?

 

For further suggested reading on the subject of photorealism read the article "Something Cool: Alex Raymond, Rip Kirby, and the Rise and Fall of the Photorealistic Comic Strip" by Professor A. E. Mendez in Comic Art Magazine #2 (2003).

 

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