Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Though I Walk Through The Shadow of Uncanny Valley . . .

Mark Campos at Bistro Montage in Portland,
featured here with Moxie, My Sweet.

Living with a fellow cartoonist has its benefits, particularly when they are a long-standing feature in the minicomics world.  My housie Mark Campos wrote the anthology Moxie, My Sweet - illustrated by some of the finest cartoonists Seattle has to offer - and has drawn stories for anthologies like Not My Small Diary and Fantagraphics Treasury of Mini Comix.  Mark is not only experienced in the practical aspects of making comics, his head is full of cartooning history and theory.

I'm not like that.  My comics tool kit contains little more than combining a disparate background in fine arts and poetry as an approach to telling stories.  I have limited knowledge of the medium and it's context and having seasoned cartoonists to turn to while I attempt creating a graphic memoir is invaluable.

Uncanny, Isn't It?

Panel with self-portrait on a Chicago train platform.
What is wrong with this picture?
Creating Girl On The Road hasn't been precisely "Write script. Grab pen. GO!"  I've had to make decisions as simple as page size and as difficult as fictionalizing elements of an autobiographical story.  Somewhere in between, how to stylistically approach drawing people is one of the hardest things I've wrestled with.

The book is partially travelogue, so I want backgrounds that deliver a specific location in the story. But the core story is relational, so I want characters that are expressive.

My attempts at marrying photo-realism and expressiveness have not gotten me where I'm going yet.

Back to Mark Campos.  As I sit cursing at the kitchen table over the fact that an image I drew straight from photo reference looks like a mutant, he factually chimes in "It's 'Uncanny Valley'."  And DAMMIT if he's not right.  It is.

Things That Look Almost Human Creep Us Out

Screen grab from Manly Guys Doing Manly Things
by comics blogger
Uncanny Valley is a term developed by people in robotics.  As certain corporations race to invent the humanoid robot that everyone will love, they keep running into the problem that robots that look like humans freak real humans out. 

There's a dry Wikipedia article about it, but I found an absolutely AWESOME blog about the Uncanny Valley effect as it relates to comics here.  Funny as hell.  References Soundgarden.  You should check out "Close But No Cigar" on Manly Guys Doing Manly Things and get a hard laugh out of it as well as some good information.

What I got out of it was reinforcement that I need to put my hands up and step away from the light table.  My just-slightly-off photo-realistic drawings of people are just-slightly-off-putting.  Even if I had an exact photo reference for every panel of the book, it wouldn't be enough to carry the characters.  But at least I have something of a measure to judge against when assessing my next crop of drawings.  It might keep my book from falling into the Uncanny Valley.

Thanks, Mark.

 Girl On The Road posts about comics, publication and community on Tuesdays.

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