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The Aesthetics of Justin Sane / 24 February 2012

pen and ink drawing of four characters from charles devus' graphic novel

Justin Sane, Cedric, Thing-Thing and Jeremy from the graphic novel 'Justin Sane' © Charles Devus

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Justin Sane is finally taking shape. It has been dream since I was very young to tackle a graphic novel and it is finally coming into being. I owe so much to my friends and most especially to Simon Powell of Creative Futures.

There is an essential dynamic to this format especially if colour is an essential component. I am using a conventional storyboard format with some ten to twelve frames per page, an average of twenty to twenty four frames per double page spread.

(1) The first task, after the story is reasonably clear in the author’s mind is to ensure that the frames, the little rectangular boxes in which the drawings are to appear have an aesthetically pleasing relationship to each other and will serve to guide the on a subtle journey from top left of page one to the bottom right of page two. So even if the reader picks up a book with fifty pages of empty rectangles they will still feel that the experience was somehow satisfactory.

(2) Then there is the matter of colour. The placing of colour and its aesthetic is equally important. Again the misapplication of colour can be detrimental to the overall effect. The eye of the viewer wants to be guided so that the placing of various colours needs to effect a balance of dynamics and harmonies both within the various individual pictures, but within each page and equally each double page spread. Again the eye must be guided from top left to bottom right of each page and each pair of pages.

Cedric, who has come to the fore as the main protagonist in Justin Sane, is a little green alien child. He is green and wears a blue coat with a red scarf. Justin himself sports a yellow frock coat with black facings and top hat to match. There are frequent appearances of bright red triple decker buses whilst much of the cityscape is rendered in the muted tones of masonry.

(3) The third factor and that which must come first of all is the dialogue. What the characters actually say is subservient to the image. Of course there must be a story and that must come before anything else. Dialogue is vital but if the story cannot live by its imagery there is little point in drawing it at all. I am seeking poetics in what the characters say and how they express it.

Simon has been a fantastic help and Justin takes his hat off to him. I am afraid my mind works in an order all its own and I had to establish of the features noted above before I could plod on with the whole enterprise and it must have looked at times as though I was not entirely heeding Simon’s wise words. This has been far from the case. Simon has wanted to see a clearly defined story which is easily read by anyone. This has not always been the case. I showed a crucial couple of pages to Colleen where Justin Takes Cedric to work with him and Colleen thought he was going to school. On closer inspection with my head un-addled with the doing of it all, I had to conclude that’s what it looked like.

I am working on the dialogue now and looking forward to seeing Simon for our penultimate mentoring session. By then he will have a story to read because I have been working back to front contrary to his advice Justin Sane is still not as clear a piece of storytelling as it could be. However it has gained one of the things I so dearly wanted for it and that is it conveys something of the atmosphere of the Rowfontine, the city that has been growing in my head for the best part of forty years.

Keywords: cartoons