The Craft of the Comic: Artists Detail Creative Process in Gallery Talk

Irregularly shaped blue and red circles pull a black car towards an ominous black hole. An octopus and a mosquito watch the scene in horror, as the carefully decorated car and chunks of debris scrape forward on a page from “Lowriders in Space,” a graphic novel written by Cathy Camper and illustrated by Raul Gonzalez.

Panels and rough drafts of Gonzalez’s work from “Lowriders in Space” are currently on display in the Gelb Gallery, alongside various sketches by artist Elaine Bay, in an exhibit called “Elaine Bay & Raul Gonzalez: Lines on Paper.” Gonzales and Bay, partners and local artists living in Somerville, Mass., visited campus Tuesday night to deliver a gallery talk explaining their work.

Therese Zemlin, Instructor and Chair in Art, who invited the artists to campus, said, “The nature of [Gonzalez’s and Bay’s] work is very different than I think a lot of the things we teach here and a lot of other work that you see here. I also think that their work is very interdisciplinary and touches on a lot of different kinds of issues even though it’s fun. This is a kid’s book but they’re still looking. When taking a careful look at some of the images and the plot here, there’s a lot of interesting, undercurrent things that are going on.”

In the gallery talk, Gonzalez outlined the steps leading to her involvement in “Lowriders in Space,” beginning with a phone call from Camper during which she explained the book’s plot and characters. While Camper spoke, Gonzalez recalls picking up a BIC ballpoint pen and beginning to sketch the stylized title of the book. Within an hour of the call, Gonzalez had finished the title sketch, as well as designs for the characters, which he then sent to Camper.

Gonzalez said in the gallery talk, “What was interesting was that the book almost came together [entirely] with that phone call… The way that we ended up creating the book and the characters all came together within about an hour or two.”

According to Gonzalez, these concept sketches are the first step in his creative process. He then creates a rough draft containing quick and basic sketches that require only 10-15 minutes per page. After that outline has been finalized, he creates cleaner, more specific drawings which are then inked with black pen. His final step is coloring the pages with an overlay.

Emily Bachwich ’17, who attended the gallery talk, said, “I was amazed that [Gonzalez] is able to draw each page of the rough draft in just ten minutes. Even the drafts had incredible detail. Also, it was fascinating to see each step of the book-making process, such as how the lines and colors were layered together through Photoshop.”

Bay focused on two of her pieces during her gallery talk: a Mario Kart collection and a SOULmate SeriaList zine series inspired by true events in her life. The Mario Kart collection is a compilation of drawings and sketches of Dream Karts and various characters from the Mario Kart game, as well as pieces of what Bay calls “the End race” or the hypothetical final Mario Kart race before racing was removed from the Mario Kart website.

Bay said in her talk, “In my work, I always try to reflect the world around me, and I try to create awareness of things that go on in the world. For our Wii Mario Kart… we set up this website and it was basically asking, ‘Where are you going to be when they shut down the race?’… in the next series we’re going to focus on plastic, so we’ll show Mario Kart based upon plastic.”

The SOULmate SeriaList zine series is inspired by Bay’s experience on a private island in Martha’s Vineyard and her interaction with a variety of celebrities, including Leonardo DiCaprio. One of the drawings in the series is reminiscent of a scene from the movie “Jaws.” The drawing shows a shark with its mouth wide open reaching out of the water and a man lying comfortably in the shark’s mouth. This zine is posted as a mural in Somerville.

“What I’m going to do is carry on the narrative of that zine, and I’m going to go around the neighborhood and photograph everyone who works around the area and has to stare at it all the time and incorporate them into the narrative of the story so it’s like a true story,” Bay said.

“Elaine Bay & Raul Gonzalez: Lines on Paper” has been on display since February 12, and the exhibit ends on April 3, 2015.