The John Betjeman Appreciation Society (stealthmunchkin) wrote in dumbangelcomic,
The John Betjeman Appreciation Society

  • Music:

I feel I should apologise for this one...

I've had about five goes at doing this page (hence the length of time since the last update) and so far every one of them came out wrong. I'm switching styles for this and the next few pages - going for a narrative style based on the songs themselves, before returning to the making of the album. This presented a problem, as everything I've done so far has been from photo reference, and I had no real references for the pictures I saw in my head. I eventually had to paste together composite images (a head from one photo, a body from another) to get something like the image I wanted, which I then copied. Badly.

The other reason this page took a lot longer than I was expecting is I was stymied by Jaka's Story. Those of you who've been following my journal, or who've talked to me about comics at all, know that I'm a major, major fan of Cerebus, by Dave Sim and Gerhard. While the comic had its ups and downs, as a whole it's the single greatest achievement in comics history. It was actually completed, like Smile, this year, and there are a few parallels in the questions the two works (both monumental acheivements) throw up - parallels with which I am planning to deal in the course of the comic. I've in fact already got those pages planned out in my head, although they don't come up for another 20 pages or so.

Even before I planned that though, I'd been planning to interpret the various songs from Smile in comic form, and Heroes & Villains had to be done in that form, being both the centrepiece of the album and the most coherent narrative. The problem, when I came to draw it, was Jaka's Story.

Jaka's Story, a story published in issues 114-136 of Cerebus, is the single greatest novel in the Cerebus series, which makes it one of the three or four best works of graphic fiction out there. It's also a black and white comic, and one that has hugely influenced me (the blobby blocks of black that run throughout the pages done so far are me ineptly doing Sim and Gerhard's take on Aubrey Beardsley in Melmoth). And I'd never noticed before, but it has some uncanny parallels to Heroes & Villains.

In Jaka's Story, part of the plot consists of Cerebus (who disappeared an indeterminate length of time back from a large city, and who some think dead), meeting up again with a woman who he had fallen in love with many years back, working as a tavern dancer. However, dancing is illegal - she is dancing in deliberate violation of the law, and in one of the climactic scenes most of her small audience is gunned down and she herself is arrested. There's a LOT more to it than that (it's a bit like describing Hamlet as 'a bloke mopes around a lot and has a fight and dies'), but that covers a large chunk of the plot.Now look at the lyrics to Heroes & Villains (again, just the relevant excerpts):

I've been in this town so long that back in the city I've been taken for lost and gone and unknown for a long long time
Fell in love years ago with an innocent girl...
Once at night cotillion squared the sight and she was right in the rain of the bullets that eventually brought her down
But she's still dancing in the night unafraid of what a dude'll do in the town of the heroes & villains...
In the cantina, margaritas keep the spirit high.
There I saw her, she spun around and while in the warmth her body fanned the flame of the dance
Dance Margarita, don't you know that I love you? Dance...
You're under arrest!

is it just coincidence that my two favourite artworks, in different media, both took several decades to go from conception to completion but finished within days of each other (Smile was premiered on Feb 20, 2004. Cerebus #300, the final issue, is cover-dated March 2004), and both have an extremely simillar story as an important moment? Probably, but still...

And this, of course, meant that every terrible drawing I did for this page was, in my mind, compared with Jaka's Story and found extremely wanting. So apologies for the ridiculously long wait for this page, and the next one will be done in days, not weeks...

In other news, there is now a Dumb Angel Yahoo Group at which will have updates posted to it, along with (maybe) some discussion. And finally - Smile debuted today at number 7 in the UK charts. The main comic page itself will be updated later today with links to a bibliography page, which will contain Amazon links to the music and comics cited in these notes, and to anything influential to this comic.

Please send me as much feedback as you can on this particular page, good or bad...
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