weekly book art: a scanner darkly

by brandon as book art — brandon Sun 7 May 2006 11:18 pm

Almost forgot! I had this drawn by Wednesday and it sat under other things I had on my clipboard until now. Anyway I was casting around for ideas when I realized I had better do this one before the movie comes out. So here it is:

scramble suits!

I bought the book a little over a year ago as prep for tryouts to do rotoscoping work on this movie. Not joking. They casted about for artists across Texas (and beyond – word got out on the internet, which is how I found out about it) and I went down to Austin to try out for the job. Didn’t make it, obviously – I heard about it a little too late, and wound up on the crest of a wave of 500 or so applicants, so I’m told by a special source. I know a little bit of other dirt about the project… and I also know about the software since the tryout involved three hours of work on drawing a short clip. Interesting stuff. They didn’t have me sign anything, so I can talk about it, though there isn’t much to say except you use tablets, the direction in which you make your strokes and your ability to organize them is very important, and the program crashes dead cold if you press a certain key.

So my take on A Scanner Darkly is very different from theirs. Here’s my thinking. It’s very common in straight fantasy and sci-fi drawing to pursue a great deal of realism. The idea being, you want to immerse the audience in the reality of the world you dreamed up more than you want to comment on that world. A cartoon-like rendering provides more room to express how you feel about that world:


But, when people are making cartoon representations of real events, the tendency is not so much to bother with realism. Consider Maus or Joe Sacco’s Palestine novels or any number of editorial cartoons. This is because the writing sells the events to the reader. They’re real to begin with. I’ll call this approach “cartoon verité.”

Now, A Scanner Darkly is a near-future, “if this goes on” type of science fiction story. It’s my contention that this kind of story might be better served by a “cartoon verité” approach than by a deeply realistic approach. The idea is, the idea of fantasy depicted realistically is becoming a default assumption, so reversing that may in a way be more convincing. It’s as though you’re looking at somebody’s cartoons they drew of the future events.

I’ve only really seen this done once. The graphic novel of Ghost In The Shell has some interludes drawn in a sketchy, kiddie manga style that are used to illustrate the principles behind some of the technology depicted in the book: for example, why whole-body cyborgs are stronger than partial cyborgs. They’re funny and very convincing.

One note: in the cartoon I’ve done all the shapes generated by media effects (such as the scrambler suits) in blue line. By making this convention the idea is to clearly delineate what happens in a world even more saturated with media than what we’re in now. If I ever get to any of the William Gibson books in my shelf I’ll explore this further.

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