Monday, March 7, 2011

Inaki Miranda's TRIBES: The Dog Years Influences

Visuals influences in TRIBES: The Dog Years

I’m not the kind of person that stops to study and analyze too much my experiences through life. I’m hungry for discoveries, sensations, moments, but I don’t usually stop to “take notes”, I just filter what I like and keep going, make them part of myself and don’t feel the need to “quote” or memorize names as I know I won’t care to talk about it, I don’t usually like chats that deal with knowledge and theorization, because I always end up feeling that I didn’t quite say the truth or the whole picture, or that I ended up saying things that were wrong…a very “ why the hell did I say that” kind of feeling (And I know this will also happen to me now).  So it’s tough for me to put down to words my influences, I need to sit down and make memory… and I’ve absorbed so much that it’s like a big conglomeration of images and moments that are all tied together. Even so, I’ll make an effort and try to find those highlights that I feel transformed my perceptions and that in some way have helped to shape TRIBES: The Dog Years.

My first exposition to storytelling was a story that my dad always used to tell my brother and me when I was like 5 years old. It involved Mickey Mouse, I don’t remember much of it, but I do remember that they had to cross the desert in a jeep because they were chasing some evil guy, and the vehicle was missing one tire, so they replaced it with a log…quite surreal. I remember it as a weird story made up by my dad to entertain us. I always thought, oh well, that was my dad with his strange tales. 

This story created a sense of space and atmosphere in my head, an image of a vehicle through a vast dessert.  I also remember my father creating a lot of suspense throughout the story too (at least for a kid of my age), which sketched in me the feeling of “obstacles,  danger and timing” in a story. I think it’s important to mention this chapter in my life, because I’m sure this was the seed of the need to create images. 

I know this may seem totally unrelated to TRIBES: The Dog Years, but I think the most important fuel to any kind of art is the spark that keeps the artist running. The atmospheric image of a jeep driven by Mickey, running through the dessert is my spark, so I really feel I should mention it. This is the start of a pattern… on one side you have Mickey--a cartoon--and on the other I have a very atmospheric and cinematic image of a jeep running through the desert. With the sun high, dirt, open space, etc. A very eclectic image that I realize is really shaping my work throughout the years; with one foot in cartoon territory and the other in atmospheric realism. 

I do have to say that a big credit of what Tribes is visually must go to Michael Geszel, creator/writer of Tribes and founder of Soulcraft Comics.  We had a lot of conversations and a lot of “creative ping pong” during the two years that I dedicated to doing this graphic novel. I tried to incorporate as much of his visual ideas as I could to my work.  He is an incredibly creative person and pushed my storytelling and design work a lot. His vision was something I tried to respect throughout this graphic novel very much. Maybe I should hang a picture of him here? Haha, just kidding. But I’ll center this piece exclusively on my personal influences.

And another big credit goes to colorist Eva de la Cruz. I have the big fortune of working with her in almost every project I do. I know her since art school. We have shaped the same visual goals because we grew together artistically and we started working in comics as a team, so I can very heavily rely on her color work to complete my drawings and create the needed atmospheres that bring all to life.  I try to render as little as possible my drawings, almost no crosshatchings or black spots, etc, because I think that this way the reader focuses more in the scene and less in the gestural graphics… I think this translates into a stronger immersive experience.

The widescreen format of the book is I think the first thing to point out.  Mike(Geszel) wanted TRIBES: The Dog Years to be a very cinematic and immersive read, so he pushed me to come up with a layout that would bring that to the reader. I did a lot of breakdowns for the first pages when starting the project, but we wouldn’t find that point where he’d go “yes, this is it”. It’s hard to describe what we were looking for, it’s always easier to know what doesn’t work in the process of experimentation. It was about finding a way to play differently with time and the way the information was presented on the page.
One day I was in a bookstore looking at art books and I stumbled upon a book that featured a compilation of works of designer Chip Kidd. It had what I thought was a very  cool horizontal format and something clicked in my head. The design of the interior pages, and how the information was showed was quite innovative. So I bought it and went back home with this new inspiration and sketched a breakdown for the first page in this new format and that was it. Mike finally said “yes, that’s it…let’s go horizontal”.

The works of Tome & Janry for the French-Belgium comic “Spirou et Fantasio” … I have their whole run in my bookshelf. Their work influenced me heavily since the first day I found them. I got my first sense of cinematic storytelling from Tome & Janry, even though their work is very heavily grounded in a cartoony style.  Before this discovery the cartoony comics that I had read were Asterix, but these didn’t have that hint of cinematic approach that Spirou had, so this was a big step for me. It really opened a whole new world. They managed to bring cinematic life to a very cartoony drawing thanks to their choices of shots. I just love it. I loved to see cartoons treated as if it was a movie. The dynamism they put in their figure drawing is amazing too, the characters’ body language is very exaggerated and crystal clear. If you see TRIBES: The Dog Years, you instantly get a “smell” of this mix of cartoon and realism in some sort.   

I think their storytelling is simply superb and incredibly easy to follow. They are true masters in every aspect, body language, atmosphere, cinematography, direction...they do everything right. They have succeeded in merging innovation with classic.  They do cartoons with a very realistic, atmospheric cinematography. They know how to tell a story without “telling” it, they just “let you in”. I’ve been influenced by Pixar in a very similar way than with Spirou. Pixar is like the next step in the same direction.

Disney’s TARZAN
Disney’s Tarzan is also a big influence. There’s this scene where Young Tarzan is listening to his gorilla mother argue with Kerchak. There’s a moment where the camera focuses on his face as he listens to them argue (off voice). That scene was a big moment for me, it made me realize what a strong impact it has to show the interior of a character through his eyes, to show the inner conflict and how a situation can be expressed very strongly through the eyes of the character. I try to do that whenever I can, to let the reader get inside the character. I tried to do that a lot in TRIBES: The Dog Years, especially with Sundog. Also the body language of Sundog is very influenced by the body language and expressions of Tarzan in some way, I mean the primitive-childish sensation that he transmits.

This movie just rocked my world again. It showed me one more time the way to balance cartoon with realism. The acting of the characters in this movie is outstanding.

STAR WARS (the first trilogy) 
Star Wars is I think the BIG influence in how I approach character design. The design work in this movie trilogy managed to create something very eclectic and fresh and at the same time make it classic. They found the perfect balance to impregnate their story world with a sense of epic.  They also made every character’s look different. And I also loved how they kept changing the main characters costumes, which helped the story move forward visually.  I changed the main characters’ designs at the end of this  first Volume because I wanted the next chapter to have a new aesthetic. Changing the costumes of the characters has a direct impact on the “cinematography”, I mean, one thing that usually remains unchanged throughout a sequence are the colors of the character, so the whole color of the scene is more or less built around him. Which means the characters’ designs pretty much can end up influencing the color composition of a shot. This means we’ll surely have a different color schemes in the next volume, which brings a lot of energy to my inspiration. Anecdotally, the only main character design that remains untouched(except for his antenna!) at the  end of this volume is Skunktail…whose design was totally based on R2-D2. 
Again, is all about balance. Is good to also keep a classic feeling.

Star Wars influenced me so heavily that it’s not like I “think” of all this things when I sit down to design… I simply know this way of thinking is inside of me. I just feel it when a design is “too much”…  there’s a voice in my head that says, “No, it doesn’t work, it’s too cool, you crossed the line, go back, or it’s too crowded, or too empty”. It’s about finding the balance, whether you make it too simple or too complicated, both of these two mistakes turn the design too generic, which is something I try to avoid. 

Not saying I succeed, just saying what my goal is and where I try to draw the line.

I think one of the aspects that brought a lot of life to Tribes is the scene inside the Nanomune building.  All the “clean and bright” sequence that starts with the “red” scene was very much inspired visually by 2001 in my head. It was about showing a big sudden contrast with the worn out and dirty world that we had been seen until that point. I think visual contrasts are key in any “journey” story like TRIBES: The Dog Years is. There is also a lot of Star Wars (inside the Princess ship scene) also in this sequence. 

Logan’s Run (the series), Planet of the Apes, the works of Rider Haggard, “pulp Sci-Fi”
I put all these together in one group because all these influenced TRIBES: The Dog Years in an indirect but strong way. Sometimes what you need when creating is a very strong inspiration that keeps everything glued, but without showing. It’s hard to explain, but these works were constantly in my mind while working on TRIBES: The Dog Years. They all convey a sense of a character stepping into the unknown and walking away from the safety of society without knowing what they are going to encounter in their journey.

American Pop Art and culture
I tried to give a sense of pop culture to the design work as well. I’m very heavily influenced by the shapes and colors of the American culture, I mean, I find artistic beauty in the whole colorful branding. Again as above, this may not be a very evident trail, but I know it was in my mind when working.

I know I could go on and on from this point, but I think these pretty much cover the main influences. Then there is a list of  artists that it’s unfair not to mention. John Cassaday, Paul Pope, Frank Quitely, Glen Keane, Frank Miller, Jim Lee, Joe Madureira, Humberto Ramos… and so many others…but I’ll shut up now!

To end though I have one last pic… 

Two years ago I found out that the story my dad used to tell me wasn’t a made up story after all (at least for the most part I guess) and it wasn’t a jeep --my memory failed me--but a sidecar motorcycle. My dad found at a store a framed panel of the Disney comic from which he had taken the tale and gave it to me as my birthday present…. Lucky for me, he found it when it was already too late… the image I had created in my mind from his tale, resulted to be a million times more atmospheric than the original one. And it is now hanging on my wall as a strong metaphor.

Inaki Miranda was born in Argentina, spent part of his childhood in California and finally established his bones in Madrid , Spain, where he attended the Complutense University and earned a degree in fine arts. After testing the waters of animation and videogames, he debuted in the UK comics industry by illustrating 2000AD’s Judge Dredd. Apart from TRIBES: The Dog Years, his credits include The Chase(APComics), The Lexian Chronicles (Markosia), Burnout(Minx/DC), Crossing Midnight(Vertigo/DC) , the multiple Eisner award-winning series Fables(Vertigo/DC) and Birds of Prey (DC). He is currently working in a yet to be announced series for DC Comics.  

The first 30 pages of TRIBES: The Dog Years are available to read for free at the Tribes website.