Sunday, August 14, 2011

FYC Replay: The Process with Joe Infurnari

The archiving of my Pulse columns continues. Here's a look at one of the more inventive webcomics I've read by the incredibly talented artist Joe Infurnari. Check his stuff out!

For Your Consideration: Joe Infurnari’s The Process

By Chris Beckett

FRONT PAGE: Joe Infurnari is the artist for Oni’s Borrowed Time, written by Neal Shaffer. With that book, he showed that he is an accomplished comic artist. But online, Infurnari is experimenting with style, pushing himself to evolve as an artist while pushing the boundaries of comic storytelling. His webcomic, The Process, is an entertaining experiment that is well worth checking out. Click on in and find out more about this intriguing artist.

The 411:

The Process webcomic

Story & Art by Joe Infurnari

Color, b/w, collage

What It Is (with apologies to Dave the Thune):

At Joe Infurnari’s website (artist of Borrowed Time and Wasteland #14), the artist is experimenting with his art – with style, with storytelling, and with the process. The tale begins with a mad stampede of strange creatures barreling over the rolling dunes trying to stay ahead of a great storm that pushes them forward. Witnessing this mad dash is a scrit, a small land crustacean similar to a small crab that is able to curl into a ball and shield itself with its hard outer shell. Unlucky enough to be in the path of these wild animals, the scrit rolls itself up and manages to avoid being crushed. But the storm is close behind and the tiny animal moves off searching for shelter.

Hiding under an overarching leaf of a tall plant, the scrit does not avoid being drenched as the upper leaves of this same plant quickly fill with raindrops, the rush of water cascading down from one upturned leaf to another before reaching the one just above the scrit’s head, sending the crustacean sluicing along the now moist ground. Realizing the flora of this strange place will not provide the shelter it needs, the scrit scuttles off to a cave. There it is indeed dry and warm, but as the scrit moves further into the darkness it discovers another inhabitant residing within the cave. A young boy has already sought shelter there, and when the boy sees the crustacean he smashes the tiny animal with a rock, killing it instantly and bringing chapter one to a close.

With chapter two, things become surreal. The soul of the Scrit leaves its mortal body, devolving down to its component DNA as it returns to its maker, the mind of the artist – Joe Infurnari. This is a beautiful sequence, and the images created by Infurnari are beautiful and strange and elegantly communicate these strange events. With this transition, readers are now invited to experience the inner workings of the artist as the audience watches Joe finishing up his day. But when he steps away from the drawing table, the work is not done. His mind is still swirling with ideas and images, and it is obvious that the fantasy world he created for chapter one is working to push its way into the artist’s “real world.” As these two worlds overlap, readers must try and decide which of the two is real and which imagined, because it is not readily evident from the narrative, though readers should be excused for their bias toward one perception of reality.

Joe Infurnari is an accomplished artist. That was apparent from his work on the Oni press series Borrowed Time, which he created with writer Neal Shaffer. But the work he is doing on The Process at his website is far beyond what he’s already achieved. His coloring is nuanced and creates a fully realized fantasy landscape, while the choice to showcase the “real” world in black and white gives the story a nice dichotomy that helps to differentiate the two realities as the fantasy world pushes up against its boundaries, threatening to break down those barriers and become part of this “real” world.

As the second chapter moves toward its conclusion, Infurnari again moves outside of the familiar and utilizes photography and sets created out of cardboard in order to push along the narrative. Infurnari seems unfazed about leaving traditional comic art behind for new and inventive techniques and choices. And contrary to what one might believe, the transitions from full color to black and white, and from traditional pen and ink to photography and constructed sets is not jarring in the least. The story continues to flow along smoothly, keeping readers engaged while raising questions of what will come next and what will be the fate of the artist.

With The Process, Infurnari is working to push the boundaries of comic storytelling while also pushing himself to evolve as an artist, experimenting with design, style, and technique as he creates this webcomic. Most of his pages divert from the traditional panel borders, preferring to allow the various images to provide their own borders (another reason to create the fantasy in full color and the reality in black and white). This not only helps to convey the feeling of panic and tension that is evident in the middle of the second chapter, but it also accentuates the flowing realities, enhancing the possibility they might merge as the story continues. It’s a masterful blending of technique with story that showcases the unique ability of comics to not only tell a story, but also show that story and allow its audience to experience it in a manner they could not if they were watching a movie or reading a novel. Each medium is different with various strengths and weaknesses, and the best creators are those that are able to grasp those unique strengths of a particular medium and utilize them.

The Process is an entertaining webcomic that is also an intriguing experiment – one for which Joe Infurnari should be applauded. Few artists are confident enough to put themselves on display in this manner, and even less are able to pull off such an experiment with as much facility as Infurnari. What will come in successive chapters is a mystery, and I am anxious to find out what Joe Infurnari has in store for us.

An Interview with Joe Infurnari:

Chris Beckett: Why comics? What was it that attracted you to this storytelling medium?

Joe Infurnari: My attraction to comics fits the usual profile; a childhood fascination with them combined with a love of drawing and art made the temptation to create my own comics too hard to resist. As an adult, after years of studying fine art, I came back to this medium intrigued by some of the things unique to it. Readers can experience an extended period of time, travel across vast distances in the space between two images, become different people and much more in just one page of comics! There's a wonderful synesthesia at play, too. Sounds and smells and other senses are all experienced visually! When I get a comic or graphic novel I love to take in the art by flipping all over the book and there's a really fun sense of time travel to that. Simply scanning the various pages let's me drop in and out of a story at different stages. There are strange forensics to that where I can imagine what is happening between these events experienced out of order. It's not unlike what happens between panels, except I just do it between pages front and back. That's another thing about this medium and its fusion of word and image. It's very cerebral. Comics can be easily adapted to the representation of thoughts, memory and consciousness. It very closely approximates for me the way the mind works as a very fluid flow of images and words.

Beckett: The first chapter of The Process is unlike the art you did for Borrowed Time. That may have to do with the coloring of the work, which was terribly impressive. How did you achieve the coloring of those pages (it looks like well-blended colored pencils) and did your approach to these pages differ from how you create your black and white pages?

Joe Infurnari: For every project I work on, I try to adapt my visual style to tell the story to its highest effect. The pages for chapter 1 of the Process were definitely approached differently from Borrowed Time. I wanted to draw the reader into this world by creating a visually rich and immersive experience. The style is very similar to what I did for Mandala where I used ink for the drawing and watercolors to flesh out the colors. In some cases I used grey or colored Pitt markers for some of the line work and sound effects. Very little coloring was done digitally. What you see is pretty much what happened on the page itself.

Beckett: Chapter two was a major change in the narrative and felt like a stream of consciousness piece. It flows naturally, as if you are making it up as you go along, and I was wondering how structured is this story you’re creating, and, being the writer and artist, how is it different from doing art only?

Joe Infurnari: When I'm working from a script by another artist, I can focus all of my attention on making the art tell the story. Certainly, I'm going to try and be inventive and take some risks here and there but for the most part I have a map and I know where I am going. All that's needed is for me to take the journey in the art.

It's much more difficult doing the Process! Going into Chapter 2, I sort of knew what needed to happen at the end of that chapter with most of the key events mapped out in between. Then it's just a matter of building the story page after page until I get there. Along the way, things change, get reconceptualized and new ideas find their way into it. What starts out as just an idea ("at the end of Chapter 2, I'm going to black out!") has to be given form ("I'll use thought bubbles to thread the various storylines!") and that form has to adapt as I approach Chapter 3 where it will change all over again. This sort of ad hoc approach works for this project because it fits in with the stream of consciousness narrative; it keeps it open enough to allow new things to happen and it lets the process of its creation influence the story. Sometimes I have to redo pages later or insert pages here and there but that's okay. This webcomic is about finding your way and art, like life, can go in many directions at once. Part of this story is its own creation and so I have to let that unfold as it happens. It's that story that keeps me really invested in this, too. If I had all the answers and knew exactly what was going to happen and how I would do it, it wouldn't be half as much fun! Right now I am making a chandelier out of cardboard for Chapter 3 and I didn't know about it until just over a week ago!

Beckett: What was the inspiration for The Process, and how were the images that open chapter two conceived (did you picture them immediately, or was there an editing process involved in creating that opening sequence so that it would flow, and what are you hoping to accomplish with this work, and what do you hope readers take away from it?

Joe Infurnari: I'm inspired by all kinds of comics, myths, movies, books and art. I am a comics omnivore and I read everything from Chris Ware's Acme Novelty Library to Eric Powell's The Goon. Some specific creators whose works have been influential on the Process are Rick Veitch who I think has one of the wildest imaginations in comics. Abraxas and the Earth Man and his dream comics collections are necessary reading. Another writer who I admire is Grant Morrison for a lot of the same reasons. He is constantly surprising and his imagination seems to know no limits. Jim Woodring's work is also influential because he touches on a lot of universal and primordial themes in a way that always seems to hit the right balance of mystery, poetry, beauty and horror.

The Process has been something that I've been thinking about doing for a long time. Its first incarnation was the minicomic, Mandala, which was a very condensed version of the larger storyline. For the Process I wanted to do something epic, mythic with many layers of meaning and something that used art's openness to interpretation to expand its mystery. I felt that it shouldn't be easily categorized as either arty autobiographical comics or pure sci-fi/fantasy escapism. It should be both and everything in between. Since it was going to be a webcomic, this diary-like aspect could be adapted to reveal the process of its own creation. I want to bring people into the story of how this is created. People who comment or review this project are participating in it and are influencing its development. I wanted to be conscious of that and let that happen. Audience participation is unique to this web format so I want to use it! Another goal for it is to create a vast clearing house of visual ideas. This thing is going to challenge and push my art into new areas and will test what I can do in this medium.

As you already pointed out, Chapter 2 is very different. It's a shift out of the imagined world of Chapter 1 into the 'real' world of its creator. This happens by showing how this world is encoded in its creator. Chapter 2 starts off showing a spiritual aspect of the scrit creature leaving its body. Already we've taken a step closer to the immaterial and the world of ideas. We discover from it's anatomy that it was a female creature with many eggs. Focusing in on one of the eggs, we zoom in on its DNA strand. From there we pull back again to see that this DNA structure is part of a neuron or brain cell. Pulling back even more reveals that this brain cell structure belongs to my brain, the creator of Chapter 1. How I came upon this is similar to the rest of the chapter. I knew I needed to bring the story to my world and I also knew that I needed to shift the visuals into a new style. That sequence of images afforded me those two goals the best, I felt.

Beckett: What other projects are you working on that you would like to tell readers about?

Joe Infurnari: Chapter 2 of the Process is coming to a close with the art shifting its way into Chapter 3 which should begin later this month. I'm currently working on Borrowed Time 3 with Neal Shaffer for later this year and have just finished doing the art for Wasteland #14 which is in stores now. Later this month, I have Mandala reprinted in Ape Entertainment's Fablewood anthology of fantasy comics. I've started work on a short story for an upcoming series on the web. Looking even further down the line, I have a short story that I worked on with writer Alexis Sottile that will be published in an anthology based on missed connection ads. That book is called I Saw You…Missed Connection Comics and it will be published by Three Rivers/Random House in 2009. Anyone curious about that story, called Nocturnal Transmission, can go read it now on my site. I think that's most of it. Other projects are still too early on to discuss but I have a few other fish in the frying pan!

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