Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bobby Flynn and the Conjoined Panels

I'm speaking to a class of first-graders tomorrow about comics, so I spent a little time this week digging through some very old work. You may remember two earlier posts from 2009, where I showcased artwork created by a 9 to 12-year-old 'Bobby Flynn' (1, 2). If not give them a read—they're good for a laugh.

In particular, I came back to this Ninja Turtle book I created when I was around 12—Volume #17 of the Bobby's Comics series. I'd been drawing comics for maybe 2-3 years by this point, and this was one of my first attempts at a color comic book. It's a continuation of an earlier series of comics I drew where stuffed animal Ninja Turtles came to life.

Upon closer inspection, what really stood out to me were these 'pairs of panels' that kept popping up—basically, two panels connected by a little tube to tie together an animated sequence of drawings. I've circled two instances, below.

I thought, how funny and weird a device! I first wondered if it were possible that I'd seen this elsewhere and copied it, but I have a hard time recalling seeing any such comics device even now. Because, there's really no need for it, right?

But on these pages scattered with so many little squares, I can see how a grouping convention like this could have arisen. There's one on the spread below (top right).

I figured I'd dig for some evidence to see if I could have invented this quirky little device on my own.

This, is Bobby's Comics Volume #1:

It dates from 1989—so I was probably about 9 years old when I drew it. The inside page warns of age restrictions.

The first comic, which I've grouped as a sequence of images below, occurs over a series of pages—functioning almost like a flipbook. It shows a turtle mutating over 5 drawings.

Click to view large

It's practically animated, right? Weird, because this remains to be one of my favorite aspects of comics today. Your brain fills in the gaps for you. Still awesome to me.

Next, a few pages from Dino Nauts (also in the first issue):

Anyone remember Dino Riders?

That's what these guys are like, only better. Because, when they get shot with a beam of energy, they turn into robots. With more angles and sharp points. These are two drawings from two separate pages that I've spliced together. Again, very cause and effect.

(Just wanted to show you the Triceratops and T-Rex before we move on. RAD!)

I went on making comics like this for awhile. They were really more like illustrated stories with word balloons. Below are a couple of pages from the Ninja Blobs (featured in Bobby's Comics Volume #3: 1990):

Here, I cut out the turtles altogether. All you need is slime and ninja gear.

Same fashion. A drawing spanning a 2-page spread. Turn the page...

...and you see what happens. Before and after; somewhat animated.

Some time that year (now, I'm about 10), I converted over to a the more formal 'panels on a page' approach to comics. This page spread is from Zorts (Bobby's Comics Volume #9).

There's so much happening on this page that I must've felt the need to use arrows to direct you where to go. Notice the pairing up of three images to show the blast shooting out of the ship.

To create the illusion of movement, I decided to group images that occurred in rapid succession inside of a box. Really, almost like a picture frame. You'll notice all of these panels have a thick border around them.

This next spread is from Zorts 2 (Bobby's Comics Volume #12):

Each page uses one of these framed devices to group connected images. On page 12 is a double paneled 'picture frame' showing the back of an ambulance opening up. And on page 13 is a triple paneled 'picture frame' showing the character waking up. In both cases, I was trying to create the illusion of movement by pairing images together inside of a bounding box.

Which leads me back to this guy:

How do we get here? I have one theory. Around the time I started to use a pen to ink over my pencils, I switched from a thick border frame to a single line frame. I still had the same desire to connect actions for quick movements, but instead of using a picture frame, I started using a tube to link 2 panels together.

Conjoined panels.

I used these the same way I did the ones with a thick border, except I never seem to pair more than two at a time.

Here's another comic book called The Racoons, created around the same time as the Ninja Turtles book. At this point, it's about 1992 (I'm twelve?).

Can you spot all the conjoined panels above?

This page has a large one—spanning the full width, with a noticeably thicker connection tube.

I'd like to think these 'conjoined panels' naturally evolved as my own little device. But who knows, maybe I did see them used elsewhere, and copied them. I've looked, but I haven't found evidence yet (specific examples, anyway). If you can point me to some comics that use them, I'd love to see them. It's such a weird thing that could only be useful on a page with a lot of stuff happening (as a device to help guide the reader).

Before I wrap up, here's one page I was REALLY excited about after I drew it. I remember showing it to my Dad, declaring it the best thing I'd ever drawn.

To which he replied something in the way of, "if you keep drawing, you'll make something even better." At the time, that seemed impossible (I loved this page!). But I'd say there was a shred of truth to it.

Thanks, Dad!

Finally, the official 'comics seal' I used in Bobby's Comics.


David DeGrand said...

Dude, what an epic post! It's so amazing to see how your little brain was working back then, you must have been a really smart kid! My early comics are all just 4 panel strips, I think I was just trying to copy Peanuts and Garfield. You were really pushing the limits early on, and I think it shows in your work today. Cool stuff man!

And I think we need to see you bring the "Dino Nauts" back for a Heeby Jeeby comic. Just sayin'. :)

David Gale said...

The Raccoons comic is awesome! Looks kinda like Gary Panter.

Michael said...

My little brain remembers where I first saw and stole the idea of conjoined panels. They where used in the dialog balloons in Mad Magazine. I forget who was doing it but it was when personoids were talking back-n-forth. Maybe you stole them too. : )

:: smo :: said...

dude. awesome.

i think you need to bring back the conjoined panels! it's a great device! i like that you used it consistently in the same context then too! smart!

Bob Flynn said...

Thanks, guys! A friend recommended that I use the term 'barbell' (or dumb bell) panels. I like that, too.