Freedom through Boxes
an undream experiment by Chris Wayan, winter 2004-5
I draw comics. Unlike most artists, I'm never faced with a blank page, never wonder where to start. Every night, stories pour in, more than I could ever draw. When I wake, all I have to do is choose a dream and tell it. My challenge is telling it right: vividly, elegantly, so the shapes and layout fit the mood, convey my dreamworld. I use curves, I hand-letter, I use color (the kiss of death in indie comix--they're too costly to publish) and I avoid standard rectangular panels. I hate boxes!
For a decade, I drew. And couldn't publish. Even the Web wasn't practical for my intricate work--the pages are composed as a whole, with no easy way to carve them into panels. It'd be a decade or more, I knew, before the Net got fast enough, and devices high-resolution enough, to present them online. [I'm just now, in 2017, posting that work at last, in Dreamtales.]
Around 2005, I got tired of drawing work no one would ever see. So I tried an experiment. I chucked beauty, complexity, color, detail, plans, elegance. After all that, what's left?
Black markers. No erasure allowed. What's done is done. And no plan. Blank mind, blank page. No, no, that's too easy, not blank, something worse. There must be something worse. And then it came to me. I scrawled a black grid. A hundred boxes, like Linda Barry's 100 Demons. Ugly boxes. What I avoided for ten years.
Then I sat down to fill them.
At first, mere puns and word associations, names of other artists--architect Eero Saarinen who rebelled against boxy buildings, writer Douglas Adams who rebelled against conceptual boxes...
But then it got uncomfortable. You see, I really do live in a box. I've had environmental illness for years. Improved now--I can walk among you humans (cautiously)--your air and water and food poisons me less often. But EI's shaped my life. Art was my escape.
But the hundred boxes warned I hadn't escaped. For I'd learned the habit of cages--and my new cage was art.
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