Thursday, 6 May 2010
Otis Redding Biography.
This project was a whopping 15-week one, running from September right until Christmas! This was actually a dream project for me, as it allowed me to pursue two major interest; comics and music. The official title of the project was 'Narrative Lines' and was designed to break us in by focusing particularly on the use of Illustration within the context of telling a story. Our finished pieces had to be a book of 12 double-paged spreads.
We picked names out of a hat, and I was dead lucky to get Otis Redding. If you haven't heard of him, he's basically a rags-to-riches Stax star in 1960's Georgia, who's 4-year career produced some of the best soul music ever and laid the foundations for a mass white audience for black music over the world.
I initially approached this by looking at Otis' music and performances themselves. Otis was an incredibly powerful singer and his live shows do far more justice than some of the more outdated-sounding recordings. It was a huge joy to be able to draw so much of him and his backing bands, but when they're playing with so much energy it's hard to keep focused. Capturing the sheer electricity of his performances was very tough.
For much of the first half of the project I was keen on making a really funny book packed with music and lots of visual information. This probably came from my love of Robert Crumb's strips on blues artists. A major turning point came when one of my friends suggested that a test book I made looked like a vinyl sleeve, and the book's structure actually owes a lot to that. Later on, I was interested in Otis's reputation. As he sadly died relatively young and at the peak of his career, no-one has any bad words to say about Otis and his widow to this day is fiercly protective of both his musical and cultural heritage, even running a musical charity for the benefit of young people in their hometown of Macon.
A bit of digging found a controversial account of Otis' life by Scott Freeman, and a lawsuit by Zelma Redding ensued over whether the book was slanderous or not. I thought this real-life backdrop would make a dramatically powerful short story. I tried to do this in a tactful way and rather than encouraging sensationalism, I wanted to raise the idea that a lot of musicians or any artists tend to become sainted somewhat with premature death (look at Jeff Buckley.) After all, for me, Otis was just human, and his musical contribution stands by itself.
The book itself is a 7"x7" (vinyl size, whey!) 28-paged short comic story. All of the pages were drawn with a Pentel Brush Pen on 10"x10" cartridge paper, and coloured digitally. Here's some dialogue-less previews of some of the pages: