Thursday, December 10, 2020

31 Days Of CCS, #10: Masha Zhdanova

Masha Zhdanova is a first-year CCS student, and her contributions to this feature were some of the classic CCS student assignments. Birds, Beasts, Bat is an Aesop's Fable that many CCS cartoonists have adapted, but Zhdanova's take on it was quite clever. The first two pages are a standard take on the fable, which begins with the beasts going to war with the birds drawn in a naturalistic style. Then she shifts over to the real narrative, which is a summer camp where two competing teams (birds and beasts!) are playing capture the flag, but there's one guy (the bat) who tries to play both ends against the middle. In the end, he's banned from the game for his indecisive deceitfulness. Zhdanova went heavy on grayscale shading, and the result looked muddy on a number of pages, especially since her line weight is so thick to begin with. I got the feeling that this was a comic that was meant to be in color to accent those weights. Her character design and use of gesture carried much of the narrative.

The Princess In The Tower was the Ed Emberley assignment, which means everything must be drawn using elemental shapes. It's a great exercise, because it reinforces an important idea: drawing and cartooning are two related but different disciplines. By emphasizing that it requires very little drafting skill to tell a perfectly coherent story, it allows cartoonists to focus on the fundamentals: pacing, panel design, gesture, the relationship of characters in space, etc. Once again, Zhdanova had a clever wrinkle for her story: since it was about a princess in a very tall tower, she formatted it as an approximately 4" wide and 12" tall comic. She made use of that height on one page when the princess parachuted her way down from the tower, creating a nice downward scroll. 

Finally, there's The Museum Of Masha's Mind, a "comics mixtape." It's an unfolding comic wherein she talks about her various comics and other influences over the years. This was a fascinating read, as she discussed the impact of manga and webcomics in particular as being formative influences. She also cited Miik Morinaga's Girl Friends as being important when she was figuring out her own sexuality. Of particular interest were images from Soviet-era cartoons that she used to watch obsessively after her family came over from Russia. The whole thing is tied together by a drawing of herself as a sort of tour guide for every page, drawing the reader's eye to the right places. This is an idea that I'd love to see more artists take up.

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