Year of the Artist, Day 127: Dylan Meconis, Part 4 - <i>Family Man</i>

Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today's artist is Dylan Meconis, and the comic is Family Man, which was self-published and dated 2007 and 2009. These scans are from the first volume, which was published in 2010. Enjoy!

Meconis's magnum opus, Family Man, has been running for the past 8 years on-line, and it's quite an interesting comic about ... well, eighteenth-century theology, German politics, and werewolves. I mean, of course, right? The pages I'm going to show you are from the second chapter, which went up in 2007 and 2009 (I skipped 2008 - sue me!). So Meconis was still drawing in the style of our previous two days, but she was also trying new things. If you're interested in how she creates the artwork, you can check out the FAQ at the Family Man site. It's pretty neat.

Meconis uses references in her work, obviously, and according to her FAQ, she does stuff like this completely digitally, bypassing "real-world" stuff that she does for other pages. I just wanted to show this page, because it's exquisite. I wonder how insane it drove Meconis and how long it took her to recover!

Meconis started to experiment a bit with page layouts in this series - she had been fairly "standard" until this story - and we see a bit of that here. Luther Levy, whom we met in Bite Me!, stumbles as he comes across a young woman kneeling in a pile of books, and Meconis uses small inset panels to indicate how he's staggering until we get to the bigger panel showing his entire body. In the small panels, she doesn't center everything, so that we don't see his entire face or his entire foot - the dislocation of the body parts is a standard way to show that the person isn't quite stable, and we've seen it before, and Meconis does it because it works. She changes the shape of the bottom panels to move us toward the middle in Panel ... let's call it 5, where Luther looks down at Ariana, and then moves us back up a bit in Panel 6 as Ariana looks up at Luther. It's a clever way to move our eyes across the page - at the top of the page, Luther's eyes move us downward to Ariana, who turns her head and looks at him, while her arm moves us down and to the left toward Panel 5. Then we move downward and back upward. Meconis, as you can see, is becoming comfortable with motion lines - she uses them more often in this series than she had in earlier work. She's also using more tools, as she's not cross-hatching as much, but using shading once again. She still uses strong inking lines, as we can see in the folds of Luther's clothing, but she uses shading throughout. I assume, based on her description of the process that I linked to above, that she uses a Wacom Cintiq for the shading, and perhaps the fact that this and Bite Me! were posted on-line first is why she used shading on those two stories and not the others. I could ask Meconis, but I've probably bothered her enough already.

We can see what using shading instead of hatching can do - there's a lot of nuance on this page, as we get shadows cast by the branches outside, the frames of the windows, and the low light dancing off other furniture in the room. In Panel 1, Meconis uses white ink to line the storm clouds outside, giving them a more sinister look. The shading makes the book a bit softer and more luxurious - it seems to fit the 1760s quite well, while her use of cross-hatching feels more "modern," if you will. There's a lushness to Luther and the rector's outfits, while the varying tones of the shading in the last panel creates more depth to the room. The entire book is grayscaled, but notice that Luther's clothing looks the tiniest bit blue, thanks to the gray Meconis uses for it and the contrast between it and the blacks and whites around it. It's a clever trick.

Meconis has never drawn a ton of action in her comics, but that doesn't mean she doesn't know how to do movement. This page, on which Ariana dresses like a man for a nighttime ride into the countryside, shows that well. She flips her hair back over her head and ties it up in the top row, and Meconis draws it superbly - the look on Ariana's face in Panel 2 is exactly what you'd expect in this situation, and Meconis uses the motion lines to good effect. In Panel 3, she uses them again, as Ariana shakes her hair just enough to get it tighter, while holding it down in the back. In the second row (well, third, but let's ignore that thin one in the middle there), she puts boots on, and then Meconis draws her throwing her coat around her shoulders. She does this with as sweeping a move as she ties her hair up, and it's interesting, as it shows Ariana has a flair for the dramatic. Meconis draws the coat billowing out behind her, while Ariana stands loosely, without showing stiffness that many artists use on their figures, especially ones who don't draw a lot of action. Once again, Meconis uses the motion lines pretty well - she's certainly not a snob who disdains the use of cartooning staples.

Ariana heads to the outskirts of town and inside a small hut, where she performs this ritual. She sacrificed a rabbit and she's wearing a fur of a larger animal - presumably a wolf? - and she's slightly transformed in this ritual (the next time we see Ariana, she's back at the university, so for now, this page remains a mystery). Meconis designs this page well - we actually start with Ariana in the lower left, which follows the previous page pretty well, and we follow the chanting emanating from her mouth to the center fire. As Ariana chants, her body get furrier, as we can see in the upper left, until it appears that she turns completely into a small wolf at the center of the spiral. She's far enough away that it's not clear what happens, but the way Meconis draws her legs, crooked like a dog's, and appears to give her a tail makes it seem like a transformation has taken place. Meconis doesn't forget some nice details - the claws of the fur she's wearing scratch her flesh as she spirals from the right side of the page upward, and Meconis even has her holding onto the words, as if the chant is dragging her unwillingly toward something else. I hate to bring this up, but I like the pubic hair, too - it's the 1760s, and there's no reason to believe that women were interested in any landscaping in that area. As I've noted a few times, Meconis's lettering is very nice - the white ink she uses helps it stand out, and the ragged way she paints each letter makes it seem more primal as Ariana spirals down to a different state of being. It's nifty.

Meconis continues to work on Family Man, but I haven't kept up with it because I always forget to check up on on-line comics. She's fairly certain that a second volume will be out in print next year, so I can wait. As we can see here, it's clear that she's getting more confident with her art, and we'll see tomorrow that she keeps pushing herself, which is always fun to see. If you want to see other artists evolving over their careers, I do have some archives you can scroll through!

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