re nder ing Sudden Gravity
Greg describes his love-hate relationship with the humble ballpoint pen
“I insanely rendered my first graphic novel project, Sudden Gravity, in ballpoint pen. Ballpoint pen has a sketchy, almost pencil-like quality to it, depending on how hard you bear down on the paper. What became clear – far too late – was how much actual drawing such a book required and how insane it was to approach it with this method. Once you decide on a particular method of drawing for a graphic novel, you’re married to it until the book is done. It just became increasingly tedious.
So when a scene came up where there was a kind of surrealistic dream sequence or vision, I took the opportunity to give myself a break and test out this new Sumi ink I’d found. I had no formal training in ink drawing, or dry brush work, so I basically just aped a lot of Kent Williams and Jon J Muth.
The result was such that when I had done the scene and had to return to the shackles of the ballpoint pen, I knew I would never use them again. When I finished Sudden Gravity, I immediately jumped into a kind of sequel project, The Calendar Priest, which never saw print, but was done entirely in Sumi ink and brush, and that changeover led to what I think was my career getting off the ground.
I think this was largely because there weren’t a lot of people employing Sumi ink and brush work professionally, so I kind of won the field for a bit. It led directly into my first children’s picture book with Barack Obama, Our Enduring Spirit, and the periodic drawing series that I still do today, called The 52 Weeks Project, as well as work for The Criterion Collection, and just about every graphic novel project I did that came after.
Only in the last year or so have I returned to the ballpoint pen ethos via graphite pencils, but now my approach is so much looser and softened by years of devoted Sumi ink work. It’s a testimony to the need to push oneself out of normal bounds and try different tools and techniques. You simply cannot ever truly know how much of an impact that can have on your work and way of working. It literally reshaped my art-making landscape forever.”
SU DDEN GRA VITY “Oh, boy. Kids, listen to your Uncle Greg and never, never, not ever take on a proposed 12-issue graphic novel epic – in ballpoint pen! I was nearly the youngest person alive with massive carpal tunnel syndrome.”