Monday, May 19, 2014

Dave Kellet: Classically Trained Webcomic Artist

Dave Kellet is an art from Southern California. For his Bachelor’s degree, he went to the University of Notre Dame, where he got a degree in English and Spanish. While he was getting his B.A, he was working on a webcomic called Four Groups of the Apocalypse. He then went on to get a Master’s in Literature. His thesis was: "To draw in the crowd : the cartoon and the 'public sphere' of eighteenth-century England." He then got a Master's in the history of cartoon art propaganda from the University of Canterbury, England.

Dave Kellet original plan was to make comics for newspapers. He intended to be a traditional cartoonist. He soon found out that the newspaper comics were not only not letting in many new cartoonists, but they were also on their way to dying. So Kellet decided to start a webcomic and see if he could make a living off of it. Currently, he is making as much as he would in a traditional job, so his wife doesn't have to support him.

Dave Kellet's work is simplistic in nature. He uses as few lines as possible to convey a message (which usually happens to be a joke). Kellet's characters are the sort that you expect to see in a newspaper. The way that they are designed immediately tells you something about the character. For instance, Gramps has a mustache, a bald head, and a big belly. It's easy to tell that he's old and that he likes sweeties a little too much. Sheldon is small, has big glasses, and slightly baggy clothes. He is obviously a child, intelligent, and nerdy. His clothes suggest that he outgrew his clothes one time too many so that Gramps decided to cut out the middle man. He just got Sheldon clothes he would grow into instead of out of. Flaco's large eyes suggest intelligence, that he's no ordinary lizard.

In his work, Kellet primarily uses black ink. This gives his pieces a strong, contrasting feel. The characters and scenery are easily distinguishable from the background. His lines have variable thickness. The generally start out thick at one end, then taper off. His edges consist of more than one line. This gives his pieces a softer, scratchier feel. It makes it a bit easier to relate to his work. His characters seem softer and cartoonier.

His compositions will generally center around 1-3 characters. His layout varies, but there are two main methods of composition that he uses. The arrangement that he most often uses places one character on either side of a panel with empty space in between. Since most of his characters are short, they will be placed at or just below the horizon. When he includes a taller character, like Gramps, the contrast between the larger character above the horizon and the smaller one below th horizon gives your eyes a path to follow. This transition from short character to large character (or vise versa) gives space for the characters' speech bubbles. If the focus of the conversation is on the shorter character, the shorter character will generally be on the right. If the focus is on the larger character, the reverse will be true.
Even if the characters are both about the same size, as in the case of Sheldon and his best friend, Dante, one will be made to appear larger than the other. Kellet has pushed the character in towards the viewer, making the closer character the focus and making him seem more frantic. He has also had the characters involved in activities that will set one higher than the other. For instance, Dante might be on a swing, while Sheldon is below him. To direct the viewer's focus to one character, in this instance, Kellet will have one character doing an activity, while the character that's the focus will only be talking or gesticulating. The 'silent' character gives the viewer a place to put himself in. This is similar to how, in Hindu art, Brahma would be put into a painting that  he seems to have no place in. This would give the viewer an entrance, like he was standing right next to Brahma. A similar technique was used in Chinese Tang Dynasty painting. There would be small people at a point in the painting to allow the viewer to 'walk into' the landscape.

The second method of composition that Dave Kellet uses is the well-known 'rule of thirds.'  He will use this pyramid style of composition most frequently in a single panel composition. He'll have a large amount of white space at the top, making the piece seem lighter. If he didn't do this, the text at the top of the piece would feel top heavy. This would distract the viewer from the piece as a whole. By having the white space mixed with the text on top,  and the characters at the base, it keeps the piece well balanced.

Dave Kellet's doesn't use colour in all of his pieces. Mostly, he relies on the dark lines to divide up one chunk of white space from the other. When he does use colour, he uses pale, soft colours. This maintains the light-hearted, cartoony feel of the comic set up by the sketchy lines. Mostly, Kellet uses flat colours. His use of shading is sparse. The shading that he does is usually to define bulges or folds. His shading is a neutral gray. His shading is rendered as a solid colour, not cross-hatched or stipled. This continues to maintain the soft feel and keeps the pieces from feeling sketchy or rough.
The texturing that Kellet uses in his pieces is generally simple, coordinating with the rest of his composition. He'll use clean patterns, like the plaid pattern of some of Gramp's pants. In the case of Kellet's texturing, the lines will be solid, unlike the sketchy lines he uses in defining the edges of his figures. Sometimes, he will use short lines or dots. This is the case in some of the alien characters in his comic Drive.

All of his pieces are narrative. Each piece tells a story or defines a clear idea. Usually, he will do this with words, but he can also use the poses of the characters and the scene they are in. While the characters are the main way that Kellet communicates his narrative, his background is also an importan element. The sort of background that Kellet uses is typically simple and clean, like rest of his comic. His background can be black, with a skewed square in the center around the characters. Another background may be entirely white. He will use this to emphasize what a character is communicating. For instance, when Arthur is telling another character about an idea or concept he has come across, the white space will emphasize the franticness or conviction that Arthur is experiencing. In some cases, Kellet may even use scenery as a background. He will depict trees, bushes, chairs, tables, or other inanimate objects. His scenery will often be sparse, like his colours. He will only use enough scenery to get across where the characters are.

Dave Kellet is an artist that you could call a minimalist. He only uses what he needs, with nothing extra to distract from the story he is telling. His use of clean and simple lines and colours allows the viewer to focus on the story being conveyed. His backgrounds emphasize the character of interest, making the narrative easier to follow. Kellet is a master of using the simple to the utmost advantage, and that's why I love his work.

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