This Week in the Mercury


Friday, June 15, 2012

Webcomics Correspondent: A Family Man For All Seasons

Posted by Ben Coleman on Fri, Jun 15, 2012 at 1:14 PM

You may remember Dylan Meconis from such Mercury illustrations as these adorable dogs and this week's scene of sexy domesticity. You may also know her from her Eisner-nominated comic Outfoxed, or from one of the numerous panty raids she and other members of Periscope Studio inflict on lesser artist collectives.

What I'm saying is that Dylan is a lady of prodigious talents, and it well behooves us to take a look at her currently running comic, Family Man.

But before we do that, might I just point out that you can get a significant portion of her bibliography on the cheap over at her recently launched Kickstarter. Full disclosure: I mention this because I have kicked in for an Outfoxed book, and by thunder I will see it funded.

More on Family Man, and a super smarty-pants interview with Dylan after the jump.

To set the stage: Family Man follows the trials and travails of an 18th century German theologian by the alliterative name Luther Levy. Students of history (or readers of the introduction) will be quick to note that the fields of “theology” and “Germany” were in a state of turmoil back then, and this sense of crumbling social and religious certainties is one of several fascinating themes in Meconis' comic.

It’s a complicated set of dynamics, and Family Man is never shy about getting into the meat and potatoes of Enlightenment identity politics. But the pace is set at a slow, smoldering burn, and each new idea that's introduced connects within the context of the story. There’s also an expansive and amusing notes section, which makes parsing some of the allusions an enjoyable sort of homework.

MERCURY: It feels like you gave yourself some intentionally difficult writing and drawing challenges with Family Man. What aspects proved to be the most difficult to tackle, and were there some that seemed daunting but wound up being comparatively simple?

DYLAN MECONIS: It turns out that drawing libraries and lecture halls can be pretty mind-numbing. Coloring in hundreds of book spines, drawing rows of benches (or rows of students)... whoof. I didn't start out the comic with a whole lot of skills for drawing architecture and grand settings. Backgrounds in general were not my forte. And I live in Portland, where a building constructed in 1920 is considered historical, so it's not like I can just pop down to the nearest 14th century cathedral and do some reference sketching.

Luckily for me, there are a lot of folks who take high-resolution photographs of appropriate locations and then put them online or in coffee table books. I've done a lot of vicarious location-scouting, and being able to build an image around an initial reference photograph makes a lot of things easier. There are times where I'll be two hours into custom-altering a Slovakian Baroque mansion and I'll wonder what I'm doing with my life, but I get over it pretty quickly.



Was there a particular page or plot point where you feel like your art or writing took a significant step forward?

There's a big, mostly-silent scene at the end of Chapter 2 (which is also at the end of the first print volume) that really pushed things along. It's the first scene in the story that confirms the reader's suspicion that Something Seriously Strange Is Going On Here. And it's one of the first times that I broke away from fairly normal gridded layouts and did something more experimental, to suggest that reality was bending in a strange way. I like it when a change in art indicates a change in plot. At all the big plot moments in Family Man, the visual world will skew or dilate to match. It was fun to watch people react to that scene. And it was fun to draw.

Spinoza seems like such a cipher to base a story around. Through the course of writing Family Man, do you feel like you've gotten a better feel for the man behind the ideas?

I think I picked him in part because he's such a cipher. He seems to have been immensely self-contained and self-assured, largely uninterested in playing social games. He would talk to anybody who was genuinely interested in having an intellectual discussion, but as soon as a correspondent showed signs of becoming emotional, Spinoza would simply bow out of the relationship. There are some great thinkers where you can really separate their personal life from their ideas (Rousseau advocated passionately for reform in child-rearing and education, but notoriously dumped all of his own children at horrifying orphanages), or where their ideas seem to mostly be motivated by their personal ambitions (Leibniz, a contemporary of Spinoza, wrote a lot of material that baldly pandered to his patrons). Spinoza really did practice what he preached, and he preached rational detachment. He was like the original Spock. It drove a lot of people crazy.

For my purposes, I liked the idea that my protagonist has thrown away his career to defend Spinoza—the man who suggested that you can love God, but God can't love you back. You can love Spinoza, but Spinoza can't love you back, either. That's a great deal of not being loved. It sets up the impression that Luther isn't terribly fond of himself at the start of the story, which is a great place for a character to start.

Join us (well, just me, actually) next time, when I'll profile two comics featuring a bird and a bear and some extremely creative sexual imagery (respectively).

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