Mob Comix, or “Of Mr. Bean and Buddhist Monks”

Exquisite corpse

Our last two activities as part of the “International Week of Graphic Novels” were group affairs. For the Friday “amateur” session at the Alliance Française, Émile, Badoux, and I arranged another “exquisite corpse” exercise, much as we did with the professionals earlier in the week. Once again, the three of us started up the narrative, and then the Burmese participants joined in. As the story developed, page by page, we taped the results up on the board. I had been worried that the activity would be boring for all those except the person who was drawing, but surprisingly the activity proved to be a real crowd-pleaser. Everyone gathered around the person at work, laughing as the picture took shape, and often throwing in words of advice or encouragement.

During my stay in the country, I had come to feel that one of the most discouraging things about the state of comics in Myanmar was how isolated the comics practitioners seemed to be from each other. I’ve always been aware how fortunate I have been during my comics career to have ready access to a large group of fellow cartoonists, as well as generous, older mentors. And that was something that, other than a few exceptions evidenced among the morning session professionals, seemed to be missing from Burmese comics culture. But I was happy to see during our Friday afternoon exercise that the older, professional artists in the group were encouraging some of the more tentative or less skilled participants, and that some form of mentoring really was happening. My hope is that some of that cross-generational energy continued past our visit to their country.

Saturday, our last day of “official” business, was a bit less intensive than the preceding four days. Émile, Badoux, and I each presented our work at the Alliance Francaise — Badoux and I using slideshows — for an audience of workshop participants and the public (including the German ambassador and his family, who seemed really into comics). Much of the Alliance’s outdoor area had been transformed into an exhibition space of the various exercises we had done — both professional and amateur — during the previous week. It was really nice to see everything displayed in such a loving and celebratory way. I really have to hand it to Fanny, the Alliance employee who did much of the hard work putting the “International Week of Graphic Novels” together.

That was followed by a live drawing demonstration, the idea for which Émile again came up with. Similar in spirit to the exquisite corpse exercise, the idea was to do a group drawing on a long roll of paper. As the crowd gathered in the outdoor café, an artist drew something in an approximately two-foot-wide area. Then the drawing was covered up — except for a two-inch sliver on the edge. The next artist, sight unseen, continued the picture by connecting their drawing to that sliver, guessing at what it depicted. The audience, seeing it all take place in front of their eyes, had a good time laughing at the strange results. The game went on for about an hour, with about twenty artists (including Émile, Badoux, and myself) taking part; the final picture was unveiled to much surprise and amusement for whole gang at the very end.

As the crowds dispersed, many kind words were exchanged and pictures were taken — my favorite one is us three “international” artists and the Buddhist monk.

Alliance Francaise café

The week's work on display

Badoux at work on the exquisite corpse exercise as Émile Bravo looks on

The exquisite corpse is unveiled

Cheese!

Let us pray

A little postscript about the monk: He was a pleasant, quiet sort of guy, so I quickly got over my nervousness about having such a spiritual person in my class. And the other students didn’t seem intimidated by him either, so everything went fine in the amateur workshop he attended. He wasn’t the most accomplished or imaginative artist, but he could hold his own with the other amateurs. And I liked that he eagerly took part in the last two group sessions. But Badoux told me a hilarious story about the monk, from his workshop earlier in the week. According to Badoux, the monk carried around a little sketchbook, much as artists do in the West. So Badoux asked to see it, and was mildly taken aback to see it was mostly filled with sketches of buxom and “sexy” women. A little odd for a chaste Buddhist, but whatever. But what really threw Badoux for a loop was when he turned the page to find a loving depiction of the British comic character Mr. Bean… with breasts! (Man, I wish I had a picture of that page from the sketchbook.) Obviously, after hearing that story, I never looked at that little monk in quite the same way again.

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About joshcomix
Brooklyn-based cartoonist specializing in nonfiction comics about topics like Hurricane Katrina, the media, travel, and finance.

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