Sense of Place
Hi, I am Alex Puvilland, the artist who illustrated Spill Zone. I will post on the blog from time to time to talk about the book from the point of view of the illustrator.
In early December 2014, I went on a field trip to Poughkeepsie and New Paltz in upstate New York to research locations for Spill Zone.
In this day and age, anyone anywhere can go onto Google Earth and explore almost every place in the United States; you don’t have to go any further than your computer to find great photos of whatever reference you need. But if you work on a story taking place in a real city, nothing beats actually being there in person.
Walking around the streets exposes you to new possibilities. You notice what’s characteristic or different about your surroundings. You hunt for that little special detail that will evoke everything. You breathe in the mood of the place. You’re suddenly in the steps of your character as he or she will evolve in that same setting. When it will be time for you to draw out the scene, you will remember if it was cold, windy, if the street was narrow, steep, if the place was dark, bright, gloomy, happy, etc. . .
I think having very specific surroundings to a story gives so much to the narrative and the characters. Without relying on dialogue, it gives you another way to show who these people are and describe what their life is like. I love it when a movie, book or comic gives the time and space to immerse yourself in a tangible specific reality.
Comics are a great medium for doing just that. You can include a lot of information in a single panel without encumbering the plot. You can suggest so much with so little if you do it right.
One of the absolute masters of evocation, in my opinion, is Jacques Tardi, a famous French comic book artist who always brings an almost documentary approach to the stories he tells.
Check out the generic sounding title ‘The Bloody Streets of Paris‘ , one of my favorite books of his, which is a crime story set against the backdrop of German occupation of France in the 40s.
Poughkeepsie and its vicinity showed itself to the perfect setting for Spill Zone. Wandering its streets in 2014, I had no problems picturing Addie being chased by weird creatures downtown, or riding her motorcycle forlornly through the woods nearby. I’m hoping I was able to portray faithfully in Spill Zone the Poughkeepsie I saw then.