Zeno’s Paradox: the making of

As I explain on the introductory page to the short comic on Zeno’s Paradox, this one was a hard one to make. Not because of the technicality of the drawings, or the twists of the plot (it is, after all, a rather simple story), but because, precisely, of the fact that it is pretty straightforward (at least, at first sight).

It basically started when I was thinking of drawing a short comic to get familiar with my new drawing pad, and as so often I got carried away by the possibilities offered by this new gizmo. For a week or two, I spent my evenings drawing tortoises and antelopes (in a way, according to my housemates, that reminded them of Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining), and brushed off my knowledge of Namibian flora and fauna.

Mr. Tortoise, by the way, is modelled after a serrated tortoise (Psammobates oculifer); Mr. Duiker after a grey or common duiker (Sylvicapra grimmia).

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Makalani nuts, expertly carved and personalized to sell as souvenirs.

But a realist approach did not really work, in the sense that it did not serve the narrative. I was stuck, until I remembered my collection of carved makalani nuts –the souvenirs that vendors try to sell to tourists and that usually depict animals and geometrical motives. This tourist art also inspired me to, besides the black and white original, come up with a colour version using the basic colour triad of black, red, and white.

These nuts, by the way, are the fruit of the real fan palm (Hyphaene petersiana). 

The next step then was that I threw out most of what I already had and instead turned towards a way more stylized, almost abstract drawing style, using heavy, straight and angled lines and throwing overboard most of the background detail, exception made for the palm trees. The thickset lines, the simple colour scheme, large frames and overall “flatness” of the graphics also serve to underline the fact that it concerns a story or parable, with a simple –though unclear– message.

Therefore, this little story served as a powerful reminder that it is often way more difficult to reduce and cut unnecessary detail than to hide behind complexity and convolution.

Never let reality come in the way of a good story.

Or not quite: what this means (and I am not talking here about our friends of the popular press) for anthropology is that narrative style, or even genre, should be functional to the message or analysis you want to bring. At the same time, what you say is highly dependent on how you say it (and vice versa).

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The making of: moving from rather realist to highly stylised ink drawings…

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Augmented reality

Another thought I would like to introduce here relates to the way I worked. First I made rough sketches based on the pictures I took over the years. These sketches were scanned and printed on drawing paper to be inked, which often took several attempts. While inking, I added (or left out) particular details such as the masks discussed above. The ink drawings were again scanned and imported into Photoshop as different layers. With these layers I then assembled the page, adding lettering and other graphic elements such as frames or video stills.

This process, especially then the adding of details while inking, or the montage of visual and textual elements, reminded me of the term augmented reality, usually understood as adding an additional layer of information onto a preexisting image, in real time, with the aid of technological means such as artificial intelligence and computer imaging, in order to enhance representations by making them more interactive.

Baudrillard would have loved this.

This idea of augmented reality struck me as an apt working metaphor to describe what I was doing. By, as it were, overlaying –or enhancing– more or less realist representations such as photographs and early sketches with additional layers of interpretation and representation, such as masks and horns, I wanted to break open the walls around the assemblage of meanings (see, for instance, Jeffery 2016, 57) surrounding more common, stereotypical representations of Africa and Himba. I wanted to make the reader step into the moral universe Hyamakuma had laid out when he drew his six circles.