Know What You Draw

This is my promised follow up to Putting yourself into your Work, where I tell you all about what Black Snow has meant to me.  Where to begin. Well, as I’ve gone on record saying, the name Black Snow was a spur of the moment result of me being asked what my super hero name would be back so long ago during my summer day camp days.  Lets examine that a little.  I chose Black Snow to be my name when asked.  I don’t know where it came from, it was my chosen name without any thought on my part.  Kind of a word association thing.  That makes it all the more pure and true.  I’ve often looked back and tried to figure out exactly what the name means, as it’s not immediately clear.  It’s all about the dichotomy of two polar opposites.  It’s black and white, total absence vs the pure totality of everything.  It’s more than that though, snow is pure(white), while the suggestion of darkness(black) eludes to the fact that it has been sullied.  Fallen innocence, tragically flawed heroism, the dark unspoken side of life we all know exists but do are damnedest to ignore.  To me that’s what the character and the comic book are all about.  To an extent it encompasses some of my life views, which also means the way I view myself.  Beyond my initial choosing of the name I’ve gone on to use it as my handle for many websites over the years, so over time I’ve referred to myself and had hundreds of messages (both auto and human generated) refering to me as Black Snow.  So I’ve actually had a lot of first hand experience as to what it’s like to use the moniker as a pseudonym.  Only in the digital age!

When I blurted out the name Black Snow I also had an instant visual of what the character would look like, even though I was answering the question of what my super hero name would be.  He is what I pictured myself to be, my alter ego if you will.  He is certainly not someone I would sit down and choose to be, but he is apparently what I unconsciously believe myself to be.  Let’s examine some of his physical qualities.  We’ll start with the constant stubble.  What’s that mean?  Gruff, uncouth, unkempt, not meetings society’s standards, barbaric in a way.  It adds to his overall look, which seems somehow dated, as if from the past yet we know it isn’t.  Honestly, these are all things I sometimes feel of myself.  Why does he have the widows peak and skunk spot on his hair?  Because these are normally traits you’d find in a villain.  Physically he is not a man who possesses the facial features of a hero.  His mask is also more of the nature of a traditional old school villain, more akin to a bank robber than a super hero.  Striving to be a hero contradicts what society thinks of him, and perhaps he is even fighting his own nature.

Next let’s look at his costume.  Well, most obviously it’s all black and white.  This is clearly an extension of the themes the name implies, as is the entire comic, hence the non-use of color.  It’s nothing fancy, perhaps even a bit old fashioned; but at the same time it’s very striking and unusual.  Another reference to being dated, but not legitimately, as there was never really a time where a man looking like this was the social norm.  The costume is very tight, showing off Black Snow’s muscles. and while he is fairly large and in shape when compared to someone like Eric, his body is not impressive when compared to his work peers like The Lone Wolf or John Killingbear.  He isn’t some silly fat satire of a super hero, just an average man, much like my own physical stature.  He wears boots, gloves and a belt in an attempt to conform to the standards of the super hero uniform, though the attempt is in vein as he never truly looks the part, especially as he is often seen in distinctly unheroic poses.  When I first learned to draw super heroes by reading the Marvel book on the subject I was very struck by the fact that they basically had a formula telling you what they needed to look like and how they should pose.  I thought it was ridiculous, so I did my best to subvert their ideals.  IE: Black Snow is not larger than life when compared to other characters and he is often seen looking pretty awkward.  He wears the costume to go drinking, he stands around in it when he doesn’t know what to say to others, he wears it while arguing or complaining over trivial things.  He doesn’t pose heroically with his legs spread apart, hands on hips and chin lifted high and proud.  You’ll never see him strike the classic comic book poses.  The costume does not dictate who he is or how he acts.  He always acts genuinely as himself, and doesn’t have a lot of pretense to him despite whatever situation he may find himself in.  I’ll stop saying it after this point, but everything I describe of him is applicable to myself as well.  Not in the literal “I dress up as a hero way,” but in the metaphorical “I dress up as a worker, a manager, a father, a husband, a son, etc way.”

How does the “Anti- Hero” emblazoned on his chest fit into this?  It’s his attempt to rebel against society and popular culture.  Much the same way as I go out of my way to listen to unsigned bands on college radio or I watch independent films at art house theaters, Black Snow does things on purpose to put himself outside of the mainstream.  I think this was more so the case when we started the comic as teenagers.  It was a time when I was very into punk music and dedicated much of my time to engaging in counter cultural activities with friends like Alex.  I wasn’t some outrageous bad boy or anything, but I was involved in my fair share of mischief making.  Now I don’t really think about counter culture that much.  It just doesn’t concern me as much.  I don’t get as upset when something small that I love “sells out” by becoming popular and being accepted by the mainstream.  I also don’t have a problem embracing things that are already popular, as long as they are quality.  I don’t sit around worrying about my image or what others view me as.  I’m sure much of this is just natural from getting older and becoming more confident in who I am.  This was probably sped up a lot by getting married and having a son.  Much of my work still has an edge to it, and doesn’t really conform to mainstream media, but that is more because of where my personal tastes and creativity lead me than any real blatant attempt to be different.

Let’s take a closer look at the actual words, anti- hero.  It’s a pretty ironic play on words for a super hero to wear.  While attending West Valley Community College I had a shirt made that was all black with block white letters that said “anti- hero” in an attempt to promote Black Snow.  The reactions I received were quite bizarre.  One girl was upset with me and ask why I was “against heroes.”  Yes, a bright girl indeed.  Though she was not totally wrong, anti could be taken as being against something, it can also mean being the opposite of something.  Neither of these are reasons why I initially put it in my character design.  I chose it for the specific term that is a much more commonly accepted loose definition.  In the 90’s we really saw the rise of the anti- hero, the protagonist of the story that we routed for but did not display the qualities of the traditional hero.  Bad boys who played by their own rules and have attributes that would previously have been associated with the antagonist/villain of the story.  This wasn’t a new concept in the 90’s, but it really took off and was accepted.  The disillusioned masses didn’t want traditional heroes anymore, and your typical straight laced goodie two shoes protagonists were solidly rejected.  No one wanted boy scouts like Super Man anymore, it was the era of morally questionable psychotics like the Punisher.  The shift towards the anti- hero was a symptom of a much larger change in the general attitude of society as a whole.  People had become jaded, and now everyone had attitudes.  This is the decade I really grew up in and had the most impact on me.

Putting anti- hero on Black Snow’s chest was my way of playing off this whole idea that society wanted bad boys.  Black Snow embraces the label and endorses it fully.  he has taken on the task of being the modern “hero” that everyone has been clamoring for.  Of course this isn’t really a label that should be displayed, and part of being an anti- hero is that you don’t want to please people or conform to their standards.  So, like most people, Black Snow’s attempt to rebel is actually an attempt to fit into a sub society and become what he thinks society views him as.  This ultimately makes him a failure, as there is no way to succeed when your goals are mutually exclusive.  Your goals can’t be to simultaneously reject society and embrace it.  This is much like the “punks” I knew who rejected ordered society and lived without rules; except that they all dressed the same and tried to fit into their stereotypes, given rise to multi-million dollar punk oriented businesses like Hot Topic.  They weren’t rejecting rules, just accepting a new set.

Much of what I’ve discussed here is retrospective theoretical conjecture, and were not things that I thought of during the periods of creation and implementation.  Check back soon for a follow up post where I’ll take an in depth look at Black Snow’s other identity, Bennet Teach, and discuss how he fits into this whole scheme of things.

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