Mirrored, Muted & Mis-registered

Printing The Rock Woodcuts for The Man in the Blue Suit

When I began drawing The Man in the Blue Suit I didn’t realize the horror collection would become semi-autobiographical. The focus was James Harris, the demonic Scottish ballad figure. I finally noticed my life was being plunged into darkness, but it was too late. I looked at James Harris and I saw my own face staring back at me.

By the time I began The Rock, I had been working on The Man in the Blue Suit collection for a year. I had recently completed the painstakingly-detailed watercolors for The Daemon Lover. I wanted the next comic to be simple, quickly printed woodcuts.

The Rock begins with a woman being ferried to an island of solid rock, where a demon figure is waiting. Her fate is sealed the moment she sets foot on the rock’s staircase. The story is a variation on the demon lover/James Harris theme, in which a woman is seduced into giving up her life to join a former lover in hell.

Printmaking is a technical process but it works best as an art form when technique is submerged into the background. The thing to remember is that a printmaker carves away everything they don’t want. Whatever is left is what ends up printed.

When I started the comic I was only printing one block on each sheet. I enjoyed these single layer prints but I wasn’t overly excited by them. Then one day while cleaning a block I reused a newsprint sheet to save paper. Two different blocks came together in one print.

It should have been a bad print but it was mesmerizing. The images weren’t intended to be together. The layers were mis-registered and they were ghosts. Ghosts are made by printing again without adding additional ink. This makes them pale and transparent which is not a desired quality in a woodcut. Yet somehow…it worked.

After this I allowed myself to be a bad printmaker. I did all of the things my Reductive Relief instructor told me not to do with woodcuts.

Monet painted the water reflections of his garden near the end of his life. Like Monet’s paintings, the viewpoint of The Rock is the surface of the water. It’s from here that the action of the story is seen.

I played the Vertigo soundtrack on repeat while making The Rock. The music flowed through my studio. As I layered blocks unexpected things happened…sorrow co-mingled with a sting of sweetness.

Mirrors, duplications and repetitions; dream logic pervades in The Rock. Images meld into one another and slowly reveal themselves. The shadows become reflected light.

I scanned the prints and assembled a work-in-progress build of The Man in the Blue Suit. When I read the build, I realized that The Rock was finished. The woman and I climbed the stairs together and met James Harris at the top of the mountain of hell.

The Rock will be included in Maggie Umber’s forthcoming semi-autobiographical horror collection The Man in the Blue Suit.

Subscribe to Maggie’s Patreon to learn about her multi-media process and read more comics from the graphic novel.

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