Moving On From Ker-Chunk – Conclusion

The first thing that grabbed my attention when I saw Arlen Schumer’s slideshow were the graceful cross-fades. Or maybe it was the rap number he started with.

Yeah, the rap number was an even earlier surprise, come to think of it, but that was just Arlen wowing the crowd with a dramatic device I was unlikely to emulate, given my personality. The cross-fades, though, were something else.

I knew going in that Arlen was going to use PowerPoint, and everyone knows that PowerPoint is awash in transition options — and there’s not a slide projector-ish ker-chunk to be heard in any of them. In glorious silence you can wipe this way and that as you glide from image to image, up, down, left or right, or diagonally from an unexpected corner. One frame can burst from the middle of frame before it bounded by a circle, square, or diamond, and for all I know the most recent upgrades will let you amaze your audience with galloping pinwheels of sequential pie charts. Mere dissolves are the tamest arrows in the application’s quiver.

But the way Arlen used them at first seemed magical. A comic book character’s face would occupy the screen, and then, out of nowhere, a word balloon would emerge from the ether.

The picture didn’t change, or seemed not to, but a new element was added to the scene at the exact moment when Arlen was ready for it. More than could ever be true with old fashioned slides that announce every change with a brief blackout and a great clanking of apertures, Arlen had become the master of his audience’s attention.

In my slideshow adaptation of a scene from Stuck Rubber Baby, Rev. Pepper speaks only when I’m ready for him to speak!
In reality, of course, Arlen’s picture did change. He was cross-fading between two entirely separate pictures that were identical but for that word balloon. But because of the digital realm’s capacity for perfect register, aspects of two images that are identical when they are created in an imaging application like Photoshop can be placed in precisely the same position on a screen, so that the parts of the picture that don’t change from one frame to the next seem to be staying exactly where they are while something new joins the composition. And if you use Quicktime’s cross-fade transition, the new element doesn’t just pop into view; it emerges gracefully from the mists.

I imediately saw this as a great step forward for fluid storytelling in slideshows. But despite the fuss I’m making about it here, that was not what made the biggest difference for me personally.The old-style slides were costly to photograph and process, so (without Dave Hutchison’s skills and generosity to fall back on) I had to be so economical, even stingy, in introducing new ones that my presentation’s ability to evolve and grow was hobbled.

But I can make new PowerPoint images for free, sitting at home in front of my Mac, and this has made it possible for me to expand beyond the single, self-promotional divertissement I had started with when I first performed my Kodak slideshow twenty-three years ago.

In the last two years I have presented a digital adaption of my original slideshow to students at the Ringling Schjool of Art & Design and gave an illustrated lecture about the evolution of my drawing style at a conference at the University of Florida. At Brown University in Providence I showed students in Paul Buhle’s class on "The Sixties" how Stuck Rubber Baby grew out of my memories of the Civil Rights strife in Birmingham when I was young; at the School for International Studies in Brattleboro my slideshow called "Racism & Brain Debris" related SRB to a broader examination of the way prejudices get imbedded in our minds. And in mid-March I’m going to give my new slideshow adaptation of The Swimmer With a Rope In His Teeth a trial run at the Topia Arts Center in nearby Adams.

It takes work to create all of these varied programs, but not money. For a cartoonist who still has to hustle to get by, that’s important. And it’s PowerPoint that has made it possible for me to venture into this new territory, and I’m having a ball.

About Howard

I'm a cartoonist and writer, best known for my graphic novel, Stuck Rubber Baby, and my comic strip from the 1980s, Wendel.
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