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Thumbnail sketch of comic book page

One of the most-used lines in my Art of the Comic Book class is "In the post-Google era, there's no excuse for not knowing what something looks like". Prior to the internet, visual reference was done in public libraries, personal interviews and taking our own photographs.

Doing the research for "Lucky Seven: The Dee Brown Incident" in May/June 2009 supported this view. The story, covering Boston's difficulty with class and race, takes place in 1990. Recreating the era's surface-level items was relatively easy, thanks to Google and Boston Globe articles. Building visual details, logistics and overall atmosphere was a lot tougher. What did Dee's fiancee look like? How did the characters express their words? Which version of the incident — Dee's or the officers' — was the most believable?

As the deadline got closer, it was evident that using Google wouldn't be enough to answer these questions. Forced to use the analog research methods, I ultimately produced a more accurate, objective and honest story.

Google Web Search

May 1, 2009 | Weather, neighborhood demographics

Highbeam Research logo

HighBeam Inc.

May 1, 2009 - May 7, 2009 | An online library of archival print media, was an excellent resource. Their text-only articles (from the Boston Globe, Washington Post, New York Times and Sports Illustrated) provided a framework to start visual research. At this point, I knew what happened, but not what anything looked like.

Google Image Search

May 1, 2009 - May 16, 2009 | Revealed Dee's 21-year-old image and other surface details (the rented Pontiac Grand Prix, Reebok Pump, fashions, etc.) At this point, I didn't know what Dee's fiancee Jill Edmondson looked like. The Globe articles said she "had been a Northeastern University student", so maybe I'll try to find her in their yearbook collection.

Wellesley Hills - MBTA

Taking Photographs

May 5, 2009 | I visited Wellesley Hills via Commuter Rail today. Shooting exterior photos of the neighborhood was easy and educational. Standing on the lawn of the South Shore Bank, diagonally across the street from the Wellesley Hills Post Office, identifying the suspect would be impossible.

Getting interior reference of the Wellesley Hills Post Office was a lot more difficult. My camera is too big to take guerrilla pictures. Introducing myself to the workers as an art school instructor doing a project comparing interiors of various post offices, I asked for permission to take photos. Before 9/11, this would've worked. These days, workers get nervous when dark-skinned strangers take interior shots of federal buildings. My request went all the way to management, who ultimately said no. However, I was allowed to sketch, a practice I hadn't used since 1988's "A Sunday Walk".

It's also easy to see why people would think this was simple racism. Although bright and sunny with lots of trees, the neighborhood feels quietly hostile. Given the option of sticking around for a later train or leaving soon as possible, I got the heck out of Dodge.

In Living Color - Homey The Clown

Northeastern University

May 14, 2009 | Hoping to find Jill Edmondson in the college yearbook, I visited the Northeastern University archive library. Sadly, her name didn't appear in any of the directories. Perhaps she never graduated, or the Globe got this detail wrong. Determined to make this a useful trip, I used the 1990 yearbook to make reference sketches of hairstyles and fashions. Combined with the Google Image Search results of popular TV shows ("Married with Children", "In Living Color" and "Beverly Hills 90210"), I should be able to create my own version of her if needed.

Email Dee Brown

June 1, 2009 | Running out of options, I sent an email to "EDGE Basketball", Dee Brown's basketball camp business in Orlando FL. Mr. Brown isn't likely to respond, but one never knows.

In Living Color - Homey The Clown

Boston Public Library

June 3, 2009 | Jackpot! The Boston Public Library Microtext Department has entire newspaper pages arraigned horizontally on tape. These tapes are on reels that can be viewed on hand-cranked lightbox readers, like a giant View-Master. The manual hand-cranking makes finding exact pages a tedious process. Zooming through irrelevant pages made me seasick. After many wrong guesses, page 14 of the November 17 1991 Boston Globe Magazine had a photo of the elusive Ms. Edmondson. The image was high-contrast and grainy, but more than I had.

Boston Globe

June 4, 2009 | Called into the photo archives for a clearer version of the November 1991 Globe Magazine photo. In the days before Google Image Search, we visual artists used to invade the photo morgues of the Globe, Herald and local libraries. Spoke with chief archivist, who said he'd look for photos tomorrow.

So, What Did We Learn Today?

  • Solely using Google and Wikipedia for serious research is a lazy cop-out
  • There's no substitute for hard work and intelligence

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