An intern from the local arts paper caught wind of this project in early 2011 and requested an interview, which for whatever reason has not seen print. In any case, I present it here for the record:
What graphic novelists, graphic novels, or comic books have most influenced you and why?
I should probably start by saying that I’m not really a fan of the phrase “graphic novel”; it’s a marketing term more than anything else and it’s used to cover a multitude of sins. J Most “graphic novels” are just collections of 6 or 8 issues of an ongoing comic book, and so they don’t really have the structure of a novel, with characters that are introduced for the first time, develop, and reach a resolution. They’re more like seasons of a TV series. There are true graphic novels though, like Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ “Watchmen,” Craig Thompson’s “Blankets”, Will Eisner’s “To The Heart of the Storm”, and so on.
It’s all just comics to me, really, whether it’s a 32 page issue of Spider-Man or a Tokyopop volume of manga or a webcomic or a trade paperback of “The Walking Dead”. I read and enjoy all kinds of comics from all kinds of sources. I was lucky as a kid, growing up in the 70s, to have parents that were negligent enough to assume that if I found a comic somewhere, it was OK for me to read it; as a result I was exposed to underground comics, European artists in Heavy Metal, Tintin and Asterix at the library, Archie and Disney digests, and of course whatever American superhero comics were around.
My biggest influences as an artist (and sometimes in life) are Jack Kirby, the king of comics, who created or co-created many of the superheroes and genres in comics that we take for granted today, and who infused his pages with great energy and imagination; Will Eisner, who is generally credited with creating the graphic novel as we know it, and who innovated in the fields of self-publishing and instructional comics; Harvey Kurtzman, the creator of MAD before it became a magazine; Harvey Pekar, the patron saint of biographical comics; and Scott McCloud, who is a pretty good cartoonist but an even better theorist. His books Understanding Comics and Making Comics in particular are essential.
Describe what the creative process has been like for you so far.
It’s very different from how I used to work. I started drawing comics about 20 years ago, when I was working on my MA thesis, which examined comics and used Watchmen as a case study. I had always wanted to draw but didn’t think I could. I finally took a first year studio art class at my college and have been self-taught since. A little while later I trained to become a graphic designer, which introduced me to using digital tools.
I did a lot of self-publishing in the 90s, and a little in the last decade. Most of my stories were quite short, usually only 1 or 2 pages; the longest was about 16. The book I am working on now, “The Last Day,” will be about 80 pages. I’m taking my time with it, trying to find a finished art style that will suit the story and represent an improvement over my older work, which looks rough in retrospect.
The biggest difference with this story is that I didn’t write it all as a script first, which was how I used to write, because with shorter pieces it made sense. I tried writing a script for the new book, but I got a bit blocked, and one day I decided to just start storyboarding instead, writing as I went along, and it was just what I needed. I made some good discoveries that I might not have made otherwise.
I feel a lot more confident about my skills now too; I’m a better writer and I have a better command of drawing fundamentals, and that will always be a foundation to create better comics.
Are you planning on publishing independently or through a publisher, if so do you have one in mind?
I’ll definitely publish on my own at first, probably serializing the pages online as they are finished, then collecting the book in a short print run, and finally shopping it around to whatever publishers seem like a good fit. The book has a sort of Buddhist theme, so it may wind up at a publisher that deals in that sort of thing. Or not. At this point I just want to finish the story.
What is it about graphic novels that strike you as a medium that you want to work with?
I speak their language. Some people tell stories with only words, some with only pictures, some with music or film or something else. I’m happiest telling stories with words and pictures. I like the chemistry that a well-designed comic has, the way it interacts with the reader. It’s also a big challenge for me, so I never feel bored. I’m satisfied with my progress but I want to do more and keep developing.
Explain your artistic background, endeavours, and future goals.
I tend to think of myself as a writer first, since that is how I started creatively. I started drawing and making comics a few years later. I got sidetracked for a while by theatre, did some acting and wrote some plays, some of which were adapted from comics that I wrote but never drew. I tried doing a webcomic for a little while, but I am a slow worker with a full time job and a young son, so that didn’t last long. I actually published comics in Here occasionally during its first year or two.
I like trying different creative outlets, but comics is the one I always come back to, and it’s the one I care about the most. After some years of starting projects but not finishing them, I am determined to finish this book, get the story out there and then move on to the next. It will probably take me at least the rest of this year, but that’s OK. I just want to finish it and know that I told it as well as I could.
Though your graphic novel is in its early stages of development, do you have a general plot outline? What genre of graphic novel does it fall into?
As I said earlier, the storyboarding process gave me a chance to work out what the plot is, although some details are still changing as I draw the pages. It’s the story of a guy who wakes up one day and is convinced that he is going to die that day. He doesn’t know how or when or why, nor does he understand how he knows; only that he is completely sure of it. Naturally, he’s upset at first, but he quickly realizes that he might not have much time, so he gets out of bed and goes about his day, trying to settle his affairs and wondering if each moment will be his last.
I mentioned that it has a bit of a Buddhist theme; the story is inspired by a form of meditation that I have done before, where you imagine what you would do if it was the last day of your life. There is a bit of a twist to the story in the comic, so I won’t reveal that. 🙂 I am determined to present the guy’s situation in a way that is realistic but not preachy or sentimental. I’m pleased with how it is going so far.
What are your thoughts on the recent wave of popularity regarding graphic novels and their film adaptations?
I’m a big film geek too, so sometimes I feel obligated to see movies based on comics. I’m glad that the gene pool of comics is large enough now that you can have films like Scott Pilgrim, Iron Man 2, Whiteout, Jonah Hex, The Losers, Red, Tamara Drewe, and Kick-Ass all coming out within a year of each other, as opposed to a single big “tentpole” picture that may or may not be good. Hollywood loves making films that have a built-in fanbase; movies that can be franchised if they are successful enough.
The problem is with the scripts; it’s not enough to throw a bunch of fan-favourite characters up on the screen. The first two Spider-Man films had great scripts, based on some of the best-known stories from the comics; the third was just a mess. Fortunately, now there is a certain amount of cross-pollination happening between Hollywood and TV writers and comics writers.
The downside of this is that sometimes it seems like comics creators and publishers are making their books with an eye toward selling the film and licensing rights, or seeing it as a stepping stone to what they really want to do. Going into comics because you want to be rich or famous is just crazy. 🙂