Archive for June, 2008

Craft in Comics part 1.5


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Monday, June 30, 2008


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Hey everyone, the following are some reflections by Jim Rugg on the “Craft in Comics” panel at Heroes with Jaime Hernandez, Jim, and myself. I thought I’d put this up while I was still organizing the second part of my notes. Please enjoy. — Frank

JIM RUGG: Frank and Jaime talked about their education first. So I added that my parents more or less insisted that I go to college so I “had something to fall back on.” Being 18, I thought that was unnecessary, but turns out that there’s a lot I don’t know. So college was very useful. I studied graphic design and worked in the field for 7 years after graduation. I learned a lot about drawing, a little about painting, etc. I didn’t really talk to professors about comics. But in high school I had an art teacher that knew I wanted to draw comics. She was pretty unimpressed with everything I would bring in (a lot of early Image books, a lot of superhero cross-hatching). The only book that I ever showed her that she thought looked okay was Bissette’s Tyrant.

I asked Jaime about his confidence as an artist, especially early on, as it is one of the things I constantly struggle with. He said that when Palomar started, he really felt like he had to raise his game to keep up with Beto. He acknowledged that as he pared down his drawing to fewer lines, those lines had to be better.

Somehow things came back around to me, and I talked about storytelling as something I felt pretty good about in my own work. And it’s something that’s easier for me to check, unlike whether a joke is funny, or a story is interesting. It’s something I can show my wife, and ask her to explain what’s happening to gauge whether it’s clear or not. We all talked a little about clarity of storytelling, something we all value and emphasize in our work. I mentioned how prevalent storytelling was in the interviews with pros that I used to read. Even submission guidelines all focused on storytelling, something I hear less and less these days – possibly a side effect of the diversity of drawing styles that fill comics today as opposed to 20 years ago when the industry was dominated by a couple of “house” styles.

Frank and Jaime discussed turning points they experienced in their own work, sort of like a light bulb going off. I don’t feel like I have experienced that yet. And I talked a little about how, compared to them, I was at the beginning of this process of figuring out how to make comics.

I brought up Jason, and how his graphic formula quickly transitions the reader into his comics, and the consistent style avoids breaking that illusion, like his use of the grid for example. Craig Fischer then asked if this was always good, like for example Kirby did those big 2-page spreads … so we talked about that. It’s not that Jason is the ultimate cartoonist that we should all emulate. But his mastery of his craft is evident, as is Kirby’s. We kicked that around like a soccer ball until it led to comparisons with Steve Rude (great draftsman, occasionally poor page layouts), and eventually Alex Ross compared to Kirby and how Kirby’s fake perspective (foreshortening) is much more effective at creating the illusion of depth than more accurate perspective.

So this is out of order a bit. Unfortunately. Two of the things Jaime talked about that I enjoyed were stories about reading comics when he was young. They had a bunch of comics, but his mother would put them away during the school year. Then each summer, she gave them back. So they would revisit the same books year after year. I thought that was amazing. And Jaime confirmed it, by explaining that one year, he started reading one of the stories for the umpteenth time, and he noticed one of the kids in the story brought along his dog, and the whole time, the dog is running around, chasing kids, playing, etc. And it created a sense of real life. Ditto the Archie story about the same story being told over and over, but it was entertaining in that the character interaction and body language was believable (usually depending on the artist), and often the body language would conflict with the dialogue (like you could tell a character was mad by the way he or she was giving someone the cold shoulder rather than exposition). The second fascinating concept he addressed was writing, and specifically the way he enjoyed conversation among characters and viewed it almost like dancing as characters went back and forth about going to the store, or someone new joins a conversation halfway through and he/she has to catch up to speed while everyone is still conversing. It was great to hear him going through examples of this, and how this quickly leads to a story for him. He didn’t describe it as “realistic” or even “naturalistic”, but hearing him explain it, that’s what I thought of. It was organic, and character-driven. Amazing. I really should have sat in the audience.

PREVIOUSLY: Part one

NEXT: Part 1.75 and Part 2.0

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Another Heroes Con Panel


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Monday, June 30, 2008


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This time with Dan, Sammy Harkham, and Alvin Buenaventura. The topic is the “new art comics”, and as I believe moderator Tom Spurgeon says at some point (I’m going by memory), it provokes exactly the kind of argumentative complaint-fest superhero fans always expect alternative-comics panels to be. In other words, it was a lot of fun to watch.

This is only the first part, when they’re just starting to get warmed up. The rest of the panel, as well as comments from Spurgeon, can be found here.

UPDATE: And here’s the audio, if for some reason you don’t like looking at moving images.

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Craft in Comics part 1


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Friday, June 27, 2008


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Heroes Con. Charlotte, North Carolina. Late June 2008. Sunday. Craft in Comics panel with Jaime Hernandez, Jim Rugg, and myself, Frank Santoro. It wasn’t recorded. Bummer. Yet somehow, that was for the best. We didn’t use microphones. There were only about 20-25 people there. Shame on all the folks at the con who missed it. Why would anyone ever miss the chance to see Jaime talk about comics? Oh, you had to watch your table, right. Yeah, on Sunday I heard there were tons of sales. Ahem.

I was moderator. I mean, I lead the discussion. The initial idea was to talk about craft in comics. Craft can mean more than technical skill — to me it means VISION, a way of seeing. Craft is the magic that makes one accept a movie as real, the suspension of disbelief. And that exists in comics, particularly, I believe, in the work of Jaime Hernandez. An honest-to-God master of the form, Jaime has an ability to breathe life into lines on paper that is unparalleled. Only his brother Gilbert can keep up. And they’d each tell you that the other was better.

So my idea was to create a panel, a forum where like-minded artists could discuss and “riff” on craft, on how we create our comics. I wanted the panel to be fun so I started off by encouraging the audience to interject if they’d like to ask a question. “But don’t interrupt Jaime. Me and Jim, fine, but not Jaime.”

Did I introduce myself? I can’t remember. I think I did and also Jaime & Jim, and then I just dove right in. I wanted to set Jaime up with a slow hanging curveball that I knew he’d hit out of the park. I talked about learning basic drawing skills as a teenager and how I had a teacher that really “reached” me at a formative time, an important time. And I knew that Jaime had had a rich education in junior college (I’d heard him tell the story last year at San Diego) and that he could get warmed up by riffing on a familiar story. What was really enjoyable was that although I knew the story Jaime was telling, it was like listening to a favorite song live, in person, and hearing new flourishes, new verses. (If any of you out there are not familiar with the origin of Love and Rockets I highly recommend this interview.)

Jaime told of his old bow-tied teachers who helped provide him with a solid understanding of how to move figures through space, to make them come alive. Between school and comics he fashioned his own education and did so with super-human determination. “There were no classes for what I wanted to do, which was comic books. I wasn’t going to go to the Kubert school in New Jersey. I was in Oxnard and getting $300 a month to go to junior college. I thought that was a good deal.” (Laughter) And then here’s the flourish I was hoping for from Jaime: “I was cocky. I was going to show them that I could do whatever I wanted. There was no one coming out of Punk. There was no one coming out of Low Rider culture. That’s what I wanted to do. And I did it. With Love and Rockets we pushed each other, me and Gilbert. When Gilbert came out with Palomar I really had to make each issue better… Anyways, back to craft.”

I wanted to continue the thread of there never being a sympathetic teacher who “got” comics when I was in school. How I’d bring in a Moebius graphic novel or a Barry Smith print and my teacher would sort of “pooh-pooh” me and tell me “oh, that’s interesting, now could you finish your self-portrait?”

Jim agreed and spoke about how his parents weren’t so comfortable with him trying to break into comics straight out of high school, so he went to a small state school for graphic design instead. “I wanted to do comics, but there was no way to break in. I read the submission guidelines, but it was impossible to even get a response.” I interrupted Jim and told the audience how my friend Rick Mays had gotten hired to draw Nomad for Marvel right out of high school — and how I told my parents that story as proof that if art school was a bust I could always draw comics and support myself. (Insert Nelson Muntz laff here.) Jim also said that he had a teacher who hated all the comics he used to bring into class. “But one day I brought Tyrant by Steve Bissette in and she loved that, she thought that was real art.”

Next, I asked Jaime about Moebius (because I had heard from Tom Spurgeon that Jaime had talked about liking Moebius when he was younger). Was he aware of Moebius in the late ’70s? Jaime remembered when Heavy Metal magazine came out in ’77 and that Moebius’ work did stand out and that he liked it a lot. “All the little lines in Mechanics in issue one were from Moebius a little bit.”

He also spoke about how when he would re-visit the comics he loved as a kid, like Archie, he would notice how expressive the characters were when talking to each other. “My friends would be like, ‘Aww, man, you read Archie? Aww, those are awful, it’s always the same thing, Archie getting chased by Betty and Veronica.’ But if you look at the way Veronica is looking at Archie out of the corner of her eye, and crossing her arms and sort of sneering at him — especially when they’re drawn by Harry Lucey — they’re so real. And so I just put that idea in my comics. I let the characters push the story around with their words and actions.”

All the while, Jaime is leaning forward and back in his chair pantomiming the actions he’s describing. It was another one of those moments where he’s able to really transmit the essence of what he believes as Gospel in comics. That the characters should move through the page, the story, free of plot, free of the constraints of formulaic narrative. One may see formula in Archie’s antics, but Jaime saw a wide field, a frontier. Jaime’s characters are more real to me than any character from a novel, movie, TV show, or ancient myth. I know Maggie and Hopey like I know my best friends. That’s insane. What other art form enables that? What other artist can sustain such a mythology all by himself? No Photoshop. No assistants. (Okay, besides Kirby.)

END PART ONE

(Part two 1.75 includes Alex Ross take-down. Boo-Ya!!)

**I thought I’d put up these thoughts while they are still fresh, and the con still on my memory’s radar. I’ve got pages and pages of notes from after the panel. Since it wasn’t recorded, I frantically tried to get it all down, at least how I remembered it. Jim wrote down a bunch of stuff too that I’ll be incorporating soon enough. I feel the quotes are fairly accurate. But please regard the posts about the panel as my version, like I was telling you a story.

***Thanks to Sammy and Tom for help in framing questions to Jaime.

NEXT: Part 1.5, Part 1.75, and Part 2.0.

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One Comics Comics-Related Thing To Do This Weekend


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Friday, June 27, 2008


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Write us a letter. We’re this close to finishing up the long-awaited fourth issue of Comics Comics, and we want to hear from you. If you have any thoughts, complaints, rants, or raves about any of the stories or comics in the first three issues, please let us know. Do you disagree with Kim Deitch on the meaning of life? Did Dan’s condemnation of the Masters of American Comics show and book stick in your craw? Or maybe you have something to add to our Steve Gerber appreciation, Douglas Wolk review, or the joint interview with David Heatley and Lauren R. Weinstein? These are just ideas — tell us what’s on your mind.

If you do submit a letter, please include your name, location, and phone number, and be aware that we may publish it (meaning the letter, not the phone number), either in the magazine or potentially on this site. Letters may be edited for space or clarity.

E-mail: thodlerATgmailDOTcom

Mailing address:

Comics Comics Letters
PictureBox
121 Third Street
Ground Floor
Brooklyn, NY 11231

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Three PictureBox-Related Things To Do This Weekend


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Friday, June 27, 2008


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1. Listen to Dan’s interview with C.F. from this year’s MoCCA, courtesy of Indie Spinner Rack.

2. Go see Gary Panter and Devin Flynn on Saturday at Amoeba Music in Berkeley. Or see Gary later in the day at Park Life in San Francisco at 8 pm.

3. Prepare for Lauren R. Weinstein’s signing for The Goddess of War at Rocketship in Brooklyn Saturday night by taking a photographic tour of her studio.

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Second Gear, Second Verse


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Wednesday, June 25, 2008


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The audio of the panel mentioned earlier is now up, for anyone who’s interested. It’s going to be a while before I have time to listen to it myself, fortunately, but I am sure of two things: (1) I sound like an idiot trying to answer Tom Spurgeon’s first question to me, and (2) at the time, I was greatly depressed by some of the things being said, openly, freely, in front of an audience, and on tape, seemingly with little awareness of or concern for the ethical and journalistic implications. (To be clear, it wasn’t the audience or recording devices that bothered me, but the fact that even their presence couldn’t inspire the barest lip service to be paid to the ideal of journalistic independence.) All this doesn’t mean that it was a particularly exciting discussion, so don’t expect fireworks.

(By the way, one of the other panelists, Johanna Draper Carlson, has posted her thoughts as well.)

UPDATE: And now a third panelist, Heidi MacDonald, has also weighed in.

UPDATE II: This guy is making sense! And he’s even more persuasive because of his DEFT use of CAPITAL FUCKING LETTERS!

UPDATE III: Update II was juvenile.

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Stuck in Second Gear (Feel Free to Skip)


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Monday, June 23, 2008


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This past Friday, I was on a panel about comics criticism and journalism at the Heroes Con in North Carolina, and ever since, I’ve been thinking a lot about the ethics of this “business”. Early on in the panel, Tom Spurgeon, who was moderating, asked me how my approach to reading comics has changed since I started editing Comics Comics. Exhausted from an early flight and a lack of coffee, I basically bungled my answer, despite multiple attempts, but I haven’t stopped pondering the question.

Most of Heroes Con was a lot of fun, though. I had to split early, so I’ll leave it to Dan and/or Frank to do a full report if they’re so inclined. (Spurgeon himself has put together a pretty amazing write-up of the event in the meantime.) It was great to meet a lot of people I’ve known only on the internet or through their work, like Tom, Jim Rugg, Dustin Harbin, Craig Fischer, and Tom’s brother Whit (who deserves a television show pronto), as well as to catch up with people I basically only see at conventions and that kind of thing.

However, as enjoyable as these kinds of events can be, a part of me is always a little uncomfortable with them. If I’m going to be editing and writing comics criticism, it’s important to be able to separate personal friendships and acquaintances from my writing, and it’s already a lot more difficult to do than it was just two years ago. (Being married to a cartoonist, and not wanting to have her work unfairly linked to my opinions — we disagree on plenty, believe me — doesn’t really make it any easier.) It’s not really that difficult, but it’s an ethical distinction that I have to be vigilant about, and it’s also probably the largest single difference between how I currently approach comics and how I read and talked about them pre-CC, when I’d praise or trash comics with impunity. Now I try to make a point of not reviewing comics by people I know well, at least in print or on the blog, and I think that’s probably for the best, at least for now. The comics world is a small world, though, and that policy won’t work forever.

Wyatt Mason, one of the better literary critics around, just wrote an interesting post on his new blog about friends reviewing friends in the world of “real books”, and he comes to a different conclusion:

[Edmund] Wilson, whom every young critic in kneesocks and each old one in his dotage now holds up as the ur-critic of the century, could not only review Fitzgerald but legions of his friends’ work through the decades … It can be done honestly – that is to say with intellectual honesty; that is to say, in a fair and balanced (that sadly corrupted phrase) manner which can elevate our understanding of aesthetic enterprise.

I agree with this in theory, but I’m not sure I’m quite ready to put it into practice. Maybe the trick is to emulate someone like Gary Groth, to harden the heart and enjoy the fights. (That’s definitely a strategy to which it’s possible to overcommit. [EDIT: I no longer think the linked essay is a good example of Groth overdoing it; there probably is an appropriate example, but months later, I’m not inclined to dig around and find one.]) Of course, even Edmund Wilson wasn’t as pure about keeping his personal relationships from affecting his writing as Mason makes out. (Just see the Wilson/Nabokov letters for one prominent falling out and the resulting critical blind spot.) In any case, if I’m going to keep meeting cartoonists whose work I want to write about, I really need to figure this out.

More about the panel later, maybe, if I decide it’s a good idea to explain that photo … (I’ll say this much: I wasn’t cranky because I wasn’t getting enough attention; I was disheartened by what was being said. Read Craig Fischer’s re-cap for some of the flavor.)

Maybe I’ll just let the eventual audio file speak for itself.

UPDATE: More on the panel, and a link to the audio, here.

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