Frank’s Soapbox #2


Friday, August 21, 2009

I’ve gotten some weird e-mails in regards to the “80%” quote I made in the comments section of my Tom K post from last week. In the original post I wrote: “For me, Tom’s work is an oasis in the desert. And the desert is contemporary alternative comics. I find 80% of today’s alt comics poorly constructed — a veritable colony of lean-to shacks that could be blown over in a strong wind. In contrast, Tom K builds comics that could be likened to a brick house. These are solid comics.”

And then in the comments section I wrote: “I worked all last week at Copacetic Comics and went through the shelves, book by book. I’m sad to report that how UNREADABLE most alt comics are. My 80% figure is not an exaggeration. I made a list (which I’ll never publish). It’s embarrassing how little structure alt comix have compared to mainstream comics.”

What I’m bummed about in hindsight is that the post was meant to be an appreciation of Tom K and not about how I feel most alt comics are structure-less. I try to go out of my way in my reviews to praise comics that have good structure, and when I point out that most alt comics do not, it is not my intention to “shame” anyone. If I review a comic that is structure-less, I’ll say so. But the point of my post on Tom K was not to criticize others but to praise Tom. Still, since the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, I thought I’d add a few more thoughts on the subject.

Okay then:

I said that 80% of alt comix are unreadable because of their lack of structure. I did not say these comics are “garbage.” I said they were “unreadable” and that they are “poorly constructed.” I’m specifically talking about sequencing, not really the drawing itself. “Unreadable” is a bit hyperbolic though. What I mean is that most alt comics are not well crafted on a narrative level. Alt-comix creators, for the most part, get away with being structure-less. They focus on style and “earnest-ness” at the expense of transitions and effective storytelling. Mainstream creators have editors and house styles. (While “house styles” and editorial constraints may sometimes lead to formulaic stories, they actually also often provide a solid foundation for the artists and writers to build upon. It’s not always conformist formula.) Alt-comics creators are “free to be me” and often bristle at the notion of editorial input. Editorial input is not necessarily the same thing as “structure” but I think the two go hand in hand.

I’m being vocal about this issue because I think too many alt creators don’t even realize it’s a problem. I want to wake them up to the fact that even the most experimental comics creators need to study story structure and craft (and could potentially benefit from editorial input) — not just their mainstream peers. I’m talking about myself here too. I study structure religiously and am trying to improve my own fundamental skills day by day.

I remember running into Chris Staros in 1997 (’98?) at the APE convention when it was still in San Jose. He told me a story about a young cartoonist he was working with named Craig Thompson. As I remember it, Craig turned in his manuscript for Goodbye, Chunky Rice and Staros wasn’t thrilled by the ending. So he suggested Thompson take another crack at it. Staros said, “It came back and it was unbelievable. It made me cry.” Fast forward to ten years later, and I’m talking to Nate Powell about his new book, Swallow Me Whole. I asked Nate how involved Staros was as an editor. Nate told me that Staros asked for the book to be drawn entirely in pencil first so that any changes would be easier. Makes sense to me.

What I’m getting at is this: Both Thompson and Powell are “alternative” cartoonists who have grown considerably in their short careers. And both worked closely with an editor who is well versed in comics structure. They both benefited from Staros’s critical eye and both have produced solid comics. Would they have made great comics without Staros’s input? Sure. But with an editor they pushed themselves to go beyond their comfort zones, and I believe they are better, more well-rounded artists because of the experience.

Another great example would be Paul Pope. He appeared almost fully formed, seemingly out of nowhere. Yet he was raw. When he began producing stories for Dark Horse Presents he worked with the editor Bob Schreck. I would argue that this helped Paul. Pope has said, “He’s an editor, but he’s also a friend. He knows how to get me working on it. Sometimes it’s flattery, sometimes it’s encouragement, sometimes it’s — well, he just opens Holy Hell before you.” Would Paul have made great comics without working with an editor like Schreck? Sure. But it didn’t hurt.

My beef with many alt guys is this aversion to structure, to editing, to criticism. Do you know that Chris Ware “sits” on a story for years before he releases it? From what I understand, he works on a couple of stories and strips simultaneously and over YEARS slowly adjusts them, until the story is finally ready to be published. He edits himself in ways that I think most young cartoonists cannot imagine.

I’d like to recommend Dave Sim’s Following Cerebus #5. It’s all about “editing the graphic novel” and contains conversations with Craig Thompson, Paul Pope, Frank Miller, Chester Brown, Seth, and many others. It is where I found the quote about Bob Schreck.

[Thanks to Mr. Hodler, my editor, for help on this one.]

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82 Responses to “Frank’s Soapbox #2”
  1. Mike Dawson says:

    I didn't know that about Chris Ware. That's really interesting, and inspiring to hear. It makes a lot of sense too.

    Also, I agree w. you that it's a shame the Tom K. post got a little overshadowed, b/c Tom's comics are fantastic, and totally deserve to be "appreciated".

  2. ryan says:

    Great post, Frank! I've been thinking a lot about editorial input in publishing short comics– where it fits in and how heavy-handed to be at times.

    I had a lightbulb moment (that should have come earlier) when talking with my girlfriend about a recent, intense week-long fiction workshop she attended. She writes science fiction/slipstream and this was a workshop with professional novelists, short stories, and some English professors– all who write various types of SF shorts.

    From that experience, where each person's story was workshopped hard for 2-3 hours and received 1-2 pages of written feedback from each person, we started talking about indie comics and how small a roll "workshop" takes in that process. Now, workshop isn't for every writer as a key part of their process, but it seems important for a lot of writers.

    I didn't have any major insights into why workshop and editorial feedback doesn't seem so prevalent in alt comics… The one glaring point that came out was the simple time it takes to re-draw (let alone, re-ink) pages compared to the time it might take to re-write a passage. That said, it seems more of an anti-revision attitude rather than a time constraint thing.

    What do I know, I just am starting out as a zine and manga editor/translator and don't produce comics myself– but I'm really interested to hear other people's thoughts on it. Thanks for starting the discussion, Frank

  3. Mike Dawson says:

    Some thoughts on what you're actually talking about in this post:

    I think I agree with what you're saying – definitely that cartoonists shouldn't be afraid of taking criticism/getting editorial feedback. One problem though, is that it isn't always easy to find the right person to give you that feedback.

    I wonder, is it necessarily that alt cartoonists are so self-assured about all being brilliant "auteurs", or is good solid editorial feedback sometimes hard to come by in this field?

    I had a book published, and to be honest, got some editorial notes that in hindsight I regret going along with. I think it's a balancing act – being open to being edited, but also having some sense of your own sensibilities, and trying to figure out when one should override the other.

  4. blaise larmee says:

    "free to be me" … is that so bad?

    "a person's personality is their 'art'

    different people laugh at different things; some people are more melodramatic than others; some people use the word 'fuck' a lot, etc.

    a person's personality is who they are; that is their identity

    when you talk to someone your sentences are your art; your arm movements, what you wear, how you choose to do your hair, what you choose to laugh at; these things are the same as what you choose to write, what font you choose to use, what sentences you choose to type

    most people change their personality in different situations in order to get people to like them better or to not hate them

    if you are a person and you meet another person with a different personality

    usually you don't try to 'edit' them but just find someone else to be friends with

    usually you don't tell them they can be 'better' if they spoke using less conjunctions or with more variety in sentence length and construction" –tao lin"

  5. blaise larmee says:

    Also personally I have no interest in Craig Thompson, Paul Pope, Frank Miller, Chester Brown, or Seth. I find all of those creators completely unreadable. I feel like if I got edited by a certain publisher they would edit me to be more like these creators. Isn't this because those creators sell more, are more "publishable," have a larger/broader audience? Those are at cross interests with what I want to say.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I think a lot of 'unreadability' comes from a misreading of Crumb's work/image – ie. letting the subconscious run riot. I doubt that Crumb was ever as 'spontaneous' (or scrappy) as some mistook him to be.
    We all know it comes from years of hard work!

    His editorship of Weirdo did seem to sanction a lot of this, often regardless of readability or quality. There was a noted 'incident' about Spain being rejected when Peter Bagge edited Weirdo – but looking over it now, what Spain did get published at the time (under other editors) was the weakest stuff he ever done.

    As for a 'person's personality being their art' – well that's just nonsense – and part of the tyranny of 'self-expression at any cost' we see everywhere these days (from bad poetry to reality TV shows). A 'personality' – as malleable and slippery an idea as it is – needs to be cultivated, learned and (yes!) 'bettered'. Otherwise we'd all be having our diapers changed into adulthood.

  7. Anonymous says:

    PS. how do you square this idea (on editing poorly structured work) with the mystifying attention given to Paper Rad? It reads like a crude parody of bad alt comix!

  8. adam says:

    I'm opposed to any editorial influence on an artist's work. For as many examples as you can throw out where an outsider's opinion has helped, I can toss out just as many where it has hurt. So, to me, that makes it a wash, and if you know it's a 50/50 gamble going in whether or not this will aid the work, you should err on the side of the artist's original intent before they began second guessing themselves.

    I do agree that most comics need better thought-out structure (narrative and otherwise), but feel it's a bit silly to point out mainstream, Big Two comics as a good example of this. All I could think of is picking up a recent issue of Super Whatever and thinking, "Man, this shitty comics sure are structured well!"

  9. Anonymous says:

    As for 'artists intent' – wasn't that thrown out of the academy years ago as a sub-romantic parlour game? Reading Moby Dick, it's now what Melville was thinking at the time (as if we could know) but more how it creates 'meaning' as I read it.

  10. Anonymous says:

    i like reading your blog but it's already difficult for me to read on a computer screen and with your white on blue format, it's even harder. please consider s re-design because i really like your blog

  11. Dan Nadel says:

    It seems clear that Frank's post is not prescribing editors for every artist. He's saying that the editorial process, whether internal or external, can be helpful in some instances. Not in every instance, but in some.

    An artist/writer/whatever can choose to accept a deal that entails working with an editor or can choose not to. And a publisher can choose to make editorial comments or not. As a publisher/editor I have different relationships with each of my artists and projects, but everyone knows they're free to take my input as they wish. And as a writer, I look forward to input from editors I trust. There are no absolutes here — more like a fluid chain of choices.

    I'll refrain from defending Paper Rad for obvious reasons (though I should note BJ and da Dogs is a book I did a lot of editing on), but I can't even imagine how anyone could think there's a lot of attention paid them as compared to most other people making comics. Maybe to their rampant imitators, but hardly to them. That complaint sounds like sour grapes and/or myopia to me.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Nah – not sour grapes. I just don't 'get' it (or its imitators).

  13. T. Hodler says:

    Is it really that hard to sign your comments? Are you too lazy even to come up with a fake name? Come on already. Talk about unreadable.

  14. Atheist Binky says:

    Will this do?

    Just for the record – I'm not every 'anonymous who posts here, either.

  15. Jason Overby says:

    While I do understand the whole original Weirdo impulse of no editorial input and how that results a less mediated expression of the id on paper, you gotta admit that the Bagge issues were better than the Crumb ones. I go back and forth on this issue, but I generally feel the most excited about art that's deceptively or subtly structured (Ed the Happy Clown, Time out of Joint, My Dinner with Andre) than Henry Darger or something. And while I appreciate the chops of lots of mainstream creators, their work is mostly unappealing to me in terms of content. My favorite work happens when there's a solid structure in place to transmit interesting content (like in Tom K's work, for instance) or a complex and directed form/content relationship (Hankiewicz, Panter, Ben Jones).

    I tend to edit the shit out of the comics I make. A mini I did called Jessica clocked in at a paltry 24 pages, but I drew over a hundred to get there (and probably could still make a better version of it if I had a good editor!). And I'll typically wait until the very end to ink the words so that pages can be shifted around or have their meaning completely altered to suit some new purpose. It's overwhelming for me, determining a shape suitable to the content, and, though friends have helped a bit, time has always been the best editor.

  16. sam says:

    I have to liken an editor to a producer in music. In some instances it can lead to a harmonious relationship that produces polished, yet still individualistic works ( I guess Craig Thompson? Paul Pope? I mean those guys are sweet but not necesarily individualistic.) and in some instances, such as manga or mainstream comics (as such in 90% of radio music), the "producer", or the editor, plays a much larger role and causes a gentrification of styles and thought. Personally, sometimes I prefer a bit more of the individual in the work, even if it causes the story to suffer. I see music that way, too. Part of what I like about comics and art in general is the communication of ideas from one individual to another, whether it be narrative or conceptual. An editor might not necesarily ruin that for the artist, but sometimes difficult or passionate ideas are not shared by a hive mind. For a very straightforward, Craig Thompson style story, an editor is probably necesary, though.

    In a way, I think this graphic novel craze has almost made comics a chore in some ways. I dont want to sit around and wait for an artist I like, like Chris Ware, to neurotically pick away 200 pages over 10 years worrying about creating a masterpiece that will further some kind of unblemished career. Bob Dylan, to try and bring the music reference full circle, made Bringing it All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde over the course of THREE years. That's practically less than a year each. Kirby and those old guys pumped out stuff all the time, and despite working probably under stringent rules still managed to mine gold.
    Obviously we're comparing practices of wildly different artists, but I personally like seeing artists run a spectrum of different kinds of work, good to bad, rather than getting to enjoy their work every few years. Is all this just to get on a shelf at Borders or something?

    PS: what's 'structure-less'? I understand to a degree. IMO, some of those Persepolis or Epilleptic style stories are kind of structureless. The narrative seems to kind of go on forever in vignettes of information and there's no build or much of a climax. Also, I haven't really read BJ and the Dogs and I'm not hating on Paper Rad, but how do you edit their work? Or is it more about editing the format of the book?

  17. Atheist Binky says:

    Re: Crumb/Bagge Weirdo – yeah I could read the Bagge ones cover to cover as soon as I get 'em, but the Crumb ones – well there's still some bits I haven't got through yet! Spiegelman was a great editor – look at Arcade or Raw and you can see the editorial hand keeping a tight reign.

    There are pluses to 'house styles' and outside restraints. How many times have you heard some sloppy, indulgent film director whine about 'the suits' stopping him (and its always a him) from wasting a hundred million dollars of other people's money? Could most of 'em hold a candle to Howard Hawks or Alfred Hitchcock (I'm of the minority who thinks Kubrick's movies suffered for too much directorial control – Spartacus over Eyes Wide Shut any day).

    Even 'free' music is often heavily edited. CD reissues make clear how 'spontaneous' performances by Sun Ra or Coltrane were subject to heavy re-takes, edits and cuts (and they could make ten albums a year).

    If the comic page becomes a springboard for absolute indulgence, it just becomes another branch of 'outsider art'. Sure, there's novelty value but it can rapidly wear thin.

  18. DerikB says:

    One thing I miss, in doing comics, is not getting the kind of workshop/critique feedback I got in art school or when taking writing classes.

    It's one thing to get comments from readers, but its another thing completely to get critiques from people looking at helping you improve your work.

    A key to that (thinking about what Blaise wrote in regards to editors trying to make one more like other artists) is knowing who to listen to, what their tastes are, and how they understand your goals for the work.

  19. ULAND says:

    Have to disagree with Blaise's comparison between spoken language, or inter-personal communication and comics. It might work if we were all born into a culture that used comics as a means of everyday communication, but we don't. We don't use the written word enough to be able to take it for granted as a means of communicating something inherently special about us; you really do have to learn how to use it. There is often a wide margin between a cartoonists' ideas about what they're communicating and the readers interpretation, unless that cartoonist takes necessary steps to insure their message is getting across ( even it it's a pretty obtuse one, or something difficult or weird).
    Some have a seemingly natural capacity for it, but that is rare, and even then it's not really "natural".

    So, it's not really a matter of wanting to cram these distinct and fully formed voices into a processor in order to filter out the differences, it's more a matter of learning the grammar, or finding some facility with various tools , if only to use them to really distinct ends. It's about making sure whoever you're speaking to understands you.
    I think that grammar lies in various Western traditions, for the most part; it really comes down to questions of how we think and the history of why that is. It's not a perfect science- there is room for lots- but you have to enter that room by acknowledging that you're talking about how you think as well. It's really not special, not different; there are reasons why you want to draw the comics you do and it's through that reasoning you'll best be able to do so.
    It has nothing to do with editor a trying to get you to Seth-ify your comics. It's about adapting to an historical reality and communicating through it. That can include anything and everything, really, but it isn't an absolute freedom. In an atomized, ultra-individualized world, every story is just a story. Nothing is at stake. It can all be left or taken, but nothing will be taken if it challenges in any way, and stories become little boutique-trinkets or fashion accessories.

  20. Oliver East says:

    Would we have had a Picasso or a Duchamp if they'd kept a text book on structure next to their absyinth? To paraphrase a Jay Leno quote about Bill Hicks; would't the most exciting artist be the one who walked out of your structure workshop telling you it was nonsense? These aren't digs at Mr Santoro's post, I've very much enjoyed his comics; they're just questions. I know very little about comics but I get the feeling I'd enjoy comics by those who ignore or disagree with his passion for structure.

  21. ULAND says:

    -On a more personal note, as someone who's had a hard time making comics that I think are in any way good, I can see really clearly how working in some capacity with older cartoonists— even if we're talking about filling in black spots of mediocre mainstream comics— probably would have been really instructive, if only by providing a sense of what a readable page might look like.

  22. ULAND says:

    Oliver- I think before they could do that, they had to understand what they were breaking down, or up-ending. If they'd been off in a hermetically sealed studio, thinking only of how to satisfy ultra-personal desire/goals, I don't think they'd have approached those ideas at all.
    I know Hicks, for instance, started out pretty hacky, it was only after a few years of that- understanding how a typical audience would understand a beat here or there- that he could really use it to more interesting ends.

    -There are plenty of intuitive, weirdo artists that I really like, by the way. It just seems like that's become the measure by which a "real" artist is distinguished from the rest by a lot of people, mostly would-be artists, it seems. A really obvious way to get that across is to abandon common notions of structure. I don't want to sound cynical about it; I think it's a pretty normal thing for art-comic people to go through.

  23. Frank Santoro says:

    Picasso used classical painting structures –the Golden Section among them–in just about all of his works, to the point that it became second nature for him. One can diagram his paintings and clearly see the structure.

  24. Oliver East says:

    and this is probably why noone reads my comics.

  25. Frank Santoro says:

    This isn't meant to be a "dig" at you, Mr. East, but your instinctive reaction that the "savage geniuses" such as Duchamp and Picasso were uninformed about the inherent structure underneath their works speaks to a very common attitude that cartoonists have about "rules."

  26. blaise larmee says:

    "If the comic page becomes a springboard for absolute indulgence, it just becomes another branch of 'outsider art'."

    That's art comics through and through. Can't you see ComicsComics in this light? The mainstream as outsider. Outsider art, and its definition, deals mainly with with agency. Where else is that issue most relevent in comics but in the assembly line cartoonist?

    "Sure, there's novelty value but it can rapidly wear thin."

    It's hard to tell what is novelty and what lasts. I was surprised to see Britney turn into an icon. The romanticizing of the outsider artist is such an important generational thing – Henry Darger is a large cultural icon for us. It's also this whole idea of meta-performance that is so important right now. Outsider art is still very important.

  27. Oliver East says:

    I'm very much guilty as charged. I'd just much prefer to learn by doing and 'chance' of 'happen' across some kind of structure and wait for more learned people than myself to let me know if anything sticks. Personally, that's been quite exciting but I am very new to comics and still in the early stages of learning. Still, learning by doing.

    This blog is at the top of a short Reading list though.

  28. blaise larmee says:

    ULAND – "You have to know the rules before you break them."

    Sorry for the paraphrase, but isn't this what you're saying? I guess in my mind everything is relative. One reality is as good as another. So the idea of objective "rules" seems … only interesting as cultural products/processes that can be played with. Honestly I love rules, but I like making them up myself.

    "In an atomized, ultra-individualized world, every story is just a story. Nothing is at stake."

    Is the current world any better? Can that 80% figure ever change? I hear what you're saying – there is a language one has to learn to "communicate better" – but who do you want to reach? I feel like I wouldn't want to communicate with the typical person who reads adrian tomine – not that they're boring people or that AT is boring – but it's just a different generation that I don't understand or really care to understand. Is that narcissistic? I just feel like I'd rather be communicating with people who are like me, who live in the same world I do.

  29. ULAND says:

    Yeah, I think it is a little bit narcissistic. I guess I'd say if there isn't anything or anyone you're willing to reach for, there is very little reason for anyone to read your comics, beyond some light aesthetic enjoyment.
    Nothing is at stake, you know? I don't mean that like there is no heroic artistic feat that must be accomplished, but more like there is no compelling reason behind it.
    There are no rules that can ever make sense that are purely "made up" by an individual, in the same way that we don't make up grammar or language, unless we're writing the NELL script. -All of those inventions took place over a long time and took root because a consensus emerged through debate. It's an historical process.
    You or I might not like Tomine's comics much ( I think they're ok), but I think to try and live in an historical vacuum is to doom yourself to a similar fate as those who you see as being so distinctly of a generation that you can't make sense of their work.

    20 years is not a long time in any art form. It's hard for me to see this constant push for newness at any cost as result of late-capitalism more than any real concerns for art. We end up dealing in simulacrums of art and meaning; it isn't that it's offering a new idea, it's that it's offering what feels new.
    If everything truly is relative, you'd have no real cause to say Tomines' comics are not as good as a or b. But you clearly don't think that is true. In order to make that argument, you need to use language that you didn't invent.

  30. ULAND says:

    I dunno Blaise; "meta performance", ascribing "agency", these seem like terms that are very easy to throw around, and they sound very important, but fail to describe anything in a meaningful way (thus rendering the terms moot, I guess.). It's like short-hand for huge concepts that cannot possibly be explored in anything but a thorough text.
    I know we had this talk, but I feel the same way about the term "queering"; it can be used to describe anything "different", really.

  31. Tee See Yes says:

    I've heard the art critic Jerry Saltz say a couple of times something like "Every great artist has a combination of extreme self-delusion and extreme self-criticism." It's a delicate, delicate balance that an editor (or friend, or fellow artist) can help you to navigate.

    I think it's naive to think that all outside editing equals a removal of all originality. In the best cases the opposite is true. I think it's also naive to pretend comics is a medium not meant to be communicative (a la outsider art). If that's the case, why do we run them through photocopier two hundred times?

    I think what makes art interesting (both the making and the reading/viewing) is the balancing act between the individual intention and some kind of "structure." That structure is what puts the artist in converstaion with other individuals. The relationship between an editor and artist is a microcosm of this conversation. Th tension is where all the excitement comes from. Remove that tension and what's left over will always be boring and uninteresting.

  32. shitpak says:

    thank heaven for unreadable comics. in 20 years all that shit you flushed down your toilet will be holding your house up.

    wild evolution

  33. j says:

    I think you'd find less resistance to your ideas if your discussion of K's work, from which this whole argument sprung, hinged on more specific analysis. Just to pull one example out:
    "Simply by walking around the corporation grounds is an exercise in alternating camera angles. This strengthens the narrative which is pregnant with a particular kind of corporate anxiety & alienation."
    Ok, well what's the relationship between "alternating camera angles" and "corporate anxiety and alienation?"

    "The solidity of the figures in Kaczynski's stories is also worth noting. The figures are rendered objects, as "real" as the landscape they inhabit. This is important. It's clear to me that the pages are composed to allow, to facilitate a smooth transition between "figure" and "ground." There is no rift, no schism between the two. Whether simply sitting on a couch, walking down a street, or standing before a wide vista—the characters do not dominate the page design (as they do in most comics). There is a very strikingly ordered balance. Again, this strengthens the narrative."
    Watch what you're doing here. If you won't describe, in detail, the relationship between these images and the narrative, saying that they "strengthen" the narrative means no more than saying you thought they were "good."

    I didn't get a clear idea of what your definition of "structure" in this context is. This post feels more like a rant about what you perceive the attitudes of certain artists to be, rather than a specific discussion of what you'd like to see in their work.

    When East brought up Picasso and Duchamp, he's not the one that used the term "savage geniuses." You added that to his argument, sarcastically, for the sake of making him sound ridiculous. Readers are going to tune you out if they're sensing this much contempt in your writing when you're so frequently talking in generalizations.

  34. Anonymous says:

    Well Mr. East I read your comics as much as one can buy/afford them in this country, for what that's worth.

    Mr. Santoro, start reprinting your Sirk zines, even just on line, for that matter. I don't care how much money it doesn't make you. I am callous that way.

  35. Frank Santoro says:

    Thanks for your comments, j.

    It was not my intention to be sarcastic towards Mr. East at all. And I hope he didn't take it that way. From his own response I felt that he did not.

  36. Inkstuds says:

    Maybe it should be noted that one of Chris Ware's earliest work, was published in Raw. From the stories I have heard about the heavy editorial hands of Spiegelman/Mouly, you can get the impression that Ware understood that his work needs to be at a certain level when presented as a whole. The Raw influence on Ware is very profound and I don't think it is something that he would ever deny.

    Since doing the show, I have seen volumes of different mini comics and small press work coming out. A good amount of the work that is coming from CCS students is very strong, probably because they are forced to work at it continuously.

    The same can be said about the guys that have gone to the SVA, including Dash, Dalrymple and most of Meathaus, and then going back further with guys like Bagge, Karasik, Newgarden, Fingerman. The list goes on. they have all head teachers that would have worked with them on strengthening their comics and giving them purpose.

    So I guess I am agreeing with Frank, very few creators can work in a vacuum without some real input and still produce strong work.

  37. ULAND says:

    "thank heaven for unreadable comics. in 20 years all that shit you flushed down your toilet will be holding your house up.

    wild evolution"

    I don't how true that is. I don't know if I should bother arguing with what isn't really an argument, but I think if you look at the radically experimental comics of 20 or even 30 years ago, it's hard to see people coming out of that, or being influenced by it in a way that directly employs that work that could be counted as major. Maybe Richard Mcguire influenced Ware in a huge way, but Ware put that to work in comics through more literary devices. I think that makes sense. That whole generation seemed to come into it's own more by looking to the past, or more established ways of telling stories, than by imagining an unknown future.
    In any case, I don't think experimental comics today could have that kind of impact, until they present the terms they're experimenting with. There isn't that much that can be done with drifty, dreamy obtuseness, you know? I'm not saying trying to attack here, I'm stating what I think is a reality that has to do with how we tell stories.
    I think it's great if people are happy making that kind of stuff ( really, I do), I just think thinking of it as a radical, new movement, is pretty rash and worse, unearned.

  38. sam says:

    maybe the key to comics' future is no longer in the past. I'm not saying young artists shouldn't keep trying to mine the past for unfound delights, but I think a lot of the recent comics that have caught some popular attention in terms of indie comics have all been slightly forward thinking. I mean, the Fort Thunder dudes, Yokoyama…Even though it's there, I think that work is less referential to the past and is more forward looking. Comics nowadays can be pretty incestuous in terms of aesthetic, storytelling and flow, so maybe it's probably for the better that people try things that dont speak from the same conventions of what's been done.

  39. Oliver East says:

    I can get on board with your point about an artist-editor relationship. My editor/publisher has a job on his hands to just get me to correct my spelling due to some short lived delusions of authenticity relating to my learning difficulties. I quickly folded because he made perfect sense. But while his comics history is second to few he’s not an artist, so I’d struggle to take critisism or guidance regarding the content of my books. But were he to hire someone or be in league with someone, someone more experienced than me, who could hold my hand through another book using their experience to better my work, I’d be a fool to decline. It’s the student teacher thing isn’t it and you never stop learning. I’m 31, still young in England where you’re still considered a young artist when you’re 50, and you don’t stop wanting to learn. I’m still trying to figure out what I do, but in a superficial way I guess they fall somewhere between regular ‘alt’ comics and more avant-garde ‘art’ comics. I’m losing my point here…if my publisher were an artist I could relate to, I’d welcome any input. Saying that though, my publisher has never offered any criticism regarding the content of my work, apart from saying he likes it, so I don’t know how I’d respond. Maybe I should call him.

    Santoro; I did read it as sarcasm but it really didn’t bother me, you can be as sarcastic as you want when you know what you’re talking about, but thanks for clearing it up. I hope you didn’t read my ‘Mr Santoro’ as sarcasm on my part; ‘Frank’ just seemed a bit over familiar for someone I’ve never met. That sounds terribly English doesn’t it?

  40. ULAND says:

    When I say looking to the past, I don't just mean adopting style, but looking at how telling a story has worked in the past. Usually, it still works. The content of the story can be anything. It's more about how we read a page.

  41. Corky says:

    This comment section needs an editor.

    Just trying to be funny/kidding.

    Go on with youze…

  42. sam says:

    "When I say looking to the past, I don't just mean adopting style, but looking at how telling a story has worked in the past. Usually, it still works. The content of the story can be anything. It's more about how we read a page."

    yeah, but if no one decides to question how we read a page we will probably end up with a future where people are still writing stories in boxes about their sexual frustrations or daily lives or some boring variation of. I agree that by looking at the past you can get a read on how to play with that, but I also disagree and think that sometimes if an artist comes from a unique or different mindset it can produce something just as seemingly informed and valuable. For instance, I think Yokoyama is a good example. Love him or hate him, he is not a typical comics artist and he comes to the table with a very different perspective (in my mind, a very Japanese one) that seems slightly informed by 'fine art'. Much like Gary Panter. Neither of these guys seem interested in making standard comic style stories (in my mind, Panter came close with Cola Madnes) yet still make influential works.

  43. sam says:

    but also, to be fair, Gary Panter is mostly ripped off in terms of aesthetics. No one seems to want to touch an idea like he did with the Dante/Jimbo stuff.

  44. ULAND says:

    I get what you're saying, but I think if you look at both those guys you mention, you can see where their work came from in the historical sense. It's not a that they had the will to stick to an ultra-personal vision they developed in a vacuum, it's that they were smart enough and inspired enough to thread things together in an interesting way.

  45. ULAND says:

    Panter in particular is clearly informed by art history, and I think Yokoyama has boiled down a concept in a really concise way. None of it is "organic", really.

  46. sam says:

    yeah. and I get what you're saying. I think it just takes a balance of common sense and vision no matter what you're doing. you can't just be like "this is what I want to do, if no one else gets it, then fuck off!"…Well, you can, you're just likely to alienate a lot of people and attract a diehard fanbase, or just flat out go broke.
    but personally, whether or not they're really that good, I get more excited nowadays by comics that are doing something interesting than these 500 page epic graphic novels that take years to make.

  47. ULAND says:

    I wanted to comment on your "boring stories in boxes" bit too:

    Artists do innovate, of course, but those never come for the sake of it. It's never been about imposing arbitrary differences between that artists' work and what came before it. The autobio story in boxes seems boring to you, more than anything, but if you're serious about doing something that'll move things along, you have to engage with why it is boring, and you can only really do that through criticism informed by a sense of history; you have to really know where they're coming from. If you're not doing that, it's boring only because you've seen it before and you want to consume something new.
    You end up responding to style or affect with the same. It just looks different.
    But the style is only half the story, if that. I mean, autobio has been going on long before Joe Matt. I'm sure people will always do it, and there really is no reason why it couldn't make for great comics/literature/art.
    In general, it seems like there's a lot of 'we invented fucking' going on. Or we could, if only the lame people would let us. I'm more and more convinced "art comics" as we talk about them today are informed more by conspicuous consumption practices in late-capitalism than by art or by comics, where everything is in a terminal state of crisis where total stagnation is at hand unless we come up with the new, magic sensation. We don't have the capacity to capture that phantom, so it's a matter of breaking down what no longer satisfies, as though it's blocking the magic from arriving. I don't think there is a crisis. I don't think a new panacea will arrive. The particulars might change as time rolls on, but we're essentially in the same position as those long dead. Everything we need to tell stories that we want to tell is already out there. Anything distinct about our time and place will be best told utilizing the grammar that's been developed and refined over centuries, really. It's just that, it's grammar. It's not style. It might inform both content and style, but I think that's for the better.

  48. ULAND says:

    "I get more excited nowadays by comics that are doing something interesting"

    What do you find interesting and why?

  49. sam says:

    "Artists do innovate, of course, but those never come for the sake of it. It's never been about imposing arbitrary differences between that artists' work and what came before it"
    I agree. if it doesn't happen organically, or come out of an artist's interest in doing something different (but not outrageously for the sake of it) then it will usually seem obtusely confrontational. To me this is my problem with my exposure to a lot of photography…Or in contemporary art where people have run dry on interesting, fun ideas that they'll eat human foetuses, no joke.
    As for autobio comics? I can articulate why I don't like them, but I also think a lot of it comes to personal taste. I think a lot of them use the comcis 'engine' well, but at the moment, I'm more interested in people who use the engine differently. Sometimes, in the case of R. Crumb and Joe Matt, I mostly dont like them because people tend to 'fetishize' (as much as I 100% despise that word) the lifestyles of these individuals, and in some instances the work contradicts the persona the artist tries so hard to put out there. I could get a bit more articulate on that last bit, but it would take forever and be boring. My take on those cartoonists dont have much to do with the history of comics, unless you want to talk about how subtle they've turned the engine into in comparison to the past. I think it's fair to criticize work regardless of it's context, some of the time anyways.
    As for your 'late capitalism' idea, I agree for the most part, but I think that work that gets picked up on by the popular imagination (in terms of indie comics and pop music) usually tends to fall right on the line of what people know and don't know. This comes back to what we were mentioning earlier, and I dont think it is always necesary for a prior historical example to be the seed.

    As for what I'm reading, well, some of it may seem contradictory and some may not. Chris Ware's work has probably influenced the comics I make the most, but the things I've really read recently that I dug were the Fletcher Hanks book, Kazuo Umezu's 'Cat Eyed Boy' and 'A Drifting Classroom', and then somone on the internet introduced me to Shintaro Kago and my head almost exploded. Yokoyama, too. In Fletcher Hanks, I mostly just find his pacing, like CF's, to be really individualistic and weird. Hes also really similar to Kazuo Umezu's stuff, who does really Tezuka-like horror comics. I think the themes at work in these comics as well as the language of visual horrors is what attracts me to them (obviously, they're just plain fun to read, but to me are worth thinking about beyond their surface). However, Shintaro Kago just blew me away, in the sense that it's an abstract comic that kind of actually worked. (definitely NSFW: it can be kind of gimmicky, but I find it really interesting how the story flows (or doesnt) and weird elements keep popping back up, as well as how the 'theatre' and space of the page is toyed with back and forth. I can't say the subject matter thrills me, but I think what's going on here is something that is just flat out interesting, and provides for some interesting ways to think about the page and how it relates to the panel. To me those ideas could possibly used to tell a story in an interesting way, not necesarily ripped on stylistically.

  50. knut says:

    I almost read all the comments, so forgive me if my comment is redundant. I'd like to expand on Blaise's statement about art being an extension of personality and go one further to say that it is an extension of life. From that perspective I think it's totally reasonable to want to be free in your artwork. Especially in a "real world" that can leave you feeling like a rat in a maze most days.

    It dawned on me the other day while reading Asterios Polyp that regardless of how brilliant the work is, and how well he made all the rules sing, that I never really ever want to do comics on that level. I admire people that grow up to be doctors but I don't want to be a doctor. Is that insane?

    If my comics are me putting myself out there in the same way that I put myself out there when I walk out the door everyday then all I really want is for people to take them on that level. In that same sense I want to "meet" other comics and feel like I'm finding something tangible in them.

    I don't always like people who have something to sell me and I don't always like comics that have something to sell me. They both have a time and a place.

  51. Atheist Binky says:

    I don't mind autobio comics if their 'experiences' are as interesting and informative as Joe Sacco's, or have a hefty dose of imagination like Crumb, Barry or Rege, but a dull life is just a dull life.

    The whole 'relationships can be difficult/my tenuous relationship with minorities/I masturbate a lot/most of my jobs have sucked/my mom's ill/my parents don't understand me/I was once humiliated as a kid' schtick is becomig as formulaic as anything from Marvel/DC

  52. knut says:

    I'm not sure if you were responding to me Mr. Binky, but I wasn't talking about autobio comics per se. I mean, at least to the extent that I don't do autobio comics. However, I still feel like the comics I make are an extension of my life/identity, in the sense that my comics are where I turn to find freedom. Isn't that what we all yearn for?

  53. ULAND says:

    I'm running out of steam here. I just see a lot of posturing going on, to be honest. I don't want to attack anyone, really, but I feel like I don't know what people are talking about anymore. Thinking about structure is not a way of refusing freedom, it's the means by which you'll get there, if what you want to do is tell a story.
    It seems odd to me that people talk about comics- a form that comes in a tidy little package, is read in a very orderly fashion, often full of box after box to be read in sequence – as though it were free jazz or something. It's probably the least "free" form of art you could choose; If you are using the form, a structure is implicit. It's there wether you want it to be or not. It's up to you to use it well and accomplish what you set out to, or use it very poorly. Saying you don't care about structure is saying you don't care about comics.
    It has nothing to do with style, or heroic mastery, it's only about using it for a purpose. It can look as unlike those boring 40 year olds* who don't like noise music as you want it to, but that has nothing to do with thinking about structure.

    super old, btw, unless you're Panter, who apparently doesn't think at all about anything unless it's some magical, intuitive weirdness.

  54. Anonymous says:

    Well, maybe Panter wants you to think that, but from where I'm standing he's had one of the most thought-out 'structured' careers of all the 80s alt crowd…

  55. knut says:

    Uland, I guess my point is that high-form may be my taste as a reader, but it's not necessarily my taste a creator. I can read Ware or Tezuka or Mazzuchelli and marvel at all the masterful technique, but it doesn't necessarily follow that I'd want to create comics in the same way.

    For one, I've found over the years that I want to draw in a way that's enjoyable to me. I'm not a perfectionist, I like to put ink directly to paper and follow it wherever it leads me. That's my own personal catharsis. For Ware it might be working on a single project for 10 years. Like I said, I've got much respect for brain surgeons, but it's not crazy for someone to choose a different career.

    There is plenty of ground to be explored in the "immediate & direct" end of the spectrum as opposed to the "labored and developed" end of the spectrum. Some artists like to labor over their creations ad infinitum. I think it's better to realize when you are not one of them rather that subject yourself to the rack.

    In other words, if each one of us follows what's right for us we'll eventually arrive at what truly IS us. At least that's my attitude about it. I'm sure there are plenty of pissy old draftsmen that would tell me to shut the fuck up and work on my crow quill for 10 hours.

  56. Eric says:

    Frank: I understand what you say, and I agree in some points
    but it feels opposite to what you spoke to Tom Spurgeon in the Comics Reporter Interiview.

    There you said that kind of criticism wasn´t fine with you. For example:
    Would you accept, today, Kochalka´s "editing" to giving Storeyville another ending?

    I don´t quite get the difference between what you said few years ago and what you write in this post.

    Here goes the transcription:

    SANTORO: Oh, for sure. I remember when I did Storeyville, it was "You shouldn't do it like this, you should do it like Rubber Blanket. Have you seen Rubber Blanket? Check this out." Or "If you could just tighten up your drawings." Everybody had something to say as opposed to, "Hey, cool comic." It was raked across the coals. Even John Porcellino, we were exchanging letters. He was like, "I just don't understand it. I don't like the ending. I don't get it. It just ends." I remember James Kochalka wrote me a letter and said, "It's too many pages; there's so much you can cut out." [Spurgeon laughs] That's fine, but I didn't invite that kind of criticism. I just sent it to people. You're welcome to criticize it whatever you want, but it was people telling me what I should do.

  57. Frank Santoro says:

    I think, honestly, I could have had less of an attitude about accepting criticism.

  58. shitpak says:

    no, storyville ended as it should. fuck it.

    come on, its like listening to the Beatles versus listening to Sun Ra. Sure, the Beatles were master craftsman but they died and got spread out across every Mall in the world. Sun Ra on the other hand, he died and became possibility and mystery.

    Its like Lucifer Rising/Kenneth Anger versus Lord of the Rings/Peter Jackson. At the end of the day, or maybe the end of a combined amount of days, i want the thing that leaves me with questions, i'll go with Lucifer.

    There seem to be multiple issues/arguments going on here.

    Sometimes its nice to read some raw unedited shit.

    but you can be experimental and still be edited

    Things can be edited to be a Major Work with a Vast Readership but that doesn't qualify them as being important across all avenues of the medium.

    Look some people like reading Peanuts and some people like holding the paper up to a lamp and reading Peanuts combined with Ziggy.

    Chris Ware is boring as hell.

    my capcha is "Damit"

  59. knut says:

    "Look some people like reading Peanuts and some people like holding the paper up to a lamp and reading Peanuts combined with Ziggy."

    This is now my favorite quote I've ever read in my life. I'm officially stealing that one!

  60. Frank Santoro says:

    I'll phrase it another way: I worked with an editor on Storeyville. I was very pleased with how it all turned out, as was he. However, when it got out in the world and I started getting the "you should have done this" kind of responses, it pissed me off. Now, that I'm older I realize that I could have engaged these folks and asked them "tell me more." I could have listened to them and decided to pick and choose what I thought was valid criticism. Instead, I shut them out. These were peers who were trying to help and I just didn't want to hear it. Now, I feel differently. I wouldn't have changed a thing but I would have LISTENED.

  61. ULAND says:

    There can be bad editing. Editing isn't a matter of having a boss that tells you what to do. Have you ever showed a strip to a friend, who tells you they're unclear about what's happened between panel four and five, and you changed it so it would make sense? That's editing. I don't think Franks' argument is being understood.
    Are you guys really thinking this through?

    Knut- It might feel really good to draw really loosely ( it's possible to remain loose and be very structured, I'm sure you realize). I'm sure it feels very free, but if there is nothing in particular that you are attempting, there is no particular reason to read it. Comics are a form of communication, and if the only thing you're trying to communicate is your own special-ness, a) Not interested.Life is too short. There are too many interesting things to read or take-in that might actually involve thinking. b) Why do art comics that have this M.O look so much alike?
    If your goal is to explore your own distinct world view or persona, how are you going to get that across if you don't structure it in a way that makes sense? If you are not interested in that, why are you printing this work? Why is it in comics form?

    If anyone thinks Sun Ra woke up one morning playing the way he came to be known for, you're delusional. He played in pretty straightforward jazz groups for years before that, and even his crazier stuff was all about structure.
    Let's get this straight: Structure does not mean one thing. It's not like writing a standard prescription for every problem. All it is is thinking about the best way to make your comics read the way you want them to, regardless of how it feels, or how cool it will make you look at the next art school drop out party.

  62. Eric says:

    Is "Maggots" well structured?
    Are the experimental comics in "Breakdowns" "correctly" structered?
    Are the comics in "Kramers Ergot" well structured?

    I like a bit more of the old Frank who didn´t want to listen. I don´t think someone should tell you how to make your art. That quote on The Comics Reporter was a reall inspiration. That´s why I remembered it so much and have it at the top of my mind.

    I like that kind of Dylan "I don´t beleive you" arrogance.

    I think fear is the worst enemy of the artist AND strucure is ALSO a confort zone where there is less fear.

    That´s a tricky game.

    I think you need that braveness and "i don´t give a dam" type of thinking when you are growing up as an artist.

    Hasn´t Picturebox got a little bit of that attitude?

    But I also like the Frank teacher who is really giving a lot of himself to the comics medium. Just for the love of the thing.

    Come on, his passion is contagious.

    And his validation of mainstream comics (I read Ronin because of him and I am very glad)which is true: they do have a big value and we were all forgeting about them.

    He is risking his "reputation", what most fear, by telling what he really thinks.

    The same way he risked a lot when he made the groundbreaking Chimera or Incanto.

    That´s very valuable.

    Also, "Cold heat" is a masterpiece that brings together the braveness of Storeyville with his new apreciation for structure. So there is a concrete point to all this argument too.

    I will listen every time to this man, though I don´t agree with all this editing thing. Some of it, perhaps.

  63. ULAND says:

    Recent Brain research has shown clearly that children are literally unable to view themselves as anything but the center of the universe. The parts of the brain responsible for restraint, and ultimately what we'd call empathy, have not developed. They don't fully develop, in most , until our late twenties and early thirties. It's during this gradual process that we all go from sputtering, selfish monsters to what are called adults. Between it all, we gradually learn ways to fake empathy because it offers new rewards ( like telling a girl you love her to get laid, fer instance.). It's especially egregious in teens, who basically don't know how to fake it very well and are frustrated in those efforts even more so by new emotion/desire that they don't understand how to satisfy. We might convince ourselves we believe these simulations of empathy are real .We certainly start to believe other simulations ( remember your emotional response to music at 18?). It's a necessary process, and eventually, if you're not a psycho, it does become "real", in the sense that your brain has actually developed a capacity for restraint, or an ability to delay gratification.

  64. ULAND says:

    — There is a last stage, however, wherein the 20-something has become very good at these simulations, so much so that they become enthralled with notions of "personal potential" ( this is backed up by tons of market research, btw); their simulations of empathy cannot easily be made distinct from *actual* restraint; if it looks like art, it is. If I look like an artist, I am. If I act like a businessman, people will want to do business with me. Yet this causes discomfort. It's when people start placing importance on concepts of authenticity, torn between an acknowledgment of their own simulations and their sense of potential; usually a last gasp is made by those who have a great deal invested in that *unreal* sense of potential, usually ones who've found easier access to greater rewards ( some call them "spoiled"), or are more dependent on them for many reasons, none of them pretty. The last gasp usually involves a re-dedication to "the dream" of meeting that sense of potential, and is usually propelled by a sense of magical thinking ( recent Subaru ad directed at late-20s' demo: "I just let the universe take care of it".) Sometimes this carries people through middle age, but many do break through and achieve a more sober vision of themselves and the world around them. To those still in thrall of their own market-purchased awesomeness, these people are "boring", the worst thing that can be said about anything in market-speak; they cannot or will not flatter the clearly false sense of potential those "in development" rely upon.Like Seth or Chris Ware. Sun Ra doesn't either, but because the message is so diffuse and subjective ( "Wild", i.e, more "natural", i.e, more like what I imagine I could be if every lame thing got out of the way so I could better satisfy desire.) , it can be re-codified more easily. Everything really is relative to these people, including their "personality" as it is expressed in "art".
    So, explaining that to people in that stage is met with rhetoric about, basically, not wanting to be someone else, or being myself as much as possible.
    I think there is some kind of intuitive awareness that the potentially magic self would probably not thrive if it were to subject itself to "editing"; they want to make their "own rules" in order to protect it from being made boring, wherein the potentials for gratification are limited or delayed.
    But this response is motivated by that central delusion, of course, and it gets in the way of recognizing how much it would benefit them to develop a critical awareness of the process they are going through before they reach a critical mass wherein the rewards they've relied on for so long no longer satisfy. It will happen.
    If you'd rather keep the dream alive and look for new t shirts to buy, that's fine. That's what lots and lots of people do, but there is no reason to engage with this sort of dialog in that case. There is nothing to say that will make you feel good here, so it's of no use to you.

  65. shitpak says:

    Does Sun Ra turn to outside forces to make his music more digestable? Or was it created through playing and responding to his own lifelong mutating form of language.

    Is an editor just a "hitmaker" on some level?

    Are editors actually Missionaries?

    Franks right, its good to listen.
    Erics right, you need to not give a dam. You need to be a brave fool.
    until you hit a wall and then you listen.

    I mean who are you guys making comics for? an audience of 8 comic forum nerds?

  66. ULAND says:

    But Sun Ra's made variations on language that he learned as opposed to inventing. He received feedback every night he played out, but he was also, arguably, a genius. Most of us aren't, and really do need to test what we've done on a set of educated ears that have our best interests in mind. If you're working with an editor that is trying to simply make you more palatable to a wider audience, that's one thing, but it's not what Frank is talking about.
    It all depends on your intentions, Brian.
    Think about someone like David Cronenberg, or someone in that boat; being more palatable was never a real concern, I don't think. He managed to present some really crazy, invigorating imagery, but the reason it was so powerful, I think, is because he had finely tuned the concepts he was working with— ideas that are actually relevant to us — to imbue the more sensational images with meaning. It's almost only a critical process that became what it became because of scrupulous editing.

  67. ULAND says:

    Shit, I meant "shit-pak", not Brian.

  68. shitpak says:

    God damn it, i hate long posts, so now i am an asshole too.

    if i had an editor on Maggots it would have been a big blank white book. and a few people would have been happier. i see that book as a perfect thing, uneditable. i couldn't care less about changing it then or now. never questioned a thing. And what, maybe 50 people have read it. Really read it. and again. I don't care. If someone had demanded that I change something i wouldn't have even understood what that meant.

    i can't do that anymore. now i self edit because i want to communicate a story. but in doing so, in editing, i am gaining ability to pass along story(maybe) and i am losing raw power. If no one understands If and Oof, my new thing, then i will be bummed.

    But still i have no interest in an outside editor. Nadel saw it and gave me one piece of advice so now i might actually be able to finish the thing, but other than that. i have a plan. But i am no Paul Pope. I'm not looking to get DC to knock on my door.(and i can't draw as awesome as that dude) I do this stuff for me. sure. selfish. sure, inconsequential to most people. But really, who cares? Do i want to be the next Blankets? Watchman 2? Answer peoples personal questions about life?

    no. i like to draw sequential drawings. and that is the criteria of comic books.

    Thats why my preferred route is self publishing, or in this scenario, working with a liberated publishing dude like Picturebox. Like some of those old ESP Sun Ra records say. "only the artist decides what goes on your ESP disk"

    II've been through lifes natural editors, like you said Uland, crowd reaction at a show. or constant uninterest and shoulder shrugging from people you give your books too.

    If you want super comic discipline than go work for disney, pretty soon you'll be shitting perfect Snoopies.

    or Bones.

    a good editor might definitely make you more money.

  69. Anonymous says:

    I really dug that issue of Following Cerebus. Really interesting read.


  70. Joe Willy says:

    I think the "no structure" argument would work better with examples. WHAT didn't work? WHY didn't it work? Isn't it possible to discuss that without ripping someone to shreds?

    Also, too many comments have acted as if by editor, Frank really means Hollywood producer/exec. You can have an editor with a critical eye giving honest advice (with which the creator can hopefully disagree) without being forced to consider marketing and sales.

    Obviously if the editor has very string opinions, or is also a publisher who is insistent in only publishing work they like, this can lead to a house style and a lot of similar books and artists changing their books to fit into "what works" instead of producing something unique.

  71. ULAND says:

    It all depends on what your intentions are, shit-pak. I guess if we're talking about story, I'm not interested in one that isn't interested in being told well. And that goes for any kind of content or style, really.
    I don't like Craig Thompsons' comics, but I could see how having someone you respect say 'this didn't work for me, bring me something else' and being forced to really consider what it is you want to get across.
    I'm sure if Thompson really loved his first ending, that's what we would have seen, but he thought his editor was right, he could make it better, and apparently he did.

  72. Frank Santoro says:

    This is going to be my last comment on this thread.

    Joe said "I think the "no structure" argument would work better with examples. WHAT didn't work? WHY didn't it work? Isn't it possible to discuss that without ripping someone to shreds?"

    It is my hope to do just this in a future post with a willing student.

  73. knut says:

    Actually to clarify I think most comics should be edited, but that's based on the genre of those comics. If you are going to work in fringe methods then you better be making fringe content, like Maggots.

    I used to do narrative humor comics when I first started and people would tell me "your stuff is good but you need to make your art slicker for it to work." I didn't want to draw that way. It wasn't inspiring to me, it was a chore. I eventually realized that the problem wasn't with me but was with narrative humor comics. Eventually I gravitated towards comics that were drawn in a way that I enjoyed drawing and realized how that type of drawing worked for a certain type of storytelling, fringe experimental stuff.

    In other words, if you're going to be fringe be fringe, otherwise conform. You can't have it both ways.

  74. ULAND says:

    Or, conform to the fringe, I guess.

  75. knut says:

    Well, you could make an argument that the avant garde is just another genre. It's wild and wooly by comparison, but it shares many aspects of a "genre", built-in fanbase, etc.

    Plus, anyone doing fringe works tends to start off in familiar territory that other artists have trailblazed. Where would Chippendale and Brinkman have ever been without Panter? Where would Sun Ra have been without Coltrane?

    The true testiment is where the artist takes things from that jumping on point. Either you end up a real trailblazer or just another imitator. That's the fun of the game.

  76. LMSN says:

    ah man, this is fascinating, to see comics discussed with outsider art and all this other things, who comics are made for etc.
    But you need to give some examples because 'alt comics' is like saying "mainstream comics". does that include self-published mini comics?
    Maybe before you can be edited you need to play and put out some stuff that isn't very good, and figure out some things that you know you are good at, so that if you find someone you feel can edit you, you know enough about what you want to do with your work, when to disagree and when you should change something.

    also, maybe it would help to define "structure" a bit more;
    does this include many different things:
    the way a series of actions moves across a double page/this sequence happens too quickly and this bit is dragged out for too long/this characters emotional response its confusing considering the time that has passed since this event a few pages ago/the proportion of this speech bubble to this picture frame is ugly

    i think the best thing it to just be a comics Terminator

  77. shitpak says:

    actually they say that Coltrane saw John Gilmore from Sun Ra's Arkestra play a free set and thats when he started going down the wild path. Sorry to throw Sun Ra in this so much but hey, it all goes around.

  78. Oliver East says:

    for what felt like an age, the only emails i was getting after my son was born at 17:32 (12:32 NYC i think) on sunday 23rd were comemts to this weak ass post.

  79. Oliver East says:

    (I didn't actually think it was 'weak assed'. i just thought that scanned well but then I haven't slept for two day so I may be wrong.

  80. knut says:

    Congrats Oliver, I just had my son last Saturday!

    BTW, what's sleep?

  81. Kenny Penman says:

    I'm Oliver's editor and publisher and this discussion does touch on many of the points that come up dealing with a cartoonist who is learning and stretching. Oli, you already know some of my opinions about what should and shouldn't be edited – bad spelling etc. makes us all look lazy and uninterested in what costs your time and my money – for me, unacceptable.

    Structure is a completely different matter and not something we have discussed, as for the most part you have turned the books in completed and i've published them. I've had little problem with the 'narrative' of the first two books and felt no need to attempt to change them. I like them both immensely. Your work isn't dealing with tight structure for the most part anyhow – although it progresses in a linear fashion. Given what the books are about – start here – finish here – they have at least a linearity about them which keeps the narrative on 'rails' so to speak. I do think we might have a conversation about Berlin sometime though – although it is a great, big, art project of a book – I wonder if the narrative isn't somewhat lost there – although I need to read the whole book and not just the pages with text to ascertain that. You up for a discussion? Or do you think should be left well alone?

    I'm interested in editors being only those who are peers – and I'm not sure it works. It's true that artists will have more idea of process than non-artists when considering or critiquing something someone has produced but when it comes to structure and 'readability', to borrow from Frank's original criticism, I'm not so sure.

    I can't draw, but I can – for the most part – read comics. I think many artists aren't good at doing that and they allow themselves to develop a sort of 'hive mind' around each others work. Here they aren't considering the work per se but more considering their relationships with the artist, their place in a creative group and lots of other factors that will tend to make them supportive of something they might 'feel' they should like – rather than actually like or understand. Both artists and editors like and endorse 'bad' comics but I think there is a greater chance of an independent (as much as possible anyhow) editor finding some of the real faults in a work, than artists who are friends.

    If your editor is your publisher as well – he likely want's your work to be presented in the best light possible. The case of the two Top Shelf artists mentioned seems to point very much in that direction, good editors don't want to 'interfere' for the sake of it – just to let the work be all it can be. The process shouldn't be adversarial, if artists accept that editors are trying to improve in a distinct and very focussed way and not just meddle with the high concept that is good ground for consultation and discussion which may in the end allow us all to make and publish better comics.

    That all sounded a bit West Coast by the end there – I need to go out and look at a grey british day now and get my 'reality' back.

  82. Frank Santoro says:

    Great comment. Thanks.

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