Posts Tagged ‘Heroes Con’

Craft in Comics 2.0 (finale)


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

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Anyways, back to craft. Ahem. That last post was sort of bittersweet. On one hand, I’m kinda bummed that my panel with Jaime Hernandez and Jim Rugg basically gets boiled down to this routine about taste. I was trying to riff on photo-referencing, not so much on Ross or even the comics culture that spawned him. Take a look at the comments section for that last post, wade through them and see for yourself how few of the comments refer to photography and drawing and the exchange between the forms. On the other hand, I’m happy that I did touch a nerve. Something resonated. I’m interested in fostering serious discussion about the over-use of photography in cartooning. Photography. Cartooning. Two different disciplines.

During the panel at Heroes Con, I spoke about a particular teacher I had who was adamant about not using photographs as reference for drawing. Ever. If there was something that needed to be researched she would direct me to a vast illustrated encyclopedia. And if an illustration of the thing didn’t exist, then I could go look in the regular encyclopedia. And then, we still could really only study the photo, we could make a drawing from it and then the photo had to be put away. We were to use the drawing we had made from the photo as the primary reference, that’s it.

The idea was to make us carefully select the information we wanted to transmit with lines. She would talk about how when one draws from direct observation, one is choosing what to leave in, what to leave out and even reconstructing elements so that the drawing will “read” better. When one draws from a photograph, the space is flattened, the camera has already selected the lines, shapes, and forms for you. When you are outside drawing a tree, YOU are choosing what is in focus, what is not—there is an exchange between subject and viewer. That is the art. To be present in that moment. When you are making the lines, THAT is the moment of seeing, of looking. “Don’t look at the paper,” she would yell. “Look at what you are drawing!” For me, this is what is valuable in the experience of drawing, this focus, this intention. It’s a very different process to draw a tree while sitting underneath it as opposed to drawing the same view from a photograph. The huge tree that moves and breathes is now lifeless and only about four by six inches wide and flat.

On the panel, we all talked a little bit about our schooling and how those experiences formed us, and how certain ideas we learned then are still part of our practice today. And for me, one of the limits I put on myself is not using photo references when composing my comics. Does that make me a better artist somehow? Maybe not, but it does lead me to make certain choices that yield unexpected and interesting results. For example, I’ll draw all the landscapes for my comics from life, from just walking around, or from just out of my head. I like to think that it adds a degree of naturalism to my comics, but it does prove difficult when I need to set a story in an exotic locale. Yet, since I feel comfortable drawing everyday backgrounds and such it’s not so hard to fake it out of my head. The conversational style of my landscapes that simply evolved out of the repetition of drawing from life serves me well in moments where I’m uncertain of how things should look. I can insert a believable setting for the characters and make it work, make the scene richer, fuller. And I like to think that those landscapes out of my head are more successful because they are not from photographs, and also because those landscapes contain my intent, my focus. Photos, even ones I take myself for reference, create distance between viewer and subject. That’s not the scene I just experienced, just walked through… How often have we all felt that the picture just doesn’t really capture the moment? That’s precisely why I strain to draw out those moments in my comics, why I refuse to use photographs. They only upset the balance. And it feels false, honestly. Like cheating.

Anyways. There’s room for all styles, approaches. But for me, I’m interested in DRAWING. I’m not interested in becoming a sort of movie director who utilizes actors, snapshots, Google image search, Photoshop, and every other available tool to create a hyper-realistic world. It’s a comic book fer christ’s sake. It’s pen and paper. It’s drawing.

Yet, I must admit that I do enjoy comics that contain plenty of photo-referencing. It can be done well. And of course all those drawings from photos are DRAWINGS too. I’m not trying to suggest that by using photos, drawing from photos is not drawing. It’s just different. And I can enjoy it—to a point.

There still will always be a transition or two in a heavily photo-referenced comic that seems really stilted and wooden. I think what happens is that the comics continuity is hindered by another discipline’s limitations. The still photo versus the moment-in-time in a motion picture, in a movie. Would folks who use snapshots of actors for their comics prefer to just film it and then capture a less “pose-y” position? Does that make sense? I mean, why not just film it and then at least you’re getting the FLOW of it. Then you could pause the really great gesture or something. But then, why not be a filmmaker? See what I mean? It’s a slippery slope. At least that’s how my brain works. I have to set limitations.

“I set limits for myself,” Jaime told the audience. “Like I only ever have four lines of dialogue at a time. If you have more, it’s too much. I wouldn’t read it. It’s too many words. It’s gotta be natural.”

PREVIOUSLY: Part one, Part 1.5, and Part 1.75

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Craft in Comics part 1.75


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

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Hey everyone. I’m going through my notes on the panel (“Craft in Comics” with Jaime Hernandez, Jim Rugg, and myself), and honestly, they don’t capture the feelings I had about the panel, or how I feel about it a week-and-a-half later.

I guess the thing that resonated most with people is my rant about Alex Ross, and I just don’t feel like turning my recollections about this wonderful panel I was on into a bitch-fest about Ross, but … ah fuck it: It’s not just Ross, it’s this culture of photo-referencing in comics that grinds my gears. It’s true, I hate Ross’s work. He’s got great technical ability, but big deal. Why is copying the nuances of a photograph such an achievement? That’s not drawing! He’s the worst example for a young artist to have, the worst role model. No one has done more harm to the form than Ross. It’s not comics he makes. It’s fumetti. There are no real panel-to-panel transitions as there are in “pure cartooning”; he’s just putting photograph next to photograph in a way that some find pleasing. But it’s not comics.

His original sketches for his pages—which I’ve seen in person—are lively drawings that capture the energy and action of the figures. I remember thinking then, “Why doesn’t he just work those up into full drawings?” Instead, he’ll literally dress models up in a costume and take pictures of them dressed as Galactus or Batman. But that’s not Galactus, that’s some guy standing on a washer and dryer in a basement. How do I know? Cuz Ross and guys like P. Craig Russell love to publish those photos for some reason.

There was a Conan book recently that I was flipped through and I could immediately see that it was referenced, because the referencing takes over. Did John Buscema or Barry Smith let their references take over their style? No, they were original enough, wise enough, to incorporate the references, to subsume them into their overall style. P. Craig Russell most often does the same, he’s good enough to really USE the reference, but I always wonder why? Why bother? It distracts me as a reader, it ruptures the balance of his drawings, his lines, because it’s clear that the drawing is from a photo. It sends the other drawings on the page that are not referenced into high relief. Photos flatten the perspective, the shape of the body, the sense of depth. And worst of all it’s not Conan! Or Galactus. My suspension of disbelief is shattered at the moments I realize a photo is being used, and then that break is re-enforced when I see the photo that the artist was using, which they’ll often proudly display like a trophy! Do they think that should be applauded? It’s maddening!! When Kirby drew Galactus it WAS Galactus. Real. Manifest. Not some schlub in his underwear playing dress-up.

Think of Alex Toth. As far as I know he only occasionally lifted a photo straight. Like Neal Adams, he’d draw from it and then integrate it into his style so that it wasn’t so jarring. These days that concern seems archaic. The more photo-realistic the better. And on top of that, look close at the more recent vintage of photo-referenced comics. Generally each photo has the same focal length. You can really imagine the “actors” sitting there on their couches, at their kitchen tables, in the car. It’s so LAZY!! Point and shoot, ah, that panel’s done, next! “Honey, will you stand over there by the window and look off in the distance? I need to nail this Catwoman drawing.”

** More soon—also I’m not responding to comments on this one. On this subject, I have patience only to be dogmatic.

*** Photo-referencing isn’t just a problem in mainstream comics either, by the way. Those guys are just easy targets.

PREVIOUSLY: Part one and Part 1.5

NEXT: Part 2.0

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Craft in Comics part 1.5


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.


NEXT: Part 1.75 and Part 2.0

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Another Heroes Con Panel


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


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.)


(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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Second Gear, Second Verse


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)


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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Heroes Con Here We Come


Thursday, June 19, 2008

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The Comics Comics and PictureBox advance team has arrived in Charlotte, NC for Heroes Con. Frank and I are lounging in our hotel room, high above the convention center. So far it looks like a fun show and damn fine for back issues. Why, there’s an entire Fangoria section at one table! Anyhow, Tim will be joining us tomorrow and then we have some fun panels:

Friday, 3 pm:

CAGE MATCH: Comics Comics Vs Comics Comics! | Room 208
A live critique session with the editors of Comics Comics. Timothy Hodler, Dan Nadel and Frank Santoro will conduct a no-holds-barred argument about a comic book or graphic novel of their choice. Audience participation is encouraged. Chairs might be thrown.

John Byrne’s FX
Kirby’s OMAC
The new issue of Mome
Kick-Ass 1-3

Saturday, 12:30 pm:

From critical favorite hits like MAGGOTS and POWR MASTRS, to prominence in influential anthologies like KRAMER’S ERGOT, “art” or “abstract” or “out” comics are pushing the boundaries of the avant garde in comics. Join Tom Spurgeon of the Comics Reporter as he sits down with Picturebox publisher Dan Nadel, KRAMER’S ERGOT editor Sammy Harkham and publisher Alvin Buenaventura for a frank discussion of this leading edge of art in comics!

Sunday, 1 pm:

CRAFT IN COMICS: Jaime Hernandez, Jim Rugg, and Frank Santoro in Conversation | 213A
Less a conversation on materials and techniques and more a conversation on ideas and beliefs, this panel will focus on tradition and innovation in composition and drawing for comics. From Jaime’s insistence on not using photographs as reference in his comics to Jim’s clarity of composition and Frank’s careful color choices, there are countless tenets of craft that are largely underappreciated by readers. This panel will investigate these ideas and attempt to illuminate and outline them in a lively conversation led by Frank Santoro.

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