Posts Tagged ‘Jaime Hernandez’

MoCCA 2010 pt.1


Monday, April 12, 2010

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Hey everyone. By the time I get around to scanning all the great minis, zines and comics I got at this year’s MoCCA, it’ll be next week. So I thought I’d just write something super fast to check in.

All in all it was a quiet show. Not a bad turnout but pretty uneven. I had one of the most crowded tables at the thing, so who’s complaining, right? I just mean it looked like there weren’t a ton of people there. But then again the venue is gee-fucking-normous.

PictureBox had a good show, though, I think. And my table of comic book back issues was picked clean. We were always pretty busy and the vibe was mellow. I liked that it wasn’t 100 degrees inside or outside, but it just didn’t feel like MoCCA, which I always associate with summer. Still, who’s complaining? There were more cute girls wearing summery dresses there than ever.

The highlight of the show for me was catching a glimpse of Jaime Hernandez drawing a sketch for someone late on Sunday. Is it legal for someone to be as good as Jaime is and to be such a nice, cool guy? Sometimes you gotta pinch yourself and wake up from dreaming. Standing transfixed before the master while he conjured faces of his characters out of thin air was something I won’t soon forget.

Stay tuned for full report. Plus we’ll take a look at how Peggy Burns gets what she wants whenever she wants it.

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Xaime’s faves


Saturday, March 13, 2010

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Since it’s saturday and nothing is going on across the internets, I thought I’d link to this:

Jaime Hernandez’s favorite Criterion Collection films.  

Maybe this is old news, but it’s new to me.  Love his one line descriptions for each film on the list.


Bridges Aflame


Thursday, February 25, 2010

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I’m only about halfway through Todd Hignite’s upcoming The Art of Jaime Hernandez, but while it’s possible if unlikely that the whole thing falls apart near the end, and while I have a few mostly minor qualms (some fair, some not) about its approach, even at this point it is clear that this is a rich and beautiful book, and an essential volume for the advanced Hernandezologist. I’m not going to review the book right now, but just point out a few thoughts it inspired.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

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Feiffer on the left, Mayer on the right…

A couple recent items have sparked my comics fancy. First, The Toon Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics, edited by Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly. This 350-page, full color book is a brilliant anthology by two masters of the form. I haven’t seen much about it in the comics press, so I thought it would be worth mentioning here. The book collects a few dozen stores from the 40s and 50s by well known cartoonists like Barks and Stanley as well as lesser known figures like Milt Stein and Jim Davis, not to mention complete unknowns like Frank Thomas and Andre LeBlanc. The promotional aspects of the book are pitched at children, as it should be (after all, the work is exactly what I wish I had as a kid), but the beauty of the organizing conceit is that many of the best cartoonists in the world were making “children’s” comics, so what the book really is is an anthology of masteful drawing and storytelling — the kind that informed cartoonists as diverse as the Hernandez Bros (Bob Bolling, Al Wiseman), R. Crumb (Barks and Kelly) and Seth (Stanley). And Spiegelman and Mouly don’t stint on the background material — the biographies of the artists are snappy and well-researched and the historical introduction nicely contextualizes the stories that follow.

Even for an obsessive (and fellow anthologist) like me there were stories that were near revelatory, like Walt Kelly’s “Never Give a Diving Board an Even Break” (composed entirely around a see-saw) and the aforementioned Frank Thomas’s “Billy and Bonny Bee”. Part of it is getting to read a single story at a time by someone like Barks, Stanley or Bolling. Making it bite-sized, without the weight of 10 other stories in an anthology or 3 others in a comic book, allowed me to just focus intently on what Barks was doing, as opposed to what, say, Milt Stein was doing. It’s good to see the “giants” amongst the unknowns — it feels like an accurate context.

All the different sensibilities here, most fully developed and deployed, are staggering in their diversity. And the other part of this book is simply the pleasure of looking: The production quality is ideal: the original comic book colors are intact and printed on uncoated stock against an off-white tone. Ahhh, perfection.

Anyhow, as a collection of near-flawless cartooning, this book can’t be beat. Go get it and learn from it.

The other item is less an item and more a stray idea: No one has really mentioned that Robert Williams has been chosen to participate in the 2010 Whitney Biennial (warning: obnoxious web site) It’s not the first time someone “outside” the mainstream art world has been exhibited — Chris Ware and Forcefield both exhibited in 2002 — but it nonetheless marks an important moment: Williams’ penetration into the curatorial world that Juxtapoz so despises. It may or may not have any real ramifications, but it would be nice if it meant there was some real curatorial interest in someone like Williams (and extending beyond him, in collecting and preserving other non-mainstream artists). I loved walking between his show and Mike Kelley’s a month or so ago and I think the work will kinda throw everything else into stark relief. In a good way. Context, baby. It’s all about context.

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From Ditko to Jaime Hernandez


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

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Steve Ditko, from Spider-Man #33.

Jaime Hernandez, from “Bob Richardson”.

The bridge is over. The bridge is over. Yes. But what does that mean in practice? One way to describe our bridge-less world is to say that it is now possible to read Jaime Hernandez and not see the influence of Ditko. Indeed, I suspect that most readers of Love and Rockets might not know who Ditko is.

That’s not much of a loss. There are all sorts of pleasures in Jaime H.’s work that don’t require Ditko-knowledge. Anyone who is literate and has an eye can appreciate Jaime’s excellent sense of character, the purity of his art, the constant inventiveness of his stories, and the sheer scope of storytelling he’s achieved over hundreds of pages.

Still, there is a small loss. Consider the above panel from the Jaime story “Bob Richardson” (page 4 of the story).

The panel is a visual allusion to a famous sequence in Spider-Man #33 where the web-slinger is trapped under a giant machine. Ditko’s scene was one of his great dramatizations of the triumph of the will, with Spider-Man overcoming not just the machine but also own sense of failure and defeat. In the Hernandez story, the significance of the allusion is that on a psychological level Maggie undergoes a many traumas: she’s beaten down by life and is made to feel good-for-nothing by friends and family alike. Yet she finds within herself the resilience to go on. Hernandez’s image of the dog under the machine is meant to say something about how Maggie feels. He’s taking Ditko’s super-heroic imagery and transforming it into a scene of quiet emotional symbolism.

The visual allusion to Ditko is only a tiny nuance, one thin sliver in a multi-layered story. Still it’s a layer that one would like Love and Rockets readers to know about.

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The bridge is over.


Saturday, August 1, 2009

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Preface: I wrote this in my notebook after discovering last week that the conclusion to the major re-launch of the 1980s series Nexus had hit the stands. Steve Rude, one of the biggest “indie” comics creators of the last 25 years, made a comeback — to the sound of crickets. No one cared. To me, that meant the Direct Market was really finally and absolutely dead. Everyone said it was dead last summer when Love and Rockets abandoned its pamphlet comic book format and went to an annual trade paperback format. Like Love and Rockets, the fate of Nexus was bound up in the history of the Direct Market. But unlike Love and Rockets, Nexus was suited for the “alternative mainstream” fan. It was a particular kind of adult superhero book that appealed to a seemingly more sophisticated audience than the regular superhero comics. The DM supported titles like Nexus and allowed them to thrive. Not any more. Maybe everyone’s just had their fill of Nexus but the news of this indie’s end got me thinking about the bigger picture. The end of Nexus represents, to me, a window of time that has closed. The new regime is upon us at last, and I wrote this to simply mark the time. Also, the below is really an exploration, for me, into ideas that my friend and mentor Bill Boichel of Copacetic Comics has expressed to me for years—in his store, over the phone, in emails, in class lectures. The “bridge” and “tree” metaphors are pure Boichel. Thanks Bill, for letting borrow your melody line and riff on it here.

The bridge is over. From 1975 to 2005, the Direct Market was the bridge from the old world “Comics-as-ephemera”, returnable periodicals model to the new world “Comics-as-Literature” bookstore model. The bridge changed comics, saved it from sure death on the newsstand and put comics in a place of permanence. Everyone in Comics has noted the consolidation of the DM and the rise of the chain bookstores & the internet as venues for new work. Now, this year, more than ever, I seem to be repeatedly noting to myself the real split between the mainstream and the alternative sides of comics.

During the heyday of the Direct Market in the late ’80s and early ’90s mainstream and alternative comics were together in one marketplace because there was no other option essentially, no bookstore support, no internet. What that meant was the two traditions were folded together. Gilbert Hernandez and Steve Ditko were on the same rack literally and figuratively. The old mainstream guys influenced the young alt guys, there was a clear traceable legacy. One could see Bernie Krigstein’s influence on Dan Clowes, Jack Kirby’s influence on Chester Brown, Ditko’s influence on Hernandez. It was a singular perspective essentially. One big sandbox. One tradition.

The market can now support multiple perspectives. It is not a monolithic community. There is no official definition of Comics now. It’s too big. Finally “comics” doesn’t just mean American mainstream super-hero action adventure stories. (Well, comics never meant just that genre, but y’know what I’m saying: Marvel and DC have lorded over the form for almost 50 years.) In 2009 you can walk into a comics store like Copacetic Comics in Pittsburgh and see no superhero comics on display at all. There are enough “alternative” or “literary” comics/graphic novels out in the world to fill a whole (small) store. And there are “alternative” publishers who don’t use (or are shut out from) the Direct Market and who use book trade distributors to get the work out to stores.

So we got what you might call a bifurcated market. The two traditions, once folded together in the same market, have split. There are two sandboxes now. What that means is that if you grew up reading comics from, say, 1999 to now you didn’t necessarily have to read superhero comics to get your comics fix or even go to a store that sold both. This is a good thing. It’s a new audience, and a broader one than maybe any of us old school dinosaurs could have anticipated. I’ve spent far too much time ranting about “the kids not knowing their comics history.” Well, I’m over it. I don’t really feel the need to explain who Marshall Rogers is anymore, or convince anyone that late ’70s Kirby is actually really good. Figure it out for yourself.

This new audience, I think, is alienated by superhero comics and associates the genre with corporate America. They don’t like it. And who can blame them? They wonder why folks like me keep extolling the abilities of some guy who drew Spider-Man. They could care less. I had a student tell me, “Yah, it’s beautiful art but it’s Spider-Man.” This too, this palpable attitude, is a good thing. After all, aren’t Batman and Spider-Man just corporate logos these days?

Comics history is like one big tree where McCay and Herriman are the roots, Kirby and Caniff are the trunk, Crumb and Spiegelman are big branches, and the rest of us schlubs are up there somewhere. It’s all connected. Each generation has its precursors. I would assert, however, that for the first time in comics history it’s possible to graft new identities upon the tree without being schooled in the singular tradition, without growing out of the singular tradition. One can choose precursors from other traditions, not just from comics.

I see Persepolis as an example of this grafting. It is at once outside the tradition of comics and within the boundaries of the form. I feel that it was only possible to come into existence because of the split that happened some time in the last 10 years. I’m sure that’s no big revelation for most of you, but it’s something to consider as we move forward into the next decade. It’s now possible to bypass a very particular, esoteric education in “mainstream” comics, and go right to its “alternative” and also to the avant-garde. It opens the door for “vertical invaders,” for artists from different traditions to make work and to find an audience. The marketplace will support a book like Persepolis, I think, precisely because it is divorced from the old world model. Satrapi’s free from the “Tree of Influence” that’s existed in comics; she’s free to draw in a straight-forward generic style that is appealing to a vast audience. (Think of it this way: As “straight-forward” or “realistic” Clowes’ style in Ghost World is to a schooled comics reader, it looks baroque and affected to a non-comics reader.)

One could say comics like L’nR and Optic Nerve may have been the first to appeal to this emerging audience. But I feel that those books didn’t/don’t cross over so much as Acme Novelty Library or Persepolis because the styles of the Hernandez Brothers and also of Tomine are essentially derived from the mainstream comics and illustration tradition. I feel that it was Ware’s choice to reach beyond the mainstream tradition back to the newspaper strip golden age that has allowed him to have such a diverse audience. It seems this new emerging audience still connects particular styles back to mainstream comics. I’m curious to see how Mazzucchelli’s new book does now that he has “unlearned” all his mainstream tricks. ( I also think Seth’s eventual collection of Clyde Fans will “cross over” to an audience beyond comics. He has a style that has little to do with mainstream comics. Interestingly enough, Seth said recently: “I am converting Palookaville into a hardcover format this year. I love the old comic format but Chris Oliveros convinced me that the work would do better if we moved on to this new direction. It’s kind of sad, passing of an era and all that.”)

So, here we are: Summer 2009. Whatever system we have now, it’s working. Pamphlets still get published even if they only serve as advertisements for the collection, GN’s sell better and better, downloads are happening, comics are on Kindle: whatever works. However, in the process it feels like a real division has been formed between the “mainstream” and the “alternative” factions. A division that was always there underneath, forming. But now it’s ruptured and split the marketplace.

Which brings me to Comic-Con. San Diego Comic-Con will always be some sort of Oscars for our community. But whose community is it anymore? Increasingly it’s the motion picture industry’s community. It’s not about “the work” anymore. It’s definitely not about the creators or even the comic book dealers. It may be cool for most mainstream creators or fans but what’s in it for us in the “alternative” community? Not much. So I gotta wonder why “we” still go. I can certainly understand why Fantagraphics and D&Q go (it’s the biggest show of the year, duh) and that Comic-Con is still profitable for them. But for me and my comrades over here on the fringe of the fringe we feel like we’re getting priced out of our own neighborhood. The split seems this year to be more pronounced than ever and it looks like those in the “mainstream” have no choice really but to hold on for dear life as they become co-opted even further into corporate America. They really have no choice. They sold themselves out years ago.

But the alternative comics community does have a choice. So give me TCAF, SPX, MoCCA, SPACE, Stumptown, and the “alternative” circuit and tell Comic-Con and the Direct Market, “Thanks for the memories.” The bridge is over.

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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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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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