For the final two weeks of August, a Vancouver pop-art gallery was a required stop for anyone interested in comic books, or looking to get fired up to create their own.
Four local cartoonists — Tony Cliff, Rebecca Dart, Brandon Graham and Simon Roy — took over the space at the Hot Art Wet City gallery, turning it into a hotbed of sequential goodness, with ripped out sketchbook pages full of story notes, rough page layouts, gloriously inked pages, and all matters of comic-making ephemera hanging from the walls. Sketches of barbarian ladies, aliens and globe-trotting adventurers — penciled by each contributing artist — guided the way through the cartoonists’ respective creative journeys.
Cliff showed off the process behind his Eisner-nominated webcomic-turned-recently-released graphic novel “Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant,” as well as the one-shot “Delilah Dirk and the Seeds of Good Fortune.” Dart revealed the first look at her full-length “Battle Kittens” graphic novel, a follow-up to her sketchbook of the same name, centered on a fantastic world of battle-tested, axe-wielding barbarian ladies that ride giant fluffy kittens.
For Cliff and Dart, who both work in animation, it was interesting to see some of the details in their processes overlap — especially compared to the other half of the gallery, where Brandon Graham and Simon Roy’s fluid process behind “Prophet,” their expansive monthly space opera, was on display. Computer-designed thumbnails, Graham’s loose story notes, and Roy’s striking inked pages from previous issues all helped give a clearer picture of the unique collaboration going on in the acclaimed Image Comics title. Graham also showed off his behind-the-scenes glimpse of his solo work, including “King City,” and previously unpublished illustrations.
Process Colour was an art show that displayed the hard work that goes into creating slick, effortless-looking comics. With the show now packed up, and the sweated-over, coffee-stained pages filed safely away, Comic Book Resources picked the brains of each of the show’s participants to talk about their takeaways from the unique gallery experience.
Tony Cliff (“Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant”)
CBR News: Was this your idea, to do a “process-as-art” show?
Tony Cliff: Was it my idea in the sense of, am I the person who had the idea to put all that stuff up there? Or was it my intention to view sketches and notes and that sort of thing as “art” in itself instead of just a by-product of the process? If the former, then yeah, I suppose so. I like seeing behind-the-scenes stuff. It’s fun to see those jotted-down notes and brain farts in the margins.
If the latter, then, hoo boy, I am not sure. Honestly, I was just hoping people might be as interested in that sneak peek man-behind-the-curtain stuff as I am. I just wanted to share and present that stuff, and people can take from that what they will. Whether it’s simply, oh, I don’t know, a different way of thinking about their own process, or another technique they can incorporate, or whether they’re thinking more deeply about the art-ness of the thought, criticism, and iteration involved — it’s all fair game. It’s all constructive. I like the idea of reducing the mystery involved in the process, too.
What was it like seeing the years of work put behind Delilah Dirk, from character designs to Post-It notes with story ideas to finished pages?
Seeing my own stuff up there, I was surprised how much space it took up. Usually, when it’s stacked in a drawer, it’s not particularly impressive. I thought we would barely be able to use up all the space on the gallery walls, but we almost had to scale it down. I also thought it was curious: my newer process stuff seemed a lot more rigorous than the old stuff. Fussier, maybe. I worry that maybe that means it’s getting less fun, or less loose, which I think would be a detriment. Going to have to see what I can do about that.
What surprised you the most about seeing Rebecca, Simon and Brandon’s processes? Since most of you guys live in Vancouver, how much did you know about their own respective processes before the show?
Oddly enough, we hadn’t really talked about our processes much prior to the show. I don’t know if I had much of an idea of what people’s processes were like beforehand. I must have assumed they were all different, otherwise there wouldn’t have been much variety to the show. Seemed like Rebecca and I have relatively similar processes, maybe due to our mutual animation backgrounds. Something about animation breeds an affinity for colored pencils, at least.
I had seen some of Brandon’s work-in-progress, but mostly as a function of having just run into Brandon around town, or at comic jams. He’s always got pages on him, and either I’m really lucky or he’s eager to pass around the pages he’s got on him.
I was particularly interested to see the collaborative work that Brandon and Simon had done together. I think some of it was thumbnailed by Brandon, some by Simon, and Simon turned it all into finished pages. It was interesting to see some of that back-and-forth.
Mostly it just made me happy to see all that rough work, with all the construction lines and mistakes and experiments intact. I like that. We were talking about that as we were taking down the show — does everyone like rough work? Do you have to be an “artist” to appreciate it, or is that something that has a more broad appeal? Is it just a certain type or sensibility? I’m curious.
Rebecca Dart (“Battle Kittens”)
You were showing off not only a behind-the-scenes look at your process, but also a book that hasn’t been completed. Were you tentative about putting a work in progress on display?
Rebecca Dart: I didn’t have any qualms about putting up work for an unfinished project. In fact the feedback I received added some much needed fuel for my creative engine. Working on a long term project like this in isolation, sometimes it’s hard to motivate yourself to keep going, when you’re so close to something for so long, you lose sight and confidence that what you’re doing is of value. Feedback on a project from fellow artists and fans as it’s being created is constructive and I think revealing pages as you go creates anticipation amongst your readers. Although, you do have to remain true to yourself and the work, it’s a fine line between taking on constructive criticism and pandering.
Did the show change how you’re going forward on the book at all?
Seeing Tony’s, Simon’s and Brandon’s process was really fascinating. I think it’s important for young artists to see this, because they always seemed so concerned about “doing it the right way.” Seeing this show demonstrates that there is no “right way.” You find your way by simply doing it and your process will develop over time. As far as personal influence, seeing how they structure their story outlines was very inspirational for me. I might have to go over what I’ve done and refine a few things.
Simon Roy (“Prophet”)
Simon, we talked about this in our last interview, but the process behind “Prophet” is a very fluid collaboration between you and Brandon, and it was interesting to see that in person, from the hand-written, note-form “script” to your layout process. What did you think seeing Tony’s process, with detailed story notes and all the work he puts into his story?
Simon Roy: I was thinking a lot about that myself, ever since I got to take a good look at Tony’s notes. In “Prophet,” the process is much more defined by deadlines, I think, then Tony’s approach. His approach is obviously more in-depth and methodical, but with “Prophet” (and it’s looming deadlines) we end up trying to talk out whatever story problems exist in person or over Skype then diving right into layouts. Not only do we probably not spend the same amount of time on development (per page) as Tony does, but lots of said development is unrecorded, or recorded in mucky unreadable personal shorthand in Brandon’s sketchbook. That being said, my process for any project is a lot more disorganized and erratic then Tony’s, so maybe it’s not the deadlines that make our process muckier…
Brandon Graham (“King City,” “Multiple Warheads”)
Brandon, the Process Colour show is the second time this year that you’ve helped take over an art gallery.Â What are your impressions of this show compared to that one?
Brandon Graham: The Tusk show in Amsterdam was something that took much more involvement on my part. Me and my missus, Marian Churchland, did these big wall paintings with a back story of color gods and made up a fake alphabet.Â ThisÂ “Process Colour” show was more Tony’s idea and it was cool, but my part was just putting up old art and layouts I had around.
Did you get any interesting or new insights into Tony, Rebecca or Simon’s processes?
Yeah, It was interesting to see how differently Tony and Rebecca work from me and Simon. They’re animation guys so the whole process was much clearer and readable at every step. I assume since animation is done with these larger teams who all need to know what’s going on. Also, animation guys seem to go through a lot more paper.
A lot of the comic layouts me and Simon put up are done on the page on the boarders or stick figure ugly on the side. Characters are designed on the page as you go. It’s much less pretty.
It’s cool though, it shows that there is no one way to make comics. You could have a show with 200 different artists and 200 different ways to do things — and all of them just as valid.