A while back, I threw the following question, asked by a visitor to my message boards, open to some writers, and now I’d like to do the same with some artists: “Why comics?… What’s the zeitgeist of creators? It seems a lot of them these days just use comics as their springboard to leap into “more respectable” media, which, in my thinking, is one of the murderers of comics. So, why? That’s all. ”
“Why comics.” Nice and simple.
Well, comics in one form or another have been a part of my entire life, so a more pertinent question for me would be “why not comics?” The fact is that I like ’em!
When I started to discover that I could draw, the most ready and natural example of what to do with it was right in front of me: a comic book. See, I started to read very early. While I didn’t learn to read exclusively from comics, I think I learned to love reading from them. I liked to read stories (and by extension, make them up), and I liked to draw. Comics combine the two. So, for me, it was the most natural choice in the world.
The reason I keep doing them is the promise of what they can be. I have had offers to do other types of work, chiefly in the fields of animation, product art, and storyboards. These are all lucrative fields. When things were tight for me personally, I was told by a lot of people that I should get out of comics, that it was a dead industry. That, pretty soon, the work would just dry up. While I’ve never been out of work, I have to hustle jobs at times, and very often it would be work that I didn’t particularly care much to do.
Now that most of the naysayers have committed figurative suicide, I’ve got more work than I can handle. More and more, it’s starting to be work that I can’t wait to get started on, and that I’m good at. These negative assholes can go do their grunt work all they want. I’m having fun and making a living right here. I am becoming able to do work that I believe in, and I want to help fulfill this medium’s promise.
In other words, just because your significant other gains a few or stops bringing you flowers, that’s no cause to fling yourself in front of a train.
Cully Hamner is currently drawing the first THE AUTHORITY annual for Wildstorm, and will be working with me next year.
Why comics? I’ve never wanted to do anything else as much. I’ve wanted to draw comics since before I was a teen. I loved the art in the Disney comics my folks would buy to keep us busy on long car trips. My brothers would look out the windows. I would huddle, unbelted, on the car floor and STARE at the pictures.
About the time I was in college, all these great books were coming out: MARS by Hempel and Wheatley, AMERICAN FLAGG! by Chaykin, Simonson’s THOR run. Mainly, what I loved about these is that they weren’t superheroes (not that there’s anything WRONG with them), they weren’t status quo, they were STORIES, and I got excited all over again about comics, enough to ignore my art teachers who sniffed at them, and the male art students who said a girl’d never make it in comics unless she wrote and drew comics with guys, about guys, FOR guys. (I pinched one of the guys who said that.) I saw MANGA! MANGA! by Fred Schodt, and had further proof that Somewhere comics could be more than bulgy men (bulgy everywhere but their crotches) FOR men. Schodt and 80’s comics poisoned my brain–I was infected with the conviction that I could write what I wanted and people’d want it. I was like Joan of Arc, nothing could stop me from doing what the little voices in my head said to do. Not having my ass grabbed by a con organizer at a distributor-sponsored party in San Diego, not multiple proposals for one-night oink-and-boinks with the dregs of comics pros, not invitations to fuck in hot tubs at convention hotels, not acute depression, not the crash of the black and white market, not the fuckhead who said another manga-style artist drew better so why should I get work (well, okay, that derailed me for a bit), not going nearly two years without a regular job and having my proposals for both RUMBLE GIRLS and CATHEDRAL CHILD rejected because I was pregnant (and because there was lesbian stuff in RUMBLE GIRLS), not having two kids who appear to have learning disabilities because they think and act like Wednesday and Pugsley Addams, not the nervous-breakdown-inducing executive position at Gainax in 1989.
I’m driven to making comics. I feel a better-then-sex high when I’m telling stories, and like shit when I ignore that need in myself to make pictures with words to show the world what I see and think and feel.I could hold my breath longer than I could quit doing comics. Short answer: because I fucking can’t NOT do comics.
Lea Hernandez is at this very moment in time drawing POPPY, a series of short strips I’ve written for inclusion in the back of her wonderful RUMBLE GIRLS serial from Image. You can find her at http://www.divalea.com.
I suppose the glib answer is, “because my tape recorder broke.”
From being a toddler, I was always interested in telling stories; my mum tells of seeing me, age 2, pacing up and down, telling tales to myself. It’s a habit I’ve yet to break.
As I grew older, I’d hoover up stories in whatever format available; novels, films, comics, cartoons, radio plays. Because I enjoyed drawing so much, I made comics of my own, but I’d also write stories, and, later on, make “radio plays” using a couple of battered old cassette recorders and some BBC sound effects tapes. It became really elaborate; I’d spend a couple of weeks on the scripts, and several days making the productions themselves.
Then came the day I was halfway through my most ambitious project to date, when one of my recorders packed up on me. Pinioned by frustration, I took my script, grabbed a pad and pencil, and started doing it as a comic instead.
In that moment of annoyance I discovered the true advantage of comics – that, given a modicum of aptitude and a lot of application, you can take a few pennies worth of materials and make stories containing anything you want. The other visual storytelling media, film and TV, offer fantastic possibilites, but also make huge demands in terms of resources. And the more resources you need, the more compromises you’ll have to make to get them. Harlan Ellison famously said that making a TV series is like trying to carry a rose to the top of a mountain of shit; even if you can get there, you won’t be able to smell the rose.
The comics industry makes its demands, of course, but there is so much more freedom. Even if you don’t want to conform to the demands of the mainstream industry, there are always independent publishers or self-publishing; you won’t make a living, but you’ll get your stuff out there.
Some of the best comics of the last ten years have been produced like that, and though I’ve been a professional comic artist for ten years, I still produce personal comics of my own.
Comics also offer a number of unique possibilities regarding storytelling. I’ll refer you to Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics” for a full explanation of the various ways that the passage of time can be portrayed in comic panels. Storytelling in comics is often compared with storytelling in film or animation, but comics offer the possibility of greater density and complexity; after all, the reader can choose to spend more time studying one panel than another, or even to go back a few pages if they realize they’ve missed something. And, being a “literary” medium, comics are far better at portraying the internal life of characters than performance media such as Film or TV.
In short, comics are a democratic medium, available to all at some level, the only real limitation being the skill and industry of the creator(s). It offers many possibilites, and far more creative control than other visual storytelling media.
And for a monomaniac like me, that can only be a good thing.
Matt Brooker T/As D’Israeli D’Emon Draughtsman
I have known D’Israeli, perhaps best known in US comics for illustrating THE SANDMAN, for entirely too long. He illustrated my first major comics work, LAZARUS CHURCHYARD. You can find him at http://www.d-israeli.demon.co.uk
Quite simply, there is no other medium in which your vision can come to life (and print) with as little interference. The various other options open to artists just don’t have the same freedoms.
In professional illustration and Graphic Design you are hired to sell products. You follow the wishes of the client and have little say about what directions, styles or compositions work best. I didn’t want to be that guy that draws lettuce heads for grocery store ads on those leaflets that tumble from newspapers or come as junk mail my whole life. In Video Game work, you are working with the visions of the designers…and the producers…and the sales guys…and about a dozen other parties, all putting in their two cents. Rarely does one person’s vision have the potential be seen and hard to attain is that coveted position of Game Designer.
Storyboarding and Animation are, again, jobs that you cannot control. You work for other people’s ideas, agendas, and designs. Comics are the only field where you can semi-easily create a story of your own from scratch and control every aspect of its design, where creator-owned work is becoming more and more common, where there isn’t a commitee to stomp your vision into a nice, mainstream, bitesized nugget of fluffy nothingness if you don’t choose to allow that. One can still, occassionally, create whole worlds, characters that live and breathe and a story that can directly communicate to the person who picks it up and reads it.
Jacen Burrows is one of the best new artists I saw last year, which is why I’ve recently had him illustration my serial DARK BLUE at Avatar, due for collection next year.
I can be contacted by email about this column at firstname.lastname@example.org. My terribly beautiful website, updated last week with a new front-page essay and now containing an online store (carrying most things listed in INSTRUCTIONS) and a 24-hour rolling news service, is http://www.warrenellis.com.
My other column, BAD WORLD, has been moved to OPI8, and can be found at http://www.opi8.com/badworld.shtml
INSTRUCTIONS: Read THE CLOCK OF THE LONG NOW by Stewart Brand (1999), listen toVOICES OF FORGOTTEN WORLDS, the traditional musics of indigenous peoples (Ellipsis Arts, 1996), and hit OPI8, because it features some beautiful galleries and some solid fiction and is generally pretty bloody good, at http://www.opi8.com.
Today’s recommended graphic novel is CLYDE FANS Part One by Seth (Drawn & Quarterly, 2000).