IMAGE EXPO: Graham, Ríos, Zdarsky, Chiang and Tsuei Discuss "Construction"

2015's Image Expo continued with the "Construction" panel, hosted by Image Comics' David Brothers, and including Brandon Graham, Emma Ríos, Cliff Chiang, Chip Zdarsky and Jonathan Tsuei. fe

Starting the afternoon session at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, Brothers asked Zdarsky how his style developed. The "Sex Criminals" artist said much of it came from his years of working at a newspaper with tight deadlines, where time was of the essence. Tsuei addressed the recently announced "RunLoveKill," saying that much of it evolved from collaborating with Eric Canete on the book.

Chiang said you want readers to relate to the clothing characters in a comic wear. "I've done a fair amount of superhero work, and I think you need to ground that stuff," Chiang said. "You need to present elements readers are familiar with, in order to make the fantastic stuff feel special. Otherwise, none of it has any weight."

Pointing to work like "King City," Brothers asked Graham if he's ever drawn anything grounded in the real world. "I've done short stories that are set in reality," Graham answered. "The goal is to always be talking about real-world emotions through ridiculous scenarios."

Graham said he thinks back to his time on adult comics, where the goal was to do something that couldn't be seen in a video, and could only be done in comics -- and he feels that can be applied to all aspects of the medium.

Taking a question from the audience on passion projects that have been abandoned, Graham said sometimes whole projects can be seen as "first drafts" for a future work.

Zdarsky said there's a danger in being satisfied with your output. "I hate everything I do," he said. "I was cockiest when I was like 10 or 11, doing comics and sending them to companies. 'Yeah, I'm going to get in, no problem.'"

Tsuei, working on his third comics project, expressed some intimidation being on the stage with his fellow artists. "At some point you say, 'OK, it's coming out, whether it's good enough or not,'" he said, speaking of his outlook towards his work. "If this one isn't good enough, the next one will be. I think that's what drives you."

An audience member asked about the process of pitching. Chiang said while he worked at Vertigo, a giant box of submissions grew under his desk, but "occasionally, you'd see something really great in there." Graham told Chiang he heard that Vertigo once received a pitch for a "Casper the Friendly Ghost porn story."

"Making an entirely finished work to show people is pretty much the only thing I've had success with," Graham said. "It's hard to pitch your work to people who are unfamiliar with it," Chiang added. "The best thing is to make comics."

A fan asked about working with full script versus something looser. "For me, Matt [Fraction] writes full script, because he doesn't trust me at all," Zdarsky joked. "They're full scripts, but they're so conversational, because he knows they're just for my eyes."

Brothers asked Ríos what in her work makes a comic feel honest and real. "In 'Pretty Deadly,' the action is very important for me. I always try to draw weird stuff, violence, because it's very expressive, and I think I can make it beautiful." Ríos said she practices fencing, and is obsessed with making the swordfighting choreography in "Pretty Deadly" realistic.

Graham said that Ríos told him that she shows her fencing instructor her swordfencing scenes for feedback. "I run everything by my sex teacher," Zdarsky said.

Asked about "Just the Tips," Zdarsky told a fan that he and Fraction were a bit worried about hearing from people actually trying the sex advice in the book and hurting themselves.

For the last question of the session, a fan asked the panel for turning points for them as readers. "For me, it was 'Akira,'" Ríos said. "I read it when I was 15 or something like that." Graham cited Vaughn Bodē, and how he talked through his comics with how he felt about life. "I love the idea that I kind of got to know him through his work, even though we didn't even really exist at the same time."

Chiang said he read superhero comics as a kid, then stopped reading comics as they became harder for him to find. He got into "Sandman" and "Preacher" in college, then cited "Love and Rockets" as something that felt very honest to him.

"I've never read an honest comic, next," Zdarsky said. Tsuei named "Robotech" and "100 Bullets" as having significant impact on him.

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