Moderator Mark Waid joined Lalo Alcaraz ("La Cucaracha," "Bordertown"), Jhonen Vasquez ("Invader Zim"), Jill Thompson ("Sandman," "The Scary Godmother"), Reggie Hudlin ("Bebe's Kids," "Boondocks"), Michael DeForge ("Ant Colony," designer on "Adventure Time"), and animation historian Jerry Beck to discuss the challenges and similarities of working in comics and animation on Sunday afternoon at Comic-Con International in San Diego.
Waid started the panel by asking for a retrospective on the connection between the two mediums. "Comics and animation go right back to the beginning, with Winsor McCay's 'Little Nemo.' He was one of the inventors of animation," explained Beck. "In this country, the first person who really crossed over was probably Charles Shultz with the 'Peanuts' specials."
DeForge said that moving from comics to animation, "Was a harsh learning curve for me because I wasn't trained in animation." He admitted to being both amazed and freaked out by seeing his drawings move. Now he sees crosspollination in his work in each medium: "Each has informed the other."
Thompson admitted that she was also untrained in animation, but said that she has had a very positive experience. Her "Scary Godmother" was first adapted from the comic to a stage play in Chicago, and then into a TV screenplay. "I started working with the director, doing pretty much everything: character designs, painting backgrounds..." Thompson said that the challenge in adapting "Scary Godmother" was "all about pacing." Maintaining creative control was important, as "I wanted to make sure it stayed true to the feeling of the comic," she said. "It became just as personal as the comics were."
"I didn't really plan on getting into animation or comics," admitted Vasquez. "The opportunities came up, and I just kind of jumped into them." Because he went into both mediums untrained, he said, "I wasn't following any particular formula, I was just doing what I had done since I was a child." He said that some aspects of the collaborative process were challenging, especially dealing with different tastes and senses of humor. "These people that are in charge, higher ups, make decisions that often just feel arbitrary because they're based on opinion."
Hudlin countered by speaking about working as an animation executive coming from a creative background. "I believe there should be Switch Jobs Day, because everyone would get better at their own job," he said. He advised creatives, "One of the important things you can learn is that, I think in most cases, the studio is not actually out to kill your soul. However the results may be, they like you, they like your project, they want it to work." He discussed adapting his own run on "Black Panther" into an animated series. "Adapting the comic books was really uneven, so I had to start rearranging and writing additional material for it to balance out," he said. "Both the comic and the animated series are imperfect but satisfying things."
"On the surface they seem like two very similar media, but they're really not," commented Waid.
"As probably the least experienced person on the panel, as far as animation goes, it was a big transition," said Alcaraz. "I walked into the writers' room at 'Bordertown' and said, 'If I seem awkward, it's because I've been working for 25 years as a cartoonist with no human contact.'" He said that he hopes to pursue more of his own independent projects in future, saying, "My biological clock is ticking."
Vasquez spoke about the new "Invader Zim" comic, which is a continuation of the cartoon that ended in 2006. "The fact that 'Invader Zim' existed as a kids' show first definitely pointed the way for the comic to not be anything other than what the show would have been at this point," said Vasquez. "To me, the writing in the 'Zim' comic is better than the cartoon." He expressed surprise that fans have asked if the comic will have more gore than the show. He said that he has made the comic for the same audience as the show: "I do it for the kid that I was," he said. "I do it for the people that are smart enough to know why it's dumb."
DeForge talked about writing for "Adventure Time," which he found challenging because the cartoon is much more fast-paced than his comics. "It's hard to give up comics because, whether you're collaborating or not, you have so much more freedom," he said.
Beck said, "I think we're in a golden age of comic book artists working in animation. And they're making some amazing shows and films." Thompson added, "I think we're lucky because technology is such that an ambitious person doesn't necessarily have to wait for someone to come and option their thing."
"I think that's the single biggest paradigm shift I've seen," said Waid, "Now a big part of how to break into the industry is just, do it on the web." Alcaraz said, "I have newfound appreciation for how a lowly cartoonist does possess the skills to visualize and put out animation."