Around ’88, someone told me the Stan Lee rule – 28(ish) words per panel. An average panel on an average page can’t usefully hold more than 28 words of dialogue and/or caption. I do that by eye, now – if a single balloon or caption runs into a third line on the script page, it’s starting to run too long.
American comics are powerful and cool. European comics seem very intellectual. And Japanese comics are very light-hearted. If you could combine the best of all three, you could create some really tremendous work. That’s my goal.
I was studying Charles Schulz’s Peanuts strips. It seemed so clear that his four-panel setup was just like reading a haiku; it had a specific rhythm to how he set up the panels and the dialogue. Three beats: doot doot doot — followed by an infinitesimal pause, and then the final beat: doot. Anyone can recognize this when reading a Peanuts strip.These strips have that sameness of rhythm that haikus have — the haikus mostly ending with a nature reference separated off in the final line.
There are few men in comics with chests quite as manly as Wolverine and Nick Fury. There’s also few men in comics who like to show off their chests as much as Wolverine and Nick Fury. Seriously, it’s like those guys are allergic to shirts.
Artists too have their myths. The lies told to artists mirror the lies told to women. Be good enough, be pretty enough, and that guy or gallery will sweep you off your feet, to the picket-fenced land of generous collectors and two and a half kids. But, make the first move, seize your destiny, and you’re a whore.
Spider-Man isn’t a character. He has no arc. He does not develop or grow or change. He’s a logo on children’s underwear.
The lesson I most mercilessly bludgeon the classes with (besides clarity, clarity, clarity) is to write from the heart and project themselves into the characters whose lives they want to chronicle. To open up their goddamned veins and bleed into the keyboard and MAKE. ME. FEEL.
Virtually every child in America is reading color “comic” magazines — a poisonous mushroom growth of the last two years. Ten million copies of these sex-horror serials are sold every month. One million dollars are taken from the pockets of America’s children in exchange for graphic insanity (…) Badly drawn, badly written and badly printed – a strain on young eyes and young nervous systems – the effect of these pulp-paper nightmares is that of a violent stimulant. (…) unless we want a coming generation even more ferocious than the present one, parents and teachers throughout America must band together to break the “comic” magazine.
Seriously DC Comics: get a black friend. Male or female, it doesn’t matter, just get one. We’re easy to find. Get one and then ask him if it’s cool to have Africa ruled by a monkey. Just run it by them, real casual-like. “Hey man, what do you think about this?” If they give you the gasface or their eyebrows narrow… change your plans.[…] I get that you guys don’t actually care about colored folks. They’re just action figures yet to be produced, a checkbox waiting to be ticked on the path to a “diverse” universe. Your track record has proven that, and as much as I wish otherwise, I can’t really fault you for it. You’re in the business of making profit, and black people don’t sell to the pet market you’ve groomed. It is what it is. This is the world we live in.
But for really real, though: you seriously need to get a black friend.
I’ve come to hate when people say ‘Don’t get into comics.’ I learned to say ‘Fuck that. If you want to get into comics, get into comics.’
The best superhero comics that have ever been created are both completely timeless and completely of their time. Their power lies simultaneously in both their simplicity and their complexity. When you break them down to some sort of essence, they’re supposed to present pure, human emotion inflated and expanded to Wagnerian proportions. That’s what they do best.
It was a tremendous disservice to the sex lives and self-consciousness of a whole generation of cartoonists that some of the most prominent members of the previous generation were such self-effacing introverts. In this day and age, drawing a comic isn’t a ‘nerdy’ pursuit. I want every cartoonist I know to embrace his or her own coolness. The stereotype of the maladjusted misanthrope has got to go. Is there a hierarchy of creative coolness? What’s at the top? Architect?
I’ve noticed with the British writers there’ll be a political edge that’s not in the American stuff. Writing superheroes in particular, we’re very suspicious of people in uniform; Americans kind of worship them. I think it’s because they haven’t lost their empire yet in the way that most of Europe’s lost its empire, so we don’t really trust these father figures in the way Americans do. They’ll probably be a lot more cynical in 30 years when America’s completely fucked and it’s Brazil and Russia and India and China that’s running the show!
The truth is that the most beloved and the most formative books of my childhood were comic books, specifically Marvel Comics. […] These combinations of art and writing presented to me the complexities of character and the pure joy of imagining adventure. They taught me about writing dialect and how a monster can also be a hero. They lauded science and fostered the understanding that the world was more complex than any one mind, or indeed the history of all human minds, could comprehend.
If it’s your own thing, good enough is never good enough. Good enough doesn’t do anything. Like, if you were able to find out the percentage of cartoonists that make a living off of just their comics, it would be far less than one percent. Good enough doesn’t get you the cheeseburger.
A superhero movie, by definition, you know, it’s comic book. It’s for kids. It’s adolescent in its core. That has always been its appeal, and I think people who are saying, you know, Dark Knight Rises is, you know, “supreme cinema art”, I don’t think they know what the fuck they’re talking about.
It is and remains my contention that the true lover of the medium is not the sycophantic fan who adores the good and the bad with equal fervor, but the discriminating, hard-nosed reader who refuses to tolerate the mediocre and the banal. If someone sets particularly high standards for a medium, it is a token not of contempt, but of deep and abiding respect for its potential. When these high standards result in the dismissal of most of the work produced in the medium, it takes a perverse logic to infer from this contempt for the general output a contempt for the medium itself.
I plan my stories very, very carefully, years ahead of completion but I l do like to let chaos and dirt into the proceedings, scuzz it up a little, forget the original intent, let new characters rise up and take over, cut stuff out, put new stuff in, add some noise. I’ve always preferred the Buzzcocks to Pink Floyd, if you know what I mean. I’ve spent 28 years in the comics business perfecting my ‘sound’ and it’s been immensely successful for me but I don’t really see it as two halves of anything and I’m not much of a one for duality so it’s a more, dare I say it, holistic process as I see it.
All my work starts as sketches in the notepad – I have to have pages of visuals and designs or I can’t get started. I then write a ‘demo’ of the first issue to music, in a fairly improvised ‘beat’ way, just to get the tone, direction and energy down. This sometimes spills into a rough draft of the second and third and even fourth issues as well. The bulk of the original concept work usually gets done in a white heat over a few days – or weeks in the case of Seven Soldiers.
Then I fill up pads with notes and drawings. Seven Soldiers consumed several notebooks – I have the entire history of the Sheeda worked out, and the exact timing and days of the week on which the story happens. I know the entire geography of the fictional DC Universe New York. I know how every series could be developed into a long-running franchise and so on.
I work out most of the details to the very end then go to work in earnest – fleshing out the stories and drawing the connections between books takes as long as the comic takes to be published usually. I edit constantly; even at the very last moment before the book goes to print, I’m tweaking dialogue. I often write two or three complete drafts of an issue then throw them away […] It can be an exhausting process but fortunately I work fast and reworking it in this laborious way means I get the material I like best on the page). Usually, the first drafts tend to come in around 40 pages which I then meticulously mix and re-mix until only the ‘beat’ is left and I have 22 pages of complete story. Every character requires a different storytelling style or rhythm – the Superman stuff I do is very tight and formal and magisterial, Batman is loose, pulpy and fast, WildCATS is remixed 90s New Rave and so on.
Once I get started on actual issues, I always find that the story and characters themselves take over and I generally wind up exploring completely different directions that often lead to a more organic ending. It’s important for me to surrender completely to whatever the story and the characters want to do. I want to be surprised by my stories, to feel that I’m discovering them in a participatory way, rather than just ‘making it up’. I like it when the stories and characters start to push me around.
I have a profound need to share, to communicate, and comics are a wonderful form of communication that will be hugely important to our evolutionary development as a 21st century species.
You don’t have to write every comic as if it’s the first comic someone’s ever read, but you do have to write as though you would like new people to read your comic.
It is time the amazing cultural phenomenon of the growth of the comics is subjected to dispassionate scrutiny. Somewhere between vituperation and complacency must be found a road to the under- standing and use of this great new medium of communication and social influence. For the comics are here to stay.
There’s no denying that the visual presentation of female characters in mainstream books tends to be all of a piece: eye candy for a predominantly male reader.
There’s a widespread cultural barrenness across art and political culture. But there are some pockets of resistance on the extreme margins, like the techno-savvy protest movements, small press, the creator-owned comics, that seem to be getting some signs of hope for the future. All of the genuinely interesting work is being done on the margins, with independent companies, self-producing, and alternative distribution networks.
There’s been a growing dissatisfaction and distrust with the conventional publishing industry, in that you tend to have a lot of formerly reputable imprints now owned by big conglomerates. As a result, there’s a growing number of professional writers now going to small presses, self-publishing, or trying other kinds of [distribution] strategies.
The same is true of music and cinema, it seems that every movie is a remake of something that was better when it was first released in a foreign language, as a 1960s TV show, or even as a comic book. Now you’ve got theme park rides as the source material of movies. The only things left are breakfast cereal mascots. In our lifetime, we will see Johnny Depp playing Captain Crunch.
And I will Crip Weezy, Crip Jones, and Crip you
Now I’m the Doggfather, walking with a Shih Tzu
Mad that DC comics overlooked me
‘Cause Captain America’s straight pussy
The small press circuit is, well, small and I have seen a lot of folks who have had very promising beginnings making comics – but then they sort of just disappear. It’s like sports in a way. You practice your whole life and then start playing in different leagues. Soon you’re playing semi-professionally, or even professionally. Making some money. Not much, but some. You hit some home runs, get a couple notices in the paper. A solid rookie. You worked your butt off to get this far, but then – how good are you? How long are you gonna stay here? Are you gonna improve or get worse? Show us something. Show the fans something.
Relatedly, I’ve noticed that many of your comics are attentive to individual albums as unique pieces of storytelling. For example, each chapter of The Metabarons is structured as Tonto starting and finishing a story. The same is true with Albino’s narrations in The Technopriests. Even in Madwoman of the Sacred Heart, there is a distinct shift in Moebius’ drawings between chapters, as time passes. Do you feel individual comics albums, even if only a chapter in a larger story, should be experienced alone, and are readers in the United States missing some of the enjoyment in only reading these series as big omnibus books?
This question is too long and annoying for me. I stop to fart.
Stan Lee is, in some ways, a businessman. He doesn’t really think that comic books are an art form. For him, it’s an industry. […] Superman makes me vomit, Batman and all that. That whole empire… this religion… It is so important that superheroes suffer… I don’t give a damn, I shit on the United States.
I don’t consider them pictures… In reality I’m not drawing. I’m writing a story with a unique type of symbol.
I had one [pitch] where Batman went completely broke. His corporation went completely broke. He was like, ‘should I throw this Batarang? These cost me $550 each. I’m not really sure I can afford to throw it. I should probably just run.’ And he had to sell all his cars and ride a bicycle around. If anyone sees him on a bicycle with his costume on, they’ll catch him, so he can’t even wear that anymore. He just has to wear a t-shirt and run around. They said, “no, we’re not going to do that”. I’d like to do a story about the real Batman, what a real Batman would be like. Just some guy, who’s not really that rich. He’d just run around and try to figure out where the crime is. In my neighborhood, all he’d be doing is running up to cars where they’re selling drugs out the window.
Comics will be the culture of the year 3794. So you are 1827 years ahead, which is good. That leaves me enough time to create a collage with these 80 comics that I am taking with me. It will be the birth of Comics-Art, and on that occasion, we will hold a grand opening with my divine presence on March 4th, 3794, at 19:00 hours precisely.
I figured that museums, libraries, granting institutions, schools and bookstores had to be colonized so that comics might have a place in the late 20th and now early 21st century. Certain approaches to comics, like the underground comic I was lucky enough to be involved with, were seen as lesser because they were still part of this newsprint pulp culture. They found a franchise as exotic sub-pornography, maybe?
I read Johnny Ryan a lot. I like Dan Clowes, too, of course. Chris Ware, I know he’s a great artist, but I can’t afford the emotional depression.
I always recognized, from day one, that no one has ever retired from Marvel Comics. You’re there, they pay you for a little while, and then they fire you. That’s your future: getting fired by Marvel Comics. There is no gold watch, there is no retirement package, and there is no dinner where they usher you off in the golden age of your life. They go ‘Well, you’re not selling comics anymore for us, buddy. Goodbye, now go away.’
I’m insatiably curious, and I enjoy being afraid: the more unsolvable the mystery, the more time I want to spend with it.
My feeling about mainstream, monthly superhero books is that they should contain more invention, be more daring, take more chances… because they can.
In the time before jets,
when the last shuttle left
La Guardia at eleven,
I flew home to Logan
on a virtually empty DC-7
and one of the seven other passengers
I recognized as Al Capp.
Later, at a party,
one of those Cambridge parties
where is anti-Ho politics
were wrong, so wrong
the left eventually broke his heart,
I recalled the flight to him,
but did not recount how sleepy
he looked to me, how tired,
with his peg-legged limp
and rich man’s blue suit
and Li’l Abner shock of hair.
He laughed and said to me,
“And if the plane had crashed,
can’t you see the headline? —
ONLY EIGHT KILLED.
ONLY EIGHT KILLED: everyone
would be so relieved!”
Now Al is dead, dead,
and the shuttle is always crowded.
The single image is the vital component of the comics medium, just as the single note is the vital component of music, the single frame the vital component of film. Yet, like the note and the frame, without its dozens of peers preceding and following it, the single illustration means nothing in the context of comic art.
Marvel and DC have to run a business around a franchise of instantly-recognizable characters, so it makes sense that they mostly hire artists who draw in a “superhero” style for consistency. It’s possible to change your style — I did quite a lot in college — but there’s nothing more heartbreaking than seeing an artist change they unique personal vision just to try to get a job. If you find yourself having to do this to get closer to a “house style”, then you might want to reconsider how passionate you’d really be about the job if you did get it.