One of the best comics traditions of the holiday season is The Comics Reporter’s Holiday Interview series, which is running now. As usual, it’s an information- and insight-filled series. Thus far we have:
First time for any contempo comics artist, I think. Although as I found out, it’s in a venue that’s unorthodox. It’s in a bathroom on the way to the Matisse show. [Spurgeon laughs] But nevertheless, there’s a show, rather large, 400 square meters is now what it looks like it will be. I don’t even know what it is in feet [approximately 4300], but it’s large. So it can contain it. That made it all something I had to consider and deal with even though the main theme of my life is that I’ve just been hijacked. The cartoonist Art Spiegelman has died. I’ve been reincarnated as the executor of his estate. And now I hope someday to die and be reincarnated as an underground cartoonist. But I can’t quite get there yet. So that show will now happen. And I was able to work with Rina Zavagli, Lorenzo Mattotti’s wife Rina, who has a fantastic gallery in Paris. She was game to take this on. That made it possible for me to do the show. I trust her with my life, let alone my work. She had a very attractively arranged show of my work in her then brand-new gallery a year or two back.
NEELY: He was always a little vague about any definite plans and health concerns, I think because it was so uncertain. A couple of years ago, he was beginning to look for a partner. We talked for six months or more about different possibilities. A few times we talked about merging Sparkplug and I Will Destroy You, but with me in LA and not able to help with the day-to-day stuff, it didn’t seem to make sense. He eventually found Virginia and hired her as a part time employee, but immediately made her his co-publisher, because he’s awesome like that. He searched extensively to find the right person to be his co-publisher. I think he wanted and needed a partner. I don’t think he was planning on any of this happening, and he didn’t leave any instructions for us. But I think he always wanted to remain loyal to his artists and keep their books in circulation. So, we’re really just going with our own instincts of wanting to keep Sparkplug alive. Wanting to keep Dylan’s legacy alive.
Throwing our lot in with “graphic novels” as the focus of the store years ago as opposed to “pop culture,” “superheroes” and associated merchandise seems to have been a winning strategy for this past decade. I don’t know if it was motivated by market insight so much as the fact I am passionate about comics as a medium but have limited personal interest in contemporary pop culture or toys, etc. With an e-book future ahead, I’m not sure if this will continue to pay off.
The thing is this: does it matter? What are we losing here, if DC or Marvel never publish another Watchmen? It isn’t the ’80s, it isn’t even the ’90s. The best 2011 Kirby comic is Prison Pit; it’s being published by Fantagraphics. The best long-form serials are Hellboy and 20th Century Boys; they’re being published by Dark Horse and Viz. If I met somebody tomorrow, and they told me their dream was to do a book like Watchmen for DC, I’d think they were out of their fucking mind. Look at Alan Moore, look at Jack Kirby. Look at the guys who helped this industry make more money than it’s ever made since.
And then ask yourself if you’re half as good as they were. Because those two guys got up on the cross so that no one else has to, and if you aren’t 10 times the artist they were, there’s no doubt in my mind what is going to happen next.
￼One really stupid take away lesson was I can’t draw in perfectly square panels. A lot of artists do it well, like Chester Brown and Gabrielle Bell. And the underlying principle was to increase the capacity for editing the art. I wanted to try this format where all the panels have the same dimensions, so I could do future editing like in the filmmaking process. I wanted the ability to swap panels, add new panels, or switch out a whole scene even if it began halfway down the page.
What I discovered is I can’t balance a composition inside a square panel. I don’t know why, it just isn’t natural for me. It took me dozens of finished pages to realize this. I tend to work better when I envision the page in its entirety, with varying panel sizes. Also, I discovered that editing finished art is a slippery slope. It’s dangerous. Once you begin re-drawing and expanding and shuffling sections it’s easy to lose sight of what’s important.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.