Kicking off Rose City Comic Con 2019 in Portland, Ore. on Friday, Dark Horse Comics presented the “Artists Who Write: The Craft and Creation of Comics” panel, featuring creators Cassie Anderson (Extraordinary, Lifeformed), Phillip Sevy (Tomb Raider, Triage), Gabriel Bá (The Umbrella Academy, Hellboy, How to Talk to Girls at Parties), and Fábio Moon (Hellboy, How to Talk to Girls at Parties).
Moon said he and Bá started making comics in college. “In our school, nobody knew what we were talking about when we said we wanted to do comics, so that was why we started to self-publish fan zines, so we could show them what kinds of comics we wanted to do,” Moon explained. He said that at the time, Brazil had very few comics available, even in bookstores. Thus, he and Bá started self-publishing “slice of life” stories and teaching their friends and peers about comics.
Anderson, on the other hand, said she has always been writing and creating stories. In high school, she wanted to work in animation, but when she started pursuing sequential art at Savannah College of Art and Design, she fell in love with comics. Following that, she got an internship at Helioscope Studio, which she said opened her eyes to the many variations of comics.
“I’ve been stuck in comics since as long as I could remember,” Sevy said. “My first memory as a two year-old involves superhero toys, so I was doomed from birth.”
Sevy said that he had a hard time teaching himself comics, so he, too, went to SCAD to get his graduate degree. However, although he’s a huge proponent of comics education, he doesn’t believe that formalized, collegiate education is best for everyone.
Although all four panelists do “everything” in comics, including writing and art (hence the panel title, “Artists Who Write,”), Sevy said much of his published work is art, though he has always written his own stories as well. Anderson said she generally thinks of herself as an artist first.
Bá said that self-publishing comics, especially slice of life comics, meant that the focus had to be on story. He said, “If I don’t have a story to back [an] image, it’s just empty for me.” Now, he doesn’t even use sketchbooks. “I spend a lot of time thinking about the story I want to tell,” she he doesn’t spend as much drawing as he used to.
Plus, even though these creators do a little bit of everything, they do see the value in working with others. “One of the things I really like about having co-creators is that there’s an emotional load you share,” Sevy said. There’s also less pressure to get everything perfect; he said he can focus on just one piece.
Anderson added, “It’s really fun to build and craft this thing together. … There’s a different level of fulfillment in [making comics] with other people.”
Moon said that he and Bá work together frequently; in fact, not collaborating is an exception for the two brothers rather than the rule. He said that when they started collaborating with other writers, they had to become better artists and leave their comfort zones. That included drawing more action, superheroes, and other genres.
“It made us evolve as artists and storytellers,” Moon said. “But at the same time, [those other collaborators] are all very far away and it’s harder to complain to them. … It’s much easier to collaborate with [Bá] and we can talk about the project all the time. … It’s a much more fluid collaboration. Sometimes the distance gets in the way.”
Doing every part of a book puts more pressure on a creator, according to all four panelists. There’s no one to blame if any element of a story doesn’t work. However, being able to control everything is useful; communication is also different, because there’s no barrier between what’s in the mind and what ends up on the page.
“You don’t have to explain, you just have to do it,” Moon said.
“You, hopefully, out of everyone in the world, know how to make your stuff look best,” Sevy said. He added that being a writer and an artist has made him better at both.
Anderson said that when she was working on her webcomic Extraordinary, which is now a graphic novel through Dark Horse, she grew as she worked on the story and the story grew as well. Her art and storytelling shifted beyond the original, detailed outline she had at the start.
Whether working alone or with collaborators, Moon said that writing and drawing means that he knows things can always be better. He pushes himself as well as the people he works with. “That’s why we work with very few people, because we are very difficult to work with,” he joked.
Likewise, working alone is often a different creative process than working with others. Anderson said that when she works on projects alone, she does a little bit of everything, all at once; when she works with collaborators, she is usually handed a script and then she jumps right into the art.
When asked if they had advice for artists who want to write, Bá said simply, “Start writing.” Anderson added that if someone is excited about a story, her best advice is to write something and “Finish it.” Even if it’s short, it’s better to get something down.
“Start small,” Sevy added. Building the ability to tell short stories first then allows a creator to train for writing long stories.
Moon added that making comics takes a long time. “Do one-page comics, two-page comics, finish it, then show it to people,” he said. One of the key parts of making comics, Moon said, is getting feedback from readers. “You learn what’s working with your intended audience. You make comics to be read and to be seen,” he said, and the only way to show people comics is to finish them. Showing people comics allows creators to learn what needs to change, and the internet makes this much easier than it used to be.
“It’s going to be a fast learning experience no matter how long it takes [to make],” Sevy said.
“No matter how much effort you put in and how dense your comics are, they are going to be read fast,” Moon agreed, which he said is ultimately a good thing. He shared an anecdote that once, a fan waiting in a two-hour signing line read an entire volume during the wait.
To stay inspired, Sevy and Anderson said they both try to read widely and take breaks. Anderson said that she also loves baking, because it’s still creating, but is more physical, and she also loves going outside.
“I have my best ideas in the shower, very cliché,” Bá said. “You’re not doing anything else. That’s the time when I can think about things other than what I’m working on.” Moon also finds inspiration in water, which Bá said is a theme because the metaphor is so strong (as seen in Wreck It Ralph 2, according to him).