Anna Grainer, sophmore, is the cartoonist behind "Art Kid," which runs Tuesdays and Thursdays on the Page. She's a wonderful illustrator: her work features fashion-influenced portraits of women, created with ink lines and splashed with color. Her website is http://annagrainer.com/
Editor's Note: This is the second of a series of interviews with creators coming down to Austin for this year's STAPLE! Expo. Comment below to be entered in a contest to win one of five weekend passes to the convention!
I got the chance to catch up with David Hopkins, a free-lance writer and scripter of comics via email. David he a guest at STAPLE! this weekend.
Sometimes I think that it’s assumed that the writer and artist of a comic or graphic novel are one in the same, but usually comics are a collaborative effort, and quite a few folks will have their hands in one published work. Being an artist myself, I was really excited to talk to a man who works with the words that form the pictures, and to get a new perspective on the indie comic scene.
DT Comics:You’ve collaborated with many different artists to create all kinds of comic work—what is the most exciting part of the collaborative process for you? What is the most frustrating?
David Hopkins:The most exciting part of the collaborative process is when you first see your ideas take shape with your collaborator. It might be the character designs or the thumbnail sketches, or maybe even the first few pages, but at a certain point, the story is no longer mine. It becomes ours. Some artists are a lot more willing to take over. Others are more tentative. But when it happens, the story automatically becomes better.
Artists can burn out. Personally, I've had a few burn outs as well. It's a grueling occupation. Even for successful comic book creators, the pay is unremarkable. I certainly understand why people burn out, but it's unfortunate. I've had a few projects die because of it. My priority is always with the well-being of my collaborator. They come first. If a project doesn't happen, then that's the nature of the beast -- but I want the relationship to stay intact. We can work on something else.
DTC:STAPLE! Is all about celebrating indie print media, but there’s no denying we live in a digital age. What do you see in the future for independent print media, or even print media in general?
DH:The large publishers, Marvel and DC, are always going to be dominant. They'll find a way to stay on top. They'll sell enough tooth brushes, action figures, and video games to justify the comic books. However, the mid-range publishers, the ones that pay on the back end "a percentage of the proceeds," they are in serious trouble. If I could make more money doing my project as a web comic, distributing it digitally on a smart phone or tablet, or using a print-on-demand company, why would I want to work through a traditional publisher or a traditional retailer? At a Dallas convention a few years ago, I had the owner of Lone Star Comics (a comic book store) tell me that he sells 50 Spider-Man comics for every one of mine. Actually, that estimate is probably too kind. More likely, he sells 10,000 Spider-Man comics for every one of mine. If I can sell directly to my readers, I cut expenses and I can survive off a smaller, more dedicated fanbase. I honestly don't know how some mid-range publishers are going to survive. Social media is networking the creators. They know what everyone else is getting paid, and they don't want to feel like a chump. They want to get paid too. Sadly, most mid-range publishers can't afford to pay their talent a living wage. That's scary. Additionally, if I have a few indie-friendly shops that support me, there's no incentive for me to play nice with the larger stores -- especially if they don't want me anyways.
DTC: A couple of your works, “A Souvenir of Dallas” and “We’ve Never Met” are set in Dallas, and you also write for D Magazine. Do you think living in Texas, and especially Arlington, has influenced the rest of your work?
DH:Not so much living in Arlington -- I've always considered myself a "son of Dallas." But yes, living in Texas has definitely influenced my work. In fact, only two of my comics (EMILY EDISON and ANTIGONE) take place outside of Texas. I've lived here most of my life, and it's what I know. So many people have written "Texas" badly; FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS being one glorious exception. I try to bring something authentic to my work.
DTC: Your work ranges from Horror to Historical to Slice-of-Life style writing, which is pretty impressive that you can span so many genres so well. Is there one kind of writing that you prefer?
Yeah, that's been a blessing and a curse. Several years ago, I was very intentional about tackling different genres and subject matter with each project. I felt like it was a way to grow as a writer, and I truly believe it made me better. On the other hand, it's not good when you're trying to brand yourself. Publishers want to be able to say, "This writer is the best there is at THIS. If I want a good story about THIS, I go to this writer and no one else." I don't think I ever established myself as being the best at a particular genre. I had to prove myself with every new endeavor. Which genre do I prefer? I like family dramas, something with a large ensemble cast. Also, don't laugh, I scare easily (I can't stomach 90% of the horror movies out there), but I think I'm actually pretty good at writing horror. Brent Schoonover and I are working on a new horror project, and I can get dark. Real dark. So dark that one publisher wanted me to consider changing the ending, but I couldn't do it. The horror genre is about hitting hard, and I can do that.
DTC:Consequently, as a writer of horror, how prepared do you feel for the zombie apocalypse?
DH:I have a few baseball bats in my house that would be quite effective. My plan for the zombie apocalypse is to track down my gun-toting friends. I'll cash in a few favors.
DTC:If you could give one piece of advice to us youngsters trying to make it in the indie print world, what would it be?
DH: If you're going to fail, fail with your own ideas. Be ambitious.
David Hopkins is a freelance writer — a regular contributor to D Magazine, Quick, and Smart Pop. He has also written comic books and graphic novels in a variety of genres. Dallas Observer recognized him as “Best Local Comic Book Writer,” and the American Library Association honored his work in their annual “Great Graphic Novels for Teens” list. For twelve years, he taught English and Creative Writing at Martin High School where he served as writing coach for interscholastic competitions.
At STAPLE, Hopkins will be debuting the new editon of Astronaut Dad, a collaboration with Minnesota-based artist Brent Schoonover that follows three NASA families from Houston, Texas during the boom years of the space race.
Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of interviews with some guests who will be appearing at this weekend's STAPLE! Convention at the Marchesa Hall and Theatre. The Page will have a table there, with all your favorite artists here at DT Comics. Comment on this article to enter in a drawing for one of five Weekend Passes we're giving away.
Liz Prince is a cartoonist from Boston whose 2005 book, "Will You Still Love Me if I Wet the Bed," was published by Top Shelf and won her an Ignatz Award for Outstanding Debut. Liz draws short, autobiographical comics that give their readers a very relatable glimpse into the most personal aspects of Liz's life. I had a chance to ask Liz a few questions.
DT Comics: For your book Would You Still Love Me if I Wet the Bed, is any importance placed on the order of your strips? Would you prefer the reader to look at the content of the book as a whole or to look at it as a collection of individual comics?
Liz Prince: I view Will You Still Love Me If I Wet the Bed? as a collection of individual comics, that as a whole paint a larger picture of a relationship, but I prefer that the reader put their own experience into it. Since it's so personal, but also relatable, I get a lot of mail from people accusing me of spying on their relationship, and exclaiming that they thought they were the only ones who were so silly and gross. I feel like it acts as collection, like Garfield or Calvin & Hobbes collections: the strips can be read individually, but when read together you become immersed in their world.
DTC: What are the strengths of the style of your art, which as I see it, is a more improvisatory, spur of the moment sort of thing, to telling the types of stories you want to tell?
LP: Again, I'd say that my art style makes my comics more relatable to my audience: you really nailed it when you called it "improvisatory". Definitely the comics that make up the Will You Still Love Me and Delayed Replays books are strictly improvisational: those were drawn in a sketchbook, straight pen on paper, with no planning or laying out. To me those are very bare-bone diary comics: things that I just wanted to get out onto the page. With my more recent online comics, and the pages I draw for Razorcake, If You Make It, and assorted anthologies, those are more traditionally laid out beforehand, and then penciled and inked. My first foray into actually writing and scripting a story before drawing it has been my series I Swallowed the Key To My Heart. They have a more finished feel, but I believe that the spirit of "spur of the moment" idea still exists.
DTC: You seem to have a fairly close relationship with Jeffery Brown, but I've heard you say you are not involved with the Boston zine scene. Is having a community of other artists important to you?
LP: I don't know that I would say I have a "close relationship" with Jeffrey, we're definitely friends, and he drew me in a recent comic strip for the magazine Devastator, which I was so incredibly honored by. He was a big supporter of my work when I first started showing the comics that would eventually become Will You Still Love Me... to people. Having a community of artists is incredibly important to me, and I have many close friends who draw comics, and who I collaborate with from time to time, most notably my downstairs neighbors Maris Wicks and Joe Quinones, who are both working comics artist for First Second and DC/Marvel/Dark Horse respectively. I think you might be referring to when I said that I wasn't active in things like the Boston Comics Roundtable, which is a group of artists and writers that get together and share their projects to get feedback. I'm a little precious when it comes to my work, especially the I Swallowed the Key To My Heart books, because they're all autobio stories, and I'm less comfortable with having people making story suggestions (not that I couldn't benefit from some guidance that way).
DTC: Do you ever see yourself straying from these more autobiographical comics? Are there any other forms of narrative that interest you?
LP: I think that my main workflow will always be autobio, although more recently with things like the Alone Forever comics I've been drawing, they're becoming more and more peppered with parody. I have always dreamed of doing a story for the Simpsons Treehouse of Horror issues that come out every year for Halloween, and I want to get my foot in the door to draw Adventure Time comics. I don't know that other forms of narrative interest me in a storytelling way, but I am working on illustrations for a children's book and doing a lot of design work for punk bands, which are both big interests of mine.
Liz Prince will be appearing at the independent media expo STAPLE! March 3rd and 4th at the Marchesa Hall and Theatre in Austin, TX.
I’m kind of a picky reader. I read a variety of eastern comics, but for the most part I enjoy realistic stuff—down-to-earth stories without fantasy elements or exaggerated characters. Luckily, I found a manga called Liar Game.
The art in this series does not admittedly leave a good first impression. But once you power through the flat inking and some occasional instances of improbably anatomy, the plot can keep your eyes glued all the way to the end. It’s one of the few mangas I’ve read that completely redeems any of its artistic inadequacies through the sheer power of storytelling. For a story conceived in a bar by a man obsessed with horse-racing, that’s pretty good.
(It’s also known for subtlety)
So what is this series about? Mostly, the story focuses on Kanzaki Nao, a good-natured college girl caught up in a series of shady games known as the Liar Game Tournament, where contestants vie for enormous prizes by tricking each other out of money. This setup leads to a mountain of deceit and betrayal, with the losers owing millions of dollars to the sponsoring corporation.
(Yay! I put someone in debt!)
Enter Akiyama Shinichi, a “legendary swindler” and the series’ highlight. Here he is being the only character without his face half-dislocated:
(He’s also 30 years old)
The beauty of this series lies in the fact that the author never pushes the characters’ intelligence onto his readers. From the start, characters such as Akiyama and Nao have the tendency to dress plainly and speak simply. Even when revealing a great secret or plotting something large, they do not suddenly gain glowing eyes and perfectly flowing hair. They are solemn and in sync with the serious—and sometimes desperate—nature of their circumstances.
(The villain disagrees)
But the greatest draw of the story still lies with its games. In each plot arc, the author manages to humanize his characters’ actions and make an otherwise straightforward logic game twisted and engrossing. Often this takes place in layers: a seemingly innocuous game, such as musical chairs, is proposed. But as the reader plays along to the obvious solution, the author gradually reveals flaws in the reader’s assumptions before ultimately unveiling the perfect winning method. The suspense built up through this convoluted storytelling process is maddening and addicting in equal measure.
(I can’t believe it’s not butter!)
Ultimately, Liar Game is not a series that be summarized with mere words. In lieu of a conclusion, I present these dramatic scenes from the manga:
Mark Long, a video game designer, co-authored the graphic novel The Silence of Our Friends. The book spans Long’s childhood, covering his memory of the civil rights struggles taking place in Houston Texas. I met with Mr. Long during his book signing at the new Guzu Gallery space in Austin.
Mark Long: “I am Mark Long, co-author of The Silence of Our Friends, new graphic novel that I co-authored with Jim Demonakos and Nate Powell by Frist Second Books. So in 1967 I was 11 years old and my father moved us from San Antonio Texas to Houston Texas and he was a television news cameraman. Back then television news was more like newspaper reporting, decidedly unglamorous, hard work, and they shot on 16 millimeter film instead of video tape. My father was the city’s race reporter. The space race and NASA is what most reporters were interested in, but not my dad, he was interested in race reporting, 67’, 68’”
The Daily Texan: “A different kind of race.”
ML: “Yeah. It was exciting, dangerous, and he had been the race reporter in San Antonio covering the barrio and wanted to cover the 3rd and 5th ward in Houston. In 67 the Civil Rights struggle moved on to campuses in the south and there was an organization called SNCC (“snick”), the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, that was agitating to meet on campus. And it sounds funny today that something called SNCC won’t be allowed on campus, but SNCC was run by Stokely Carmichael that year and Brown the next year. And so, Black Panthers which were were the militant arm of the civil rights struggle at the time were perceived or portrayed by the media as if you allowed SNCC on campus you were basically allowing these outside agitators and violence onto campus. Also going on in the city the 3rd ward, which is the most northern neighborhood in the city, was where all the blacks lived in the city and all the whites lived everywhere else and the living conditions were just appalling. There were white slumlords, absentee slumlords, who were gouging their black tenants. There was also a city dump where the city was like literally dumping all its trash in the 3rd ward and was an open wound in that neighborhood. The crucible of all this racial tension was a street called Wheeler Avenue which ran through downtown and into Texas Southern University, which is a historically black college in Houston and racist whites would go out of their way to drive up and down Wheeler and yell racial slurs and sometimes do violence. Early April that year the administration refused SNCC their civil, their constitutional right to meet on campus and students responded by staging an classroom strike and boarded up the administration building and were marching across campus and ran into my white father, this one lone, white man in this sea of angry black students and he was attacked by the crowd and a black activists named Larry Thomas came and rescued him.”
“Thomas was the editor of something called the voice of hope which was an anti-poverty weekly that was the most grassroots level activism that was in the 3rd and 5th ward at the time. And so they struck up kind of a friendship and Larry really radicalized my father, my father was liberal up then, but he became a radical then afterwards and they started putting their politics were their families were going.
“I wanted to talk about what I remember and show as a child, but also dramatize events and try and make these simple heroes of the of the civil rights struggle real people because I think at this point they’re in danger of turning into historical figures. When we think about them and the Freedom Riders and all these really brave man and women tend to think of them as kind of these stoic heroes that aren’t really real, but they were my parents and they were the Thomas family. They were naïve and idealistic and got themselves in over their head and had conflicting motivations and emotional responses to all that and I wanted to humanize them. That’s the reason we chose this story to tell.
"When we wrote the manuscript we wrote it in what’s called the ‘Marvel style’ which is, comes from when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were producing all the great superhero characters in the 60s. They were both auteurs and worked fast and loose, so they didn’t do a comic manuscript in the normal fashion were you would say ‘Page 24, six panels, panel number one, medium shot, Jack is in foreground Larry’s in the background, Larry’s mad Jack’s sad,’ and then write dialogue. Each panel would be described that way. We wrote it ‘Marvel style’ because Nate had just won Graphic Novel of the Year Eisner, the year prior. I wasn’t going to tell this auteur how to illustrate our book. I think as a result the book is a lot more organic and, and has a much better storytelling vision.
"For example, that page prior, that short paragraph just describes Houston Texas, so Nate chose to have a shot of Sharpstown from way above and then kind of zoom in from a silhouette fashion onto the first piece of dialogue, which is my character playing in the backyard. Normally a comic or a graphic novel might have a writer, an editor, a penciller, an inker, and colorist, and letterer. It’s a pretty large team, six or seven people. There were just three of us and Nate does his own lettering. He was actually nominated for an Eisner for lettering the year he won for graphic novel. As a result you can see that Nate took into account were his bubbles would go in each panel.
"That’s markedly different from the way an artist normally works, were he just draws his panel and then the letterer has to decide where the bubbles going to go. So it has a really organic feel where dialogue moves sometimes cross panel or he uses a lyrical sense of lettering to accentuate the emotion. I also felt like when we first got pages from Nate that the Eisner had really given him a deeper sense of confidence. Like, one thing I love about Nate is he really takes chances as an artist. If you think about it if you’re a writer you kind of what to show off how smart you are and clever by what your characters say. The same is true with an artist, an artist is dying for somebody to say something like, ‘And then 10,000 bicycles came around a corner,’ so he can kind of show off how he can draw 10,000 bicycles. So doing the exact opposite of that, just silhouetting and showing no detail just to me shows an incredible sense of confidence and the book really benefits from it I think. For the cover we wanted something really iconic and we went through several permutations of concepts ‘til we settled in on the idea that the book was really about Larry and Jack.”
“And he’s produced this really great piece were they’re both responding to something emotionally off panel and it leaves this question in your mind, ‘What’s going on? What are they looking at? And who are these two characters?” For me it begins together what a genius Nate is and how fortunate we are to have our manuscript in his hands. So we’re on a three week book tour and you’re one of three cities I’m visiting. I’m visiting DC next and one thing I like about graphic novels is just the change to talk to readers. Normally as a video game designer I work, I’ve been secret two years on a game. As it ramps to come out I only talk to reviewers or editors and maybe a friend or two tells me they played my game and they thought it was OK. Just ZERO ego gratification.”
“So, one of the things I’m really drawn to in graphic novels is a more profound exchange with the people that are reading the book and we get a chance to talk about what each one of us thought, like why I did something or what could have been done better. That’s my spew.”
DT: “I’d really like to know how you got together with these two and actually start the creation of this graphic novel.”
ML: “Well, Jim Demonakos lives in Seattle and he’s just kind of the penultimate comic nerd. He owns four comic shops, he runs Emerald City Comic Con, which is the biggest con in the northwest. He’s also in a nerd-core band called Kirby Krackle and he writes songs about comic super heroes. And so he’s just an all-around awesome comic dude and as a collaborator, an editor, or somebody that could guide me through my first book. And then Nate, we went after Nate very deliberately. We were both blown away by Swallow Me Whole, before he had won the award. And Nate grew up in Arkansas and so he knew about the south and also his books have a political bent to them and so we were all of the same mind set. It was a fantastic collaboration.”
DT: “Since you as a child, I assume, mostly got the perspective from your white family, how did you manage getting the side of the black family? Who did you ask, or were some things assumed?”
ML: “Well, that’s a really good question. There’s very little in the book that’s fictionalized, it’s almost entirely from memory. And it came to that point in the story where I’d outline thing and realize, ‘Oh shit. Now I have to write about the Thomas family.’ I don’t know what it’s like to be a black family in the 3rd ward. I mean we visited them a number of times and I played with those kids, but that’s all I know. And then I realized this truism of writing where you write what? So I just transposed my own experience onto them. It didn’t matter if they were black or white, right? It was about dramatic interest and so all the things you see happening to their family was something I witnessed.”
DT: “Though this is Powell’s field, I’m curious rather the characters designs were based on the actually people or not.”
ML: “Yeah, I provided Nate with a lot of reference and you’ll notice though that the character of my father is blonde. We did that so that it was easy to tell the difference between Larry and my father in a little bit smaller panel. But I gave him a lot of reference, including the rodeo and picture of our home to work from.”
The Silence of Our Friendsis availible now in fine comics stores everywhere, with signed copies avalible at Guzu Gallery and Domy Books.