Inkstuds Spotlight in the Rear View

February 27th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

Inkstuds Spotlight is done! Thank you for listening, or sharing the links around, or telling me or the creators I spoke to how much you dug what they had to say. It was a lark, it worked, and now I’m going to type too much about why and how I did it. But first, an index:

Darryl Ayo: CA | Inkstuds | Website
Jay Potts: CA | Inkstuds | Website
Jimmie Robinson: CA | Inkstuds | Website
Whit Taylor: CA | Inkstuds | Website
LeSean Thomas: CA | Inkstuds | Website
Spike Trotman: CA | Inkstuds | Website
Qiana Whitted: CA | Inkstuds | Website

I love writing about comics. More specifically, I love talking about them with other people, and writing gives me a chance to trick people into having conversations with me about comics. Writing is just a way of organizing my thoughts or interrogating what I think about a book. Now that I work in the industry, though, I understand that my words have an aspect they didn’t before: even when I’m not representing my company, people will look at it like I’m representing my company. Before, I appeared courtesy of myself. Now, I still do, but the perception may be different depending on who and where you are.

I’m still figuring out that balance. I don’t want to not-talk, but I don’t want to have people looking at me like “Well, you had no business saying this since you’re working professional #teamcomics.” I’m very careful about recommending Image books or dissing other books, because I feel like my word has some value, and I don’t ever want to trade on that for garbage reasons.

A weird part of paring down how often I’m writing about comics is that I spend a lot more time thinking about comics and why they work the way they do. Absence makes the heart grow even more curious, until finally the heart is like “chill out dude, just get over your dumb self and do something you want to obviously do.”

Robin McConnell founded and runs the Inkstuds comics podcast. At last year’s Emerald City Comicon, Robin asked me about doing some programming for Inkstuds. I thought about it, but couldn’t come up with any ideas worth doing, and then I quit my job, ComicsAlliance died, and I got another job, so doing podcasting wasn’t even really on my radar.

On January 15, after realizing that Robin’s show was about to hit 500 episodes, an idea popped into my head. I know comics, and I know some people in comics, but I don’t know about what people actually do in comics. Where they came from, how they came to comics, why they do comics, how they do comics, what influenced the way they make comics…stuff like that. This stuff is usually beyond the purview of the hype-oriented interviews in comics, and that’s no good for me, because I really want to know this stuff.

Basically, I figured out how to satisfy my own curiosity in a way that might be entertaining to others, which is probably the whole reason I started a blog, and it was constructed in such a way that I couldn’t over-think it the way I do everything else. I couldn’t worry about crossing some invisible line of professionalism. I only had time to do it, and once it was done, I couldn’t take it back.

I made a list of people I thought were in interesting positions in the industry, and focused on people I haven’t interviewed or discussed before, with one exception. I emailed Robin with the idea and the list, and he was into it. I googled around for email addresses, DMed a few people on Twitter, did some research, came up with a few possible avenues of conversation, and then got started. Before the first show went up, I had the vast majority of them recorded. By the end of the first week of February, I had all of them done.

I think about the divisions in comics a lot, the way we’re bunched up into various factions. It’s shorthand, of course, but there’s TCJ comics, cape comics, mainstream comics, manga, and more. There are all these little islands of interests, and for the most part, they keep to their own. Inkstuds has its own remit, but I realized that I didn’t just want to limit myself to that audience. I was tempted to just post them here on 4thletter!, but I know the size of me and Gavin’s platform here, and I wanted something bigger. I reached out to Joe Hughes at ComicsAlliance with the idea. He was into it, and provided some feedback that I think made it a lot better.

Inkstuds and ComicsAlliance don’t have a lot of overlap in terms of audience, or at least it doesn’t feel that way going by what they each have covered, and I liked the idea of using both outlets to expose people to stuff they might not have known. Joe and Robin were both fine with me doing it on my own terms, too. I was thinking about the value of ownership and control even before CA closed last year, and the money in writing about comics simply isn’t good enough to do it any way but the way I (and you, if we’re being really real with each other) want to do it. So I laid out my terms and goals like a prima donna, they were fine with it, and we were off to the races with a project I maybe made more complicated than it had to be, but one I liked.

So, now that it’s all done, I wanted to publicly explain why I did it, and to say thank you to Joe and Robin for letting me borrow their platforms for selfish reasons. Darryl Ayo, Jay Potts, Jimmie Robinson, Whit Taylor, LeSean Thomas, Spike Trotman, and Qiana Whitted were incredibly generous with their time and thoughts, and each of them leapt at the chance to talk to me about my vague ideas, which I’m exceedingly grateful for. I learned a lot, and I’m very appreciative that they were down to chat. I left every conversation energized about comics and making stuff, which is a sometimes-rare feeling and almost the whole entire point of the entire project.

Thanks for listening.

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On the perception of artists in comics

July 16th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

One thing I feel really strongly about is the position of artists in comics. I talked about it last year and I’m sure I’ve tweeted about it a lot. Artists are, thanks to a wide variety of factors both intentional and incidental, often devalued in comics, especially when we’re talking mainstream fare, corporate or otherwise. I honestly, earnestly believe that the best comics happen when the writer, artist, and the rest of the creative team are on the same page and into the work and each other.

If you swap out everyone on a creative team but the writer like aftermarket car parts, then the only stable figure in the equation is the writer, then the writer will be viewed as the prime mover, the “creator” of the story. The truth is that a comic isn’t a comic until an artists puts pen to pad, and the relationship between writer and artist isn’t as simple as “This guy tells this lady what to do and she does it.”

But that’s the perception. I’ve talked about it again and again, but let me reiterate: the most common formula for a comics review is a bunch of paragraphs about what happens, followed by one paragraph about the art, followed by a conclusion. I know why it happens–cape comics in particular are about “what happens” as opposed to “how it happens” in marketing and reviewing–but I hate it. It’s aesthetically ugly, intellectually lazy, and it serves to devalue the artist. They’re always an afterthought, an “Oh by the way,” if that, and that contributes to our perception of artists.

Jack Kirby didn’t draw Stan Lee’s Fantastic Four. They created it together. The same is true of the dumbest movie tie-in comic and the greatest pop comics single issue. Collaboration is key.

I put a lot of thought into this last year in particular. I made the conscious decision to swap how I credited comics, both in headlines and normal conversation. The normal way of doing things is writer/artist, like Stan Lee/Jack Kirby. (I didn’t realize it until just now, but even the term “writer/artist” is tilted in favor of writing, not drawing.) Instead, I force myself to think for a second and type “Kirby/Lee.”

I don’t do it to suggest that the writer is less important than the artist. It’s a mental device that keeps me in mind of the facts: comics are collaborative, and each link in the chain is vital. You can’t talk about comics without talking about art. You can’t make comics without art. Going from writer/artist to artist/writer forces me to reconsider how I talk about comics and who I credit for what.

I used to empathize with reviewers who did the one short paragraph-about-art thing. It’s hard to talk about art if you aren’t an artist, the story’s really what interests you, you lack the confidence to speak as authoritatively on art as you would on story. Nowadays, though, I think they’re scared, or maybe just too soft to do the legwork required to talk about comics intelligently.

I’m a dummy. I dropped out of college, turned away from art school in high school, and I couldn’t tell you the difference an inker using a brush and a pen if I tried. (I would hazard a guess, though.) But I can look at art, figure out what it means to me or what it brings to mind, and express that in a critical manner.

If you aren’t doing that, you ain’t doing your job. And if you don’t know, figure it out. Ask someone, think about it really hard (I like this one), or just mull it over until it coalesces in your head. You can do it. I talk about my dumb emotions until I’m comfortable enough to talk about the art itself, as opposed to my reaction to it, though those are often tend to merge into the same thing once you start talking about them.

Darryl Ayo‘s review of Sam Alden’s Backyard (print) reignited these thoughts for me. It’s a review-via-numbered list, a technique I’ve enjoyed and used myself, but I haven’t seen it in a while. Darryl snaps from observations about the atmosphere, tone, characterization, art, and back again because he understands a fundamental truth of comics: the art is the story.

I enjoyed this piece from Andy Khouri on valuing and devaluing artists in comics, too. He lays out a lot of plain truths I agree with 2013%. I like this especially: “Story is art. Style is substance. A comic is not a comic until it is drawn.”

Gospel truth.

Dennis Culver, artist and co-creator of Edison Rex (print, digital) with writer Chris Roberson, is a friend of mine. We talk a lot about comics, mainly because he makes them, I read them, and we both have strong opinions on the subject. I’m coming from the perspective of a critic, someone who takes forever to read good comics and wants comics to be better. He’s coming from the perspective of an artist, someone who wants and deserves to feel valued in the comics conversation and puts in a massive amount of work to get a comic done.

We agree on a lot of things, but often in different ways. He collected a bunch of his tweets on the subject and reposted them on tumblr. I asked if I could repost them here and he said sure, so here we are:

You’re not writing about comics if you’re not talking/thinking about the art.

I think the trap a lot of critics fall into is giving sole credit for the story visuals to the writer.

And if any credit is given to the artist it’s usually for style. Ie Cartoony, realistic etc.

But if you give 6 different artists a panel description you will get 6 different images.

And each of those images can make you feel different things. Things the writer may not have initially intended.

That synergy is the magic of comics and it’s why artists are really co-writers.

The production line method of making comics is just an imperfect emulation of a single cartoonist.

Every part of the comics production line requires choices that affect the storytelling.

While the comics production line is great for speed, it’s created a lot of false boundaries that when strictly adhered to make bad comics

If you’re not directly communicating with your collaborators then you’re not collaborating. You’re playing telephone.

Don’t have time to read many comics but 2 books I look forward to the most are Daredevil by Waid and Samnee and Hawkeye by Fraction and Aja

Neither book singles out credit for writing or art and in the case of Daredevil, Waid and Samnee are just credited as “Storytellers.”

Both go beyond the normal production line collaboration and I think that is why the books are of such high quality.

I want to see more of this! I think it makes for better comics. And it shows that both writers value their artists as storytellers.

Because frankly when you’re an artist it’s easy to feel undervalued as a storyteller in this industry.

When a review only focuses on and gives all story credit to the writer while only mentioning the artist in passing if at all. I feel undervalued as a storyteller.

When a publisher puts out a press release that only talks about the writer, I feel undervalued as a storyteller.

When a publisher holds a story conference and only invites their writers, i feel undervalued as a storyteller.

It’s certainly not the writer’s fault but hey if you’re doing an interview about a book and the art is not being talked about. Bring it up.

The only way reviewers and the comics press can figure out how to talk about art is by talking about art.

When a writer refers to “his artists” I feel undervalued as a storyteller.

In comics I do think drawing is co-writing but I will also add in the best instances writers are co-directing the art with the artist

I have an excellent collaboration with on Edison Rex and if you could see out process, I┬áthink you’d be hard pressed to say where the writing ends and the art begins. Ask Chris, I am OPINIONATED about the story but Chris is the same about page layout and design. And I think that makes for a better comic.

It’s frustrating to read a review or tweet or whatever that glosses over my role as a storyteller.

You learn to do things by doing them. I’d rather see a reviewer clumsily talk about art than not at all.

I use undervalued specifically because this industry is built on undervaluing its creators. Creators that feel valued make better comics!

Here I was talking with a reviewer:
The art IS the story. Even if you don’t care for the style or don’t think it’s dynamic

The presentation by the artist of the images in sequence is how the story is being told. The art IS the story.

If you get rid of the art and are only left with the balloons, you will have no idea what’s going on. Comics IS art

When a reviewer only credits a writer with the story it is inarguably wrong. That’s just not how the process works.

Chris and I are credited for each others ideas in Edison Rex reviews all the time. Often we’re not sure who did what. If we don’t know how can you?

I want to have this conversation. I want to be better. I want reviewers, fans, and companies to listen and consider how they view comics and the role of each creator. The only way I know how to do that is to talk about it whenever I can and pray people pay attention.

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