Over the past couple weeks, Nothing But Comics has been providing a variety of coverage on the 2015 New York Comic Con. From the creators to the cosplayers they inspire, we have offered reflections on the different facets of fandom. The last in this series of articles is a compilation of comments from some of the panels attended during the convention.
At the Dark Horse Comics Classified Panel, there were a few announcements, but the main pleasure was hearing the creators discuss their craft. These observations included a healthy sense of humor, such as when Matt Kindt was asked what it was like playing the role of both writer and artist on a series. He replied that collaborating with himself was a pleasure, as “most of my deadlines get along.” For his part, Brian Wood offered that he always wants to be enthusiastic about the art in one of his titles. His wish is to be a “fanboy” of it just like any other reader.
Another question involved early influences and career paths. Wood began by answering the question literally: his first job was shoveling snow. Jumping forward a little, he volunteered that he spent time designing annoying internet banner ads. He also insisted that there was “an art to making” such things. As for early favorites, Wood did not dwell on any comics, but anime. Growing up in a small town in pre-internet days, he had no context for thinking that these shows consisted any special genre. They were simply fun cartoons. Kindt traced a direct career path from working in a movie theater to being employed in a comic book shop to doing graphic design to being paid to make comic books. As for his initial influences, he listed Frank Miller’s Daredevil, the original Dark Horse Presents (including Miller’s first Sin City stories) and 8 Ball. Such varied reading might have “messed [him] up,” as Kindt claimed, but it also contributed to the multi-talented creator Kindt is now.
At DC’s Bat-Universe Panel, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo discussed the design process for new villain Bloom. When Snyder first sent suggestions to Capullo for Bloom’s flower’s motif, the artist was unimpressed. “What’s so scary about flowers?” was Capullo reaction. Snyder mentioned that Bloom is like the weeds that fill cracks in the pavement, the fear which fills the void of helplessness. So Capullo experimented with vines. Snyder sent more photos of everyday flowers. Finally, a picture of a carnivorous plant gave Capullo the inspiration for a design which satisfied both writer and artist. Capullo also volunteered that the inspiration for his Batman was a combination of The Caped Crusader’s armor from Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and Space Ghost.
Artist Khary Randolph volunteered that for We Are Robin, he was watching Warriors and trying to work-in as much hip-hop as possible. He saw the series as being literally street-level without the grand roof-top scenes that typically dominate superhero comics. These are characters who, for the most part, stick to the ground. During the Q & A, a fan asked whether Jim Gordan’s Batman would be getting a GCPD sanctioned Robin. Randolph considered it unlikely as none of the kids in We Are Robin would be trusting enough of authority to sign onto such a gig.
One fan inquired who was the panelists’ favorite Boy Wonder. The overwhelming response was in favor of Grayson. There was some smattering of audience support for Tim Drake or Damian. No one spoke up for Jason Todd, leading one panelist to make the inevitable phone poll joke. A shame as early post-Crisis Jason is quite endearing. There was also general agreement among the panel guests that Dick Grayson is the sexiest character in comics.
There must be something about former sidekicks. During a brief conversation with Marguerite Bennett, the writer commented that Bucky Barnes’ was Marvels’ best looking character.
Back in the Bat-Universe, Amy Chu discussed her take on Poison Ivy.
When one fan began a question with “continuity in the New 52” audience members could be heard groaning.
Outside of Gotham City (i.e. DC All Access Panel) Steve Orlando talked about Midnighter. He hinted that an upcoming “intern” for Midnighter would be one of the odder members of the DCU. In fact, he teased that it was a character with “the strangest power” in the company’s catalog. How strange? Orlando had to look it up to prove that yes, it did indeed exist. He then joked that he could see the entire audience pulling up web browsers to answer the riddle . . .
At the Cup o’ Joe Panel, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso reassured a fan that editorial had not forgotten about the Hank Pym/ Ultron combo floating through the cosmos. He stated that Tom Brevoort had definite plans for the character. Neither Brevoort nor his fedora were there to elaborate. Either way, this is good news, as I had been hoping that this narrative thread would be further explored.
The Image panel, Where Creators Own Craft, focused, as its title suggests, on the creative process. It started with each of the artists on the panel discussing a particular choice they made. Colorist Matthew Wilson talked about how he chose the right hues for the first head explosion in The Wicked + The Divine. In order to achieve the desired shocks, he selected a palette that contrasted with the flat colors which had dominated the series so far. Thus, the macabre burst of color that leaps out at the reader. Shane Davis begin a discussion of a crowd scene in AXCEND with the confession that artists hate drawing crowd scenes. So, he used a Jedi mind tr—I mean applied some psychology. The gestalt theory postulates that a person’s gaze fills in what their mind expects to see. Davis did not need to draw a teeming mass of concert goers, as much as suggest their presence in the background. The eye automatically supplies the rest.
Bob Fingerman was the unique member of the panel in that he tackled every artistic element of his series Minimum Wage from writing the script to filling in the word balloons. This led to an observation from the panel moderator that many of Fingerman’s expressions are so recognizable that dialogue is almost unnecessary. Fingerman observed that he is a firm believer in the idea that the best film comedies are the ones which play it straight. Best to avoid the pratfalls or easy laughs. Fingerman does the same with his series, arguing that the more subtle a comic is, the funnier it is as well.
For his part, Jason Latour commented that he does not consider Southern Bastards to be a “realistic” comic. Instead he views it as “hyper-real.” It is not about the details, but a sense of character, a feel of place. He uses atmosphere to contrast the disposabilty of the modern world with the traditions of Southern regionalism. As such, it explores the push and pull between stereotypes.
Wes Craig also mentioned his fondness for conjuring atmosphere with his art. Craig discussed one of Deadly Class’ reoccurring visual motifs: breaking up one image into multiple panels. Craig explained that this was not simply for pacing purposes, but also to give a sense of the protagonist Marcus’ thought process. He does not act instantaneously, instead taking a few moments to think over the situation. Craig also discussed the coloring of the book (Lee Loughridge was the original colorist on the title; recently Jordan Boyd has taken his place). The creative team made a conscious choice to leave out any type of shading or modeling that would mask the line work. Overall, the visual look of the series is meant to evoke the graphic design of album covers.
This balance between line and color was evoked by Fingerman as a reminder that artists cannot allow themselves to be impeded by the number of choices out there. Just because technology grants an ability does not mean that it should be used; instead, the artist should be discerning about the right tool for the job. As an example, he offered up the recent edition of Incal. In his mind the re-release was ruined by the decision to use digital recoloring, which overwhelmed Moebius’ delicate lines. This led to a side discussion of Moebius’ very specific requirements for materials. When he worked on Parable for Marvel he even specified the type of paper that would be supplied for him.
Picking up from there, Latour discussed the tangible element of comic book art. Comic book art does not need to be physical, as opposed to digital, though an artist should have a background in it. “Pen and ink is unforgiving,” and therefore the best method for refining abilities. Artists should learn the basic, rudimentary skills instead of chasing effects. Drawing is cathartic, allowing an artist to process their thoughts as they go. Once the basic skills are mastered, an artist can course correct quickly. The analogy offered was Michael’s Jordan’s footwork, where the basic skills have become automatic.
Latour also advised artists to study narrative comprehension. Even if they are not writers themselves, they still need to comprehend how storytelling works in order to translate words on a page into pictures. Davis added that being a writer/artist is not always the shortcut fans think it is. There are times, when he will pick up one of his own scripts and go “wait, how am I supposed to illustrate that?”
One fan asked Wilson if he had ever tried to “improve” the line art with his colors. Wilson responded that the worst thing a colorist could do is “fight the art.” If the colorist tries to subvert it in some way, it is only going to make everyone look bad. Creator owned books like Image’s largely avoid this temptation as everyone is working together on a title out of mutual respect. Work for hire can provide more complicated scenarios, yet do not justify unprofessional behavior.
Craft was also the subject of the Indie Authors Creating Brave New Worlds Panel, which brought together a mix of prose and comic creators. (It was also by far the most diverse panel I attended that weekend; out of the five panelists only one was a white male). This diversity in background was reflected in some of their answers as well. Science fiction author Cerece Rennie Murphy did not look to either comics or prose for an example of an early influence, but to poetry. She cited Alexander Pope’s 18th Century poem “Rape of the Lock,” which satirized the genre of epic poetry. Murphy was inspired by how Pope took a trivial occurrence (a man steals a lock of his beloved’s hair) and spun it out into something grandiose. Murphy walked away from the piece amazed at the power of what words could do. She wanted to be able to do that as well.
Author Nilah Magruder agreed with Murphy that the best science-fiction is not that which tries to predict the future, but instead tries to understand the present. It motivates the reader to think about the world as it is now, not what it might be years later. Taking another perspective, moderator Dean Plakas suggested that science-fiction writing is similar to schemes of Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo came up with the idea for a helicopter centuries before scientific knowledge caught up with his imagination. Perhaps some of the more speculative sci-fi functions the same manner? What might appear bold and outlandish now will be commonplace five centuries later.
Like Matt Kindt at the Dark Horse panel, comic book writer/artist Greg Garay was asked what it was like to be his own collaborator. His answer was less sanguine, though perhaps equally tongue-in-cheek. He observed that in general when writers and artists try working together it often sounds like a cat fight. The same is true for him, which is why the inside of his head can be rather noisy.
Finally, Murphy had some very strong inspirational words for struggling writers. She explained the hardest part of being a creator is overcoming self-doubt. Murphy related how she was struck by her young children’s lack any self-doubt, only to witness the trait grow as they did. Is this typical? Are we all born with a natural confidence that we lose touch with as we age? The creator needs to recover that conviction in order to find not only success, but joy in their work. After all, Murphy observed there is pleasure in every step of the process, even the struggle over a single word, because on the other end of that stumbling block is satisfaction. The process itself is rewarding.
Moments like these are a reminder of why the New York Comic Con is among the highlights of my year. Yes, it is fun to be the first to hear some big announcement, then go digging for bargains among the dealer tables. However, the best part is hearing creators discuss their work, either at panels or one on one. And yes, working up the courage for the latter does wonders for overcoming that nasty self-doubt Murphy was discussing.
We are all in this together, after all.