Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category
Daniel Clowes is finally ready to take a proper shot with The Death-Ray.
The Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and cartoonist first presented this highly acclaimed story — about a teenager named Andy, who derives superpowers from smoking and who gains control of a high-tech pistol that can erase its targets from existence — in the final issue of his cult-classic comic book series Eightball back in 2004.
But even then, Clowes knew this story deserved more.
“I really should have had the courage right then to end Eightball and just do The Death-Ray as a book initially, but I just couldn’t let it go. I was still having separation anxiety from not doing a comic book,” said the 50-year-old creator.
“But the minute it came out, I thought, ‘This made no sense at all to do this as a magazine that’s unavailable to really 99 per cent of the public.’ Those can only be sold in comic stores — no book store would sell a magazine with a different title from the actual work. So I planned, kind of from that minute on, to do it in book form, so that the rest of the world could actually read it.”
Clowes, best known for two other Eightball stories, Ghost World and Art School Confidential — both of which were made into Hollywood films (the former earned him an Oscar nod for Best Adapted Screenplay), got his wish last month as The Death-Ray was finally given the deluxe hardcover treatment by Montreal publisher Drawn & Quarterly.
This edgy yet colourful story has also attracted the eyes of filmmakers and Clowes says he’s hard at work on a draft of the screenplay.
“The movie is very different from the comic; it’s kind of an inversion of the comic in that it focuses more on the older Andy and the younger Andy is kind of enveloped into the middle,” he said. “We’ve just completed a new draft of the film, and we have a director we’re talking to and it’s in that development process.”
Despite the sometimes arduous task of adapting his comic book tale for film, Clowes says the work is paying off.
“I would say, of the scripts I’ve written, this is the one I’m happiest with. It’s the one I’ve worked hardest on and it’s really very unique to the comic. It’s got a lot of different things from the comic that I really wanted to get in the comic and couldn’t,” he said. “So, this is one I feel like it would be, if it was made the way I envision it, could be a really strong film. But, you know, once it’s out of your hands you never know what’s going to happen.”
Clowes said he’s also busy converting his first original graphic novel, 2010’s Wilson, for the big screen.
“I am working on a screenplay for a Wilson movie, for Alexander Payne (Academy Award-winning screenwriter/director of Sideways and the upcoming George Clooney film, The Descendants), and I’m working on a long graphic novel that I’m not ready to talk about, because I’m not sure it’s going to be what I think it’s going to be yet,” he said.
Also on the horizon is The Art of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist, a monograph due out in spring that will celebrate the cartoonist’s acclaimed work.
“It’s got a lot of things people have never seen,” Clowes said. “I let this guy, Alvin Buenaventura, who’s the editor of the book, I just let him go through my files and archives that I’ve never even looked through myself. I just saved everything and put it all in my closet, and so he started digging through stuff and found stuff that I had no memory whatsoever of doing. It’s got artwork from every phase of my career, and then it’s got all the main pieces that I’ve done over the years and essays and things.”
Having a career retrospective done on you at age 50 is a very unusual feeling, Clowes admits.
“I feel weird about it, because it’s not my book; it’s a book about me, so, I mean, I shouldn’t be promoting it because it feels arrogant to talk about a book about me rather than something I’ve actually done myself,” he said.
“I think it came out as good as I can imagine; I’m the worst judge, obviously. It’s one of those things I kind of wish it just wouldn’t even exist, because it’s embarrassing to see all that stuff. But as far as those things go, I think he did an amazing job.”
(This article was first published in the Toronto Star)
Twenty-five years of answering the same questions over and over again could drive a person to madness.
Or, in the case of Art Spiegelman, inspire greatness.
In the quarter century since Spiegelman's groundbreaking — and Pulitzer Prize-winning — graphic novel, Maus, debuted, he's faced a deluge of queries from hundreds, if not thousands, of journalists, academics, students and fans. Everyone wants to know what inspired him to portray Jews as mice, Nazis as cats and recount, as a comic book, his father's extraordinary tale of surviving the Holocaust.
So to mark Maus' silver anniversary, Spiegelman put all his answers — and an incredible wealth of art and other material, including a jam-packed DVD-ROM — into MetaMaus, a new book that offers an inside look at the book that first bridged comic books and literature.
"I figured I'd just turn around and try to stare my beast down," Spiegelman told the Star in a telephone interview from his New York City studio, as he admitted the four years he spent working on MetaMaus have helped hone his answers to well-rehearsed perfection.
'If you get asked the same things over and over and over again about any given book, ultimately your name, rank and serial number remain the same from interview to interview and bit by bit you kind of learn to get it all down to that little smooth nugget of an answer.
"What's interesting here is, working with (associate editor) Hillary (Chute) for such a long period of time, we're able to really have the time to find the nooks and crannies and then re-reduce the book down to something manageable that wouldn't be five times longer than Maus."
The challenge, Spiegelman said, was to avoid simply having a big birthday party for Maus in book form.
"(MetaMaus is) a book that, as I worked on it, became more and more like a real book. I understand that it grew up as something that can really become deadly: an anniversary book, a book about a book — it starts feeling kind of tertiary," he said. "And yet, by the time I was immersed in it, I had to get over the same kinds of woundings that led to the original Maus and had to relive a lot of stuff that I'd kind of managed to re-suppress and by the time it came together I felt protective of it. So it wasn't just: 'scurry out into the world, my little MetaMaus.'"
The new book delves deeply into the 63-year-old cartoonist's creative process in what he hopes won't take away from the enjoyment of the original story.
"There's one place (in the book) where I talk about admiring the notion of a magic act that tells you how something is done and leaves the magic intact," Spiegelman said.
"That was the goal, although it did involve allowing me to give everything I could as I kind of look at Maus again so there ultimately does become a work of 'what does it mean to be alive, process one's life and traumas — and even pleasures — and try to find a form.' Well beyond the specifics of Maus, it becomes 'what is process, what does it mean to actually take the raw stuff of one's life and make something out of it.'"
While Maus quickly evolved to the point where it is often grouped with the likes of The Diary of Anne Frank as a seminal book about the Holocaust and is often used as a teaching text, its creator says he never intended for it to be classroom material — or to be read by children.
"I never made the book to teach anybody anything, I made Maus to engage readers in a narrative," Spiegelman said.
"There is a kind of afterlife for Maus that I'm grateful for, but it took me a while to get used to it. I used to be horrified when I heard that it was being taught in schools — even as young as in middle schools. It took me a while to come around and understand that a) comics are a very democratic medium; b) there are stupid adults and smart kids so it's not for me to decide who ought to read it."
Maus may be easy for sophisticated modern fans of graphic novels to read and enjoy, but Spiegelman said the process of getting it published was no small feat.
"It's all kind of amazing how much moves along in a mere quarter of a century," he said. "At the time that Maus was done, there was just no context for this. There wasn't a world that was clamouring for anything like this — quite the contrary, say those rejection slips that find their way into a spread of MetaMaus. Despite the fact that the phrase graphic novel was invented, it didn't exist as a category.
"Now, when I talk to the younger folks, they can barely remember a time when there was anything pejorative about being a comic artist. If I went into a bar to pick up a girl back in my twenties, I wouldn't say I was a comic book artist, I'd say I was a plumber — it would have more sex appeal. Now these younger (cartoonists) are like rock stars."
The work of these 'rock stars', a majority of whom claim Spiegelman as an inspiration, continues to impress him.
"They're all mind blowing and they're now appreciated as mind blowing," he said.
Though none have ever earned a Pulitzer, like Spiegelman did in 1992, a special award presented to him after the completion of the second, and final, volume of Maus.
"It's surprising to me that I won it," he said, before quipping: "I always thought that a special Pulitzer is like winning the Special Olympics."
One of the most succinct and best polished answers in MetaMaus follows the question of why has this incredible story never been turned into a Hollywood film.
"As I said in the book, I keep (a copy) in a glass bookcase that has the words 'in case of economic emergency, break glass,'" Spiegelman said with ...
Collecting a $10,000 prize cheque is always sweet.
Being publicly acknowledged for having “substantially contributed to the state of literature and books in Canada” may be even sweeter — especially considering the winner of the 2011 Harbourfront Festival Prize is the first cartoonist to ever claim the honour.
Seth, whose award-winning and critically acclaimed work includes the classic graphic novels, It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken and George Sprott, said the prize, which he’ll be awarded on the closing night of the International Festival of Authors, offers a measure of validation to his chosen medium.
“It’s a pretty clear sign that graphic novels or comic books have actually reached a point where they can be judged on their content rather than on their media,” the 49-year-old told the Toronto Star from New York City.
He’ll be back in Toronto for his onstage appearance on opening night of the IFOA Friday, in conversation with fellow cartoonist Daniel Clowes on the opening night of the IFOA.
“I think it’s another stepping stone in seeing the graphic novel accepted as just another form of writing.”
The shift in perception that culminated in being awarded the Harbourfront Festival Prize certainly didn’t happen overnight, Seth noted.
“(Art Spiegelman’s) Maus came along in the late 80s and it was a book that got a lot of attention, a great book, won the Pulitzer Prize, etc., etc., but really anyone who decided ‘Alright, I’m going to read graphic novels,’ there probably wasn’t a lot of work they could turn to,” he said.
“Back in the 80s, you had to sell your work in the comic shops and it was palpable, the disinterest that people had for the kind of work we were doing.”
But alongside cartooning stalwarts like Clowes, Chester Brown, Joe Matt, Charles Burns, Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, Chris Ware, Craig Thompson and countless others, Seth continued to chip away at the preconceptions of graphic storytelling.
“I think the real change is that over a 20-year period, there’s been kind of a slow building of a beachhead of cartoonists that are working toward the same goal, which is to use the comic book medium just as a form of writing like any other kind of literature — to break away from the usual genre concerns of fantasy and the typical subject matter that comic books have always had,” he said.
“As each year passes, another cartoonist comes along who produces a significant work and we’ve finally reached a point where there’s probably a whole bookshelf or two of actually good graphic novels that an adult reader could (enjoy).”
The subject of camaraderie in cartooning hits close to home for Seth, whose new graphic novel, The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists, revolves around a club for the likes of him — though he admits it’s not the kind of association he’d like to be part of.
“The truth is, you get together a whole bunch of cartoonists and it’s kind of like having a perpetual comic book convention — which is not something I want be part of,” said the former Toronto resident and OCAD grad, who now resides in Guelph, Ont.
Like Seth’s previous homage to comics and collecting, Wimbledon Green, his latest book began as a sketchbook exercise.
“You start on page one with a quickly thought up idea and then just start going and I think that’s the kind of stuff that comes right out of the information that floats around the front of your brain,” he said.
“For me, probably the first topics I would turn to for anything would be collectors or comic books. The history of cartooning, other cartoonists — it’s like right there on the edge of my consciousness.”
Next up, Seth said, is finishing his long-running story Clyde Fans, along with his ongoing design work on The Complete Peanuts and on a second volume of The Collected Doug Wright, highlighting the life and work of the Canadian cartooning icon.
Seth also extended his design repertoire to include creating logos for Guelph’s roller derby club, the Royal City Rollergirls, crafting distinctive looks for squads like Our Ladies of Pain, Violet Uprising and the Killer Queens.
“Basically I got involved because my wife joined the team,” he said. “She thought it would be fun to try out and they needed a crest.
“At first, it was just something I was doing to make my wife happy, but after I went to a few games, I really liked it so I’m quite pleased to be involved.”
(This article was first published in the Toronto Star)
September 29, 2011 | Interviews
Craig Thompson couldn’t seem to find a way to get out from under Blankets.
The cartoonist’s award-winning 2003 graphic novel was a seismic event. The touching autobiographical tale of his adolescence and first love dramatically changed the landscape of how people view this type of visual storytelling — and it shook Thompson’s life to the core.
After getting swept up in a media frenzy and with legions of new fans and a sprawling book tour that crossed oceans and took more than a year, Thompson was left physically and creatively exhausted.
He needed time to heal the constant pain in his drawing arm and to let the ideas for his next story blossom. He retreated to his home in Portland, Ore., and, for all intents and purposes, disappeared.
“I’ve been in almost a (J.D) Salinger mode for the last six, seven years,” Thompson told the Star during an interview prior to a speaking engagement in Toronto last week to promote his new book, Habibi.
And the longer he was gone, the more pressure he put on himself to deliver a novel that could rival Blankets.
“It was paralyzing at times,” Thompson said. “It’s not necessarily a method I would recommend to another cartoonist.”
Not that taking this long was planned.
“Certainly, in the beginning, I was completely naïve to how long it would take,” he said. “I did have modest goals in the beginning — I thought it would be a 200-page book that I finished in two years (instead of 665 pages and almost eight years).
“There were these marked moments along the way where I was just lost in the labyrinthine tangle of it all and didn’t know if I’d ever make it out.”
On the surface, Habibi, released last week, appears to be a departure for Thompson, a work of fiction featuring Arabian palaces, desert landscapes and far-flung fantasy. But it is sure to have a familiar tone for many of his longtime fans.
“There’s a theme in a lot of my books of two people finding shelter within each other in the middle of a lonely and ugly world,” he said. “That happens again here, but hopefully it delves deeper in Habibi.”
Following the lives of two slaves, Dodola and Zam, from childhood to adulthood, Habibi is filled with metaphor and intricate art that highlights the ties that bind us.
“Definitely, the thematic focus was to zoom in on the connections — the connecting threads between faiths and people and cultures,” Thompson said.
“I (also) definitely wanted to juxtapose ugliness and beauty — or at least the sacred and the profane.
“It was deliberate to create a mash-up between the sacred medium of holy books and the vulgar, pulp form of comic books.”
The new graphic novel was inspired, in no small part, by the desire to work on something visually different, the creator admits.
“After Blankets, I was definitely sick of drawing myself and sick of drawing these mundane mid-western snowscapes,” he said.
“I wanted to craft something bigger and outside of myself and was considering two trajectories: either a fantastical epic that might be typical of the comic book form — but playful and fun — or something non-fiction and journalistic like Joe Sacco’s work.
“Habibi ended up meeting in the middle.”
As for how his readers will respond to his latest effort, Thompson said he’s hopeful they’ll embrace it just as strongly as they did Blankets.
“It’s been seven years and that’s how long it takes for every cell in your body to regenerate, so I’m a new person and I expect a lot of my readers to be new people,” he said.
“I’m hoping my fans have also grown up in a way that this might speak to them more for where they are in their lives.”
(This article first appeared in the Toronto Star)
Charles Burns has proved over the past two decades that his graphic novels are well worth waiting for. And it looks like he's ready to put that theory to the test once again.
X'ed Out, the long-awaited follow-up to Burns' multiple-award-winning opus, BlackHole, hit bookshelves this week, prompting two immediate questions: Will readers have to wait 11 years for the whole story like they did with his last effort. And is he actually working in colour?
"It's not that I'm turning my back on doing things in black and white, because I've always enjoyed that, obviously. I think every comic I've done so far has been in black and white, " Burns, a featured guest at the recent 2010 International Festival of Authors, tells the Star via phone from his Philadelphia home. "(But) it's like having another set of tools to use."
Burns also notes the use of colour helps emphasize the differences between this book and his past work.
"I had a couple of false starts (on X'ed Out) and I think I realized that at first I was kind of imitating myself, which is pretty typical, " he says. "I think whenever you're done with a long project, you end up kind of falling back on what you know.
"I really wanted to do something different or push myself in a different direction. I took on this format, I took on a colour comic all with the idea of having this, not experimental, but different style of storytelling; just trying to put together ideas in a different way."
The result is a highly unconventional, though extremely intriguing tale, which revolves around a young man named Doug, who sports a bandage on his head, is taking handfuls of opiates and has some of the weirdest dreams you'll ever see.
"He's obviously had some sort of physical, and what seems like mental, trauma take place, " says the 55-year-old Burns. "The story focuses around him and his struggle to come to terms with that trauma."
Being the first volume in a series, and a mere 56 pages, X'ed Out may seem like just an appetizer to those hungry for more, but he insists the payoff will be worth it.
"The first book really introduces a lot of pieces, a lot of conflicts, a lot of mysteries, " Burns says. "There's all these little threads that are introduced that will be followed through on in the following books."
As for the first question on readers' minds - how long a wait until the next volume? - Burns says not to panic: He's got a plan.
"The style of it, or the look of it, is based on the kind of Franco-Belgian album format, like Tintin, and the idea that it be a series of books, " he says. "Originally I was going to do two, so it would be like Tintin in Destination Moon and then Explorers on the Moon. As I've been working, I realized that I'll need three volumes to put everything together."
The second volume is already "well underway, " he says with the tongue-in-cheek caveat, "But I am slow. In many ways."
(This article first appeared in the Toronto Star)
His first major work won him two national awards, earned him sweeping critical acclaim and helped put Essex County, Ont., on the map.
The pressure to match all that might crush some people, but Jeff Lemire is too busy rocketing to the top of comic book industry to let it get to him.
"I guess if you stop and think about all the early success, you can kind of get caught up in worrying about living up to it, " says the 34-year-old Toronto resident, a featured guest at this weekend's Fan-Expo 2010, the massive annual pop-culture extravaganza at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. "But at the end of the day I just have so much work to do."
After bursting onto the scene in 2008 with Tales From the Farm and Ghost Stories, the first two parts of the Essex County Trilogy - for which he earned a Doug Wright Award for best emerging talent and a Joe Shuster Award for best cartoonist - Lemire kept up his momentum in 2009 with the third part, The Country Nurse, and began his superb new ongoing series for DC/Vertigo, Sweet Tooth.
While 2010 began with another edgy graphic novel from Lemire, The Nobody, it also took an interesting turn toward the mainstream as he signed an exclusive contract with DC Comics and began writing the Atom stories in Adventure Comics as well as the upcoming tales of Superboy.
"For me it's all the same; it's all just comics - whether it's a long-form story or a long story that's serialized, " says the native of Woodslee, Ont.
"I think that good comics are good comics and it doesn't really matter the subject matter or what genre you're working in."
Lemire says the decision to write stories he wouldn't draw himself was motivated by a simple lack of hours in the day.
"The reality is I couldn't write and draw three books a month, but I could write and draw one and then write a couple of other ones, " he says. "I can focus on my creator-owned stuff, Sweet Tooth, and write and draw that every month, but then also have a lot of fun writing for other artists on the superhero stuff and get into that a little bit."
Sweet Tooth, which follows life in a post-apocalyptic world through the eyes of Gus, a 9-year-old boy who sports the features of a deer, just passed its first anniversary and Lemire says readers can look forward to about two more years' worth.
Lemire says Superboy, set to premiere in November, is the book he's growing to love faster than a speeding bullet.
"I think anyone who's read my past work knows that I really like to explore small towns and rural communities and family and things like that and these are all the same kinds of themes I'm bringing into Superboy."
After delving more into mainstream comics, Lemire says the type of fans he meets at events like FanExpo is starting to change.
"Since Superboy was announced, and the Atom, you just get a whole new crop of fans who are just into the superhero stuff, who had never really bothered with my work before, " he laughs. "Now they suddenly know who I am and now they're going back and checking out Sweet Tooth and Essex County.
"It's good to know that people are aware of the stuff you're doing and that there's actual people reading it."
Canadian artist Ken Lashley is ready for a new path in life - one that doesn't include drawing comic books to make a living.
For now, at least.
Lashley talks with JPK about why he's decided to take a break from working in the comic biz, what Marvel Comics thinks about this move, his new gig as creative director at TransGaming Technologies in Toronto and more. Just click the green arrow below.
JPK talks to filmmaker and actor Kevin Smith (Clerks, Chasing Amy, Zack And Miri Make A Porno) about his book/blog collection, My Boring-Ass Life, working on TV and the best part of being famous.
Steve Niles, writer of 30 Days Of Night. Photo by Tim Bradstreet.
Steve Niles is surprisingly cheerful for a man with blood slowly dripping out of his arm.
The acclaimed horror novelist and comic book scribe is such a busy man these days he even has to double up his newspaper interviews with his medical appointments (he’s healthy as a horse, by the way).
The biggest thing on the 42-year-old’s plate — ahead of writing Criminal Macabre for Dark Horse Comics, Bad Planet for Image Comics and the highly anticipated new book, Simon Dark, for DC Comics — is the impending release of the film 30 Days Of Night, based on a comic book, and screenplay, by Niles.
“I really is just the thrill of my life,” he says of the film.
“[Producer] Sam Raimi and [director] David Slade did more than justice to the comic. It’s faithful to the comic and it’s a really solid horror movie.”
The appeal of the story — which revolves around a group of people trying to survive after vampires invade an Alaskan town where the sun goes down for one month — comes from a different take on its villains, according to the creator.
“[Films like] Underworld and Blade have really humanized vampires and made them action heroes, while [novelist] Anne Rice has made them sympathetic romance characters and what we really set out to do in 30 Days Of Night is to make vampires scary again,” Niles says.
“We stripped away all that humanity and just made it so all they see when they look at a human is food — nothing more.”
Having the film arrive in theatres in October is also a strange twist of fate, according to the writer.
“I pitched it around when I got to Hollywood about 10 or 11 years ago and got no’s across the board,” says Niles, who’ll be a guest at this weekend’s Rue Morgue Festival of Fear (www.rue-morgue.com/festival.php) as part of Fan Expo Canada at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
“Then when [publisher] IDW started, my friend Ted Adams called at said ‘Well, we really can’t pay any money, but if you have any ideas for comics, let me know.’ I literally just sent him my failed movie pitch list and he called back and said ‘Hey, this one about vampires in Alaska looks pretty good.’”
Things heated up quickly after the comic, drawn by gifted Australian artist Ben Templesmith, began to take shape, Niles says.
“We started doing the comic and the day the ad came out we started getting calls from the studios — from the very same people who had turned it down,” he says with a laugh.
Back on the comic book front, Niles said he’s very excited about the upcoming release of Simon Dark, which features a creator-owned character that resides in DC Comics’ infamous Gotham City
“It’s a take on the Frankenstein mythology,” Niles explains. “It’s a boy who’s only 17-years-old who’s living in a burned-out church and doesn’t know who he is — all he knows is that he’s made up of other people.
“The story is about him finding out who he is, who made him and what this world is that he’s been introduced to.”
• 30 Days Of Night arrives in theatres on Oct. 19, but a live-action prequel written by Niles called 30 Days Of Night: Blood Trails will begin on www.fearnet.com in September.
Award-winning writer Paul Dini.
They’ve been the secret architects behind some of your favourite TV shows for years.
From cult classics like Buffy The Vampire Slayer and its spin-off Angel to such recent hits as Lost and Heroes, veteran comic book creators have been writing the adventures on your tube every week.
“If you’re writing comics and doing it well, it shows that you have a visual sense and you can really figure out how to make things look dramatic,” says Paul Dini, an Emmy Award-winning TV writer and producer, who is also a prolific and successful comic book creator.
“I would say it makes an excellent calling card for someone looking to get into movies or film.”
Some notable crossover creators include: Ben Edlund, creator of The Tick and longtime writer for Buffy and Angel; Jeph Loeb, who’s known for writing the acclaimed epic Batman: The Long Halloween as well as working on the breakout hit, Heroes; Brian K. Vaughan, the award-winning co-creator of Y: The Last Man, also a staff writer on Lost; and Dini, one of the main men behind Batman: The Animated Series and piles of other award-winning cartoon projects. He also did a two-year stint on Lost before becoming the current writer of Detective Comics.
The reason comic creators are getting scooped up by Hollywood is simply a love of the medium, says Dini, a featured guest at this weekend’s annual Fan Expo Canada (www.fanexpocanada.com) at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
“I think a lot of it is that the producers who are doing TV now either grew up reading comics as fans of the books themselves or wanting to write comics,” he says. “So when they look around for writers, they choose writers whose work they like in different mediums.”
Dini’s life has been a hectic one since leaving Lost, as he’s taken on penning Batman’s monthly adventures in Detective as well as becoming head writer of DC Comics’ hot new weekly series, Countdown.
“I’ve been living with it for almost a year now and I’ve enjoyed it since the moment it started,” Dini says of Countdown, a prequel series for DC’s highly anticipated 2008 crossover event, Final Crisis.
“It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s satisfying to see it come out and it’s great to hear fans are reading it and enjoying it.”
As for his preference between working on comics and on TV shows, Dini says it’s no contest.
“Between the two of them, for creativity, I prefer comics because you can generally do what you want,” he says, “and if I’m dealing with my own characters then the sky’s the limit.”