The process in which I create my comics can be roughly broken down to six stages of development. The first of the steps starts with a concept that I want to run with for a particular strip. In the case of “The Hanna Express”, as the strip plays with the tropes often found in manga or anime, I take a particular trope and develop that. The next step is to sketch out a rough draft of what it is that I want to create. With digital media, this means that I create a layer solely so that I would be able to sketch with. In cases where I require certain action poses, I usually look for a certain reference in order so that I could produce a rough sketch that looks similar to the effect that I am looking for. Often, this is done with a light blue colored digital ink as this allows for me to perform the next step with relative ease. In addition, the panels that would define where the art would be contained, along with any word bubbles, are also drawn in, to see what the end product may look like with all the elements in place. The final inking stage is where I use black ink and line the art based on the rough sketch. The final step of the process involves the use of gray tones, to produce depth and contrast in an art piece that would have been merely black and white. From there, if there is any need for particular dialogue, the artwork is then imported into Photoshop, where the words are then applied to the appropriate spaces in the comic strip. Once that has been completed, the product is then saved as a .jpg file and is sent to the editor for him to look over the artwork. Any additional suggestions are then taken into account and integrated into the comic to create the comic strip.
The tools that I normally use are an Intuos Wacom tablet, Paint Tool Sai (for rough sketches, final inking, and gray tones), and Adobe Photoshop (for any dialogue).
Nicholas Gurewitch started drawing Perry Bible Fellowship while he was in college. His comics are stylistically versatile, from simple, abstract figures, to extremely detailed, occasionally including references to other artists, such as Edward Gorey and Robert Crumb, and has been syndicated in newspapers in the United States and the UK. He has won an Eisner award, a Harvey, an Ignatz and several Web Cartoonist’s Choice Awards. His most recent project is a western-themed video series called Trails of Tarnation.
I met Nicholas Gurewitch in back in December at a signing at The Dragon's Lair. In our conversation then, he showed me a gap where he's missing a tooth and speculated on what the game Settlers of Catan is about, since neither of us have ever played it. In this interview we talk about his web series, his creative process, and ponder the motives of alien visitors.
The Daily Texan:Since you visited Austin, have you tried Settlers of Catan?
Nicholas Gruewitch: No, but I maintain that it is a favourite game of mine. I can just tell by the packaging that it's wonderful. I should probably never play it, because in my head, it's this spiritual farming game with no war in it- just blissful harvesting of mana. It's probably competitive though? Someone should invent a game that is non-competitive, but requires massive amounts of concerted effort from all those involved.
DT:I'll get to comics in a little, but right off the bat, I'd like to talk about the film project, Trails of Tarnation. What was the genesis of the project?
Nicholas Gurewitch:Derek [Walborn] and Jeff [Stanin] wanted to do a cowboy project. Shoot a few videos for the web. They asked me to shoot it for them, as I've been shooting their videos since they were in middle school. I told them I wanted to implement painted backgrounds, and experiment with shooting on film. It's been hard ever since.
DT:What's the degree of collaboration and the dynamic involved in writing, shooting, directing, etc. in the production of an episode?
Gurewitch: Basically, anyone can make any decision if they throw a big enough tantrum. We all kind of do everything, though I'm putting in the majority of computer time.
DT:How long does it take to produce an episode? There's some impressive looking set construction and all props and things that have to be found or fabricated. What's the most time consuming aspect of the project, or anything in particular that stands out as something that was difficult to make?
Gurewitch: Shooting on film. Is. Hard. Everything has to be measured, lit, planned perfectly. And if you've done it perfectly, it could still come out wrong, and find yourself using a bad take.
DT:Trails of Tarnation has a defined universe and characters, versus your comic, where each one is more self contained. How do you approach film and the liberties and constraints it imposes, versus the comic?
Gurewitch: The freedom of the comic is terrific. It's easy. I value great stories way too much not to be experimenting with characters though. I want to learn how to do it.
DT:You've done some comics that were really spot on homages to the style and content of some other artists, e.g. Edward Gorey and Robert Crumb. Was there one of those, a style and world that you particularly enjoy exploring?
Gurewitch: The Edward Gorey take-off had an effect on me in that I got to thinking: Gosh, what if I did a whole book this way. I could add another Gorey book to my collection. I've actually gone on to experiment with this. I may release the book in the near or distant future.
DT:What are your thoughts on the future of comics and film, in terms of online distribution?
Gurewitch: I see art getting so post-modern, so quick -so amazing- that people will eventually grow thirsty for something totally different. I don't see a reversion to hand-puppet shows, but something kind of like that. Maybe. Eventually. Aliens landing or the discovery of psychic energy could change online distribution.
DT:Aliens would probably be a pretty big game changer in terms of entertainment. Do you think that's what they'd focus on? I mean, honestly, I never really got why the immediate assumption is that they'd blow shit up and put us all in chains. Why does everyone assume that?
Gurewitch: I wasn't thinking that they would make TV shows- just that they're presence would probably realign priorities, and change the way people think, in general. That's a interesting point though; far worse than an enslavement might be a race of television programmers looking to expand their audience for 2 and a Half Martian Men.
DT:Where do you see art going, and what do you think could be a possible reaction, save puppetry?
Gurewitch: Art will blend with science until we can no longer recognize them from each other. They really aren't that different to begin with. They're both about pattern detection and disruption, and feature controlled experiments.
DT: A couple months ago, you put up a comic strip titled "Carolyn", an early version of which is in the 2006 Dark Horse Perry Bible Fellowship Almanack collection. How often do you find ideas gestating for a while?
Gurewitch: All ideas gestate to some degree. Even if it takes you 4.2 seconds to write or voice them, the structuring of an idea or dynamic is something that comes from your previous work and thoughts, even if it's not obvious. On a much more literal answer to your question, yeah, I have sketch-pads full of ideas. If I were more eccentric than I am, I would call them "idea gardens". Ideas are always growing and changing. Sometimes -often- for the better.
DT:An idea garden sounds like an either extremely pleasant, or unbelievably terrifying place to be. Would you want to live in one?
Gurewitch:I already do. It comes with a price.
DT:What does it look like?
Gurewitch: Messy. And thorn-ridden.
DT:Your comics are often extremely, delicately detailed, what's the longest you've spent working on a strip?
Gurewitch:I did a crap-load of post-production colouring on a dying computer for "Commander Crisp". Every click was several minutes of my time, and I think I lost an entire week of my life on scanning and coloring adjustment- to say nothing of the weeks I spent painting it. Probably went overboard on it.
DT:The annotated comics in the back of your book are fascinating. How do you judge when something is "too much", or doesn't quite work tonally?
Gurewitch:Same as any artistic endeavor. You just gotta feel it. Or, if you don't trust yourself -I never do- notice whether or not people laugh at it. If they're bored, I will often adjust the work until they're pleased.
DT:Since we're talking about ideas, what makes you initially fall in love with an idea enough to pursue it?
Gurewitch:Tough to say, but feelings of goodness and excitement probably have something to do with it.
DT:Are there any comics you look back on, and you can't recall the impetus behind it?
DT:Any in particular?
Gurewitch:I never published them in any form. Mostly weird scraps of paper that were written in the middle of the night 10 years ago.
DT:Are there any sources or outlets you look at when you feel stuck on an idea or theme you want to explore, or feel unsure directionally?
Gurewitch:I remind myself what I want, and re-imagine what I'm doing as steps which may lead to what I want. That might be bullshit. I think a lot of the times I exit a depressed state randomly- encountering something beautiful or strange, or unexpected.
DT: A while back, you did some animated work (Elite Fleet, Beach Rumble, etc.). How did that come about, and what was the experience like for you?
Gurewitch:It was hard because the BBC gave us a tiny amount of money to make 30 second jokes. I think the idea was that each movie start with a character's butt already on fire or something, but Jordan and Evan and I wanted to give some more solid treatment to some ideas we've had. I ended up paying animators out of my own pocket to get a couple of them made properly.
DT:You started out drawing Perry Bible Fellowship in college, and it's been syndicated in papers, have there ever been times where the themes you want to explore got you in trouble? Anything that your publishers objected to, or that you had to fight to get in?
Gurewitch:Not a whole lot of honourable stories on this front. If a client doesn't like something, I feel they have the right not to print it. I don't need to put nipples or dicks into jokes. It's not necessary. In the long run, I feel artists actually owe much to producers and clients who impose limitations on them. If I'm in a good mood, I'm grateful when it happens. It's happened a few times.
DT:I read a few years ago that you'd been involved with developing something for television. How did that go and do you have any other potential work offers or projects you might be involved with in the future?
Gurewitch:[I’m] going to LA soon for yet another meeting for a cartoon program that's been in development for a while. There's also a sketch-comedy show that's being considered. Apparently it's not a great climate right now for sketch comedy, but maybe that will change in the future.
DT:Would you be acting in that? I really enjoy your character on Trails of Tarnation.
Gurewitch:Hadn't planned on it. Only if somebody else can't do something.
DT:How much, speaking thematically, does your personal experience and mood at a given point affect your output?
Gurewitch:A lot. If I'm hungry, I can't work. If I'm lonely, I can't work. However, once a piece of art is working, I will go without food and love for days because then the art becomes my food. It becomes my love.
DT:On that, are there any comics that you've done that even if subtly, are particularly autobiographical?
Gurewitch:I think most if not all of them tell the story of disappointment and/or wonder- two themes which have dominated my entire life since I was 0.
DT:I saw you at a signing/panel thing in Austin a couple months ago. Some of the cartoonists seemed to have a lot of camaraderie. How's your relationship generally, with other people in that medium?
Gurewitch: I wanted Jeph Jacques to like me when I was in Austin. I told myself: I want to have an interesting conversation with this guy. It just never happened. But I blame myself. I'm a weird mix of rudely outgoing and anxiously shy.
DT:What's the strangest thing anyone's ever brought you at a convention?
Gurewitch:Umm, I haven't done a ton of conventions. A really cute girl gave me her phone number once. I just put it in my pocket. Only when I got home from Portland did I realize she probably liked me. Idiot.
DT:Your last book collection had a forward by Diablo Cody. Did she approach you, or was it something with the publishers came to you with? Any other high profile fans you know of?
Gurewitch:Obama told me he was a fan in a dream of mine. Actually, he said he was a "Sweeto" fan -referencing the original book that Dark Horse did of mine, which had to be taken off the shelves. I guessed Diablo's e-mail address after I got home from "Juno", and she wrote back, saying she liked the comic.
DT:Not necessarily about work, but in general, what are you looking forward to right now?
Gurewitch:I find myself unable to answer this question in an interesting way. I find myself wanting to say "I am excited for the future", but that reeks of generality, and is misleading. I yearn more for the past. Oh, I know:
I am excited to soon solve some issues I have with the 4th dimension. I am excited to make a humongous scientific discovery that changes the way I live my life, and then changes the way everyone else lives theirs.
DT:If you could say something to a younger version of yourself, say, when you were a teenager, what would you say?
Gurewitch:I feel like I'm still waiting for an older version of myself to come grab ME by the shoulder and give me some advice. Perhaps I would say: "Stop waiting!"
DT: If you had the option of getting some sort of cybernetic attachment, would you, and what would it be?
Gurewitch:Perhaps some kind of eye-piece that would allow me to see heart-rates of other people.
DT:If you could have any super power, what would it be?
Gurewitch: To retract the in-born psychic limitations which diminish my actual super powers.
You can read Perry Bible Fellowship at pbfcomics.com and watch Trails of Tarnation at trailsoftarnation.com
Heavy breathes. Tense muscles. Red gloves firmly gripping the star spangled shield. Captain America slowly recovers after deflecting an optic blast from Cyclops.
Cyclops and Captain America will be but two characters caught in a heroic grapple when Marvel releases their Avengers Versus X-Men 12-issue comic series on April 4th.
Brian Michael Bendis, writer of Avengers, and Jason Aaron, writer of Wolverine, laid out the story line of the series claiming the final outcome will forever change the fabric of the Marvel Universe. This is a welcoming idea when the comic books are known for killing off and easily bringing characters back to life.
Bendis is reported as having said that the usual formula for heroes picking up arms against each other was to meet, misunderstand each other, fight, followed by them making peace and saving the day together. However, this story line differs in that both sides have valid and defensible positions in their reaction to the conflict’s inciting incident: The return of the Phoenix Force.
Of course, this series comes at a time when Marvel has reached immense financial success with their X-Men and Avengers movie franchise, with the X-Men series having grossed nearly $2 billion and May’s Avengers movie finally bringing together the Iron Man, Thor and Captain America films. While the comic series is obviously another attempt to cash in on their films’ success, it’s a curious notion to see just who would reign triumphant on the physical and philosophical battlefield.
Previous to Kramers Ergot 8, edited by Sammy Harkham, the Kramers anthology series had been characterized by the books frentetic, all-out assault of comics experimentalism, climaxing in the outrageously oversized Kramers Ergot 7, whose grand scope and miniscule profit margin put it’s publisher out of business. Kramers 8 is a more refined and focused effort containing only 11 comics plus a few other contributions in various media, which asserts iteself as the essential discourse on current developments in the art comics genre.
Fantasy plays a big role throughout the book. Primarily these comics are imagined and invented worlds ripped directly from the artists’ unconscious. There are comics in the collection that exist in the realm of dream logic, such as Anya Davidson’s “Barbarian Bitch”, which attempts to covey multiple stories simultaneously, or Ben Jones’s “The Ultimate Character 2002”, which follows two characters that seem to float through a series of bizarre events. Leon Sadler’s vignettes flow together in a similar manner, and feel especially surreal. Sadler’s tone is mirrored by his unique visual style, equal parts sketchy and cartoony. Art-comics mainstays Gary Panter and C.F. both deliver standout pieces with fantastical, absurd premises that allow the telling of truly stirring stories. The collection’s emphasis on the unreal also effectively points out that cartooning itself is the act of creating a visual fantasy.
The eerie tone is accessed largely through these artists’ art, which incorporates childlike drawing techniques, especially in regards to use of color; Davidson’s comic uses the three primary colors and three secondary colors in almost equally proportions. Sadler too uses crayons, colored pencils, and markers to color his comic much as a child would.
The non-comics portions of the book consists of a few glossy series of images, an “Overture” and “Epilogue” by Robert Beatty and an intermission by Takeshi Murata, as well as an introductory essay by Ian Svenonius. Beatty’s series of roiling, spacey, glowing, abstract imagery leads us into the collection, clueing us into the otherworldly energy at work here, and then lets us know when we’ve left. Murata creates astoundingly photorealistic digital world, which exists parallel to the real one in the same way the comics do. Ian Svenonius’s essay, “Notes on Camp pt. 2” contextualizes the collection in an interesting way by making some difficult claims that comics are rooted in “camp”, and in a roundabout way, prehistoric pagan sexuality, but can be read as an argument that comics are a medium that enables access to repressed, untamed worlds.
Indeed, A few comics take place in literal underworlds. And camp and lowbrow culture has a definite influence on the collection. A Frank Santoro/Dash Shaw collaboration ponders our voyeuristic obsession with “To Catch A Predator”-style television. Panter touches on similar themes and editor Sammy Harkham’s own contribution takes the form of schlock-horror films, which has been subjects of his work before.
Through comparison with some of the things that were cut since the previous installment of Kramers, one can get a pretty good idea of the difference between the ‘art-comics’ and ‘alternative comics’ poles on the greater comics spectrum. For example, the Chris Ware and Ivan Brunetti contributions to Kramers Ergot 7 could be classified as alternative comics at the top of its game. They depict familiar or relatable situations and experiences, are formalistically inventive, and employ clean styles from the Bushmiller/Schulz school of cartooning. Kramers 8’s distinctly art-comics approach stories tend to create their own realities to convey idea or emotions, use more drawing-based art, and are more or less uninterested in formalism.
Yesterday was an important anniversary in the comics world— Image Comics, originally comprised of eight superstar artists from both Marvel and DC who left behind the draconian contracts of the Big 2 with the dreams of starting a publishing company that would set the rights of the creator first and foremost, turned 20 years old. Within three months of its launch, Image rocketed to the tops of the comics chart with Rob Liefeld's "Youngblood #1," the first non-Big 2 comic to do so, all the while blasting the rhetoric that one didn't need to be under the thumb of "the Man" to do big, big business.
A lot of things have changed since 1992. Image, borne on the backs of popular titles such as Todd McFarlane's Spawn and Jim Lee's WildC.A.T.S, has, with similarly creator-driven publisher Dark Horse has joined DC and Marvel as parts of the comics establishment. As one of the biggest winners of both the 90's issue collector boom and the whole Diamond distribution shitstorm in '95, Image was an extremely important player in the comics consumption habits of the new generation of cartoonists just starting to make their marks on the industry today.
Nowadays, Image is on its way to being the best and most successful publisher in the industry. While Marvel and DC are relaunching all their titles in the hopes of increasing stagnant sales numbers, Image is publishing both critically acclaimed titles like Orc Stain and King City as well as commercial smash-hits like Chew and The Walking Dead.
Interesting things have been going on recently that reflect the company's anniversary. There's a new corporate ad campaign in the back of all of the new issues that promotes Image artists in "Think Different."-style black and white images. There's that out-of-nowhere announcement of an Image Expo at the end of the month in Oakland, California. The most newsworthy seems to be original founder, logo designer, controversial artist and Levi's 501 Jeans spokesman Rob Liefeld's re-launch of four old series he originally developed in his first years at Imag. One of them, Prophet (written by Canadian comics maven Brandon Graham and with art by Simon Roy and colorist Richard Ballerman) has become one of the most talked-about comics of the new year, with the entire first print run selling out to retailers and copies flying off shelves.
The new reboot totally ditches Liefeld's signature, uh, "style" and is chock-a-block full of time traveling hit-men, shady weapons deals with freakish flesh-eating aliens and general weirdness. It's hip and cool and totally not a cash-grab sequel to Watchmen. Even looking into Image's past does the company continue to move in surprising and exciting directions.
Even the art-comics movement have started chiming in with their appreciation of the seminal "Image Style." More muscles, bigger guns, humungous utility belts and a predisposition to boyish ultra-violence. Put together by Secret Prison editor Ian Harker and Yeah Dude Comics‘ Pat Aulisio, "Rub the Blood" is an amazing, humungous fanzine tribute to the insanity of those early Image works. Here's a picture of me holding it.
Like I said, huge! Debuting at the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival back in December (the Williamsburg-ia'd up version of San Diego), "Rub the Blood" is wonderful to behold in person and a knowing tribute to the excess and profanity that made Image comics the powerhouse it is today. I sat down with an Austin-based contributor to "Rub the Blood," William Cardini (http://hypercastle.com), to talk about the Kickstarter-funded publication.
Daily Texan Comics: How did you get involved in the project? With the Secret Prison dudes?
William Cardini: I've known Ian Harker (http://ianharkerzines.blogspot.com/), co-editor of Secret Prison and Rub the Blood, for a couple years. I tried to find the original message we exchanged but it's lost in the ether. We were both on Comics Comics comment threads a lot and we ended up trading zines in December 2009. I started submitting to Secret Prison with #2 and I think that's how Pat Aulisio (http://www.patmakesdrawings.com/), the other coeditor of Secret Prison and Rub the Blood, saw my work. The three of us also did a book with my buddy Josh Burggraf (http://joshburggraf.com/) called Math Fiction which was a red/blue 3D anaglyph comic. I think they asked me to be a part of Rub the Blood because they knew me and my work and saw that it's an art comics interpretation of 90s-style exuberant excess.
Daily Texan Comics: What kind of stuff were you looking at in the 90's? What drew you into the Image comics stuff?
Cardini: Like a lot of cartoonists my age I started reading comics with what was available in the grocery store. I was super into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Archie books, Ron Lim's Silver Surfer, Savage Dragon, Rob Liefeld's Cable, X-Man, and the X-Men. I was into sci-fi and Akira so I thought all the random psionic powers and glowing eyes were dope. I read a lot of issues of Wizard and got entranced by all the rhetoric around the Image revolution. Those guys were like movie stars! It made being a cartoonist seem so glamorous. But more importantly they showed a sheltered suburban kid like me that you could draw whatever you wanted and publish it yourself. Before I found out about Fantagraphics and Bone and Poison Elves, Image inspired me to do my own thing. I have a box called "Drawings from the 90s" that's full of sketchbooks of Image-style superheroes.
Daily Texan Comics: The legacy of that sort of thing seems to be going strong 20 years later, and has certainly changed a generation's view of what comic books are like. That sense of ownership has endured—unproportional figure drawing, ridiculousness and all. Does that still carry over into what you're seeing in your community today? Or at least what you're doing?
Cardini: Yeah, I think Image is definitely still relevant! Every time a cartoonist decides to publish on the web or self publish their book they owe something to the territory those guys staked out. The idea of creator's rights has definitely evolved a lot over the past twenty years and Image had a part in that. But Image also showed that comics can be unapologetically action-packed, violent, and sf. You can just follow your id and draw all these crazy lines or details without owing anything to realism. Look at Benjamin Marra (http://www.benjaminmarra.com/), his comics take this idea and run with it up the wall and into outer space.
Daily Texan Comics: Just how awesome are exploding eyeballs?
Cardini: The reason that Un Chien Andalou is so highly regarded as a masterpiece of avant garde cinema is because squirting eye ball goop is extremely titillating.
The new Prophet #21 is sold out in most comic book stores, but a new editon should make it in very soon. "Rub the Blood" was orignially concieved to be purchaceable only in person with one of the contributors at conventions, but William Cardini has some for sale online at his website http://hypercastle.com/ and you can also mail order a copy directly from editor Ian Harker at firstname.lastname@example.org.