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When you think of Gotham City, you think dark, gloomy and murky, right? Holy incorrect answer, Batman! Not always is the Batman world darker than a midnight with no moon. Take Seth Fisher’s art in the latest arc of Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight (June 8), for instance. Fisher is no stranger to the DC Universe, as he’s worked on the critically acclaimed books Green Lantern: Willworld and Flash: Time Flies. Fisher talked with Comic Foundry about his latest installment, what it means for him to be a comic artist and more importantly, what it takes for you to get published.
What do you think the advantage is for you since you’re a self-taught artist?
I dunno. I mean, the advantage to me is that I did what I wanted to do. That’s all I think. I think self-taught artists tend to be a little more unique style-wise, while school taught artists tend to be a bit more technical. But it’s not a question of which is better, just which is right for you.
Since the readers here are mostly artists looking to improve their work, I want to stress that my career path is unique and trying to follow what I do will like trying to fit a square shaped sandwich into a round shaped lunchbox. Teaching yourself is good for some people. I like to study on my own, so this was a good route for me.
Here is more important question maybe: How much time do you spend thinking about your art?
When you get into a space where everything you see is translated into something to do with your art, then you are always making progress no matter if you are at your desk or not. For example, you are taking a dump and you think: “Oh, this is the way that underpants wrinkle when they are wrapped around my ankles.” Or you standing in line at the bank and you think: “Jesus, that teller there has a huge nose…maybe the range of human variation is much bigger than what I’m representing in my art.”
You are always in school. And life is your homework assignment. Ha, ha…that’s really deep.
How has being a mathematics major affected the way you deal with visual problem solving?
I was a Math Major. So, I think in a mathematical way. I use perspective as mathematics. I think of colors mathematically. I think of composition mathematically. It’s just the way I am.
Will mathematics improve your art? It will if you let it, but that goes for everything.
Start with what you ENJOY and build from there. It will keep you coming back to your art again and again.
The key is to use your own experience to find a unique vision for yourself. Suppose you are a gardener in your spare time. You are going to have a vast knowledge of different flowers, and you should be using that in your art. Just make sure that on every panel there is a potted plant and you work will start to shine. Suppose you are a guy that works at Burger King. That’s cool too. You start to draw your customers. There is always a connection between your interests and your art. Sometimes you really have to work to make the connection, but when it finally comes your work will really explode.
You’ve spent a lot of time in Italy and Japan - how have their cultures affected your style and storytelling?
I like the architecture. I try to pull that into my work as much as I can. I like the Japanese aesthetic of cute. I have tried to merge that with my own western sensibility. I just let the aesthetic sensibilities of the people around me shape my art naturally. But draw what you know. It’ll be pretty hard for a person who doesn’t know Tokyo to really draw Tokyo.
I like to get many different experiences under my belt so that my art is more complex.
What was your art process for your Batman books? How is your approach on covers different than your interior work?
Batman was cool. I drew it mostly on a coffee table while sitting on the floor in a tiny Japanese apartment I shared with my girlfriend. You know if you can draw a whole book sitting crossed legged in a 12-foot by 12-foot room then you get a lot of confidence in your flexibility.
For covers, I spend a lot more time on than interiors. These covers I did about 25 sketches and sent them DC and let them pick their favorite ones. Then I worked up the finished pieces. For covers its important to do a LOT of different approaches. At this point I am trying to do covers that are really simple but still fresh compositions. I’m finally sort of getting the hang of it. A simple cover is actually a heck of a lot harder than something that just relies on a lot of detail to keep your interest.
Keep in mind that this book has been in the machine for a long time…I finished it like almost two years ago…so my work has progressed a lot since this book, even though its just now coming out. The covers are fresh though.
You have a pretty unique style. How has that helped/hurt you in the industry so far?
It was hard as hell to break in. A lot of the editors said: “We love what you are doing, but it’s not like anything we have seen before so we don’t want to take the chance.”
Here is the reality: When I had my first book Happydale completely finished (but unpublished), I showed it around, but got luke warm responses. BUT after the book was published, all these people who had passed on Happydale in the first place wanted me to do work for them on the basis of seeing the published work. So the same book unpublished is like less valuable in terms of showing off your work. Publishing is a like a validation of your art. It’s bullshit, but it’s the way people see things.
To get published you are going to have to get a someone, a PERSON, to stand behind you and say that they believe in what you are doing, and this person will be taking a big risk because you are unproven.
So this is what you need to make this person appear and help you out.
• A really strong portfolio. Really strong. You have to be better than people who are currently being published. Set your goals very high.
• A friendly personality. Like a normal well-rounded person, you gotta be able to hold a conversation and be genuine. Don’t underestimate the power of just being cool and friendly. Not that cheesy schmoozing stuff…forget all that…it doesn’t work. I have never gotten good work from a schmoozer. Don’t talk about people behind their backs. Only say constructive things…that sort of thing. Common sense. Just be like what a normal human being ought to be like.
• A good work ethic. You are going to have to do the work once you get it.
• Persistence. It will take a while even if you are really good, so you gotta have a lot of heart and believe in yourself. If you get turned down you gotta take that as a reason to work harder and do better and better work… You just gotta get better to the point where no one can ignore your art.
How have you evolved as an artist over the years? Have there been turning points?
Well my work sort of speaks to the question of evolution. Line up the books in order of publication and you will see kind a map of how I have changed artistically.
I guess the turning points would have been Willworld, then Tokyo. Those were the two books that I really put everything into. I can honestly say that I put out the best books that I possibly could have. Every panel was 100 percent. If you can do a whole story like that as a sample script then you will have some nice samples.
I am on the verge of combining everything I know into a mega-style. Its kinda the Holy Grail for me - books where the style of the art shifts like dream from panel to panel, doing whatever is necessary to tell the story at that particular point in time. My next book will be closer to this. My Spider-Man Unlimited No. 8 story was kinda like that too.
The word on the street is that you work pretty quickly. What pointers might you offer to aspiring artists to speed up their work?
Ha, ha. I have done fast work and I have done slow work. Don’t hold your breath, but if you TELL ME and I will try to hurry up a bit. I have no advice for speed except coffee, and get rid of the video games and the TV.
In some of your past work you haven’t used a lot of black in your pages. How did that affect the visual contrast? What was the thought process there? What impact does color have on your particular style?
That is to say, I don’t ever use any black at all (almost). Yeah, some people use shadows. I always just found it easier to just draw everything than to try and figure out where all the shadows would fall. The colorists seem to like it though. Again it’s just a matter of what seemed to groove for me, rather than some kind of crazy strategy to do things differently. You know, for a while, everyone told me you had to ink with these crow quills…then I realized there were a few guys that inked with markers, and I thought: “Yeah! I can ink how ever I want to….” And that’s what I did.
In the same vein, how did you deal with that in adapting Gotham City - typically a very dark setting?
Yeah, well, I didn’t really have to draw Gotham that much. Lot of brick buildings, a bit of dirt and dust…I dunno, honestly. I kind of imagine Chicago, with a bit more gothic themes. You know, I didn’t do that much research for this book…I did a lot of problem solving on the fly. Not much deep thinking about this aspect.
With Batman being such a central character for DC, how much liberty did you have on the project?
They let me do a lot of stuff. Other stuff they don’t let me do. If you want to be edgy then expect to kind of make people a bit uncomfortable. They let me do mostly whatever I want.
You’ve done comics, CD covers, video game design (Myst III)…How do you challenge yourself as an artist - or even as a creative person?
To me, creativity is about being flexible and seeing everything as a chance to make something unique. Be true to yourself. There is a style that fits together all your hates and loves, wants and desires. There is a drawing that you want to be drawing right at this very moment more than anything else. You just have to figure out what it is, then you will be totally inspired.
I am always searching for ways to find the stuff that I really want to be drawing. Sometimes I find that I want to be drawing naked women, other times I want to be drawing exploding ninjas… Just ride the wave…what flips your switch one minute might bore you the next, so don’t fight your wandering mind…use it to take you new place…that’s how I challenge I myself…I go with the flow.
— Interview by Tim Leong
Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight No. 192 is out today, June 8. For more information on Seth Fisher, visit his Web site at www.floweringnose.com