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Many people know Klaus Janson from his work with Frank Miller on Dark Knight Returns and Marvel’s Daredevil. He also penciled and inked the original Punisher series, Batman: Gothic with Grant Morrison and most recently Batman: Death and the Maidens with Greg Rucka. During his long career he’s inked just about every penciler of the last 35 years and has literally wrote the book on penciling and inking. I met with him in his New York apartment to talk about the past and his illustrious career and what he sees for the future of comics.
What do you think most people think inkers do?
I was having this conversation yesterday with an editor from Marvel and that question is still one of the biggest mysteries in comics. I think most people think inkers are tracers. Neal Adams in an interview once said that inkers prepare the pencils for reproduction. Couldn’t really be much more derogatory, or dismissive. To some degree, he was right in the sense that the reproduction and printing process in the past was so archaic, even as short as 25 or 30 years ago, that much of an inkers contribution was limited to getting the pencils ready for repro. And I think that’s probably when he said it. Nowadays, you could reproduce pencils and have them shot and printed. But people still think that inkers are tracers and are somehow less than artists. The point I would want to make is this: An inker who knows what he’s doing is a better artist than an uninformed penciler. The category doesn’t define the level of skill. It’s a question of individual talent and what the person brings to the drawing board.
What makes an inked page effective?
That’s a good question. The word, “effective,” is the word I would use, too. The answer is a complicated one, though, and involves several layers and categories of examination before we can judge art as “effective” or not. There are certain standards and criteria that are objective and agreed upon. And then on top of that, there is that individual vague category where one looks at things subjectively, which is really what people mean when they say, “I don’t know much about art but I know what I like when I see it.” One category, for instance, where we can judge effective art and inking, is the ability to overcome the problems of working on a two-dimensional piece of paper or canvas. Effective inking has the ability to overcome that limitation and create the illusion of the third dimension: depth. And pencilers and inkers and colorists have the artistic responsibility to create the illusion of three-dimensionality. Otherwise it looks flat and unreal. So at least one characteristic of “effective” art and inking is to create depth. Objectively speaking, if someone’s art fails in its ability to mimic the reality of three dimensions, we would be on pretty safe ground assessing that work as “ineffective” and grading it as unsuccessful.
Could non-effective inking make for non-effective storytelling?
Absolutely. You know, effective storytelling is the point. The ability to communicate is the goal. We can start with something as general and basic as trying to communicate the illusion of depth, for instance, but the goals of storytelling are as varied as each individual story. One of the most interesting things about storytelling in this medium is the unpredictability of the challenges from story to story. From an artist’s point of view, I can tell you that it is necessary to be able to think quickly and be adaptable. The notion that one size fits all is not a productive way to approach storytelling. I’ve found that each page, each panel, often has its own set of problems that need to be overcome in unique and new ways. And that applies to both penciling and inking. The point of a comic book, the point of inker, penciler and colorist is to be able to communicate information. Sometimes it’s in a general way and sometimes it’s in a very specific way that is unique to the problems of a particular story or scene. Whether it’s to communicate a point about the story or character or it’s the ability to communicate to the reader that the scene takes place on a cold day, try convincing the reader it’s cold through your art, for example. The goal of storytelling is to pass information from the writer/artist to the reader. And then on top of it you fucking have to be entertaining, too.
Why is that?
I would always include entertainment as part of the definition of effective storytelling, and the reason is very simple: if you’re boring, you’re going to lose the reader. If you’re boring, the reader is going to start thinking something else and “leave” the story. You have to be interesting and you have to be entertaining to maintain the connection between the storyteller and the reader. It’s the same with a film. If the viewer starts to think about dinner or homework or whatever, the director has failed in one of his responsibilities. If you are so boring that the reader drifts away before the story is done, you’ve failed as a communicator and a storyteller.
How do you attain that level of entertainment?
Well the point of that is to sustain the connection between the reader and the storyteller so the storyteller has many different options — and some, again, specific to a particular story or scene. Some storytellers do it by increasing the body count or the level of violence or sex in the story. Titillating the reader is one way of being “entertaining.” Sometimes we can hold the reader by emphasizing the drawing, the anatomy, the detail — kids love detail. You can do it by being bold and bodacious in your compositions and designs. And that makes the art vibrant, strong and compelling, like (Jack) Kirby. There’s a trend in comics right now that seems to work with the audience and that is a riff on being “realistic” - using photos and such as a basis to get closer to reality. Although, personally, that just makes me absolutely vomit.
Why is that?
I don’t think that comics are about photorealism, and I tell you that if
I had one wish for this medium it would be to pull back from that. I think
it’s the thing that’s going to kill comics. Don’t get me wrong, there have always been artists and comics that rely on photorealism including myself, I might add, but it’s going too far. The problem is that the attempt to mimic realism in comics results in work that is very limited and constrained. By definition, you can only draw what you photograph or swipe from movies. The result is often panels that are very static and motionless. There’s no movement. Neal Adams is an artist very influenced by photography and reality. But he was able to combine that approach and integrate it with a very dynamic page layout and exciting panel composition. He’s a very smart guy and I’m sure that was a conscious choice on his part. As a result, he was able to get beyond the limitations of photographing everything. Al Williamson, Gene Colan, Craig Russell, Brian Hitch, to name a handful of artists at random, all use photos extensively to varying results. And I’ll be the first to tell you that I use photographs and photo reference a lot in my work. But If that’s the only thing you’ve got, I think it’s really, really boring. My fear is that every comic will start to look the same. What I look forward to in a comic is the opinion of the artist and writer. Their point of view is what attracts me both as a consumer and as an artist. If everything is photographed, then things start to look like a fashion catalogue. Just, you know, people standing around modeling clothes. I find that boring. It’s a snoozefest. Comics are not about reality, it’s about reality plus.
Do you think that’s a sweeping thing across the board? I can see that for superhero books, but what about more realistic, grounded books?
You have a valid point, and I understand what you’re saying, a book like
“Gotham Central” or “The Pulse,” which are non-superhero books. The point that I would want to make is there’s nothing wrong with using photos as a reference, but you have to be able to generate and create some kind of excitement on the page, and it really requires more than achieving a photorealistic look.
I think there are some artists who are relying too much on that and not bringing any of their own particular vision to it. It really doesn’t take that much talent to have your friends pose for pictures and then trace them off. That lacks a point of view, the artists’ point of view, and that’s what I want to see. What is the artist thinking about? I can’t get beyond the photorealism. I want to see how the artist, the storyteller tells the story, whatever it is, in his own vibrant, opinionated point of view. And I think the photorealism stuff can really get in the way of that. But like you said, not always. Believe me, I use photos, absolutely, for all different jobs, whether it’s backgrounds or faces, but there is a way of incorporating it in your work and not letting it get in the way of the artist’s vision.
In that vein, do you think it’s bad to have a more realistic quality to today’s art?
Not really. I just want to see more than that. It’s certainly been an ongoing practice since comics began. Artists have always relied on photos for their reference or drawing. Guys like (Milton) Caniff, (Alex) Toth, (Noel) Sickles, (Burne) Hogarth and many more, all were heavily influenced by photos and film, for instance. The advances in printing and technology recently make it possible to be more realistic than ever in this medium and I fear that we will become homogenized to some degree.
How do today’s comics’ quality compare?
I don’t think there’s any doubt that the comics these days are better.
What do you think?
I like them better. I don’t have as much to reference as you do; I haven’t seen as many.
There’s something about having actually lived during the period, rather than going back and trying to catch up. But I think comics are better than they have ever been, and I also think that the alternative press is extremely healthy. A great deal of variety and a great deal of art and story and subject variety, but business-wise still very, very thin and fragile. But healthier than it has ever been, with Top Shelf and a lot of other publishers of equal quality, I think they are doing amazing work. I think of Craig Thompson’s “Blankets,” a very, very good piece of work on a lot of different levels. But even mainstream comics, the printing is better, the coloring is better. I don’t really think the art is better, it’s about the same. You can’t go back too far, but 50 years ago, think of the EC comics, Harvey Kurtzman, Will Eisner, there were a lot of good artists even at that point. So I don’t think the art is better, but the overall presentation is better, the printing is better, coloring is better. I think it’s much, much better.
You also teach at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) - what lessons do that you try to hammer into your students?
The first thing I try to focus upon is the theory, rather than the mechanics of it. I’m generalizing here, but most young artists tend to think that drawing comics is about, say, anatomy. That’s part of it, but it’s not the focus of what I try to do at SVA or any classes I teach. I try to broaden the definition of what storytelling and comic art is about and introduce the theories and responsibilities and obligations that artists have. The idea that the artist is totally and completely responsible for what is on the page sometimes scares people away. Other students, upon hearing such a concept, find it freeing and embrace it.
One of the biggest mistakes that young artists make at a convention is they show a portfolio to editors and try to defend it or explain it. “I didn’t get to finish this page last night because…” whatever. And you can’t do that. It’s a destructive mind-set to have. And if you approach your work and your job as an art with an excuse, you’re doomed - you’re doomed from the get-go. There are no excuses, and you have to accept full responsibility for your work and what happens on the page. You cannot ever say, “Well, the writer gave me a bad script, or the writer did this and I couldn’t figure it out.” There’s always a way to figure things out. There is always a solution. You may not be able to get to it, but believe me, someone else will because there is always an answer, you just have to find it. And the artist has to accept responsibility for those answers.
A lot of what I teach, at least initially before getting into the mechanics, how to lay out a story or what makes a good composition, what’s a good design - is theory, the theory of art, storytelling and good communication. And the artist’s responsibility for embracing his obligation. The first couple classes I try to scare the kids as much as I possibly can. Comic book storytelling is one of the hardest things anybody will ever do. And if you want to do it well, it’s really, really difficult. You can count on two hands the number of people who have been able to do it well, effectively and “correctly.” A lot of people do it not as effectively, and that’s fine. But if you really want to do it well it’s very, very difficult. The cliché is that in film, everyone has their department. The director directs, the cinematographer does the cinematography, the set designer does that, the costume designer does that, the editor does that. In comic books it isn’t divided like that; the artist does it all. And if you want to do it with any degree of expertise, you have to know all those different disciplines, and it’s a challenge. The specific challenges change with time, but there are challenges everyday and every time you sit at that damn drawing table. And if you’re not prepared to really make those sacrifices that are necessary then I urge people in my class to get out.
How many people do you have leave?
About four or five out of 25. So we narrow it down to 15-20. And then by the second semester they’re really cooking. Because they’re really committed.
How well do they understand the lessons?
That’s always difficult to tell, but I have to take what I hear from the students on face value. Generally they’ve been pretty positive about the classes and I appreciate that a lot. I take teaching pretty seriously and I put a lot of effort into it. It’s not a casual thing for me. If there’s one thing that I emphasize above everything else, it’s that this is a tough job to do well and comic books and storytelling deserve a lot of respect.
And here’s another generality, but what do you think is biggest problem with students’ work?
I think that probably falls into two categories. One category that comes up a lot is just underdeveloped talent. I don’t know how else to phrase it. Right now I’m teaching sophomores, and it’s very hard to be adept or facile or effective at that age; they’re just too young. That’s why they’re in school. Storytelling requires some organizing point of view that most of them don’t have. It isn’t just about sitting down and drawing whatever the hell you feel like. You have to do what’s right for the story. You have to serve the story and a lot of students can’t or don’t want to sublimate their own agenda to do that. A lot of them come into class and don’t know perspective, which I think is criminal. They are at a very fragile and vulnerable age, they just don’t have the chops yet. It’s funny, you can usually tell which ones are going to make it. The average has been one out of ten, so far throughout the years.
The second category, which I’m fascinated by, is the psychological and emotional problems. Sometimes I’ll get students who are obviously able to draw well and obviously able to understand the mechanics of storytelling but they don’t have the psychological and emotional stability to get further. And they undercut themselves; it’s amazing and tragic in some ways to watch. I would rather have a so-so average student with emotional and psychological grounding than a genius artist who has emotional or psychological block. The former will succeed; the latter will not. I see that scenario play out every year without fail.
Does that hold true inside the industry as well?
Yes, yes, it does. The psychological or emotional problems don’t necessarily prevent someone from working within this medium. Some of them do fall by the wayside in school, but some get past that point and are employed. It’s like any industry — film, music, insurance, firemen, whatever. But the ability to deal with people and deadlines and the responsibilities of being an artist are often not as developed as their ability to draw or story-tell. As a result, you can safely say that there is a lot of self-sabotage to their behavior. I mean consistently missing deadlines is one example. Everyone will miss one every now and then, but a life of that will get you nowhere. There are a whole slew of artists who take on jobs and disappear. And we’re just scratching the surface here.
We’re not even getting deeper into the psychological and emotional issues students or people may have.
One of the best things I ever did was go into analysis. Although I think I spent too much time there! It’s one of the best things I ever did because it made me understand that you can often be your own worst enemy, and whatever type of upbringing you had or what situation you currently are in, the ability to sabotage yourself manifests in many, many different ways, including not making deadlines. And there’s no real reason to not make deadline; it’s almost always something you create for yourself. And being in analysis, I was able to understand what I did that was counterproductive. And I worked at that, and tried as much as I could to rid myself of all the drama and baggage that I bring so I could focus just on the work. I just wanted to work, to draw, to be an artist. I didn’t want to have drama. I’m still working on it.
Do you think you’ve become a better artist as a result of your teaching?
Without a doubt. I shudder to think where I would be without teaching. I think I often learn much more than the students do. I find it extremely invaluable. I don’t think I could give it up.
What are you learning?
Everything. I’m learning something every day that I prepare for class and everyday that I teach. I learn everything. It’s amazing. Every interaction with a class brings up something new. And look, if you’re going to teach, you have to be able to verbalize and understand and bring to the surface all of the things that you might do by instinct. And in order to do that you have to educate yourself, apply yourself and learn about it yourself. And at this point
I’m fairly verbal about the medium, its limitations and its advantages. I’m by no means saying I know it all, but I know I can at least have a conversation about it. I have opinions now that did not at all exist before I was teaching. And what teaching has forced me to do is to come up with answers to the questions students have. I’ve tested those theories every day and eliminated those that don’t work and tried to nurture the theories that do work. And that’s made me a much better artist. In a fundamental way I think I understand the medium better as a result of teaching. No doubt. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. Absolutely.
How has the role of inkers changed, or has it?
Inking has become less important, much to my chagrin and disappointment. Inking has become less important, and color has become more important. And a lot of color dominates and overpowers the art, both penciling and inking. One of the comic companies called a few weeks ago and they were coming out with a black and white horror magazine, looking for artists. And they asked me to do a story. I jumped at it because it was an opportunity to do a complete pencil and ink job and have that work be the final product. Just for fun. I’m not saying that the coloring is horrible by any means — I think I’ve been pretty lucky to work with some amazingly talented people, Steve Buccellato on Batman: Death and the Maidens and Dean White on Black Panther for instance, but I’ve had to adjust my style as a result of the coloring, and to not do so would be naïve and dumb.
How have you adjusted your style?
The combination of Photoshop, the paper and the printing is so powerful, it can overwhelm the line work pretty easily. The color saturates the panels and seems to coat the art. On the plus side, in a general way, I don’t need to do as much work anymore in terms of communicating shape, volume, depth or form. I used to be very, very brutal in trying to communicate those things on paper, and I don’t need to do that anymore as much. I put in less lines because the colorist does what the lines used to do. One of the first things I always ask when I’m asked to do a job is who is the colorist, and I will adjust my inking according to the colorist, because they are all different with different approaches. And if the colorist is very heavy-handed, I will pull back and let the colorist do the heavy-handed approach they want to do.
And if the colorist has some artistic ability of their own, which means they have some art background, I’ll work with the colorist in tandem — we’ll work on scenes together. The color process is great if the colorist has some art education and is an artist in their own right. I think the days when you can pull someone off the street and let them color a comic are long gone. You have to know what you are doing. And you have to know what you are doing not only technically with the software, but theoretically with color theory. But it definitely affects my inking, and anyone who doesn’t adjust because of Photoshop or the coloring is being naïve. You have to adjust as time goes by.
Do you think inkers will be around in 10 years?
Yeah, but I think probably not as many. I suspect that there will be more books published with only pencils. But inkers will never be eliminated entirely because in order for a penciler to have his pencil shot (from the pencils) and colored, it has to be very, very tight, can’t be loose, and no gray lines. It’s gotta be crisp and sharp — and pencilers will tell you that takes extra time, and I think purely from an economic point of view, inkers won’t be eliminated. Because there will always be some pencilers who will not want to spend twice as much or one-and-a-half as much time doing a page when clearly they could be doing another page entirely and getting another page rate for it. So not from a technological but from an economic point of view, inkers won’t be eliminated.
What do you have yet to learn as an artist?
I would like to be able to draw better. That’s really a source of constant irritation. I walk down the street and think, “You stupid fuck, you should be able to draw better,” you know, just torturing myself. I think I have a decent understanding when it comes to the theoretical underpinning of art and storytelling but I really would like to be able to draw better. I’ve never had any formal training; never gone to art school, almost never take classes. I feel like I am undereducated in terms of technique, especially. And the flip side of that, of course, is that I’d love to be less critical of my own work. I think the better word might be “tortured.” I’d love to be less tortured about my work.
Have you had goal setting in the past?
I’ve always been goal-driven. It’s funny that being an inker was not my first choice. My first choice was penciling, and I remember going to one of the early conventions in New York when I was still living in Connecticut with mom and dad, and showing Gil Kane some of my pages and asking him, “For God’s sake, how much longer do I have?” And I was 19 or 18, and I said, “How much longer before I can break in?” The stuff was horrible. You look at it back then and it was sincere, honest but just totally uninformed. It’s very difficult for an 18, 19, or 20-year-old to be informed about the medium. But Gil, in his gracious way, said “About a year or two,” and I thought, “God, I can’t wait that long.” And the he said, “Eh, but your inking is good.” So I started picking up Xeroxes at Marvel and DC and inking them on vellum, which immediately makes the work look horrible. There’s no way you can make it look good on vellum. So I did inking for economic reasons: I wanted to get out on my own and move to New York and be an artist and live in the East Village and do the bohemian artist living in the cold water flat thing. I couldn’t wait.
But my goals have always been, in a general way: more. I wanted more. When I thought I had inking fairly well in control, although looking back that was naïve too, I would go and learn how to color. And then I got interested in coloring, and theory of color and how to use it in this medium. And after that I started focusing back on the penciling, which was really risky for me at the time. I had already established myself in one way as an inker and to switch gears is a bit of a mind fuck for the people who are hiring you. And after I started getting penciling work, I started writing a little bit. But I’ve always been goal-driven and I always want to do the next thing. I have to say, though, that this is the first time in my life that the goals are not as clear. The goal that keeps on coming up for me at this point falls more in the “don’t torture yourself” category. I’ve worked so hard for the entire duration of my career that I’d like to sit back and enjoy it and have fun playing with the skills that I have developed rather than being so goal-driven. The problem with that is I deeply feel that I have not achieved my full potential and that there is more that I can do. I think finding the balance between those opposing forces is the trick.
Do you ever consider retirement?
When I think about retirement, I always assume I’ll be working on my own non-commercial material, whether for publication or not. So If I’m gonna retire, which I don’t think I really will, I would still be working on my own stuff — and it would certainly involve comics and storytelling. I’m not sure I could turn it off, so to speak. Creativity is pretty hard-wired into my system. I might be able to transfer it to another medium, but I couldn’t turn it off. I’d love to have been an architect or graphic designer or landscaper, or musician. It’s always about design, you see. It’s always about figuring out how things fit together and look next to each other. But I can’t imagine turning off that curiosity. I really enjoy this medium; it’s exactly what I’ve wanted to do since I was 5-years-old. I’m still ferociously ambitious. I certainly haven’t explored everything there is to do in this medium. And I’m still hungry; I still want to do it. I still think I have more to say and more to enjoy.
How has your art evolved during your career?
I wouldn’t even know how to answer that, Tim. I don’t know. I think the thing that’s helped me a lot is teaching at SVA, so I have a solid theoretical, intellectual base for a lot of decisions I make on the page. Maybe somebody else could answer that for me. I’ve become simpler, more direct. It takes me less lines to say something than it did 20 years ago. That’s a simplistic description of it. That’s a tough question for me to answer because I’m really too close. People have always said to me that they recognize my work pretty immediately when they see it and that surprises me. I don’t see that — I’m just too close. I think I’ve become more direct and I would say most artists follow that trend. The work becomes simpler. You can see it in music, for instance. You could mention anybody: Miles Davis, Steven Spielberg, John Lennon, Matisse. You can make a pretty good argument that they all stripped away a lot of the stuff that gets in the way. There’s something to be said about shortening the line between the artist and viewer/reader/listener, and that’s intriguing. Getting rid of the detritus to achieve a more immediate connection between the artist and the audience.
What is it like with inkers, as far as credit and recognition? Is the inker the odd man out? How do you deal with that?
In one of his many interviews, Gil Kane was once asked, “Why are you doing this?” And he said, “For the love.” You know, I want to be recognized. And anyone who denies that recognition is not a need is foolish, uncredible. The inker is the odd man out in a lot of ways. What’s even funnier is that the royalties used to be divided in a certain percentage – writer, pencil, inker. Now it’s writer, pencil, inker, colorist. But they didn’t expand the incentive pool, they took the money out of the pockets of the inker and gave that part to the colorist. I certainly think that colorists deserve that recognition, but they decreased the amount of money the inker gets, and so you think, “Okay, what are they actually saying here?”
And they’re saying exactly that you’re work is worth less now than it was before. And they didn’t think it was worth that much in the first place! It’s absurd. It’s irritating, honestly, to have that sort of stigma. It’s like being a stepchild or non-citizen or something. I comfort myself with the fact that I have the ability, if I wanted to, to do other things besides inking. So that even though in theory inkers are an odd man out, I find a certain amount of security in that people do ask for my work and as an artist, I think I have a pretty good reputation. Maybe at some point I’ll find out that’s not true, but I console myself with that right now.
What about when you were first starting out and you didn’t have that reputation?
I really railed against the status of second-class citizens. I was very angry, very indignant at the whole notion of second-class status. It’s ignorant and uninformed. It doesn’t bother me as much these days because to a large degree I am past it. I save my indignation for other things like the utter incompetence of our political leaders. There is still a lot of second-class status reserved for inkers but it just doesn’t bother me as much as it once did. As long as I can bring something to the work, which I think I always do, and make a living at it, I think I’m doing okay.
You’ve worked with incredible people throughout your career. What have you learned from, say, Dick Giordano?
I learned a lot of very fundamental things from Dick. He was my mentor and a very pivotal and important influence on me. He still is today. But because he was the first professional with whom I shared discussions about comics, he laid the groundwork for everything that was to follow. In addition to learning about how to do comics, I learned a lot about personal responsibility and work ethic from him. And though I later picked up other theories about art and storytelling, the personal work ethic that I learned from him remained the same. It was a very, very good lesson to learn and one that I think has served me well.
What about Frank Miller?
What I learned from Frank? (Laughs) I admire Frank’s ability to realize his dreams. When we were hanging out, if that’s the correct phrase, when we were doing “Daredevil,” he was always interested in film, for instance. I don’t know if he ever said, “I want to direct,” but it wouldn’t surprise me if he did. I don’t have a clear memory of that. But what I admire about Frank and what I learned, though I suspect too late, was his ability to make his dreams and fantasies and goals a reality. A lot of people will say, “I want to direct,” and not even come close. He was able to do it. That’s something that you cannot take away from him. That’s a real accomplishment on his part. Not the directing part, but the fact that he was able to make it happen. It’s not an accident. It’s a very integral part of his personality, to make these things real. The ability to make real your dreams is something that not everybody can do.
We’ve been talking about the industry for a little while now — Where do you see it going in the next few decades?
In terms of business, it’s going to go into bookstores, Barnes & Noble, Wal-Mart, Target, whatever. The graphic novel department will get bigger. Mainstream comics will be more homogenized. Comics for a younger audience will develop. The connection between Hollywood and comics will become permanent. I think that to some degree comics will become more corporate and more business-like, certainly Marvel and DC in the last 30 years have traveled down that road already. Both have become bigger businesses. Twenty-five years ago, it was like working in a circus. Comics were a bit more under the radar, a lot more fun and a lot less serious. So I think in business, the characters will be owned by and dictated by a much stronger business sense, rather than a story or character sense. That old Stan Lee mythology of him getting up on the table and acting a story out for Jack Kirby, stuff like that really doesn’t happen too much anymore. I mean it happens between creators, writers and artists, but it doesn’t happen on a higher level. People are much more serious about this business. What I’d like to see happen is a greater recognition, which I think is inevitable, of the medium as a legitimate art-form. I’d like to see the alternative press become healthier financially. And I think a lot of people are going to be doing comics in their basement. A lot of non-corporate, non-business, non-Marvel, non-DC publications. Because the technology is so cheap, people are going to be printing comics in their basement, which I think is good. Just in the same way that people are making movies in their basement.
You mentioned this serious aspect in the industry. Do you think that’s a good thing?
I don’t think it’s a good or bad thing. I think it’s inevitable. Similar to Batman, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, all those characters, it’s branding. It’s inevitable, it’s like IBM. I think that those fun or looser publications will emerge from someone’s basement, or smaller publishing houses. There are tons of publishers in this country that publish comic books — some of them just regional — and something will emerge from those publishers. Whether it’s IDW in San Diego or Moonstone in Chicago, or some guy in Podunk in his basement. When Marvel and DC business people sit down to consider a story or event, their concern is revenue. They think, “How many sales is this going to generate, how is this going to platform into something else, something bigger. How are we going to get an event out for the summer of 2005, or whatever.” And there’s nothing wrong with that. It is what it is. Smaller publishers don’t really think like that and people in their basements don’t have to think like that. So that particular kind of energy that used to be Marvel and DC will be taken up by other publishers. And it’s okay that Marvel and DC are more business minded these days than they perhaps were in the past. It can even be quite beneficial.
Do you think it’s the kind of thing where you have to take yourself seriously if you want other people to take you seriously?
Well it depends on what your criteria is for being taken seriously. There’s at least two different benchmarks we can use. Certainly the fact that Hollywood has had success with comic book characters on a level never experienced before means that they are taking comics seriously. So if your criteria is box-office receipts then we are being taken seriously. The other standard might be one of being taken seriously as an art form. Although I think we’ve made inroads in that area, too, we’re further away, I think, from achieving any real artistic validation. If we compare comics to another American art-form like jazz, for instance, you can see that comics doesn’t even come close to that level of respect. Although, interestingly enough, both are respected more abroad than they are here in America, where they more or less originated. But have we made some progress in shedding our reputation as “juvenile disposable entertainment?” Very incrementally, yes. And I think we are picking up steam. So I expect much more progress in the immediate future.
hat is the most important thing you’ve learned since entering the industry?
You know that’s a really tough question for me to answer. I have to really think about that one and honestly I don’t know if I have a good answer. I don’t know if it’s the most important thing I’ve learned but I can tell you the thing that surprised me the most, I guess. When I think back on my fantasies I had as a kid about what it would be like working in comics, I never anticipated how important the economics of the business were. I guess when you’re young you have no concept of business or money or that kind of stuff. So the fantasy was always a bit more innocent than the reality. And the reality is that so much of the decision-making is motivated by economics. There’s a constant tension and struggle between the creative side of the business and the money side. And maybe that’s the most important thing I’ve learned, too. Coming to terms with that is probably a healthy thing. Oh yeah, that and the fact that the industry is just like high school. (Laughs)
—Interview by Tim Leong