Friday, January 29, 2010

Interview І Becky Cloonan

Foreword: I am a huge fan, when it comes to Becky Cloonan’s art, although I am not an active admirer as I should be. It was a dream come true to have the opportunity to take a peek behind the creative process of such a well established artist in her field [rather industrious too]. The interview would have been a bit longer, if January wasn’t as unforgiving as it is. I am determent to get it in synch with the event month and possibly have a follow up, when Becky is not under an avalanche of to-do lists.

The Guest: Becky grew up in New England where she failed science and had a metal screw surgically implanted in her lower jaw. Currently, she is a member of Studio XOXO, where she spends her weekdays drinking coffee and drawing comics by the Gowanus Canal.

Her interests include treasure hunting, trebuchets, werewolves and the Count of Monte Cristo.

Works: Burry Your Treasure, Pixo, Minis, 5, Nebuli, I See the Devil Inside my Sleep, Demo, American Virgin

Linkage: Official Website [HERE], Twitter [FEED], Ink and Thunder [BLOG], K.G.B [HERE]


1. Becky, thank you for accepting my invitation for this interview. I am honored to have you participate in my Comic Book Appreciation Month. So, what hooked you on comic books in the first place?

Becky: I’ve always loved comic books, ever since I can remember. I’m drawn to storytelling in general- I love movies, music, books, etc. I majored in animation at school, but comics really call to me on a few levels, one for my love of drawing, and another because it’s accessible- you don’t need a huge crew to make a comic book, all you need is a pen and a pad. I also love the people involved in the comic industry, I find that almost everybody really loves what they do- because it’s so challenging you have to love it or you go crazy. It really is the perfect medium for me.

2. Because comic books as art format need to have a story that justifies the art to what degree does a comic book artist have to be a writer to his own work in order to practice without the need to collaborate with a writer to provide the story element?

Becky: It really depends on the person. There are many amazing storytellers out there who feel more comfortable working with a writer. Some people just work better with others. I guess it must help to understand how to write, but also vise versa- writers who start out as artists might think about their comics more visually, but there are plenty of great writers out there who can only draw stick figures.

3. How do you do what you? To me the skill to translate a story into a chained sequence of images is a mystery and there has to be some kind of technique behind that.

Becky: There’s a lot that goes into making a comic, besides just knowing how to draw. You have to be a good writer, designer, letterer, actor, director, you have to know how to pace your scenes and what angles to choose, you have to balance a page and know how to move the reader across the panels without being jarring. There’s a lot to it, and of course I didn’t get it right away- I’m still learning, I constantly strive to improve my work. The only way to do that is to practice, and keep making comics. Every page I do I try to make better than the last, and I try to look at my work objectively after I finish each story and think what I can do differently next time to make my work better. I can’t say that it’s easy, but I love it.

4. Every art form has its distinguished and unique terminology. Movies have flash backs and slow motion. Novels work with arcs and POV transitions. Can you mention a few terms that are entirely restricted to comic book art?

I came from a background in animation and storyboarding, so I tend to think of my comics in that respect. Because of the similarities comics share with storyboards, there are a lot of techniques that cross over between film and comics, and writing too; but one element that a comic has that no other medium does is the page turn. I think it’s often overlooked or forgot about, but when somebody uses it well it can be very dynamic and effective.

Comics have a lot of handicaps too; film has sound which is effective and provoking, and novels have density: typically, one page of writing will hold much more information that a page of comics. But even with these challenges, comics have their own strength of combining prose and artwork that you won’t get from any other medium; the creator can control the pace at which the audience reads the comic by adjusting size and density of the panels, and can dictate how your eye will flow through each page with layout and design. Comic books are a powerful medium, and I think people are becoming more receptive to this.

5. In the Eisner award winning anthology “5” you have provided a short story, which has been illustrated by another artist. My questions here would be how comfortable you are in the role of just a writer and whether you would ever work on a series, where your sole role is that of a writer?

Becky: Actually, for “5” we each wrote and drew our own stories. It wasn’t until I worked on “Buffy: Tales of the Slayers” with Vasilis Lolos that I knew what it was like to write for another artist. I actually approached this story in a similar way as any other, I wrote an outline and then I broke it down and drew loose thumbnails. After that it was just a matter of dictating the actions in the thumbnails to a script. I tried working straight to script, but apparently my brain doesn’t think in words; I have to sketch it out first. I had a great experience on this, and I plan on doing more writing in the future.

6. You are also the creator of several online web comics. I myself have followed and still do when the chance presents itself to follow some. But how are the web comics accepted by the comic readers in comparison to series published by companies such as DC or Marvel?

I think there is a grey area, where a lot of people who read mainstream comics will also read web comics and vise versa. But I’ll be honest; I’m completely in the dark when it comes to online comics! I’m learning as I go here. I met some web comic creators at a convention last summer, and they had never heard of Vertigo- so I gathered that there is a huge community there that doesn’t read many printed comics at all. I’ve only waded out ankle-deep so far, and it seems nice, although I don’t think I could ever leave print to do a full-time web comic.

I have two online comics- one is called the Comic Attack; it used to be a weekly strip about dramatizations of my life, but lately I haven’t had much chance to work on it so I just update whenever. My other is called K.G.B., which I do with my home girl Hwan Cho- it’s a weekly comic about a Korean hip hop/dance crew. It’s difficult because we try to make each page read well independently of one another, but at the same time they have to read fluidly as one continuous story. It’s really challenging, but fun. I’m learning a lot.

7. You have also listed that you have self-published a few comics on your own. I am curious as to how self-publishing works in this industry and how it is accepted by readers. As far as fiction goes novels that have been self-published aren’t viewed as something positive and are blamed to undermine the quality filters set by the publishing industry such as agents, editors and publishing houses. Is there something like this going on with you guys in the comic book world?

Becky: With comics, and the readership and fandom there comes this collectable mentality- people who are really into comics usually see value in something that has a limited print run, or is independent with experimental or high production quality. I think we can more readily compare it more to the film or music industry, where a self-published comic is like a band that releases its own 7”, or how an independent film might be crude and unpolished, but has the potential to be taken seriously nonetheless.

You have to remember that there aren’t that many big publishers, so job opportunities are limited. Most small publishers won’t be able to pay a creator enough to make a living off as well, so in many cases it’s beneficial to self-publish. I think most creators are drawn to not only the challenge, but the opportunity to create a book in its entirety. It’s very rewarding.

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