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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

ADD: The Lost Interview -- I lost the contents of my C drive yesterday, after a total failure of my operating system that required four hours of work (thanks, Brian!) to restore my computer to (newly zippy) life. Luckily I had backed up a ton of stuff, and as I was browsing the files, I found this 2005 interview someone conducted with me. So far as I know, it was never posted online, so to whet (or destroy) your appetite for Conversations with ADD, my 300-page eBook collecting many of the comics interviews I have done since 1999, here is an interview somebody, somewhere, did with me four years ago.

What makes comics a unique and popular form of entertainment?

Stories told in comics form are capable of reaching the reader's consciousness in a way unlike any other artform -- they are both verbal and visual, like movies, but because they are also static, the pace of the story and the impact of the moments within it are under the control of both the artist and the reader. It's a creative contract between artist and the observer of the art that doesn't exist in any other artform, and allows the best creators to explore different methods of pacing, depicting emotion and the passage of time, and other narrative surprises.

What do you put the longevity of comics down to?

The appeal of comics is clear to anyone who has ever seen a child reading them. They can contain the simplest narratives of children's stories or deeply profound, visionary artistic statements designed for mature minds capable of synthesizing a complex blend of theme, narrative and other elements. Ideally children learn to love comics in their earliest years and as they mature they can seek out the greater breadth of works of comic art that are out there waiting for them to discover.

How has the format of comics changed in its long history?

Comic books started as cheaply printed pamphlets given away for free or for just a few cents. By the year 2005 comics can encompass virtually any format imaginable. I have seen comics no more than two inches tall, and massive hardcover graphic novels 18 inches tall. They can be as short as eight page mini-comics or as long as a thousand pages or more in a single volume, and in the case of Japanese comics, many, many thousands of pages spread out over dozens of volumes. This great diversity of formats is one of the things that I think artists find so appealing, the opportunity to create a story and then design a format for it that plays a tactile role in the reader's experience of the work. We see this, for example, in the works of noteworthy cartoonists like Chris Ware or Paul Hornschemeier, and more recently with Kevin Huizenga and other creators who started in mini-comics and are experimenting with form and format in addition to the formal experimentation of the actual stories they create.

With the increase in other entertainment formats, do you think the appeal of comics is still as strong as it ever has been?

Comics has made some impressive inroads into new arenas in the past couple of years. You see more Japanese comics and more North American art comix than at any other time in living memory on the shelves of mainstream bookstores, from chains like Borders and Barnes and Noble to small independent book stores. This has been fueled in part by a surge in interest in comics on the part of new audiences, and also by increased coverage in such influential mainstream publications as The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Publisher's Weekly. And while entertainment options such as videogames and the internet compete for the interest of some readers, the great recent boom of quality graphic novels and collections of classic comics like Peanuts, Dennis the Menace and Gasoline Alley has made comics more than able to stand on its own as a diverse medium filled with wonders to behold.

Have the many movie adaptations of comic book heroes been a positive thing?

That's a tough call, and I can only speak to it anecdotally. My two children are 9 and 11, and they have seen most of the recent superhero movies from Spider-Man to Batman Begins to X-Men and even Ghost World and American Splendor. But I find my daughter most interested in comics like Lenore and the Archie line, and my son's favourites are Teen Titans Go! and The Simpsons. Neither of my kids has really had a long-lasting interest in specific comics as a result of seeing any movie adaptation, although my daughter did pretend to be Matt Murdock for a couple of weeks after seeing Daredevil, sunglasses, cane and all.

Are comics only read by young boys? Who reads comics?

The main audience for North American superhero comics seems to be males from their 20s to their 40s. But the recent boom in more diverse (and often higher-quality) comics has brought an influx of readers in of all ages, both male and female. And after over three decades of observing the comics industry, I have come to the conclusion that comics are really in a transition right now -- the comics shops that survive the next five to ten years are the ones that will embrace the full range of potential readers that are out there, while the shops that are ignorant of the wider diversity of product, or even outright hostile to it as many retailers seem to be, will continue to wither and die.

Are comics misinterpreted as purely an adolescent obsession? Is this fair?

It's certainly fair to aim that criticism at the North American superhero industry, which is painfully juvenile in nearly every aspect, from the writing and artwork to the marketing and retailing of them.

Will comics always be around, what does the future hold?

Stories told sequentially in words and pictures are nearly as old as mankind itself, depending on who you listen to, and almost certainly older than, say, movies. I think it's safe to say as long as humans are around, there will be comics in some form, whether they are called that or not.

Are comics unique to only certain cultures? How do they differ around the world?

There are certain stylistic elements that are common to comics from France, or comics from Japan, or comics from North America, but if it's a sequence of images telling a story by combining those images with words, then it's comics, no matter how badly some superhero fetishist would like to believe that, say, comics from Japan "aren't comics."

What do you think of the graphic journalism popularised by artists such as Joe Sacco and Art Spiegelman?

I think that it's among the very best things to come out of the artform to date. Personal stories that resonate with the reader's life experience and knowledge of the world are those that will find their way into the deepest part of the reader's consciousness. Creators like those you've named, and Harvey Pekar, Robert Crumb, John Porcellino, James Kochalka and others are among the most exciting and fascinating in the history of comics. And even those who traffic primarily in fiction like Dan Clowes, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison or Paul Hornschemeier, still inform their work with a sense of verisimilitude that has its roots in keen observation of human interaction, which is why their work will still be read, remembered and argued over a hundred years from now.



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