Category Archives: Aritsts and writers

Stan Lee shares his secrets to success

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I’m currently reading Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics The Untold Story.

It’s still early in the book: we’re only in the 60s, Fantastic Four and Spider-Man had just been introduced. Artists like Jack Kirby are scrappy in the ways they make a buck. There have been a few ups and downs, hirings and firings according to the vagaries of the publishing industry and a fickle reading audience, the economy and a government witch hunt — but it’s still the heady days of comics when you consider what’s around the corner.

Howe hasn’t tackled anything terribly controversial so far.  Stan “The Man” Lee is depicted very much as the guy always looking for an opportunity or an angle, but also the one who makes sure everything gets done. He knows how to craft a story — whether the narrative featuring monsters or spandex between the covers or concocting the Marvel Bullpen. He’s a creative and marketing genius in the making.

Fast forward to today. We’re a few days away from Fan Expo Canada in Toronto where the comic industry pioneer is a featured guest after some 70s years in business.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail‘s Courtney Shea, Lee shares four secrets to his success in the entertainment industry.

(The lovely illustration at the top of today’s article is by Camilla d’Errico)

The job you’re meant for may not be the one you apply for

A lot of my early career came down to luck. I applied to a magazine company to work as a writer – I didn’t even know they made comics. I started off as an office boy, getting lunch for the two guys that I worked for – I’d bring them up a sandwich, I’d erase pages. After a while, they let me try writing copy and it turned out I was kind of good at it. That was a different time, though. There weren’t really any great writers in the business. Almost anybody who could put a few words together could write a comic strip. It got harder and harder over the years, but lucky for me, I was already there.

 

Don’t listen to the poo-poo-ers

It has been really rewarding to see the reputation of comics change over the years. When I was starting out, most parents didn’t even want their kids to read comics. They were really considered junk. Today, some of the finest screenwriters in the world are working on comic book stories. I don’t want to sound like a name-dropper, but I was once talking to Steven Spielberg and he said to me, “You know Stan, you and I do pretty much the same thing except my pictures move.”

 

The corner office isn’t for everyone

When they made me the president of Marvel [in 1972], I was suddenly involved in the business end – all sorts of financial decisions – and I realized pretty quickly that it really wasn’t my thing, and I wasn’t any good at it. I was asked to provide a five-year plan for where the company was heading. Hell, I don’t even know what I’m going to have for dinner tonight! I decided to step down. It was a lesson in knowing your strengths.

 

The secret to loving your boss

It’s easy for me to decide which projects I’m going to get involved in because I come up with almost all of the projects I work on, and since I’m my own biggest fan I like almost everything I do! I have always valued freedom in my career and I’ve been lucky to have quite a lot of it, though I guess you could say that the drawback is that if something goes wrong, there’s no one to blame but me.

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CBC talks to Canadian cartoonists, part 2: Peggy Burns, Kate Beaton and Nina Bunjevac

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(“Famous Alexanders” by Kate Beaton)

Here’s is the second collection of highlights from interviews with Canadian cartoonists under the CBC’s Canada Writers banner:

Canada Writes is talking to some of Canada’s best known cartoonists and graphic novelists on the different techniques, challenges, and advantages of working with both text and drawings.

Peggy Burn, Associate Publisher at Montreal-based Drawn & Quarterly, reflects on 13 years in the industry. Here, she offers a peek into the selection process.

What characteristics make a manuscript jump out of the slush pile?

We never, ever read scripts. We like to read fully formed comics. We mostly prefer to see mini-comics or pamphlets to truly read the cartoonist’s storytelling abilities. For us the art and the words are one, and reading a script gives us no idea if we will like a comic. Most of the submissions that come to the office aren’t in tune with our mission, it is more like the artist got out name off a website of comic publishers. We have published submissions, though, notably from Keith Jones of Toronto and Brecht Evens of Belgium. And reactions to their submissions were immediate. We received the package, opened it, were completely floored by their ability and immediately made plans to publish them. Otherwise, we rely on shows like TCAF in Toronto, Expozine in Montreal and SPX in Bethesda MD to look for new artists with new minicomics.  (Minicomics are self-published comics, similar to zines.)
D+Q publish out some really fine material, including Seth‘s Palookaville series and Kate Beaton‘s award-winning Hark! A Vagrant.  The rest of the interview with Burns is interesting, you should give it a read.

Speaking of Kate Beaton, here she offers a few words about making comics. The widespread attention to her work beyond comic circles has a lot to do with her subject matter: putting a humorous spin on historical and literary figures. But I have one good friend who considers Beaton’s cartoons to be chauvinistic, and I think she’s partly right.

Here Beaton describes her creative process:

My process, when I do the historical comics, is a lot of research. Read about a subject until you know it inside and out as best you can, then write the jokes about it. It’s like getting so close to your best friend that you feel like you can rib them about something, and really nail it, but not in a mean way. I think it’s easy to be crass and make a mean joke, and I’m guilty of that too sometimes, but I would rather be clever and make an insightful joke, if I can. I doodle as I research and use those drawings to inform the final drawings for the comics, but on the whole, my process for drawing the comics themselves is pretty loose and simple.

Check out the rest of the interview for her artists influences and advice for aspiring comic creators.

Finally, we have Nina Bunjevac, the 2013  winner of the Doug Wright Spotlight Award (aka ‘The Nipper’) for her graphic novel Heartless. She, like Beaton, also plays in satire and says cartooning offers an advantage:

What are some of the advantages of working with text and drawings vs. just text? What do you think that this genre can do that text-only genres can’t?
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There are certainly many advantages to working with text and drawings, especially in satire. I enjoy using the first-person soapy narrative, juxtaposed with the grim and ironic imagery to create the sense of naiveté or wishful thinking. In other words, my drawings do illustrate the narrative but not the sentiment or the yearning of the narrator. My characters are often ignorant of the true nature of their circumstance—this knowledge is reserved for the reader alone, who gets to experience the story through both the images and the narrative.This way the reader becomes an integral part of the story, a true witness, and their absence makes the story incomplete.

In the rest of the interview, she offers an impressive list of artistic influences.
BONUS LINK: I also just stumbled upon this CBC radio documentary about D+Q by David Gutnick.

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True North believers, it’s Captain Canuck!

Captain Canuck is back! Here’s the first episode.

Read our Q&A with the Creative Director, Dean Henry.

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Moebius – “a man who refused to grow old” (TCAF 2013 panel recap)

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Moebius.

It goes without saying the man is legendary. His seminal works stand the test of time. We’re talking 30 to 40 years ago for stories like The Incal and Airtight Garage, and yet those books – to me – still seem so fresh and interesting. When you consider how much comics have evolved, one can’t help but consider him anything but a visionary. He was an artist in the truest sense of the word.

And so it was especially interesting to hear from people – artists – who’ve met him and look to him for inspiration in their own art.

Moderated by Xavier Guilbert of du9.org, the panel included Frederik Peeters (Sandcastle), Paul Pope (THB), David B. (Black Paths), Glyn Dillon (The Nao of Brown).

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Google doodle celebrates Maurice Sendak

Maurice-Sendak-google-doodle-545Today’s Google doodle celebrates what would be the 85th birthday of illustrator and author Maurice Sendak. The doodle is an animation featuring characters from his children’s books including his breakout success (and one I love very much) Where The Wild Things Are.

The Comics Journal ran a rare – and presumably the last – interview with Sendak in their 2012 edition (#302 if you’re looking for it in their store), which came out not long after his passing. It’s both interesting and long so worth hunting down a copy. Here is an excerpt:

And when you take away the truth from [children], you take away everything from them. And one of the passions I have about children is, we don’t know what they see, we don’t know what they really hear. And occasionally they are polite enough to let us in.

Was it you I told the story of the 9/11 event? Little girl, and I don’t know her, but I know her father and I know her mother. And the school was quite close to where the buildings were, and when they heard, they went crazy with alarm, and they ran all the way to the school and all the children had been put into the center playground and she was there, and they saw each other and she ran to her father and she said, “Oh, it’s wonderful, Daddy, we had a wonderful time. The smoke was all over and butterflies were flying all over the place. We saw butterflies!”

He took her home and they played TV, they played games, they played her favorite everything. They made her happy, gave her ice cream, everything they could to obliterate the day. And just before she went to bed she tugged on her father’s shirt and she said, “Daddy, I didn’t really see butterflies. They were people.”

When I heard that story for the first time I cried because I was a good friend of the father, and I said, “Do you realize she was protecting you?”

And he said, “Yes, we know what she was trying to do. She was taking care of us while we were taking care of her.”

She didn’t want you to suffer. A little girl. She had this thought process to make believe these burning people were butterflies.

I thought to myself, what don’t they tell us? What brave little creatures they are.

Some pretty heavy stuff.

You can read more in part 2 of the TCJ excerpt from the Sendak interview.

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