BRENT ANDERSON ANSWERS 15 QUESTIONS WITH JULINDA MORROW
When Brent graduated to illustrating the Hitchcockian inspired comic Somerset Holmes, growing by leaps and bounds as a storyteller, I was smitten.
Brent is probably best known to fans for his dynamic work on Astro City, written by Kurt Busiek. In October 2012 Brent embarks on a new journey, drawing the Phantom Stranger ongoing series for DC Comics.
A gallery of Brent’s admirable art follows this interview.
Julinda Morrow: What path led you to comics and sequential art?
Brent Anderson: As a kid I wanted to make movies; I envisioned something between a Walt Disney animated feature and a Norman Rockwell painting. I couldn’t afford the development costs of Super 8 film, so I looked elsewhere. My mother objected to me reading EC-like comics, but I did get to read the occasional Archie, Hotstuff, Dennis the Menace and Baby Huey comic as well as the newspaper funnies. These inspired me to tell stories through my drawing. I quickly emulated a guy I met in the Seventh Grade who drew his own comic books.
JM: What schooling or training did you receive?
BA: Mostly self-taught, although I had a few good supportive art teachers along the way.
JM: Who, in your opinion, are the pioneers of sequential art?
BA: In my mind, any artist who picked up a pencil or pen and drew comics for any length of time is a pioneer! It’s not an easy field to work in; the hours needed to meet deadlines can be grueling, the pay is not great considering how much drawing is required and there’s no retirement package waiting in old age! There are many artists who, in their turn, have contributed to the sequential narrative lexicon. (O-o-o-o, now there’s a high-falutin’ description for ya!)
JM: How do you define sequential art?
BA: That’s a hard one, but I’ll give it a try. When a series of images (and the spaces between the images) tell a story in the mind of the reader, wherein the reader has total control over the pacing and understanding of the story, that’s sequential art. Reading comics is a totally proactive experience, something the reader is doing, as opposed to watching film, video or television where something is being done to the viewer. The pace of the film is set by the film speed through the projector and the pace of editing, but the pace of reading a comic book is set by the reader. It is the ultimate interactive/proactive storytelling art form (in my humble opinion!)
JM: Do you find that sequential art provides you with near-limitless possibilities for storytelling or do you experience it as constraining?
BA: I’ve never done much analysis of my decisions on how I visually tell a story. My process is entirely intuitive. The storytelling possibilities are indeed limitless in content, but limited in execution by the medium. For instance, there is no sound in comics, except for the sound created in the mind of the reader when they see an action or read a sound effect word. I once read a comic story where, as the characters entered an area where all sound was gradually dampened to silence, the artist used color to illustrate that. As the sound disappeared, the color transitioned to black and white and gray tones. Another limitation of storytelling possibilities is in the successful or unsuccessful use of metaphor and symbolism in the narrative; if it’s too esoteric, the majority of readers won’t understand what’s going on and you lose them. I try to make the visual storytelling as crystal clear as I can. This is probably why I tend towards literalism in my representative drawing style.
JM: What qualities or resources do you believe are most important for a sequential storyteller to have?
BA: The ability to draw anything and everything as clearly as possible, even if you need gobs of visual reference to achieve it. Once you have the ability to draw anything, you’re then free to put those images and scenes together into some kind of interesting narrative.
JM: How do you approach your work process?
BA: I start by drawing very quick storytelling layouts directly on the script in blue pencil. I then redraw them a bit tighter with a regular #2 pencil on white bond paper, each page drawn at 4” x 5.5” two facing pages to an 8.5” x 11” piece of paper. These loose pencils are then scanned into my computer as 11” x 17” jpegs @300ppi resolution (the standard resolution as set by the publisher). I then tighten and finish (or “ink”) the pencils digitally using Painter 11/12 and save them as Photoshop compressed TIFF files.
JM: How many hours a day do you work? Are you uniformly productive on any given day or more productive on some days than others?
BA: On a full day I work approximately six to eight hours, and take a fifteen minute to half-an-hour break between each three-hour session. I am seldom uniformly productive day to day, simply because I have many distractions during my week, but I do work quickly and to maximum output during the time I’m actually working. Reference gathering, designing elements and characters and the need to eat, drink, sleep and use the facilities all conspire against me drawing all the time!
JM: Was it a struggle, at the start of your career, to find work and make ends meet?
BA: In the early 70s I was unable to get work by sending sample pages from California to Marvel and DC in New York City, but I did get work immediately when I actually went to New York and walked into their editorial offices. This was in the summer and fall of 1976. I quickly learned, however, that I couldn’t draw fast enough or (in my opinion) well enough to make a living, so, after six months in New York, I went back to California to further develop my drawing skills.
JM: What has been your most valuable professional experience?
BA: Listening to established professionals when they talk about what it means to be professional. It’s been said there are three attributes one must have in order to get work regularly and make a professional living in the comics industry: be a nice person, draw really well, and get the work in on deadline. If you possess any two of these, you will make it.
JM: What inspires or informs you creatively?
BA: Everything. I’m very observant and don’t miss much about what’s going on around me. I’m inspired by people’s behavior, news stories, prose fiction, films, movies, TV shows, comics, science and science fiction. I’m always asking “What if…?”
JM: What is your position on digital comics? Are they a good thing or a bad thing?
BA: I’ve been producing comics digitally for print for about three years now, which has made me more productive, but the jury is still out on whether readers are going to accept reading comics on an iPad or Kindle or other digital reader machines. Paper comics and graphic novels will never be entirely replaced by the digital medium, simply because there’s too much high-tech infrastructure necessary to access the material. A printed comic in your hands will always be the nominal reading format for comics, I believe. I could be proven wrong, but no matter what medium format readers choose, I hope comics will never lose their appeal.
JM: If you were to make any changes to the industry or the market what changes would you make?
BA: I’m not enough of a business-type or marketer to answer your question. I’m an artist. I could BS you with a bunch of personal opinion, which I may well have done thirty years ago when I was a callow youth and thought I knew everything; but now, I don’t have a clue what changes in the market should or should not occur to the comics industry. I see possibilities in digital comic storytelling and using the internet to distribute comics more widely than they’ve ever been distributed before, but beyond that, I don’t know. I just hope people in the future will still enjoy reading them enough to pay me for producing them!
JM: If you could apprentice under any artist at any time in history and anywhere in the world who would it be?
BA: Mort Drucker. Of all the artists during my formative years, Mort was the most inspirational to me. Through his caricatures of people, he really seemed to have an unerring ability to see what makes people tick; their feelings, their emotions, their body language, their expressiveness, everything I try to capture in my comics characters. It was through copying a front view caricature of Leonard Nimoy as Spock in the Mad Magazine parody of Star Trek, “Star Blecch,” that I realized I could actually draw something that looked, and FELT, like something. I would have loved to have apprenticed under Mort.
JM: What, in the future, would you like to accomplish creatively?
BA: All the ideas and projects I have in my file drawers at present! This is not possible, of course, unless I manage to live until I’m two hundred twenty-six years old, but I would like to finish as many of them as I can before, well, you know…