Leland Purvis ANSWERS 15 QUESTIONS WITH JULINDA MORROW
Leland Purvis was brought to my attention by my Sequential Highway co-conspirator Will Scott. Will sent me an email with a subject line that read, “Check this out.” A single panel of Leland’s art was attached. In that very moment I decided that I had to ask Mr. Purvis to participate in 15 Questions.
I’m certain that Leland is a new discovery for many of our readers, but I assure you that he’s been keeping good company. He is a Xeric Grant winner who has been published by Dark Horse and by Aladdin, an imprint of Simon and Shuster.
A gallery of Leland’s tasteful art follows this interview.
Julinda Morrow: What path led you to comics and sequential art?
Leland Purvis: I think it was a combination of a love of story and a love of drawing, wanting to participate in the magic of storytelling the way I experienced it as a child, using the methods of drawing that seemed so natural to me.
JM: What schooling or training did you receive?
LP: I have a bachelor’s degree in history, but as an artist and writer I’m almost entirely self-taught. Sometimes I wish I’d gone to art school and had access to a lot of other media and creative thinking earlier that I had later to discover on my own.
JM: Who, in your opinion, are the pioneers of sequential art?
LP: There are lots and lots of comics pioneers. Every generation throws up a new batch of people doing unprecedented things with the medium. Early 20th Century, I think of Milton Caniff, Hergé, Noel Sickles, Alex Raymond; then later Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Gene Colan, Alberto Breccia, Jean “Moebius” Giraud, Alex Toth, Hugo Pratt, R[obert] Crumb, Harvey Kurtzman. The list goes on and on. Some of my personal heroes are Moebius, Kirby, Toth, Howard Chaykin and Jaime Hernandez.
JM: How do you define sequential art?
LP: I don’t think it’s helpful to creative people to be too concerned with strict definitions. Maybe leave that for the critics. The categorization of ideas for its own sake is often an exercise in intellectual control. I am not going to be one to put a dividing line down, including some works and not others.
JM: Do you find that sequential art provides you with near-limitless possibilities for storytelling or do you experience it as constraining?
LP: Creativity often requires limits to be able to operate in. When the options are completely boundless, there is no center and nowhere to begin. Just because a thing is infinite doesn’t mean it’s boundless. Within the context of a comics page or strip, there are certain limitations in terms of how the medium works in the mind of an audience, but this is rarely thematically or narratively constraining.
JM: What qualities or resources do you believe are most important for a sequential storyteller to have?
LP: The same as that for any storyteller. You have to have empathy with your audience and a sense of how elements are going to be perceived in order to serve up an experience that is going to be taken in somewhere close to what you intended. As a storyteller, you are creating an experience that will essentially take place in someone else’s mind. At a certain point there’s only so much responsibility you have for that. And hopefully a reader is bringing richness to the work that you wouldn’t have without them.
JM: How do you approach your work process?
LP: In some ways a new process is developed for every project depending on its needs, the scope of it, how quickly it needs to get done. I start with the script, breaking down the words into imagery by “thumbnail”, keeping in mind composition, pace and timing, mood and effect. Then it’s about determining a methodology of page production that best suits the work in particular.
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?
LP: Some days I work as many as 12 or 14 hours. Some days 3 to 6. I work almost every day in one capacity or another.
JM: Was it a struggle, at the start of your career, to find work and make ends meet?
LP: It is still a struggle, but both the means and the ends are larger now. As a freelance artist and writer, you are also a small business owner. 80% of your income may come from 20% of your time and a large part of your day may be spent on elements of the business other than your creative work. Organization and efficiency become key to getting your work done.
JM: What has been your most valuable professional experience?
LP: Probably it was working in a shared studio with other comics artists in Brooklyn for 3 years. Being surrounded by other creative people with similar struggles, appreciating their methods and work ethic, was a tremendously valuable experience.
JM: What inspires or informs you creatively?
LP: I do a lot of reading. History, cosmology, philosophy, and fiction. And I try to pay attention, sketchbook in hand, to all the limitless details of the world around me, from the way a driver leans when steering a bus, or a flock of birds landing on the power lines. Art books. People. People moving and interacting; gestures. Faces and how they age in different ways. And life drawing as often as I have time for.
JM: What is your position on digital comics? Are they a good thing or a bad thing?
LP: Anything that facilitates reading is a good thing. Certainly the internet has allowed artists who might have struggled to reach an audience before to put their work in front of vast numbers of people. Whether digital comics may find a working business model, and so the degree to which it has an effect on the traditional print comics industry is a different issue. They say only bad kinds of change happen quickly. But change makes everything possible, so on the whole we should be grateful for it.
JM: If you were to make any changes to the industry or the market what changes would you make?
LP: The industry is largely made up of big corporations selling superhero comics. In the last twenty years, they’ve been selling more expensive comics to fewer and fewer people, catering to a pre-existing and aging audience. I think it would be much better overall for those companies to look towards a longer-term profit motive, diversify the kinds of comics they offer, and attempt to expand their readerships to include broader demographics. A lot of great work is starting to get out there anyway, from memoir to work with literary merit. But it’s not yet in anything like the numbers we might do.
JM: If you could apprentice under any artist at any time in history and anywhere in the world who would it be?
LP: I would have to roll some multi-sided dice. Hokusai, Rodin, Schiele, Robert Henri, Jean “Moebius” Giraud, Holbein, Vermeer, Toulouse-Lautrec, Robert Weaver, Austin Briggs, Nicolai Fechin….
JM: What, in the future, would you like to accomplish creatively?
LP: More books that I both write and draw. More comics work in color. More stand-alone illustrations. More paintings. Also, I may build a studio in the backyard out of raw stone and large timbers, but first I have to teach myself how.