MARIAN CHURCHLAND ANSWERS 15 QUESTIONS WITH JULINDA MORROW
Marian Churchland is a beautiful artist. Her line work possesses great sensitivity. She is, from the perspective of this interviewer, like a breath of fresh air for the North American comic book industry.
Marian’s graphic novel and first major work Beast was published by Image Comics. She later won the Russ Manning award for Most Promising Newcomer. Her art has elevated comics such as Elephantman and Madame Xanadu.
A gallery of Marian’s stimulating art follows this interview.
Julinda Morrow: What path led you to comics and sequential art?
Marian Churchland: Unlike many of my friends who draw comics, I don’t have a long or personally connected history with the medium. I grew up reading a lot of novels, and playing a lot of videogames, but I had scarcely any access to comics. I started creating them myself because it seemed to make practical sense as a means to both draw things, and also tell stories about absurd, seven-foot-tall barbarian women. When I was fourteen, I began photocopying issues of my comics and handing them out to my friends – which, in retrospect, still seems like the best way to do it.
JM: What schooling or training did you receive?
MC: Not much in the way of formal training. I have a BA from the University of British Columbia, part of which involved my taking several visual arts courses. My experience in illustration and in making comics comes mainly from spending many years doing it on my own steam, for my own fun.
JM: Who, in your opinion, are the pioneers of sequential art?
MC: My knowledge of the history of comics is pretty shaky. So damned if I know! But personally speaking, my earliest influences – my personal pioneers, or things that would seem to point me towards comics later in life – were an odd mix of early 90s videogames and videogame art encompassing everything from Ultima VI to Zelda, and some illustrated books of classic literature that belonged to my grandfather, which started sitting around the house getting dusty just as I was at an age to discover them.
JM: How do you define sequential art?
MC: I can’t say that I have much interest in defining it – which is good, because I’m probably the last person who has any right to do so. For my own part, I comprehend pretty much anything that interests me, and which combines visual media with text, as something worth exploring.
JM: Do you find that sequential art provides you with near-limitless possibilities for storytelling or do you experience it as constraining?
MC: I think my own limited skill and energy are much more likely to constrain me before the medium itself ever could. That’s actually one of the nice things about making comics – to a large extent, if you can think of it you can probably accomplish it with readily available materials. Unlike, you know, large-scale welded steel sculpture or something like that.
JM: What qualities or resources do you believe are most important for a sequential storyteller to have?
MC: I feel like I should say something abstract, but really I think that nothing can be accomplished without a stable place from which to work, and enough time to really attend to your craft, do it well, give it all the thought (or judicious avoidance) it requires. A consistent food source doesn’t hurt. Not as easy to achieve as you might think, particularly early in your career.
On the other hand, my boyfriend, Brandon Graham, claims you should be able to break out your best work anywhere, steal pens and paper and draw on top of a dumpster. But I’d prefer a well-lit room and some guarantee of breakfast (and I suspect that, these days, so does Brandon).
JM: How do you approach your work process?
MC: I’m a terrible procrastinator, at least to look at. I will avoid starting something until I’m static with an atmosphere of stress and urgency. Then I snap, and do it all in a rush. This is how I’ve always worked, from math homework to English papers written at 3:00a.m. (Well, truth be told, I never did my math homework). Conveniently, I view long procrastination periods as utterly crucial to the success of whatever I’m doing – like letting the pot go unwatched so it can get on with boiling.
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?
MC: It can be anywhere from one hour to sixteen, depending on where I’m at in a project. If I’m writing, it’s usually a few hours a day. If I’m drawing, often as many as twelve, or more.
JM: Was it a struggle, at the start of your career, to find work and make ends meet?
MC: If I had started a comics and illustration career assuming that I’d be making money any time soon, I doubt it would ever have gotten underway. I think that most of us who want to emphasize more personal work can expect little in the way of immediate compensation. In that respect, making ends meet can still be challenging.
JM: What has been your most valuable professional experience?
MC: As a work-from-home artist who views buttered toast and coffee as a professional experience, this is hard to answer. I remember working with the Image Comics staff on the post-production stage of Beast as a particularly uplifting experience. Particularly so, following a year of trying to get my book published with no initial luck, and otherwise seeing a disheartening mixture of non-involvement and hyper-involvement from the industry in general.
JM: What inspires or informs you creatively?
MC: Things that don’t allow me to escape myself. If I need active inspiration, it’s usually a favourite book or a woodsy walk.
JM: What is your position on digital comics? Are they a good thing or a bad thing?
MC: As a medium they are neither good nor bad, of course, just different. It’s hard not to worry about digital publishing, as it has already sent print media into such blind flux, and we all want to be assured that we can pay our rent and eat our breakfast with some stability. But being able to post work on the Internet is such a terrific boon for artists who, for any reason, might have trouble finding (or might wish to avoid) a traditional publisher. I have to believe that the pros outweigh whatever cons might exist.
JM: If you were to make any changes to the industry or the market what changes would you make?
MC: I don’t have enough perspective to answer this as well as I might like. However, one very obvious thing that needs changing is the lack of creator diversity, in terms of who is sought after and welcomed into the industry. The big, mainstream companies are most blatantly culpable, of course, but indie companies are not exempt. The industry seems to want to prove itself willing to tell stories outside of the straight white able-bodied male (and sometimes female) experience, but seldom to seek out artists who can own that experience, and speak for themselves.
JM: If you could apprentice under any artist at any time in history and anywhere in the world who would it be?
MC: I would make a terrible apprentice! I’m a crabby introvert. I hate to be told what to do, and I especially hate to be told how to draw. I wouldn’t wish myself on any painter or writer whom I actually liked, that would just be mean. But if I could briefly and quietly – or better yet, invisibly – place myself in the studio of one of history’s more amazing painters (I’m not even picky about which) then that would be perfect. I would be game for that.
JM: What, in the future, would you like to accomplish creatively?
MC: I’m interested in trying out a different balance of prose and illustration – something outside of traditional comics. There’s a bit of that in the big project I’m working on now, but I’d like to take it farther, and see how that looks.