MARK SIEGEL ANSWERS 15 QUESTIONS WITH JULINDA MORROW
His newest graphic novel, Sailor Twain was released on October 2, 2012. It’s an accomplished piece of fiction for the adult-minded reader. I would urge followers of Sequential Highway to seek it out.
A gallery of Mark’s expressive art follows this interview.
Julinda Morrow: What path led you to comics and sequential art?
Mark Siegel: Like many kids I always loved to draw and write. Those two loves have never been far from anything I’ve undertaken. ‘Though I enjoy working in each of them separately, I love how they dance with each other in comics.
JM: What schooling or training did you receive?
MS: When I was seven I became apprenticed to an old French artist named Abel Renault. He painted in oils and had been Foujita and Dali’s engraver. He made comics in and around the First World War. I was the only child in his atelier (his teaching studio). Throughout school I wrote a lot of fiction, made comics in France, and made connections with some great bande dessinée authors there, including Hugo Pratt, Enki Bilal, and Moebius (a.k.a Jean Giraud), who was the most generous with his time and coaching over many years. I came to America for college and went to Brown where I majored in Fine Art and Creative Writing.
JM: Who, in your opinion, are the pioneers of sequential art?
MS: There are early pioneers that inspire me, George Herriman, Charles Schulz, Carl Barks, Hergé, Goscinny and Uderzo… But since then so many new pioneers have come along and pushed the medium to new heights… In France and Europe there are so many—the above-mentioned Moebius André Franquin, Marcel Gotlib, and nowadays in our own time, the likes of Joann Sfar, Lewis Trondheim, Emmanuel Guibert, Chris Blain, Cyril Pedrosa—the list goes on. In North America, the medium has continued to explode in astonishing ways with too many brilliant authors to mention. Someone like the artist and major author David Mazzuchelli pushes the limits of the form. The Hernandez brothers, Mike Mignola, Craig Thompson, Richard Thomson—hell, it’s silly even to try to make a list. Many of my favorites make up the First Second list of course: Gene Yang, Derek Kirk Kim, Paul Pope, Scott McCloud, Aaron Renier, George O’Connor, Sara Varon, Vera Brosgol, Faith Hicks and so many others are delivering stellar work, some of which redefines comics. And a flurry of dazzling talent is coming up through webcomics—Emily Carroll, Gigi DG, Kate Beaton. It’s a magnificent time for comics right now.
JM: How do you define sequential art?
MS: I don’t try to. I like to leave that to others.
JM: Do you find that sequential art provides you with near-limitless possibilities for storytelling or do you experience it as constraining? Please elaborate.
MS: It’s very constraining. It’s very labor intensive, very demanding, needs a whole loom of different skills, and beyond the craft of it there’s the development and deepening that makes an author a real author. But art needs constraint. Through constraint comes freedom. Freedom without constraint is unskilled and probably unoriginal. Artists desperately need constraints, just the right ones, the ones that lead to mastery. Does this medium provide near-limitless possibilities? Yes, I think so. But that’s not a matter of craft and formal ability as a first principle. I think that’s about the person’s quality of being.
JM: What qualities or resources do you believe are most important for a sequential storyteller to have?
MS: My journey with storytelling has changed some of my positions on that. I think I grew up with a bias for esthetics—the ‘wow’ visuals primed over story. There are a great many comics in America, Europe and Asia that dazzle with the graphics but fall apart when it comes to storytelling or character depth. Now I find I’m more interested in the inner workings of a story than by the visual wizardry. It’s not totally either/or, of course, and in comics the storytelling quality shows as much through pictures as it does through dialog or plotting.
JM: How do you approach your work process?
MS: Generally projects grow from gross or bulk process to finer detail; I start with something blurry and gradually it comes into view. Usually there’s a moment when a project announces its style, the way it wants to be treated (in Sailor Twain it said “charcoal” and that was when much of the cooking came together.) At first I govern a project, but if it takes off and gets a life of its own, it ends up governing me. So, overall, I’d say my work process involves lots of hunting and gathering and eventually becomes an act of surrender.
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?
MS: “Fifteen minutes counts” became my mantra when I came to NY and started working in publishing… I realized back then that if I put my own projects on hold while I established the First Second imprint, that part of my life would atrophy and it would become the regret of my existence. But a full time job is a big demand on time and energy, so I figured I needed to use even the smallest spare moment to good effect. Little bit plus little bit plus little bit really does add up—even when I started at fifteen minutes a day, by the end of a month I had something to show for it. On the contrary, when I kept waiting for a chunk of time to do a “studio marathon”—that time never came, and there was nothing to show for weeks and months. I’ve had to develop many little lives. Productivity goes up and down, but I usually get a couple hours of focused project time before I head to work.
JM: Was it a struggle, at the start of your career, to find work and make ends meet?
MS: Twelve years of rejection letters would say “yes”. In part that’s why I got a job in publishing: because I couldn’t make a living with my projects. I’m glad I did, because First Second would never have come to be if I hadn’t. Now First Second is both a job and a personal project for me.
JM: What has been your most valuable professional experience?
MS: Meeting mentors in art, writing, even in business. And as an editor, watching a couple of authors grow and surpass themselves.
JM: What inspires or informs you creatively?
MS: There’s a place I go to when I’m vacant, and things turn up— the magic spring. Everything seems to feed into that spring, other artists, authors, good and bad works, pains and joys, the agonies and ecstasies of dealing with other human beings, history.
JM: What is your position on digital comics? Are they a good thing or a bad thing?
MS: To me, neither. I’m very blasé about that. It’s a vehicle, it’s in its infancy. Ebook comics work for some projects and not others. Formats abound, from minis to big hardcovers, and this is one more.
JM: If you were to make any changes to the industry or the market what changes would you make?
MS: …Working on that! I’d like to see the best comics authors given a place of honor in American culture—high culture, pop culture, the whole spectrum. So many have earned it.
JM: If you could apprentice under any artist at any time in history and anywhere in the world who would it be?
MS: Maybe Gustave Doré.
JM: What, in the future, would you like to accomplish creatively?
MS: Something new and true.