SCOTT CHANTLER ANSWERS 15 QUESTIONS WITH JULINDA MORROW
Scott Chantler is a name that our readers are becoming increasingly familiar with. Scott has been nominated for an Eisner award, two Harvey awards, three Shuster awards and a Doug Wright award. In 2011, Book I of his Tower of Thieves won the Shuster.
Although he’s a Canadian schooled in Canada his art has a lovely openness to it that suggests a strong European BD influence.
Two Generals – based on Scott’s grandfather’s WWII experiences, diary, photographs and other historical items – is a well-crafted graphic novel and a worthy edition to any serious collector’s library.
A gallery of Scott’s lovely art follows this interview.
Julinda Morrow: What path led you to comics and sequential art?
Scott Chantler: I’d been creating my own comics since I was four or five, but if you mean professionally, it was a bit of a winding road. I came up in the ’90s when there were so very few opportunities. The market for mainstream superhero titles had crashed, and the graphic novel scene which would be driven by libraries and bookstore chains was still years off. So, like a lot of people, I did something else. In my case, “something else” was commercial illustration. But I still wanted to scratch the comics itch, so in 2000 I launched a short-lived web comic. To make a long story short, one of the people reading my stuff online was the comic book writer J. Torres, who contacted me about working on a graphic novel he was pitching that eventually landed at Oni Press. That book (2003′s Days Like This) led to another with J. (2005′s Scandalous), which eventually led to me pitching my own stuff, and then I was off to the races.
Going from web comics to a book deal is sort of the way you break into comics now, but to my knowledge I was the first person to do it. It was easier then, because there were only a small handful of people doing comics on the Web. It was easier to stand out.
JM: What schooling or training did you receive?
SC: There were no college programs twenty years ago dealing with comics directly, other than maybe the Kubert School. But I knew what I wanted to do so I put together an education in everything I thought I’d need. First of all, I had a high school art teacher who really stressed drawing from life, the fundamentals. I did a year of fine arts at university, and a couple of years of film to get the visual storytelling theory I thought I’d need; plus a lot of literature, writing, acting, drama, psychology, etc. I also ended up doing a year in Computer Animation at Sheridan College. It must have seemed to casual observers (like my parents) like I was all over the map, but I could tell you exactly how I’m using all of the subjects in my work.
JM: Who, in your opinion, are the pioneers of sequential art?
SC: If you mean in modern comics form, Windsor McCay, George Herriman, Will Eisner, Jack Kirby. I suppose there’d be dozens of pioneers, but those are hitting the big bases.
JM: How do you define sequential art?
SC: I guess the way Scott McCloud does in Understanding Comics. I’m certainly not going to argue with him! It’s a pretty broad form, broader than most people think.
JM: Do you find that sequential art provides you with near-limitless possibilities for storytelling or do you experience it as constraining?
SC: I rarely bump my head on the ceiling of what’s possible with comics. Even things that people think are a constraint, like conveying music, can be suggested by manipulating rhythm and timing. The only thing I can really say I’ve ever struggled with is conveying a sense of smell. You can show a character reacting to a smell, or have them describe it, but you really can’t give the reader the sensation of smelling something. At least not that I’ve ever been able to.
JM: What qualities or resources do you believe are most important for a sequential storyteller to have?
SC: It’s important for them to be able to draw on influences aside from other comics. Things have been changing, but a lot of comics still end up seeming awfully inbred. It’s great to love the medium and to have read a ton of comics and know how they work, but you need to also love literature and theatre and film and acting and travel and music and history, etc. The more you bring to it, the more your readers will get out of it. It’s not enough to know the form; you need to bring interesting content as well. And that means living a little, keeping your eyes and ears open, absorbing things and making use of them in your work.
At the same time, and almost paradoxically, you need the patience and self-discipline to be able to sit and concentrate on your work during long days in isolation. This really is a great job for an introvert; which I’ve struggled with through the years because that’s not my natural tendency.
JM: How do you approach your work process?
SC: I’ve got a dozen books under my belt, but I still change the process somewhat from one project to the next. I’m still tinkering with it, trying to perfect it; trying to work better, faster. But generally, I write a rough outline, and then jump into a full script. My editor will help me refine that script into a second (and sometimes a third) draft. Then I start to draw. The last couple of books, I’ve done roughs then blown them up and done tight pencils. But the next book, I think I’m going back to roughing out pages right on the full-size boards. It’s faster, and gives the art a more immediate, spontaneous look that I’ve been missing. One thing I won’t do is ink straight from the enlarged roughs, like a lot of people seem to do. I’ve always felt that if it’s not in the pencils you can’t expect it to be in the inks. And it’s also important that editors [and] publishers be able to see what they’re approving. My experience is that the rougher the art that gets approved, the more changes you’re going have to make to the final.
I ink by hand. Brushes and ink, old-school. I have no interest in simulating drawing on a computer screen. But I’m no Luddite. Once the inks are dry I scan the pages, size them, then do colouring and lettering. I’m still trying to get my head around colour a bit, but each colour book that I do turns out closer to what I intended, so I think I’m getting there.
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?
SC: I’m at the desk ten hours a day, unless I’m on the road for a signing appearance or school talk, which provides a nice break. If I’m up against a deadline, it might end up being more like twelve hours. When I was juggling Two Generals and the first Three Thieves book Tower of Treasure I was working fifteen or sixteen hours a day. But I’m never doing that again. That was stupid. I paid a real price, both physically and in terms of personal relationships. No one should work that much, I don’t care how much you like your job.
And some days are definitely more productive than others. It depends on what I’m working on, whether my kids are at school that day, how many times the phone rings, etc. It’s pretty variable.
JM: Was it a struggle, at the start of your career, to find work and make ends meet?
SC: Making ends meet is always a struggle. Most comics pros – even the ones who do corporate superhero comics – probably don’t make as much as you think. And even those big corporate gigs come to an end eventually. So I’m, by no means, out of the woods there. But in terms of finding work, that was definitely harder at first. Getting your first book published is such a struggle. I was fairly lucky, but I still didn’t break into comics until I was nearly thirty. Things are so much easier now. Publishers have been coming to me, for the most part.
JM: What has been your most valuable professional experience?
SC: It actually happened before I got into comics. For three years I worked in the art room at a corporate communications company with two other illustrators, Nick Craine and Scott Mooney. Occasionally, when we got really busy, we’d be joined by indie comics artist Jay Stephens. The stuff we were working on was either dry instructional stuff, or overly slick and ingratiating ads. But we were all interested in comics, and the friendly rivalry between us made us all better artists.
JM: What inspires or informs you creatively?
SC: History is a big one. But also personal relationships, and music, and travel, and my kids, etc. Anything and everything. This is why I think so many cartoonists do themselves a disservice by locking themselves in rooms for decades at a time. It’s how we end up with so many comics inspired by other comics. Artists need to live life so they can interpret it for the rest of us.
It is, of course possible to be inspired by other people’s work. The sort of professional jealousy that comes when you see someone else working at high level makes you want to work at a high level. As long as you’re applying your personal experience to it, and not just copying what they’ve done. For me, it’s most Pixar movies. The integration of story, design and camera in those films makes me wonder why anyone even bothers to compete. But then it also makes me want to compete.
JM: What is your position on digital comics? Are they a good thing or a bad thing?
SC: I’m of the opinion that anything that sells more books and gets more people reading can only be a good thing for everyone.
JM: If you were to make any changes to the industry or the market what changes would you make?
SC: I’d make sure more stores were ordering books from multiple distributors. A stunning variety of comics these days are published not by comics publishers but by mass-market book publishers. A store that’s only ordering through Diamond is years behind the curve at this point, and missing some damn good books.
JM: If you could apprentice under any artist at any time in history and anywhere in the world who would it be?
SC: Will Eisner, during the late ’40s. The postwar Spirit years.
JM: What, in the future, would you like to accomplish creatively?
SC: It may seem an impossible reach, but I’d really like to direct a movie. Or at least some high-end television. Maybe one day. I’m putting it out there, in case any producers reading this want to let a cartoonist behind the camera for a while.
Photograph by Peter Bregg.