Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Dan Clowes and Adrian Tomine with Ivan Brunetti: Comix Sub-Heroes

The "Comix Sub-Heroes" discussion on alternative comics was one of my favorite moments at Bumbershoot, Seattle's annual music and arts festival taking place over the Labor Day weekend and going strong now for 38 years.

Cartoonist Ivan Brunetti has become quite the scholar on comics. He is the editor of An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, published by Yale University Press, with the latest edition due out in October. He was the moderator for this comix event where he interviewed Dan Clowes and Adrian Tomine.

Dan Clowes is best known for Ghost World, a collection of related stories from his series, Eightball, published by Fantagraphics, that became such a remarkable film. Adrian Tomine is best known for his series, Optic Nerve, published by Drawn & Quarterly. A collection of related stories from that series, Shortcomings, was recently published to critical acclaim.

The talk was mostly a fun opportunity to see these guys who turned out to be very generous in discussing their work and work habits. As expected, there were a number of budding cartoonists in the audience. As for words of encouragement, both Tomine and Clowes were hard pressed to encourage this activity unless the aspiring artist really loved it. Assuming that dedication to one's art was in place, the best one could say was to just do it and that was at the heart of this event, finding a way to convey what it was that a cartoonist does.

For Clowes, it seemed he'd been doing it for so long that he just lived and breathed it. At one point, he said he couldn't go a day without drawing. For Tomine, the only concern at this point in his career seemed to be to try to match his working hours with his wife's job that kept regular business hours.

Brunetti did his best to keep things moving with questions like, "How important is it to stay true to the original idea for a story?" Tomine gave a pleasant answer about the ending he came up with for a story helped create the rest of the story which, ultimately did away with his original idea for an ending. Clowes responded, "I usually start with a high concept like Die Hard meets The Office that ends up having nothing to do with the actual story."

It was interesting to just observe these two icons of alternative comics. Clowes is tall and trim with short grey hair. Tomine is a little shorter and laid back. Clowes seems ever ready to burst with a well-intentioned wise crack.

The highlight for me came when Brunetti asked about drawing methods. This inspired Clowes to explain he wasn't really much into preliminary drawings beyond a drawing in a sketchbook and then he dives in. This approach, he admitted, means it takes a few pages for the character to kick in. He remembered the development of a character named Tina who was suppose to be some sort of fish creature. "At first," he said, "she looked more like a potato which was really odd considering her first line is, 'Would you like a potato?'"

So, it seems to me that just getting to see these guys chat was more than enough for any fan. If words of encouragement were still wanted by the aspiring artists, one thing that seemed clear from this talk was the fact that cartooning, particularly creating graphic novels, could be looked upon just like any other job, at least to some extent, and that's saying a lot.

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