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The Art of Creating Comics

Be clever and make an insightful joke: An interview with Kate Beaton

Canada Writes is talking to some of Canada's best known cartoonists and graphic novelists on the different techniques, challenges, and advantages of working with both text and drawings.

Author Kate Beaton talks about getting to know her subject, old fashioned humorists, and her advice for aspiring artists.

Image: p.53 of Hark, courtesy of Drawn & Quarterly.

What’s your creative process? 
My process, when I do the historical comics, is a lot of research. Read about a subject until you know it inside and out as best you can, then write the jokes about it. It’s like getting so close to your best friend that you feel like you can rib them about something, and really nail it, but not in a mean way. I think it’s easy to be crass and make a mean joke, and I’m guilty of that too sometimes, but I would rather be clever and make an insightful joke, if I can. I doodle as I research and use those drawings to inform the final drawings for the comics, but on the whole, my process for drawing the comics themselves is pretty loose and simple.

Do you think of yourself as an artist? As a writer?
Haha, oh no, this again! I guess if I didn't think of myself as either of those things, I probably wouldn't be making comics.

What are your literary and artistic influences? Where do you find inspiration?
I remember reading about Pearson that his opinion was about as good as that of the last person that he talked to, and whether that's true or not I believe that's true enough for me with influences -there are not many great looming figures in my mind but there are dozens of things I have read and seen and taken note of today, yesterday, a year ago. I suppose because of the way we see information these days on the internet, we are constantly going through it, absorbing words and pictures at a rapid fire rate, that it's hard to pin things down. There's a lot of talented people out there creating content, and we're all feeding off each other, in a way. But I do like old fashioned humorists like Leacock, or Dickens, or Dorothy Parker, and masters of cartooning and illustration like Ronald Searle, or contemporaries like Jillian Tamaki or Sam Bosma who will just blow you away with skills you wished you had.

What would you tell an aspiring comics artist who is starting out today?
The comics world is changing so fast that the grounds are shifting under our feet, it's not even the same world I came into in 2007, which wasn't that long ago. It's never been an easy place to make a living, doing comics. And it's hard to give advice. The best you can do, honestly, is make work and put it out there, and if it is good and if you keep doing it, you'll get an audience, and what you do with the power that having an audience gives you is up to you.

KATE BEATON grew up in Cape Breton. She earned a bachelor's degree in history and anthropology at Mount Allison University. She is the award-winning cartoonist behind Hark! A Vagrant, and she presently resides in Toronto.

Photo by Harris Potter
Main page images from cover of Hark.

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