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The Art of Creating Comics

Don't get married: An interview with Chester Brown

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 Chester Brown talks about his creative process, and why he thinks Byron Katie and Colin Wilson are the two wisest people on the planet.
Image: From Louis Riel, courtesy of Drawn & Quarterly.

What’s your usual creative process? 
I've worked different ways, but for my last two books I started by writing a long-hand script that consisted of dialogue. I then wrote a second draft of the script that divided the dialogue into separate panels. When that second draft was done, I started drawing. There was a certain amount of rewriting at the drawing stage. For my last book I did all of the drawings for the book in pencil, then traced them all in black ink. I still draw on paper; I don't do any creative work on the computer. Or perhaps I should say, I don't do any creative work intended for publication on the computer. I've played around with drawing programs and apps for fun. 

What are some of the advantages of working with text and drawings vs. just text? What do you think that this genre can do that text-only genres can’t?
I think that comics can draw readers into a narrative more quickly than prose can, but that's a pretty superficial advantage. It may take a good prose writer a little bit longer to grab a reader's attention, but once that attention has been gained, prose can be as involving as comics. I'm not sure that there are significant advantages. Perhaps comics have a bit of an advantage with historical or foreign settings. Drawings can help situate the reader in an alien environment in a way that might be more difficult to do with prose. 

Are there any disadvantages?
Prose can tell the same story in fewer pages. 

What would you tell an aspiring comics artist who is starting out today? 
Don't get married. Oh, you wanted a "writing/drawing/creating tip". Don't rely too heavily on narrative captions. Dialogue is more involving for readers. 

But really, don't get married. 

What is a question that you would like to be asked that no one has ever asked you? And what is your answer to that question?

Who is the wisest person on the planet?

Byron Katie: everyone should read her book Loving What Is. That's the one to start with, although you should read her other books too. They would be found in the self-help section of your book store, but don't let that put you off; she has a radical approach to life that's far more extreme than anything else you'll find in the self-help section. 

The second wisest person on the planet is Colin Wilson, whose curiosity and relentlessly positive attitude are bracing. He's written something like a hundred books, non-fiction (on a wide variety of subjects) as well as fiction. I don't even know which one to recommend starting with; perhaps The Occult because it's easy to find in second-hand book shops. 

Chester Brown lives in Toronto, where he ran for parliament in the general election as a member of the Libertarian Party of Canada. He is the author of I Never Liked You, Louis Riel, Paying for It, and The Playboy.

Image: Self-portrait by Chester Brown.

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