The Art of Creating Comics
Make art: An interview with Seth
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.
Cartoonist Seth talks about reading Mad Magazine, following in the footsteps of trailblazers like Robert Crumb and Art Spiegelman, and the serious attention currently given to comics.
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Image: From The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists, courtesy of Drawn & Quarterly
How did you get started in comics?
Well, I think most cartoonists of my generation grew up reading mainstream superhero and horror comic books... and Mad Magazine (natch). Just the sort of material to coerce a certain kind of lonely child into wanting to be a comic artist. I spent my childhood attempting to cartoon and my teen-years trying to perfect the craft. By the time I had grown up and realized I didn't want to draw Spiderman, or work at MAD, it was too late. I was a cartoonist. The problem then was trying to figure out what a young adult interested in art and literature could do with the comics medium. Fortunately for me, people like Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman, and the Hernandez brothers (among others) had already figured this out not long before it was my turn at bat. I had trailblazers to follow, which made it easier. The real task was finding my own path. But that is every artist's problem.
What changes have you seen in the genre and the publishing side of the business since you started?
Tremendous ones. When I first became interested in comic books as a kid, they were still a mass market medium but over the next two decades they declined to the point of near extinction (around the year 2000). Mainstream comics of that time were almost as marginalized as the “alternative” comics. Strangely for a variety of reasons I still don't fully understand, comics have made a major comeback and have gained a lot of legitimacy in the last ten years. When I started out in the eighties, the idea of creating serious comics for adults was pretty laughable to most folks and for the longest time it was hard to even explain what alternative comics or graphic novels were. Nobody seemed to understand or care. Not so, any longer.
Comics are given serious attention now and I'm quite surprised. You see them reviewed in major newspapers and exhibited in serious museums. I wouldn't have predicted it.
I'm not as enthused about how well the mainstream superhero comics have fared. Or perhaps I should say—more their content than the comics themselves. The modern adult culture seems to have embraced all the worst pulp elements of those books. Superhero aesthetics have become the backbone (it seems to me) of almost all modern genre fiction nowadays—in films, cartoons and video games... whatever is popular. Rather depressing. I'm not a fan. I didn't think the mainstream pop culture could get stupider, but it just goes to show you there is always another step down.
What would you tell an aspiring comics artist who is starting out today?
Now that comics/graphic novels are being taken more seriously and getting some genuine literary attention, it is even more important to hang on to the “underground” attitude that shaped our medium.
Don't get sucked into thinking of yourself as a professional. Someone with a group of marketable skills.
Don't give up your artistic vision for a good publishing contract. Don't buy in too easily to the system of literary editors that developed for prose writers. Comics are a different medium and not all editors know how they work as well as you do. Have faith in your own judgement. Remain an artist, at all costs.
Produce art because you have something genuine to offer. Don't get swayed by all the pop culture nonsense that surrounds art making today.
To paraphrase Andy Warhol. Make art. Let others decide if it is any good. While they are deciding, make more art.
Seth is the cartoonist of Clyde Fans; It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken; Wimbledon Green; George Sprott; Bannock, Beans, and Black Tea; and Vernacular Drawings. He is also the designer of the New York Times bestselling Peanuts collections, and a New Yorker illustrator. He lives in Guelph, Ontario.
LISTEN to an in-depth interview with Seth by CBC's Nora Young.
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