What is the difference between comics and graphic novels?
It’s all about marketing, of course. Both comics and graphic novels communicate in the same way, telling stories with pictures in sequence, often with words added. Calling something a ‘graphic novel’ generally denotes a longer read, and a spine (rather than staples) along the edge. In the two graphic novels I have drawn (“Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song” and “The Oregon Trail: Road to Destiny,” in collaboration with writer Frank M. Young, I’ve tried my best to give them the length and depth of a written novel, rather than just a comic book story told using lots of pages. I want my readers to have to use a book mark.
How would you describe your drawing style?
I’d call it “flexible.” I shape my style, and the drawing tools I use, based on the content of the story I’m telling. If it needs to evoke 1930’s America, I will draw my version of a 1930’s newspaper strip using a dip pen. If I’m telling stories of contemporary urban life, ink and brush are my tools, and I’ll be bending my style more in the direction of Charles Burns and Jessica Abel. I don’t feel like I have one recognizable style, but maybe that’s only because I am not able to look as an impartial observer.
Who are your main influences as an artist?
I think Robert Crumb is my biggest influence. I am often working toward not being so influenced by Crumb, because I don’t want to be seen as an imitator. But I know I would not be doing what I’m doing without having read his stories from “Weirdo” and other publications in my formative years. I have many other cartoonist influences, such as Lynda Barry and John Porcellino, but I also am heavily influenced by filmmakers, especially Kurosawa, Hitchcock, and the French New Wave.
Can you tell us something about the process of making a graphic novel/comic?
The best parts, for me, are in the planning stages: drawing thumbnail sketches of a page a few times until I reach a composition that feels most effective. I used to think that drawing the panel borders was the most boring part of making comics, but later realized that it is as important as the drum and bass in music. Over time, I started to feel a lot of joy in creating panel borders. The more joy a creator can find in every aspect of making comics, and the more care one can put into it, the more joy the reader will potentially feel.
What is the most satisfying aspect of being creative?
The whole point of it all, for me, is connecting with readers. When I hear back from a reader that they were moved by my work in some way, I feel like I’ve accomplished something.