Thought Bubbles: Comics Creators Talk ’09, Look to ’10–Part 3

Valentine (c) Dan Cooney
Valentine (c) Dan Cooney

The third part in our conversations with creators on comics in 2009 and what the new year holds, we spoke with Miriam Libicki (‘jobnik!’) and Dan Cooney (‘Valentine’), who are writers, artists, and, interestingly, are both teachers, educating what could be the next generation of comics creators.

(For part I, an intro and conversation with Brazilian illustrator Kako [Comic Book Tattoo, Greek Street], click here; for part II, interviews with Alex Robinson [Box Office Poison] and Mike Dawson [Freddie & Me], click here).

Miriam Libicki

Miriam’s published work has primarily centered on her experiences as an American Jewish girl in the Israeli army, available through her graphic novel and comics series “jobnik!: an american girl’s adventures in the israeli army.”

She is one of the creators I spoke to for one of Osmosis’ very first pieces, a look at the business side of being an indie comics creator.

Picking that conversation up from where we left it, she says, “2009 was the year I ran out of money & had to get a day job — two actually — but also the year that i got an amazing job solely on the experiences and skills I’ve built up as a self-published cartoonist.”

That job?

“Creating and teaching a brand-new class for evening continuing education at Emily Carr University in Vancouver,” she says.

She describes the at Emily Carr, her alma mater, as “a course on the history and theory of Western autobio comics, as well as a workshop-based practical guide to creating your own.” Called “The Graphic Memoir: An Introduction,” she says the six-week course “was an intimate class of less than a dozen students, but that enabled a real sense of camaraderie to develop in our classroom exercises.”

Students “ranged from animation-school dropouts to retired elementary school teachers to graphic designers to postal workers.”

“Watching them find their (very different) voices in comics was one of the most thrilling things I’ve ever experienced,” Miriam says, adding that “teaching is way more rewarding than I ever expected. My very first group critique, where all my students came out so supportive of each other but also honest and specific about each others’ work, was one of the best days of my life.”

But, in a sense, it’s a mixed blessing. Miriam says, “all the work i put into my day jobs has slowed down my comics production to a frustrating degree, but at the same time, in creating and giving the class, I feel more engaged with the cultural conversation of alternative/literary comics, both past and future, than I’ve ever been.”

She’s currently working on the next issue of jobnik!, no. 8, “which is mostly a flashback to my basic training days,” she shares. “Yes, you’ll finally get to see the least kick-ass soldier in all of comics fire a gun! The results may underwhelm you.”

After that, she intends to revisit the sociology-influenced drawn essay, which she says is in the vein of her publication “Towards a hot Jew: the Israeli Soldier as Fetish Object.”

Beyond that, she doesn’t want to reveal much more, echoing Alex Robinson’s sentiments about exposing a project to daylight before it’s ready.

“I’m really superstitious about work I haven’t done yet,” she says.

When speaking of books she read in 2009, Miriam says since she buys books on recommendation, she tends to be a bit behind. Thus “favorite graphic novels I read this year were apparently published earlier [than 2009].”

Despite that, she came to “A really encouraging realization” this year, “that there is a critical mass of great comics creators out there.”

“So even if, for a lone creator working in the Western graphic novel idiom, it takes five years to make a 100-300 page book, there are enough great creators that several great graphic novels are published every year,” she waxes. “Before the past few years, it didn’t appear that there were so many stars in the comics firmament [but] there were . . . they were all just at home, working.”

2009 was when Miriam enjoyed “re-discovering the genius of creators who have been plugging away for decades.”

“My biggest inspirations this year have been Lynda Barry, for 2008’s ‘What it Is,’ which i’ve cribbed from for my class; Eddie Campbell for “Monsieur Leotard” . . and really his whole catalogue, which I’ve been rereading; and Gipi, especially his two magazine-sized, inkwash short stories, “They found the Car” and “The Innocents.” Those artists are all pushing me to be more painterly in my comics, which I am loving.”

Miriam’s favorite “new to her” artist of 2009 was Nate Powell, whose “Swallow me Whole” was published in late 2008. Of Powell, Miriam says he “clearly wields his brush from his shoulder, not his wrist.”

Looking to 2010, she’s most excited to read Eddie Campbell’s “Alec” omnibus (Alec: The Years Have Pants), which came out at the tail-end of 2009 (Dec. 23).

“I also hope Jon Ascher’s magnum opus/astonishing debut graphic novel ‘Neil’ finds a publisher soon,” she shares. “I’ve read it and it’s awesome.”

“Other than that, I’m not plugged in enough to know what is about to be published. But I’m sure it will be a great year, because my ‘graphic novelist critical mass’ theory dictates it,” she jokes.

In conclusion, Miriam shares that any readers that might be in the Vancouver area, her class starts up again this month, Wednesday nights.

“A bunch of spots are still available,” she says, and more information can be found here: http://www.ecuad.ca/programs/cs

Daniel Cooney

Ever since first running into Daniel Cooney at the Alternative Press Expo a number of years ago, I’ve admired his clean lines and cool action sensibilities. Not only does he write and illustrate his books books ‘Valentine‘ and the soon-to-be-released ‘The Tommy Gun Dolls,’ he’s a recent father, and an educator at San Francisco’s Academy of Art University.

In contrast to Libicki’s new journey as a teacher of the comic arts, Dan’s been teaching comics for seven years now, the past five years at The Academy of Art University for the Illustration and Liberal Arts department.

“Teaching is a whole different animal than writing and drawing comics in your studio,” he says. “To share something you love with those eager to learn the craft is a challenging and rewarding experience. There’s a sense of responsibility for those in your classroom to apply what they like about comics and challenge them to improve their storytelling ability from concept to completion of a sequence, comic book or graphic novel.”

“The payoff,” he adds, “is seeing the results of a hardworking student improve from the first day they walked through the door. There’s the old adage ‘practice what you preach’ and this cannot be truer to an artist who leaves the studio for a few hours to lecture and demo a skill set to a group of talented individuals.”

Interestingly, Dan estimates that about a third of his students have never drawn a comic book, “much less read many books.”

“I think part of it is the exploration in art school of trying new things — and illustrating a story in a comic book format is one of them. The classroom makes up an interesting dynamic of beginners, enthusiasts and aspiring professionals each semester that make the learning environment fun and at times thought-provoking.”

“I feel like I have the best job on the planet,” Dan relates. “I get to work at home on comic books and be with my family and go into a creative academic institution to teach what I love doing. I’m a lucky guy and thankful everyday for it.”

On his comics work, Dan says “I didn’t publish a new Valentine book this year and that usually means pushing the books that have been on the shelf (or lack there of) a bit more to the retailers to stay on their radar until the next volume comes out in 2010.”

A frequent fixture at conventions, he says “I find exhibiting at the comic conventions is my grass roots approach to attracting new readers and stocking up retailer inventory with my books to show I’m still here doing what I love most, telling stories through the medium of comic books.”

This was also the year he challenged himself artistically, “changing up the style a bit,” due to his pending stand-alone graphic novel ‘The Tommy Gun Dolls.’

“The art style is gritty crime fiction set during the last days of prohibition in the notorious Barbary Coast District of San Francisco which is a contrast to the slick graphic style that I apply to the more contemporary Valentine books. There’s a challenge and a danger of working on two books set years apart at the same time, but I find it exciting to jump back and forth like a time traveler with an ink brush,” he shares.

Dan says that volume 4 of the ‘Valentine’ series should be in time for Comic-Con 2010, and that ‘The Tommy Gun Dolls’ will be released online in periodic installments as before coming out as a stand-alone graphic novel in 2011 — much like Mike Dawson is doing with his ‘Troop 142.’

Dan similarly talked about the changes that technology holds for the industry.

“The future of comics lies in digital distribution with the option to purchase a book in print. You can reach a growing audience on the web that takes their Internet content on-the-go these days via iPhone, Kindle, portable workbook and laptop versus going in to a comic book shop,” he says.

“I don’t want to give the impression I’m [purely] pro-digital and just brush aside brick and mortar stores to get my comics,” he clarifies. “I very much enjoy going into a comic book shop as a reader picking up new material. It is from the perspective of a publisher and creator that digital distribution cannot be ignored when it comes to developing an effective marketing plan for the success of your book.”

Some of the things in comics that wowed him in the past year are in a similar vein.

“I like what Zuda Comics has published as a Web comic, and then in book form — like Jeremy Love’s ‘The Bayou’, as well as Red 5 Comics’ ‘Atomic Robo’ by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener. The appeal here is these books are successful both in digital and print format. I first came across them on the web and purchased the books through their respective Web sites.”

Another publication that broke the mold, Dan says that DC’s ‘Wednesday Comics’ was a standout in 2009.

“I loved the Sunday style strip format and size of the 12-week run the company did, and look
forward to its 11″ x 17″ hardcover publication in June next year.”

As for books published under the more traditional paradigm, Dan says he enjoyed the following standouts, in no particular order: the Vertigo Crime books by Ian Rankin, Brian Azzarello; ‘Asterios Polyp’ by David Mazzucchelli; Darwyn Cooke’s adaptation of ‘Parker: The Hunter,’ originally written by Richard Stark; Al Williamson’s collection of ‘Flash Gordon’ stories, and Heathentown by Corina Sara Bechko.

“‘Asterios Polyp’ stands out for the unique page layouts and narrative visuals unconventional in comics – the book felt fresh and different, the story didn’t wow me as much as the thought that went into the
visuals did,” Dan muses. “‘Parker: The Hunter’ was a great read because I’m a huge fan of crime fiction and would like to see more prose authors have their work adapted into the graphic novel format.”

When asked about what on his radar for 2010, Dan says, “I heard that Daniel Clowes, Charles Burns and Craig Thompson have new work to be published in 2010 – I look forward to reading what they’ve been working on.”

Check out part IV, where we get thoughts from Von Allan (“The road to God Knows”) and Carrie Smith (“The Power Against”).

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