Pratt Graduates Answer “Why Comics?” At Comic Arts Brooklyn 2017

by Hannah Means Shannon

The Why Comics? Panel at Comic Arts Brooklyn 2017 hosted Ron Wimberly, Miss Lasko Gross, Nicole Rifkin, V. Kenneth Marion, Maritsa Patrinos, and Dan Bandit, and was moderated by Pratt Institute Professor Floyd Hughes.

All the panelists had once been students at Pratt, and Hughes had actually taught all of them, as well, something he said he was “proud” of.

When the panelists were asked “Why Comics?” Rifkin said, “Because storytelling. It’s a beautiful medium”. She described her comics as “sad, surreal”, and said that she wants to make people “feel something”. Rifkin does “editorial” comics work, she said, while also working on a personal graphic novel and several album designs. She does show posters, too. She does illustrations for The Atlantic, and The New Yorker, The New York Times, Village Voice, and more.

Marion said that he’s wanted to create comics since childhood, and since he’s been working for DC Comics, on a comic called Trinity, and is fulfilling that dream. Marion has recently finished up Trinity, and is going to be going back to Green Lanterns, coming up. The Flash is a dream book for him he hopes to work on some day, but Green Lanterns is a close second.

Lasko Gross says comics are a “collision” of her interests, and she started off making comics out of “revenge, spite, and hatred” in Middle School. She likes the “collision” of writing and art, and “revenge”, she laughed. Lasko Gross has been doing comics for The New Yorker with “gags” and she’s about to release the sequel to Henni, her YALSA winning graphic novel, in a few months.

Henni is about the danger of “fundamentalist thinking” and more. Lasko Gross has also published two autobiographical books from Fantagraphics. She said that it was wrongly reported that there would be a trilogy of autobio books, and now everyone asks her about when a third will come out. So she feels she will eventually do a third one “at some point” focusing on the “Pratt years”.

Patrinos says her “slice of life” comics help her “come to terms” with things in her life, “bookmarking” experiences for what would make a “good comic”. She asks herself “Can you get a good story out of it?” when something bad happens, which is therapeutic. Patrinos works full time at BuzzFeed doing writing and illustrating, she said. She draws comics for various pages and runs the Buzzfeed comics page. She also sells her personal work by making risograph zines at shows like MoCCA Fest and SPX.

Bandit says he’s getting back into making comics after a hiatus, and finds comics to be the most “complete art form”, where he can tell the equivalent of a whole movie by himself. Bandit worked on the “final episodes of Adventure Time” recently, he said. He lives in Vermont, and is currently raising kids and building a house, but he’s also working on new album covers and a personal comic project.

Wimberly joked that he’s in comics for the “heaps of cash” and to “sell his scripts”. Currently, he’s running a Kickstarter for a culture magazine with art criticism, comics, and more. He’s into “culture hacking” and “telling stories that illuminate culture”, so this work will express that. It’s LAAB Magazine on Kickstarter currently. He’s working on other things that are coming out next year, as well.

Asked about their techniques, Rifkin said she works completely digitally except for sketching. She works on a 2007 Wacom Tablet, which leads to problems if she loses a stylus.

Marion says he uses lightboxing, and is “old school”, working with inkers since he’s usually the penciller. He has tried working with digital, but it didn’t work out for him, feeling like it took the life out of the characters.

Lasko Gross said it would be hard for her to “relingquish control” and let someone else ink her work, so she finds Marion to be “brave”. She uses a mixture of techniques depending. On her original graphic novels, she does everything by hand, and then digitally cleans things up, removing like “tea-stains” and “crumbs” since she often works on personal projects during lunch breaks from other jobs. But on The New Yorker stuff it needs to be very “crisp”, with digital colors, so she does lightboxing, and it’s a battle to keep things lively when the methods are so precise.

Patrinos said that at BuzzFeed her work has to be done very quickly, so she uses digital methods, including for animation. For her personal work, she’s mostly traditional.

Bandit does illustrations on watercolor and inks with a brush. Then he scans, colors, and uses photoshop. Now he colors on a Cintiq in recent years, but does mostly flat color. When he was working on Adventure Time initially, he designed the look of the show through pencil drawings, and even the backgrounds for the first four seasons. He used a micron pen because of how quickly he needed to move, rather than a brush.

Wimberly says he reads and watches a lot of movies in the planning stages of something, and takes a long time to write a script, but by the time he comes back to the script, his ideas have solidified more. He gets interrupted by taking other jobs, “having to make money”, through the whole process. These days he blows up his “breakdowns” on a light table he built, inks over them, scans that in, and does colors in photoshop. He has special “secret” techniques to add “sauce” to it all, he laughed.

Asked if they wanted to comment on working in the comics industry or beyond, Wimberly said that he loved working in animation, and would like to pursue it further.

Bandit said that he’s been fortunate to work on jobs where he felt “inspired” and he’s been able to follow a certain style and “sensibility” in his work. He’s enjoyed being a freelance artist instead of working in a studio, and he went freelance after Season 4 of Adventure Time. He thinks an artist should “enjoy the process as much as possible” to keep the artist engaged in the work. He prefers doing his own thing, and having a “variety” of assignments. He’d also love to be back working on comics, too, though, with something like a graphic novel a year out.

Patrinos said it’s been a “slow boil” to get where she is now because comics take a long time, and it’s easy to get frustrated. And there’s not a lot of money for comics “straight out of the gate”. She feels like she created a hundred “anecdotal comics that no one cared about” before she reached the one that people did care about. All the comcis that no one saw, though, were worth it because she chose to do something that she enjoyed.

Lasko Gross said there’s a lot more “glory” in small pieces of work, rather than a graphic novel, and so that works against ever doing a longer work. But if your “long game” is to have a “shelf full of novels”, it’s worth it to do it. The amount of money is “negligible” for graphic novels, she warned, and the illustration work is more financially “sustaining”. But for her, in the long run, she’s much prouder of her graphic novels.

Marion said he wouldn’t trade it for anything, but it’s a “lot of work” and he feels he works more hours than most of his friends. He said that hitting deadlines is a lot of pressure you “put on yourself” and can be difficult. Some people are ok with that, some struggle with that, but for him it’s fun. On average, he works at a page a day, so there are lots of long nights and early mornings, but he wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Rifkin said she feels lucky to be hired to do comics for magazines. She never thought editorial comics would be an option for her, but being hired to do comics rather than just illustration makes her happy. But it took a lot of “hard work and criticism” to get her where she is.

Marion agreed about criticism, saying anyone trying to break in is going to sometimes be told they “suck” and they have to move past that point. Floyd Hughes agreed that it’s an “ongoing process”, and you continue to grow and change as an artist.

An audience member asked if their art styles are ever something that holds them back or makes finding work difficult, or if the prevalence right now of indie styles in comics is making them more accepted by publishers. Marion said that corporate comics is getting more accepting of indie styles right now, but no matter what your style, “things need to look right in your world” whatever look you have. The rules of perspective and “believability” need to work in the context of your world in order for it to be professional level work.

Wimberly never had anyone tell him his work sucked, he said, and when he went to DC or Marvel, he was just looking for work in a direct way. He never heard back from e-mails to Marvel at that time, but DC responded and hired him. The next time he got work, Marvel came to him. He has found that editors often don’t know anything about art, never having been to art school, and it may be that they reject an artist because they just don’t like a person’s work, or it may be that their criticism has no “bearing on what you’re doing”. So artists should keep from getting too upset about criticism, he advised, since editors don’t necessarily have an “eye for art”.

Asked about the need for self-motivation, Bandit said you have to reach for your own opportunities and set a “championship level” in your own mind. He started “sprinting” as soon as he got out of art school, and he advises that in order to get work and push yourself forward.