ECCC 2018: The Artists Who Write Panel With Patric Reynolds, Colleen Coover, Kristen Gudsnuk, Stan Sakai & Adam Warren

by Hannah Means Shannon

The Artists Who Write: The Craft and Creation of Comics Panel at Emerald City Comic Con 2018 included moderator Patric Reynolds, Colleen Coover, Kristen Gudsnuk, Stan Sakai, and Adam Warren.

Coover was asked about the many genres and influences on Bandette, and she said that she and Tobin do their best to make the comic as French as possible without reading or speaking French. Working with her partner Paul Tobin on project is similar to working with her good friend Jeff Parker in the past, but with Tobin things are actually a little more “formal”. He writes something, she makes notes, and comes up with points to tweak or improve. He then comes back with arguments. Then they come to compromises.

Gudsnuk’s comic Henchgirl started out as a webcomic, and she was asked how things might have been different if it was published first. She isn’t sure she would have had the stamina for 300 pages of comic on a print book, but she used the webcomic platform to give herself “arbitrary” deadlines. The storytelling is also very condensed because the installments were limited to weekly release segments, and she needed to convey enough each time.

Asked about using “morally ambiguous” characters, for instance in her new book, Modern Fantasy, Gudsnuk said she’s drawn to exploring that naturally, and she’s noticed there aren’t many female anti-heroes in comics. This ground felt “fresh”. One of her favorite films is Young Adult with Charlize Theron in it, where she’s a “garbage person” but you root for her anyway.

Stan Sakai asked about his long history with Sergio Aragones, Sakai said they met when he posed as a letterer to get work from Aragones. He was able to learn from a Todd Klein instructional book about how to letter in the “Todd Klein method”. He didn’t like the pens recommended, and each page of Groo the Wanderer was a little different, he laughed.

Usagi Yojimbo: Senso brings sci-fi elements into the story world, and Sakai said he wanted to do his own take on War of the Worlds. It was on the “backburner” for years. Other genres he likes includes Sherlock Holmes stories, including a miniseries he’d love to do. With Usagi, because he owns the character, he can do whatever genre elements he wants, bringing them in. He can “get away with it”, he said.

Adam Warren discussed Empowered saying that he has to “burn himself out” on certain tricks. There were times when he was “over-dialoging” but he had to burn that out of himself before he could move on. It’s an organic thing, by doing enough pages, to get over your own limitations, Warren said.

Asked about his scripts vs. using thumbnails, when working on the new series with Carla Speed McNeil, he said he gives full scripts. He often needs a really specific detail in one panel to set up the pay off in the next panel, for instance having a character in the background, so he has to stick to careful layouts or script.

All the panelists shared how closeted comic artists’ lives are, and Reynolds said he makes himself go and speak to another person at least once a day. Interacting with others helps the work, rather than just letting oneself stay isolated, working at home.

Asked about working on established titles vs. one’s own stories, Coover said that when working with Marvel, she was working on titles that were kind of on the “fringe” of the Marvel universe, so she was allowed to do as she wished for the most part.

Gudsnuk commented on the importance of drawing things from your own life in order to tell stories because just “making stuff up” isn’t enough. Looking back at it now, Henchgirl feels like an “alterate reality diary” from her life at the time. But she also likes genre elements, for instance time travel, and includes it in her work. She sees parallels between writing and time travel, the ability to think of a great line and put it into a comic retroactively that you failed to say in the real world but thought of later.

Warren said that if you’re out at dinner with a group of writers, and someone says something clever, and another one says, “That’s good”, it means they’ve just stolen the line.

Sakai said that regarding any kind of “message” in his work, Usagi is basically a story about “honor”, which he stole from a little boy commenting on the comic to him. Usagi represents parts of himself, Sakai said, and he feels all creators bring themselves to their characters. He said that sometimes he asks this longstanding Usagi fanclub for help with research, including finding reference pictures.

Warren worked on Iron Man at Marvel, and was asked if that influenced Empowered at all. He did a six part miniseries on Iron Man, and it was heavy scifi and aggressively so. He lost a lot of readers on that through being too technical, he felt. Learning from that, he dialed the sci-fi level down in Empowered.

Asked about how they recharge their “creative batteries”, Coover said it’s essentially a big question lately with “existential dread” and concern about the fate of the world. She and her partner joined a rock climbing gym. It’s the first time she’s done exercise that’s not dull, and she also took up crotchet. These are aspects of “self-care” to keep moving.

Some tips from the panelists on working on your own project included setting yourself chapter breaks in your work so you don’t feel too overwhelmed, and making sure you make a point to start a project rather than thinking endlessly about it.

Talking about working methods, Sakai said he does thumbnails and scripts. Gudnsuk uses a lot of dialog, so she does a full script, too. She thinks she “wings it” a bit too much in not knowing how long her project will be ahead of time, though.