Category Archives: Comics/Cartoons

An Interview with Hugh MacLeod of

Cartoonist Hugh MacLeod of talks about creative sovereignty, the business of art, and the pursuit of blinding moments of clarity.

AC_MacLeod-280For people who haven’t read your book yet, can you share one or two of its key themes?

HM: The book’s called Ignore Everybody. I first published it on the blog under the title How to Be Creative. And it wasn’t really an instruction manual — I wasn’t telling people what to do. I was talking about the landmines I hoped they wouldn’t step on because landmines are expensive to step on.

My main thesis is that when you first have a good idea, there’s no one who can really tell you whether the idea is good or not. For it to be any good, it has to be so out there, there’s no point of reference. Also, really good ideas, once they’re executed, tend to alter the power balance in relationships, and people are very conservative about changing power balances. I think it was chapter 4 where I said that good ideas have lonely childhoods. The initial loneliness of a good idea is to be expected.

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An Interview with Matt Wagner, Part 2

Comic book writer and artist Matt Wagner talks about how Mage is like a Zen journey, why he was drawn to working with material from early Batman stories, and what makes for good comic-book storytelling.

Matt Wagner

Photo credit: Greg Preston.

Welcome to the second half of this two-part interview with Matt Wagner, award-winning comic book writer and illustrator, and creator of Mage and Grendel. If you haven’t already read Part One of this interview, be sure to check it out to hear Wagner talk about the birth of Mage, and why comic book creations often look like their creators.

I recently read your Batman run — the “Dark Moon Rising” books. Could you describe where the idea for those books came from?

They’re actually based on two of my favorite Golden Age Batman stories from the late ’30s and early ’40s. They’re both pre-Robin stories — before Robin shows up. “The Mad Monk” is in Detective Comics #31 and #32. #31 you’ll recognize — it has a very famous cover; it’s a huge image of Batman looming up over a small castle in the foreground. There’s a moon behind him, and he has absolutely ginormous bat ears. In fact, when you look it up, you’ll go, “Oh, of course — that cover.” The other one, “Hugo Strange and the Monster Men,” was in Batman #1.

Part of the fun of playing with somebody else’s toys is the challenge of trying to tell a story where some of the playing pieces are already in place on the board. In the world of Grendel, in the world of Mage, I’m the absolute god. Whatever I say happens, happens, and there’s never any question. With Batman there are many other aspects to consider. [Also,] any work I’ve done for DC, I always like to work early in a character’s career because I hate the giant, extended, huge continuity crap you have to deal with in their world. And I’ve just always liked primary-motivation stories.

So I decided there was a missing link in the early Batman tales, where we needed to see his transition from Batman Year One — the Frank Miller/David Mazzucchelli classic storyline where he’s fighting just thugs and mobsters — to his more established litany of costumed crazies that eventually becomes his absolute normalcy, you want to call it that [laughter]. And so I decided to take these two early stories and revamp them into a modern setting. I wanted to dig deep into the actual origins of this character.

Those early primal Batman tales are neat because the conventions that have since become established as being comic-booky were fresh and new and were based more on a pulp tradition than what we think of as comic cooks. And they were just so unfettered and raw. So I took those and tried to squeeze them into DC’s continuity and make them work.

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Category: Comics/Cartoons

An Interview with Matt Wagner, Part 1

Comic book writer and artist Matt Wagner talks about the birth of Mage, and why comic book creations often look like their creators.

Matt Wagner

Image (c) copyright Matt Wagner

This is the first half of a two-part interview. Be sure to also check out Part Two, in which Wagner talks about how Mage is like a Zen journey, and what makes for good comic-book storytelling.

Were you a storyteller as a young boy?

Matt Wagner: I was. My father, and this dates him quite a bit, used to say I was vaccinated with a Victrola needle because I was very talkative…. My parents like to tell a tale of when I was quite young. I must have been five or something like that. We had literally — I kid you not — a door-to-door Bible salesman come to the door one day selling these lavishly illustrated Bibles. We were going through it and I was pointing out all the illustrations and saying, “Oh, look this is Noah, this is Jonah, Jesus” etc., etc., and we got to a picture of Adam and Eve in their loincloths in the Garden of Eden and I turned to my dad, apparently, and said, “Dad, Tarzan!” [laughter] So I think I was doomed for this profession from the very beginning.

My mother was an English teacher before she became a full-time mom, and a huge proponent of reading, so she made sure I was an early and vigorous reader. Coupled with that was the fact that I was an only child. I grew up in the middle of Pennsylvania in Amish country — we lived out away from most other houses…. I drew to entertain myself because there wasn’t much video entertainment in those days. I think we had probably three or four TV stations initially. And so I was a vigorous reader and I drew. And comic books were both writing and drawing all rolled into one and just became the magic quotient for me.

So you were headed for comics from the start?

MW: I sure wanted to. They were such a mystery to me. And of course in those days it was all centered around the big two publishers. There was no overnight delivery service at that stage, so pages of original comic art were not going to go from writer to artist to inker through the regular mail. You pretty much had to live in New York; you had to show up at the offices in person to get jobs. As a result it was very, very insular, and I just had no idea what it was all about.

But here again, another childhood tale: My parents have a school-memories book from when I was a kid, and on the back of all the elementary school years is a little spot to fill in what I wanted to be when I grew up. And one year I wrote “astronaut,” and I’m sure that’s the year they landed on the moon. Every other year I wrote “comic book writer.”

From what age?

MW: From kindergarten.


MW: And I wrote “comic book writer” because I just assumed whoever wrote the comics must draw them, too. I didn’t know that it was usually a team effort, which in commercial comics is the norm.

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Category: Comics/Cartoons

An Interview with Dan Piraro

Bizarro's Dan Piraro talks about his quest to use fewer words, games he plays with his audience, and how he learned to write funny things in both the best and worst of times.

Dan Piraro

Image copyright (c) Dan Piraro 2007.

What do you think is the key to good cartoon writing?

I have this ongoing effort to create humor in fewer words because I’m very wordy. I always have been. I was that way in school. When a teacher would say to write a 500-word paper about something or other, I would write 750 just because I’m a wordy person. So something that I’ve done over the years, especially in recent years, is try to reduce the number of words in my cartoons just because I think it’s funnier to say things simply and quickly than to over explain. But my cartoons still tend to be pretty wordy.

One of my favorite cartoonists in the world is Sam Gross. He’s most notable from the New Yorker magazine. His work is just fantastic and he rarely uses words. And when he does, it’s almost never more than three or four. I’d love to be able to do that, but it’s just not the way I think.

There’s some kind of irony in somebody who feels they write too much creating a single-panel comic.

Yeah [laughter] I know. I actually started by trying to do strips and they just were too forced. And then I started doing panels, and bang, people just liked them way better.

Ever since I was a child, my favorite cartoons have always been single-panel magazine gags without regular characters, without storylines — a single glimpse of life, and your brain figures out what just happened before this picture or what’s about to happen after it. I love that kind of humor. And so that’s what I was best at.

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Category: Comics/Cartoons