Showing posts with label Interviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Interviews. Show all posts

Interview With Josh Kornbluth

Photo of Josh Kornbluth
So after recently listening to Ben Franklin...Unplugged by Josh Kornbluth, I decided I would try to hunt him down through Twitter and interview him for Abbreviated Audio.  I've been a huge fan of Kornbluth since I watched Haiku Tunnel (a film that made it into my top films of all time list).  He has a self-depricating humor that he is able to use to spin out some many great tales and observations about how we (or rather he) does things.  The film and the audiobook are both worth checking out when you have the chance.  

The interview was a lot of fun and can be found here at Abbreviated Audio.  What was so great about Kornbluth is that he came across as the same man one sees in the film and on the audiobooks.  I'm sure there is some filter, but he was both genuine and funny, which made me totally geek out about the interview.  Definitely check it out if you have the chance!

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Other Publication: Sitting at the Grownups' Table: PW Talks with Ross Ballard II

Recent interview with Ross Ballard, a narrator, director and publisher of great audiobooks.

As producer, director, sound engineer, and narrator, Ross Ballard II wears many hats for his small, independent audiobook publishing company, Audiobooks. His most recent production, Screaming with the Cannibals by Lee Maynard, came out this summer, and I had the opportunity to talk with Ballard about the company and his experiences as a small publisher in the booming audiobook industry.

How would you summarize what Audiobooks offers?

Audiobook Narrator Ross Ballard
We consider ourselves a boutique audiobook studio that can spot the diamonds in the rough, undiscovered books that the large Oprah Book Club type publishers won't touch. We give voice to works that would never see the light of diction if it weren't for us. I'm constantly amazed at how many really good authors with good books are going begging for attention from publishers that don't appear interested in discovering new writers. They seem happy enough to just continually pound their audiences with the same genre and slap a known name on every book their selling...We record a different set of "night fighters" -- authors who toil away at their day jobs then burn the midnight oil creating wonderful characters and storylines. They are not artists starving for their breakfast. They are artists starving for attention....

For the rest of the interview, check out Publishers Weekly.

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Interview with Dan E. Burr, Artist of Economix

A few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to interview Michael Goodwin, author of Economix.  In this follow up interview, we get to hear from the artist of Economix, Dan E. Burr.

Lance:  How did you get into comics and what are some of your favorite past projects?

Book cover for Economix by Dan E. Burr and Michael Goodwin
Dan:  I was exposed to both comic strips and comic books from a very early age. As a small child I lived with an uncle who was older than me (but still a kid) and I looked at all the comics he bought and brought into the house. He also liked to draw (as did many of the members of my family) so I was very naturally following the example I saw.

I'd have to say I've enjoyed (almost) all the past projects I've been involved in. Some of those include:  Kings in Disguise (graphic novel), a story for Graphic Classics:  Ambrose Bierce, stories for Grateful Dead Comix #3, 4, 7, & Vol 2, #2, and stories for DC's The Big Book of Series, including Freaks, Thugs, Losers; Martyrs, Bad; Weird Wild West; and The 70's.

Lance:  What are some of the comics that you read and who has been major influences in your style and approach to comics?

Dan:  Like the music that I listen to and the movies I watch, I'm mostly interested in the older stuff, primarily Golden and Silver age titles.  Comic book artists: a lot of guys whose last names begin with the letter "K" - Kurtzman, Kirby, Krigstein, Kubert, and Krenkel,  also Wood, Williamson, Eisner, Elder, Engels, Drucker, Davis, Ditko, Cole, Crandall, Barks and many more.  Many comic strips (and their creators) have also been a huge influence such as Peanuts, Prince Valiant, Pogo, Li'l Abner, Flash Gordon, and Alley Oop.

Lance:  So what were your first thoughts when you were contacted about making a comic about economics?

Dan:  It sounded unique, very interesting and very timely.

Excerpt from Economix by Dan E. Burr and Michael GoodwinLance:  What compelled you to work with Michael (I'm presuming a pay-check is certainly always a piece of that, but anything else about the nature of the project come to mind?)

Dan:  A mutual agent brought us together.

Lance:  How did you and Michael determine the balance of word density with smoothness of reading?

Dan:  Mike had a good handle on that balance. Occasionally I did feel crowded by words and let him know and he would make adjustments.

Lance: Did this graphic novel challenge you differently from previous projects?

Dan:  Yes, but I think I'll just leave it at that.

Lance:  Was the choice to use black and white your decision, Michael’s, or the publisher’s?

Dan:  As I wasn't there during the initial discussions about the project I can only speculate on the decision and I'm assuming that, at least in part, it had to do with financial considerations. Regardless of the reason, I think the decision was the right one.

Lance:  How did that choice improve and/or hinder certain parts of the book?

Dan:  I really can't see this book being in color and I think to have produced it that way would have created an unnecessary distraction. Full color can drastically change the mood and feel of a (graphic) reading experience.

Lance:  What styles and sources influenced your particular artistic style in this endeavor?

Dan:  Chiefly I just wanted things kept simple and funny.

Lance:  Were you reasonably familiar with economics prior to this and if not, did you feel you needed to be in order capture Michael's ideas?

Dan:  I certainly know more about economics now than I did before I started the book, but I really don't think having a knowledge of economics was necessary to do my part, which is mainly to support the script with appropriate and entertaining graphics.

Lance:  What challenges did you find with the layout and design of the book as a whole?  Did you find yourself having to scrap certain approaches and styles?

Dan:  Since the important thing to me was for it to be easy to understand and follow (keeping in mind that much of the audience for the book very likely would not be comic book readers), again, I believe it had to be kept for the most part, simple. So what I tried to do was communicate Mike's ideas as clearly as possible throughout.

Lance:  Were there challenges with representing historical figures in terms of how serious or caricatured to represent them?  Did you find there were certain historical figures you could easily caricature and yet others, you wanted to get a closer depiction?

Dan:  For me, caricature goes where it will go. Some faces accommodate severe distortion more readily than others, but recognizability is still the most important component of caricaturing. I do really enjoy the evolving process of "finding" an impression of someone.

Lance:  How much nonfiction work or conceptual/content-heavy work have you done with comics and what challenges do you find with that?

Dan:  Most of the comics I've worked on have been historically based. I guess at this point I've come to think of it as my specialty.  Those challenges that do exist I enjoy.

Lance:  What was the biggest surprise in the whole experience of creating and publishing the graphic novel?

Dan:  The biggest "unexpected" was that the book grew by about sixty pages in length during the course of its creation.

Lance:  What would you change or revise in hindsight about the book in terms of art, style, etc?

Dan:  I have had some thoughts about this but, as I'm still evaluating, I would rather keep them to myself for the time being.

Lance:  Current and future projects?

Dan:  The sequel to the Great Depression era drama KINGS IN DISGUISE, titled ON THE ROPES (also set during the Great Depression,) will be published in March.

As with the first book the sequel was written by my long-time working partner, James Vance, and we're both quite proud of the end result. Those who've only seen my work on ECONOMIX may be surprised at the stylistic shift in approach to art and storytelling.

For more about Dan and his activities, check out his author bio.  To find out more about Economix, check out their website and blog.

Did you enjoy this read? Let me know your thoughts down below or feel free to browse around and check out some of my other posts!. You might also want to keep up to date with my blog by signing up for them via email.

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Recent Post on LETS Blog: Interview with David Weinberger

Several months back, I had the pleasure of reading David Weinberger's book, Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room.  (You can also find it in the Noblenet Library System to borrow, here). Rather than go on and on about the book, which I easily could, I lucked into the chance to interview him for this blog. Following up on his book, I got the opportunity to hear David speak and even the opportunity to interview him.  For more details about David, you can check out his brief bio on the Berman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.

For the full interview, click through to the NSCC LETS Blog.

Did you enjoy this read? Let me know your thoughts down below or feel free to browse around and check out some of my other posts!. You might also want to keep up to date with my blog by signing up for them via email.

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Interview with Michael Goodwin, Author of Economix

Book cover of Michael Goodwin and Dan E. Burr's Economix: How Our Economy Works (And Doesn't Work) In Words and Pictures
About two weeks ago, I put finished an awesome book.  My review of it one-sentence review of it on Facebook was clear and simple: "one of the most coherent texts on economics ever (probably cause it's a comic book!)."  Michael Goodwin & Dan E. Burr's Economix: How Our Economy Works (And Doesn't Work) In Words and Pictures explained economics in a way that made sense--no longer grounded in simple theory but in the actual history through which they developed.  I was so excited about the experience, I look to contact the author and artist to see if they would let me interview them and they kindly agreed.  In this post, I'll interview the author, Michael Goodwin and follow up with the artist, Dan E. Burr next.

Lance:  What inspired the idea for the book?

Michael:  Really, it was my interest in history. History keeps coming back to the same economic patterns, and I thought I should understand them. But when I looked at economic textbooks, the things I was interested in either weren't there, or they were stuck in sidebars without any context.

So I went back to the original sources, especially Adam Smith. I thought I'd known what Smith said--free markets rah rah rah--but he was so much richer than that. He includes everything from Carthaginian history to the price of kelp to the beauty of Irish prostitutes in London. As I read him and others, I realized that there was a whole story there that nobody was really telling.

Lance:  So did Smith end up your favorite economist or is there another?    (And did you ever imagine you'd be laying claim to a favorite 'economist'?)

Michael:  Hmm. Smith is up there, but I'd say that my favorite economist is probably John Kenneth Galbraith. Not that he was right about everything, but he's the only economist who really tried to nail down the modern corporate economy the way Smith nailed down the economy of his day.

In another sense, my favorite would be the 19th-century social thinker Henry George, just because he was so much fun to read--clear, moral, and lively. I would save his books to read as a treat for when my eyes were glazing over from reading other economists.

Lance:  Why choose comics to communicate the information?

Michael:  Well, I grew up in a household where comics were taken seriously, even before Maus (my stepfather is the cartoonist Rick Meyerowitz). I knew that comics are just plain more accessible and memorable. That especially mattered because the book was about a really intimidating subject; I was trying to reach the sorts of people who are scared away from the topic normally.

Lance:  Do you read comics?  Which ones?  Favorites?

Michael:  I do; I mostly prefer nonfiction comics, but then I mostly read nonfiction in general. I'll read anything by Larry Gonick, by Guy Delisle, by Joe Sacco, by Harvey Pekar, I could go on.

Lance:  Who were influential comics/authors in the creation of your work?  Were you channeling Scott McCloud?  Larry Gonick?  Rick Geary?

Michael:  Larry Gonick was the big one; he was half the reason I loved history in the first place. I'm also a big fan of Scott McCloud's work. I liked Rick Geary's stuff but I didn't know he'd done all the stuff he's done; I'm looking him up now and thinking I have to read some of his pieces.

Lance:  Was Gonick’s Einstein-like Guide the inspiration for creating a similar icon to represent yourself?  Why did you feel the need for the presence of this character?

Michael: Both Gonick and McCloud inspired me to use a narrator, but the reason I made the narrator represent me was to drive home the point that this is my book, from my point of view. If I'd had the narrator be Adam Smith, or a talking coin, or something like that I would have been giving the book an authority that I don't want to assume. There are far too many authors setting themselves up as authorities already.

Lance:  What challenges came up in the use of communicating this as comics?

Michael:  Well, it's a huge subject, and using the comics form meant I had to keep my word count way down. You can actually read Economix in an afternoon. Keeping the story from overflowing its banks was a real challenge.

Lance:  How did the collaboration come about?

Michael:  I always knew that I would have to have someone draw it--my crude stick figures would have gotten old fast. My agent knew Dan and recommended him, and Dad's samples were like ten times better than anyone else's.

Lance:  How did the partnering work for the project?

Michael:  I would write a detailed script with the text and what was going on in the panel. Dan would figure out how things would lay out and send sketches, I would make changes, and Dan would do the inks. Then, half the time, I would change my mind and Dan would have to start over again. (Sorry, Dan.)

Lance:  What challenges did you run into in terms of content and layout?

Michael:  That's more of a Dan question, but the book is still sort of dense; getting everything to fit while still having it visually inviting was a big challenge.

Lance:  How hard was the selling of the idea to a publisher as a comic?

Michael:  Only one place--Abrams ComicArts—wanted it, but one is enough. It specializes in comics (obviously) and particularly looks for unusual comics that don't fit existing categories. So it was a good fit. But still, I had to write the entire first draft before I even tried to sell it, because this is my first comic and my first book; nobody was going to give me a contract on my say-so that I could do it.

Lance:  What was the biggest surprise in the whole experienced of creating and publishing the graphic novel?

Michael:  How many other people have gone above and beyond to help it see daylight. People really got behind this book.

Lance: Any good examples of people that helped along the way to make the book a reality?

Michael: The obvious one is Dan; I think he cared a lot more about this book than he would have about a superhero comic that took the same amount of work and paid the same. It was a relief to know that he was as committed to seeing the book through as I was.  The publisher, Abrams, has been great too; every single author friend I have complains that their publisher didn't get behind the book. I'm like the only author who doesn't have that complaint.

Lance:  How has the book received?   What critiques have you received from the book in terms of content?  political vantage point?  artistic approach?

Michael:  It's been received really well. The reviews have ranged from positive to raves. Some people aren't entirely comfortable with the political content, but the only people who haven't liked it are a couple of conservatives on Amazon reviews.

Lance:  What would you change or revise in hindsight about the book in terms of content, art, voice, etc?

Michael:  Nothing about the art or the voice. I have some content tweaks but nothing major; as Dan can attest, I'm always tweaking. I do find myself wishing that I had like ten more pages of space to put in some stuff I cut out.

Oh, and in one panel I'm talking about how it may not be too late to stop certain environmental disasters, and the illustration is a flooded lower Manhattan. And not two months after the book is published, lower Manhattan floods. So that was a bad example. I would change that.

Lance:  At one point in the book, you step out of the book and speak about how you're directly injecting your values--what let to that decision?

Michael:  Well, as I say early on, every book on the economy reflects the author's values; the typical econ textbook is very political in what it chooses to talk about and what it doesn't. (For instance, since the 1950s the military budget has arguably been the single biggest fact in the economy, but you can read entire textbooks that don't mention it). But when you're dealing with the past, you seem more objective even when you're taking political stances--nobody sane thinks slavery or child labor was a good idea anymore. So my editor thought that the fact that my book is coming from a political point of view needed to be emphasized as the book reached the present day and economic debates that haven't been settled yet the way slavery has. And I agreed.

Lance:  It's probably about 6 months to a year since you finished the book; do you see any other changes or developments in the economy (positive, negative or neutral)?

Michael:  I'm waiting to see what happens with the "fiscal cliff" negotiations; it's a totally artificial crisis, but as Naomi Klein points out in The Shock Doctrine, artificial crises can become real crises if we use them as an excuse to give up the advances we've fought for.

Lance:  Current and future projects?

Michael:  Right now I'm just enjoying not having this book over my head. I'm planning another book; it will basically give some of the parts I had to take out of this book, but I'm not sure which parts yet.

Stick around for the next interview with artist Dan E. Burr.  For more information about their book and future endeavors, check out their website, Economix Comics.

Did you enjoy this read? Let me know your thoughts down below or feel free to browse around and check out some of my other posts!. You might also want to keep up to date with my blog by signing up for them via email.

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Behind the Mike: Simon Jones

My interview with Simon Jones in Library Journal:

With over 30 years of film, radio, television, and theater experience, Simon Jones ( has moved many an audience with his clear, distinct, British-accented voice and often deadpan delivery. An audiobook narrator since 1986, he has recorded over 60 titles, many of them Audie Award nominees and one—Mitch Cullin’s A Slight Trick of the Mind (HighBridge Audio, 2005)—a winner of that award. Among his most recent recordings are Daniel Ariely’s The Upside of Irrationality (HarperAudio) and Robert Harris’s Conspirata (S. & S. Audio), both released in 2010.

Eaton:  What have been your favorite audios to record to date?
Jones:  Jonathan Stroud’s “Bartimaeus” books: The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem’s Eye, Ptolemy’s Gate, and [the prequel to that trilogy,] The Ring of Solomon (Listening Library, 2004–10). I have really enjoyed relishing the role of Bartimaeus, evil demon extraordinaire. Stroud has created a fascinating alternative world where magic and the spirit world have real and corrupting power. The books are also funny as hell (or wherever Bartimaeus lives when not being tormented by his masters).

To read more, check out Library Journal for the full interview

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Interview With Cartoonist Genius: Larry Gonick

To some, Larry Gonick is a cartoon genius in all senses of the phrase; for others, he's more like a cartoon madman.  In 2009, Gonick published his fifth volume in the Cartoon History series, thereby spending some 1400+ pages depicting the history of humanity in comics.  He has been kind enough to grant me an interview for this blog.  

Picture of Larry GonickLANCE EATON:  You spent some 30+ years composing the Cartoon History series?  How does it feel to be “done” with it?  Are you done with it?

LARRY GONICK:  Yes, I'm done with it. When I finished, I felt great! Proud! Master-of-the-Universe Powerful! Then a few months went by, and I began to feel as if the organizing principle of my life had disappeared. Vacuum at the center. I kept asking myself, "if this was a lifetime project, is my life over?" Then those feelings faded. Now I just get up in the morning and go to work. I still do feel happy to have finished what I started, though.

EATON:  What were the most challenges elements of composing the Cartoon History series?   What sections/chapters/events might you re-evaluate or re-do if given the chance?

GONICK:  You ask short questions with long answers! Right now the most important revision would be to the human evolution section, Book 1, Volume 2. So much more is known now than when I wrote it, especially the details (gathered from DNA evidence) about the earliest migrations of homo sapiens out of Africa.

Another issue, and would be an expansion, not a re-do, is to explore more fully the "peripheral" regions of the world. Sweden, Korea, etc. When the Korean translation came out, every email I had from Korean readers complained about the lack of Korean history. At first I tried to explain that my idea of world history didn't mean the history of everywhere in the world, but rather a large story that was mainly about interactions, and peripheral places didn't have as many interactions. Since no one seemed receptive to hearing this, I quit bothering.

As it is, I could have and should have added more in the very last installment about several places, which are now more thoroughly integrated into a globalized world.

Another one would be to re-ink Book 1, Vol 7, with a brush, rather than a pen. All the rest of the series was done w/ a brush.

EATON:    What kind of issues around production/publishing in terms of content/censorship, book-length, and other behind the scene concerns did you run up against?

GONICK:  None. The length and structure were self-imposed. I wanted the discipline to make sure I finished. As I say, I could have used about 35-50 more pages in Modern World Part 2.

   What are your own critiques of your work? Book cover to The Cartoon History of the Modern World Part 2 by Larry Gonick

GONICK:  By and large, I like the writing better than the drawing. Just putting together all the information was so time-consuming that I always felt I didn't have as much time for the art as I would have liked. This problem felt less acute as I went on, especially in the last two books, when I had established something like a regular "visual vocabulary" on which I could draw, but I felt it acutely in the first two—except for the dinosaurs, which I drew lovingly. I think I've always liked dinosaurs better than people. Is that a critique?

EATON:  Besides the dinosaurs (and finishing), what did you find most rewarding about doing the Cartoon History series?

GONICK:  They stay in print!!!!!

EATON:    One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about your books is that they had a good blending of historical theory, criticism of the history discipline, and humor to produce a series of books that don’t just provide a straightforward history provide a meaningful approach to thinking and learning about history.  Can you speak to this at all?

GONICK:  As Ike Turner once said (in "It's Gonna Work Out Fine"), That was my plan from the very beginning. Voiceover a fairly straightforward narrative. Commentary from people "on the ground." A certain amount of historiography (i.e., poking fun at historians), mostly in the footnotes.

The footnotes, by the way, are the main vehicle for explicit commentary in the authorial voice. The idea came to me from a book my father picked up from a used bookstall in San Francisco when I was in high school. The book, called "Almanac for 39ers," was a well-produced guidebook/calendar for the 1939 World's Fair. It had historical items listed day by day, but also included independent footnotes on various topics, and these were fun.

I first used footnotes in a Sunday comic strip, coincidentally titled "Yankee Almanack," a history of colonial Massachusetts I did for the Boston Globe. As you probably know, Sunday strips have to have a flexible format, with some independent panels that can be discarded to convert a half-page to a one-third-page. There's a standard way to do this, but it didn't work for me; the footnotes, though, had the same effect.

EATON:    What have you found most surprisingly about the reception of your comic guides and A Cartoon History of the Universe/Modern World series the most?

GONICK:  Surprising? I don't know... For some reason, I have a big following in Indonesia. That's a puzzle. Otherwise... frankly... I've always wondered a little why the series doesn't sell about 10 times what it has, but at least it all stays in print, so I can't complain.

EATON:    What kind of discussions have you had with historians about your work?

GONICK:  Almost none at all, strangely enough. Sometimes I wonder if historians don't take their subject too seriously. I've had far more interaction with scientists.

EATON:    In talking of the series popularity, what was your reaction when you discovered it being used on college campuses?

GONICK:  Relief that professors and students were "getting it." The main thing, from my point of view, about classroom use is that I know that the stuff works. I operate pretty much in isolation, writing the comics to suit myself. The fact that teachers actually find them useful is extremely gratifying. It also absolves me from any whiff of the implication that these are some kind of Cliff's Notes, easy summaries. I like to think there's enough originality, effective story-telling, and interpretation to make the Cartoon Histories stand on their own.

EATON:    Is there a “Comic Guide” that you wouldn’t write but would like to see out there?

GONICK:  That I *wouldn't* write? I hope to write the ones that I would like to see out there!

EATON:    Do you feel the field of nonfiction/informational comics has changed since you first started?  If so, how?

GONICK:  Now it exists. Before, it was pretty much confined to "industrials." At least in the United States. The pioneer non-fiction humorist/cartoonist was Rius in Mexico. I started after seeing his work.

EATON:    Can we expect an “omnibus edition” Cartoon History of the Universe with all 1450 or so pages?

GONICK:  Probably not, at least not soon. There have been three different publishers, for complicated reason, so we'd have to find someone willing to do a three-way or four-way negotiation to make it happen.

   So you’ve covered the history of the world, what’s your next project?  Comic or otherwise?

I'm finishing up The Cartoon Guide to Calculus. After that, I hope to do at least one more math book. There's a novel percolating in the back of my brain. And (hint, hint) if there's anyone out there who wants to animate the Cartoon History of the Universe, LET'S TALK!

For more information and updates on Larry Gonick, check out his website!

Did you enjoy this read? Let me know your thoughts down below or feel free to browse around and check out some of my other posts!. You might also want to keep up to date with my blog by signing up for them via email. 

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Interview with Gareth Hinds

I encountered Gareth Hinds several years back when I first started doing graphic novel reviews.  A graphic rendition of King Lear by Hinds came across my desk and I rather enjoyed it.  Shortly thereafter, I learned that Hinds was a local artist in the greater Boston area.  At the time, I was creating a roundtable discussion of several people involved in the comics industry for an even at North Shore Community College and his name instantly popped into mind.  Since then, Hinds has gone on to publish Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice as well as most recently, a wonderful graphic adaptation of The Odyssey.  He has been kind enough to be interviewed for this blog. 

EATON:  So you’ve done Beowulf, King Lear, Merchant of Venice and now The Odyssey.  What pulls you to do the classics?  What do you feel you can add to them by putting them in comic form?
Gareth Hinds at work

HINDS:  This question could cover a lot of ground, but let's just say that I want to work with the best writers around, and in my opinion those are Shakespeare, Homer, and the anonymous composer of Beowulf. The major benefit of turning them into graphic novels is that they become more exciting to young people (as well as anyone who feels the originals are too long, dense, or difficult).

EATON:  What are the major challenges in adapting classic literature into comics?

HINDS:  They tend to be long. They don't lend themselves very well to being broken into short chunks of dialog (which is usually better than long chunks in terms of story flow in the comics medium.) They are very sophisticated, and if you dumb them down to fit in the world of standard superhero fare,... well, then they're dumb. This is the mistake I see made most often.

EATON:  Conceptually, what challenges did you find with The Odyssey?  Technically, what challenges did you find with The Odyssey? What editorial decisions needed to be made with adapting The Odyssey?

HINDS:  I'm going to answer these three all together, because the distinctions between them are a bit blurry.

Because the Odyssey is so long, I had to think about how I was going to shorten it. There were certain sections that lent themselves well to compression, such as the Land of the Dead, and the period after Odysseus' return when he's scoping out the situation and telling people a lot of elaborate lies about who he is and where he's from. Also there was the question of which translation to use, and how to edit down the dialog. After looking at that for a while, I decided that I needed to re-write everything in order to get it short enough, and that let me more or less dodge the translation issue.

I feel that each book I do demands its own visual style, so the next challenge was figuring out a style that captured the feel of this time and place, the ancient Mediterranean, that made it feel real -- that I could do quickly, since it's such a long book. I tried quite a few things, and ultimately the simple pencil and watercolor direction was the one which worked best. There were also technical details to work out with my designer at Candlewick, such as the width of the margins and gutters, the type face, how to make the sound effects integrated but editable,and so on.
Book cover to Gareth Hind's The Odyssey

Once I was into the actual execution of the book, there were challenges with specific scenes. I try to be very faithful to the original source material, but when you are going from one medium to another, you really are translating, and sometimes details have to change in order to achieve the same overall effect. Especially with the more emotionally-charged moments, it can be difficult to convey the thoughts and feelings of the characters without using thought bubbles or third-person narration (devices which I don't particularly like, especially  when I'm trying to maintain a classical feeling). Some scenes that especially gave me trouble: the recognition scenes with Argos and Eurycleia, the Land of the Dead, Odysseus and Penelope's night together after their reunion, and the very end (which is quite abrupt in the original).

EATON:  One thing I’ve grown to enjoy about your work is the coloring and color schemes used throughout different sections of the book.  Can you speak to the coloring choices?

HINDS:  The jumping-off point is whatever I think is realistic for the scene -- firelight, sunrise, bright noonday sun, and so on. Then I will adjust it based on the mood I'm looking for. So the Cyclops' firelit cave becomes an angry bright orange, while Odysseus' firelit palace at night, when he's in disguise talking to Penelope, is more subdued and mysterious. Also the watercolor has its own ideas sometimes!

In this book especially, I do a lot of day-night transitions to show how time is passing, especially in the traveling sequences.

EATON:  Do you do any kind of research when adapting a classic?  Do you read academic material or anything along those lines for further insight?

HINDS:  I don't read much critical material about the work I'm adapting, because that stuff is usually pretty dense and boring, and I prefer to stick to my own impressions of the work. I do quite a lot of visual and contextual research on the period, especially things like architecture, clothing, weapons, furniture, etc. Basically I want to get a solid feeling for how everything would look realistically. Then I may depart from that historically accurate vision a little (or a lot) -- perhaps by simplifying it, stylizing it, making it more grandiose or more fantastic, or perhaps even changing the setting completely -- but doing so with a confidence that I know what I'm departing from, and I'm making those choices consciously and for a reason.

EATON:  What is your favorite part of the Odyssey?  (Both in terms of the story and in terms of the work that you did)

HINDS:  In the original story my favorite part is when Odysseus' dog Argos recognizes him. Ultimately I'm very happy with the way I was able to (I think) preserve the power of that scene, although it was also the scene I wrestled with the most. The scenes that really just came together easily and beautifully were the ones where Odysseus is out on the sea alone, sailing, swimming, being shipwrecked, etc.

EATON:  What is your next project?

HINDS:  I've just finished up a book for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, called Gifts from the Gods, that is a kind of hybrid between a picture book and a graphic novel. The text is by Lise Lunge-Larsen, and it's about Greek and Roman mythology, so in subject it's very much in keeping with The Odyssey, but it's also very novel for me in terms of working with a new format, publisher, editor,... and a living writer!

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For more information, please check out Gareth Hind's website and his blog.

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Interview with Matthew Smith and Randy Duncan

In this interview, I chat with Matt Smith and Randy Duncan, the co-authors of The Power of Comics; a resourceful text that explores comics through a variety of lenses and serves as a great source for stepping into the field of comic studies.

Book cover to The Power of Comics by Matt Smith and Randy Duncan
Lance Eaton:  What was the genesis for the book?

Matt Smith:  I'd written two textbooks before, one an introduction to general communication studies and the other for computer-mediated communication, and realized when I had the chance to teach my first comics course that there was nothing of the ilk in the field of comics arts studies. After cobbling together readings from various sources in that first iteration, I wanted to see a book that addressed the field and worked up a proposal. As fate would have it, I met Randy Duncan at Comic-Con International that summer and we began talking about chapters he had already written for just such a book. Our visions for what this text should look like overlapped by 80%. All we had to do was negotiate the remaining discrepancies and we were off and running.

Randy Duncan:  I had been teaching comics as Communication for a number of years, and each year I expanded my handouts until, by the time I met Matt, some of them were “chapters”.  I even used Microsoft Publisher to format them with sidebars and inset boxes.  Matt and I took the longest of those pseudo-chapters and reworked it into a sample chapter for our proposal.

Eaton:   How long did it take from conception to publication?

Smith:   I began working on the book in late 2005, met Randy in the summer of 2006, and saw final publication in 2009, so it was a four-year process all told.

Duncan:   Luckily we each got a sabbatical during the final year of the process.  I’m sure it would have taken us longer if we had not had those months of concentrated effort.

Eaton:    How did the collaboration work between the two of you?

Smith:  Initially we divided up the chapters and each drafted the text. We then wrote over one another and/or took chapters from one another. I think one of the things that I enjoy most about working with Randy is that we are good about critiquing one another and accepting those critiques to get better writing out of the exchange.

Duncan:  We have somewhat different writing styles, but once we had edited and contributed new material to one another’s chapters it became a very blended style.  Someone would have to know one of us pretty well to be able to hear Matt’s or my particular voice in the work.

Eaton:   What were some of the challenges in putting together the text?

Smith:The hardest thing was securing image permissions. There are a lot of great images in The Power of Comics, but some of them took a long time to secure. And some we wanted to include, we couldn't get the copyright holders to let go without exorbitant fees. It seems like we spent the better part of a year just on images alone.

Duncan:  Matt is being very generous when he says “we”.  He did 98 percent of the work on securing permissions.  When I did pitch in it was for the fun stuff, like phone calls to Harvey Pekar, Scott McCloud, and Bob Jackson (the photographer who took the famous Ruby shooting Oswald photo).  For me, the most challenging part of the process was staying within our contracted word limit for the book.  There was so many difficult choices about what to leave out.   

Eaton:   What chapters/information/elements didn’t make it into the book that you wish did?

Duncan:  We each wrote a history chapter and both of us felt like we were leaving out way more than we were including.  We just didn’t have room to say enough about Sheldon Mayer, Pop Hollinger, Denis Kitchen and scores of other people who made significant contributions to the development of comics in America.
    Chapters 6 and 7 were written last and there was not much word count left of our contracted limit, so those chapters had to be very sparse.  Our deadline for delivering the book was also rapidly approaching.  Because we did not have room for the richness of explanation we would have liked, we relied quite a bit on visual examples. 

Smith:  We had some additional creator profiles that we had to cut because of space. A lot of those emigrated to our website, though, for people to reference if they want.

Eaton:    What do you feel were the major works that contributed to your book?  (For instance, it’s clear that Chapter 10 (Superhero Genre) was influenced in large part by Coogan’s book, Superhero: The Secret Origin of a Genre, what about other chapters?

Duncan:   Most people in comics studies know that Pete Coogan and I are good friends; we co-founded the Comics Arts Conference back in 1992.  However, even if neither of us knew Pete his book would still have been the major influence on the superhero chapter; it’s a great book.  Pete has planted his flag on the superhero concept and established himself as the foremost expert on the topic.
    Matt and I both loved Gerard Jones’ Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book, and I’m sure it influenced our take on comic book history.
    Bill Schelly’s work on the history of comics fandom was a great resource for Chapter 8 (The Comic Book Readers).
    The comics theory of Eisner, Harvey, and McCloud are evident in our approach to comics form, but even though he might not be mentioned as often, Thierry Groensteen’s ideas helped shape Chapters 6 and 7.  Of course, we ended up taking a somewhat simpler approach to the concepts, but grappling with The System of Comics certainly stimulated our thinking about comics form. 

Smith:  Certainly you'll find Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics referenced and Bob Harvey's Comics The Art of the Comic Book in chapters 6 and 7. However, we worked to incorporate a lot of journal articles from multiple disciplines to flesh out a perspective on comics. There's a good deal of interdisciplinary ground covered in the book. 

Eaton:   How do you feel about how the book has been received?

Matt: Most all of the reviews have been very positive and supportive of the project. We want to encourage anyone teaching a course in comics arts studies to take a look at it and see if it could help provide some grounding for their course.

Duncan:  It’s great to hear from our colleagues that they think we did a good job of covering concepts creating useful exercises, but it has been just as gratifying to hear people say they enjoyed reading the book.

Eaton:   What additional thoughts/considerations would you have for people (students) who read this book?

Duncan:  One of the dangers of a textbook is that it can suck all the fun out of something because you are suddenly putting this thing that people love into the context of something that has to be studied.  We really hope we avoided that pitfall, and that our own love of comics infuses the book. 

Smith: I want to see comics arts studies mature in the way that Film Studies has in terms of academic (if not wider cultural) repute. The introduction of several key journals is helping that process, our courses are as well, and I hope that in its own way the very existence of The Power of Comics contributes to that process.

Eaton:   What new projects are you and Randy working on (on your own or together)?

Smith: We are editing Critical Approaches to Comics and Graphic Novels: Theories and Methods for Routledge. This book will be out in 2011 and features contributions from 20+ scholars in our field, each of whom explains a method for analyzing comics or comics culture and then provides a short application of it. For example, Randy's chapter introduces how to do formalist criticism of a comics story and then demonstrates that using Asterios Polyp. The book will features several luminaries in the field, including an introduction from Henry Jenkins.

Duncan: We are both contributing essays to the scholarly anthology Understanding Superman: The Evolving Contexts of a Pop Culture Icon.  That should be out toward the end of next year.  I'm also working on a couple of comics -related journal articles, and an article about Pop Hollinger, one of the first comic book dealers, for Alter Ego magazine.

Randy Duncan has a Ph.D. in Communication from Louisiana State University.  He has taught at Henderson State University since 1987.  He teaches a course in Comics as Communication.  He is co-author (with Matthew J. Smith) of The Power of Comics: History, Form and Culture, a college-level textbook on comic books and graphic novels (Continuum Books 2009).  Dr. Duncan is co-founder of the Comics Arts Conference, which celebrated its 18th anniversary in 2010.  He also serves on the Editorial Board of the International Journal of Comic Art and the Board of Directors of the Institute for Comics Studies.  Along with Matthew J. Smith he is co-editing the forthcoming Critical Approaches to Comics and Graphic Novels: Theories and Methods (Routledge 2011).

Matthew J. Smith is an associate professor of communication at Wittenberg University. He is co-author of The Power of Comics: History, Form and Culture (Continuum, 2009) and former president of the Ohio Communication Association. In 2009, Wittenberg’s Alumni Association recognized him with its Distinguished Teaching Award. Each summer he leads the Field Study at Comic-Con during San Diego's Comic-Con International. Students interested in studying the intersection of fan culture and marketing are invited to check out the program.

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Interview With George A. Walker

As I grew increasingly interested in comics, I also became aware of a whole other form of visual storytelling:  woodcut novels.  I found the works of Frans Masereel, Lynn Ward, and others to be beautifully steeped with powerful storytelling through images (highly influenced by German Expressionism) and impressively deep with what they communicated.  George Walker helped me gain a further appreciation of this particular form in publishing Graphic Witness, which not only had 4 great works of these assembled but also had a fantastic essay that further elaborated on the history and craft of woodcut novels.  Herein is an interview with George Walker about his work on Graphic Witness as well as the recently crafted and published, The Book of Hours, his own woodcut novel.
Book Cover to George Walker's Book of Hours, a woodcut novel
Lance Eaton:  How did you get into woodcut novels?

George Walker:  The inspiration for the woodcut novel was the Belgian artist, Frans Masereel. I first came across his work at an exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario in the 1980s. I started collecting his work shortly after that. Surprisingly his books (with wood engravings printed directly from his blocks) were very reasonably priced. The publisher Kurt Wolff made a wonderful series of his wordless novels in the 1920s with introductions by such eminent figures such as Hermann Hesse and Thomas Mann.

Eaton:  About how many woodcut novels were published in the 20th century?

Walker:  I would defer this question to my colleague David Berona who speaks to this in his book, Wordless Books: The Original Graphic Novels. The problem is of course definition of the term woodcut novels. For example the book Destiny by Otto Nuckel was engraved on lead because of a shortage of wood but the technique he uses stems from his experience as a wood engraver. I would want to include him in this number but some would argue otherwise.

Eaton:  What generated the creation of Graphic Witness?

Walker:  Based on my personal collection of wordless novels by Frans Masereel, Lynd Ward, Giacomo Patri, Laurence Hyde and others I contacted a number of publishers about reprinting these works and providing a contemporary context for their influence on comics, printmaking and film. Firefly Books was very receptive to the idea. Most of the rights holders were very enthusiastic about seeing their relatives’ work in print again. My wife and I made the journey to Ottawa to meet with famous spy novelist Anthony Hyde to request permission to reprint his father’s work Southern Cross. Over tea Mr. Hyde showed us his father’s engraving tools and original sketches and prints as we sat in awe at the marvelous collection preserved with such care and love. Mr. Hyde granted us permission to reprint his father’s book and we are grateful to him for his generosity. We were happy to connect David Berona (who has become a friend of ours) with Mr. Hyde for permission to reprint Southern Cross for his very fine Drawn and Quarterly edition.

Eaton:  What was the decision process for the particular selections in Graphic Witness?
Book cover to Graphic Witness: Four Wordless Graphic Novel edited by George Walker
Walker:  All the books in Graphic Witness are from my own library. As far as choosing, it really came down to which books I could secure a letter from the family (or the rights holder) to grant permission to reproduce the whole book as the artist published it. The other factor is that all these wordless narratives are relief printed from wood or linoleum blocks. David Berona had already negotiated reprints with Dover for some of the Masereel work and the Redstone Press had done a reprint of Passionate Journey in the 1980s, so I wanted to select work that was no longer in print. Masereel’s work Die Passion appeared in 1918 and I felt that it marked the beginning of this form of narrative story. Hyde is Canadian like I am but also his work speaks to a contemporary issue that is still potent: destructive power of the nuclear bomb. All the books have in common relief printing as the process of making the images, and thematically, concern for social issues and the struggle for control of our own lives.

Eaton:  Do you distinguish between woodcut novels and comics?  What would that be?

Walker:  Yes, they are different narrative formats of sequential art! The woodcut novel is a direct descendant of the block books and the religious woodcut narratives of the 15th century. Jacobus di Theramos’ work The Early History of Man (1484) is a good example of this block narrative style. I suppose comics could hold this same lineage and that the cave paintings found in France are a type of pre-history wordless narrative too. Comics however are a popular mass media format that has a separate history and narrative problem. The woodcut novel has closer relationship to art history evolving from German Expressionism and its interest with an emotive response to human suffering and the sociological concerns of culture. Graphic novels and woodcut narratives share a kinship with each other through the province of visual culture, but they are separate media both in process and presentation.

Eaton:  Why did you decide to do your own woodcut novel?

Walker:  I have been planning to do one for years but was struggling with other projects that kept interrupting my focus. The events of 9-11 changed all that for me when I realized that the cultural paradigm had shifted and that I had to document the event. Writing about it was not sufficient for me to explain the complexities and symbolic shifts in our cultural climate. Words have many limitations that images do not have, especially when it comes to capturing the subtle all-encompassing shift in the grand narrative of western culture.

Eaton:  What challenges did you face in pitching the idea to publishers?

Walker:  The popularity of graphic novels and the sales figures for that market segment helped to convince the publisher that the book would have a chance of fair sales return for the investment.

Eaton:  Technically, what challenges did you find with The Book of Hours?

Walker:  During the technical making and preparation of the blocks (over 100 of them) each block had to be exactly .918” high to work on my Vandercook SP15 proof press (as in all letterpress projects). The next challenge was preparing each block’s surface on which to draw the reversed image. This required a careful sanding and then a series of fine polishing on a dead flat stone surface. I then engrave using the tools of the silversmith on the endgrain of Canadian maple. (for more detail see my book, The Woodcut Artists’ Handbook) Of course if I made a mistake in the engraving process I could not easily correct it. Everything all along had to be checked in a mirror, as the drawing on the block would be reversed again once it was printed. The press can be a tricky machine and I would spend hours tweaking the paper, ink and impression to pull the best possible proof.  It’s not at all like making a comic, although both start with sketching the printmaking involved in the woodcut novel takes the artist on a tactile journey through the process of reversals and presswork to finished image. The wood engraved narrative is more an assembly of visual signifiers arranged one block at a time without the problems, limitations and cultural baggage sometimes precipitated by words.

Eaton:  Conceptually, what challenges did you find with The Book of Hours?

Walker:  Constructing a narrative that flowed through a sequence of people and places yet told a larger story of place and time was difficult. I had to play with the sequencing and pace relating to the events that led up to 9-11. One of the things that helped me was to follow the detailed weather reports from New York City for the day before and the day of September 11th.

Unlike the selections in Graphic Witness, The Book of Hours is a decentered narrative, focused around an event with characters moving in and out; why did you choose that route?

Walker:  It is a deliberate narrative of the everyday. It is the mundane routines of our everyday lives that are centered on the immediate concerns of sleep, food, work and travel that consume us. Those World Trade Center employees and visitors are the people I wanted to honour. The media provides us with a bias news and entertainment that leaves us narcotized to the devastation that lurks behind our cultural fa├žade. I chose this route to point to the end of the post modernist narrative and the dawn of a new historical period that questions our understanding of the words ‘everyday’,‘security’ and ‘terrorist’.
Image from George Walker's Book of Hours

Eaton:  How do you feel that your woodcut novel manages to convey this?

Walker:  This is a good question and I am not sure that my piece conveys it fully. But I believe that our sense of security, the idea of ‘the terrorist’ in society and our notion of ‘everyday’ — meaning the comings and goings and what we expect to find in our everyday movements and engagement with those around us, has changed fundamentally in our society. After 9-11 we no longer think we are safe from terror and our feeling of trust in the world has changed. The ‘other’ in our community who is not like us —is suspicious to our constructs and notion of safe and acceptable. Our idea of borders and community has changed and our privacy and belief in government systems, news media and truth has changed. The question as to why the USA attacked Iraq when the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center were from Saudi Arabia has never been fully answered. If the answer is greed, oil and corporate values over government agency, then we are certainly moving into a different world order in my opinion.

Eaton:  There are several pages where the character seems to be looking at the reader; can you speak to your goal with this?  (In particular and probably the most intense reading experience in the book is Pg 99, after the previous 2 pages had the same person looking downward and then on Pg 99; directly at the reader).

Walker:  The goal is to engage the reader in the silent dialogue including them in the story as if they were present at the event. The device of having the subject look out at the reader derives from concepts in art theory and the writings of many existentialists and phenomenologists who have explored the concept of the "Gaze". Foucault and Derrida explored this idea in power relations and its context to creating meaning beyond the frame of the picture (in this case the book is the frame). It is a strong signifier that draws the reader into the story as the viewer is more engaged when the subject (the wood engraving) addresses them directly. The reader then must interpret the ‘look’ they are receiving and attempt to decode its meaning. We will never know if we the readers are being scrutinized, analyzed or just observed by the signifier which offers only their symbolic facial expression as a sign of what may be the dialogue between the invisible viewer (you) and the image.
Image of 9/11 from George Walker's The Book of Hours

Eaton:  Was 99 Panels a deliberate choice or coincidental?

Walker:  I have played with numerology throughout my book. 99 engravings was intentional and so are the time signatures. If you add the numbers together in the time displays they add to 9 or 11.  It’s an intentional symbolic tome with deliberate hidden meanings.

Eaton:  And new projects on the horizon?

Walker:    I am working on a wordless narrative now titled, The Mysterious Death of Tom Thomson.

For more information about George Walker & The Book Of Hours, check out his website.  

Did you enjoy this read? Let me know your thoughts down below or feel free to browse around and check out some of my other posts!. You might also want to keep up to date with my blog by signing up for them via email. 

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