This interview with
comic book artist Andrew
Wildman was conducted by Director Sebastien
Dumesnil via email during the making of Adventures
Into Digital Comics. This interview is a part of
the first set of interviews, which means that Andrew
Wildman received a part of the shotlist, and was
asked to answer the questions as if they were actually
shooting the interview together. Andrew
Wildman was offered the possibility to interact
this way with the members of the cast.
By sending the same
questions to all interviewees, Dumesnil wanted to get
the most necessary element of narrative filmmaking:
conflict. Despite the repetitive aspect of the questions,
we hope you will be surprised by the large panel of
answers and opinions offered by the interviewees.
Can you tell us about
Pretty "normal" really.
After school I went to do a Graphic Design degree at
DeMontfort University in Leicester England.
You've been a comic
book artist for years. What do you find in comics that
you wouldn't find in another type of visual exercise?
The opportunity to create
characters in a fantastic world. Like directing a movie
with an unlimited budget.
What was the overall
mood in the industry when you began your career? What
was its commercial state? How has it evolved?
The overall state of
the industry when I started in 1985 (more or less) was
healthy. Comics had largely been the same for many years
but were beginning to change. Titles such as Watchmen
and The Dark Knight Returns were giving the industry
a much needed boost and raising its game. It was a very
good time. The '80s and early '90s saw a lot of development
in ideas and the marketing of comic books. New technology
with computer graphics gave those often overlooked tasks
of lettering and coloring a much needed boost and every
comic began to look like a prestige publication. The
late '90s unfortunately saw the bubble burst and we
are still suffering the aftershock of this.
Comic book stores
were created during the 70's as a boosting solution
for the market. But as years went by, the direct market
became the major distribution channel at the expense
of the "newsstand" channel. Do you think that the industry
is now paying the price for what was considered as the
only viable solution back then?
To a degree, yes. I
do think, however that without the direct sales market
many publications would have been cancelled and many
others would never have seen the light of day. Specialty
shops in themselves are not a bad thing. They exist
to sell all manner of other products. The real challenge
is to make them acceptable to the general reading and
media aware public so that more people feel comfortable
enough to shop in them.
1986 has been a turning
point for the industry with works like Batman: The
Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen. It seems
that since then, the comic book audience has grown up
with the industry and that there is just no new readers.
Has the industry at that time completely forgotten its
younger target audience?
The popularity of Watchmen
and The Dark Knight Returns meant that comics
had greater media coverage than they had had for many
years, maybe ever. This led to speculators coming into
the market. Comics were cool. These speculators came
and went and sales plummeted. That artificial sales
success meant that for a while publishers were prepared
to experiment. The result of this was the publication
of many titles that without that boom would never have
been deemed realistic to publish. I don't know that
in 1986 there was a particularly young readership. The
savior of comics in terms of grabbing new readers has,
for many years, been the publishing of licensed material.
For some obscure reason the hardcore comics readership
seem to be unable to accept this fact and see licensed
books as some kind of pollutant of their much loved
medium. I would be very surprised if Watchmen
and The Dark Knight Returns attracted new and
younger readers. It simply confirmed in the faithful
that it was OK to read comics. Licensed books (such
as Transformers) are what will attract new young
readers. If they like the medium they will stay with
1993 was the last
profitable year for the American industry. The market
has been shrinking ever since. What do you think are
the causes of the industry's collapse in the 90's?
The bursting of the
speculator bubble caused a sudden lack of confidence
in the industry. Prior to '94 comics buyers were purchasing
multiple copies of many titles. They were all cool and
all collectible. Almost overnight these comics fans
cut down their intake to maybe their real favorite two
or three titles and bought only one copy of each. Simple
math means that the market will collapse overnight.
The irony is that we are probably left with exactly
the same fan base that we had before.
For the past few
years, we've seen the big companies trying to improve
quality: better paper, big names from other industries,
etc. Do you think that it had an impact on sales? What
could be a key to solve the sales' problem?
I guess if I knew the
answer to that one I would be far wealthier than I am
In the 90's, publishers
began to create alternate covers, and made a lot ofsometimes
unnecessaryrelaunches. What do you think of those
In essence there is
nothing wrong with "gimmick" covers. They add a different
dimension to a publication. The trouble begins when
publishers ruthlessly take advantage of their buying
public and expect them to want to buy them. The public
feels that they are being taken advantage of and lose
confidence in the integrity of the publisher. Very unhealthy.
To make more money
and be able to reach different places such as bookstores,
the publishers have created the trade paperback. As
an example, many people have read Sandman when
it was available on paperback, but not before. Do you
feel that the comic book format had its days, and could
be replaced by the paperback?
I think both forms of
publication have their place. To commission and produce
a paperback without any previously published material
is too great a risk. To have the material previously
published as monthly books means that if that title
doesn't succeed it can be cancelled sooner.
The early 90's saw
the first digital lettering and coloring in American
comic books. Do you think that it opened a new world
of possibilities as far as storytelling is concerned?
Not really. It put a
lot of workers in America out of work when they abandoned
the old nine sheet coloring process. I guess that's
"progress." The advent of computer coloring has made
things very versatile but there are some very lazy colorists
out there now. New tools mean that anyone who can theoretically
use Photoshop will think of themselves as a colorist.
Often the computer style coloring sits very uncomfortably
with black line artwork. The good colorists are the
ones who find a way of enhancing the product with the
computer tool rather than just thinking that it makes
Also around the same
time came the internet. Did you guess at that time that
the internet could become a distribution system for
No. I remember being
very uncertain about the way the internet could be used.
When myself and Simon
Furman started to put together The
Engine we began to see how the medium could work
for us. It has been a great way of distributing material
for little cost and has added a new depth to the medium.
But then I guess there is an argument that it has become
a different medium rather than an advancement of the
It seems that fans
complain that the big US companies don't produce enough
diversity. On the other hand, the big sellers are only
super-hero books. What do you think of the fans?
The fans are absolutely
right. But then ultimately they dictate the market.
If they buy more "alternative" material, that will become
Diversity seems to
be a key problem for the industry. Do you think that
current comic books are oriented mainly toward a male
audience in its 20's?
Very much so. I think
there are glimmers of light out. I have worked in the
computer games industry and I must say that that is
far, far worse. I think what we need is more women in
the industry or just some people to think a little more
laterally and poetically.
The average price
of a comic book in the US is around $3. Do you think,
regarding the production and distribution system, that
it is too expensive? What are the sales like nowadays
in the US?
I am not entirely sure
how healthy sales are. I understand that it is surviving
but by no means what it was. As to whether it's too
expensive. Market forces I guess. If you don't like
the price, don't buy it. They will soon put the price
Comic book conventions
are typical in North America. What feedback do you get
from your peers over there? Is there a positive mood
within the industry?
Most of the conventions
that I have attended have been Transformers conventions
and the fans are great. As a solitary creator it's so
refreshing to know that there really are people out
there who care about what we do. We love 'em all. ;-)
When you go to comic
book conventions, do you feel that people come to buy
comics... or toys, busts, and whatever merchandising
has to offer? What do you think of that merchandising?
It's difficult not to
be cynical about all the merchandise out there. Having
said that I do remember thinking when I was young how
much I wished they would make toys of my favorite characters.
I guess maybe the candy store is a bit over stocked
In the biggest comic
conventions we can find print and digital artists. Some
print artists seem to be ferociously anti-digital. Do
you feel that there are now two clans of comic book
Oh pity the luddites.
;-) But then again, nice to know there are some people
holding onto tradition. Each to their own I guess.
Many forgotten artists
who can't find a job in the industry because they are
told they are "outdated" make money thanks to commissions
on their personal websites. Others create those digital
comics but don't really make money out of them. Do you
think that the internet could be the solution to the
current state of the comic book industry?
The big illusion with
the internet is that it is going to save the world.
The truth of the internet is that the only thing that
sells is porn. "Chicks get clicks" as they say. Outside
of the porn industry the internet only really acts as
a marketing tool. It allows people to view things but
they are very unlikely to pay for it. They want material
product for their dollar so the best scenario is that
having viewed a sample they will order online to have
the real deal delivered.
Some digital comics
use animation; others sound, etc. For you, what is a
digital comic? What would be the aesthetic definition?
Engine we tried to move it beyond simply scanned-in
comics pages. Limited animation can work but sound rarely
does. Ambient sound is OK but as soon as you introduce
integral sound you put the product into real time. Comics
just don't work that way. There is a difference between
a comic and an animation/cartoon and to succeed with
digital comics the creator needs to understand those
Do you think that
digital comics offer much more diversity than the paper
They offer their own
diversity but they do have a different aesthetic. There's
nothing like a really well designed graphic novel with
that satisfying smell of printer's ink.
Only big publishers
would have the financial asset to afford the legal support
needed in the piracy issue. How do you think that the
big companies will make their way into the digital world?
Do you think that independents will have to wait for
those companies to make money in a safe way?
Not necessarily. Progress
in the digital world often comes from the underground.
Online security systems are always being tested by hackers
and would not progress without those pirates. Maybe
the pirates are the ones who will make it work first.
Do you think that
readers are into comics for collecting and need to touch
a comic book to enjoy it, or would a computer screen
be enough for them? What about you?
I think I covered that.
Me, I like a book to hold but enjoy the new possibilities
There are many issues
that could prevent digital comics from growing, such
as piracy. Also, and even novelists ran into that wall,
it seems to be hard to get paid, even with systems such
as PayPal. Subscription, advertisement, micro-payments:
what do you think is the best option to be paid on the
web for digital creations?
Tough one. Maybe we
will develop the way that they have in Scandinavia.
Everyone has a mobile phone and a lot of billing is
done that way. Punch a number into a soft drinks dispenser
and it automatically bills your phone. No really. I
guess the problem is that the US are a long way behind
in terms of mobile phone use.
There are different
ways to compose a comic book story on the internet.
Some artists like to consider the screen as a page,
others still use a typical comic book format. We can
also use the screen as a panel/link leading to another
panel. Finally other artists use the internet as an
unlimited space to compose a story. Do you think that
digital comics offer a larger panel of possibilities
as far as composition is concerned?
Undoubtedly. I do think
that a lot of creators are finding it difficult to adjust
their thinking, though. The basic rule for me is that
you should use the screen shape. Having to scroll to
see the bottom of a comic shaped page really sucks.
You really want the reader to not have to do the work
unless it's "interactive" in a rewarding sense.
Do you think that
scrolling is the main limitation of digital comics?
Oops. Just covered that.
Why should it be a limitation? Just don't do it.
One can find digital
comics on the web, but also short films produced especially
for the internet. Do you watch such films sometimes?
What do you think of them?
I have seen some of
these but download times are still an issue. There is
some very good work out there... and some really awful
stuff. Early days I guess.
We talked earlier
about the infinite canvas and animated digital comics.
Do you think that we could apply some of those compositional
ideas to live moving pictures, instead of just drawn
Again. As long as it's
used wisely and doesn't lead to such blurred boundaries
that the product doesn't know what it's supposed to
Bad artistic, and
moreover marketing, decisions have been the main reasons
of the industry's downfall. The digital technology seems
like a good solution to create art without any form
of concession. Do you think that the internet is an
open door for new creative voices?
Absolutely. But let's
not fall into the gratuitous sex and violence trap just
because we can.
Now that comic books
have become a niche market (whether they are on paper
or digital), pretty much like painting, do you think
that we're going to see a peak of creativity and quality
as a reaction to the current situation?
I would imagine that
it will mean that the digital comic and the underground
printed comic will become even more experimental and
the mainstream books will become ever more safe. This
will result in a huge gulf that may never be filled.
The jury is out.