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Andrew Wildman Interview


[ Andrew Wildman ]

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 your background?

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 it.

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 now ;-)

In the 90's, publishers began to create alternate covers, and made a lot of—sometimes unnecessary—relaunches. What do you think of those "gimmicks"?

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 everything "easier."

Also around the same time came the internet. Did you guess at that time that the internet could become a distribution system for independent artists?

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 old one.

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 mainstream.

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 down.

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 now.

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 creators?

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?

With The 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 differences.

Do you think that digital comics offer much more diversity than the paper market?

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. Who knows?

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 of digital.

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 panels?

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 be.

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.


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