This interview with
comic book writer and artist Dan
Jurgens 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 Dan
Jurgens received a part of the shotlist, and was
asked to answer the questions as if they were actually
shooting the interview together. Dan
Jurgens 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?
I was born and raised
in Minnesota and still live there. The Batman
TV series of the 1960s got me interested in comics and
I've been hooked ever since.
Writing for comic
books is a very special exercise. What do you find in
comics as a writer that you wouldn't find in another
medium? What about the artistic part?
There's actually a great
deal of freedom. The writer/artist gets to control every
aspect of the story. Only novelists get to do that,
but they supply no visual aspect.
You've been a comic
book artist for a while now. What was the overall mood
in the industry when you began? What was its commercial
At that time (1982),
the Direct Market had just begun to emerge. It was a
much healthier industry in those days with much higher
What would you consider
as very important events in the comic book industry
since the early 20th century?
The creation of "Superman"
and "Batman," the Senate Hearings of the 1950s, Stan
Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko's early brilliance at
Marvel, the beginning of experimentation in the 1970s,
the emergence of the Direct Market, the creation of
Image and Marvel going public.
The comic book audience
nowadays is older than the one we could find in the
60's or even until the mid-80's. Has the industry in
the US completely forgotten its younger target audience?
Yes. This industry has
gutted itself by dumping any notion or attempt of bringing
younger readers to the industry. We have created subject
matter and story telling techniques (multiple issue
stories that go on for months) and a price structure
that are barriers for younger readers.
Comic book stores
were created during the 70's as a boosting solution
for a decaying 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?
Absolutely. More and
more, comics are being created by the disenfranchised
for the disenfranchised. It's a ghetto hobby now.
1993 was the last
profitable year for the industry. The market has been
shrinking ever since. What do you think are the causes
of the industry's collapse in the 90's?
First of all, the speculation
bubble burst. But there's been no way of getting readers
back because the proper product no longer exists. It's
now a product that is being produced for an older audience.
The recent numbers
for 2002 show us that the sales have increased for the
first time in years. Do you see it as a sign of better
things to come?
No. Marvel has made
some strides while other publishers are suffering. And
the numbers are still a fraction of what they were.
Writers don't really
use captions or thought balloons anymore. Comic books
look a little bit like finished storyboards with movie
dialogues. Do you think that writers have a tendency
to find their style in movies instead of building a
particular comic book "school of writing"?
Yes, which I think is
a mistake. Cinema storytelling and comic storytelling
are entirely different.
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?
We've added more quality
in terms of the art, writing, production values etc.
That has also added extra expense. If I knew what would
absolutely be key to solving the problem of low sales,
I'd fix it. We suffer from many problems, not the least
of which is a lack of general outlets. We have very
few comic stores and we just aren't available in a general,
more easily accessed market. That hurts us a great deal.
It certainly prevents us from picking up newer, younger
readers as many comic stores are places mothers, who'd
have to bring their kids, would never feel comfortable.
Between 1993 and
2001, many readers left comic books in the US. Some
people in the industry blamed video games and movies,
two media now able to offer visual miracles. Do you
agree on this point?
Yes, I do. In part.
But I believe we did ourselves even more harm. There
was a huge following who thought adults would begin
reading comics, coming in at the Vertigo level. I never
bought into that and never will. I don't think Americans
are likely to pick up their first comic as an adult.
Not in large numbers anyway. We have to get them early
with appropriate material and pricing and then get them
to stay with us as they age.
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. Some of
the best stories ever done were printed on cheap paper
with cheap production values.
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 never bought into
that and still see no evidence any real money will be
made distributing comics on a mass level over the internet.
Nor has it functioned as a promotional tool to lift
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"?
Some were fun, some
were not, and it ultimately became excessive and detrimental.
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?
It seems possible. The
publishers can make a profit at the appropriate prices
that way though it's not terribly profitable for creators.
It is always interesting
to see that, in the film industry, the North American
box office x 2.2 = foreign box-office. A success of
the American film business has always been not to ignore
the foreign market. Do you feel that the American comics
industry has been successful abroad?
That seems to come and
go. I just don't know enough about total sales elsewhere
to offer much of an opinion.
We have seen comic
book adaptations: 4 Batman movies, 2 Blade
movies, X-Men, Spider-Man, Superman
and JLA series. Those were big money makers,
but at the exception of the first Batman movie, none
of them has helped to improve the comics sales. Do you
think that the studios are able to reach an audience
that your industry can not communicate with, whatever
the reasons may be?
Sure. The studios understand
the notion of accessible material geared toward a general
audience available through as many outlets as possible.
Honestly, it's simple, yet we as an industry have turned
away from it.
Comic book conventions
are typical in North America. What feedback do you get
from your peers over there?
Every comment, feeling
or opinion imaginable.
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 fun, people seem to love it.
Everyone needs more stuff to put on their shelves! :)
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?
It seems to me that
DC publishes a wide variety of books. And if not them,
certainly other publishers do as well. Right now, there
seems to be something for everyone, as long as you're
over the age of 20.
Some artists, tired
by the publishing system, or wanting to try something
new, have left the paper industry to create digital
comics. Do you read any of them?
From time to time.
Most digital comics
use animation. For you, what is a digital comic? What
would be the aesthetic definition?
As soon as it moves
and has sound, it's not a comic, in my opinion.
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 can't make money out of them. Do you think
that the internet could be the solution to the current
state of the comic book industry?
I think the internet
has been detrimental to the industry. It's allowed a
very, very small group of people to exercise more influence
than their dollars represent. You'd be amazed at the
amount of marketing and editorial decisions which are
now made based on the grumbling comments of a handful
of loud, cantankerous people on the 'net.
As for those artists
who are out of work, consider this. On their worst days,
they probably sold far, far more comics than today's
creators could ever hope to. Is it possible they actually
were more accessible to a general audience?
Do you think that
digital comics offer much more diversity than the paper
At present, yes. But
until they become truly profitable on a larger scale,
it's not an alternative.
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. (Usually, creators ask for donations per
chapter and/or story called micro-payments.) Scott
McCloud talks about those issues in Reinventing
Comics. David Lynch has recently created a website
to show series he would shoot specifically for the web.
The audience would pay a monthly fee to get the new
episodes. What do you think is the best way to be paid
on the web for digital creations?
I'd have to give that
some more thought. Probably a monthly or annual subscriber
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?
You'd have to ask them.
Those same big companies
have what we could call franchises, characters very
popular such as "Superman" for DC and "Spider-Man" for
Marvel. If readers can follow their adventures on paper
and on their computers, could it mean that the idea
of continuity will become obsolete?
It already is. Marvel
is publishing quite a few different versions of "Spider-Man"
now and no one seems to object.
The Marvel dotcomics
program is very successful (1,600,000 downloads per
month.) One can read scanned paper comics on the company's
website for free (which shouldn't last.) How do you
explain the difference between the number of downloads
and the sales?
You said it... free.
Would we get paper comics into the hands of more readers
if we gave them away free?
Why would artists
choose to make digital comics, even if they don't really
make money, instead of becoming independent publishers?
Some artists think
digital comics are the solution to the decaying paper
market. My guess is people actually reading digital
comics are reading paper comics as well. They probably
specifically look for digital comics on search engines.
How can those digital artists hope to reach a wider
audience who is not even aware that digital comics do
I don't think it's likely
to happen, frankly.
When we take a quick
look at digital comics, it is obvious that some of them
use the internet as an unlimited space to compose panels.
That's what makes them so particular next to a paper
comic book that looks like imprisoned in a sheet of
paper. Do you think that those composition principles
could be the foundations of a whole new internet art
form, not just digital comics?
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?
Can't say I've been
We talked earlier
about composing "within" an unlimited space. Do you
think that we could apply some of Scott
McCloud's compositional ideas to moving pictures,
instead of just drawn panels?
Probably, though I wouldn't
call them all McCloud's ideas. The study of composition
has been a foundation of art for centuries.
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?
Only if the market demands
and/or accepts it. I see no indication of that yet.
Finally, do you think
that you need to touch a comic book to enjoy it, or
would a computer screen be enough for you?
Personally, yes. I enjoy
whatever I'm reading much more when it's a physical,
tangible thing. I saw a study recently which stated
that retention is much higher from a physical book than
something read off the screen. There's a connection
between the reader and product that is stronger when
it's a physical object. That may change for younger