This interview with
comic book writer and artist Eric
Shanower 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 Eric
Shanower received a part of the shotlist, and was
asked to answer the questions as if they were actually
shooting the interview together. Eric
Shanower 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
I was born in 1963 in
Key West, Florida. After graduating high school in 1981,
I attended the Joe Kubert School. I began working professionally
in the comics industry immediately following graduation
from Kubert's in May 1984. My work has been published
by most of the major American comic book publishers
and many of the smaller ones. As a child I fell in love
with the Oz books by L. Frank Baum and decided
I wanted to write and draw Oz stories when I
grew up. I fulfilled this ambition in my series of Oz
graphic novels published by First Comics and Dark Horse
Comics 1986-1992. Image Comics published my current
of Bronze, my retelling of the Trojan War myth.
I also illustrate books and run a publishing company,
Hungry Tiger Press, with my partner, David Maxine. We
publish books, comics, and compact discs.
What do you find
in comics that you wouldn't find in another type of
Comics tell stories
with a unique blend of words and pictures. Comics are
different from illustrated prose in that the words and
pictures carry the story together. Comics are different
from movies in that the words and pictures are controlled
by one creator (sometimes a few creators, but that is
usually an economically imposed structure.)
What was the overall
mood in the industry when you began your career? What
was its commercial state? How has it evolved?
In 1984 the overall
mood seemed to me to be extremely optimistic. Small
publishers were popping up all over the place in the
early 1980s. It seemed that anything that could be published
was being published. The Marvel/DC near stranglehold
was being demolished. Exciting and different projects
were appearing all over the place.
Commercially I'm not
sure how good it was in 1984. Most of the smaller publishers
that started then are gone now. Many of the exciting
projects have disappeared. The superheroes of Marvel
and DC still dominate, so in a way there hasn't been
Back then the Graphic
Novel was going to save the industry, was going to bring
comics to a general audience, put them in bookstores.
Now, nearly two decades later, there's been progress,
but not as much as everyone seemed to expect back then.
Graphic novels can be found in their own little ghettoized
section of many bookstores. Libraries are buying graphic
novels. But the comics industry seems ill in many ways.
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?
Yes. In general, comic
book stores ghettoized the comics market. In general,
the public perceives comics as violent musclebound knuckleheads
pounding each other along with elements of pornography
and demonism. To a disturbingly large extent, the public
is right. Why should they go to a special store to seek
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?
Well, if you'll remember
that 1986 was also when Disney comics burst back onto
the scene with Gladstone, you might want to revise your
question. Of course, Gladstone is gone now. I think
the comics industry has to a large part ignored a younger
audience. There are still titles here and there that
appeal to under-12s, but often these titles don't last
Maus has also been an important moment of 1986,
and, at the opposite of the two other works, has been
independently released. Maus also was the first
graphic novel to win the Pulitzer prize. Do you think
that this media coverage for a comic book story changed
the industry? Has there been a post-Maus for
I don't perceive that
Maus changed much. It gained a bit of visibility
in the general populace, but who in the general populace
remembers it now? I had high hopes for Howard Cruse's
Stuck Rubber Baby, but it didn't have nearly
the same impact as Maus. I suppose Joe Sacco's
Safe Area Gorazde might have been the most recent
project to approach Maus's impact.
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?
Well, I'm not sure I
really have a knowledgeable view of causes of the collapse.
But I'm sure the inflated collector's market of the
early 1990s and the larger publishers' pandering to
that market helped the collapse a lot. I suppose the
black and white glut of the late 1980s contributed.
The continuing paucity of thoughtful and innovative
comics that appeal to a general readership is the biggest
problem. And the failure of such thoughtful and innovative
comics that exist to reach a wide, appreciative readership
is also a major problem.
During your career
you worked for the big publishers, but also for much
smaller companies. How would you compare both experiences?
When I'm sitting at
the drawing table working, it doesn't matter how big
the publisher is. I've had good and bad experiences
at publishers big and small. I've had late checks and
lost artwork at publishers big and small. Usually the
pay is better at big publishers. Sometimes the distribution
of the work is better at big publishers. Usually the
big publishers want more rights to my work.
In the 90's, publishers
began to create alternate covers, and made a lot ofsometimes
unnecessaryrelaunches. What do you think of those
I paid little attention
to them, and when they were brought to my attention,
they just made me tired. Just not interested.
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's possible. At the
moment it's not economically feasible for me to completely
abandon the serialized pamphletand I suspect the
same is correct for many other comics creators.
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?
No. I haven't seen anything
in digital lettering and coloring that isn't possible
by hand. I think it just made it more economical to
reproduceand sometimes faster and easier for the
artist to producewhich I don't think is implied
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 wasn't really
conscious of the internet till the mid-90s, and I didn't
get online till the late 90s.
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?
More toward a male audience
in its mid-teens. But that's a broad generalization
concerning comic books. There's something published
for just about anyone.
A success of the
American film business has always been not to ignore
the foreign market. Do you feel that the comics industry
has been successful abroad?
Not that I've noticed.
But I'm not that knowledgeable about American comics
abroad. I understand that Don Rosa is a big celebrity
in Europe while he's underrated here.
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?
I'm not sure what you're
asking. As far as a positive mood within the industry,
I can't say that I'm aware of any consensus. People
have different opinions and expectations. I don't think
the appropriate audience for Age
of Bronze is found primarily among American comic
book readers, so I try to look beyond the borders of
the comics industry for interest in my series.
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?
I don't know what they
come to buy. I sell my own work, and the people who
buy from me are generally the convention attendees I
speak to. I don't usually have the time at conventions
to look around much farther than my immediate area.
I don't care about toys, statues, and other knick-knacks.
It's all clutter to me. I don't understand why anyone
would want to buy it.
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
No, but I don't have
much contact with digital artists. I don't know of any
paper artists who are ferociously anti-digital. That
doesn't mean there aren't anyjust that I'm not
aware of them.
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?
It could be one avenue
or part of a solution. I don't think any one thing will
save the comics industry. I think it's got to be a wide
expansion on many fronts. But until there's an artistic
and intellectual rise in the quality of a substantial
percentage of comics material, I don't think any expansion
will last for long.
Some digital comics
use animation; others sound, etc. For you, what is a
digital comic? What would be the aesthetic definition?
A sequence of pictures
that carry a narrative delivered in a digital format.
Animation is animationit's not comics. Sound effects
seem as if they'd just be distracting once the novelty
Do you think that
digital comics offer much more diversity than the paper
First, please understand
that I don't have much exposure to digital comics. I
suspect that digital comics can't take advantage of
different printing techniques and different papers to
print on, different bindings and trimmings and inks
and textures. I'm sure that digital comics have other
areas of diversity. So, I 'd have to say no, I don't
think digital comics offers much more diversity, just
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?
I have no idea how big
companies will make their way into the digital world.
It seems reasonable to expect that smaller publishers
will have to wait for big publishers to pave the way
on legal issues. But who knows? It's impossible to know
exactly what the future holds. I'm not in a position
to make any reliable predictions.
I do think that the
big publishers have a financial interest in keeping
the comics industry at status quo rather than spending
time and money in exploring new forms.
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 that most people
today would rather read a printed object. It's much
easier to take a book to the bathroom than to take a
computer screen. I like a nicely printed and manufactured
comic. The resolution on a computer screen is too low
to make looking at artwork enjoyable for me.
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?
I have no idea. As soon
as someone figures it out, I'd like to know, too. I
have to say that I greatly dislike most advertising.
There's far, far too much of it in the world alreadyI
think a lot of it should be banned.
Why would artists
choose to make digital comics, even if they don't really
make money, instead of becoming independent publishers?
I'd suppose it costs
less to publish on the internet. You can do it from
the comfort of your own home.
If a cartoonist is making
comics as a hobby, the internet is a convenient publication
and distribution system. Internet publication requires
less dependency on other peoples' decisions.
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 and so on. Finally, other artists use the internet
as an unlimited space to compose a story. What do you
think of those ideas?
They all seem unwieldy.
The transition from one panel to the next on a computer
screen seems like an obstacle to the success of digital
comics. But as I said, I'm no expert in this. What seems
unwieldy in theory might be delightful in practice.
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?
Never seen any.
We talked earlier
about the unlimited space and animated digital comics.
Do you think that we could apply some of those compositional
ideas to live moving pictures, instead of just drawn
Well, yes. It would
be interesting to watch a movie that had no borders,
that just continued wherever you looked. Of course,
I think it couldn't really be a conventional story,
more like an impression of culture.
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?
Yes, it seems like an
excellent tool. The problem is for a new creative voice
to make others aware of its existence. How would that
creative voice reach me with its URL? Lots of print
advertising, I suppose.
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 can't predict the
future. The major percentage of comics will always be
dismissable, and a smaller percentage will be worth
reading. I suppose there'll be a peak somedayif
such a subjective judgment can be madebut will
I see it in my lifetime? Who knows?