This interview with
comic book and webcomic writer and artist Roger
Langridge 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 Roger
Langridge received a part of the shotlist, and was
asked to answer the questions as if they were actually
shooting the interview together. Roger
Langridge 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 in New Zealand
in 1967 and, for me, comics were always around. I learned
to read from Carl Barks' comics. By the age of six I'd
decided to be a cartoonist when I grew up. In New Zealand,
there isn't a comic industrythe population is
far too small to support itso I knew traveling
overseas was part of the shape my life was going to
take from an early age.
I drew comics right
through childhood, some on my own, some in collaboration
with my brother Andrew. By the time I got to university,
I was drawing a strip for the student newspaper and
publishing minicomics by me and Andrew on the Student
Union's photocopier. After I graduated from university
(with an English degree I'll never use) I got the first
job I could find, saved like a demon for a year, and
bought a ticket to England to try and "go professional".
By this time Fantagraphics were publishing Andrew's
and my minicomic, Art d'Ecco, so this seemed
like a perfectly attainable goal; in hindsight, I must
have been insanenot one person in a thousand actually
breaks into comics without years of rejection. But I
got lucky. I was working as a full-time comic artist
within six months of arriving in London, and I haven't
had a proper day job since.
What do you find
in comics that you wouldn't find in another type of
The total control the
cartoonist can have over a project. Animation shares
many qualities with comics, but it's much more labor-intensive
and requires delegating tasks to other hands, which
is something I've never been happy to do. And animation
is less visually flexible, I thinkdesign elements
(like, say, those of Chris Ware) that work on a comic
page would probably translate badly to the screen.
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?
* Companies abusing
their readers' goodwill by milking them dry with multiple
covers, enormous crossovers and multiple titles featuring
the same charactersa lot of readers threw up their
hands in disgust and walked away, me included.
* The fact that there
are so few comics suitable for younger children, and
those that exist are impossible to find outside of specialty
stores, so there's no new generation of readers coming
* The fact that so many
comics are impossible to understand unless you've followed
the company's "universe" for decadesit's really,
really off-putting to a casual reader. There are very
few comics that are self-contained stories. (Even Marvel's
sixties soap-opera style comics were relatively easy
to jump into the middle of, compared to today's comics.)
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?
It's made the books
more expensive, which has probably lowered sales a bit,
but I don't think that's as big a factor as the content.
Me, I like newsprintI like black and white, too.
There's an idea that pops up all the time, which sounds
like good common sense to me, that the major companies
ought to put out really thick, cheaply produced black-and-white
paperback comic albums (and have them paid for by bulk
advertising), and get them out of comic stores and into
mainstream outlets. Marvel's Essential series
is a step in this direction, but they could do a lot
more with the format I think.
In the 90's, publishers
began to create alternate covers, and made a lot ofsometimes
unnecessaryrelaunches. Let's call this commercial
experimentation. What do you think of those "gimmicks"?
They're what made me
stop reading superheroes of any kind. I felt my intelligence
was constantly being insulted.
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?
Paperbacks and pamphlets
should ideally co-exist, I think, with the emphasis
on the paperback side of things (at the moment the emphasis
is still very much on the periodical pamphlet.) Regular
32-page comics are good entry points, especially for
kids, because they're cheap.
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?
Er, no. I think these
can be filed under "gimmicks" as well. A good hand-lettering
job still looks better than a computer-lettered comic.
And most computer color looks garish and ugly to me,
and is rarely in harmony with the artwork.
Also around the same
time came the internet. Did you guess at that time that
the internet could become a distribution system for
Not at the time, though
I worked it out eventually...
Diversity seems to
be a key problem for the industry. Do you think that
current comic books are oriented mainly toward an audience
in its 20s?
I think it's more complicated
than thatthey're aimed at adolescent boys with
incomes of people in their thirties. In other words,
they're aimed at a market that doesn't actually exist.
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?
Way too expensive. Considering
you get maybe five minutes' reading out of the damn
things, and they're rarely deep enough or clever enough
to reward repeated readings.
I heard that superhero
sales now are like a tenth of what they were in the
early 90s. Although the indies and alternatives have
stayed pretty stable.
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?
Can it help the sales of comics?
The conventions I've
been to are the UK ones, where people are mostly after
back issues from the 60s and 70s. Haven't seen much
merchandising being bought. I'm not interested in the
merchandising personally; I don't see how it can be
good for comic sales... I mean, it's being bought by
the people who already buy the comics they're based
on. You don't entice new readers with a T-shirt or a
statuette. They have absolutely nothing in common with
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, there are far more
than two clans. Actually, I think the split between
alternative and superhero artists is much more significant
than the split between digital and non-digital artists.
Most artists fall somewhere in the middle on the digital
scalethere are very few who are at the extreme
ends of the scale.
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?
I think in some ways
the industry would be better off dying. Then everybody
would have to rethink everything from scratch, instead
of taping a digital band-aid over a dying dinosaur.
Digital comics' main strength seems to me to be the
fact that they reach an audience that never goes anywhere
near a comic shop. That's a whole new audience. The
industry is more or less entirely disconnected from
them. So I don't see that digital comics are going to
affect the industry one way or the other, really.
Some digital comics
use animation; others sound, etc. For you, what is a
digital comic? What would be the aesthetic definition?
A good rule of thumb
I've heard is that if you read it, it's a comic; if
you watch it, it's animation. The boundaries are certainly
blurring, though. I personally like to use static images,
but I'm happy to see limited animation in other people's
comics. Doesn't really matter whether it fits neatly
into a defined set of parameters, it seems to me; the
important question is, is it any good?
Do you think that
digital comics offer much more diversity than the paper
There's a lot of diversity
in paper comics too, but the more diverse stuff tends
to be marginalized to a greater extent in the print
world (until it gets into bookstores, anyway.) Whereas
in digital comics, there's more of a level playing field
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 think the majors are
waiting to see how well the independents do, actuallyModern
Tales is a good example of a small company that's making
money from digital comics. Piracy is, I think, not much
of a threatweb images are so low-fi that you can't
print them decently anyhow, and the subscription fee
is small enough that the piracy incentive is pretty
low. It's probably no more likely than people photocopying
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 could probably part
with my pamphlet-format comics quite happily if a digital
alternative existed. I like books, though. I'd hang
onto those. I think there is definitely a collecting
mentality that wants a physical object to hold, though
it's probably less true of the population as a whole
than it is of comic fans.
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?
There are a few different
models around, all of which could be useful. Modern
Tales uses a subscription model. My own website offers
webomics for free, but I sell artwork and print comics
through the site. Shannon Wheeler also offers free webcomics,
but makes a bundle off his T-shirts and other merchandise.
Scott Kurtz makes his income off advertising. Whatever
works, I guess. To be honest, micro-payments seems the
most unlikely solution of the lot right now.
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. Do you think
that digital comics offer more possibilities as far
as composition is concerned?
Sure. I don't happen
to be that interested in exploring them personally (I'm
thinking of print collections all the time) but others
McCloud are all doing pretty interesting stuff with
Do you think that
scrolling is the main limitation of digital comics?
It's a bore, and it
limits the amount of space you can use in some ways
(there are times when you want the reader to see an
entire page composition at once), but I think the main
limitation is probably slow download times and people's
short attention spans for anything they see on a screen.
It's much more difficult to get people to read longer
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?
Some of them are really
good (Aaron Augenblick's www.augenblickstudios.com and
Karl Will's www.comicbookfactory.net animated movies
spring immediately to mind.)
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
There are kind of two
opposing impulses therecomics use space the way
animation uses time, so putting the two together sounds
like it would just cause problems. No doubt somebody
will try it, though.
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?
Of course. It's also
opened the door for a lot of crap, but you have to accept
that as part of the price, I guess.
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?
Not really. I think
the best cartoonists will continue to do the best work
they can, same as they always have, and the market has
nothing to do with it. If anything, I think you might
get a lot more commercial comics sinking to lower and
lower depths as they resort increasingly to lowest-common-denominator
stuff to save their sorry asses.