May 2, 2012

Jason Lutes Interview

As I've already mentioned, Durham County Library's second (annual?) Comics Fest is fast approaching (May 19-20!). Making those plans has got me thinking about last year's Fest, specifically the presentation by guest Jason Lutes. Lutes is the writer and artist behind Jar of Fools and Berlin (book 1, City of Stones, and book 2, City of Smoke), and he's the writer of Houdini: The Handcuff King (art by Nick Bertozzi). Jason was kind enough to answer a few questions lately about his work and the world of comics generally.  (Note: to the extent possible and relevant, links in this interview are directed to the Durham County Library online catalog.)

--------------------

741.5 and then some: What are your favorite comics or cartoonists of the moment?

Jason Lutes: For the past year or so I've been in love with the work of Christophe Blain, a French cartoonist who has a couple of books -- Isaac the Pirate, and the must-read Western Gus and His Gang -- currently in translation. His stories are playful but grounded, built on real history and extensive research, but full of life and whimsy. My other favorite cartoonists are my students at the Center for Cartoon Studies, who amaze and inspire me on a regular basis.

741: You wrote the script for Houdini: The Handcuff King, for which Nick Bertozzi created the art. What's it like writing scripts for someone else to cartoon?  Have you ever done the reverse?

JL: I love writing for other people, because drawing is the hardest and most time-consuming part. That being said, a successful collaboration requires that both participants share a way of thinking about sequential narrative, or at the very least an open mind and willingness to learn from one another. Working with Nick was great, because while for the most part he followed my very specific instructions on how to lay out pages and panels, every addition or change that he made improved the final product.

I have drawn scripts written by other people, small things for DC Comics and some lesser-known indie stuff. For the most part they were unsatisfying experiences because I the writers and I had different approaches to the medium. However, The Fall, a crime story written by my old friend Ed Brubaker, drawn by me, and published by Drawn & Quarterly, was a satisfying collaboration in every respect. Sadly, it's currently out of print.

741: Berlin, like many comics, is a serial work that is also being collected into trade paperbacks along the way.  Do you think there's any benefit to reading the work in one format or another: isssue-by-issue or in collections?

JL: I personally prefer reading a collected work. I enjoy being able to consume a story uninterrupted, and I like when that experience is reinforced by the whole thing being contained in a single physical package. The serialization of narrative is for the most part a product of the marketplace, and has its own incidental pleasures, but I like to read and write stories that have a finite form.

741: Berlin is coming to a close in the not-too-distant future.  Do you have any projects in the queue?

JL: I have tons of stories to tell, and am always trying to find ways to tell them outside of writing and drawing them myself. I am currently editing an experimental secret project that will hopefully see the light of day in the fall of 2012, and have several other things in the hopper. Berlin will continue to consume 90% of my studio time until it is complete, but I have  hundreds of more pages of comics waiting in the wings of my brain.

741: During your talk at our Comics Fest last year, you mentioned that Herge's Tintin books have been a great inspiration.  What other cartoonists and comics have influenced you?

JL: My biggest, earliest influences were Herge and Marvel Comics of the 1970s. Later, in my twenties, my ideas about comics were profoundly impacted by the work of Art Spiegelman, Chester Brown, David Mazzuchelli and Ben Katchor. Art showed me how to bridge my childhood love of the medium with my adult concerns as an artist, and Chester showed me how to achieve subtlety and nuance with comics.

741: You've been teaching at the Center for Cartoon Studies (CCS) for some time now.  What subjects do you teach there?

JL: I teach Cartooning Studio (our signature "boot camp," Comics 101 class), a writing class, and the senor thesis seminar. My approach is to take what I have found useful about my own practice, and find a way to make it useful to my students. For each class session, I try to follow a three-part recipe: one part didactic, one part experiment, and one part entertainment. The classes I teach are publication-based, which is fun, because that means everyone gets copies of everyone else's assignments. By the end of the spring semester I literally have a stack of 100 different comics -- from 8-page minicomics to 32-page, full-color comic books -- all produced during the previous nine months.

741: Any rising stars from CCS that we should keep an eye on?

JL: Yes! To choose just three examples, Hyperion/Scholastic just published an amazing book by Joseph Lambert (class of 2008) called Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller; Melissa Mendes (class of 2010) recently self-published her amazing Freddy Stories with a grant from the Xeric Foundation, and Katherine Roy (class of 2010) is nearing completion on her job illustrating The Expeditioners: The Treasure of Drowned Man's Canyon, by Sarah Stewart Taylor, the first young-adult novel to be published by McSweeney's McMullens.

741: Do you have any suggestions for those of us who are just getting started making comics?  Any advice you'd give, for example, for someone working toward admission to CCS?

JL: Draw lots of comics! But, more importantly, cultivate a life outside of comics. Comics is a subculture, and its inhabitants are prone to creative laziness and navel-gazing. Get out of your comfort zone! Don't base your ideas for comics on generic, hand-me-down video game ideas -- they were generic when you discovered them! Read only the best comics (it'll take you 3 months, tops). Spend the rest of your free time reading great books, seeing great movies, connecting with real people, living a life outside of comics. Don't "write what you know" -- write about something that interests you, something you don't know that much about. Then you'll know that thing, and yourself, a little bit better, and your art will become part of your process of understanding.


____________________
Notes
Portrait source: http://www.imgd.wpi.edu/speakers/index_2010s.html

No comments: