APE 2011 Panel Reports: Daniel Clowes, Adrian Tomine, Kate Beaton and Craig Thompson

A comics interview article by: Andrew Tan

While San Francisco lost WonderCon to Anaheim earlier this year, the city held Alternative Press Expo this past weekend at Concourse Exhibition Center. Nerds, Steampunks, Girls in Yarn Hats and People Who Like Indie Rock (I refuse to use the term "hipster") flooded the exhibition center to buy comics, see panels and get their various wares signed. This year's special guests included writer/cartoonists, Craig Thompson, Daniel Clowes, Kate Beaton and Adrian Tomine.

A Discussion with Daniel Clowes and Adrian Tomine

Everything you think you need to do to be a good comic book artist is wrong. Adrian Tomine and Daniel Clowes talked about their creation process, their work and their fans at APE on Saturday.

For Clowes, he said he doesn't have a creative process. He's tried writing scripts, starting the comic in the upper left corner and repeatedly tracing the art in darker and darker colors. He said he doesn't stick to a particular method to help keep his enthusiasm for the project. "You can't sacrifice your spontaneity for getting everything all perfect. That's killed many a cartoonist."

Clowes also said that he never draws for himself. He doesn't keep a sketchbook either. "I used draw in a sketchbook all the time and it felt like homework."

Tomine agreed; he rarely draws a sketchbook either. After Tomine finished his first graphic novel, Shortcomings, he resisted the idea of jumping into a longer piece of work. He first wrote a minicomic that was published as Scenes From An Impending Marriage and just released Optic Nerve #12, which consists of three stories in a single issue.

However, he did wish he was promoting something larger. "It just seems more impressive . . . it makes more money, it can be sold in bookstores," Tomine joked. His current plan is to publish a few more issues of Optic Nerve composed of different kinds of short stories.

Tomine also reflected on Shortcomings at the panel. He was reading Philip Roth at the time and had hoped that he would be rewarded for his honest portrayal of Ben Tanaka. However, when reviews came in that put Tanaka in a negative light, Tomine would give interviews where he tried to distance himself from the character.

"That guy's not even wearing glasses, how could he be you?" Clowes added.

Clowes also said that Death Ray was not originally meant to be a commentary on US actions after 9/11, but now he sees how listening to NPR as he worked seeped into the characters.

Clowes then remembered a fan who spent an entire day on his porch. He went out to ask her to leave, but she was curled up in a fetal position.

"I finally went out at 11 at night and she was gone. I should have married that girl."

Spotlight on Kate Beaton

Beaton spoke about her work and did a reading of her comics in her panel on Sunday.

Kate Beaton, creator of the immensely successful webcomic Hark, A Vagrant, got her start on Facebook. She used Facebook's photo album feature to post comics for her friends. Soon a friend suggested she create a website, which would eventually become Hark, A Vagrant.

However, before Beaton started writing comics she had a humor column in The Argosy, Mount Allison University's independent student newspaper. People would buy her free drinks, and she realized that this is something she might want to do more of.

Beaton also read out some of her comics. Using the projector in the room, Beaton walked the room through her strips, reading the dialogue and flipping through panels quickly, Beaton's delivery was a machine gun, speeding through each of her webcomics in seconds.

One of her most popular comics, "Tesla the Celibate Scientist," imagines Tesla as a chaste scientist who thinks his abstinence is vital to his genius. Beaton said she never expected the comic to become as popular as it did: "I had no idea Tesla was a really popular guy."

One of the difficulties she encounters is making comics about history that appeal to both people who know a lot about a given topic, and those who may not know anything.

She also didn't expect her comic on The Great Gatsby to be included in the 2011 edition of The Best American Comics. "[It's] pretty amazing, some of the jokes are incredibly stupid, and some of them are ok," Beaton said.

In putting together her presentation on her comics, Beaton noticed that she was adding a lot of "vulgar things . . . there's butts, there's boobs."

"There's even secret butts," Beaton joked.

While Beaton has been doing comics for four years and been making a living at it for three, she is still trying to figure out her future with comics. She doubts people's willingness to buy T-shirts from a 50-year-old.

"That would be the most amazing thing if I could still be cool in 20 years."

Spotlight on Craig Thompson

Craig Thompson's first comics were drawn on the backs of his neighbor's used computer paper. Originally, Thompson began liking comic books because most other media was censored in his home. However, comics were able to slip through. He recounts a time when he was working for a dollar an hour which translated to him and his brother as one comic book an hour.

Thompson reflected on the French artists that inspired some of his work in Blankets, showing panels from the book where he thought he took their influence. He also explained how he would use thumbnail sketches instead of scripts to help him develop a comic. From the very beginning, the words and the pictures are being worked on together, he said, resulting in Thompson spending a whole year doing thumbnails for Blankets.

Craig Thompson's friends would help him develop Blankets when he would show him his thumbnails. He also didn't use any photo references, but he would use images from his sketchbook or having friends pose for him. "I like that connection to the art of having an actual moment of reality with other people."

For his newest book, Habibi, Thompson explained why it took him seven years to complete the book, working on and off and struggling with creative blocks.

The inspiration for Habibi started with his research in the Arabic and East African slave trade and Arabic calligraphy's fluidity and visual aesthetic. "I think of cartoons drawings as a cursive, handwritten form of drawings," said Thompson.

However, Thompson experienced difficulty in finding an ending for Habibi. He said in the summer of 2009 he still didn't know how the book would end. He ended up writing 10 conclusions for the book for five months until he discovered the right one.

"When you're writing fiction, you're making up a pile of lies and you need to find a little bit of truth in the midst of all those lies."

Andrew Tan spends his days teaching kids about writing. Before that, he majored in Journalism at the University of Florida, where he worked for a few newspapers. He loves comics (obviously), sad music, duck confit and San Francisco. He also has a sentence published in McSweeney's that he is proud of. He was also mocked in Gawker for said sentence, which brings him roughly the same level of pride.

Andrew is one of the many people on the internet vying for the moniker of Tandrew. Some are him, some are not. You can find him on Twitter at @TandrewTan.

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