LEAPING TALL BUILDINGS Photographer Eyes Comic Book World

 

People are constantly wondering how to break into comics. As Seth Kushner puts it, he took the side door.

The photogapher's unique path started with infrequent gigs shooting comic book creators for mainstream publications, and led to Leaping Tall Buildings — a hefty profile of the medium told through the stories of dozens of noted industry figures. The book, written by Christopher Irving and photographed by Kushner, was released earlier this year and features a diverse lineup including Stan Lee, Frank Miller, Chris Claremont, Brian Michael Bendis, Jaime Hernandez, Art Spiegelman, and Jim Lee.

Leaping Tall Buildings might not have existed without Kushner meeting creator Dean Haspiel while working on his first book, , a "survey of interesting people" from the borough. Haspiel helped open doors for Kushner, and he began to further connect his love of comics to his career in photography.

Dean Haspiel, photographed by

Seth Kushner.

"I always had ideas and plans, trying to figure out how to bring those things together," Kushner told Newsarama. "I've always wanted to do something in comics, but before I knew anyone in comics, it never seemed like something you could get into.  I was sort of on the outside looking in."

After the original writer left the project, Haspiel introduced Kushner to Irving, and the two embarked on the four-year process of putting Leaping Tall Buildings together. It was a labor of love for Irving and Kushner at first, who worked on it in their spare time since the project didn't have a publisher.

"When we first started, we thought, 'With these movies coming out now, I imagine we'll be able to sell this thing,'" Kushner said. "It shouldn't be that difficult.

Seth Kushner.

"Right before the first pitch went out is when the economy collapsed," he continued. "All of a sudden, a book that we thought would be an easy sell, turned out to be a very difficult sell. It was a little disconcerting, but we kept doing it."

Over that four years, they were able to interview and photograph some of the very biggest names in the history of comics, plus contemporary independent talents like Jeffrey Brown, Becky Cloonan and Dash Shaw. The book also spotlights several creators who have since passed away, including Joe Simon, Harvey Pekar and Dwayne McDuffie.

"I've photographed lots of celebrities in my career, and I don't so much get nervous or starstruck around people anymore, but it was a little different with some of the comics creators," Kushner said, acknowledging that many of the book's participants weren't easy to track down. "I'm way more impressed meeting a Joe Simon than I would be a George Clooney or someone like that."

Grant Morrison, photographed

by Seth Kushner.

Leaping Tall Buildings eventually found its way to powerHouse Books — like Kushner, based in Brooklyn — who released it this past May.

"The fact that it took longer to sell was probably better," Kushner said. "The project evolved, it got a lot bigger and become a lot more coherent than the original idea, which was just to do the history of comics in New York. Although New York is the birthplace of comics, there were a lot of things we covered that happened outside of New York."

The book received positive word from and , but it was a review from the that got the most attention. Written by Tim Marchman and titled "Worst Comic Book Ever!," the write-up didn't mention Leaping Tall Buildings until six paragraphs in, and instead used the book as a springboard for a criticism of the comic book industry in general. Kushner's name was omitted entirely, and Irving was credited as an editor.

Joe Simon, photographed by

Seth Kushner.

Though Marchman called the book "beautifully illustrated," Kushner does admit that he was "a little annoyed" by the piece, and <a href=http://www.comicsalliance.com/2012/06/13/leaping-tall-buildings-author-responds-to-wall-street-journal-book-review/>wrote a response</a> that circulated online. Ultimately, any press did turn out to be good press for the Leaping Tall Buildings team.

"Interestingly, the debate and the sh*tstorm that occurred online about that review ended up creating a lot of sales and buzz for the book," he said. "I remember going to Jim Hanley's Universe, and they told me, 'Oh, your book sold out this week.'"

 

Kushner and Haspiel are also two of the main creative forces of <a href=http://welcometotripcity.com/>Trip City</a>, dubbed a "Brooklyn-filtered literary arts salon." The site's content includes "Schmuck," a monthly autobiographical slice-of-life comic written by Kushner and illustrated by a different artist in each installment.

"I don't have anything extraordinary that's happened to me," Kushner said. "I've never been to the moon, I've never been to war. At one point, I was a guy who went on a bunch of dopey dates that ended up awkward and embarrassing. I thought I could share that and play it for some pathos."

 

Much of the Trip City team contributed to this month's Creator Owned Heroes #7, with Kushner presenting a four-page photo comic called "Complex," plus a Leaping Tall Buildings feature on Evan Dorkin.

"It's a larger story that I conceived of," Kushner said of "Complex." It's something that I want to do as a long-form story. I decided early on that I better experiment a little first. We wrote a four-page prologue that operates as its own kind of done-in-one, and for me to make sure that I can actually do this."

More "Complex," more "Schmuck" and more Leaping Tall Buildings profiles are in the plans for Kushner, who credits the platform Trip City has provided.

"We didn't want to wait around for publishers or editors to approve and pick up a project," he said. "We wanted to be able to put stuff out there, and yeah, it doesn't make any money right now, but it's kind of like beta testing. Every week, we just put different stuff on there, and some sticks, and some doesn't, but it's a really great experience."

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