SCOTT MCCLOUD Part 2 On THE SCULPTOR, Comics & Everything Else

The Sculptor Preview
Credit: First Second
Credit: First Second

On Friday Newsarama talked with Scott McCloud about his new graphic novel The Sculptor, but now in the second part of our interview we delve into the techincal elements and his big picture view of the state of comics today.

Newsarama: Scott, on your blog, you mentioned that The Sculptor "is designed for print and as far as I’m concerned, the paper and ink version will always be the 'real' version.”

In some ways, The Sculptor serves as a bit of a meta-commentary here as there are some parallels to your comments and when David speaks about sculpting from solid granite. What were the limitations you faced creating your “sculpture”? Why is tangible, pulpy print the most true lifeform for this comic as opposed to digital – or even serialization versus the graphic novel format?

Scott McCloud: In terms of a book versus digital version, it’s hard to describe exactly. I’m known for fanatically promoting the idea of creating works for digital space that couldn’t possibly be produced in print. But I hate repurposing. If there’s one thing I’m on a crusade against, it’s creating something in one format and then assuming you can push a button and see it appear in another. I spent many years talking about the limitations of print! I would talk about how once you decided upon the shape and size of panel one, you’ve already restricted the size and shape of panel two given the constraints of the physical page. It drives me nuts! That’s a really aggravating limitation.

But I also know you can create within limitations. Something about The Sculptor felt it ought to be a book. If it was going to be a book, I was going to design it to be a book. There will be digital editions, for sure, but I don’t want anything to do with them. [Laughs] I’m too grateful to my publisher to cut off that revenue stream, of course, but I hope people will consider picking up this particular story in its printed form. For me, every minute I was creating it with this format in mind.

Credit: First Second

Nrama: Right. You have pages where panels gradually fade off the page, and this ethereal quality would be lost in the digital, guided view format.

McCloud: Exactly. But what’s ironic is that while we’re talking about the importance of reading The Sculptor in print, it was created 100% digitally on a Mac Pro and Cintiq. I was drawing on the screen in Photoshop and Illustrator. There was no pen and ink involved.

Nrama: Was this done for practical purposes to be more efficient?

McCloud: Yes, it was a practical consideration, but I also love the tools. It was the fastest and best means to give me the control to create the pages that I need. But the workspace I’m in now is like a Stratovarius violin – it’s so responsive, flexible, and tailored to my needs. It’s hard to imagine drawing without it. I tried drawing with an ordinary tablet, thinking I’d get used to it, but once I got the Cintiq, it was wonderful to be able to draw right on the screen.

And I’m not a natural artist like Craig Thompson or Jillian Tamaki. My draftsmanship skills are limited. I have to push them very, very hard just to get them up to “okay.” By using all of these different layers of Photoshop and being able to undo something when necessary or move elements around, or scale things, it allows me to take my barely “okay” art and apply my somewhat better editor’s and see where things need to be changed or adjusted. I think that’s a large part of the reason why the book looks much better than some of the things I’ve done in the past.

Nrama: You also don’t commit to either a full color or black and white palette; instead, you use a blue pantone to soften the possible harshness of a traditional black and white art.

What was your thinking behind this decision?

Credit: First Second

McCloud: Pantone 653 – I’m always going to remember that number! [Laughs] Honestly, I’m not all that great with color, but I really liked have that sense of control. I couldn’t really control a CMY or a full-color palette, so I’d need to bring in someone else to do that. I could, however, manage to control it if I had a carefully selected second color. Then I was basically just treating it like a grayscale.

But I really liked that second color! You see, I find a lot of comics to be a little dissonant. Comics art, to me, my eye feels like it’s a little jangly. I have a little difficult time discerning form, and with color, you can make form a little easier to see instantly. I would like people to look at the page and see the page as a mosaic of objects, persons, and places. I don’t want them to see lines, I want them to see a world.

Nrama: It’s interesting though as the technical aspects of this story end up immersing readers in the narrative. For example, we look at the way you structure your pages and panels. There are some pages where readers are looking at pages with sixteen or even thirty plus panels!  Other times, the panel count slow builds mimicking the sensation of time passing quickly or panels go without border and trail off to impart a feeling of drifting through the day.

Can you talk a little about how you used form in this regard to further building your world and telling David and Meg’s story?

McCloud: Again, content was driving the bus. Every little experiment you mentioned was driven by the story. There was one page where there are over thirty panels and it’s a party scene where things just cascade off of the page. For me, it wasn’t a chance to show I could do this snazzy composition; instead, it was an opportunity to show what it might be a like to be a stranger, alone and a little drunk, surrounded by people and plenty of noise. It seemed the best way to go about it. There was always a specific job as a storyteller that I needed to do, and so I would grab any device available that I thought would best pull it off. But there was never a time when I thought “Hey, this is a chance to be clever.” I never want to be clever.

Credit: First Second

Nrama: The party scene you mention is one such example where I struggled with the digital copy. I couldn’t help but wonder if it wouldn’t read better in print due to being able to take in both pages side-by-side where the reader would get a limiting sensory experience that’s harder to take it all in – just as someone might feel when drunk and alone in a loud, crowded space.

McCloud: If I were doing it digitally, it wouldn’t be one of these guided-view, Comixology comics. It would be on infinite canvas comics. I would find some way to really surround the reader on all side with a completely enveloping environment. There are definitely a lot of ways to skin the cat, but I thought this was the best way to do it in print, but there are ways to do it in digital. We just have a lot more work to do in comics online though.

But to go back to the earlier question, with regards to pacing, one of the most important things about the pacing was capturing the human rhythm of everyday conversations. This was something my editor, Mark Siegel, and I talked a lot about – the human “theater” of it. Sometimes a silent beat is a very important part of the rhythm of a convincing conversation, and that means you need to give it a little extra time, a little extra room, and that means extra pages. The book starts with a conversation that spans twenty to twenty four pages. You can’t get away with that in an Iron Man issue! [Laughs] but it’s worth it!

Quentin Tarrantino gets it. It’s the small, human moments that really set the stage. They’re the kindling that can set the bigger logs on fire. That’s something that I wanted to get right. It was just very important to get that pacing right. From the facial expressions and the body language, the choice of words, the syntax, the beats – including the silent ones – if I could make those work, then the only thing that’s missing is an actual human conversation. Then you won’t be living a comic at all – you’ll be living it.

Nrama: There’s something you mention here that might cause me to argue a bit with you then. Earlier, you questioned your draftsmanship skills were not up to the standard of others. Yet, here you mention that if you’ve done your job in constructing the conversation between these characters, which I suspect many readers will find you’ve accomplished, the conversations are nearly the same as those your readers will have experienced. Isn’t this the mark of a successful creator?

Credit: First Second

McCloud: I think if you put an individual page of figures and faces of mine against those of a Craig Thompson or a Jillian Tamaki, you’ll see I clearly do not have the same arsenal that they do. But if it works, it works because I took a very long time getting those human details right. And I do think after a period of time, the eye overlooks those minor details like the necks that don’t quite connect or the limbs that I’ve never been all that good at. But if I, as the creator, have done my job right, the story will carry you through so that the eye no longer sees those things.

For example, you no longer notice the little scuffs, scratches, and disconnects in Charlie Brown’s Christmas Special. That thing is filled with errors nearly every second! [Laughter] Lines get dropped left and right! The dialogue is choppy! But it’s okay because it’s alive. And The Sculptor is one of those things that I’ve done that just feels … alive.

Nrama: Okay – last two questions. First, as someone who’s certainly influenced a number of comic creators, what about comics today excites you most?

McCloud: I’m most excited by the diversity in comics and the rise of all-ages. I think artists like Raina Telegemeier or Kazu Kibuishi are us an enormous gift because there’s an entire generation of whom a small but significant minority are going to consider comics as a career. And a chunk of those will have works that will appeal to them as they go into high school, college, and into adulthood, and comics will be there with them every step of the way. This is incredibly important. When Raina Telegemeier gives us a couple of million more readers, there’s something there for them. We’re giving these readers a ladder to climb up every step of the way into comics. I’m so excited for the next couple of generations of comics. We have a “baby boom” coming, and it’s thanks to these artists who are talking to them.

Nrama: Finally, what are the greatest pitfalls ahead for the medium? For the industry?

McCloud: What do I worry about? Of course, I have a love for the potential of digital comics, and I do worry about some bad metaphors are being baked into the hardware and into the commerce in such a way that it might be hard to try out new forms of reading. The people might just decide that the way people are reading tablets right now is just the way it’s going to be. If everything is just going through iTunes, then Apple has the final say in the way things are going to be. This is going to be the format. We do not want any company – no matter how much I may love them for the things they’ve given me and my art over the years – we do not want one company deciding the shape of an art form.  That’s pretty sinister.      

I may continue to explore and experiment in the open web. I’m going to continue to beat the drum for forms that fully embrace what can be done in digital spaces while still being readable and enjoyable as storytelling. I think there is an intersection set there, and I don’t think I’ve done a good enough job demonstrating that yet.

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