ULTRAPAROLE

Eric Shanower

Archivio interviste

An interview with
ERIC SHANOWER

Be charmed by Myth

by Smoky Man

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Eric Shanower was born in 1963 in Key West, Florida.

In 1984, he graduated at the prestigious "Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art" and started working in the comics market. After drawing a series of graphic novels continuing the Oz books, in 1991 he began research for his masterpiece Age of Bronze, a comics retelling the Trojan War.

He had published several projects including the six-issue mini-series The Elsewhere Prince (with script by Randy & Jean-Marc Lofficier) taking place in Moebius' Airtight Garage universe, and Vertigo's Prez: Smells like Teen President (with writer Ed Brubaker).

In 1998 Age of Bronze began publication. Actually it reaches its tenth issue under the Image imprint.

More info about Eric Shanower and his works at:

http://ericshanower.com

http://www.hungrytigerpress.com

http://age-of-bronze.com

 

STARTING A CAREER

Eric Shanower I know you attended to the prestigious Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art (in Dover, New Jersey). Could you tell us something about this experience and how it has contributed to your artistic building up?

I attended the Joe Kubert School from Sept. 1981 until I graduated in May 1984. I attended right out of high school, so it was the first time I'd been on my own away from living with my family. It was a period of intensive artistic growth because I had to draw a lot to keep up with the assignments. I was introduced to new materials and techniques and the professional standards of creating comic books as well as standards for graphic art and advertising. The most valuable part of the school was just the large amount of drawing I had to do, and the more I drew the more my drawing improved.

Age of BronzeYour style is very detailed without being heavy. On the contrary, you have a very clean line and a very strong visual storytelling. Also your drawing style seems to avoid easy mannerisms such as splash pages so common in today's market. And there is a certain amount of irony in the fact you actually work for Image. So, which are your influences? Which are the artists you refer to?

Well, the reason I don't use splash pages much is because I usually don't have room. In Age of Bronze, there's so much story to get into every issue, a splash page would be a waste of space. It does feel a little constrained at times; for instance, I would have liked a double-page spread at the end of Age of Bronze #9 to show the departure of the Achaean fleet, but I had to settle for a half-page panel because I just didn't have room for more.

I don't really "work for Image." It's probably more accurate to say that Image is the publisher of Age of Bronze and that I work for myself. The reason that Image publishes Age of Bronze is that - to my surprise -Erik Larsen offered to publish the series and, ironic or not, that was the best offer I received.
My greatest artistic influence is probably John R. Neill, the primary illustrator of the Oz books, whose work I encountered first when I was six years old. I also enjoy the work of the classic American illustrators such as Charles Dana Gibson and Maxfield Parish. I admire Alphonse Mucha greatly.

I've also read comics for most of my life and have enjoyed quite a range of cartoonists such as Winsor McCay, Carl Barks, Charles Burns, John Byrne, Milton Caniff, Walt Kelly, Dave Sim, Kurt Schaffenberger to name a few.

Paradox in Oz At the start of your career, you have worked on a series of graphic novels continuing the Oz books by L. Frank Baum. Why this fascination for Oz stories?

I fell in love with the Oz books when I was six and my parents read a chapter to me each night of The Road to Oz, the fifth book in the series. After that I wanted the whole series, and I decided that I would write and draw Oz books when I grew up. And I did. As for the "why" of my fascination with Oz, that's a difficult question to answer, because I'm not exactly sure why. I think it has to do with the appeal of a child traveling from the real world to a world of adventure and beauty where the possibilities for wonder and magic seem endless.

You also drew some Nexus books. I love the character. Steve Rude is a magic penciler. It is a shame there is no place for this hero in today comics market. Do you like working on him?

NexusI thought Nexus was a fascinating comic with great art when it began in the early 1980s. First Comics asked me to try out as inker for the title when they began publishing since Steve Rude didn't have enough time to ink his own pencils. I, myself was a bit disappointed that he wouldn't be inking. I think splitting penciler and inker is not the best artistic decision usually. But when I was selected for the job, I was very happy! It was my first major ongoing work in comics - October 1984. I continued to read Nexus after I quit inking it, although for me it soon lost a bit of the magic of the early issues (particularly after they discovered the Merk), and when Steve wasn't drawing it, it just didn't seem like Nexus. It would be great if it could be published now. When Nexus began Mike Baron said it had a definite end, and I've thought that they should publish that ending so that we can read it, rather than leave the story hanging in limbo as it is now.

 

THE MYTH OF THE TROJAN WAR AND OTHER STORIES

In Italy we know you for your Vertigo book Prez with story by Ed Brubaker. It was a sort of journey into the American soul and in the title, Prez: Smells like Teen President, it cited a famous Nirvana hit. Was it a story with a political message? How did America change from 1995? In music, it seems that American teenagers shift from Nirvana to Marilyn Manson: is it a bad sign?

Yes, I think Prez had a political message - one of hope and faith in the individual. It was primarily Ed Brubaker's message, but I was in sympathy with it. I don't think it had a lot to do with Nirvana--it was just a coincidence that Kurt Cobain died while we were working on the story. In fact, Ed considered changing the title to something else (Manifest Destiny) after Cobain died, but then we figured it didn't really matter and that the original title was far more amusing. I really can't say a lot about the patterns of American teenagers' musical preferences. I don't know many American teenagers. I think that for many years now America has been turning into more of a rabid consumer culture and less a place of rational, free thought. Of course I think this is unfortunate. But while working on Age of Bronze I've tended to take a broad view of history, and I don't think human nature has changed much for thousands of years. I'm not sure how well I can comment on the past six years of American culture, since I sit in a room drawing comics most of my time while American culture proceeds on its merry way without me.

Age of Bronze Let start talking about your ongoing project, Age of Bronze (Image) about the Trojan War. When did you start working on this story?

I got the idea in February 1991 while I was listening to the audio taped version of Barbara W. Tuchman's book The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam. I began serious research on the project in fall 1991.
I began writing the script in 1996, and began drawing it in 1997. The first issue was published in November 1998.

Age of BronzeWhy a comic book based on an historical event?

Well, I'm not sure you want to go on record saying that the Trojan War is an historical event. I certainly wouldn't. Age of Bronze is based on the cycle of legends about the Trojan War as it has accumulated over the millennia. The historical setting that I've given the story is very important to my retelling of the legends, but it is nevertheless a secondary aspect.

Whether the Trojan War actually took place or not, and how much truth there might be in the legends, is not a question I can answer. Better leave it to the archaeologists to debate. It's not so much that I chose the Trojan War, it's more like the Trojan War chose me. When I heard the Trojan War chapter in March of Folly, I thought a retelling of the legend would make a really great comic book. I knew it would be a long, involved project, and in 1991 I didn't think I'd be getting around to it very soon, so I kept trying to put it on the back burner. But it kept forcing its way to front, so I finally gave in. I'm glad I did.

Helen

Are you, in some ways, intimidated by telling a story so important and, above all, a story with a well known end?

No, I'm not intimidated. Maybe I should be, but I'm not. I'm excited. It is extremely enjoyable to be retelling this story which has been told over and over for so many years. The energy of it just carries me along and I want to write and draw it so that everyone can see it the way I see it. In some ways it's a little easier to retell an established story rather than make up a new one. The plot is already there for me, so I know where I'm going. Sometimes it's a little tricky to get the characters to move smoothly in the direction they need to go, but the Trojan War legend is so rich that I can always find the motivations for the characters to make the decisions (sometimes seemingly ridiculous decisions) they need to make to carry the story forward.
I know that the end of the Trojan War is the most famous episode, but there are many, many episodes before I reach the end that most people aren't familiar with. I hope to keep readers intrigued with the unfamiliar material.

And I hope readers will look forward to my particular retelling of the ending.

Which is your favorite character?

I love them all, but I admire Hektor quite a bit. He's the only one who really tries always to do what he thinks is right.

Age of BronzeThe only other history-based comic by an American author that comes to my mind is Frank Miller's 300. To avoid any polemic, I want preventively say that I like a lot 300 and I consider Frank Miller one of the greatest ones in the comics medium. But I think Miller used an approach been more visual based than yours and a little too much American centered. It seems to me that 300 is - in some ways - a blockbuster, hollywoodian movie, a sort of "Gladiator" put on paper. Compared to 300, Age of Bronze seems more story centered and with a sort of European narrative rhythm. What do you think of 300? Are my considerations on target?

Berlin by Jason Lutes is an historical comic. So is Louis Riel by Chester Brown, although Brown is Canadian. There are also other comics based on legend-mythology: The Ring of the Nibelung by P. Craig Russell, the various King Arthur comics by Jeff Limke, Beowulf by Gareth Hinds, and Roland by Shane Amaya, to name some recent ones.

I actually only saw a couple of issues of 300. I kept missing it in the comics store because I thought the logo said "ZOO" instead of "300." I can't really say much about it in comparison to Age of Bronze, because I don't think there's much point of comparison. 300 was a comic based on an historical event, and Age of Bronze is based on legend. It's a little like comparing the Norman Conquest with the Battle of Britain. Frank Miller does what he does very well, particularly in page design and panel to panel storytelling. I thought the design of 300 to be later released as a double-comic-size-wide book was clever. But I'm just not the person to compare 300 to Age of Bronze since I see only the most passing of surface similarities - let someone else make the comparisons.

The story of Age of Bronze certainly is the most important part of the comic. I think the story is the most important part of any comic. All else is subordinate to the story. I don't know if Age of Bronze has a European narrative rhythm. I think it's got an Eric Shanower rhythm. I tend to focus on comics' equivalencies to prose rather than comics' equivalencies to motion pictures, so maybe that's a factor and what you're picking up on.

Recently, you drew a beautiful short Promethea story for the ABC special. It was titled Promethea and Little Margie in Misty Magic Land and it was written by Steve Moore. How do you feel working on a character created by Alan Moore? Why do you choose a style so reminiscent of Winsor McCay's Little Nemo?

Thanks for calling it beautiful. I was delighted to be asked to draw that story. I was delighted to work on a story connected with Alan Moore, whose work I usually enjoy quite a bit. I was especially delighted that it was connected with Promethea, since I think that's one of the best comic books currently published. The editor and the script indicated the art should be reminiscent of Little Nemo, so that's what I tried to do--retain a flavor of Winsor McCay, while not slavishly imitating McCay. I do love McCay's work, and I think that I was appropriately selected to draw that story.

Also you worked on another surprising book. You contributed with a 5 pages sequence to the third issue of the Erik Larsen's 12 issue maxi-series Fantastic Four: the World's Greatest Comics Magazine dedicated to the genius of Jack Kirby. Do you like drawing Kirby's fantastic icons? Do you think Kirby's lesson of free, powerful imagination is still actual? Or today superhero comics lack of "sense of wonder" and are only full of gratuitous but "cool" violence?

Fantastic FourErik Larsen roped me into that, too. This was an interesting exercise, and proved to me how difficult it really is to imitate Kirby. I enjoy Kirby's art and think a lot of it is really beautiful. I'm not sure I can address your questions of whether it's relevant to today's superhero comics. I don't think Kirby was necessarily a "superhero cartoonist". I think he was a cartoonist who for much of his career drew superheroes. He drew many other things and was as versatile as any artist. His art will always be relevant for the achievement that it is. I can't say much about today's superhero comics because I don't read them much (and maybe that in itself says enough).

 

ABOUT COMICS

I have read your answers to the "Creators speak out" special on www.popimage.com. As a gay comic creator which is your opinion on today growing appearance of gay characters in mainstream superhero comics? I am referring to Authority's Apollo and Midnighter and to some characters of Alan Moore's ABC line as Promethea or Cobweb, just to name a few. Is it a reflection of a new sensibility in readers, creators and publishers or is it only a new "cool" theme to be used?

As I mentioned, I don't really read superhero comics, so I don't know about the first couple characters you mention. As far as Alan Moore goes, I think he's used gay characters in his work for many years--for instance, I remember them in his American Flagg work in the mid-1980s--so I don't think he's using them as a fad or gimmick--just part of the texture of life as incorporated into his stories. And that's how I think gay characters in fiction should be used for the most part--as a reflection of the texture of real life. As a gay man, I'm interested in the portrayal of gay characters in any medium, but more importantly I need to be interested in the story whether it has gay characters or not. If a story doesn't hold my interest, it doesn't matter what the sexual orientation of any of the characters is.

Which is your comic dream project?

Age of Bronze

Do you think the Internet could be a place to develop a new comics language?

I really don't know. But I'll go out on a limb to say that if the language changes much, the result may not be comics any more. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it may be a completely new thing.

UltraThanks you for your availability and time :-)

 

 

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[april 2001]

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