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Ten Questions With Shaenon Garrity

Shaenon K. Garrity is one of the hardest-working cartoonists on the web today. She is working on or finished four critically acclaimed comic strips: Trunktown, L'il Mel, Smithson and of course, Narbonic (for which she is probably best known). She is also an editor for Viz and Modern Tales. She also volunteers at the San Francisco-based Cartoon Museum where her husband Andrew Farago is the Gallery Manager. That's a lot of comics goin' on...

She's also our community interviewee this month - read on to see your questions answered.

1. As an writer/artist who has worked on many different projects, you obviously have many ideas, and at one point (as you were starting out) you probably were juggling many of them at one time. How did you decide which project to tackle first? How did you decide which comic you would give priority to? How did you get yourself organized and focused? - Sean C.

I do everything at once and burn myself out. Don't do what I do! Get an organizer or something! I do juggle a lot of jobs and projects, but the webcomics are easy for me to keep up on, because I enjoy them and want to work on them all the time. Sometimes I fall behind schedule on Li'l Mell, which is surprisingly hard to write, but that's an issue of creative block rather than time management.

 

2. While Smithson and Narbonic are both tightly-paced, colorful, and entertaining, they contrast sharply in tone and characterization. What's the biggest difference, if any, in your approach to writing the two comics? Is there something that you want to do with Smithson that you aren't aiming for with Narbonic, or vice-versa? - John Wellington

Smithson's a lot more complicated than Narbonic. At this point, Narbonic is almost over and I've done pretty much everything I wanted to do with it. With Smithson, I'm trying to create a longform, graphic-novel-like comic, and I don't have much experience with that. I'm still learning a lot about longform plotting. Also, with Smithson (and Li'l Mell) I'm working with an artist, which changes my storytelling a lot. In some ways it's easier (not to mention better-looking), but in other ways it's a lot more challenging.

 

3. On Trunktown, Smithson and Li'l Mell, you've worked with an artist besides yourself. What's your general working process for crafting a story and then how do you collaborate with the artists when it comes to creating the actual comics? - Xerexes

I've done it differently with each of those comics. With Trunktown, Tom Hart and I collaborated on the writing and plotting, spending a lotof time developing the comic together before we produced any strips. Then I did thumbnails and sent them to him, and he often made additional changes between the thumbnails and the finished art. For Smithson, I do a straight-up written script; sometimes I send Brian
Moore
sketches, but the visual interpretation is pretty much entirely up to him. I don't even give a lot of layout direction at this point; I trust his instincts. For Li'l Mell, I draw thumbnails and send them to the artist (currently Neil Babra).

I really enjoy working with a collaborator. In a way, it's a less pure way of expressing my ideas -- there's only so much I can get across in a script direction or a rough sketch -- but I like the gestalt that emerges from working with a good artist.

 

4. How did [having your webcomics in print as] books effect readership and vice-versa? I got the first one at my local direct market shop, but I wasn't able to find the later ones, even on Amazon.- The Mole

Wow, I'm glad your comic shop carried it! I don't think the Narbonic books have had a lot of bookstore penetration; the vast majority are sold directly from my website. I don't know exactly what effect the print books have had on my readership, but I really like having hard-copy versions of the strip. I have to thank my publisher guy, Mike Barklage, for putting them together, since there's no way I'd be able to do it alone.

We ought to get the later volumes onto Amazon, though. We don't sell a lot through Amazon, but it sure can't hurt.

 

5. I have often heard that you are a wealth of knowledge on comics, cartoons, etc. Any recommended reading for one who wishes to acquire expertise on those subjects? - Shishio

Although it's true that I know everything there is to know about comics, this is a damn hard question. The Scott McCloud trilogy (Understanding Comics, Reinventing Comics, and Making Comics) is a good starting point, as are Will Eisner's Comics and Sequential Art and Graphic Storytelling. Fred Schodt's Manga Manga! is still the best book on manga, although it might have some competition soon.

One of the books that got me into comics, back in high school, was Comix: A History of Comic Books in America, by Les Daniels, which was in my high school library. It was one of the first books on the history of comics, and now it strikes me as pretty crude and heavy handed, but at the time I liked the pop-cult history and the reprints of old comic books that were included with each chapter.

 

6. Tell us how you feel about the role of organizations like the Cartoon Art Museum in the comics scene -- many webcomics fans -- many comics fans, period -- have never been to a place like that. What will they find there, and why are places like that important? - Joey Manley

If you go to the Cartoon Art Museum, you will see a hot Italian guy glaring at you from the front desk and a whole bunch of comic and cartoon art on the walls.

Like most museums, the Cartoon Art Museum serves two main functions: preservation and education. It has a big collection of original comic artwork, only a small fraction of which is on the walls, and it has a gallery designed to educate visitors about comic art past and present. The Bay Area being a hot bed of cartooning, the Cartoon Art Museum also provides resources and meeting space for local cartoonists.

It's a great institution; I've been volunteering there for six years now, and it's been great for me as a cartoonist and a fangirl.

 

7. Back in 2003, you wrote one of the most widely read essays at Comixpedia called "Stop Drawing Bad Manga" and obviously from your work and writing about it, are well-schooled in manga. It's been a big influence on North American creators - what are your thoughts on how those influences are being incorporated by American creators into their work? - Xerexes

Ah, "Stop Drawing Bad Manga"! I'm actually really excited right now about the growing success of OEL manga and the increasingly high quality of manga-influenced comics. There are now a lot of talented creators who work in a "manga style," like Svetlana Chmakova, whose Dramacon series is now beating most "real" manga on the bestseller lists, and there are also a lot of creators developing original styles with a blend of Japanese and American elements, like Brian Lee O'Malley and a lot of the artists in the Flight anthologies.

Cartoonists who work in a manga-influenced style are now super-valuable to the American comics industry. I hope they appreciate this, take their work seriously, and make a ton of money. Seriously, people!

 

8. You edited Modern Tales Longplay, now you edit all of Modern Tales and manga for Viz. That much success can not be coincidence, so what advice would you give to a neophyte, or hopeful, comics editor? - Tim Demeter

I'm not sure "success" is the right word...in the case of Modern Tales, it's more a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But I kid Modern Tales... If for some insane reason you really want to be a comic editor, you need good English skills, and probably some familiarity with comics. That's about it, really. I wish I could say I have a doctorate in comics editing or something, but the requirements are not particularly stringent.

 

9. Can you talk about the nuts-and-bolts of editing a given book? For instance, are you punching up someone else's straight, Babel Fish-like translation of dialogue? Or has the English text passed through multiple re-writes before you receive it? What's the basic process? And how much caffeine is involved? - Brian Moore

Manga editing is pretty easy, which is why they let me do it. At Viz, each book has a translator, who provides a script, and a letterer,who physically replaces the Japanese text in the book with English. Some titles also have a rewriter to punch up the dialogue, but I often do that myself, as well as general copy editing stuff. My biggest job is simply coordinating the work of the translator and letterer, as well as the other people who work on the book, like the cover designer. I cannot stress enough that I have by far the easiest job in this process.

 

10. I see no one has yet trotted out the hoary old Desert Island-type questions yet, so let me be the first. If you had to pick five individual issues (or some reasonable equivalent for cartoons not following said format) of any comic from any time or genre, worldwide, to intellectually sustain you on a desert island for an extended period of time, which issues would those be? - jaychanning

All right! A list! I love lists! Okay, my top five desert islandcomics:

  1. A, A', by Moto Hagio. One of my favorite manga, and it's only one volume, so I can bring that, right?

  2. Barnaby, by Crockett Johnson. Just an excellent comic strip.

  3. Ghost World, by Dan Clowes. Although I'm already close to knowing it by heart.

  4. One Hundred Demons, by Lynda Barry. I'm just so into her work.

  5. Locas, by Jaime Hernandez. A big monster graphic novel that'll keep me occupied for a while, and maybe on a desert island I'll actually get around to finishing it.

If not that, five copies of Little Nemo: So Many Splendid Sundays, which I can lash together to build a raft and escape.