Cult Favorite
Storytellers Weekend, pt. 3 of 8: From Fan to Professional
By Philip Schweier
March 20, 2010 - 05:30

On Feb. 19 and 20, the Savannah College of Art & Design hosted Howard Chaykin and Klaus Janson, who presented a two-day seminar originally conceived for Marvel Comics. The purpose of the seminar is to introduce new comic artists and Marvel editors, some of whom come from an editorial background and lack the experience to effectively judge comic book techniques, to basic tools of effectively telling a story in the comic book form.

Janson points out that one of the things that happens to an artists as an insider, “is you don’t look at work anymore with the same objectivity or disconnection as you did when you were a fan.

“We’re on the inside now and you guys are on the way to being on the inside, and if you look at work, you generally tend to analyze it, instead of enjoying it first. You start to look at ‘What’s he doing, look at this page, look at that shot, look at the use of depth’ or something.

Janson cites J.H. Williams as the closest modern-day equivalent to Steranko and Adams. “J.H. Williams is dazzling in his technique and in his choices and in his graphic quality of his page layout. There is a certain excitement to it. I’m not sure I would make those choices, but I can certainly recognize the excitement he brings to his work.

Chaykin pointed out that there are a number of talented storytellers, who happen to not be fan favorites, but that might be due to a lack of sophistication among some fans, especially younger ones, arguing that the stereotype of the typical fan is 12-14 years old.

“It’s important to know what your audience is into,” added Janson, “and your audience does not understand composition, does not understand storytelling. They like detail. They like lines, they like things, they like shiny stuff. If you do Iron Man and you do shiny armor, they love that, they think you’re a great artist.”

Janson expalins that an artist’s developmental arc starts from the same place as the fans, which is an  interest in detail and spectacle. “But the real meat of your talent should be directed toward storytelling,“ he says, “something the fans don’t really understand, and they can’t understand it because it’s not their job. They want to be entertained, they want to be immersed in the detail and color, and the ‘Aquaman looks like Brad Pitt, isn’t that cool.’

Janson insists the artist’s job is to tell the story, so there is a separation between an artist and the audience. “You have a higher calling than just being a person who produces spectacular work for the fans. You’re supposed to be artists.”

“The fact is we’re all here because of our childhood obsessions,” explains Chaykin. “I weighed 265 pound when I was 17 years old. I was ‘that guy,’ I lived and breathed comics and became something else. Which gives me the privilege to say to those 265-pound guys, ‘Shut the f--- up. I was you.’ But you don’t have to be that. Outgrow your tastes and evolve.”

According to Chaykin, one of the problems that happens with young professionals is there is a huge gap to be leaped from  amateurism and hobbyism to professionalism. “It seems to me that in the generation after ours, that people came to comics as a second choice. For me it was a calling. I fell in love with comics when I was four years old, and knew that was what I wanted to do when I grew up, and I did everything possible to burn bridges to other careers, that inevitably, through force of will, I made it happen, and I sucked. I truly sucked. It wasn’t until I accepted the fact that I had to learn techniques in order to support what I was doing, that I was actually able to build a viable craft. Craft is everything.”

But the calling aspect is significant, Chaykin adds. “Because the correlation between those who have always wanted to draw comics since the first time you opened one up, and drug addicts, can never be overstated. I love comics from an addiction perspective. Unconditional love, the way I love my grandchildren. I accept their behaviour. Comics, as shitty as they get, I still love comics. I love the smell. You’ve got to accept that that is the worst aspect of your relationship with comics, because you have to understand and accept the fact that once you step up to the plate to do this for a living, you’ve got to put that hobbyist shit aside and really learn the craft. Craft is about the language, and the visual things.

Which is to say that an aspiring comic book artist has to be serious about his or her goal and not take it casually. “You have to be disciplined,” urges Janson. “You have to be diligent. You have to meet your deadlines. If your work is brilliant, but you can’t meet deadlines, Marvel and DC don’t really care. I suppose you could make some sort of career out of being an independent artist with no deadlines, but I don’t want to do that. I like discipline. I like having deadlines, I like having goals. I like being on a schedule.”

Janson explains that both he and Chaykin are extremely scheduled. “We get up, go to the gym, have lunch, work. We work a set amount of hours each day. I work every day. Christmas, New Years, birthdays, I don’t care. I work everyday, I love what I do and I feel very passionate about it.”

Next Time: The Paradigm

Related Articles:
Storytellers Weekend, pt. 8 of 8: Comics Today... and Tomorrow
Storytellers Weekend, pt. 7 of 8: History Lessons
Storytellers Weekend, pt. 6 of 8: Borders & Balloons
Storytellers Weekend, pt. 5 of 8: Panels & Relationships
Storytellers Weekend, pt. 4 of 8: The Paradigm
Storytellers Weekend, pt. 3 of 8: From Fan to Professional
Storytellers Weekend, pt. 2 of 8: The Artist’s Job
Storytellers Weekend, pt. 1 of 8:The Language of Comics