TCJ 300 Conversations: David Mazzucchelli & Dash Shaw

Posted by on December 16th, 2009 at 2:17 AM

 

Mazzucchelli:
I’m tossing the same question back at you. Because in your work I see lots of influences as well that are mixed together. In fact, there is clearly a manga sensibility in your work that’s much stronger than say, in my work. I wonder if that’s partially generational, even, because of the exposure that you would have had.

Shaw:
Yeah, I think it’s generational. When I was into comics, I was going to anime conventions — just when I was in middle school or whatever, that’s when everything blew up. What’s funny is that I used to get The Guyver in 24-page pamphlet comics and pay like four bucks for that or Dragon Ball Z. And now those are like, 200 pages for $10. If you take Dragonball Z and release it in 24-page, monthly installments, it’s really long — but like shorts bursts of reading. And that’s what I feel like a lot of American comics feel like now, because they’ve taken the pace, but they haven’t taken the work ethic, and they also haven’t taken the page count. So now I get my monthly comic that takes two seconds to read and costs $5.

08-05


From Mazzucchelli’s “Stubs” in Zero Zero #11, ©1996 David Mazzucchelli.


Mazzucchelli:
What do they call it now? Decompression? Like small moments that seem to be dragged out for pages and pages. Growing up on stuff like Jack Kirby, growing up on American comics and the pace at which they were written, to me how much you put on a page means something. It’s kind of a responsibility. If I’m going to spend 10 pages on somebody sitting on a sofa drinking coffee, there’s gotta be a damn good reason why it’s 10 pages long. But I suppose if you’re doing a story that’s 1,000 or 2,000 pages long, then 10 pages is nothing.

Shaw:
Were you and Frank Miller talking about manga? Because when he kind of introduced Lone Wolf and Cub to —

Mazzucchelli:
I didn’t go to Japan until much later, until much after. The first Japanese comics that I was aware of here — I suppose it could have been an Astro Boy comic, when I was a kid, but that probably was drawn by Americans, just licensed. The stuff that really made an impact in America would have been — well, Frank and the people he was sharing a studio with, like Walt Simonson, maybe Howard Chaykin — people he was hanging around with at the time — were talking about Lone Wolf and Cub, which is the name we know it by now. But they were buying these comics at Kinokuniya as they were being published and were all sitting around discussing the stories, and figuring out what was going on in it. But I guess it was Akira that was the first thing to get published in a big way in America. I think Barefoot Gen actually got published around the same time. But that was the first real introduction of Japanese comics to America. Which is interesting — in hindsight — and knowing more about manga now, that’s an interesting introduction, because —

Shaw:
It’s more American.

Mazzucchelli:
It’s much more American, exactly. It was an easy fit.

Shaw:
It’s like reading Nausicaâ or Crying Freeman first.

Mazzucchelli:
But, if the first thing to have come over were Blackjack, I think people would have been very confused.

Shaw:
They found the things they had to latch on to. People are still confused about Blackjack. The copy on the back covers of the current reprints isn’t accurate. It advertises itself as a serious medical drama, when it’s much more in line with Astro Boy.

Shaw:
But it doesn’t seem like there are European cartoonists taking in manga as rapidly or as enthusiastically as us.

Mazzucchelli:
You mean, not as far as you can see on the surface? As far as a direct influence?

Shaw:
You tell me.

Mazzucchelli:
Well, I’m not sure. I’m not sure. There are some things that I’ve been seeing from France [in which] it seems like the pacing we were talking about is having an influence. Having these long extended storylines without a lot of words that amount to hundreds and hundreds of pages. That might be one of the influences that’s coming in, as opposed to say, a specific style. And then there are certainly artists like Igort, who has a very direct manga influence coming into his work.

Shaw:
Yeah, you’re right. What do you like about Epileptic and David B.’s work?

Mazzucchelli:
What’s not to like? Um…

Shaw:
I want an answer to that. [Laughs.]

Mazzucchelli:
I know, I know, you want me to answer it. Part of it, personally, gets back to what I was saying earlier about looking at something that comes from a different sensibility than my own, for example, the way David B. constructs an image or a series of images, or the way he uses metaphors and symbols in his pictures, is very different from the way that I would think about using pictures to move the story forward. And that’s really interesting to me. Also, because he does it so well. With Epileptic, the two levels — at least — that he’s got working in that book are really interesting in that way. The text is very straightforward; it’s very factual. So the pictures then become much more atmospheric and much more suggestive in non-naturalistic ways.

08-06


An example of David B.’s style, from Epileptic, ©2005 L’Association.


Shaw:
So would you like those drawings-just-as-drawings removed from the comic?

Mazzucchelli:
That’s hard to say.

Shaw:
For me, they look like really lame decorative illustrations.

Mazzucchelli:
[Laughs.] Well, maybe by themselves, removed from the comics, they might come across as that. I don’t agree with the “really lame” part.

Shaw:
And then there’s the text: It feels like I’m reading an illustrated book and I don’t like the illustrations. That’s what I feel like when I read his work. But I haven’t read — I’m sure you’ve read more of his work than I have because I haven’t liked it.

Mazzucchelli:
[Laughs.] You’ll turn around one day.

Shaw:
It looks like he’s looking at illustrated manuscripts, but not really thinking about what illustrated manuscripts are like. [He’s doing] more like a decoration around the text, or like some kind of clip-art version of illustrated manuscripts.

Mazzucchelli:
I don’t know, I disagree that it’s that disjointed — that the text and the pictures don’t have an interplay. I think that there is something going on between the two, that they feed each other, better than maybe you’re seeing.

Shaw:
It’s like visual literacy narrated in words. And I feel like that is a lot of what’s going on now. You can have an image that can carry something poetically, but then we have to have the words so that people aren’t confused. It’s like watching a movie with the director’s commentary always playing.

Mazzucchelli:
I think there is often a distrust of pictures to carry content.

Shaw:
That makes sense a little bit, because not many people are really interested in dissecting pictures.

Mazzucchelli:
I think that’s true, and in fact, I don’t have the book in front of me, but it would be interesting to see how much of the book has pages with panels in which there are no words.

Shaw:
In Epileptic?

Mazzucchelli:
In Epileptic, or in Maus. Because I remember Spiegelman saying when he made Maus, knowing that he was creating it potentially for people who weren’t used to reading comics, he made sure that he put all the important information in the text.

08-08


From “Big Man” in Rubber Blanket #3, ©1993 David Mazzucchelli.


Shaw:
That’s really weird. That’s really weird to me.

Mazzucchelli:
Well, that’s weird to you because you grew up thinking about comics and how the two feed each other.

Shaw:
You don’t think that’s weird? I think it’s weird to think about the audience in that way, when you’re working on something.

Mazzucchelli:
I was going to ask you this. I was going to ask you about the audience or the reader. See, I think about the reader all the time.

Shaw:
Oh really?

Mazzucchelli:
[Laughs.] And I wanted to ask you about how much you think about the reader. And I guess your answer is, “Not at all!”

Shaw:
Do you think that’s a problem?

Mazzucchelli:
I think it is, I think it is. I mean, there is a reader.

Shaw:
I had a feeling you were going to say this. ‘Cause this goes back to our teacher-student phase. I don’t have to read my own comic, you know? I’m making it. I don’t go back and read my own work. I just think my job is to enjoy making it and then readers can come and go. It’s really satisfying for me, personally. And then readers — who knows what’s going on with them? I have no idea who they are, and maybe comics are going to become insanely popular 10 years from now, and so it is weird that Maus is all in the words, because now in the future, people are more interested in the images. The readers are just outside of my control.

Mazzucchelli:
There are too many thoughts going on in that statement. First of all, who says that in the future the interest is going to be all in the pictures?

Shaw:
Oh no, I don’t know that, but I’m saying it’s possible. We don’t know.

Mazzucchelli:
But my point is: Even if your enjoyment is in making it, you are making it to be read by somebody, and I imagine that there is at least a bare minimum of storyline that you want them to be able to follow. And so in that sense, that’s where I’m saying I always think about the reader. To be able to at least get across the basic storyline. I try to make sure that, at the very least, the reader can follow what I’m doing from page to page. And if there is other stuff going on, with luck, they’ll be able to pick that up as well. I was having this conversation with someone else recently who was also very surprised at how much I said I think about the reader. And I thought about it some more, and it occurred to me that the reader I am thinking about is me, in a sense, because I’m trying to make books that I would like to read.

Shaw:
Do you read your comics after you make them, then?

Mazzucchelli:
Oh yeah, because I’m trying to read it as if I didn’t make it, to see how it reads. Which you can never do.

Shaw:
See, I don’t even like to flip through mine.

Mazzucchelli:
[Laughs.] It’s just a trail left behind you, as you’re moving forward.

Shaw:
It is. I make them, and then people have to read them, or to buy them to read them, so I can get some money to keep making them. [Mazzucchelli laughs.] You’re laughing. This is crazy to you?

Mazzucchelli:
No, no. It’s just that, if they buy it and they’re frustrated reading it, then they aren’t going to buy another one.

Shaw:
Umm…

Mazzucchelli:
You’re having the hopeful assumption that everything will work out fine, which is very endearing. [Laughter.]

08-10


From Mazzucchelli’s collaboration with writer Frank Miller in Batman: Year One, ©2005 DC Comics.


Shaw:
OK, also, I’m not getting paid that much, you know? [Mazzucchelli laughs.] So, maybe I would have more care for the reader if they were really hooking me up with a good lifestyle [laughs] but as it is, since I spend most of my time making them, and I’m not really rewarded outside of the act of making them — very much — I just think that my focus should be on enjoying it.

Mazzucchelli:
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t enjoy when you’re doing it. I just don’t see it as being mutually exclusive that you can’t enjoy what you’re doing and be thinking about how the reader might experience what you’re putting down on paper.

Shaw:
I totally agree with that. I don’t want to feel responsible for a reader, though. A big part of what I love about comics is that they’re responsibility-free.

Mazzucchelli:
OK, in reverse order: Second, I don’t know what you mean by “responsibility-free.” If I’m going to use up resources to make thousands of copies of a book, I feel I have a responsibility to make sure it’s not a piece of garbage (I’ve certainly contributed more than my share of garbage to the world already, thank you).

And first, remember what I said to you (and other students)? “Be kind to the reader.” Don’t you think art-making is a kind of seduction?

Shaw:
I don’t want to feel that responsibility, which is maybe why I’ve made garbage and will probably lapse into garbage throughout my life. That’s a risk I’m willing to take. What do you mean by “seduction”? Are you seducing them into reading the book? Or thinking about something or feeling something? I’ve had times where it felt like I was “seducing” through the book and it’s really embarrassing in retrospect, like making minicomics in high school and giving it to a girl you like, or something like that. That’s an extreme example, but that sort of thing makes me cringe now. Or maybe you’re talking about a gentle, flowing sequence or order of events. I think about that, but I’d never thought of it as a seduction.

Mazzucchelli:
I guess in likening art-making to seduction, I was thinking about how something that appeals to the senses can be used to engage someone intellectually and emotionally. But if you’re not thinking about the reader, the metaphor doesn’t really work. I’m not sure if I think art-making is really a kind of seduction; I just wanted to see what your reaction would be.

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