TCJ 300 Conversations: David Mazzucchelli & Dash Shaw

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

 

Shaw:
I was thinking about asking you some process questions —

Mazzucchelli:
What kind of pen do I use?

Shaw:
But can we have a process with color, ’cause you’re an awesome color guy.

Mazzucchelli:
Thanks, I think about color quite a bit.

Shaw:
That immediately sets you apart from 99 percent of cartoonists.

Mazzucchelli:
You think so?

Shaw:
I don’t think most cartoonists think about color. I think they think about having someone else color the comic, even if that other person ends up being themselves.

Mazzucchelli:
Do you want to make a distinction between color comics and colored comics? You know what I mean? Comics that are intrinsically designed with color, as opposed to comics that are drawn and then colored.

Shaw:
You could take a “colored comic” and color it very well and make it a “color comic.”

Mazzucchelli:
You could exactly, there are comics that are colored very beautifully, and then there are comics colored with storytelling intent. But the idea that a comic is created with color in mind, that’s probably a little more rare.

Shaw:
Do you do your preliminary drawings in color? Do you do the colors first?

08-18


From Love Eats Brains! ©2004 Dash Shaw.


Mazzucchelli:
It depends. I will plan out what I want to do with color. Since a lot of my color happens on press, I have to think about it ahead of time. But sometimes I will make a color sketch.

Shaw:
But not all of the time?

Mazzucchelli:
Not necessarily for every single page. Once I know the effect I want to get in the end.

Shaw:
You seem interested in associations that different colors are given outside of just the color.

Mazzucchelli:
I don’t know. I’m not sure that for all my talk about thinking about the reader — colors have different associations for different people, and different cultures, so I’m not sure I’m necessarily thinking that this color is going to have this particular association, as opposed to thinking about formally: How is it going to work within the story I’m trying to tell. In some cultures, people wear white to weddings, and in some cultures people wear white to funerals. So different colors mean different things in different contexts. But why? You’re asking as if I had something clearly intended with certain colors that I’m using.

Shaw:
Oh, I just thought that it looks like you are interested in that as a phenomenon, or something? [Mazzucchelli laughs.] I know you don’t want to talk about Polyp, so maybe we should stop, but you know Polyp — it feels like you were interested that men were given blue and girls were given pink as an arbitrary decision. Why is that color a gender? Were you thinking about that? You don’t want to talk about that?

Mazzucchelli:
Yeah, I think we’ll stop talking about Asterios Polyp.

Shaw:
That was just what came to mind.

Mazzucchelli:
I will say this; I think that I will agree that it’s certainly there to be seen, and to be thought about. Let’s talk more about color, though. Color is interesting. When you are putting together a comic, you’re not thinking necessarily in terms of drawing a black line and then adding color. Your comics —

Shaw:
Getting into color was a really big thing for me because for a long time I didn’t do color comics, and then somewhere in the middle of working on Bottomless, I started doing short stories and those were really explicitly — like “Satellite CMYK” for Mome. Something that really freed me in color was that I didn’t really have a lot of favorite colorists. For me, when I’m drawing line-art I have all of these people I have to deal with, whose drawings I like. But coloring was more intuitive, and I really like that. That frustrates me about my drawing.

Mazzucchelli:
How much do you think about it in terms of the content of the story? Is it an early stage that you’re thinking about; I’m going to use the color this way, whether it’s the atmosphere of a place or whether it’s the way something is rendered in a colored line or…?

Shaw:
Things are color-coded, I guess, but then it has a relationship that makes sense to the person. But even in the Power Rangers, the girl was the Pink Ranger. So things are color-coded and then it has an emotional connection that maybe is harder to explain, about why something is a certain color. But I try to be active on more than just an intuitive level, maybe.

Even when I was in your class, I had people that were blank or white. I wouldn’t put in their skin-tone. And that was because if you have the word balloons white and you have the gutters white, when you step away from the page, it looks like a bunch of squares of blocks of color. And I thought if I have another consistently white element on the page — like people’s skin — it would open up everything. It wouldn’t be like a Gerhard Richter painting that’s a grid with random white balloon shapes drawn over it.

Mazzucchelli:
Right, exactly, that always looks weird to me.

Shaw:
And what’s funny when you’re looking at the composition of a lot of comic pages, it’s like you can appreciate it only if you imagine the page without the word balloons.

Mazzucchelli:
Right.

Shaw:
And colors are the same way.

08-19


From Asterios Polyp, ©2009 David Mazzucchelli.


Mazzucchelli:
All of those guys who do painted comics, I’m sure they hate it when word balloons get put on their pages, ’cause they just feel like these additions — these little bubbles that are suddenly sprinkled upon the page. That whole thing about not coloring the skin-tones, that’s something that I’ve been doing for a while, too. It was funny to see you doing it in BodyWorld.

Shaw:
When were you doing it?

Mazzucchelli:
Well, first of all, I was doing two-color comics in Rubber Blanket for a while and there were no tints in those. But when I did full-color stuff, like that Japanese fairy tale I did for Little Lit, originally I had colored that in a very different way, where I had the skin-tones, and then I redesigned all the colors so that it was much more limited — I stripped out all of the skin-tones and it just felt much more correct that way.

Shaw:
It’s like Japanese woodblock prints, too, with the white skin.

Mazzucchelli:
Right, exactly. It’s interesting. Stop copying me! [Laughs.] Or I’ll stop copying you.

Shaw:
I think it’s also emotionally a little moving: blank people.

Mazzucchelli:
It is. Blank people, exactly. At least white people, anyway. It also relates to what I was saying about stylization, because we’re talking about using color, but neither one of us is necessarily using it in a naturalistic way. It’s not like we’re trying to apply color to our comics in a way that evokes the natural world. It’s still a stylized use of color to evoke something else.

Shaw:
I feel like maybe Chris Ware is drawing in a stylized way and applying naturalistic color to it.

Mazzucchelli:
He is. He’s said as much, which is interesting.

Shaw:
So we’re going the other way. Fuck him! He’s already influenced enough colorists. [Laughter.]

Mazzucchelli:
That’s an interesting aspect of Chris’ work to me, because it won’t come as any surprise that I’ve talked to several people that find Chris’ work downbeat and depressing —

Shaw:
That won’t come as a surprise?

Mazzucchelli:
It won’t come as a surprise. It doesn’t surprise you, right? That people find Chris’ work downbeat and depressing?

Shaw:
Only idiots.

Mazzucchelli:
See, I don’t find it downbeat or depressing either. What happens to the characters can be like a sledgehammer. It can be like one thing after another: They keep getting beaten down. But my feeling is when you look at the way it’s drawn and composed, and the color — it’s like Chris is definitely saying, “But, there’s this beauty of the world as well.”

Shaw:
I know.

Mazzucchelli:
So he’s counterbalancing that.

Shaw:
And it’s not an invented weird beauty. It’s a very observed, real beauty.

Mazzucchelli:
Yes. Yes.

Shaw:
I think there’re a couple of things, though. In Jimmy Corrigan, which I do think is probably the reason why he gets slammed that way — if a lot of people look at the new work it’s much funnier, Rusty Brown — but there’s a thickness around the head in Jimmy Corrigan that feels like this person is really separated from the world. The line of his bald head is so thick

Mazzucchelli:
[Laughs.] That it’s almost like he’s a cutout?

Shaw:
Yeah, he’s like drifting in this black hole around him.

Mazzucchelli:
I think that gets a little less as the book goes on, though, doesn’t it?

Shaw:
Yeah, he’s also gotten a lot looser.

Mazzucchelli:
Right. I think that would be a stylistic shift over time that brought him more into the world as a character.

08-20


From BodyWorld, ©2009 Dash Shaw.


Shaw:
But there is that thing with those guys. I was at Angoulême and Adrian Tomine, Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, all lined up, signing books, and I would sometimes see what they drew, and it would always be a two-inch tall face of one of their characters, looking sad. And Chris Ware had one that was him at the drawing board, crying. Someone showed that to me, and I thought, why are you doing this? [Laughter.] That just killed me! Because you know he’s not like that.

Mazzucchelli:
He can’t be like that. I mean, look: the work itself is evidence. There’s some joy in there somewhere. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be making the beautiful work that he makes.

Now, maybe I’m wrong, but it seems to me that there was a point when you were a student somewhere between your junior and senior year, where I got the feeling that you might have been thinking about moving away from comics. And if I’m right about that, what brought you back?

Shaw:
I don’t think I was thinking about moving away from comics. I was thinking about leaving the school. [Laughter.]

Mazzucchelli:
OK, well that’s different. I thought I remembered you talking about working on film with a friend, or doing something, getting into some other kinds of projects, and not that that’s not fine —

Shaw:
Well, I like to do animation now, you know, I showed you that IFC thing. And I was working with friends on movies because I was working at the SVA film library, and so I became friends with some film people.

Mazzucchelli:
I didn’t have much contact with you your last year in school. I wasn’t aware if you were making much in the way of comics then, and I was surprised when I saw you next and you were working on Bottomless and you had piles of pages for this big book you’d been doing. As someone who loves the form of comics and doesn’t want to see good people leave, I was happy to see that. But I was curious about your decision. You still like comics.

Shaw:
Yeah, I like comics. I like doing animation now, but those have to be at least a little collaborative, you know? I don’t really like that part of it.

Mazzucchelli:
That is different about working in other media.

Shaw:
Did you feel that you wanted to step away from comics?

Mazzucchelli:
I did at one point. After I had done the superhero stuff, and wasn’t sure what exactly to do next, I thought I was going to move away from comics. But, it didn’t take long to realize that that was what I really wanted to do.

08-21


Panel from the Frank Miller-written, Mazzucchelli-drawn Daredevil: Born Again, ©1987 Marvel Entertainment Group, Inc.


Shaw:
What did you think you would do?

Mazzucchelli:
I had no idea. I started a band. I started playing music. It was fun. But it wasn’t going to go anywhere, because we weren’t very good. But I enjoyed it. There is something very different about performing than sitting at a table. [Laughs.]

Shaw:
Yeah, very, very different. No, I know. I was in a really bad band in Richmond.

Mazzucchelli:
And it’s real time. You’re recreating something in real time and you’re getting a real-time reaction.

Shaw:
I hated it! Did you like it?

Mazzucchelli:
I did, I liked it. Well, I liked it when it went well. When you’re playing at 2 o’clock in the morning and the only people in the audience are the friends you convinced to stay up that late, that doesn’t feel all that fun. But, the few times that things were going well and we actually had some good audience reaction and we felt that we were playing well, that was a lot of fun.

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