TCJ 300 Conversations: David Mazzucchelli & Dash Shaw

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

 

Shaw:
What do you think about Scott McCloud’s book, Understanding Comics?

Mazzucchelli:
I think it’s a good book. I don’t agree with everything in it, but I think it’s interesting the way he approached it — not so dissimilar from what I’m talking about. I think he looked at comics and sort of broke it down into “These are the things that it does.” I think Dylan Horrocks made a really interesting argument in a piece he wrote for The Comics Journal years ago that Scott’s book makes perfect sense if you agree with his basic premises and follow his argument. But if you disagree with some of his basic premises, then you could come up with a different argument. I think Scott says as much in the book, too. When he gets to the end, he says, “That’s my take on things. Now I open up the discussion to anybody else.” And it’s very interesting that he analyzed it the way he did.

Shaw:
Would you have a different basic premise?

Mazzucchelli:
I don’t know, I’d have to go back and look at the book, but I find some of his lists seem a little too restrictive sometimes, or that he doesn’t include certain kinds of things that comics can do. And not every book can say everything. I should add that I haven’t read his latest book, yet.

Shaw:
Do you ever start a comic just with an image?

Mazzucchelli:
That has happened, yes.

Shaw:
Is there one specifically? Was “Dead Dog” just an image?

Mazzucchelli:
“Dead Dog” started as a photograph of a dog. That whole story was basically built around a photograph of a dog and this idea that someone would have a photograph of a dog and that dog might be long gone, then one day that person’s gonna be long gone.

Shaw:
So that started with an image but in a different way?

Mazzucchelli:
Right. I think the story I did called “Still Life,” if I remember correctly, started with what is the first image of the story, which was a man watching a boat going away. And it took off from there. In other cases, I’ve had stories where maybe I’ve had a couple of different images that I wanted to draw and I thought, “I want to put this and this and this together into a story. How am I going to do that?” And then I had to assemble something that made sense to me about why those different images existed in that same story. Why? Have you started —

Shaw:
[Laughs.] “Why — have you?”

Mazzucchelli:
Well, I didn’t mean “Why — have you?” I meant… “Interesting that you asked. Have you ever done the same thing?”

Shaw:
Yeah, you know, it’s different for different comics. Some people just have a story and then they draw it.

08-34


From Asterios Polyp, ©2009 David Mazzucchelli.


Mazzucchelli:
Yeah. Have you ever written out a script and then drawn it? Like a real script?

Shaw:
No, not like a real script. I don’t like, uh… writing words.

Mazzucchelli:
[Laughter.] Wait a minute — you have all kinds of words in your comics. You have lists of words, and descriptions of how to play games, and —

Shaw:
That’s different, because I’m at the drawing table. I don’t like typing. Do you type things?

Mazzucchelli:
Uh… no. Not very often.

Shaw:
Yeah, I don’t like writing things out before. I mean, I have preparatory work, but I don’t have a Word document that I say is my next comic.

Mazzucchelli:
Right, but even when you’ve got some of your funny dialogue from your characters — and I mean funny! Like in BodyWorld, I think parts of it are hilarious, and Paulie is a great character — but do you have times when you think, “I want to have this dialogue between these two characters,” and you think it all out before you actually draw the pictures?

Shaw:
Yeah, I just kind of imagine what they would say and how they would do it.

Mazzucchelli:
But you don’t write it out first, necessarily?

Shaw:
I draw and write it out.

Mazzucchelli:
So scripting is always in thumbnail form? It’s always the pictures and the words coming together as much as they possibly can.

Shaw:
I don’t write a script with just the words. I really like Hal Hartley and how he has people dancing while they’re talking, and so I always try to make the conversations visual. I don’t like talking heads.

Mazzucchelli:
I don’t see a lot of mainstream comics, except what my students are showing me, but it seems to me that in a lot of those comics, especially what’s been influenced by television and movie-writing, I see a lot of panels of people in costumes that look like they should be running and jumping and saving people from burning buildings actually standing around a lot, or sometimes the same image photocopied several times while they’re just talking —

Shaw:
The Brian Michael Bendis method?

Mazzucchelli:
I guess. I don’t know who’s writing. Whoever’s influence it is, I see a lot of that. But I feel like if there’s an opportunity for more than one thing to be going on at once, then you should take it. Even if it’s a very subtle thing that’s happening, even if the characters are walking from one place to another while they’re talking —

Shaw:
Even if it’s just to make it more interesting?

Mazzucchelli:
Well, to make it more interesting visually, but I’m always thinking about: How is this adding to the story? How is this enhancing the experience? What’s this scenario? What’s the location that they’re in, and how is that important to the story, and where are they going, and is this character doing something at the same time as he’s talking to this other character? How it all adds up, even if the reader isn’t quite aware of it at the moment.

08-35


From Asterios Polyp, ©2009 David Mazzucchelli.


Shaw:
How or what people say is different than what their bodies are telling us.

Mazzucchelli:
That too, yeah, which can be really interesting. I always love that about Ben Katchor’s work, that there’s two, or sometimes three, different layers of information going at the same time: What the text is telling you, what the characters are doing, what they’re saying…

Shaw:
I feel like comics — even though people think that they’re simple — they’re almost designed for really complicated information. Lots of different information that’s conflicting or playing off of each other, more than other mediums, I feel. But that’s ’cause I really like comics. A lot of what I’m interested in is how people translate visual information into words, and how different characters would do that differently, and what that reflects on their character.

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