On Sunday night, I attended the Graphic Details event, featuring Hope Larson, Anders Nilsen, Gabrielle Bell and Kim Deitch, which was moderated by Chris Pitzer of Richmond-based AdHouse Books at the University of Richmond. It was sort of a preamble to the Robert Crumb event which is going on as I type this (more or less).
I realized when I took my seat the only other time I’d been in that particular theater was to see a harp concert with one of my friends when we were teenagers (more or less — I think we may have been in college at that point. And yes, we went for fun. We were — and are — rather odd people). I liked that this theater — and the University of Richmond — was playing host to these sorts of indie comic-book types. You see, there are two Richmonds — there is the “old money” Richmond, full of Southern society types that go to the University of Richmond (which is a good school, don’t get me wrong, but it’s private and full of money) and then there’s the Richmond that gave us GWAR.
I’d say the theater was probably less than half full for this event (I didn’t count so I’m not going to give estimates, but there were plenty of empty seats) and that made me sad. Yes, I know it was a Sunday night in a sort of out-of-the-way place, but to me, these people are famous. I’m guessing much of the audience was U of R students, but I did see some that seemed to have sought out this event, including a few older people. I thought that was pretty cool.
This was probably one of the best panels I’ve attended. Yes, there was some awkwardness, but comic book people are awkward. I mean that with the utmost love — after all, if these sort of people were outgoing, they probably wouldn’t be making comics but be actors or rock stars instead. It took a while for everyone to settle in. Deitch, who is considerably older than the other three, was really the one to break the ice, and I liked his perspective. He’s pretty much seen and done it all.
One of the first questions focused on each creator’s creative process. both Deitch and Nilsen tend to write and draw simultaneously, while Bell and Larson write their scripts first, then begin drawing. Larson probably had the most methodical process — she said she definitely finalizes her scripts first before drawing (and she mentioned she hasn’t drawn anything since March, I believe, since she’s working on some super-secret adaptation right now. Sadly, she wasn’t allowed to announce what it was — she said “people will either love me or hate me for it” — but I have some of my own “wishful thinking” ideas of what it might be).
Everyone had pretty harsh words for the term “graphic novel.” Deitch said it’s “just another name for comic book” and Bell said she felt there’s now too much pressure on young creators to create longer works that they may not be ready to do. Nilsen said he knows that publishers want books but he thinks the comic format lends itself better to shorts. Pitzer, a publisher himself, admitted he does make money off books rather than single issues or shorts.
Likewise, while everyone had appeared in anthologies (or Pitzer’s case, published them), no one really seemed to like doing them. Larson said that while she contributed to Comic Book Tattoo, she’s not really a Tori Amos fan. Bell said that they helped her develop her skills but she kind of resents them. No one really knew how much people actually read anthologies.
I am probably a different case, but I love anthologies. I buy them quite a bit and enjoy them. I find them a great way to discover new creators. But I guess I can see how they may not be the best entry point for people who usually don’t read comics.
At the end, Pitzer asked where everyone felt the comic industry was going. Deitch mentioned that there are now editors specifically for graphic novels. Bell says that it’s gone more to a “book” market and away from the floppies. Everyone basically agreed that most still hesitate when it comes to reading comics and that it’s a learned skill. There is a way to go before people accept comics as legitimate form of media.
I didn’t stick around for the signing since I had to drive back to Arlington that night, but I will now track down works by both Deitch and Nilsen. Everyone was lovely and awesome and I’m so glad I got to go.