It’s a question that’s often asked of comics creators: Why make comics? Why not make some other form of art? It’s a hard question to answer definitively, but on March 2 at the Artist Spotlight panel at the MSU Comics Forum, creators Nick Bertozzi, Josh Neufeld and Jerzy Drozd offered several compelling reasons. Despite the college classroom setting, it was an intimate and warm conversation about the nature of art and inspiration.
Moderator Jay Jacot started out asking each a specific question, but all three mostly amounted to how they initially define their work. Drozd talked about loving kids’ cartoons from the ’70s and ’80s where they were all about “giant monsters and lessons learned.” Neufeld found inspiration in the work of Joe Sacco and found his calling through that.
Bertozzi’s answer was a bit more abstract, as he talked about trying to get to the heart of the stories his students were wanting to tell, throwing out jokey examples like “Astro Battles” and “Earl of the Rings.” He said that having ideas were great, but it was more the formula of storytelling that kept drawing him back to comics, and that those creations were what kept him wanting to be an artist.
There was a lot of discussion of the beauty of lines — all spoke about chasing that perfect line. Bertozzi said that early experiences with Disney and Tintin do things to our brain chemistry — there’s this connection that immediately sucks us in — and attempting to recreate that is what keeps him going.
Likewise, Neufeld said he’s always trying to take lines away when inking, to get closer to his vision. During the years, he’s tried to draw like everyone from Frank Miller to R. Crumb to Charles Schulz and it’s only been recently he’s been “halfway to feeling confident” about having his own style.
Drozd had a little bit of a different approach, though. He said through teaching children about how to make comics, he’s tried to distill his work into a simple description — “really cute things doing awesome action scenes.” He love that comics show movement and energy even though they’re comprised of static images. That’s what he likes to try to achieve in his own work.
Jacot then opened up a line of questioning that concerned about how these creators search for and find their inspiration. Bertozzi said he loves asking people questions when he first meets them, although he had to back off a bit after a while since it often got “a little too deep a little too quick.” Mostly, though, he is always overwhelmed with wanting to know all there is to know and the small details about people’s lives and their environments either directly or indirectly inform his characters’ voice and attitudes.
Neufeld, as a comics journalist, draws more directly from real-life situations. He did say that while he didn’t feel like he did anything brave by volunteering with the Red Cross after Hurricane Katrina, that experience made him want to know more. He said it’s just natural to be interested in the world and the human condition.
Drozd said if people are curious enough, they’ll get the skills they need to do what they want. He said he’s always asking himself what’s next? What else does he need to learn? He’s always following the things he’s interested in and seeing where they take him and what they tell him about people. Ultimately, he said “curiosity trumps talent.”
Both Neufeld and Bertozzi seemed to agree there. All three talked about how even as much as Alex Ross is considered a master with his realistic style, many more of their students relate to Randall Monroe’s XKCD, despite its stick-figure style.
And that seemed to be the point of why each of these creators are making comics. Comics can be an immediate way to tell stories they need to tell. In the end, it’s not about talent or style. It’s about the desire to share and connect with people.