In light of his successful debut at San Diego Comic Con this past weekend, we may well be seeing a slew of new Masterpiece Comics strips debut from the R. Sikoryak camp. Of course, given that the first book took roughly 20 years to produce, perhaps it’s best not to hold our collective breath for another anthology.
In the meantime, I’d like to take this opportunity to encourage the artist to instate some manner of Internet-based suggestion box—not because I expect or even really hope he’ll elect to tackle proposed strips, but rather because proposing theoretical pairings of literature and comics is, simply put, a lot of fun.
Heck, I couldn’t help suggesting one of my own in the third part of our interview, and while Marma Dick wasn’t a creative high point for me personally, once you put yourself in that mindset, such suggestions can’t be helped. But ultimately, I suppose there’s a reason why Sikoryak is the master behind Masterpiece Comics.
Have you considered doing something book-length—or at least longer than a couple of pages?
I would love to…the thing that’s tripping me up about doing something really long is that, at a certain point, if you do a parody that lasts 100 pages, it can stop being a parody. It starts becoming a problem for lawyers [laughs]. But I have some notions.
It seems natural to consider doing something in the style of, say, Jack Kirby. He’s an artist who everyone rips off all of the time, anyway. So I might do a story based more on an artist’s approach than on a specific character. But I’m not sure how that will really work for me, because I really like playing with the icons as well as just the drawing styles. On the other hand, his work is so instantly recognizable that it would be something different, but still very interesting.
In a sense these books stories seem more sustainable than, say the Mad style, because they’re not targeted at hitting joke after joke.
Right, but if you do frame it as humorous, or full of jokes, I think people are more willing to accept it. They have more of a sense of what it is, whereas if you do some crazy homage that lasts for a full-length graphic novel, it might just feel bizarre. I do hope my work feels somewhat bizarre, but I don’t know if something that long would really appeal to people, or if it could sustain itself. I don’t really think about the audience that much, that’s not the only issue. I also like being able to jump around stylistically. That’s the other thing that it really comes down to. I get very impatient when I have to draw one way for too long. Also, as you can imagine, the way I do some of these stories, it’s already a very long process of capturing the specific styles. I don’t know if I have another Dick Sprang homage in me! It would be fun to revisit some of these styles, but I can’t really imagine what would make me go back to ones I’ve done before.
In terms of the strips in the book, which was the hardest style to teach yourself?
Well, there are a couple of them in the book. There’s the Little Nemo parody, where I thought, ‘well, most of it takes place with only one character!’ That would have to make it somewhat easier. And there were none of his beautiful architectural designs that I had to deal with. But even so, I found myself agonizing over every panel of that. I don’t know how McCay did it it every day.
Or even how he developed such a modern style in that period.
Well, he drew every minute of the day. He didn’t spend much time lettering, obviously, but he spent all of his time drawing. Between his vaudeville shows, his animations, his weekly comic strips, and his editorial cartoons—I know he didn’t do them all at the same time, but he was doing a lot of them at the same time. It was really humbling trying to get that look down. Beyond that, I’d say the E.C. style was very difficult. I was aiming for Jack Davis. I think I was more successful in some panels than others. Down to the compositions of panels, I was very particular in trying to match his layouts, his choices of poses, and his other tropes. But one thing I wish I had another crack at is his inking. It’s so idiosyncratic and free-flowing, and it’s completely antithetical to the way I work. He would knock out one of his stories in a week, I’d guess.
Obviously he’d built his style from the ground up, and I was learning it from the outside in. It’s completely alien to the way he’d work, so that was interesting, trying to make the drawing feel completely organic, when it was a completely inorganic process. I work very hard to make all these stories look hand-made and hopefully not agonized over, but of course they are all completely agonized over.
On the other end of the spectrum, every artist I’ve spoken to who has attempted to mimic Schulz’s style has found it incredibly hard to ape the simplicity.
Oh yeah. I had the advantage of having mutated the main character into a cockroach, so that took some of the pressure off [laughs]. But that’s also one of the earlier strips in the book, and I look at the lettering now and think, “aah, it’s not quite up to snuff.” But that strip has been reprinted a couple of times, and I feel, at this point, people actually know that strip. So I left it alone. For some of the other earlier strips, I actually went back in and fixed a lot of the lettering, and colored them for the book, as well.
It seems like if you hit on a few of the key points—like Schulz’s shaky lines, most people can forgive a lot.
I think that’s true. But it is so specific. The other thing that’s fascinating is how much Schulz’s characters changed while he drew them over 50 years. I’ve done other parodies of Peanuts, and you really have to choose your era. If you’re looking at too many strips from too many different eras, it can get a little unspecific. But the more precisely you choose, the better the parody is.
Maybe you can do a Time Machine parody, with the different Schulz eras.
You mentioned earlier that there are a few stories you’re interested in tackling. Are there any that you have been able to pair up?
I would love to do something with Moby Dick, and I have about eight different ideas for how to approach it. I’m totally intimated by that novel, especially because it was written by someone 13 years younger than I am now, who is clearly more brilliant than most people, period.
How about Marmaduke [laughs].
Someone actually suggested that I pair up Moby Dick with Nancy. I didn’t take him up on it, and I’m still trying to figure out what he meant.
Sluggo as the white whale?
I guess [laughs].