In this final part of our interview with the Afrodisiac artist, we discuss the influence of vintage books, the power of homage, and the importance of context.
Is your work most heavily influenced by books from the 60s, 70s, and 80s? Do you draw inspiration from newer titles—or at least continuations of older titles?
I’ve been looking a lot more older comics than new stuff. But I don’t know why that is. Around the late-90s, I started reading indie books. They fairly quickly took over my reading, and that’s all I was reading for a few years. It’s just a cycle. I feel like I’m coming to the end of my 70s reading—although I picked up 2001, the issues I was missing, when we were touring around. I still like that stuff. I find it really attractive, even if I’m just flipping through it, at this point.
I don’t know how big of an influence it is. Obviously it’s influential in Afrodisiac, because that’s kind of the tone we were going for. But I started reading it way after the fact. If you ask me who my influences are, I’m going to name stuff I was reading when I was 16.
Obviously I have more now, but it’s harder to figure out what you’re seeing, because you just accumulate more and more stuff. When you’re 12 and you fall in love with a cartoonist, that might be like 95 percent of what you’re drawing, just copying this one guy. But as you get older, pretty soon you’ve gone through a phase of 150 cartoonists you like. It becomes harder to say, “oh, this guy is a big influence.”
Is it important to mask your influences? Do you not want to be too blatant an homage to, say, Kirby?
I don’t know if it’s important or not. There’s not one guy that I want to copy. If there was, if I got joy out of drawing very closely to somebody else’s style—the act of drawing has to be pleasurable, because it’s very labor intensive. If you don’t like what you’re doing, you’re just not going to do it. I just don’t happen to have one guy that I’m trying to emulate, specifically. If I did, maybe I would have more of a conflict of conscious, but it hasn’t come up.
I’m sure a book like this is especially conducive to comparisons. It’s almost a conversation piece about pieces of old pop culture.
Right. I got a lot of that this weekend. I like hearing that kind of stuff. Like I said, it’s often people who are really good storytellers, telling a highlight of a certain movie or comic. It’s a lot of fun to listen to that stuff. The nice thing about this book is that I kind of jump around. The Afroduck cover is next to the T. Rex. They’re drawn very differently. For me it’s a lot of fun, because I’m not just drawing in one style every day.
What role did the covers have in there? Some seem to play a larger role in the story, and others seem executed on whim, because you wanted to draw a fruit pie ad, or some such thing. Are they vital to the book, or did they act as a reprieve?
I think they’re vital. We were trying to suggest—almost like if you look out a window and see a little section of a tree or a fence in the neighbors yard, you can kind of imagine…. In Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud talks about closure. There’s a character walking and behind him is just white space. If you see a character from the waste up, you can imagine that he has legs. There are a handful of artists that will draw a small corner of a room—a chair, a doorway—and you can almost picture the entire house around it. It feels like it has such a sense of being. You can almost picture this whole world that exists around this little corner. I wanted to capture that.
A lot of the books Chip Kidd has done on Plastic Man, Batman, or Superman, where he’s just showing a toy from the 40s and different clips of panels from this character’s existence, I wanted that weight to the character. Creating those covers, I was trying to achieve that suggestion. I was trying to get storytelling into the covers. A lot of those old covers, I loved how much story there was. You can see the hero in peril and some villain that you knew was a bad matchup for that hero standing over him, and it’s like, “how is he going to get out of this?”
I wanted to have some of that storytelling style, but I also wanted to imply the character’s existence as a fictitious character. You know what I mean?
Sure, with 200 issues having passed in the interim. Spaces that you can’t fill out over the course of a brief graphic novel.
And you wouldn’t want to. Would you really want to read 300 issues of Batman from the 1940s to the 1970s? It probably wouldn’t be the most exciting stuff. If you go back and read some of the Essentials from the early 60s, it’s not that much fun to read 500 pages of that stuff. It’s kind of where you cheat a bit.
But, conversely, I’ll often see a panel out of context and that panel is fascinating. And then you read the book or the story, and it doesn’t stand out at all. And I’m really interested in that phenomenon. Why does that change? And I’ve talked to people about that, and they kind of acknowledge that that’s true. They’ve experienced the same effect. But it’s hard to explain why that happens, why the panel is more powerful outside of the story’s context.