In this second part of our interview with the How to Understand Israel artist, we discuss Glidden’s entry into the world of sequential art and the differences between memoir and reporting.
You went home and decompressed and reflected while after going home, before starting on [How to Understand Israel].
How long of a process was that?
Well, when I first got home, I wanted to get started right away, and I started thumbnailing it. But I think when an event just happened, it’s really hard to think about what has happened. I compare it to the difference between prose journalism and a historian. If you’re a journalist, you’re writing about what just happened. You don’t have the historical context to see what it means in the historical scheme of things. But if you’re writing history, you know what happened next, and you have a better idea of what happened in that middle part, based on what happened before.
So, when I got back, I started writing everything down and tried to make comics, but I realized it was just too close. I didn’t know how it had affected me, and that segment of time stood out too much. I think I needed some time to get some distance and actually see what happened.
Obviously it takes some time to create a comic, but you didn’t see as much value in a journalistic approach?
I’m sure there’s a value in a journalistic approach to something like this, but that wasn’t what I wanted to do.
Did you feel that you came out of the event a different person?
Well, it’s sounds cliché, but whenever you go on a longer trip where you think about stuff—because you do think of things more intensely when you travel and you’re disconnected from your comfort zone and your normal way of living. Those trips tend to serve as chapter breaks in your life. You have the me that I was before I went on this trip, and then the me that I was afterwards. Then you have the segment where you are kind of mulling things over in this space where you’re extracted from your life, a little bit.
So, yeah, I’ve traveled a bit, and I can usually say that “every trip changes you,” but it just depends on what way.
This obviously worked on some level—you’ve got a book out this week on Vertigo. Is this an approach you’ll be pursuing again?
Well, I’m leaving for the next book on Monday.
This is the way you want to write books?
Well, I don’t know. We’ll see how the next book gets written. The next book that I’m writing is going to be a less personal story. The Israel book is kind of about my relationship and my identity as it relates to this issue of this complicated place.
For the next book, I have these friends who are journalists. I’ve been very intereted in journalism for a very long time. I’ve always been interested to see how journalism works, and how journalists do there jobs. Because you get to the New York Times Website, and there’s an article there, and all you have to do is think about reading that article.
The idea of this next trip is to follow my friends and then make a comic about their process. So I’m going to be a character in it still, but it will be more about them and about my thoughts on journalism—gonzo comic.
Was journalism a field you considered, at any point?
Kind of. I wanted to be a photojournalist at a point, when I was in college and after college. I was really, really into photography, and I thought it would be really, really great to be a photojournalist. And I had my heroes, like Tyler Hicks—he’s a photographer for The New York Times. He takes incredible photos. A lot of times they’re in war zones.
I really thought that seemed like a way to very viscerally communicate what’s going on in the world to people at home. But I was a shy person, too, so when I would try to take photos of people for class, it would be really hard for me to get close to people. And I think that was just a part of me having to grow up a bit.
Do you have to get close to someone to be able to draw them later on?
Well, if you want to find out about them. If you want to write about them.
Are you doing a lot of sketches on the trip for reference?
Not so much on this trip—[looks at slide projected behind us]. That’s a page from my sketchbook, so I did some drawing on the trip. The thing is, when you’re drawing, you’re not paying attention as much to what people are saying, because even though you’re not using the part of your brain that thinks about words, drawing is a very thought intensive process.
So, there was just talking going on all the time on this trip, and I wanted to write down what people were saying. So, I would do some drawing. [Points to screen] This is on the first day. And then I started writing down what everyone was saying. That’s basically verbatim what that guy is saying.
And then, as the sketchbook goes on, there are just less and less drawings, until there’s not drawings, because I spent the whole time just writing down what people were saying and writing down my thoughts and feelings in real-time. Because I knew that that was the stuff that I needed to remember. And I took photos.
So were the drawings originally for reference?
Sure, I used the drawings for reference. There’s a panel in the book that uses that drawing in the top. If you have a camera, you don’t need to sketch. It’s nice to sketch on-site. And it’s fun. But, in terms of having a record to look at later, you can just use film.
You were considering photo journalism as a career at one point—how did comics enter into things, professionally?
I don’t really know [laughs]. It’s hard for me to remember why I started doing comics. I’d been doing photography once I finished school. I went to art school for painting. I was doing photography for a while, when I came to New York. And then I kind of moved more into art photography—a lot of pictures of abandoned buildings.
You were in New York.
So there’s a lot of fodder.
Yeah—well, I would drive to New Jersey. So then I applied to Hunter for their MFA programs, pretty hard to get in. And then I got an interview and got so excited, but then I was rejected.
Yeah. So I was like, “maybe I’m not supposed to be a photographer.” So then, after that, I was kind of flailing around, trying to figure out what my medium was. I didn’t really know. I started doing collage, and then I tried making more conceptual art, and then I just started drawing again. I hadn’t drawn for a while. I had just been taking photos. It was really nice to get back into that.
They started off really abstract, and then they started to get more narrative, and when I was looking at illustration online, and I found the Drawn.ca blog. That Website was kind of my gateway into comics.
So they were narrative, but there weren’t word bubbles.
Yeah. And then I started reading more graphic novels and I thought, ‘oh, this is cool. Maybe I can try this. So then I tried it…
So you weren’t really reading comics before that point?
I read comics, but they were just part of of my readerly diet. When I was a kid, I would read a lot of Mad Magazine, Far Side, Calvin & Hobbes, but not a lot of comics comics—not a lot floppy comics. Those comics that I did read, didn’t really seem out of the ordinary. A lot of people talk about how when they read comics, they were part of a special word. Reading was a special world for me. I read other books—kids books and novels and such—and so, comics were just part of that, opening up something in a book form and being transported.
I never thought of comics as really special. But I did want to be a Disney animator for some time, though.
That’s when you were much younger?
Yeah—until I was about 11. And then my mom took me on a tour of the Disney animation studios in Florida, and I saw—
How miserable their lives are.
Yeah, it’s horrible. You have to draw like everyone else.
You assumed that there was storytelling and writing involved in the process.
I don’t think there is.
Well you know that now.
I don’t know what I thought. Kids are—
Yeah, kids are dumb. I guess I thought of there being a story in the air and they make it into a cartoon. I don’t know what I thought—for a while, I guess I thought that Mickey Mouse and the Chipmunks were real people. I wrote them love letters, when I was a kid [laughs].
Did the storytelling aspect of your work originate with comics? You weren’t writing all along?
Um, not really. When I was in high school, I did some creative writing. I think it was very Douglas Adams-inspired, very wacky.
Yeah. But I didn’t know that I really liked writing until much later. And then it was like, ‘oh wow, this is really fun.’
So those early diary strips were the first real writing you ever did?
On my own, yeah.
At what point were you ready to release your work into the world? Were the first comics you did minis?
Yeah, and I just immediately put them on Flickr. Because no one’s watching. Nobody cares. You’d put up these little things. And then I made these Flickr friend, because I’d been on Flickr for a while. I’d been posting photos. And then people would comment on them. “This is so cool! I want to do comics, too!”
And then, as you go on, you start to get embarrassed by those early things. I just took them down, recently. I couldn’t believe people were still looking at it.
It’s nice to have a record of the progress that you’ve made.
How many years has it been since you first started making comics?
That’s a lot of progress in four years.
Yeah, yeah. And I like seeing other people’s work. I like the Adrian Tomine collection, 32 Stories. You can see that everybody starts out somewhere. I just don’t want to look out my own early stuff.
[Continued in Part Three]