Thursday, November 07, 2013

Brian Moore Interview "Make work that you wish already existed in the world."

Setting the mood: the first three panels from Brian Moore's comic: "Evening Stroll."

Brian Moore is a comics omnivore. I can talk to him about graphic novels or old gag cartoonists. He knows the medium! His cartoon work covers all aspects of graphic narrative (to use a big fancy word for "comics").

You will see that as soon as you go to his site BrianMooreDraws. It's all there: illustrations, comic pages, literary adaptations, illustration, gag cartoons, animation (for which he has received two Massachusetts LCC Grants; see his work on "Teddy and Anna"), web comics ("Smithson," which was written by Shaenon Garrity) and I'm sure there are one or two other things I'm forgetting. Brian lives in Massachusetts with his wife and son. 

We conducted this interview via email on November 5th and 6th, 2013. All art is copyright Brian Moore. 

Brian Moore in his studio, November 6, 2013. Photo by Meghan Moore.

Mike Lynch: When you were little, were you one of those "kids who drew all the time?" Did your family encourage you? Did you have any formal education?

Brian Moore: I drew a lot as a kid and tried out different things as I got older -- superhero comics, political cartoons, gag panels, and ayBloom County-esque comic strip. My parents bought me books and supplies and chuckled at my comic strips. I got a few things published in local papers. I also wrote to a nearby city paper to ask if they'd consider letting school kids draw the comics section for a week. Ahem.

I had a very encouraging art teacher in junior high and high school, Craig Tubb, who was also kind enough to tell me when I was phoning it in, and that I could do better.

After high school I got a BFA in Painting from Boston University. BU didn't teach cartooning, but they had a rock-solid traditional art curriculum with lots of figure drawing and mixing your own paints. That filled in a lot of gaps in my skills. Around junior year I started getting back into cartooning in a big way, discovering Daniel Clowes' EIGHTBALL and Chris Ware's ACME NOVELTY comics among other things.

Above: the Smithson splash page for Chapter 4. Art by Brian Moore, written by Shaenon Garrity.

Mike Lynch: If we were to walk into your studio, what graphic novels and comics would we find on your shelves?

Brian Moore: A mixed bag. A lot of Eddie Campbell books. European creators published by Fantagraphics -- Jacques Tardi, Jason, Munoz and Sampayo. Ben Katchor's books. Carla Speed McNeill's FINDER books. A complete run of DEATH NOTE -- the only comic I've ever read where I HAD to read the whole thing. And a smaller supply of newspaper and gag cartoons -- Pogo, Richard Thompson's great CUL DE SAC and POOR ALMANACK, Peter Arno, William Steig.

Mike Lynch: Your color work is stunning. Do you have inspirations for your color palette?

Brian Moore: I've tried to absorb color lessons from a ton of watercolor painters over the years -- Emil Nolde, Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent etc. But it's only recently that I realized that working with a more limited approach -- using color more abstractly than descriptively, working with fewer colors -- can really work well for comics and illustration. Key books for this research were Joann Sfar's VAMPIRE LOVES and Christophe Blain's GUS AND HIS GANG, both published in the US by First Second.

When I want to get inspired to paint I look at Eldon Dedini, Jack Cole, Kiraz, Kerascoet, Eleanor Davis or Steig's work. Although after looking at Steig I sometimes just put the book back and sit there for awhile.

Above: a panel cartoon that originally appeared on a unified communications-focused website.

Mike Lynch: Looking at your comics (like your run on "Smithson," your recent "Little Pointy Teeth," and the "Farewell, My Lovely" and "Bertie Wooster Sees It Through" pages -- not to mention your IT gag cartoons), you are a man for every cartoon season; drawing so many different kinds of comics. Do you have a favorite kind of cartoon you would rather draw? Does drawing different forms make you a better, fresher artist?

Brian Moore: Trying out different forms is good exercise, because they each prioritize some element of cartooning over everything else. Panel cartoons distill time and require careful composition, strips call for a sense of rhythm and timing, etc. It's challenging to try to clear the bar for each type.

There's also an economic angle. People will pay for panel cartoons, but longer works are harder to place. I'd most like to do multi-page stories, collected in books, but that's probably the hardest thing to sell.

Above: a panel from "Pointy Little Teeth," Brian Moore's Halloween comic.

Mike Lynch: Let's talk tools. What did you use to produce "Little Pointy Teeth?" It looks hand-drawn and hand-colored on paper. The text looks hand-written too. Where did you learn your old school techniques? Why not go 100% digital like so many others?

Brian Moore: "Little Pointy Teeth" was painted with watercolor, gouache and ink on 140lb Fabriano soft press paper. The lettering was done on sheets of tracing paper with a Rapidograph pen. I scanned everything in and put it together digitally.

I'm pretty comfortable with painting, but lettering is still a struggle. Both the handwriting part and the page design part -- apparently you're supposed to place the text on the page first, THEN do the artwork. I screwed this up on other projects, so with such a text-heavy story I tried to do it right this time.

After the lettering was inked I did all the pencil art around it, on the tracing paper. The tracing paper then went on the lightbox and I transfered some of the lines to the watercolor paper -- enough to orient me, but not so much that I would be re-drawing everything. When I painted the final art I looked over at the tracing paper version for reference.

I started drawing cartoons in the pre-digital era, so a lot of my technique dates back to that. I have a shelf of "how to cartoon" books that are all pre-1990.

I've done all-digital workflows in the past. It can save time, but I get no visceral satisfaction from drawing on a plastic sheet, while staring at a glowing window. It feels like art by remote control.

I like the all-or-nothing quality of working with paper and brushes etc. With digital I found myself drawing, Undo-ing, and redrawing. With real materials I make a decision and then build on it (or toss the page), rather than instantly negating every bad move. It's more spontaneous.

Digital is great for the last 10% of work - compositing, correcting, etc. (Even with all that tracing paper and lightboxing, I still had to tweak some bits of "Little Pointy Teeth.")

Mike Lynch: There's a theme in some of your works of big and scary monsters or ghosts or supernatural forces. In "Evening Stroll" this force goes from scary to caring. In "Pointy Little Teeth" the monsters are banished to wander the stars and are, in the end, rendered ordinary. Why are scary forces a theme in some of your work?

Brian Moore: Cartoon monsters are fun to draw. I don't think I'd enjoy detailing an operatically gross, H. P. Lovecraft-style creature, but dropping a somewhat out-sized monster into a mundane scene is a lot of fun.

The fun part about the "Little Pointy Teeth" guys is how blasé they were about everything, except the title subject.

Mike Lynch: What advice would you give a cartoonist who is just starting out?

Brian Moore: Make work that you wish already existed in the world. Don't panic about how long it takes you to make something, or if no one seems to be looking at it -- both making art and getting anybody to pay attention takes awhile. Once you have some momentum, try to avoid working for free. Find at least one cartoonist friend.

Mike Lynch: Can you talk about what other future projects are in your pipeline?

Brian Moore: I'm working on a graphic novel about a city of monsters and their crimes. It's a comedy.


Brian Fies said...

Terrific interview with a talented creator whose work I'm just discovering. I love the look of his work and his approach to it. Can't tell you how exciting it is to find a kindred spirit who says exactly what you'd say better than you'd say it. And an Eddie Campbell fan! Great! Thanks for doing this interview, Mike; do more.

Trade Loeffler said...

Nice interview, Mike. I haven't checked out Brian Moore's site in awhile and I'm a worser man for it.
Brian's watercolor work is blowing me away. He's got such a nice feel for color and all the different techniques he's incorporating into his work are quite beautiful.