Monday, July 25, 2011

Michael Cho -- illustrator, writer

1. Graphic fiction, we are told, is in; it has arrived. Academics talk about it, literary publishers include it -- sometimes -- on their lists. But how accepted is it really? Is it genuinely accepted by the high-brow, and viewed with true objectivity? Or is some of the praise that it is given merely bumpf? After all, MFA programs specialize in writing, not graphic fiction; English departments rarely if ever pay attention to graphic fiction; major publishers do not publish much of it, and major prizes never include it in short lists, even though it can be a form of novel. What needs to change for graphic fiction to gain more acceptance?

"Graphic fiction" as you call it, or "comics" as I call it, has never been more accepted in the mainstream as it is now.  However, as you point out, it still has a long way to go before it gains real acceptance as a literary art form.  I see graphic novels entering into "10 best books of the year" lists more and more now, but sometimes, I think it's almost tokenism.  And other times, I've seen active discrimination by judges against graphic novels being entered into such lists.  

I think the real breakthrough will come when those who are prejudiced against comics as a literary form finally start to view comics as a medium and not a genre.  Too many people still equate "comics" and "graphic novels" with super heroes, or zombies, or funny animals.  And of course, various publishers in comics feed the confusion by packaging such material under the label of "graphic novel".   I enjoy super hero comics, but I don't believe that's all comics are -- just as I enjoy action movies but don't believe that those are the only kind of stories movies can tell.
2. According to some observers of the publishing scene such as critic Alex Good, literary fiction (particularly by new authors) is struggling these days while graphic novels are enjoying steady, healthy sales. Any observations on why that is?

I think our society is just that much more multi-media and visual now.  I see educators who would have rejected comics and graphic novels in their classrooms a generation ago now embracing their potential for reaching reluctant readers.   Ultimately, it's all determined by the quality of the content.  If there's more people reading graphic novels these days, there must be some really good graphic novels out there then.

3. How did you start out?

I was always drawing.  Since I was 3 years old.  I started writing a lot later, when I realized I had stories I wanted to tell.  However, it took me until my 30's before I had the skills to draw my stories with the kind of fidelity that I had in mind.

4. There are a lot of comics artists who self-publish.  As in the music industry -- with bands with their own labels -- this is considered perfectly acceptable as long as the creative result is good. Yet self-publishing is deeply frowned upon in literary circles. Why do you think that is?

I'm no good on this one.  I don't have much knowledge of acceptable practices in literary circles. 

5. You have some nice stand-alone sketches at your blog -- for example, a family portrait with your daughter and wife, and a landscape of a Toronto back alley. How do you produce these works? Life sketcthing? Photo sources? Memory? Or a mix?

It's a mix of all.  I take reference photos for some paintings, while others are done from a mix of memory and imagination.  Pretty much like any other illustrator.

6. Cartoonists tend to refer directly in their work to the influence of other cartoonists, while traditional artists get "left out". Any fine art influences on your work? 

Lots.  I enjoy "high art" as much as I enjoy "low art".  Among the artists that have influenced my work at one point or another:

Michelangelo, Edvard Munch, Egon Schiele, Edward Hopper, Alex Colville, Gerhard Richter, Alex Katz, Richard Diebenkorn...I could go on and on.

7. Westerners are well aware of the manga scene from Japan. Not so many are aware that there's a flourishing manhwa scene in South Korea.  Any Asian comics/artists that have influenced you?

I grew up in South Korea reading manhwa, but didn't know the names of the artists.  Those were the first comics I ever saw.  

As an adult, I have to say one of my favourite manga creators is Yoshihiro Tatsumi.  His work was a revelation and left a great impact on me.  I also have a great respect for Kazuo Koike's artwork.  

8Canada has produced a bounty of strong graphic fiction artists, including Julie Doucette, Chester Brown, DaveCollier, Seth, etc. Any newer names you'd like to add to the list?

Canada has an exceptionally large and diverse pool of talented cartoonists/graphic novelists/whatever you call them.  Among my favourites who are not on your list: John Martz, Joe Ollman, Matt Forsythe, Zach Worton and Scott Chantler.

No comments:

Post a Comment