Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Scott Chantler -- illustrator, graphic novelist

Scott Chantler of, Two Generals,Tower of Treasure, Northwest Passage, etc:

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in writing, not graphic fiction; English departments rarely if ever pay attention to graphic fiction; major publishers do not publish much of it, and major prizes never include it in short lists, even though it can be a form of novel.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?

SC: Honestly, I think the answer is just time. Change takes time, and there will eventually come a point when no one will be able to remember a time when comics weren't taught in schools and discussed at cocktail parties. We've already made ENORMOUS strides in the last 20 years, so I'm always a little uncomfortable complaining about whatever little distance there is left to cover. The time that Will Eisner dreamed about, when comics are thought of as literature, sold in bookstores, studied academically, etc. is here. It's now. And those few people who still don't "get it," that wouldn't read comics under ANY circumstances, are probably not going to change their minds anyway. They're the people who are so closed-minded and old-fashioned that they likely still don't think of movies as art, either, or rock 'n' roll as music.

2. According to critic Alex Good, literary fiction is selling poorly these days and graphic novels are doing better. Is this as far as you know true?

SC: I don't generally keep track of sales numbers, other than for my own books (and even that can be a challenge, given how much they try to keep those numbers from being conveniently available to authors). But I'm often told that graphic books and eBooks is where the growth is happening in publishing. So it seems that somebody thinks so.

3. How did you start out?

SC: I was a reasonably successful commercial illustrator in the nineties, but of course that wasn't what I really wanted to do. Comics, though, as you may recall, were in a pretty bad place then, and I was having no luck trying to break in, even with small publishers. So, just for the sake of putting something out there, and maybe attracting a few more eyeballs to my illustration website, I started a daily web strip. This was in 2000, before everybody and their uncle was doing a webcomic, so it was fairly easy to get noticed by doing one. I didn't even do it for very long, maybe three months...but it was enough to have built a small following, which included comic book writer J. Torres. He and I began to correspond by email, and talked about doing something together. That something turned out to be Days Like This from Oni Press, which was my first graphic novel

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?

SC: I'm not well-versed enough in the history of literary publishing to be able to know for sure. But I assume it has something to do with the fact that the world of publishing has traditionally been so broad -- many different publishers, many different genres, etc. -- that if you didn't fit in somewhere, it must have been because you weren't very good. In comics, as in your music example, the medium had (perhaps "has") by contrast been controlled by a comparatively small number of publishers putting out an alarmingly narrow selection of material. So if you wanted to do anything besides draw superhero comics (or make pop records) you pretty much had to self-publish, or do it with an indie publisher (or indie label, in music) for little or no money. So rather than being someone who'd tried to fit into a wide market and failed, you were heroically thumbing your nose at a mainstream that defined itself too narrowly.

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

SC: Man, there are so many that I'd be afraid of leaving somebody out. Darwyn Cooke, Jeff Lemire, Faith Erin Hicks, Stuart Immonen, Ray Fawkes, Cameron Stewart, Michael Cho, Svetlana Chmakova, Francis Manapul, Andy Belanger, Kean Soo, Bryan Lee O'Malley, Tin Can Forest, James Stokoe, Pascal Girard, Michel Ribagliati, Kate Beaton, John Martz...I could go on all day. There's something in the water here, I swear.

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