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Interview With Nicholas Gurewitch
Interview With Nicholas Gurewitch
Nicholas Gurewitch is the creator of the ultimate comic strip,
The Perry Bible Fellowship. Here, we explore getting started as an artist, his new Trails of Tarnation project, and whether he prefers cheese balls or cheese puffs.
It's not easy to get artists to talk about the "finer points" of their craft. However, your past interviews seem to indicate that you actually enjoy doing it. So, I'll try to take advantage of this opportunity by asking meaningful questions and avoiding as many silly ones as I can. That said, do you think the most recent season of American Idol held up to previous seasons?
Do you feel like PBF comics are overly associated with the Internet? Now that you've released a highly successful book collection, is PBF more of a print comic, web comic, or does it blur the line? Or was there even a line to start with?
PBF comics started in newspapers, so I've never associated it with the web myself. These days, more people probably experience it on the internet than in newspapers. People are welcome to call it a webcomic, if they feel that the term "comic" doesn't work for them.
I'm fascinated with the creative process. You once described this process in an interview as "riding the wave," suggesting that you're constantly evaluating your creative options at every step. What color should this chair be? How should this man's arm be positioned? At what point does a comic solidify for you into definite thing with one optimal outcome? Is comic creation always a free-form process for you or does the comic evolve a life of it's own?
Usually I just aim to make the comic so good that it will change the world, but invariably tiny mistakes happen, and I have to reconfigure a new plan to work with what has occurred. This can happen about 20 to thirty times before the comic is finished, on average.
I have a saying - shoot for the stars if you want to hit the moon. Are you referring to a similar philosophy, that if you set your goals high enough, even a failure can be good?
Yeah. I think this might be a behavior of mine. I try not to vocalize some of my highest goals, but among them is being the first flying man in the NBA.
It's generally agreed that PBF comics are the best on the Internet, both in terms of the artwork and the writing. Does this disturb you or fill you with the sort of delirious pride that causes some men to take over small third world countries?
I would like to demonstrate my courage by taking something over. I don't think I would take over a country though. At least not physically.
How good is your funny-meter? You've stated before that you have a few close friends who help review strip ideas. Do you complete comics not knowing how people will respond? Or, by the time that you draw the comic are you pretty confident of the response it will get?
I work closely with friends on most comics, so I have some idea that there's something worth drawing by the time I go to do it. It just means performing or scripting with a trusted friend ahead of time.
I have trouble doing any artwork that would take longer than an hour to complete. If the idea is good enough to warrant several hours of drawing, I tell myself that I don't have time to do it properly and complete quicker efforts instead. Do you have any advice for completing multi-hour art projects? How do you schedule these into your day?
If your idea is sound, and you are properly disgusted and/or afraid, your art can be the path which you cling to, like a small creature on driftwood, in the middle of a vast and lonely ocean. Few people tolerate the act of looking nakedly at things which bother them.
I have to admit to needing some clarification here.
I'm saying things feel not so great when you are like a small creature in the ocean- driftwood being your art. You have no choice but to work on it if it's your lifeboat.
What are you working on? Are you still producing films (or, moving comics with sound, as I call them) and can we expect any feature films?
Trails of tarnation (the web serial at www.trailsoftarnation.com) will eventually be a feature film when all 12 episodes are complete. I will be playing a Sheriff.
Do you also see this as the start of the webcomic age, or have webcomics have already peaked?
Based on information I'm gathering from you, it must be the start of the webcomic age. I don't have any predictions on the subject, personally.
You hit another another topic I find interesting - honestly evaluating things. What sort of things are uncomfortable for you to consider, but yet, you think about anyhow to discover truths?
"Truth discoverer" is a title I don't want to parade around, for fear of getting beaten up, but maybe: insanity. Perception. Stuff like that.
What is the biggest challenge in producing Trails of Tarnation episodes?
Right now it's tough because we are holding our production standards up to feature films, and we're only three people. Derek and Jeff work days, so there's not a lot of time that we can spend on it. I'm trying to get us a budget so we can work on it more.
What is most enjoyable about producing Trails of Tarnation episodes?
I like working with people. Seeing results on set. Digging and being surprised, and surprising.
Do you feel like you've always had an opportunity to create your artwork freely or has it always been an uphill battle, trying to find time in-between work to finish projects? I understand that your art now provides for you, so that's not a concern, but before that was the case, were you a "struggling artist" or was it usually easy to find time for creation?
The artist will always be struggling. It's necessary. If there's no struggle, there's usually no art.
Most unsuccessful artists complain about not having enough time to do anything worthwhile. Most successful artists think this is hogwash. However, when you're exhausted from a hard day's work and can barely muster the energy to be creative during the 1-2 hour gap you manage to find that day, it seems like a very real problem - especially when you are incredibly productive during the occasional free day that you might get. I'm just curious if you've ever encountered this problem (work vs artwork), and if so, how did you work around it?
It's not hard to write music while your rotating cans at a grocery store. And you can keep a sketch pad in your pocket virtually everywhere. If you have a customer service job, dealing with people can actually be the thing that gets you closer to making your art. No one would complain about going to school for 9 years to be an artist. I think it's possible to imagine the act of working a job you consider "unartistic" as school for the deed you consider to be artistic. One perfectly artistic deed can counter a lifetime of unartistic deeds.
Besides, time spent doing things you don't want to do is important, because it will fuel the risks you take, and inform your counter-movement. A dream which holds true beauty will explode from you in a way you can't possibly imagine if you can keep it alive in an inhospitable climate. In fact, a dream upheld against a sea of troubles is often far more beautiful than one without any obstacles. The life of an artist can be a win-win situation if you resign to the task of appearing unrealistic for a decade or two. And if you wait a lifetime, and you hold on to your dream...boy...you're talkin' Van Gogh-level explosion. But those kind of vindications are at risk nowadays, what with things like Kickstarter.
Cheese balls or cheese puffs?
Cheese balls. I'm a big fan of spheres.
When I see good art, I always wonder what the artist thought when they released it. Were they thinking "this is crap", "this will have to do", or "this is perfect". I tend to put long-term projects aside, because I don't think I can do them justice during the allotted time. I wait until I have lots of free time, which never happens. Do you ever put things aside because you doubt you have the time to do an outstanding job? Or do you just divide up your time between your projects, do your best during those slots, and publish the results, even if they're not up your standards?
I do a lot of time-dividing, as you call it, so that I have the ability to give things second and third "looks". In fact, even ideas that seem to arrive immediately -fully formed- are often "second-drafts" of old ideas you've had or have seen, that have had time to be editorialized in your subconscious. No such thing as a first draft, but if there is, it never hurts to go to 18th draft, as the energy that first derived it is still alive and well. PIXAR makes a business out of doing up to 400 drafts of things, and their work sparkles with the density of thousands of decisions.
Gillian Anderson or Dana Scully?
Gillian's great.
Was it easy to find other dedicated creative people to work with?
We're still working on becoming dedicated. We won't earn that title for another year.
Who writes Trails?
A senate comprised of our great-grandfathers.
Is Trails an open-ended project? In other words, after episode 12, might there be future seasons?
To me it has a very definite ending. Jeff wants to do an elaborate sequel, and there's been jokes made about my character having a spin-off, but I'm not sure if he's going to make it.
©ALLOFTHEYEARS Steve Burke * home * rss