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One on One With
Geof Isherwood

By Maxianne Berger

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A small ad in Saturday’s classified section announced that Geof Isherwood, penciller/writer of Justice and Conan, would be at the Cote St-Luc location of Gerry Ross’s 1,000,000 COMIX between 11:30 and 2:30 that day.

 

Store owner Ross explained that having Geof Isherwood in his store would give people a chance to see the artist and get a better feeling for comics. As he put it, “you can say ‘Hey! This guy does the pencilling!’ ” and then find out what pencilling is, what inking is, what lettering is, coloring, all the different stuff that goes into comic book creation. It’s an intellectually stimulating process for the collectors. That’s why I have him here.” Ross also mentioned that a comic boook signed by the artist goes up in value and then added, “He’s a nice guy. He’s accessible.”

Geof Isherwood received his B.F.A. in Studio Art from Concordia University in 1982. Within a year, he was a full-time free-lance artist for Marvel. He is a “nice guy” and he is accessible: two days prior to his 1,000,000 COMIX appearance, he spent the better part of the afternoon talking to me. He explained many aspects of comic book art, as well as personal insights on the creative process. The following is a partial transcript of our conversation. 

Store owner Ross explained that having Geof Isherwood in his store would give people a chance to see the artist and get a better feeling for comics. As he put it, “you can say ‘Hey! This guy does the pencilling!’ ” and then find out what pencilling is, what inking is, what lettering is, coloring, all the different stuff that goes into comic book creation. It’s an intellectually stimulating process for the collectors. That’s why I have him here.” Ross also mentioned that a comic boook signed by the artist goes up in value and then added, “He’s a nice guy. He’s accessible.”

Geof Isherwood received his B.F.A. in Studio Art from Concordia University in 1982. Within a year, he was a full-time free-lance artist for Marvel. He is a “nice guy” and he is accessible: two days prior to his 1,000,000 COMIX appearance, he spent the better part of the afternoon talking to me. He explained many aspects of comic book art, as well as personal insights on the creative process. The following is a partial transcript of our conversation.   


MAXIANNE BERGER:
In Swords of the Swashbucklers #5, the first one for which you did the artwork, editor Jo Duffy introduces you to the readers in glowing terms: “Geof’s work sparkles with style and innovation.” How did you get from talented kid who liked comic books to artist free-lancing for Marvel?

GEOF ISHERWOOD:
At the age of ten I drew my first comic story. I thought I’d like to try doing my own. After a couple of years,
I decided that eventually I’d like to work professionally in the field. Why I think? One reason is I enjoyed telling the stories and drawing, and another is that, from reading the editorials and the comments on the people, they seemed like the type of people I’d like to work with in the future. I’m basically self-taught.

I worked up my art, mainly my figure drawing, for years and years. By the age of sixteen, I figured I’d go to the Marvel offices in New York and see what they had to say. I guess they were being nice to me at the time. They were pleasant enough about it, but it was sort of “OK kid – You’re OK but we really can’t use you” type of thing. But they weren’t really discouraging; they’d always say “work on this, that or the other.”

And over the next four or five years I kept sending things in. Then, when I was twenty-two, they finally thought enough of what I’d sent in to assign me a small nine-page story. 

MAXIANNE BERGER:
You mentioned being a self-taught artist. Is that in fact completely true?
 
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GEOF ISHERWOOD:
I’d have to say that on my own initiative I did drawing. It’s not like I didn’t ever have help from any one. I did go and find books to learn from, and teachers helped me to a small degree. But I decided myself to do this and I pretty well taught myself. By the time I went to art school, my teachers would tell me I knew more about anatomy than they did. Even at University I didn’t learn too much directly relating to drawing for comics. Just sort of related subjects, maybe compositionally. Nowadays most young artists can meet professionals and learn from them, even if it’s just an informal meeting at a convention.

But I met my first professional artist when I was eighteen, and I’d been drawing for years and years before that, so I always felt I was pretty insulated in the thing.

MAXIANNE BERGER:
What kind of money is involved? 

GEOF ISHERWOOD:
Well, I would say offhand an artist working more or less regularly can start at around US$25, $30 thousand dollars. And then there are the royalties. Writers can often do better than artists because they can write so many more comics than the artist can draw. Artists will take an average of sixty to seventy hours to draw a comic. A writer can sit down and write one in six to ten hours. He gets paid about half of what the artist does for one page, but it doesn’t take him as long so he can do pretty well with it. But ask anybody who’s good, and they do it because they really want to. 

MAXIANNE BERGER:
OK. Let’s get into how the comics themselves get put together. When you look at the credits in a comic book, you realize that many artists and artisans are involved in the production process. Could you give me a rundown on each one’s role as the story moves from hand to hand?


GEOF ISHERWOOD:
Each twenty-two page comic comes out twelve times a year on the average. One person would find it almost impossible to sit down and do everything in a month. They’ve decided to divide up the work among people who’ve become specialized in their own areas, hopefully to come up with an even better product. At the top of the line, the editor is responsible for hiring all the people involved. What he wants to do is get the same people to work on every issue because the editor’s best ally is consistency.

He’s also ultimately responsible for any errors in the art or the story that com out in the end. He has to oversee and correct anything that might not go right in the first place. If the story line’s dull or boring, certainly the writer could have done better, but it’s up to the editor to tell him “you know you’re not doing what you should be.” So he will sit down with the writer (and occasionally the artist) and decide the basic story line for one issue or a series of issues. Then the writer goes home and fleshes out this idea.

He may change things; it’s really his story, the editor isn’t telling him what to write. He spends a couple of days on that.


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He’ll send in five or six typewritten pages for a twenty-two page story, outlining the action and some dialogue here and there if he thinks of it, and other descriptions to the artist that the reader doesn’t have to know about, but the artist does. Then the artist, in this case the penciller, lays out the story in pencil (basically because he can erase and correct anything that he has to), transcribes it into a series of drawn pictures. He has to tell the story with drawings in a sequence so that you can pretty well understand the comic without having to read anything. Then the writer gets the drawn pages back.

He’s supposed to then be able to write all the dialogue from the pictures, and also from his original plot. He should find it easier to do because, with the pictures in front of him, he can think of things a little easier. The reason the layout’s left to the artist is that he’s supposedly been trained to work visually – that’s supposed to be his strong point. The writer also has the responsibility of placing all the word balloons and captions on the pages so the letterer has the placements marked out, and the full script all typed out for him. So the letterer just has to follow that, just go through and letter the comic, plus ink the panel borders.

Then, the inker gets it. He’s supposed to finish the art in ink lines so that it can be reproduced, and that requires a certain knowledge of technique as well. It’s his job to enhance what the penciller’s done, in terms of contrast, black and white design, and to maybe clarify a drawing that might be sketchy. So basically, he has to simplify things in a way, or tighten up the drawing so it’ll be easily decipherable upon reading.

Then when he’s finished, the colorist takes it and does the coloring. But, it’s not his actual painting that gets in the comic: it’s sent to a separator who then takes what the colorist’s done as a guide, and mechanically separates the pages before they’re printed.

MAXIANNE BERGER:
You refer to the plot being sent to the penciller, and after that, the writer writes the script. That technique, “plot first,” is also known as the Marvel way, and not all comic books are written that way. Apparently some are written script-first, with full description to the artist...

GEOF ISHERWOOD:
Right! I’ve also worked that way. Personally, I don’t mind working from a full script too much, because I enjoy knowing all the dialogue ahead of time. That way, I can have the characters acting completely “in character” for what they’re saying, and that is one problem that does crop up occasionally.

There are many artists who draw kind of blank faces on people, because they don’t know exactly what they’re going to be saying. And where the facial expression doesn’t match what they’re saying, for me, as an inker, under those circumstances, I find I always read the dialogue and make sure whatever the penciller’s done matches it; and if it doesn’t, I alter it to match the dialogue. But the idea behind the other way, that the artist should know better how to pace the story (a matter of how many panels per page: if there’s few panels, you’ll read it a lot faster), tell the story visually, all the camera angles, he should know better than the writer how to do all of that; so that’s why the Marvel way was introduced.

MAXIANNE BERGER:
In a Comics Sense article a few years ago, then DC editor Len Wein is quoted as saying: “I look for good story-telling, ingenious bits of business and I look for characterization. That’s the first thing I look for overall. I would prefer a story with less of a plot and good characterization rather than a story with a brilliant plot and no characterization.” How is characterization developed?
 

GEOF ISHERWOOD:
One good way I can describe this now – I’ve worked on a title called Justice from the very first issue – and it’s funny how it goes because you would think offhand that the writer sets the tone to a very large extent but, what usually happens, is that the writer writes the comic for about three days, and he’s on to one of his other five or six comics; whereas the artist gets this thing and he’s drawing it for two to three weeks.

So he’s got the whole story in his head a lot longer than the writer. I’ve talked to many writers: they say they forgot what they wrote (laughter), they’re doing so much. Whereas the penciller can sit and stew in it for all this time. In the plot, the writer may describe characterization to a degree, but it’s up to the artist to really visualize it, and he can set the tone for that. For example, I decided that for a major villain in the book, we should never see his face: leave that element of mystery to him. The writer may have just ignored it altogether, but he went along with me, throughout many issues now. The artist has to make his characters act, he has to decide on the actual movements. I have a story in which a wizard is going to talk to his king about some developments in the state, the kingdom crumbling around them. I decided that the king should be alcoholic.

Through a series of panels, as they discuss this, I have him pouring his wine, drinking it, setting it down, dribbling out of the corner of his mouth. All these little things just add to making your characters more lifelike and believable. So that’s a big part. Of course the dialogue is very important. The writer can add idioms or speech traits to the character to make him recognizable as such.

Now, as I mentioned before, if the dialogue doesn’t match the expression on the character’s face, the inker should have enough presence of mind to change that to match it. And one main thing to remember is that the basic story comes into characterization.

You should not be able to take a story written for Batman and make it a Superman story. Each story that’s written should only be applicable to that character. If you can take a story and transfer it – it could be Spider-Man, it could be Daredevil, it could be Iron Man – then you know your story’s going to fail because there’s really nothing that sets it apart. Therefore that’s one thing you have to keep in mind. 

MAXIANNE BERGER:
The words “Approved by the Comics Code Authority” appear on the covers of most comic books. What is the Comics Code? 

GEOF ISHERWOOD:
That was set up in the fifties. One company, called DC, was doing horror stuff and crime comics, and I guess it was a McCarthyism type of problem then: they figured they (comics) corrupted children. So, a number of companies got together and formed this committee  which would then be like a stamp of approval for parents: these comics were not obscene for their children. And this has continued to this day. Recently however, small publishers outside of Marvel and DC have come out with their own, more adult, material.

They don’t have the stamp, and the idea of the Comics Code stamp is kind of disappearing. But I’d say basically, the publishers have their own. It’s up to their own discretion very much. I’d say most of them don’t want things to get out of hand, they know that the audience is young enough that they want to keep a fair amount of decency.There are small rules that are kind of silly. There’s something about not having zombies in your story, so Marvel created characters called Zoovambies. Stuff like this.

Also, there used to be a lot of detective crime stuff, and they had a rule that any word stating “crime,”
or related to that, could not be the most prominent word on the page: you couldn’t have a gigantic title ‘CRIME,” and underneath, in little letters, “does not pay.”It shouldn’t look pornographic
and the violence should be tempered somewhat.I think that a lot of people realize that
implied violence can often be used to much greater effect than all-out gore. You’ll go to the movies
and see stuff a lot worse than you’ll ever see in a comic – you know, horror movies and what have you. 


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MAXIANNE BERGER:
A predecessor of the comics, about a hundred years ago, was the “dime novel.” These swift-moving thrilling stories, mostly about the American Revolution, the Frontier Period and the Civil War, got their bad name when they evolved to too much blood and thunder. But they always did emphasize a healthy self-reliance. Reading comics today, I still get this feeling of swift-moving, thrilling plots, some blood, some thunder, and this idea of “good” versus “evil,” with “good presumably winning out in the long run...

GEOF ISHERWOOD:
That was actually another part of the Code: they good guy had to win (laughter), evil and crime was not supposed to be shown as more powerful...although it’s been highly glamorized – you look at any corporate villain now, and he always has a lot more money than the hero. But I guess you want me to comment on the basic state of situations like that: I’d say that’s true to a large degree. Other issues and “the other side” of tings have been approached here and there. For example, the main heroes in Swords of the Swashbucklers are actually heroines. Women dominate, but I wouldn’t call the book a “feminist” comic.

I found I enjoyed doing a project where the role of women could be a little better explored and they could be seen as equals to men – in a strong sense – although they didn’t have to lose any of their femininity.But the idea of self-reliance, I’d say that’s pretty strong. For example, there are certain parameters on a character like Conan: any scene that Conan is in, he’s got to be the biggest, toughest guy in the drawing; he’s got to dominate. In a movie, he’d be the one who was
always stealing the scene.

The way he’s played right now, as we’re doing it, he’s almost been relegated to the background. Because so much emphasis is placed on all the other characters in the story, you never find out what he’s thinking, he doesn’t seem to say a lot. Every one else seems to be running around, trying to get on with their business, but he’s still their leader, and if necessary, he’ll go out and do what he has to do without any fuss. 

MAXIANNE BERGER:
What about the plots? Are they written with the ten and eleven-year-old brain in mind? You know, not very much seems to happen in any individual comic book story. That might be because of the supposed emphasis on characterization, but quite honestly, from looking at comic books, I see that the art seems to be the main thing: they’re very, very, visually appealing. 

GEOF ISHERWOOD:
OK. That’s one thing I can say: the plots are really designed to give the artist a chance to do something that’s visually exciting. I can relate this a lot to television, popular TV shows. Look at Knight Rider, for example. The whole idea is how to get Kit to do some wild jumping stunts complete with car chases and explosions. I’d say the visuals really are ninety percent of it.

But if there’s no good story line, the readers will give up on it. As to characterization being preferable to plot, as Len Wein said in the article, that’s true in any continuing story: the reader’s not as interested in finding out if the bad guy is going to rob the bank, he’s going to be interested in what the hero is going to do next, or what’s going to happen in his personal life. That’s why characters like Spider-Man as Peter Parker are so popular, and have always remained so: the reader identifies with this character, and is always interested in finding out what’s going to happen in his life, like a soap opera.

And I think, in a way, comics have tended toward the soap opera idea in the last few years. Used to be in comics, you could have all-battle issues from page one to page twenty, you know, knock-down, drag out fight scenes, and you almost never see that anymore. It’s all the personal stuff and intrigue that’s really dominated comics in the last while. And I don’t find writers try to write on a low level.

I’ve always found that they’ve approached it in an adult manner. But the writer does have to remember what it’s like to be a kid and to read comics and to have that kind of enthusiasm. When it’s there, the comic will succeed.MAXIANNE BERGER: You’ve now done five issues of Conan the Barbarian. What is the contribution of the finisher/inker to the story line, to the characterization?

GEOF ISHERWOOD:
One thing I’ve found in inking is that the more enthusiastic and the better a job the penciller does, the better an inker does. If he gets a job that was done in a hurry – and most comics are drawn faster than the artist would like them to be, they just don’t have time – well, his contribution is to take that drawing, find what the main point is and enhance it. Every panel should have a focus, an action that’s describing some part of the story. The inker’s supposed to find that and make sure that the penciller has designed it so you can see what’s going on. The inker may have to alter the drawings slightly to get that idea across better.

He has to really redraw the pictures – just tracing isn’t good enough. He has to work on the facial expressions, make them a little stronger, maybe adjust the background, either to frame the main character, or to work in it. The best way to show a character in action is to use a silhouette-type of effect – not necessarily solid black – to show him in a clear space, with no drawing behind him, so you can clearly see what he’s doing. This type of technique, black and white design, where you spot the black, makes a big difference.

Where you have the strongest black and white contrast is where the eye will usually focus. For example, if some one has black hair, you’ll have a white face with not too much line work on it, and very dark black hair which is a good frame; it can be done with a figure standing in a room, his shadow cast on a wall, or with the background dark and the person standing in the light. It also can be used to enhance action – aside from trying to give that three-dimensional illusion to a two-dimensional drawing. An inker has to be good at doing this, which means he really has to be able to draw as well as the penciller. He can’t just be some one who can trace drawings.

MAXIANNE BERGER:
When you’re doing the inking, do you spend more time on the background or more time on the people in the picture?

GEOF ISHERWOOD:
In storytelling, the most important things are the characters’ faces and secondarily, hands. All the background and everything else is effectively window dressing. It’s not to say they’re not important: if you have a story with no background, the reader can become very confused and frustrated because he’ll have to keep guessing about the setting.I personally like to concentrate and put a lot of time into drawing the faces and carefully drawing the hands. The rest I can do faster because it doesn’t need the same level of emphasis.

But it depends: Conan is the type of book where the world they’re living in and the background are played up more than say, Spider-Man, swinging around buildings. You know, buildings are buildings. But in a book like Conan, the background is more a part of the world. There’s so much more to get into. There are animals, a lot of horses, a lot of forest settings, and everything is much more hand-made, not necessarily mechanically-made.

You have to make the world look like it’s the Middle Ages. So that’s a case where, inking Conan, I’ll spend more time on that than I would on another comic, simply because of the demands of the work itself.

MAXIANNE BERGER:
In a situation where all the artist has is the plot, and there is no opportunity of getting together with the writer and talking, does the writer ever say “I don’t like this picture. Would you mind redoing it?” and mail it back to you. Or is the time constraint such that this is impossible? 

GEOF ISHERWOOD:
Certainly things can be redrawn and are. We did a Samurai story in which I changed a lot of the motivations of the characters, but the actual events were the same. The writer wrote back to me and told me he thought it was changed a lot. When I told him what was going on, he realized that it really wasn’t.

That was a case where I consciously tried to impart more of the Easter attitude to the characters. In comics, most Japanese-type stories, the characters all have Western ideals and attitudes. The writers probably don’t even understand what’s going on with Eastern philosophy. I tried to put a little bit of that into the story, and he then felt it didn’t go along with what he’d done in the first place, but we eventually came to a middle ground on that.

MAXIANNE BERGER:
How did you find out what Eastern philosophy was?

GEOF ISHERWOOD:
Well, I’m no expert but, what I did, well it was more a matter of visually showing things, so I saw a bunch of movies by Kurasawa – by a fluke, Concordia University was having a film festival of this Japanese film maker – and I could get a real feeling of the flavor by what he was doing. I tried to put some of those ideas and also motivations into the characters: not doing things for the same reasons as we would.

For example, my hero in that story, the prince, runs out to do battle at the end. Whereas he’s spent the entire story at home, calling the shots and letting the army fight for him. He’d really accepted his responsibilities as a man by the end of the story. Although you knew he was probably going to go on the battlefield and die, the outcome of the battle didn’t matter. It was the fact that he put on his armor and was going out to lead his men that saved his honor, regardless of the outcome. And that’s a different way of thinking.

That’s an example of the ideas I was trying to get across, and the writer, well, his ideas too, but we sort of came to an agreement on that one. 

MAXIANNE BERGER:
As an artist, what kind of research do you do with respect to visual details and accuracy? 

GEOF ISHERWOOD:
In that story, well the latest movie by Kurasawa was Ran, so I went to see it. In fact I found a book done around the movie that had all those costumes. I could basically use that type of idea but also change it a little to suit an alien world. That book wasn’t supposed to be hard science fiction, it was more fun-fantasy, where you could go to a different place but see pseudo-visions of what goes on on Earth.

We had a story about a swamp world which might be like the Amazon jungle, so for research, I found photos in National Geographic.For Conan, what the artist does is to place the setting historically, or he develops a whole architectural feeling, something based on the type of civilization that’s there. He feels that the cities in Conan’s world all look different for reasons of geography. He’s conscious | of that and accordingly, he might look for reference from this world, seeing where these original civilizations might have led.

Say a Moslem kingdom of today: he’ll have something like a giant mosque with the city built around it. One story I just did was like a French village from the countryside: a giant cathedral, the small village and then the farming community around that. So it depends a lot on individual imagination, as well as looking for references, to make it as authentic as possible.
 

MAXIANNE BERGER:
Who owns the artwork? 


GEOF ISHERWOOD:
The way it works at Marvel is that Marvel decides they want to publish some comics. They hire artists and writers to work on their characters. So they own the copyrights on everything. Now, what they have worked out is a plan where the creators, writers and artists get a royalty percentage on sales.

When the work is finished, they’ve also worked out an agreement where they will give the artwork back
to the artists who did them, technically as a gift. So I’m in possession of the artwork that I’ve done. Now, if two people have worked on a twenty-two page comic, they’ll divide it up and give fourteen pages to the penciller and eight to the inker, randomly selected throughout the issue. That way, Marvel won’t have its warehouse piling up with pages of artwork, which it did up to the mid-70s. 


MAXIANNE BERGER:
Are you free then to sell what’s been returned to you? 

GEOF ISHERWOOD:
Yes. I can. Nothing can be reproduced without Marvel’s permission, but if I want to sell the artwork, that’s fine. Marvel has copies of everything that’s been done, so should they want to reprint anything in the future, they don’t have to go back to the original page. But they do own the copyright on everything, and there’s a stamp on the back of each original art page stating as such.

MAXIANNE BERGER:
There are schools of cinematography, there are theatre art schools, is there any place where one can go to learn how to do comics? 

GEOF ISHERWOOD:
This one fellow, Joe Kubert, has a school in New Jersey I think, and that’s about the only school that I know of. In the past there have been other artists who may have either given classes or individually apprenticed other artists. Bur right now, I’d say his is the only one. There was a different one in the 70s, the Academy of Comic Book Arts, but...but that is one problem now.

For the training of young artists in the old days, there were horror comics, romance comics, Westerns, what have you, with six to eight page stories. Artists coming into the field could work on these; these stories weren’t at the forefront of attention. They could learn about drawing by doing these and eventually work their way up to the bigger titles or stories. Nowadays that’s almost completely disappeared.

You have to be much more complete an artist entering the field than you used to be. The demands put on you right a way make it really tougher these days. There’s not much work in the field you can do to learn, and there’s not much opportunity to go to school for it before you can even get a job in the industry. So you really have to train yourself to a large degree.

MAXIANNE BERGER:
You mentioned that you’re primarily self-taught although you did study Fine Arts in University. Did you ever apprentice with any one? You mentioned that as an alternative.
 

GEOF ISHERWOOD:
The editor of the Conan comics, Larry Hama, has taught me pretty well ninety-five, ninety-eight percent of the other stuff I’ve learned since. Before I worked on his Conan book, I worked on another one of his, Conan the King, which has a back-up eight-page feature – the type of story that I described before, where you could apprentice. I did about five of those stories, and of the very first story that I drew, he said “You’re not really doing things as well as you could be. Look, I’ll just sit down and I’ll lay it out and I’ll send it to you and you can see what I’m doing.” So I basically had to redraw just about the whole thing.

He paraphrased some of my panels, rearranged what I’d done a little bit in some cases; in other cases he just plain re-drew it altogether. So I learned a lot just from his example: how to go about it, how to observe. I didn’t learn so much what to do but what not to do. I learned in some way what to do but it’s not really a formula – there’s no formula to telling a story – but if you can keep yourself from falling into certain traps, you know you can’t really go too far wrong.

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MAXIANNE BERGER:
What kinds of traps? 

GEOF ISHERWOOD:
Well, technically speaking, things like having action buried in the middle of a cluster of people. Say one character is punching another, and he’s punching down. You might see his fist sort of down, in between the bodies, or totally surrounded by other drawing, so that you don’t get quite as good an example as if, say, he’s doing an uppercut. Then, you could see the fist, not surrounded by background at all, just completely in the open, and you can see the whole action completely.Also, things like not cutting: when you have a full figure, not cutting off their feet. And not having things protrude from the edges of the panels. If you can contain the entire drawing, you can give a better sense of space, of where they are.

There’s also what is called the “chessboard” shot: this is a down shot, at an angle, so that you’re looking at all of the characters in a room, very much like the pieces on a chessboard. You can see where everybody is in relation to the others. If you show one really good panel establishing where everything is in the setting, then you won’t have to do it again for the rest of the scene. Then you can move the “camera” anywhere you want to, do any kind of close-up, and just show glimpses of the background.

Since the reader is already familiar with the space and are comfortable with the setting, they’re not going to be confused about anything else. You can get them totally involved in what’s going on in the story. Like your average television show. It could be anything, a police show: the first shot you’ll get is the
front doors of the station; then you’ll see the squad room and everybody’s walking around, doing their thing; then you zero in on the characters. You know where they are. You know exactly what’s going on. You’re not going to be asking these questions when you’re supposed to be following what these characters are focused on.

MAXIANNE BERGER:
So. It’s setting the stage, so that you can then build characters without attending to the details of the background? 


GEOF ISHERWOOD:
Right. But you don’t want to do that every time. There are cases when I’ll want to start with a close-up. If I’m establishing shot, if I want to make it mysterious. Like at the beginning of Justice #6, the very first panel has this close-up of a little girl’s face and she’s crying: you’re supposed to be intrigued by this character. Then I pulled back and showed where she was. So you know, you can flip-flop it around. While it sounds like a formula, it’s not supposed to be. What’s supposed to keep comics interesting and exciting is you never really know what’s supposed to happen next (laughter). I guess like any good writing, really, you don’t want to be predictable. 

MAXIANNE BERGER:
We were just interrupted by a phone call. From this end, it sounded like somebody who wants to become involved. he was asking you for some information... 

GEOF ISHERWOOD:
Well, he was asking me if I could help him decide on art samples to send to New York. It’s almost like a challenge or a test in its own right, to see if new people really are that interested, how much initiative are they going to take on their own – as I did. Now, this fellow, he did send some art samples to DC, and they did send him a Batman “test” story, which is good. So now, they’ve put the ball in his court: is he going to deliver? And so I gave him one bit of advice which scared him a bit: I told him that “any good artist should be able to lay out a twenty-two page story in a couple of days,” and he sort of choked on that a little. But, aside from being able to do good quality work, in order to succeed, you have to be fairly fast and reliable. You have to be able to turn your work in on time. 

MAXIANNE BERGER:
Do people frequently call you for this kind of information?

GEOF ISHERWOOD:
Oh. A few do, yes. I meet a lot of them at conventions or signings. One boy, he’s in a French high school, he got his English teacher to invite me to the class to talk to them about comics, because he was personally interested in them (laughter). That was kind of fun and what was interesting, afterwards, the teacher was saying, “there are some rowdy motorcycle gang types of kids in the school and the class.”

She said she couldn’t believe that they sat their so attentively for the whole period; they weren’t fidgeting; they couldn’t believe what they were getting. And I can understand that because a lot of school children figure: what use is education, where is it going to get them? But I don’t agree with that.

When they see something like comics, which are generally looked down upon, and they all of a sudden see some person who is legitimately pursuing this, it can make a real impression on them. For me to talk to a group like that, the most important thing is to let them know that, if they do have a particular dream or interest in something that’s a little out of the ordinary – and you do have to know whether it’s in you or not to pursue such a career – you can actually stand a chance of succeeding. So that can be very encouraging to them – to really pursue whatever it is they are truly interested in.

MAXIANNE BERGER:
That the perseverance pays off? 

GEOF ISHERWOOD:
Yes. Perseverance and working hard at it. Right now if I’m doing a sketch in front of a group of children, they can see me whip off something that is fairly complete in a couple of minutes. But they have to realize that I’ve been doing this for about fifteen years, and after a while, you know, your hand moves and you hardly have to look at it. It just knows where to go. It’s almost automatic after you’ve done thousands of drawings, you know (laughter)!

Like somebody who plays the piano and never has to look at the keys.I find that drawing, in terms of artistic input, is very much like any other artistic endeavor: you have to recognize something with in yourself. You have to have some natural ability or gift to start with. You have to have a basic aptitude, but that’s not all: you have to work a lot to really succeed, or succeed in another way—just to develop your potential.

Montreal,
January 1987

~

Maxianne Berger has been involved with poetry in and around Montreal since 1985. Her first book, How We Negotiate, appeared in 1999 from Empyreal Press. A French version of it was published by Écrits des forges in 2006; translated by Florence Buathier, it is titled Compromis. In 2003, with Angela Leuck, she co-edited the anthology Sun Through the Blinds: Montreal Haiku Today (Shoreline). She translates poetry, reviews poetry collections for several literary magazines, and has served as a judge for various youth poetry contests. In 2005-06, she was a poetry mentor for the Quebec Writers' Federation. When not involved in poetry, Maxianne Berger is an audiologist at the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal.

 

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