Dale Lazarov has kindly let me ask him a million few question about writing and working with artists. This is the 1st part of an interview we did a few weeks ago. His new book, Nightlife, drawn by Bastian Jonsson, is out today and well worth having a look at!
Oh, comics have been a part of my life since I can remember. Certainly, my language skills wouldn’t be what they are without comics as English is not my first language. I also owe comics the ability to visualize so I can write work that’s evocative to the senses. I also think comics taught me what to leave out to make, say, a short story or a poem very compact while still being very evocative and very dense.
I was listening an interview you did and you mentioned finding whimsical material appealing when you were growing up. Have your tastes changed much over the years? What were you into then and now?
I have to say that I am fairly catholic (with a little “c”) about what I will read, in terms of its aims as either popular culture or art, but I have really high standards when it comes to a book succeeding within its own popular or arty terms. I tend to buy indy graphic novels based on friends’ recommendations because I have been burned too many times by hype. A lot of indy graphic novels are very sloppy and inconclusive so I am very skeptical about plunking down 20 bucks for an indy graphic novel. When it comes to genre-based comics — superhero, fantasy, horror, etc — if the creators use the tropes and props of a genre to represent character and theme I am totally into it. I am extremely indifferent to genre-based comics where it’s all about the tropes and props of genre for their own sake. I cannot be bothered to read Marvel Comics about Marvel Comicsness.
Also, I tend to enjoy comics that understand and use comics storytelling as a dance of pictures and words. Say, Logan draws, in his gay porn comics, muscly/hairy guys who totally turn my crank, and in terms of line-work he is extremely talented. But if you take out the word balloons and captions in his work, you can’t tell what’s going on in some of the pages. I can remember looking at one of his pages of two musclebears talking and it was like looking at what I call “theatre of the page” — the art was almost incidental to the text. Unfortunately, “theatre of the page” is extremely difficult to do well, and most people’s models for it — talky X-Men comics from the 80s — do it very, very badly. I have to abstain from armchair editing comics sometimes…
My favorite ongoing comics are BERLIN by Jason Lutes, POWER GIRL, FABLES and JACK OF FABLES. Lots of whimsicality in the last three, lots of depth of theme and feeling in the first. I am consistently entertained by the current Superman and Batman series — especially Batwoman in DETECTIVE COMICS. I have been bowled over by Mark Waid and Peter Krause’s IRREDEEMABLE as it totally understands that “superhero loses his shit and destroys everything” tropes really need to mean something on a character and thematic level and the storytelling is top notch. Right now, as far as graphic novels go, I am really enjoying reading LA PERDIDA by Jessica Abel and SUPER SPY by Matt Kindt, both of which I am considering teaching in a graphic novel literature class next spring.
What do you think it is about your comics that has emotional resonance with readers? Is it a deliberate choice on your part?
Let me quote Mioki, who is currently drawing a sequel to SIDE BY SIDE for Gmünder and asked me to work with him on a book. (We’re collaborating on POWER POP BOYS once he’s free.) He mentioned he often rereads MANLY (my book drawn by Amy Colburn) and said that it’s one of his favorite books. I asked him why:
“I like the sense of vulnerability that the characters convey… it makes them very human. They have an emotional appeal that I find very attractive.
They represent real human experiences. I also love Amy’s artwork. The art is clean and expressive and very charming. Her guys are sexy. A lot of the current books by illustrators I’m familiar with seem to be content with making sex the sole focus of their work… which is fine, sex is good. But the situations and characterisations that MANLY provides, in addition to the sex, are much more substantial and satisfying. […] The artwork is beautifully integrated with the story and it’s an attractive, classic presentation. I like the sense of involvement that the characters encourage the reader to have. There’s also a nice diversity in the types of men featured… and they all look good…. Yeah. I REALLY like the book.”
And, yes, this emotional resonance is absolutely deliberate in the scripting of the work. It’s one of the main reasons why I get brilliant illustrators to collaborate with me. 🙂
What are your scripts like and how do you write? (I have images of typed pages of directions… left hand here… etc)
I write full scripts for the comics; they’re like transcripts of pages I imagine in my head. I only include what’s relevant for the artist to interpret in their illustration of story and character as well as page layout; I’m happy for the artist to not follow the script panel breakdowns as written but they must keep all the story and character beats. If something’s missing or misinterpreted in the page layout or detailed illustration stages that’s important to the story, or the storytelling doesn’t read clearly, I’ll make a note of it since I edit as well as script the stories. I am really flexible but if something doesn’t feel emotionally, narratively or anatomically right for me, I’ll ask for revisions.
I am glad to report these kinds of revision requests are very rare with my collaborators. Say, Steve MacIsaac first drew some of the “Treats” partygoers as sultry 70s-style groovy-deluxe middle aged gay guys and I asked him to redraw them as frolicsome, contemporary 20-something college Halloween partygoers. He totally nailed the feel of the background characters in the other two stories on the first try, I must note. Amy Colburn got revisions on some expressions in “Busted” that I felt needed toning down. Say, in the panel in where the rest stop bubba trips the escaping meth chef, the first draft looked like he enjoyed tripping the escaping prisoner and that made him unlikable in my estimate. I must note that she was able to strike the right expression of feeling with striking consistency; this was an exception. I must also note that I write tonally- and technically-difficult scripts because I am an artsy-fartsy gay comics pornographer. Both Amy and Steve are able to draw hot masculine guys that are also emotionally vulnerable and adorable as people so all I had to do is spot where something didn’t work to the standard of the rest of the work.
The process of writing scripts nowadays usually starts with a pitch. First, I pitch the story as a general idea to the illustrator to gage their interest; pitching stories for NIGHTLIFE 2 was very easy since Bastian Jonsson hinted in a flirty manner that he would like to work on another book with me and I was delighted. Then I do a lot of brainstorming and research to inspire me; say, I researched cabaret, old-school gay burlesque stripper shows and erotic art as well as Swedish pagan holiday traditions when looking for ideas for the last story in NIGHTLIFE 2 since I wanted to write something only Bastian Jonsson could draw. When I script, I start with character descriptions and then write page-by-page write panel breakdowns for the action, the sexual choreography, etc. Here are five pages of script from “Flaming”, the last story of NIGHTLIFE 2, which I just finished writing. Note that the protagonists in this story are Rolf and Mats; Tryggve and Nils are Rolf’s friends who he’s gone out with to celebrate Valborg, the Swedish/Scandinavian spring bonfire festival.
PAGE 4 —
Panel 1 — Inside, it’s a cabaret-style club with little round tables for drinks and only Tryggve & Nils and Rolf are being seated as their other two friends decided to call it an early night. They are seated by the maitre d’, a very cute gay water pixie or whatever would be appropriate and/or you want to draw in tiny, tiny shorts. Nearby, a shirtless hyper-masculine Tom of Finland-style gay wood sprite is taking an order from another table.
On stage, which looks very much like a 19th century burlesque theatre like Moulin Rouge with a sort of pastoral stage design, are two very hot younger guys with gorgeous dancer physiques. They are almost nude, with cock-socks holding their naughty bits in place but visible, except for costume elements that indicate their seasons. One is dressed like winter, the other dressed like spring, and they are dancing erotically together: Winter holds Spring by the waist while Spring makes a double-bicep pose for him, like something from a 1950s pseudo-pagan porn comic or photo spread.
Panel 2 – Panel of Winter & Spring as Winter grabs Spring and balletically lowers him to the floor as Spring crosses his arms to both hold and showcase his pectoral man-cleavage.
Panel 3 – Panel of Winter & Spring as Spring and Winter tumble on the floor…
Panel 1 – …so now Spring is on top and surveying Winter’s body with erotic hunger.
Panel 2– Closer-up: Winter hugs Spring’s head against his chest and flexes his chest against Spring’s face. It’s hot and aesthetically very beautiful.
Panel 3– The curtains close. Winter & Spring take a bow as the audience applauds.
Panel 4 — Tryggve & Nils and Rolf look at each other with enthusiasm, applauding, like saying “wow, coming here was a great idea!” The Tom of Finland hyper-butch gay wood sprite takes T&N and Rolf’s drink orders. The server is as super nice as he is superhot.
Panel 1 — The curtains re-open to reveal MATS, who is facing away from his audience. Wow, what a huge Swede! Use all your knowledge of Viking warrior clothing to dress him appropriately and “realistically” (which you know Gmünder prefers) but don’t forget to make him homoerotic and sensual. We do need him to wear seasonal layers — an armless vest, a lace-up shirt he can rip off, leather pants that come off easily because they are velcroed together, a loose dick and ball stripper bag thong, and a helmet that hides his face somewhat, etc — he can use for erotic revelations as he dances. In the foreground, Rolf is being served his drink by the hypermasculine gay wood sprite.
Panel 2 — Closer shot of Mats, still standing with his back towards the audience. He is now lifting a huge sword over his head. Wow, his neck and shoulders are so thick and broad!
Panel 1 — Mats begins to turn around slowly on his feet, now grabbing the sword with both hands, as if he were doing some kind of sword battle dance.
Panel 2 — Close-up of the mysterious helmeted sexy head of Mats. He looks scary AND hot AND grim. He is holding the sword closer to his face.
Panel 3 — Close-up of Mats licking the flat of the sword in a homoerotic manner. His tongue is leaving a trail of drool on the sword.
Panel 1 — Larger panel: In one of those dynamic slightly exaggerated perspective panels you draw so well, looking up from the end of the sword, we see Mats holding his sword from between his legs as if it were his cock. There is a bit of very suggestive drool crawling down from the flat side of the sword!
Panel 2 – Suddenly, with a swift move, Mats points to the audience — and to the reader — with his sword! His face is grim and sexy.
Panel 3 — Reverse shot of the sword pointing panel — the sword is pointing at Rolf! Rolf looks frightened and turned on at the same time.
I am so looking forward to seeing this drawn! I hope you do, too. 🙂 In the meantime, folks can buy and read NIGHTLIFE, my first book drawn by Bastian Jonsson, which is coming out right now. 🙂
Check back in a couple of days for the 2nd part of the interview, until then have a look at Dale’s fab work. 🙂