April 9th, 2009
Cameron Stewart before the commencement of the "breaking process"
Fact file: Cameron Stewart is the artist behind Jason Aaron’s Eisner Award nominated The Other Side; Grant Morrison’s Seaguy, and The Manhattan Guardian; he produced memorable work while collaborating with Ed Brubaker on his Catwoman run; and in 2008 joined forces with his friend Ray Fawkes to produce Apocalipstix for Oni Press.
Stewart also writes and draws the webcomic Sin Titulo.
Cameron has recently returned to Seaguy for the second volume, Slaves of Mickey Eye
We captured Cameron Stewart after many hours spent stalking him through the streets of Montréal, Canada. We then set about beating him with bamboo canes through the thin webbing of the net in which he was held. Cameron withstood the breaking process for 5 days, but ultimately, through clenched teeth, agreed to answer 13 exquisitely crafted questions. He swore he’d die before answering any more.
A braver man I have never met.
1. Diving straight in at the deep end… I understand Grant Morrison has very little contact with the vast majority of his collaborators, but in the case of Frank Q a different situation prevails, with a great deal of toing and froing between writer and artist. Considering you both own the work, how does your professional relationship play out with Grant?
I assume the main reason why Grant and Frank have such close and thorough communication is that they both live in Glasgow and are able to visit each other in person to plan and discuss, and I think it’s no coincidence that the work produced by that team is so strong. Unfortunately, being on the other side of the planet I have no such luxury, and in fact I don’t really have a lot of contact with Grant at all – I’ll receive the occasional direct email from him but for the most part any questions I might have about the story are handled by an intermediary, either our editor or Grant’s wife Kristan. Of course on the rare occasion I see Grant in person at a convention we get on famously.
2. Does Grant map out the whole arc for you prior to work beginning, so you have some sense of where you’re going? If he does, or if he doesn’t, how does this impact on the overall experience of drawing the strip?
No, in fact on this particular series of Seaguy the scripts have been delivered in pieces, so often when I start work on the issue I won’t even know what happens in the second half. Grant’s script dialogue is also often a temporary placeholder, and he writes the final dialogue that appears in print after he receives the artwork from me. On the one hand I enjoy this as it feels more like a true collaboration, and it’s entertaining and surprising for me to read the final product – I just this morning received a proof of the final lettered second issue and so much of the dialogue was new to me and apparently influenced by what I’d drawn. On the other hand I do occasionally struggle with fully understanding what is meant to be expressed in a scene, and only figure it out after reading the final comic, which can be frustrating as I feel that I might have been able to do a better job in drawing the scene if I’d known earlier. Hazards of the collaborative process.
3. Seaguy is imbued with a kind of sickly, candybox psychedelia – where are you drawing your influences from outside of the script?
Before starting work on “Slaves,” I went back and re-read the first series, which I haven’t done since completing it almost 5 years ago, and noticed that to my bitterly self-critical eyes it appeared stiff and clumsy, in part because I think the artwork was too self-conscious and trying to fit within a typical North American comic book style. For this newer series I’ve been drawing in a looser, European-influenced cartoon style, which is more comfortable for me to do and I think more suitable for the bizarre surrealism of the story. I recently moved from Toronto to Montréal and one of the benefits of living in a predominantly French culture is that it is far easier for me to access European bandes-desinée, which are sold in most book and comic shops alongside the mainstream American stuff. A lot of the European comics I see strike a perfect balance between detailed realism (usually in the environments) and more expressive, stylized cartoony characters, which is what I’m striving to achieve in my own work.
4. Follow on from that, who are your artistic influences and heroes?
Someone recently described my work as “Frank Quitely crossed with Mort Drucker,” which is enormously flattering and identifies two of my all-time favourite artists. There’s probably too many to name but I also love Dan DeCarlo, Jaime Hernandez, Kyle Baker, David Mazzuchelli, Yves Chaland, Pierre Alary, Bruno Gazzotti, Katsuhiro Otomo, Denis Bodart, Jordi Bernet, Didier Conrad…you’ll notice that none of these guys do typical comic book “realism.”
5. Your style is very detailed, but retains a strong cartoony quality – has it evolved naturally, or do you push yourself to develop an individualistic style?
It’s evolved naturally, but strongly guided by my desire to pursue the same artistic course as the artists mentioned above. I don’t really concern myself with attempting to deliberately define a single signature style because I think that develops subconsciously as you draw. It’s very hard to describe accurately, but I draw what instinctively feels right, I don’t make conscious decisions to draw hair in a particular way, for example, I just observe and translate and whatever the end result is my “style,” for better or for worse. I’m far more interested in doing “cartoony” work than what is usually accepted in mainstream comic books – “cartoony” is often maddeningly used as a pejorative, particularly when drawing superhero comics, but for me it’s far more enjoyable and sincere. A cartoonist distills reality into its simplest, purest form and in doing so, bizarrely becomes more honest and convincing than the most painstakingly-detailed “realistic” artwork. My studiomate Karl Kerschl is currently working on a zombie comic with Peter Milligan for Wildstorm, and after starting work on the project with a typical comic-book style, he decided to scrap everything he’d done and start over with a very stylized, cartoony approach – because, really, who needs another over-rendered dry-brush zombie comic, and also when contrasting the simple cartoon characters with sudden bursts of graphic violence and gore, the effect is far more unsettling.
6. You’ve drawn for three of the biggest and (in our humble opinion) best names in Western mainstream comics scripting: Jason Aaron, Ed Brubaker and Grant Morrison. Can you give us a broad-strokes description of the differences between scripts from each, and any different approaches you used to bring their words to life?
Am I blessed or what? All three of these guys are absolute stars and I’m happy to consider them friends and colleagues. Their scripts are all very different – unlike in the film industry, where there is a commonly-accepted invariable standard form for scripts, no two comics scripts I’ve seen have been the same. Grant’s scripts, as mentioned earlier, are very loose and open for later adjustment based on the artwork, but being familiar with his body of work often allows me to intuit what he wants to see on the page. They can also be very imaginative but nightmarishly complicated – many times when reading one of his scripts for the first time I’ll be struck with a cold feeling of inadequacy, that I won’t be able to adequately depict what it is that he’s described. Most of the time I’m able to get there in the end, after many failed layout attempts, but it’s a hard road.
Ed Brubaker was the first writer that I regularly worked with and his scripts were very tight and concise, with a focus on dialogue. I didn’t generally encounter any problems working on Catwoman, other than my own desire to collaborate and contribute something to the work above merely illustrating what Ed had written. This led to me plotting and choreographing my own action scenes (I was immersed in manga and Hong Kong martial arts films at the time) and inserting many of my own “beats” into the pacing of the page, which is why it appears so dense – a page that was written to be 4 or 5 panels would often end up being 9 or 10 panels after I’d finished laying it out.
Jason Aaron’s script for The Other Side was so thoroughly engaging and evocative that it immediately made me want to work on it, and I think that it’s a real shame that few people outside of our production team will get to read it. Jason might actually be the most helpful writer I’ve ever worked with – his scripts were filled with outside references, excerpts from books quoted to help provide me with understanding of the appropriate mood, links to photographs of particular people or objects to assist my reference-building (He also sent me a giant box of books and comics for reference, including actual Parris Island bootcamp yearbooks from the 1960s and an instructional comic about M-16 rifle maintenance commissioned by the US military and drawn by Will Eisner). I was given a lengthy synopsis of the complete story and each character and the scripts for each chapter were written so vividly that the images came to me quite easily. I don’t know if this was down to eagerness, as it was his first professional work, but I can’t imagine a more perfect collaborator for an artist and I hope to work with him again in future.
7. Which creators have you most enjoyed collaborating with, and is there anyone you would you would particularly like work with?
I’ve already answered the first part of the question in my previous response, but someone I’d of course like to work with in future would be Alan Moore, but as he withdraws further from the comics industry it seems increasingly unlikely. Beyond that, I’m not sure – maybe some people outside the comics industry. Charlie Kaufman? David Lynch?
8. How do you find being in full control of a strip – ie with Sin Titulo – as compared with the collaboration process? Also – any plans to collect that strip?
I actually find that, despite enjoying collaboration and being fortunate enough to work with a laundry list of the industry’s best, the more I write and draw my own material the less I want to do anything else. There’s a particular, irreplaceable satisfaction in creating something entirely on my own, and the process is much easier – I rarely write something for myself that I don’t already want to draw (in contrast to the many times in a script written by someone else that calls for me to draw something that I find tedious, like crowd scenes), and on the occasion that I do find myself writing a scene that requires me to draw something I don’t enjoy, it’s easier because as the creator I’m aware of its necessity to my vision.
Sin Titulo will definitely be collected and printed at some point, once the story is complete. I have already been approached by two of the US publishers and one French one, offers which I will consider carefully, but one of the things that appeals to me about doing the story on the web is the autonomy of it, so I may end up publishing the book on my own. Either way a print edition is definitely going to happen, if only because I feel that this particular work will find a larger and more appreciative audience in print than on the web.
9. Sin Titulo, whilst clearly influenced by creators such as Morrison and Lynch, suggests a strong authorial voice of your own. Do you harbour ambitions to write any more comics?
Absolutely. Sin Titulo was borne of a desire to expand my skill set and hopefully prove to myself and others that I was capable of writing as well as drawing, and while I definitely think that I am a novice in need of improvement, I am eager to continue creating my own stories. I’m not sure that I would want to write something for another artist to draw, and I’m also not sure that I’d be interested in writing stories featuring other people’s characters, so I’m unlikely to become the writer on Green Lantern Corps any time in the future. I think I’ll continue to write and draw one-off graphic novels, as Sin Titulo is set to be.
10. What would like to see the more of in mainstream comic books?
I’m not sure I can say much that hasn’t already been covered at nauseating length elsewhere, but as far as the mainstream goes I really would like to see more comics that are aimed at kids, particularly superhero comics. I’m of the probably-quite-unpopular opinion that most of the DC and Marvel stable should be primarily targeted at children, and should be big and adventurous and eyepoppingly fun and exciting and not concerned with being “realistic,” which seems to be the exact opposite of what superhero comics should be. I think you can be honest and sincere without having to resort to on-the-nose “realism.” One of the things I’m most looking forward to is the upcoming Wednesday Comics from DC (another project Karl is working on), which seems to be allowing the artists to be as free as they want to create riduculous, dazzling stories with these characters that have been locked down for too long. Ultimately though my grand plan for Marvel and DC would be to eliminate most of the ongoing monthly titles and just re-use old stories, either by getting contemporary artists to remake them, or by just reprinting the damned things in cycles, like Archie Comics have done to considerable success for most of their career. This way they’re able to keep their licenses and copyrights going, avoid the convoluted and impenetrable continuity problems that inevitably arise, be extremely inexpensive to produce and be perennially friendly to young new readers. The hard-core lifetime fans would be outraged but only being provided with previously-enjoyed material might provide the necessary impetus to actually put superheroes behind them and move on to genuinely adult material.
This, of course, will never happen.
I’d also like to see more artists and writers embrace the web as a way to experiment with telling stories of their own invention. There’s a surprisingly low number of “professional” (by which I mean published in the mainstream) comics creators doing webcomics – there’s my txcomics.com colleagues, Stuart and Kathryn Immonen, a couple of the Act-I-Vate guys and…? I can’t think of any more. Maybe there are some and I sincerely apologize if I’ve neglected to remember them, but the point stands that I think webcomics could gain a lot of legitimacy if more established creators (and companies) took to the web and attempted to do original work there. The big obstacle is that there’s no money in it – at least not yet. But I’m doing Sin Titulo for myself, it’s an exercise for me in writing and drawing my own material and I think it’s been extraordinarily illuminating for me as an artist.
11. Conversely, what do you think’s not working? What would we be better off without?
Crossovers, rape as a plot device, crashingly dull 4-page conversations between superheroes in plainclothes talking about relationships, transparent attempts to earn film option money, characters drawn to resemble famous actors.
12. What about non-comics related work? I understand you’ve turned your hand to animation before now, any other dabbling we should know about? What other spoons are in the Cameron Stewart pie?
Nothing of any significance at the moment. Looking down the road, it’s all comics ahead.
13. What else is in the pipeline, Mr Cameron Stewart?
After Seaguy: Slaves of Mickey Eye concludes I’m taking some time off to work on the second volume of The Apocalipstix, with my friend Ray Fawkes. He wrote the second volume at the same time as the first and it’s been sitting there aching to be drawn, so it’s about time I did that. I’ll also be hopefully accelerating my work on Sin Titulo so that I can get it out in book form. I have an extremely silly and fun 4-page Wolverine story in X-Men: Special Class Special #1, which is out in June, and I also did the cover for issue 17 of that series, out in July. And then after all that, it’s back to Seaguy for the final chapter, Seaguy Eternal, which will be coming out sometime in 2010. At some point I might rest for a while.
…After this point my memories are fractured: bright light, a scream, the smell of bile, the crunch of splintering bone… and then blackness. When I awoke the net was torn open and Cameron Stewart was nowhere to be found.