For some reason, when I typed the title to this blog posting, I heard the voice of Raj Koothrappali from The Big Bang Theory ringing in my head. Probably because Rob M. Davis is an illustrator of graphic novels including a couple of Star Trek editions. Ron Fortier is known for writing the Green Hornet and Terminator comic books.
I can see Raj and Sheldon thumbing through the bins at Stewart’s comic book store and going bonkers when they ran across a copy of Ron and Rob’s collaborative project: Daughter of Dracula. (Isn’t that a great title?) Come on, admit it. You watch TBBT because you can relate to the characters. You probably know all the words to Soft Kitty, don’t you?
But, I digress. Rob Davis along with Ron Fortier will present at the 45th Annual OWFI Conference May 2-4, 2013. It’s the first time we’ve had graphic novelists/illustrators present. Exciting times, my friends!
Here’s an opportunity to get to know Rob and Ron a little better.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST PUBLISHED WORK?
RON – In 1978 I wrote an eleven page science fiction comic script that was illustrated by artist Gary Kato and appeared in Charlton’s Bullseye # 3. Six months later they published a comedy super-hero story, again drawn by Gary, that appeared in Scary Tales # 38. That was the beginning of my comics writing career.
ROB – I started as a letterer on a comicbook titled SYPONS in the mid 1980s. Soon I was inking and then penciling, my real goal in the industry.
WERE YOU A LIFELONG COMICS FAN?
RON – Totally. My father gave me my first comic, a western, when I was five. I couldn’t read it but remember be thrilled by all the artwork in the panels on every page. Eventually by seven I was reading them and an avid fan. I’ve remained so all my life.
ROB – From the time I was about eight years old. I was hooked by the dynamic artwork of an artist named Jack Kirby. He was the first artist whose work I recognized and had a name associated with it. Powerful stuff!
DID YOU HAVE ANY FORMAL TRAINING IN WRITING & DRAWING?
RON – Initially, like most comic fans, I wanted to do it all; write and draw them. By my high schools years I realized my art talents were minimal and so turned my attention to writing and in college took any creative writing class I could find.
ROB – I had formal art training in College, the typical drawing and painting, etc. The “grammar” or storytelling of comics I learned through personal study in books and magazine articles as well as talking to editors and publishers at comics conventions.
WHAT ARE YOU BEST KNOWN FOR IN THE COMIC WORLD?
RON – Most fans remember me for my run on the Green Hornet for Now Comics back in the early 90s. It was the character’s first reappearance since the 60s TV show with Van Williams & Bruce Lee. I stayed on the book for two and a half years. During that tenure I also wrote Now’s Terminator sci-fi title.
ROB – My most recognizable work would be on the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine comics for Malibu in the 1990s as well as the other Star Trek books at DC comics. Likenesses of the actors and actresses was key to those books and I have a knack for that sort of work and a love of research. This helped when rendering backgrounds on the ships and futuristic settings in the “Trek World.”
HOW LONG HAVE THE TWO OF YOU BEEN A CREATIVE TEAM?
RON – Well, Rob and I actually entered the business about the same time and through our various published comics became aware of each other. We began corresponding and had hopes of doing projects together but alas none of these efforts was picked up by the comic companies and over time we lost contact with each other. I’ll let Rob pick up the story.
ROB – Right. Then Ron ran into me through some mutual comics pals on the internet when I started a weekly webcomic called SPIRIT OF ROUTE 66 that some of them were aware of. Ron contacted me and he talked me into doing a pulp character strip, DOCTOR SATAN, for a startup website called ADVENTURESTRIPS.COM. After that Ron just kept pitching things at me with one particular idea sticking: DAUGHTER OF DRACULA- a graphic novel Ron had done after originally attempting to sell the script as a screenplay. I liked the idea, but I had a pretty busy schedule and figured I couldn’t do the book. So, attempting to let Ron down easy, I told him the best I could do on the 112 page book was one page a week. To my surprise he said he was fine with that! Well, I was stuck with my promise, so two years later, true to my word of one page a week, we had the finished Graphic Novel which we ended up self-publishing. Since then we’ve gone on to found Airship 27 Productions reviving public domain pulp era characters in prose novels and anthologies as well as numerous other comics projects.
RON, WHEN DID YOU START GETTING INTO PROSE?
RON – All the while I was writing comics, I had a day-job. Ten years ago I retired and decided to try something else; a new challenge. So I began writing pulp short stories and novels, some for our own line of Airship 27 Production titles.
IS THERE A MAJOR DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PROSE & COMIC SCRIPTING?
RON – Most definitely. Whereas in prose, the writer is pretty much God into him or herself. It is a singular process of creation and is all about the use of words. Whereas in comics, the primary focus is on the artwork as it is a visual storytelling medium. It is not about the words, it is about the story. If a writer cannot put aside his or her ego and accept this second-fiddle position, then they should forgo doing comics.
ROB, DO YOU AGREE WITH RON’S ASSESSMENT?
ROB – Ha! As an artist shouldn’t I? Actually, I’m of the opinion that comics are about the sharing of story and art. If the art isn’t serving the story it’s not doing its job. There’s a saying amongst comics creators that good or great art can carry a bad or mediocre story, and bad art can kill a good or great story. That’s mostly true.
ROB, WHAT DO YOU FEEL A WRITER BRINGS TO THE PROCESS AND AS AN ARTIST WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN A SCRIPT?
ROB – What I look for are good visual “hooks” to build a panel or page on. You can have pages and pages of exposition in a novel or short story, but if you’ve got talking heads in a comic page after page you’re going to bore your audience. The characters or scene has to have some action or emotion in it—the characters have to be doing something or feeling something. The best art/story melding has the action of the characters say something about the character visually and/or move the plot forward. That’s where the writer can come in the background, laying out his/her ideas about the characters- giving the artist some personality hooks to hang their depictions on. The writer brings the skeleton, the artist dresses it with flesh and clothing.
RON, HAVING DONE BOTH PROSE AND COMICS SCRIPTING, WHICH DO YOU PREFER?
RON – Well, I mentioned earlier how prose writing is a lonely one man operation. It does have its rewards and being able to entertain readers is wonderful. But at the same time learning to work with another, different artistic sensibility, to be able to inspire an artist and watch your ideas turned into gorgeous sequential artwork is like enjoying Christmas morning every single day. Given one or the other, I’d always choose writing comics. It keeps the soul young.
ROB, WORKING FOR AIRSHIP 27 PRODUCTIONS YOU TOO HAVE TAKEN ON A NEW ROLE AS AN ART DIRECTOR, RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DESIGN AND LAYOUT OF PROSE BOOKS. HOW HAS THAT CHANGED YOUR ABILITIES AS AN ARTIST?
ROB – Book design is exercising a different set of skills than illustration. You’re still telling a story but you have to be a lot more subtle—picking the right font to give the right feel to drop caps and chapter headings, designing logos that fit the gist and feel of the story… And in all this you can’t inject too much into it design in books should be “invisible” in that it’s not noticed by the reader. If it’s noticed by the average reader then it’s failed, as the design should enhance the reading experience not call attention to itself. At least that’s my theory of book design. Illustrating books is different from comics as you have just one panel to tell a story rather than a series of them. I usually try to pick a scene with some emotional beat to illustrate when I’m working that part of the book. That’s made me concentrate more on subtlety with characters and setting in a scene.
FINALLY, WHAT WILL THE TWO OF YOU BE PRESENTING AT THIS YEAR’S CONFERENCE?
RON – Rob and I will be giving two 90 minute presentations on How To Create a Graphic Novel. We’ll be breaking this up in three sections with me describing the script writing process followed by Rob demonstrating his process in interpreting that script via art and then together opening the floor to questions and answers.
WILL YOU BE USING VISUAL AIDS IN YOUR PRESENTATIONS?
ROB – The plan is for me to have a Powerpoint presentation built with visuals from our work together- mostly from DAUGHTER OF DRACULA, though there may be some other stuff thrown in there that illustrates a point Ron and I will be trying to make about sequential storytelling. I haven’t even started building that yet when these questions are being posed just before the Christmas holiday, but I should begin work on that right after the holiday. I have a wealth of stuff to draw on (and yes, pun intended) so there will be plenty of visuals.
HAVE EITHER OF YOU EVER GIVEN COURSES IN YOUR RESPECTIVE FIELDS?
RON – Yes, I’ve given both workshops to teachers’ groups on the History of American comics in the past and recently begun offering an eight week course on How To Write Comics at a local comic shop in my hometown. Both Rob and I are very thrilled and honored to be invited to this year’s conference and hope to offer an informative, fun presentation to the attendees. Thanks so much for having us.
ROB – I’ve given many presentations on comic book storytelling to Jr. High, High School and College age art classes over the years. It’s my intention to add some inspiration to budding talent out there when I can. This is an opportunity to speak to a bit of a different audience and perhaps spark some creative ideas in the minds of your members! That’s always an exciting and fun prospect.