The Hot Seat

Mon, December 17th, 2001 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
The Hot Seat, Columnist

Last week creator Scott Morse began discussing the early influences on his career and what inspired him to get into comics. In the second week of this three-part series Scott explores influences from the indie realm of comics.

Art school was a big wake up call for me. I had to learn to forget everything I thought I knew about how to draw, and actually LEARN to draw. I was fortunate, getting to study animation, life drawing, and film all at the same time, and in essence, learning how to really put together comics. It was an amazing time in the animation industry, with job opportunities everywhere. Somehow, though, I still had this urge to do comics, and not for a company like Marvel or DC. CalArts had taught me to keep an eye on corporate entertainment, and stay wary of characters that weren't mine. I was trained to come up with my own ideas, and it eventually lead to an amazing job right out of college, my second year. I was hired to work in what's called "visual development" for Turner Feature Animation, which meant I got to spend every day just coming up with ideas and honing my skills by working on them. Turner eventually folded in Warners, and eventually moved on to other opportunities, but I learned more about corporate entertainment while in development: I didn't own anything I came up with. Turner (and then Warners) did. I realized that if I wanted to create AND OWN my own stuff, I'd have to figure out a way how…and comics seemed perfect. I could handle every aspect of developing a story, characters, designs, etc…and still own them…and do it all myself. I didn't need anyone else to help me…except a few special teachers in the form indy comics creators.

INDEPENDENT INFLUENCE

My first taste of independent comics came around the time I was in 6th grade. "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" was on its sixth issue, I think, and I did my best to hunt down back issues. I think I only managed to afford back to #3, but I eventually read the early run, and it blew my mind. Sure, even then I realized its source material was Miller's work, but it didn't pander (at least not until the cartoon came about), and I realized that, too. I began to explore other black and white books, but nothing really grabbed me out of the black and white boom of the eighties like TMNT. I stuck with my mainstream stuff, for the most part.

[Love and Rockets by Scott Morse]
"Love and Rockets" by Scott Morse.
click to enlarge
Then I went to art school. Right out of high school. 1992. There was one comic shop near CalArts at the time, called Brave New World. Brave New World was my haven from 1992 through 1995 or so, the era where I entered school, left school, entered the animation industry, and began to make comics. I'd go there on weekends with friends, and we'd scour the shelves…but these shelves, I began to notice, had some intriguing things on them besides the old mainstream dribble that my college friends and I began to ridicule. I stumbled across Wagner's "Grendel: War Child," and the early issues of McKean's "Cages,", and "Love and Rockets." They had stray single issues, but my first taste of "Love and Rockets" came with an early collection of Gilbert's "Palomar" stories, "Heartbreak Soup." I fell in love with the characters on the first reading, from Toco to Carmen to Luba. They seemed real to me, and I associated them with memories of past summers working in Mexico…and really connected with them on more than one level. The storytelling was clear, the plots were unique…and still are. I eventually got into Jaime's stuff, too, growing addicted to Maggie and Hopey and Speedy and Rand Race and the whole gang. THESE were the first real "indy" comics that changed my perspective on how to make comics, because they were down to earth, but still interesting as hell. They showed me how comics could 'wow' a reader with love and conflict not clad in spandex. For that, I owe los Bros. Hernandez more than they know.

[Rubber Blanket by Scott Morse]
"Rubber Blanket" by Scott Morse.
click to enlarge
The same shelves at Brave New World introduced me to another indy book that affected me beyond all else so far. It was the second issue of David Mazzucchelli's "Rubber Blanket." The simple, oversized, heavily textured paper bowled me over, and I was left wanting more, just off of the book design. "Rubber Blanket" proved to be a task to get a hold of, though, as Brave New World could only locate the second issue at the time. My annual trip to Wondercon in Oakland, CA., yielded my coveted treasures, though, as I found copies of #1 and the new #3 at Rory Root's Comic Relief booth. It was in #3 that my world changed. I read Mazzucchelli's short story "Big Man." For my money, this is the single greatest piece of comics literature available to the public. This one short story. Issue two had a two-color short by Mazzucchelli entitled "Discovering America" that had blown my mind, but "Big Man" in #3 was, and is, it. It reads like a Steinbeck or Hemingway short, directed by Frank Capra or John Ford. Again, a two-color story, this thing made me reanalyze how to construct a story on the page, from layout and draftsmanship on the "art" side to pacing and dialogue on the "story" side. Completely endearing, emotional, and exciting to read. Of course, I'm not going to give you a review of the story, I'd rather you go out and experience it yourself, after spending the time hunting it down. I think finding the book alone is half the journey in this instance. Good luck…but it's worth it. If you're really on the ball, you may even find the French volume, a design treat in itself, and worth owning even if you don't speak the language.

These were the indy books that broadened my comics horizon. They helped teach me that natural, down to earth dialogue and characters are more important than most anything else in a story. They helped to teach me that good design can make a book an experience, and not just a pass-time. They helped me realize that comics can be art, not just drawings and words.

-- Scott Morse

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