The Hot Seat

Mon, December 24th, 2001 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
The Hot Seat, Columnist

Welcome to the third part of Scott Morse's contribution to CBR's "The Hot Seat," the weekly column written by industry professionals. Scott's been sharing with CBR the many early influences that have helped shape his career the past two weeks and in this final edition Scott talks about the two books that didn't originate in the US, one of which has experienced a revival recently.

Fifth grade, when I thought I knew what was going on. "Dark Knight Returns" was on the shelves, and I was reading it an age where kids shouldn't be reading it. The local shop owner, one busy day, pulled me aside and showed me something I'd never seen or heard of before.

FOREIGN INFLUENCE

[Lone Wolf and Cub]
"Lone Wolf and Cub" by Scott Morse
click to enlarge
I had been flipping through back issues boxes, and he handed me a copy of "Lone Wolf and Cub #1," which apparently had just sold out the day before. I gaped at the Miller cover, knowing I wanted it no matter what was inside, and the shop owner asked me if I knew what the book was. I said no, and he pulled it out of its bag and opened it, showing me my first real look at manga. I explained how important the book was over in Japan, and how it was just now being translated into English for the first time. He let me buy it, after he was satisfied that I'd appreciate it. I took it home and read and learned. Drawings that had seemed confusing and scratchy to me upon my first glance back in the shop now flowed brilliantly with the story. I was hooked. This was like nothing my ten year old mind had experienced, and I wanted more. I bought every issue as it came out. Soon, though, the market began to get cluttered with other manga, hot on the heels of "Lone Wolf and Cub's" success. I tried out "Area 88" and "Mai the Psychic Girl," and soon learned that all manga wasn't "Lone Wolf and Cub." There was something about Koike and Kojima that was a step above, and I didn't experience anything remotely as powerful until I read "Domu," and finally "Akira." I think "Lone Wolf and Cub" worked because it took its time…its pacing was unique, meandering where it needed to to make the action even more frenetic. This was my first look at pacing in a comic to achieve mood and build tension, and I didn't know it at the time, but I was learning how to lay out a story. I think the other unique thing here is that I didn't become an anime/manga geek, though I was addicted to "Lone Wolf and Cub." It wasn't about the design of the characters for me, even back then. It was purely about seeing how a good story was told. Recently, Paul Pope has written some excellent pieces on manga as a medium, and how it's not about the "style", it's about the way the story is constructed and told. Manga is an excellent example of pure comics, visuals and dialogue working together to maximum effect. It's amazing to see how many comics collectors and creators out there don't make that distinction, but rather look at it as simply a drawing style. There's so much more to it. At any rate, it's helped to shape me as a story-teller, and "Lone Wolf and Cub" was, and is, my main teacher when it comes to manga.

[Road to America by Scott Morse]
"Road to America" by Scott Morse
click to enlarge
During and after art school, I became increasingly exposed to other foreign comics material and creators. At CalArts, I was first exposed to "Asteric" by fellow animation students. The design was what they were drawn to, amazing characters with clean line work, clear, yet detailed…something that most books from the mainstream at the time were trying for but failing miserably at. I had of course seen "Tin Tin" books, and I had always been a fan of Moebius, so knew there was a market in Europe, but nothing had ever really blown my mind on that front. Then I found Loisel's "Peter Pan" books, and my mind began to open up a bit. Here was brilliant storytelling, clear drawings, amazing painted color…but paced unlike any comics I'd seen. They were incredibly ordinary page layouts, simple grids, but they worked perfectly. I began to explore other European work, loving a lot of it, and I eventually found Drawn and Quarterly's translation of Baru's "Road to America," a boxing story unlike any other. This thing was brilliant (and of course still is). It ran over three issues of D&Q's second volume…hunt them down and enjoy. Baru manages to pace his story in a way that makes comics seem like something more. His line art is just enough to nail every character down into a distinct, unique personality, from the principle players down to the extras who you'll never know. Every one of them seems real and individual, making the worlds he creates more believable than most any in comics. It's astounding that "The Road to America" is Baru's only story translated into English. Someone needs to get on the ball and put out the rest of his catalogue. In the mean time, it's still rewarding to track down his other untranslated work, simply because they're so good you don't need the words.

These are the first real foreign books that helped make me realize that American comics were lacking in more areas than one. They helped convince me, as a creator, that it's my responsibility to round myself out as much as possible, to expose myself to as much amazing work as I can, if for nothing else than to remind myself that there's more to learn, and always a different way to do something. The second I let myself stagnate, the sooner my work will suffer, and the sooner I'll be bringing down the industry in some small way. Growth is the key to this art form. Only when creators allow themselves to grow can the industry prosper with innovative work that can show the world that comics are worth the time of day.

-- Scott Morse

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