A Beautiful Mind: talking with artist Seth Fisher

Mon, April 22nd, 2002 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

[Vertigo Pop: Tokyo #1]
Vertigo Pop: Tokyo #1
While the early 90's heralded the rise to fame of many copycat artists, whose work seemed too obviously based on the popular artists of the time (Lee, Liefeld, etc), the new millennium has seen a rise in unique art styles. Whether it be the growing acceptance of non-traditional superhero renditions by Frank Quitely ("New X-Men) or the seemingly minimalist approach by Andi Watson ("Slow News Day"), "mainstream" comic books are seeing more and more unique art styles represented in their pages. One artist of note, who unfortunately may have slipped under the radar of many fans, is Seth Fisher who will be assaulting comic book fandom with a diverse array of comics in the second half of this year. Fisher was able to find some time in his hectic schedule to talk with CBR News about his current projects, the industry and his career.

"I decided that I wanted to work in comics after attending the Comic Con in San Diego when I was a freshman in college, maybe in 1991 or so," explains Fisher. "I bought a nice leather portfolio and started drawing pages, thinking after I filled it up that I could show it to editors at the Con next year. Fast-forward to 1997, and I am still drawing late into the night trying to create the perfect portfolio, still not working in comics. So I got a new idea: I would prove myself to comic editors by drawing a full book! I didn't want to write the story because I wanted to just focus on art, so I found Andrew Dabb on the web and together we created 'Happydale.' I took 6 months off of work to draw this book and when it was finished I took it to the Comic Con. Andy Helfer at DC comics remembered my samples from the year before and got my book published with Vertigo [DC's 'mature audience' imprint]. Since then, I've had more work than I can handle! I must admit, 'Happydale' was a huge turning point for me."

While Fisher thoroughly adores the comic book medium and loves the work he is doing now, he also admits that he'd probably be happy in a job where he was so free to flex all his creative muscles. "I like to make things," says Fisher succinctly. "That is really as simple as I can explain it. The medium is totally unimportant. I was mainly drawn to comics because of how much power the creator has. You become designer, story teller, cinematographer, writer, editor...its like being god. You decide where everything goes and how everything looks...you create a reality. That kind of power requires a lot of discipline and I want to work in a medium that will keep me learning things everyday. I definitely have a long way to go before I feel like I really have the control that I need, but that challenge is what drives me forward. I do work in other media but those projects are mostly hobbies. It's nice to be able to do art as a hobby...its much more pure that way."

Fisher's interest in art as a whole, not restricting himself to one medium, has also impacted his overall visual art style and this is evident when looking at the list of people who influenced his work. "As a kid I was big fan of 'Conan' and 'G.I Joe,'" reveals Fisher. "As an adult I would have to say Moebius and Otomo Katsuhiro are my major comic book influences. But as much as these guys inspire me and awe me, I know that I need for my work to stand on its own so I am trying to distance my work from them little by little. Hopefully my new Vertigo- 'Vertigo Pop: Tokyo' book will take a big step in that direction. Also, really great movies and peculiar events in my life tend to edge their way into my work. I don't watch TV because I made a conscious effort to distance my influences from the mass media. I think as the world becomes more connected art will generally become more homogenous and I want create things that are as fresh as possible, although sometimes something really great is made and it's just impossible not to be affected by it: it's just a balance I guess. Admittedly, I think real life is where I get my inspiration."

This veritable cornucopia of influence has led Fisher to work on a board variety of comic books projects, from offbeat superhero work to comic books with a distinct international flavor. "My first comic work was published in Heavy Metal, then I did 'Happydale,' 'Willworld' and now 'Flash: Time Flies' and 'Vertigo Pop! Tokyo,'" says Fisher, as he describes where his artistic career has taken him. "I also did a lot of design work on the video game 'Myst III.' As far as my approach is concerned, with every project I do, I try to attack it in different way. 'Willworld' was very stream of consciousness, while with the upcoming 'Tokyo' book I was very deliberate and methodical. In 'Time Flies,' I wanted to push myself a bit so I decided to use curved perspective for all of the scenes in the futuristic world (95% of the book). Honestly, the real question is where do I go from here, and frankly, I don't have much of an answer to that yet. I do try to pick my projects carefully so that I am always working on very different genres and styles. That keeps it challenging and keeps me from being typecast."

One of Fisher's main goals is to be a unique voice in the comic book industry and while he seems to be on his way to accomplishing that, there is a downside to standing out that much- resistance from comic book fans who aren't receptive to "different" art styles. "There is definitely some resistance, but that's fine too," answers Fisher when asked if he worried about his work being accepted by "mainstream" fans. "There are a lot of books out there, and hopefully something for everyone's tastes. I just want to add a little more variety to the shelf. People who do like my work have been very supportive and their enthusiasm gives me, for lack of a better analogy, the gasoline to keep on moving and exploring. Honestly though, even if no one responded to my style, I don't think I could learn to draw in a 'typical way.' It's not that I find that style bad, it's more of a case that I just don't know how to draw that way. Like I said, Moebius and Otomo are the grandfathers of my art, no question about it. Those two are epic visionaries that pushed their work to the limit. They are my role models for work ethic and for artistic vision. There are lots of other artists that I love and respect that have influenced my work in one way or anther...Rick Geary, Masamune Shirow, Sergio Aragones, Rick Berry...I can't start listing too many names or I wont be able to stop. I am still learning how to draw from these guys. As far as my style is concerned I don't really want to try to describe it because then I might believe that I had arrived at my stylistic destination. I need for my style to be always evolving or I will start to feel trapped and go crazy. I think that is why I have resisted doing a monthly book for so long in favor of limited run projects. Probably the biggest change in my art since I started is just my level of confidence. I am comfortable when I start a page, that 12 hours later I will have something that I feel good about."

[Green Lantern: Willworld]Arguably, the project that brought Fisher more attention from the core group of comic book readers and to the forefront of fandom was the hardcover graphic novel "Green Lantern: Willworld," which was released by DC Comics in 2001. Collaborating with industry veteran and noted writer J.M DeMatteis, Fisher provided superhero fans with a unique and powerful images that told the tale of Green Lantern Hal Jordan, who had to make sense of a twisted world and discover his own identity. "Working with J.M was terrific," exclaims Fisher. "He really knows how to write a story that is fun to draw. He is careful about changing locations often so I don't have to draw the same backgrounds again and again, and he is very, very flexible- that's what I like. I like to really insert myself into the story telling process because when you start filling in the background details sometimes you realize that there are important elements to the story that the writer couldn't have anticipated without seeing the art. JM was awesome this way, and I think we really worked as a team kicking the story back and forth until it was perfect."

Fisher also says that this flexibility from DeMatteis allowed him to approach the story the way he saw fit, namely going with the flow and creating the imaginative worlds for which he was praised. "Stream of consciousness is the only way to describe my mental approach to this story," admits Fisher. "I knew that this story was road leading somewhere but I didn't have clue where it would go. I just started drawing and made sure every page connected to the one before it. When it comes to my creative process, characters are admittedly somewhat of a different beast. I find that characters often force themselves on you. They have a personality and as you start to understand it, you are force to draw them a certain way. They control you more than you control them. In "Vertigo Pop: Tokyo" for example, the characters really took control of my pages in a way that I hadn't experienced before." Fisher also believes that the nature of DeMatteis' story allowed for Fisher to really express himself completely. "I would say that J.M gave me a very quirky premise and then the freedom to just dive in and make it my own. The scripts were very loose, On the order of 'here is a city with lots of different architecture with a giant head in the middle," I would start drawing. Once J.M came back and added in text in a more concrete way, I would then go back and ink the pages often adding details that seemed to relate to the text better. It is a cool way to work, if you are comfortable taking chances. I was very impressed with how willing my editor Joey Calivieri was to let me just run with this book."

Fisher also feels that he had a lot of "visual latitude" when it came to "Willworld" because the Green Lantern concept- a hero using a power ring that can do anything you can imagine- is such an inherently imaginative creation. "We wanted a book where I could squeeze my imagination for everything it was worth and 'Green Lantern' just seemed to have the most potential that way," explains Fisher of why the Emerald Knight was chosen as the hero of the hardcover. I have always been a little disappointed that with such a powerful imagination, Hal seems to think about giant boxing gloves a bit too much. I knew there was more to him than that. I think I could definitely do another 'GL' book along these lines, but I certainly don't want to do the same book twice so I would have to brainstorm quite a bit to come up with a satisfactory premise." While Fisher is proud of the book, he admits to having a regret about the price tag. "I think the book is very nice, but my only regret is that a $25 book is out of reach of the casual reader. The soft cover book will come out soon and that will hopefully be much more accessible, from a financial perspective. I also wish the book had been scanned at a higher resolution because my fine lines break up a bit in places."

[Flash: Time Flies]
Flash: Time Flies
It's almost ironic that Fisher's next superhero project for DC revolves around the Flash, who has traditionally been closely associated with Green Lantern, at least within the DC mythos. July will see the release of "Flash: Time Flies," a 48 page Prestige Format (better binding and higher quality paper) release that seems to have a similar look to "Willworld," at least in terms of having a unique aesthetic appearance. "'Time Flies' occurs in the future and that is always nice and exciting to draw," says Fisher. "I decided to take interesting architectural style from a building in 'Willworld' and expand it into an entire book. That was really fun actually and it went in some cool directions. 'TF' was just a big experiment for me and one I really wasn't sure was successful about until well after the book was finished. I had a lot of apprehensions about it even while I was drawing it. Now I look at the book and it makes sense to my how everything came together." As with "Willworld," Fisher tried to approach illustrating the super-heroic protagonist as a real person and let them dictate their depiction, instead of getting caught up in their status as legendary fictional characters. "I have a pretty big apprehension to drawing superheroes as icons," reveals Fisher. "I want to draw people. The old Adam Hughes' 'Justice League' books intoxicated me as a kid. They were the first superhero stories I had read that really tried to show super heroes as people. It made sense to me, and I have always tried to duplicate that mindset. It makes the hero more accessible and it makes the stories more relevant."

As excited as he is about "Flash: Time Flies," Fisher has an unparalleled amount of excitement for "Vertigo Pop: Tokyo," a four issue mini-series that arrives in comic shops in July and was co-created by Fisher. "'Vertigo Pop: Tokyo' is my big baby right now. I am working on the last issue right now. I have lived in Japan for about 4 years and I have been waiting for a long time to draw Japan the way it really is. I have seen Japan drawn by a lot of different people, but none of the images I have seen really ring true. Tokyo is not this iconic city and Tokyoites are not these cold automatons. Japan is a very strange place with its own bizarre logic. John [Vankin, writer of the mini-series and co-creator] also lived in Tokyo for many years so when we got together it seemed like a perfect chance to finally fill that need and draw a book about Japan. I worked with John on several big book stories for Paradox Press and he is really a perfectionist and the kind of person I need as a partner for a book that is this important to me. I think that 'VP:T' is definitely my best work so far. This book was very much a group effort and in fact we went thought a lot of ideas before we finally settled on this one. Interestingly, as a Vertigo book this story involves no hypothetical futures and no science fiction premises. It is totally a real, though somewhat extreme, story. In fact I toned down some aspects of Tokyo because I felt they might read as too exaggerated, when in fact they are really true. But I need for the book to feel believable too, and I think it does. As far as the production of the book goes, I am extremely hands on. I argue about script, dialogue, I fight about balloon placement, and I try to review the entire book's coloring before it gets printed. I even oversee the translations. Basically I am a nightmare to work with because I need for everything to be exactly perfect. I imagine people hate working with me, but hopefully after the book is done they will feel it was worth it."

[Vertigo Pop: Tokyo]
An interior page from "Vertigo Pop: Tokyo."
Fisher also says that it was essential to be immersed in Japanese culture, as he has been for years, in order to give this mini-series the necessary amount of realism and authenticity. "It's hard to get that real Japanese feel if you are not there. You have to get the little things right to make it believable: the shape of a Japanese postbox, the current style for Japanese haircuts, the look of a Japanese subway car...it all adds up! In a city like Tokyo, where trends change rapidly, it is important for a book that is about pop culture to really nail it on the head. Plus I have tons of friends in Tokyo who will all read this book. I'm pretty embarrassed to make mistakes about Japan when all my friends will see it." In the last few years, as both Japanese animation (anime) and comic books (manga) have become staples of American pop culture, more and more people seem to be developing a fascination with Japan, something that Fisher thinks he might be able to explain. "I think Japanese have a very unique way of assimilating western culture. They love to take Western ideas, but inevitably they become Japanese. I think that subtle twist they give to the world is both bizarre and hypnotic. I am hooked."

While Fisher cites Batman as another DC character whose adventures he'd be interested in illustrating, perhaps even plot a story with the Dark Knight, it seems that the young artist's interest lie more in creator initiated projects rather than working with established characters. "I have no particular dream project just yet,' concedes Fisher. "I would like to write my own books and so I think that is my next goal. With each book I make, I want it to be unique and have it's own character; so I try to put everything I have into each project. If I spend too much time thinking about that ultimate project I think I would be distracted from my current work." And while Fisher is lauded among a large percentage the Internet savvy segment of comic book fans and critics, he believes that his work would have a broader range of appeal if simply more people saw it. "I would like for my work to be available to more people," explains Fisher. "I think that is bottom line. Most people I show my books to say they would buy them but those same people don't know that comic specialty stores even exist. I do think the superhero genre is way past its prime. Perhaps that is why comics sell so much more in Europe and Japan where superheroes are just a niche market."

It shouldn't come as a shock that Fisher is a big advocate of a more diverse comic book industry and says, "The success of the American comic book industry will depend on whether or not people at the top have a vision, and can take the chances needed to help comics in America evolve. We are stuck in a cycle of self-parody and it's impossible to grow like that. But honestly, DC has been extremely good to me, letting me do exactly what I feel I need to on my book and really pushing me to take chances. I work with people that want the same things I want. I think things will get better as comics become more of a counter-culture thing again, but I am really detached from that side of the industry. I don't know about trends too much...I try not to think about that too much, as it tends to take care of itself. As for creators, my friend Kaare Andrews is painting some amazing cover these days. I haven't been following too many books recently but the general level of the talent pool has really skyrocketed recently so I am looking forward to seeming what comes next. There are great creators out there, its just a matter of publishers taking chances with them. I try to concentrate on the things I do have control of...like drawing."

So, as an offbeat artist who appreciates diverse topics and characters in comics, which series does Fisher read? "I like '100 bullets' because the art is fresh and the writing doesn't talk down to the reader," says Fisher. "'Lucifer' is a nice read too. Art-wise I buy anything that Frank Quitely does as I have been a fan of his since I saw his story Black Heart in 'DHP.' Also, I would buy 'Wonder Woman' just for those Adam Hughes covers...he had really found a nice combination of inking and coloring...I wish more guys would do everything themselves. 'Doom Patrol' has got to be the hottest book coming out now though I think. Tan Eng Huat's work is really, really amazing."

As mentioned earlier in the interview, Fisher has a slew of projects coming out in the second half of 2002, with something for everyone it seems. "Well, we got the 'Green Lantern: Willworld' story coming in soft cover soon. 'Flash: Time Flies' will come out in July as a Prestige Format one-shot. 'VertigoPop! Tokyo' issue #1 will debut in July too. Then I am doing a couple of filler issues for 'Doom Patrol.' After that, I have a pretty big project to work on, but I will wait to talk about that. I am also finishing up a really cool web-based video game in the next few months. I can't wait to show that off, though it's more of a personal project. This summer I will take some time off to try to work on my t-shirt business. I just wish I had more time in the day."

"What I want is to explore my own mind until I find something that was so hidden that it shocks even me."

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