Dylan williams is the cartoonist behind the beloved series Reporter.
He is also the publisher of Sparkplug Comicbooks.
Dylan's way of thinking about comics is a big influence on how I think about them---deep respect and love for older comics, coupled with an embrace of more experimental work.
1. can you describe your drawing routine---how often you draw, how many hour per day---how you break up the day with drawing?
I draw in stretches (usually of weeks), and take breaks. Some weeks I draw 8-12 hrs every day and others I don’t draw at all. I don’t like having a schedule for it. I am very slow. Some days it is just an hour here and there. I’m thinking about my comics almost all the time so there are lots and lots of scraps of paper and notebooks.
2. how much revision/editing do you do in you work?
Sometimes I do it all in one take and then other times I redraw pages 3 or 4 times. I just did that on a page and each time was great fun and new and different. I use a lot of white out sometimes. I’m editing the writing and art till the end, sometimes even on a computer. I like really spending a lot of time with the artwork and writing while I’m doing it.
3. talk about your process---do you write a script or make up the drawing as you go?
I think I do both, kind of in between. I don’t really worry about doing it one way. Sometimes I plan out a whole comic in detail and other times it is as I’m drawing the final pages. I don’t write classical movie style scripts though. Lately, I write sort of one or two sentence descriptions and then do a thumbnail at close to size. I write the brief descriptions out till the end and then work about 5 pages ahead of my finished pages in thumbnails. Before all that I spend years getting to know the ideas and characters and places. Then once I feel like I’ve got a sort of focus I start doing the brief descriptions. I am always trying to make sure I enjoy the work and so I try to keep it fresh and exciting. Doing something I haven’t done before or doing something I really enjoy doing.
4. do you compose the page as a whole or do you focus more on individual panel composition?
Both and neither. I’m not stuck on any kind of classical composition ideas. I love the ideas or philosophies of composition but drawing is like opening a door into another world for me. I look at the pages as I’m doing them and think “What would look nice, here?” but I hate living by ideas like avoiding tangents or 50% or that kind of stuff in my own art. I like thinking about them after the fact and figuring out how other people use them though
5. what tools do you use (please list all)?
I swear by the Uniball pen but I use everything that comes along. I try all different kinds of black ink and brushes and nibs and technical pens. I’d say the only thing I don’t like are fiber tips or felt tips. They make my skin crawl. Mostly it is about the feeling of the way the ink or pencil or whatever gets onto the paper. I love pastels. I draw with them for myself mostly. I use lead pencils and all that. I always feel like artists should spend the first couple years drawing with sticks and some shitty water color ink so they develop drawing that isn’t based on a classical tool. Noel Sickles (one of my idols) used to take Milton Canniff’s brushes after he was done with them, chop of the tips and then use them himself.
6. what kind(s) of paper do you use?
Strathmore Bristol board, Smooth. Like, 2 ply I think. I get all my supplies in bulk on sale or for free when I can. I think I’d like to draw on less precious paper but I just have never gotten around to it. When I did a pastel story, I did it on pastel paper.
7. do you read a lot of comics? are you someone who reads comics and then gets excited to make more comics---or is your passion for making comics not linked to any particular love for other comics?
I love comics and I read them all day long but I never get particularly inspired to do comics by modern comics. I love reading them though. I love reading old classical comics and get REALLY inspired by them, but no more so than books, music, movies or about a million other things in life. New comics I usually just read for fun.
8. do you make comics for a living? if not, how do you support yourself, and how does this relate to your comics making process?
Well, I guess I kind of do. I think worrying about making money off of my art is one of the most ridiculous things I could do for me or my art so I basically plan to never make money off of my own comics. If I do, it is like pennies from heaven. I did try to do it for years and that is how I found out it wasn’t for me. I discovered I like working at Goodwill, a movie theater or as a small publisher more than I like changing my art to make money.
9. do other artforms often seem more attractive to you?
I always think about being a writer. That is the only one that seems even a bit attractive. But I love doing comics so much that I don’t think it’d ever keep me happy to just write prose. I don’t really do any art that isn’t comics related. I am split about spending my time on Tai chi though. I wish I could do it more.
10. what artwork (or artists) do you feel kinship with?
Oh brother. I feel a kinship with almost every piece of art ever made. I love the idea that people make art and I draw immense strength from the tradition of art and stories. I am obsessed with books, film, painting, theater, music, poetry, philosophy and honestly even performance art and more physical arts. I’m not a big fan of a lot of sculpture or animation but I love some of it as much as the best of any art. My biggest one-way bonds are with Charles Williford, Paul Bowles, H.L. Mencken, Robert Bresson, the Symbolists, the Decadents, Edgar Allen Poe, Jules Feiffer, Edward Gorey, Carl Dreyer, Yasujiru Ozu, Monte Hellman, Teenage Fanclub, Davey von Bohlen, Franz Joseph Haydn, Silkworm, Badfinger, Emily Dickinson, the Nabis, the Ashcan School, Noel Sickles, Roy Crane, Herge, Osamu Tezuka, Francis Yates, Mort Meskin, CHiPs, the Secret Agent tv show, Dick Van Dyke, Islamic and Persian art…I mean, really I could go on for hours and nobody wants that. Those are some of the biggest kinships. It always is a kinship as much as an inspiration.
11. is a community of artists important or not important to you?
Community is important to me. I think everyone has some art in them so yeah, in a way. But I don’t think a community of comics artists is any more or less valuable to me than a community of philosophers or organic gardners.
12. what is your parents/family's reaction to your work?
They are rarely interested but often supportive.
13. what is more important to you---style or idea?
Both, sometimes. Other times, neither. I don’t guide the way I’m interested so it just depends. I think they can both work together. I am in love with Antonioni and Bresson for that reason.
14. is drawing a pleasure to you or a pain?
Always a wonderful experience. It is a gateway. When I was younger it was hard and I actually used to think of it as a struggle. Now, it just flows and I sort of treasure every minute of it. But, you know, when I think about it sometimes it can be a physical pain, with cramped fingers and sore arms and stuff.
15. when you meet someone new, do you talk about being an artist right away? do you identify yourself as an artist or something else?
No. I don’t bring it up unless I’m talking about something else. I talk about stuff I like so it inevitably will come up.
16. do you feel at all connected to older comic artists like steve ditko or jack kirby---or does this seem like a foreign world to you?
Both. I’m in the debt of those folks but I feel like somehow I would never rate in their eyes and so they are disconnected. I feel like I’m carrying on my idea of what I see as the tradition though.
17. do you ever feel the impulse to not draw comics?
No. In fact there is never a moment when I think I don’t want to. Sometimes I think I may end up not being considered a comic artist because I get distracted by so many things but I always feel like I’m working on my comics.
18. do you draw from life?
Yeah, all the time. It is part of drawing, for me.
19. do you pencil out comics and then ink? or do you sometimes not pencil?
I pencil out comics and then ink them. Sometimes I’ve just done them in ink or whatever but lately I’m sort of liking the idea of penciling, at least on the new Reporter. The last one was more sort of blocked out and then drawn in ink and whiteout.
20. what does your drawing space look like?
I draw on a rug in my living room or I travel with my art box and lapboard. A friend of mine made a snide comment about it, but the truth is I want to always have the fun feeling of drawing I had when I was 6 so it ends up being a compliment. Thought it sort of speaks to my whole approach to doing my comics.