Every artist and writer is standing on the shoulders of those that came before them whether they admit it or not. We are all a pastiche of our idols and heroes and we owe them a great debt. I’m no different. Over the years I’ve learned from my betters and continue to learn to this day. I’d like to take a minute to talk about some of those heroes of mine and give them the lip service they deserve. (Ew!) Let’s start with artists.
There probably doesn’t seem to be any direct connection between my art and that of Jim Lee, but it’s there. Jim impressed me with his attention to detail and the fact that even the stupidest costumes and character designed looked fantastic under his hand. I started learning comics and characters by redrawing his work. I redrew dozens of the X-Men cards he did in the 90’s and actually recreated some of this pages from his run on said series. I’ll be honest, I couldn’t replicate his details. His almost OCD attention to minor things in every panel was maddening. What I did learn was poses, anatomy, and style. To this day he’s still one of my favorites and “Batman: Hush” is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
Creator of “Dragon Ball” and “Dragon Ball Z”. Say what you want about the writing of the series and the pacing, but his character design is lovely. Usually. He has a very simple style that is expressive and flexible and you can see it evolve as the series progressed. The childlike bubbly design from Dragon Ball gave way to the angular and more muscled look of Z and the Dragon Quest games. I took away from Mr. Toriyama a love of exaggerated and expressive faces that people still call me out on to this day.
Ben’s going to turn up on this list once more for writing, but let’s talk about his art. When “The Tick” was first published back in the 90’s it was in black and white. Ben knew how to use positive and negative space in ways that impress me even now when I go back and read it, which I do on a regular basis. His character designs are phenomenal. He could do ridiculously hulking with his heroes, scrawny like The Running Guy, pudgy with Arthur, and don’t even get me started on creatures like Thrakazog. The most amazing thing about it was the sense of mass that everything had. Every single object and person felt physically there despite the cartoonish feeling of the designs. I knew that’s how I wanted my characters to feel. Still kinda working on that though.
If there’s one other person who influenced the way I draw faces, it’s Berkley Breathed. Berkley created Bloom County back in the early 80’s and it was one of the few comics I read in the paper when I was young. Something about his art grabbed me in a way that none of the others did. Maybe it was the facial expressions, maybe it was the loose but definite lines. Maybe it was the storybook quality of the art mixed with the biting political humor. I don’t know. All I know is that as much as people point out the anime influence in my work, they should put Terry’s eyes next to Binkley’s eyes in Bloom County and maybe things would make even more sense.
Writing is a different story all together. I admire people from across mediums and genres and I think that will become quite obvious. If there’s one thing most of them have in common though, it’s comedy.
Let’s just go ahead and get the biggest one out of the way. I owe damned near everything about the way I think about comedy writing to Douglas Adams. He used words the way a master architect used brick, plaster, and mortar. He was a genius with a wide variety of interests and his writing showed me that funny, horrifying, and thought provoking could all come from the same sentence. He meandered and threw in asides and he taught me that you can even take the silly seriously.
It’s hard to read a series of books for 21 years and not take something away from them. Sometimes I outright parodied him in Kota’s World. Sometimes it’s more subtle. Many times it boiled down to getting similar ideas from reading the same books he did. Jordan taught me that a real living world was as important as a story and characters. It also taught me that bad things happen to good people. The good people don’t let it stop them though. I also learned to go easy on the descriptions.
Ben Edlund’s writing is inspired. He simultaneously skewers and the superhero genre while placing it on a pedestal. The most impressive thing about his work? His characters don’t feel written. They feel like they’re just doing what they do and that’s something only the best writers can accomplish. The way I know I’m on the right track with a story is by putting a situation in front of the characters and letting them write their own way out and that’s how “The Tick” felt to me.
John Cleese/Graham Chapman
I list these two instead of all of Monty Python for a reason. When Cleese left Python before the last season started you could tell the episodes he hadn’t had any input on. They wandered, they made little sense, and they were just too silly. By contrast, you can tell Cleese wasn’t working with Chapman during Faulty Towers because it was lacking those odd, left field moments from when they wrote together. The two needed each other an that’s why I group them together. And why just them? Because I learned from their sketches that there needs to be an underlying rule to comedy. You can have incredibly silly things going on, but there should be some kind of internal logic in the sketch. Look at the Cheese Shop or the Dead Parrot sketch. They’re both incredibly silly, but there’s something happening. The worlds they are in have a structure that the Spam sketch lacks.
I’m including the entire writing staff of MST3k for a good reason. Snark, but snark with love and respect. These guys watched and destroyed some of the worst movies ever made, but when you boil it down, the only reason to keep doing it is an underlying love of cinema. I learned to tear things apart with snark and humor, even the things I loved, and still love them when I came out the other side. I still riff on the original Star Wars Trilogy when I watch it.
I don’t talk about Mr. Zindel much, but I think that’s because is influence on me stretches back further than any other. When I was a wee nip we read “The Pigman” and then I read “Pardon Me, You’re Stepping on My Eyeball!” on my own. They were the only two books by him the school had and the only ones I could ever find.
I learned two things from these books that have stayed with me. I learned that when you feel like an outcast, you’re not the only one and I learned that the world wasn’t all sunshine and roses. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time though. Thank you, Mr. Zindel.