TeenLIVE at the NYPL in Retrospect: Mark Siegel on November 9, 2011
We were fortunate enough to have Mark Siegel at the Bronx Library Center on Wednesday, November 9, 2011 at a TeenLIVE at the NYPL event. Siegel works for First Second. He wrote Moving House, Seadogs: An Epic Ocean Operetta, and illustrated To Dance: A Ballerina's Graphic Novel.
What brought me to TeenLIVE comics: I have never been much into comics, but I had a great time and an enlightening experience at the TeenLIVE event with Tyra Banks (the teens were very excited to see her!), so I determined that this TeenLIVE thing may be a high-quality program. Also, Chris Shoemaker, our Teen Programming Specialist, is always fun and asks thought-provoking and off-the-wall questions. So I was very excited to see what this Mark Siegel was about. I also read an interview with him online ahead of time, so I knew this was an intelligent guy who probably had very interesting things to say about comics, art, and life. He did not disappoint.
Back at the Bronx Library Center: Although there were few people in the audience, I think that the people who were there benefited a lot (I know I did). It was especially neat to have the program at a library that I previously worked at, so I was able to see a lot of people that I knew. I was back in the awesome Bronx Library Center auditorium where I watched so many programs (children's theater, the ever-so-popular Saturday afternoon 2:30 p.m. concerts for adults — the auditorium is always packed for that, and a Sophocles play — I believe that it was Antigone).
Art, Drawing & Photography: Siegel had some very enlightening things to say about art and the creative process, which I would not ordinarily think about since I do not draw. I did take a drawing class in college, and I enjoyed art classes when I was school-age, but I usually straggled through art. I barely managed a self-portrait when I was in college, and I drew some pictures with a grid, but my art instructor was most impressed with the composition of my photography when I showed some to her (mostly of ducks in a pond, if I recall correctly). I still love taking pictures of family, my cats, and any exciting events.
Following is the exciting interview between Shoemaker and Siegel:
Mark Siegel: I felt like a hick going into NYC, since I grew up in France. An editor is like a farmer with many plots; tending the books is like having a garden.
CS: I know that you have been exposed to many authors in France. What is the main process of introducing a different style to America?
MS: In America, superheroes in comics are emphasized. In France, there are comics about everything; there are a greater number of subject areas covered in France.
CS: Is France a loose-flowing style versus having superheroes in American comics?
MS: Going from colors and pencils to ink is a static style in drawing. In France, there is a loose energy. There, graphic novel artists move from pencil to design, which includes light and shadow, which is very cerebral. The ink transforms the picture into a performance piece, and puts life into it. The picture is not stiff and inhibited. Schools of comics influence each other (eg, Japanese and American comics). American Born Chinese won awards never given to comics before (eg, Printz). This novel is perhaps so popular because it focuses on the bigger issues of human race, such as immigration, stereotypes, and internalized racism.
CS: You mentioned the theatrical quality of comics. How challenging is it to portray theatre through comics?
MS: Every art form is a constraint, and artists must search for a constraint that suits them best. Some things work well in comics, some things work better in movies, and some things work better in prose. Comics are not about including beautiful pictures; the beauty in comics is in the flow and pacing. In America, there still exists some stigma of comics being bad for kids. Ninety percent of comics are bad, 90 percent of movies are bad, but the media is defined by the 10 percent of gems that have a place and speak to the human experience. There are people who are putting their hearts and souls into these art forms.
CS: There are comics dealing with murder, abuse, etc. Are comics better at dealing with these issues?
MS: Prose creates pictures in your head, elliptical pictures, that show the stories. With comics, you can switch into the metaphorically visual. For example, humans can change into scarecrows.
CS: Are there many comics that are serialized to build an audience?
MS: Web comics are good at building an audience.
Chris: Is it true that web comics introduce voices not seen in mainstream comics, to broaden the audience?
MS: Yes, there is a strange, peculiar humor in web comics. Web comics are more interactive in that viewers can post comments, and replies to comments can be posted, similar to blogs.
CS: Is First Second looking into steampunk?
MS: We have some things that are somewhat steampunk. When we look for items to publish, we are not looking for a specific genre, we are looking for something for everyone. We have everything from space opera to banned books, etc. Everyone is trying different things, overpaying, driving the market up. There is no magic key in business. Everyone is trying to do Hamlet in comics, but there is no room for big soliloquies in comics.
CS: What do you think are the future prospects for things that have not been tried before in comics?
MS: People are always pushing the envelope. There is one comic about a ballistic doctor who makes his patients sick.
Shoemaker then opened the floor for questions from the audience. Several members of the audience were interested in how to get into the business of comics. Siegel suggested conferences, including Comic Con, which is held every year here in New York City, and is a very reasonable price for cost-conscious comic fans to attend. I think it's great that The New York Public Library provides events like these where young hopefuls can become aware of how to pursue their dreams, and I'm so glad that they felt comfortable asking Siegel. Siegel provided some interesting advice. He stated that he has developed an ability to see artists' and writers' potential. Even if something is not at the level where it could be published right away, it might be published soon. However, Siegel in unable to yet determine how long it will take any given person's potential to develop.
Free refreshments and the opportunity to further converse with Siegel were offered after the program.