Saturday, January 15, 2011

About Robots and Vikings with Ivan Brandon - Part 2

Isn't it really nice when one gets into a kind of rhythm when chatting about topics that two people are passionate about?

That was how energizing it was when Red Dot Diva engaged comic creator Ivan Brandon in a 30-minute conversation the Saturday afternoon of STGCC Day 2.

Ivan, who had previously seemed quite solemnly intense to her, was slowly beginning to reveal an intriguingly more insightful and perceptive side as the interview progressed.

After talking about how he started out in comics and his experience meeting "NYC Mech" fans here to TV being his second favourite medium, Red Dot Diva decided to tune into his "editor psyche".

Red Dot Diva: You have also edited a few graphic novels. Do you prefer the editing aspect of things? Or writing?
Ivan: It's not really a question of preference. My friends know that I'm very protective of comics as a creator of comics.

He paused then continued thoughtfully, "If I were ever arrogant, it's in my push to try to get standards higher."

Ivan then proceeded sharing about another anecdote. It was about a young guy here who had done a magazine review of one of his comics, and he had shown Ivan his works which consisted of very design-oriented art.

"And I think, when you have people who take that seriously... people who focus on modern aesthetics and are really being contemporary and smart and unique about their presentation, that stuff will draw a different and bigger and audience. So I told him that your unique strength is that you are able to design the way other people can't. You are able to do this thing that is going to look more exciting before anybody even sees the art inside. The presentation, the design is very bold. And I told him to really embrace that. Don't be afraid to strut your stuff, to show how unique you are. Because that is important. What's exciting is when someone presents something that I've never seen before. Or what the audience haven't seen before."

This fascinating topic about unique design reminded Red Dot Diva's experiences with some indie comics at SDCC 2010, namely those published by indie comics company, Archaia. Notably, the very well-designed eye-catching packaging for the graphic novel called "Syndrome" (David Quantz/ R.J. Ryan/ David Marquez/ Blake Leibel) which she was very impressed with. So she was curious to find out what Ivan thought of design in the indie comic market these days.

Red Dot Diva: Have you read any indie comics lately and from a design standpoint, has any indie comics particularly stood out in your mind?
Ivan admitted quickly, "I'm terrible at remembering names. When I'm reading it, I get excited and I tell everyone about it."

"From a design standard, it's not an indie book but it's by a very famous guy (David Mazzucchelli). The easy answer is 'Asterios Polyp' which was very inventive in its presentation in general. It's a book that used several different, simultaneous types of story-telling .. and even down to the cover, at a glance, it looks very simple but if you look closer, it's basically several different images superimposed to tell the simultaneous stories. That to me is exciting. That again, shows people thinking outside the parameters of what people have seen before."

With that thought about what makes him passionate, Ivan returned to Red Dot Diva's earlier question on what it felt like to be editor versus a writer.

"So, you were asking me in terms of being an editor or a writer ... as an editor, I can push people towards that direction. And that's very exciting to me as much as my own work. Sometimes, there's an egocentric thing happening where everyone just wants to shine their own light. To me it's important to elevate everyone.

My writer friends will know that if there's a good artist whom I'm not working with right now, I will try to introduce people. I will also do my best to help comics that have nothing to do with myself because it reflects generally on the whole medium. The greater the market is specifically, the stronger the non-superhero work is, I think that strengthens the entire market in a very profound way.

Red Dot Diva confessed: I read a lot of novels and I'm more of a book person than a comic person. And also, I'm not really into the superheroes comics....
Ivan: Sure, sure....
Red Dot Diva: So having been exposed to the different kind of graphic novel stories out there was quite inspiring.
Ivan: I work in the superheroes market and I love superheroes books, don't get me wrong. But I also have friends who will never ever in their life read a superhero book, and I think those people are the kind who might enjoy a different kind of comic story-telling, and as a medium it is important to try to engage those people.

The super-heroes market is valuable but it can also take care of itself. It is a huge machine run by very big and wealthy companies. With the creator market, it is something special and I try to treat it like my baby. Often, I try to encourage people from the superhero market to do work in the creator market, to stretch their legs artistically and do something a little different from what they've done before.

The spiritual core of comics is in those creations. And unfortunately, it's not always the strongest part of the comics companies. So if we focused more on that, you'll end up an industry that is much stronger.

Red Dot Diva remarked: And the audience is also getting bigger and wider.
Ivan: Also, I believe that the American market is very open right now. They have a lot of success in films that are based on comics. Probably 30% of the content of modern American films are now based on comic books. We are now a huge part of the larger pop-culture picture, and people aren't aware necessarily of all of the physical comics, but I think they are open to it, because they are now already consuming that kind of content. So, I think it's important to try really hard to engage those people, and to show them why and how comics are different from movies.

And because movies are also undeniably culture-based, Red Dot Diva - being a native of a mixed-up rojak multi-cultural society - wanted to know what it was like to write about a character from an entirely different era and part of the world.

Red Dot Diva: Let's talk a little about your latest creation - "Viking". I found it interesting that you, someone of Cuban ancestry, are taking a shot at writing these Nordic characters and story. What made you want to do the cultural leap? Were there similarities between the two different cultures, or some things that you felt you could express better in another cultural setting?

Here's an audio clip of what Ivan had to say about that and the key about writing -- which is the "human aspect" of things:

Red Dot Diva: Did you have to research a lot on Vikings - in terms of their language or how they conduct themselves in different settings?
Ivan: Yeah. The language stuff I tried to keep it neutral. I didn't want them to sound like people in New York in 2010, but I also didn't want them to sound like the older 1970's comics. I wanted to be understandable, and simple and neutral so that everybody could connect with it.

There was a lot of research that went into the book but the research was more of an architectural groundwork so that I can feel comfortable to do whatever I want. It wasn't because I wanted to be recreate a historical scene. It was because I wanted to be empowered and understand what the basic construction is, and then from there, tell whatever kind of story I wanted to tell.

Red Dot Diva: In your opinion, and based from what you've observed in your visit here so far, how do you think Singaporean-grown work can be unique and yet reach an international pop-culture audience at the same time?

Ivan: It's an interesting question, and we were talking to a couple of people about a similar thing. Singaporean culture is so young that it maybe has trouble self-identifying in certain ways. It's basically the same as America but you are more 'pure'. We don't have a food culture, we are a melting pot... we are an immigrant country. And over the years, we defined ourselves. Our pop culture has become our culture. But we don't have food culture and that kind of thing.

My personal advice is you never want to do something that can't be understood. But again, human stories are human stories. Be un-self-conscious, be bold, be loud and just try to do things that are exciting to them as stories. That's the only creative concern that you can have. The only things that are worth thinking about are how much fun am I having, how good is the intent of the work that I'm producing... If you think too much about who's the market and who you are going to appeal to, that's how you end up doing boring work.

Again, you guys are in a unique place because you are a very young culture. Then, everything young becomes old. All you can do is to try different stuff. And excite yourself. And that will excite other people, I think.

Now, that's some really keen advice indeed for the local creators or aspiring creators out there.

Red Dot Diva: OK, one last question to wrap things up. I ask this question to everyone and it's a fun question. How much do you like geek girls?
Ivan couldn't help but laugh. "Geek girls! hahaha. I married a geek girl. So, I think geek culture is the modern royalty of the world and I think everyone should embrace their geek. And just like I said, you shouldn't worry too much about anything else, you should worry about having fun."

By then, there were some frantic signals from the PR folks and Ivan's minder for him to quickly make his way to his Walk of Fame autograph session. But before that, Chili Padi had to take another pic with Cuban Chocolate.

Doesn't Ivan light up the room when he chooses to give a big smile?

That in itself is worthy of a Red Dot Diva Squee.


To read the first part of this interview with Ivan Brandon, click this link!


Specially for those non-local folks:
Rojak - A salad like dish consisting of cucumbers, pineapples, beancurd, peanuts and sweet dark prawn paste. Also means being messy or jumbled up in an irregular fashion.

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