November 15, 2018

Let's Talk Illustrators #90: Jordan Crane

Recently I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to author-illustrator Jordan Crane about his brilliant comic We Are All Me. We Are All Me was designed to be a comic for intended to be comics for brand-new readers, and it provides not only a fantastic introduction to the style of comics and how to read them, but it also explores the genesis of mankind and the interconnectedness of everyone here on Earth. As you'll soon see, Jordan's answers are illuminating and thought-provoking, so without further preamble, here is our conversation!

About the book:
A poetic and lyrical picture book, bursting with colors, about our interdependent world, from cell to self and seed to sky.

Let's talk Jordan Crane!

LTPB: What was the impetus for creating We Are All Me

JC: Since childhood, I've had it I'm my mind that there is a connection between all life everywhere on the planet. As I read and learned more about the ways the world is connected, it began to seem like a very clear and simple way of understanding the world. The more I learned about it, the more apparent and beautiful the idea became in my heart and mind - yet whenever I tried to express the idea in words, it always ended up seeming complex and difficult to explain. My wife Rebecca catalyzed everything one day when we were hiking in Yosemite park. It was just before the 4th of July, and she was wishing that instead of Independence Day, we could all get together and celebrate Interdependence day. This ignited my love for this vision of the world with new fire, and one day, a few weeks later, I remembered that I was a cartoonist. It became clear to me that drawing a comic would be a good way to approach the expression of this idea. It was exciting, making a book that tries to touch the inner workings of life, and yet, for this same reason it felt daunting. Exciting and daunting are two good cues to me that I'm on the right path, sort of like the feeling a person gets walking up a mountain.

LTPB: Can you talk a little bit about the visual evolution of the book? Did you always envision yourself exploring this topic in this particular way, or did your ideas change and grow as the story came together? 

JC: From the very beginning, my vision for the book was for simple yet visually rich images, very few words, and to have the meaning progress and grow more complex as the images and words work together - that is, to have the real meaning come out of the image/text narrative progression. The way that story was told changed significantly from the beginning, as I had to cast about a lot for the images that could work through the whole book, shapes and colors that I could keep coming back to and developing their meaning. I found that sometimes I would write text to develop a narrative flow, and some other times I would draw the images first, and let those lead the narrative flow. I found that drawing the images first worked better, was more clear and expressive of the central concept than if I let the words come first. When I put the words first, I found a lack of visual cohesion. When the images went on the paper first, then I was able to fit words to them rather seamlessly, and found that the meaning was richer for having a strong visual cohesion.

LTPB: As someone who generally focuses on longer-form comics, what was your process like for paring down this story into so few pages? What was the biggest challenge, and what surprised you most?

JC: I approached this book exactly like I approach longer form comics, and I approached the movement between images exactly like a comic. I actually thought that this book was going to be a quick and fun diversion for me - it really is just a 28 panel comic. That's easy, and with the simple images, I thought I could draw it in a couple of weeks. So, that's the first surprise I had coming, the whole thing took about a year and a half to finish.

The biggest challenge was figuring out how to say what I wanted to say, because the idea of interdependence among all things is a fairly broad topic. I took several approaches, and had several false endings. I thought I was finished with this book three times. The first time I finished it, I printed up some mini comics and started giving them to my friends, putting it up on phone poles around the neighborhood. After about a month, I read the book again and felt that it didn't capture the idea well, so I went back and did a major revision, rewriting all the text and the images, and found that I was able to clarify it quite a bit, and found my central idea coming across more clearly. This version I printed another mini comic of, and sent it to Fran├žoise at TOON books. When she called me back and said she'd like to publish it, I began doing the colors. Again, I thought it would be a simple process, but it turned out that color is a major aspect of the narrative flow of the book, and it took months to understand the way the color worked in the story. Finally, after three versions, the story was finished. I was very surprised at how many tries it took to get to the heart of the book, but looking back, it makes sense - it was simply a process of refinement, and revisiting the idea made it stronger and more clear.

LTPB: What did you use to create the illustrations in this book? Is this your preferred medium? How does your process change from book to book?

JC: I drew this book using both paper and a Cintiq. I worked very small, at 2" x 3", and I moved between paper and digital fairly seamlessly, not putting much preference on one or the other in terms of how the images came together. I found that it was easier to work quickly on paper, working through ideas and compositions, and then composing and finishing the images digitally. I liked working digitally for the color print version because I could work directly in the color that I was wanting to print, rather than drawing in black, scanning and converting the line to a color, I could just draw in the color. Digital is also good for the final composition because I could see how the final image would look, rather than guessing at it. After I finished drawing a page, I would print it out, and put it up on my wall so that I could see how it worked with the other pages, and read it all together. After months of working on the book, these little stacks of pages had grown quite thick as I revised and redrew each one many many times trying to find the right image and flow of images.

My process changes depending on the images of the story. If I'm working in black and white, as I do with most of my comics, then I find it is best for the work if I draw it directly on paper. With color, then I usually end up combining paper and digital drawing so that I can really pull the most out of how I'm using the color. For instance, I did a two color comic for my most recent issue of Uptight, and working digitally, I was able to pull a lot of nuance out of the color interaction, and do things with color that it would be difficult or impossible to do with straight paper drawing. Regardless of the medium, I approach making the images with the same approach - I want the lines to feel organic and lively, to have some "bounce" to them, and I want the colors to be flat and yet expressive. I want the whole thing to very much feel handmade, no matter what medium I approach it with. 

LTPB: What are you working on now? Anything you can show us?

JC: I am finishing Keeping Two, a book I've been working on for nearly 20 years. It hasn't been continuous work, but more of the baseline running through the rest of my stories, something that I always would come back to and that helped keep me grounded. Honestly, I expected it to take 5 years at the most - I'm starting to notice a pattern that things take longer than I expect them too. So, I'm working on the ending, I've got 247 pages done and about 30 pages to go, my path is fairly clear and I'm working on it to the exclusion of all the other stories - because it's time to finish it! Although.. I do have a couple things that I'm working on, just on the side.. I can't help myself! My primary focus though, is on finishing Keeping Two, which I expect to come out some time in late 2019.

The other thing I'm working on is making a set of prints, large 17" x 24" prints of the entire book of We Are All Me. When I finished the book, I looked at the images, and I found that I wanted to see them large and in paint. So, each page has an edition of 44, and I have printed through page 12 now, and I'm working two days out of the week making these prints, and I will be putting them up for sale on my website in a week or two.

LTPB: If you were to write your picture book autobiography, who (dead or alive!) would you want to illustrate it, and why? 

JC: That's a tough one, but if I had to pick a person, it would be Jean Giraud (Moebius), from his Heavy Metal & Arzach period. Here's the thing though - the question specifically states that I'd write it - and this is important, because I would like to use storytelling techniques that Moebius did not employ in his own work. I think that if I wrote it and the Moebius illustrated it, we could arrive at something suitably epic, strange and surreal. My life isn't epic, but this story would be dependent to a great extent on the content of my thoughts and emotions for the imagery. We would have to work together closely on it so that we could arrive at a merging of minds. 

That said, I think that a better approach would be for a single artist to both write and draw my biography. I don't think I would write my life story as well as somebody else, I think I'd probably hold back too much. So, if I could transfer the contents of my brain to another artist, and have them both write and draw my life story, the person I'd choose would be Jaime Hernandez - because the story would be funny, sad, and full of heart and humanity, and the art would be gorgeous and clear and the very pinnacle of cartooning.

A big thank you to Jordan for chatting with me! We Are All Me published from TOON Books earlier this year!

Special thanks to Jordan and TOON Books for use of these images!

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1 comment:

  1. Yes, That is an interesting interview, glad a tweet pointed me this way! Love " We Are All Me"