Book Expo 2018: The Image Comics Genres Within Genres Panel With Soule, Franklin, Seaton & Haspiel

by Hannah Means Shannon

The panel held at Book Expo on Friday afternoon featured Dean Haspiel (The Red Hook), Charles Soule (Curse Words, Oracle Year), Tee Franklin (Bingo Love), and Kit Seaton (upcoming Norroway* with Cat Seaton)  and was hosted by Brigid Alverson, (ICV2 and many more).
Each of the panelists used genre terms when introducing their works, Alverson noted, and asked them to comment more on that usage.
Haspiel was known as a superhero creator, but he commented on the inclusion of action, sci-fi, and even romance, in such works. He commented on Guardians of the Galaxy being about a group of misfits who become friends, and later family. But there’s romance and other elements, too.
When Alverson asked if they think that graphic novels have their own unique genres that are distinctive from other forms of media, Franklin said that what she reads and what she writes are totally different in genres, since she likes true crime and serial killers as a reader.
Soule commented that the type of artwork in a story might influence the way that readers experience a story, for instance in line art.
Franklin said that she doesn’t feel that a difference in artwork would have changed the core of the story of Bing Love, however.
Haspiel said that when he was drawing, The Quitter, a story with Harvey Pekar, some fans complained that the artwork looked to “superhero-y”, even though there was no aspect of that in the story. They were expecting more of an R. Crumb approach. Haspiel said it may be down to the “limitations of our brains”  in coming in with certain expectations for certain types of art style.
Soule mentioned that if iconic movies were “recut” in different ways, we might not recognize their genre right away. And comics are particularly versatile in changing genre expectations through shifts in art style.
Alverson commented that creators can “signal genre” through artwork. Seaton and her sister were into all kinds of fairytales when younger and still use them as resource materials, including fairytale and fantasy illustrators, going back even into the 19th century. Their new book was originally conceived of in black and white, but they later changed it to color, and Seaton feels this very much changed the genre feel of the book.
Haspiel has worked a lot in black and white and a lot in limited palette, he added, agreeing about the impact of color. He feels that black and white and limited palettes are harder to sell to readers these days since they seem to feel they are getting “less of a book”, but look at the work of Frank Miller or The Walking Dead, and the ways in which they work without color.
Source material influences reader expectation based on what they might have first encountered in comics, Haspiel feels, which encapsulates the tropes that then have to be broken.
Alverson asked if the creators think of genre first, or story first, Seaton says that she and her sister do think in genre, but then blurred the line. They made sure that the narrative could extend beyond the more limited aspect of genre.
Soule has worked a lot in Marvel Comics, and he used the example of Daredevil and the kinds of themes and genres associated with that character. There are things that need to be there for the “recipe” of Daredevil to work. He needs to have some villains you know, flip around a lot, etc. But other than that, genre aspects might change. It could be crime. It could be noir. You can “bend it, but not break it” in terms of genre, he said.
Working, however, with Darth Vader, there’s far less flexibility. He has to work as a character in a different way. He’s “McDonald’s” who has to feel the same way to an audience in any situation. That’s a different kind of recipe, he feels. You’re making “the best version of Vader you can”.
Alverson asked Franklin about romance in comics, noting that romance comics, as a genre, has fallen by the wayside since the 70’s. A commercial inspired her, but there was not really anything else “behind” that, she said. She worked in comics for this story because that’s what she’s most comfortable with. Otherwise she’s written science fiction and stories with dragons, but she wanted to write something with “more meaning to it”.
Many “what ifs” drove Franklin, asking what would happen in certain situations if characters happened to be gay. Printing via Kickstarter was a way of making sure that something was “there” in the appeal of the story. She’s not intending to work just in romance in future, for instance her next project features a murder. She’s been asked if Bingo Love might spur on more romance comics, and she doesn’t know the answer to that, but if it does and those works feature women of color and the LGBTQ community, that would be a good thing.
Soule’s upcoming novel Oracle Year was born from his work as a full-time attorney while trying to break into comics. During that time, he felt that there was probably a question that everyone had about their future, and wondered what it would be like if there was someone who could answer that question. At that time, his question was whether he would ever be able to be a full-time writer.
Seaton’s Norroway started as a webcomic, like Haspiel’s Red Hook, but webcomics come with the need for strategies. You have to be able to post consistently and handle social media in a way that’s not going to totally take over your life in able to build an audience. She’s been doing webcomics since 2011. Her first project taught her a lot, even though it was never completed, about creating consistently over a period of time and working up the nerve to “put it out there”. Time and consistency helps build a following, but of course the most important thing is simply to start.
Circling back to the definition of genre, Haspiel explained that he’s recently been writing plays, and that he loves “story” and “mixing up stuff”. He loves “bad B movies” and cheesy movies because “there’s something in there was well”. He picks and chooses and “mashes up” the things he loves in his work, so he finds genre hard to define. If he was asked to do a “straightforward genre”, he probably couldn’t do it. Asked once to pitch “Hulk noir” to Marvel, with him as a military character, he couldn’t do it.  But asked to do a “strange tales” story, he was fine. He found the weirdest character he could, one called “Wood God” and added many other Marvel characters to the story.
Alverson wondered if “genre is what other people write”, meaning we apply it to others rather than our own products. Haspiel mentioned the film The Arrival, a science-fiction movie that broke genre rules and his heart. There are expectations, but he loves it when something “turns” on the audience in that respect.
Asked what they like to read, Franklin said horror, and anything Stephen King related. There are many good horror comics like Wytches, American Vampire, Colder, and more. Her new upcoming Image series will essentially be horror, too.
Soule likes a “broad mix” and listens to audio books while running, from research to more genre books like fantasy and sci-fi that’s just “fun”. He likes a lot of non-fiction too, for instance a recent one about life in North Korea. He reads all the time, basically.
Seaton likes a lot of different types of genres, especially horror. She has an audible account, and listens while illustrating. She’s been going through lot of Neil Gaiman books, but listening also includes books she’s read many years ago and is revisiting.
Haspiel has been reading a lot of biographies and auto-bios of comedians and actors, who are “fascinating people” with “really cool anecdotes”. Maybe that helps with “character building”. Some television is as quality as literature, he commented, including a show called “Banshee” he’s been watching.
Asked if there was a genre they hate or wouldn’t write, Haspiel said he can’t wrap his head around “fantasy” like sandals, swords, and dragons. He loves Game of Thrones though. He played D&D as a kid, but he has an “allergic reaction” to the idea of doing it. Despite those elements in his own work already.
Seaton said that something “super dry” would be a miss. She’s a “visual problem solver” and tries to come up with ways to make things interesting, as long as there are things to “sink her teeth into”.
Soule said maybe things he has no expertise in, like a “medical procedural” would make him cautious as subject-matter, but otherwise “anything is game”.
Franklin said she might never write superheroes, since she’s not sure she could pull it off, but she’d try, particularly for a character like Vixen.

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