|Mister X editor Dave Marshall and Dean Motter at |
Comic Con 2008. For the relaunch of Mister X.
Here's what he had to say:
RP: How do you come up with that snappy dialogue?
DM: I confess the patois is influenced to a degree by vintage crime films (and old Bob Hope, believe it or not), as well as the writings of Dashiell Hammett, Damon Runyon and P.G. Wodehouse. A comic book character's syntax is as important as the way they're visualized. Dialogue is tricky because of a page's real estate. Each balloon needs to have a purpose in terms of story advancement, character and its environment. I edit a lot as I letter. There are purposed nuances in the art I want to display and that sometimes means cutting dialogue that might be clever and engaging onscreen but ultimately expendable on a comics page. That sometimes improves the dialogue's 'snappiness'.
|Cover of Mister X: Eviction 2 2013|
RP: What are some tricks to transition from one scene to another?
DM: Stylistic transitions are always enjoyable, but space is needed to do them properly, and that's at a premium in comics. If I'm creating a visual 'echo' or juxtaposing dialogue, the reader should have the room to enjoy it. Otherwise it comes off as unimaginative and redundant. As I said, space is at a premium, so I tend to use such transitions sparingly-- and justify them within the story. In general I try to make transitions that change locale, time and cast instantly, so that the story moves quickly with as little expository text as possible. I try to minimize omniscient captions (unless that's a conceptual conceit for a particular story.) In my mind captions should always have a point of view from within the story, so the transitions really need to serve that notion. A good story is one where the reader is led, not fed.
RP: What challenges did you encounter when you decided to write your own stories?
DM: I guess there is a natural 'stage-fright'. Am I up to task? Will my reader find the story entertaining? But I've almost always written my own stories. The main challenge is one that remains. Telling a layered, entertaining tale within the constraints of a comic book without being overly complicated, contrived, self-conscious or pretentious (God knows I'm guilty of all of those sins.) Another is writing with a sense of playfulness that doesn't trivialize a story or lessen its gravitas. Terry Gilliam is especially good at this. But the real challenge for me remains writing so that the story takes place in the reader's head, not in just front of their face. That it has a life of its own. That it will be worth reading a couple times, at least. Technique plays a role, but its an elusive quality to actually imbue.
|Homage to Windsor McCay from Dark Horse Presents 2009|
DM: The most successful stories are the ones wherein the characters and events preoccupy the reader as much as the admiration of the creator's craftsmanship. Hellboy, Love & Rockets, Watchmen, Sin City, Sandman, The Spirit- these stories are enjoyable by virtue of the charm and effect with which the stories are told.
RP: What can writers do to get good at drawing their own comics?
DM: Well, aside from continuing to learn to draw (which is a life-long process, as any artist will tell you) one must discover one's style, one's 'visual voice.' And learning to tell a story in the form. Studying comics without excessive dissection. It's hard to disassemble something you love. I'm sure a deep artistic analysis of Walt Kelly's Pogo or The Iron Giant would be revelatory but you might not enjoy it quite the same way ever again. Be prepared for that.
RP: What is the hardest thing for you to write?
DM: Haven't found a topic or genre particularly hard -- some don't appeal to me as a writer/artist as much as others. I enjoy supernatural fantasy, sword & sorcery, etc. but don't think I have much to bring to the party. The hardest aspect I find to writing is actually the basic necessity to keep within a given page count.
|Cover of Mr. X: Eviction 1 2013|
RP: What is the most important element of a good crime story?
DM: The crime and how the protagonist encounters it. Generations of cops-and-robbers stories in literature, comics film and TV have created a template. It's too easy to fall into a simple, trite and generic good guy(s) vs. bad guy(s) mode--where justice is the villain going to jail or meeting his demise. I think a good crime story has twists and turns. It has characters who not only lie to one and other but to the reader. One of my favorite books is Thomas Berger's Who is Teddy Villanova?- a typical Chandler-esque shamus story which largely consists of red herrings and blind alleys. The reader shares detective Russell Wren's frustration over never knowing what's true or false. His other books like Killing Time or The Feud also turn the idea of the crime story on its head. And that's the thing -- While the crime itself can be out of the ordinary, its motive has to be completely believable and the protagonist's resolution must be a somewhat unpredictable journey worth taking. In my case I also like to explore a new world while taking that journey.
|From Batman: Black and White. |
The Gargoyles of Gotham. DC 2007
DM: I'm not certain how well I do that. I think others may be better judges of that. I try to create characters whose limitations are as notable as their virtues. In Terminal City Cosmo was a one-time famous entertainer who had resigned himself to a contented ennui before events propelled him into action. B.B. was a stranger in a strange land. At the beginning of Electropolis Menlo tries to be something he's not and Anesta lives a life of lowered expectations. My current cast is Mister X: Rosetta excels at her craft but sometimes drinks too much, Mercedes is naive, approaches the world as an innocent but is constantly in a self-sabotage mode, Mister X himself is secretly pompous, driven by guilt, regret and artistic frustration, I try to make them likable without being admirable. Some say my best characters are just versions of myself. Harumph.
|MISTER X is a man of mystery.|
RP: Why are noir stories appealing to you?
DM: With the exception of Batman: Nine Lives, I don't actually do noir. It's more a faux noir-- a pastiche. That said, as much as I enjoy all manner of fantastic stories, the noir genre speaks to a wider audience. I have always tried to write for non-comic readers as well as devotees.
RP: What things does every comic book issue story need in order to meet the needs of its readers?
Mister X meets Grendel
in a 2002 private commission
RP: What are the themes of your work?
DM: Architecture is an obvious visual theme. Urban life. People interacting with technology and design. I love research, so history is often another theme. I'm always interested in love, greed, loss, ambition, deception etc. especially if I can turn it upside down—put my spin on it somehow.
|A SUPERMAN crossover with |
MISTER X seems natural, given
that Motter has
illustrated both characters.
RP: Do you think your art style changed in relation to your ?
DM: After The Prisoner and illustrating a couple of Hellblazer stories I concentrated more on my writing. I was lucky enough to write for Bill Sienkiewicz, Sean Phillips, Michael Lark and Neil Volkes. When I returned to Mister X I felt as if I was somewhat out of practice vis-a-vis drawing. And I wanted to refine my style. Since I work both as a designer and an illustrator I wanted to concentrate more on unifying the two disciplines even more. These days I approach each page, each panel of Mister X as a graphic design exercise, but I confess I still struggle with the actual draftsmanship
|The world of MISTER X is similar to|
what people in the 1930s/40s/50s
expected of the future.
RP: What comics have influenced you?
DM: I grew up on Batman and Marvel's mystery comics. But as an aspiring artist I devoured the comics of Wood (THUNDER Agents, Daredevil), Steranko (SHIELD) and Adams (Deadman, Batman) Later on the Warren magazines like Creepy and Eerie in the 70s and 80s were a constant drain on my allowance (Crandall, Torres, Wrightson, Jones, Kaluta, Smith). Fanzines such as Spa Fon and Witzend acquainted me with the finer points of the EC Comics storytelling technique and its progeny. As I became interested in actually pursuing comics as part of my career I studied Moebius, Toth, Caniff, Schuiten, and Hergé. I admire and enjoy many of my contemporaries because I think we share similar ambitions and values in terms of the medium. But influence? As Art Director at BPVP I'd later have the opportunity to meet and work with Harvey Kurtzman. Harlan Ellison, as well as a plethora of stellar talents in the comics field. In terms of writing my comics influences aren't as plentiful; Frank Miller, Dave Stevens…Mignola gets there in different way than Gaiman. Waid gets there in a very different way from Brubaker or Morrison. Many have taken me on journeys I have enjoyed immensely. But my strongest and most profound remain: Will Eisner for charm, irony and cinematography, Alan Moore for the simple rendering of complexity. Kurtzman for economy and intensity. Chaykin for the playful iconoclasm and also cinematography.
|Cover of The Shadow #23|
RP: What comics are you currently reading?
DM: Certainly not as much as I once did. The new Rocketeer, Batwoman, Black Beetle, Criminal, 100 Bullets, Hawkeye, Hellboy, The Goon, Fables, Love & Rockets. Anything by Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, Adriane Tomine and Seth. It's pretty mixed bag and changes all the time.
RP: What past comics should people pick up to try out your stuff?
RP: What comics do you have coming out now that people should read?
DM: The collected edition of Mister X: Eviction and Other Stories comes out from Dark Horse on November 27 (this continues from Mister X: Condemned.) In production right now is a 3-part Mister X serial in Dark Horse Presents entitled Frozen Assets. The Heart of The Beast graphic novel (illustrated by Sean Phillips) originally published by Vertigo in 1986, is being digitally re-mastered by Dynamite.
|Cover of upcoming DHP Presents|
DM: Next year there is another Mister X mini-series and the Xmas in Somnopolis special. There is The Book Hitler Didn't want You To Read non-fiction comic for the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, which was written by Rafael Medoff. I have a page in Little Nemo: Another Dream homage to Winsor McCay book. And there are a couple other big efforts in the works I can't discuss just yet. There are also some upcoming covers, including The Shadow 23 and 24 for Dynamite. (I've been in love with that character since I w discovered him back in the 70s.)
Scott Amundson writes comics for Bluewater Productions, Heroes Fallen Studios and Recondite Pictures.
MISTER X Copyright Dean Motter