|« Coming to a Theater Near You?||Geek Love, Illustrated »|
Feature Mon Feb 22 2010
One-shots is a new bi-weekly column interviewing Chicago comic book artists and writers, as well as colorists, store owners, and others that make up the local sequential art scene. Through dialogue and pictures, One-shots explores the people and ideas behind all kinds of comics, highlighting the city's diverse range of talent.
Ezra Claytan Daniels
Born and raised in Sioux City, Iowa, comic book artist, writer, and designer Ezra Claytan Daniels has divided his adult life between Portland and Chicago. The contrast between these cities, as well as those in his life, reflect themselves in his words and pictures. Black and white, temperate and tumultuous, past and future: themes of race, location, and time itself play out in linework that is abundant yet precise, pictures that are not always pretty but sometimes beautiful. Author of the graphic novel The Changers, he has contributed to a Dark Horse anthology, created an interactive, illustrated iPhone app, produced a series of fill-in-the-blanks greeting cards, and continues to orchestrate the occasional Comic Art Battle. Most recently, he has teamed up with local chamber group Fifth House Ensemble to create Black Violet, a multimedia performance combining instrumentals and cartoon images to tell the story of a lost cat's journey through Black Plague-era London.
Not long ago, I was given the opportunity to talk with Ezra about his work history both in and out of comics, the differences between Portland and Chicago, his early days making zines. We also drank coffee and complained about the CTA.
Name: Ezra Claytan Daniels
Job: Freelance Illustrator and Designer
Location: West Town
Hometown: Sioux City, IA
Favorite place in Chicago: Logan Theater, because I love cheap movies, sometimes I'll walk up there, it's a nice walk. I like the Davis Theatre a lot too though.
Where are you from originally?
I was born in Sioux City, IA. Grew up there, moved to Portland, Oregon when I was 19 to go to art school. I didn't do any art stuff in Iowa. In high school, I got a job at a graphic design agency, did that for three years. I got a pretty good education in Iowa even though I didn't go to school there. That's probably why I dropped out of art school in Portland, because I had all the real world skills I would need.
When did you leave Portland for Chicago?
I left Portland 6 years ago.
Why did you move here?
I wanted to be closer to my family, wanted to live in a real city and get my ass kicked for awhile. I definitely got my ass kicked for 2-3 years.
I came to Chicago on a book tour promoting The Changers, I really fell in love. All of the great things about New York without any of the pretension. Blue-collar, all these people doing great things.
How'd you get your ass kicked?
I just couldn't find any work. I got spoiled from Portland, everything's so cheap, it's so easy to get by...I blew through my nest egg in two weeks, going to bars and going to shows.
Getting into comics, how did you get into reading them in the first place? What did you read?
I discovered my uncle's stash of 70's era Marvel comics. I didn't read them so much as mimic the drawing styles. In middle school and high school, I got into Sin City, borderline indie stuff- really started to read. I didn't realize there was anything more than genre stories until I moved to Portland, read Chris Ware and Adrian Tomine. In Portland I really got into independent comics.
When did you start actually drawing comics?
I always drew comics, mimicking superhero stuff, the stuff I was exposed to.
In Portland, I published a series of mini-comics called Disposable Boy, typical autobiographical drivel, how lonely I was and how much I wanted a girlfriend. The last issue of that was a CD-rom with some music and a couple of extra features.
How did you get into combining music and comics, making something that was more multimedia?
I just felt like was always something that I was into, I wanted to combine the things that I was into doing. It was a learning experience. The Disposable Boy #3 CD sold because it was kind of a novelty. Weird, electronic, video game-y. Just a companion thing. It would also play these random songs that didn't have anything to do with it.
I was writing Changers when I was doing Disposable Boy. I spent a few months talking to people, how I would make it as a movie, showed films at a couple of film festivals. I eventually decided to adapt the Changers' screenplay as a graphic novel, that's why a lot of it takes place in two apartments. It was easy to transition it to a graphic novel. It was storyboarded in my mind, but really hard for me to find a drawing style that I could stick with.
How do you think Chicago's influenced you, your style?
I think it definitely forced me to pick up my game a little bit, meeting a lot of amazingly talented artists with a more diverse set of styles that I'd seen. I got closer to people with more diverse styles.
These were moreso my peers than in Portland. There was more of a direct competition in Chicago than Portland. I felt like it was a lot more competitive here. I didn't feel as much of a need to aspire to be as good as them as I did until moving to Chicago. I think Chicago was maybe less supportive of up and coming artists. Which is great, it made me a better artist.
But it kind of has a downside too?
Yeah. When I was in Portland, I was that guy who was making whiny autobiographical comics author, which I don't think would happen here- there's more distractions, more things competing with an artist's time. Also, there's not as much of a draw for someone who's really well-known to hang out with every single mini-comics creator.
Portland's a lot smaller, easier to get around. It's much more fluid there, everyone was more open-minded and supportive about each other's stuff.
How has it influenced your drawing style?
One of my roommates was a really good illustrator, I got to know his style a lot, that influenced me a little bit. I think just growing up and becoming more mature, getting my ass kicked here made me grow. I stopped using crutches in drawing style. Changers was drawn in a really sketchy style, partly to mask my inadequacies. I had to either embrace my inefficiencies or get rid of them. I developed a cleaner and more coherent style.
What have you published here?
I didn't really publish anything here. I got such a great critical response when I published Changers, I thought I would sink seamlessly into comics here. That wasn't the case. I only published one thing, that was through Dark Horse, "A Circuit Closed". Definitely the new style that I learned here played into that, it's a lot different a lot grittier and dirtier looking than Changers. it's less green and more brown. It came from Chicago, definitely- that's all Chicago.
Do you think moving from one place to another has had an effect on the themes in your comics?
The themes might be in-between two places, I think that definitely goes back to my childhood in Iowa, half-black and half-white. I guess there's a running theme in all of my stuff: Changers torn between times, "A Circuit Closed"- a little girl caught between life with her family and trying to find her soulmate. Black Violet-Violet starts out coming from this pampered lifestyle with her human master, she meets these animals on the streets, and she's torn between wanting the freedom of living on the streets and her human master.
What do you feel you've brought to Chicago, in terms of comics? Or anything else?
I think when I first came here, I brought Portland's sense of community a little bit, I made efforts to bring people together.
What have you taken away?
I think maybe work ethic. I think I definitely learned to be more disciplined in Chicago.