1. Creator Q + A: Benjamin Marra

    Linework NW is at its heart a gathering of remarkable creators, editors, illustrators, cartoonists, and publishers who represent some of the best work that is being produced in these mediums today.

    Each day from now until the show we are going to be highlighting the amazing creators of Linework NW in a series of interviews conducted by the awesome folks over at Gridlords. Today’s spotlight is on the New York-based cartoonist Benjamin Marra, who publishes his work as Traditional Comics.

    How did you get started making comics? Do you have any formal training, or are you self taught?
    I always tried to make comics when I was growing up. I wrote and drew a few short stories in college. They were all terrible. I finally was able to make a full-fledged comic in 2007 when I made the first issue of NIGHT BUSINESS. I do have formal training in illustration. I have a BFA and MFA in illustration. When I was in grad school at SVA, I took David Mazzucchelli’s comic book workshop class. He was also my thesis advisor. I made a comic for my thesis. With comics, however, other than the lessons I learned from Mazzucchelli, I’m self taught, I guess, like every other comic artist practically. Unless you consider artists like Kirby, Wood, Crumb and Steranko to be teachers through their printed work. There wasn’t any formal education for comics when I was developing, like CCS
    How did you arrive at your style? Do you have just one method of drawing/painting/etc., or do different projects dictate different styles?
    I arrived at my style by finally letting go of things I can’t control about the way I draw. I don’t like the way I draw. I can only see the way I can improve my work. I like the way other people draw. But I keep doing it out of some kind of compulsion. I think one’s style is born from their unconscious choices. It’s the same with human behavior. You’re judged by the things you do unconsciously. It’s those unconscious decisions combined with your conscious decisions that form who you are as a person. So it’s the same with art creation and art style. 
    I have several methods of drawing, though I’m sure I’m the only one that sees the difference. My comic book projects generally don’t dictate my drawing style. My drawings for comic books I believe should look like comic book artwork. I believe comic book artwork stems from artists like Wood, Kirby and Steranko among others. I believe my formal drawing style should support the form of the comic book. I’d say my design projects dictate different design styles. Though my design projects generally revolve around comic books, too. I think a story can dictate how I draw something. But all my stories are pretty much about the same things in America, crime, sex, violence, drugs, race, football, religion, etc. 

    In a similar vein, are there any sort of warm-up exercises you do before drawing? Or before writing?
    No. I don’t warm up before drawing. I think it’s a waste of energy. If I did some warm-ups and they looked good, why didn’t I just use that effort in the real project I’m working on? I talked with Jaime Hernandez about warm-ups. If Jaime doesn’t warm up before he draws, why should I? I’m all about making my process as efficient as possible. To spend time warming up would be using time that I could actually be productive.
    Do you find that certain visual themes recur in your work? Any motifs or regular occurrences you’d like to talk about?
    Yes. I can’t stop drawing big blocks of shadows, trying to render form in black and white, sexy women, guns, boobs, butts, muscles, buildings, metal, spacial relationships, gravity, the human form, stories about America, crime, sex, violence, drugs, race, football, religion, etc. 
    What kind of stories do you find you like to tell?
    Stories about America, crime, sex, violence, drugs, race, football, religion, etc.
    Are there any mediums outside the work that you do that you find inspiring? Any authors, filmmakers, performers, etc.?
    I love prose books. Love. I would read all day if I could. I love Jack Vance’s prose. I like genre fiction. I’m re-reading The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe and find it very rewarding narratively. I really enjoyed A Song of Ice and Fire. I love Philip K. Dick’s books. I tend to get a lot of visual ideas from reading those books because they ignite my imagination for visions more than any other media. Role-playing games do something similar, too. I like when media shows me something I didn’t expect and I can’t figure out how I arrived at a narrative situation. Too many times in movies there’s a formula that’s so well tread you know what’s coming next, or you can see things being set up to be resolved later. I do love movies though, mostly Italian genre movies from the ’70s and ’80s. I love the work of Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci and Sergio Martino.
    Conversely, are there any other mediums you work in that you could talk about? Any video, performance, or music that you do?
    No. I would just like to make comics the rest of my life. I don’t care about my pictures moving. I don’t hear sounds, I see things in my mind. If I had more time and space I would do big paintings, maybe.  
    If you could collaborate with any person, living or dead, who would it be? What would you work on?
    Fuck. I guess Paul Gulacy. I’d write a comic for him to draw. 
    Who have you been looking at in comics recently? Anyone’s work just blowing you away?
    I’m continuously mining the past in comics. There are so many treasures from the past decades. I’m interested in very little currently being made in comics unfortunately, although I’m really looking forward to Jacen Burrows’s work on the new Alan Moore series from Avatar, PROVIDENCE. I always love looking at what Gary Panter is up to and Sammy Harkham’s work always amazes me. My taste from a lifetime of looking at comics has been honed to a razor sharp edge and very few things fit on such a narrow surface. I always look at Ken Landgraf’s comics. I absolutely love his stuff. I love Joe Vigil’s work and his brother Tim’s work. I love early Ron Lim stuff. I always love the classics, like Wally Wood, Jack Kirby, Jim Steranko. Recently, I’ve been looking at Gene Day’s work, too. His stuff blows my mind. I love so many inkers now, so I just seek out their stuff. I’ve been looking at Terry Austin’s stuff, Bob Layton over John Romita, Jr. I love Pablo Marcos’s, Armando Gil’s and Ernie Chan’s inks. Plus, a lot of times it comes down to inkers working with pencilers on single issues that just stand out magically for those 22 pages and it never happens again. Like lightning in a bottle. It’s impossible to list all the artists. There are so many …
    Do you have any new projects coming up that you can tell us about?
    I’m working on a couple of comics for Josh Bayer and his brother Sam. I’m inking BLADES & LAZERS 2 right now. I have a new book called TERROR ASSAULTER O.M.W.O.T. (One Man War On Terror) which should be debuting at TCAF. I’m always working on my unfinished graphic novel. Several freelance illustration and animation projects keep me busy, too. 
    Gridlords Interview by Graham Kahler
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