An Interview with Jacen Burrows
(originally appeared in Bad World #3)
Let's start at the beginning. What was the first comic you remember
reading? Back when I would get someone to buy me comics at 7/11
or the grocery store I wanted issues of one, and only one, comic as
a little kid. That comic was SGT. ROCK! I could never break it down
to one issue but I know it was SGT. ROCK or one of those other DC War
books from the 70's.
When did you decide that you wanted to work in comics? When I
was about 12, I met the creators of the TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES
at a small con in Connecticut before they had made it big, right around
the time of their second issue. They had so much love for the medium
and their excitement was contagious. That was around the time I read
RONIN for the first time as well. I was hooked. I had known I would
do something art related since I was a child but comics just seemed
to be perfect for me at that point.
Whose work has had the most influence on you, both in comics and
other media? My biggest influences in comics have been from the
independent creators from the eighties. I didn't grow up reading superheroes.
I was into stuff like MAGE and GRENDEL from Matt Wagner, GRIMJACK and
SCOUT from Tim Truman and NEXUS and BADGER from Mike Baron. As with
everyone else in this field, the works of Frank Miller and Alan Moore
were huge influences but I also got early exposure to European and Japanese
comics by being able to go to the San Diego Comicon as a kid since that
is my hometown. You can see a lot of that in my page work. I've been
devouring the work of everyone from Mitsuteru Yokoyama and Osamu Tezuka
to Moebius and Hergé. Outside of comics, my biggest visual influences
have been from films. Particularly Kubric, Hitchcock and Lynch.
How did you land your first job in the industry? The first real
work I did was as Scott Clark's background assistant for some of his
Wildstorm work including the Spawn Wildcats Crossover. He actually lived
a couple doors down from my parents in San Diego and we met when I was
back from college on break. It was a good but brief learning experience.
There were some very small press projects before that that are better
off forgotten so you won't be getting the names from me (laughs).
Which comic character do you most relate to? I'd say Kaneda from
AKIRA. I have his perseverance and tenacity and I was definitely a troublemaker
when I was younger.
From an artist's point of view, what are the best and worst parts
of your job? I guess the thing that bothers me most is the instability.
Jobs, money, print runs, promises...you never know what is going to
happen or where you will be in a year. You just have to hope you'll
land on your feet no matter what curves the industry throws at you or
that you'll have the will to even get up and keep going after getting
knocked on your ass a few times. The best part of comics is the fact
that you potentially have the ability to tell your own stories and concepts
to a wide audience in an easily created format. You have the power of
any filmmaker or novelist. And where else but comics would I get to
draw the variety of stuff I get to do? Everything from a half-eaten
human to a far future landscape. That is really fun stuff.
If you had to name just one project, what would you consider to be
your biggest accomplishment thus far? Doing the Warren Ellis books
has definitely gotten my stuff in front of more noses, which is a big
accomplishment. Artistically, just wait till you see what I have planned
for SCARS. I still feel that I am very new to this medium, even though
I have been working in the trenches for years now. I guess I feel that
every new project is a big accomplishment.
Obviously, there's a lot to be learned by working in this industry.
How do you think your style has changed since you began? Well, most
recently, I had to learn to draw tight enough to use Avatar's electronic
inking system which was a bit of a challenge but by tightening my pencils
to that level I have learned a lot about how to present my work the
way I want it to look. Having complete control over the final image
that is going to be seen is quite different from penciling and handing
off to an inker. I have to think through the image a lot further. A
lot of editors and artists will tell aspiring artists that they need
to ink their own work early on because you learn a lot more about the
drawing process and how to translate your individual style to the printed
page and this is basically the same thing. As for the debate about whether
electronic inking is good or bad, well, I would rather do this than
have bad inks but good inking is far superior in my opinion.
What's your favorite piece of your own work? The DARK BLUE trade
is a personal favorite because it the first piece that I can show or
give people that has a beginning, middle and end and it's the first
thing I did that people have really gotten excited about. I can't begin
to explain the excitement you feel when you hold your first collected
trade in your hand. It's really an amazing thing. I also did a piece
with my friend Miles Gunter called SKID ROZE that was an amazingly fun
experience. It's very hard to find which is part of its appeal in my
mind. It will always be my long lost treasure.
What projects do you have coming up? When BAD WORLD wraps I will
be starting SCARS, a 6 issue mini series written by Warren. It's hardcore
cop story that ought to surprise quite a few people. After that, we'll
see what comes up.
Do Ellis's sick stories ever creep you out a little? Not at all.
The sicker it is, the more I get a kick out of it. There is too much
absurdity in the world to not have a sense of humor about the darker
What are your plans over the next few years? I am hoping to get
a bigger following and do more high profile projects with some of the
industry's top-notch creators. Eventually I want to work my way into
a position where I can do my own stuff...I don't think there is a creative
person out there who doesn't have some stories of his or her own to
tell. I love collaborations, but I eventually want to have more input
on plot and content. When I look at what is being published right now,
I see certain genres being handled poorly or not at all. There are a
lot of untapped markets out there, and many areas could use some fresh
ideas both conceptually and visually.
What would you consider to be your "dream project", at
this point in your career? I'd have to say some sort of creator-owned
epic along the lines of Otomo's AKIRA or Jeff Smith's BONE books. I
love the idea of spending an extended period of time on one project
where you can really flesh out characters and environment and tell a
story as big as you want. I want to play in all the genres, really.
I don't have much of a draw to superheroes but I expect to eventually
try my hand at them. I am mostly drawn to Noir, Horror, Historic, Sci-fi
and Fantasy and really want to try a bit of everything.
Now we know what type of book you'd like to do, but which writers
would you most like to work with? Good question...I am a big fan
of the new generation of noir writers that are getting a lot of attention
in the industry right now. Azzarello, Bendis, Rucka and Brubaker are
doing fantastic stuff, and I'd kill to work with these guys. And who
wouldn't want to work with some of the now legendary writers in this
industry like Alan Moore, Grant Morrison and Garth Ennis? I have been
talking to some relative unknowns, too, that I expect to see big things
out of in the future that I wouldn't mind collaborating with. Antony
Johnson and Robert Lughibil come to mind, along with my buddy Miles
Gunter whom I will definitely work with again.
What would your advice be to kids or adults who want to be part of
the comic industry? It's not easy. Now more than ever before, you
have to be ready to prove that you deserve a shot and that you can and
will be better than those around you. You have to really work for it
and love what you do. I'd also say to get your training anywhere but
comics. A good comic writer doesn't learn to write from reading comics
and a good artist needs to understand the basic rules of anatomy, perspective,
design and composition before doing a comic page that's worth a damn.
Never fear harsh criticism. In fact, the more brutal it is, the more
you will learn. An editor or another artist will not waste their time
picking apart art that doesn't show some potential so take what you
are told and use it. Nothing will doom a career faster than a thin skin.
For kids, I'd just tell them to try and remember why they love comics
through their whole journey and it will serve them well. You have to
really love this medium to do it justice.
As an artist and a reader, where do you see the comics industry heading
in the next few years? The whole marketplace seems to be moving
toward trades and collections and I couldn't be happier. I don't dislike
monthlies but I think that graphic novels are better from an artistic
standpoint as well as a business one. You can control the readers experience
a bit more when you know you have a captive audience for more than 20
pages at a time. You can create stronger narratives and better pacing.
From a business perspective, you have a story that will hopefully remain
in print and hold shelf space for longer than a month. You have a greater
chance of being discovered by a wider audience that might have missed
you if their retailer didn't order your issues and missed the window.
It just makes more sense.
Any parting advice for our readers? Words of wisdom? Support
the small press. There is always a need for an alternative to the mainstream,
especially when times are tight. We can't allow smaller companies to
be squeezed out of the game or all we'll have is candy coated, generic
hero books. Where else but a company like Avatar can writers and artists
work without editorial restraints and do stories with content that the
big guys might be too squeamish to publish? Aside from that: spay or
neuter your pets, and always use turn signals!