Lee Nordling spent several years as a print artist, designer and art director. When he became the art designer for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, he was given his first chance to become involved in the production of comic strips, which he sometimes helped to develop and occasionally wrote. In 1986 he left the Los Angeles Times Syndicate to work for Disney. With Disney, he wrote comic strips, comic books, and picture books, as well as designing and developing a number of comics. Sometime later he left Disney and moved to DC. There, he acted as group editor of creative services, overseeing the Design, Trading Card and Collected Edition departments at DC. In 1995 he wrote the book Your Career in Comics, which provided a look at the comic strip industry. Shortly after this he left DC, and worked for some time as a freelance writer. He was then hired by Nickelodeon Magazine with whom he remained for five years as editor of their syndicated Rugrats comic strip. Also during this time he established and ran Platinum Studios’ Comic Book Department. He worked there for seven years, overseeing the development of numerous projects and creators. In 2007 he left Platinum Studios to form his own company, The Pack, which is a sequential art book packager, specialising in the production of trade paperbacks. He also continues to produce his own material. In the fall of 2013 his book The Bramble, a sequential art picture book created with artist Bruce Zick, will be released. BTW, my graphic novel picture book, “The Bramble,” with artist Bruce Zick, just won the Moonbeam Gold Medal for best picture book (ages 4 – 8) of the year. (Comicvine.com)
Comics have been around for over 100 years, and it looks like they’re here to stay – how are today’s comic books and strips different from previous generations?
“There are several ways to look at the changes. The first is to note that the only thing that can be counted on is change. Think of comic strips and comic books as first cousins that have drifted from each other over the years, even though they’re still part of the same family/medium, which is sequential art.
Each has evolved both aesthetically and commercially, with, at different times, one or the other driving the change, and sometimes both like the chicken and the egg. Though it’s more often commercial necessities that become the inciting incident, the aesthetic response to that is what validates the initial choice.
Humorous story strips begat adventure strips, and adventure strips begat comic books, and comics books begat the Comics Code Authority, which plowed under one of the most creatively fertile fields, but then underground comics restored the creative potential, comics shifted from newsstand to direct nonreturnable sales, and the fans were running the asylum.
Meanwhile, as comic books became increasingly niche, comic strips got smaller and cartoonists adjusted. Does anybody think that “Peanuts” would’ve flourished in the days of the strips that ran the width of the newspaper page? Certainly not as we came to know and love it. And the story strip was the first to fade as a result of this decreasing size, because there was less space to draw magnificently visual stories.
Superhero stories matured, and the industry once again made room for other types of comics, though no longer comics for younger kids. Independent comics become viable, a less orgasmic version of the underground comics, and from these new possibilities we got “Maus,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel.
We also imported manga, and absorbed many of its sensibilities.
Graphic novels became a viable and expanding bookstore category, and now we face the age of digital comics, with market shares between them—in whatever form they end up evolving—and print comics continuing to evolve toward some balance that will determine, once again, as always that “change happens.”
I want a bumper sticker that reads that: Change happens.”
So many comic properties have been developed into big-screen franchises (with some notable bombs along the way). Do you think comic creators have this in the back of their minds these days, or are there still plenty of purists left out there?
“You’ll continue to see the mix we see today, creators keeping their eyes open for expansion into other media and others happy to keep their projects in the medium in which their projects were first conceived and published.
I’m not sure I accept the idea that these latter folk are “purists,” because it implies that the others are somehow tainted.
Isn’t the more important question for a creator to ask: what’s the best direction I can take my project? If it happens to be in comics, the way Bill Watterson preferred to keep “Calvin & Hobbes,” that’s fine. But if the writer of “Walking Dead” feels that it can live—how’s that for an ironic use of the word “live”?—and grow, even side by side, in another medium, who’s to say that this isn’t pure…if the creator is allowing the property to evolve in a way that helps to fulfill his original vision.
But for those who think it’s somehow impure to sell the rights of adaptation to Hollywood, let’s get real here; there are always trade-offs between creativity and commerce, and I’m not going to be one to say Stephen King shouldn’t be allowed to sell the rights of “The Shining” to Warners for Stanley Kubrick to completely change. We can discuss the change…but there are always going to be more Stephen Kings than Bill Wattersons. If you don’t think so, just give all those Bill Watterson wannabes a chance to prove me wrong.”
We’ve all seen comic book shops open and close in our areas, yet companies continue to churn out new books each month. Is the future heading toward a digital comics world, or is it still important to have that paper and ink book in the hands of readers?
“I think you’ll continue to see both print and digital, though the former becomes increasingly marginalized. Still, print sales do well, even if the average age of the comics reader continues to climb.
I think the importance of print will be decided by what’s published. Check out the Sunday Press Books reprints and tell me that size doesn’t matter. They reprint strips from the early 20th Century at their original published size.
I just sold a book series that reads differently from a traditional comic, and you need to have the book in your hands to follow the stories the way they’re intended.
So much about print extends beyond images on a page, and where those extensions are emphasized, print becomes more important in those cases.
But in all cases? Nope. Digital is here to stay, and it’s a great way to consume comics, where the differences between digital and print aren’t important to the consumer.
Let’s review that line again…“where the differences between digital and print aren’t important to the consumer.”
We come back to your initial question about changes, and how they’re generated by commerce and aesthetics.
We’ll start seeing more and more comics that only work digitally, and then the format won’t be so much the awkward stepchild.”
You’ve done it all, your career has touched every phase of comic development, from idea inception to editorial to probably even color palette choice! What’s your favorite?
“What’s my favorite part of the process?
Writing. (Can’t you tell from all these short answers?)
But being able to collaborate with an artist and take a comic story or graphic novel to finish, and even design it, that’s the best, because I’m able to share with others the initial vision for what I want to accomplish, and they can add to that and make it better.
* When the day is done, do you ever still grab a comic and lose yourself in the story?
Read “The Arrival” by Shaun Tan.
This book puts the reader in the position of the main character. He’s just arrived in this strange new world that he doesn’t understand. Everything is strange to him. It’s strange to us, too, and we follow his simple adventure of finding food, shelter, a job, and friends.
It’s an amazing book, one that demands and earns concentration.
I was a big fan of Darwyn Cook’s “The New Frontier” from DC Comics. When I got to the end, I even teared up.
I still love comics, but I’m more discerning than when I was ten, not that Cheri, my wife, says I act much older than that still.”
- Beloved comic Calvin and Hobbes gets a docu (rappler.com)