Five Questions with Chris Schweizer

We're very happy to be part of the Five Questions with Kids Comics Authors, a special celebration coordinated by publisher MacTeenBooks. All this past week, creators have been talking about working on kids comics. Today it's our turn to host 5 questions, and we have none other than Chris Schweizer of the Crogan's Adventures series!

With no further ado, here we go!

Chris Schweizer

From Rafael: I saw a copy of the Sketchbook you published and was really impressed by the amount of preparation you do for your books. Are you a compulsive sketcher, or do you only draw when you have to?

Schweizer: The last couple of years have seen a marked decline in the amount of sketching that I do.  When I was teaching, I would usually fill up one sketchbook a month, whereas now I've probably used two or three in the last two years.  A big part of this is because of my circumstances then and now.  I was commuting, going to meetings, traveling to shows, talking with students, etc, and any time that my hands weren't otherwise occupied I was sketching.  It helped me keep focus on what was going on rather than letting my mind wander.  But for the past couple of years I've flown very little and when I'm not at my desk working I'm usually playing with my daughter, so sketching-as-something-to-occupy-my-faculties no longer applies.  And when I'm working on preparatory stuff for future books, I'm often drawing on the computer, just because that's where I physically am when on the clock.

That isn't to say that I'm not drawing a lot, it's just that now I'm devoting most my energy to finished pieces rather than exploratory sketches.  In addition to the books I've done over the last two years I've also done probably twenty-five posters, six or seven hundred character portraits (five hundred fifty-five of which will be collected in an upcoming art book), and a decent amount of animation design work, mostly environments.

The only time I regularly sketch anymore is in church, as it's the one time my hands aren't otherwise occupied, but I'll probably put more effort into sketching this year as I start to travel again.

From Jorge: You went to Savannah College of Art & Design and also taught there for several years.  My nephew is going to start going there this Fall.  What advice do you have for young artists going to art school?  What should they be focus on while at school so they can make a living working in the arts once they graduate?

Schwiezer: One of the biggest strengths of art school - its intense focus on one subject - is also its biggest weakness.  While a student should certainly do all that he or she can to absorb, reflect upon, and internalize the rules and principles being taught related to the student's medium, college is the best possible time to try to learn as much as possible in as many disparate fields of study as might hold a student's interest.  The most employable artists (if one is looking at fields in which there is collaboration, production, etc) are the ones who not only have a mastery of their craft but who are also well-read, well-reasoned, and varied in their interests.  This affects your interpersonal relationships and it also benefits your art by giving you perspectives that may not be shared by your peers.

A good understanding of math might yield format or dramatic pacing or compositional ideas.  A good understanding of sociology might help you craft character.  An understanding of engine mechanics might give your designs a sense of real-world applicability.  Geography, engineering, journalism, the trombone, birdwatching, rock climbing, coin collecting, knitting... however broad or narrow the scope of one's interests, those interests will affect one's art, and that's a good thing.  It forestalls the homogeny that might otherwise manifest when a bunch of students are studying the same thing in the same way.  So take advantage of all of your classes, all of your guest speakers, any publishing opportunities that may arise, etc, but also take as many electives as you can, sit in on as many non-major-related lectures as you can.  Join academic clubs and fun clubs and anything else that you can to broaden your exposure to things about which you may not know much.

Question: Can you talk about your cartooning influences? what were some of your favorite comics as kid?

Schweizer: We had a lot of comic strips in the house.  As close to complete collections of Peanuts Books, Calvin & Hobbes, and Pogo as were possible at the time, and one or two collections each of many of the other strips.  I had a big Dick Tracy collection that I read to tatters, and a big Burne Hogarth adaptation of the first half of the first Tarzan novel.  Around third or fourth grade I got a collection of the first ten issues of Spider-Man, and I was big into that book.  I think it's better than any other superhero run of its era by such a wide margin.  Ditko's priorities were staging and clarity, and as a result of reading those stories over and over I think they've become my priorities, too.

When I was in high school I fell out of reading monthly comics but started picking up Bone and Usagi Yojimbo, and they were both huge for me.  Both as direct influences on my approach to comics-making, but also from a business standpoint.  These guys weren't confined to the genres of their time and that was exciting.  I wanted to do historical adventure, and they were proof that you could do whatever you wanted if you did it very well.

Question: What can you tell us about your upcoming book The Creeps?

Schweizer: The two genres in which I've always wanted to work are historical adventure and kids' horror.  Not horror generally, but horror for kids.  I love being scared, and I love scaring others, but I think there's something especially wonderful about scary stuff geared at and featuring kids.  The social situation of kids is so much different than that of adults.  They're afforded very little agency to determine their own affairs, they have very little control over the social makeup of their daily encounters, and I think that these things add layers to the drama in a way that adult horror usually doesn't.  Kids have to deal with stuff on a daily basis that would just destroy adults, they're the best suited to dealing with monsters because they roll with things so well.  Add to that the wonder and mystery of childhood and you have a recipe for exciting, engaging, terrifying stories.

The Creeps is about four very unpopular middle schoolers.  They're unpopular because they're always uncovering these terrible monster plots, and everyone else in town wishes that they wouldn't rock the boat.  So they would have it a lot easier if they just let whatever terrible things were going to happen happen, but their consciences won't let them.  I'm hoping that the books are both funny and scary, that's my goal.

Question: Our colorist John Novak colored some of the Tricky Tales books. Are you working on any more?

Schweizer: I'm afraid not.  That was a fun project, but the company that made them, Lerner, scaled back its comics imprint considerably.  I did get to work with my editor on that project again with the first Creeps book, which was wonderful.  No, my time now is mostly divided between The Crogan Adventures and The Creeps, though I always try to squeeze more in if I can.  There are a lot of stories that I want to tell!