Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Questions 23: Aaron McConnell

AARON MCCONNELL is an award-winning freelance illustrator and comics creator, and the coauthor of The U.S. Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation. He received an MFA in painting from the Rhode Island School of Design, in 2002, and is currently a member of Periscope Studio.

What projects are you working on currently?

Right now I'm working on another graphic novel adaptation with Jonathan Hennessey. He and I adapted the US Constitution to comics in 2008, and this year we'll be releasing The Gettysburg Address in comic form.

I also started a project with my oldest son a couple days ago based on a script written by Jim Berry.  That might turn up on my son's blog ( ) at some point this year.  

DD:  What is your artistic Process?
Read the script, gather research material, read the script, thumbnail approximately 20 pages, gather more research material, block in letters on the thumbnails (because these nonfiction books tend to be pretty heavy on the text), pencil the pages, ink and color them, and send them to a letterer.  Repeat.
DD:  When are story illustrator, how involved are you in the guiding the story?
It depends who I'm working with.  Jonathan Hennessey invites me to offer ideas in the beginning and middle of the process (although, admittedly, I don't contribute too much because I don't want to get in his way.)  But I send him my early drafts and sometimes those have alternate ideas for composition/panel count.  In a different comic project that I drew recently for 3rd to 5th graders I was required to follow the script very closely and there were restrictions on depicting violence and weapons in the battle scenes even though it was meant to accurately portray the siege on Fort Wagner during the Civil War.  I had to Photoshop a bunch of bayonets out of one image, for example. 
What Comic/ Trade would you recommend?
To my mom: (she doesn't read many comics because she claims it's a challenge to follow the order of panels/captions/balloons):  I recommended Asterios Polyp because it's clearly and tightly constructed for readability and she's into psychology and romance.  She read it and thought it was great!  She also liked Persepolis, but she recommended that one to me:)
To my Sister: (she's a painter in NYC who likes comics ranging from Calvin and Hobbes to Julie Doucet):  I'd recommend Make Me a Woman by Vanessa Davis because she can probably relate to it in one way or another, or Miss Don't Touch Me by Hubert and Kerascoe (although I haven't read it yet), and anything written by Joann Sfar, like Dungeon, for it's light-hearted Euro-adventure and Chagall-like graphics.
To my Dad: (he's a cartoonist and inked comics for Marvel in the 90s):  I usually tell him about whatever I'm obsessed with at any given time, currently WinterWorld by Dixon and Zaffino.  For Christmas he gave me a collection of The Abominable Charles Christopher by Karl Kerschl.  That was a great gift recommendation!
To the random nude Portland bicyclist: Bodyworld by Dash Shaw or Chris Ware's ACME Novelty Library 20 (I haven't read it yet, but certain it's tops).
DD:  What Comic/ Trade would you recommend to someone new to comics?
Autobio comics are good for comic evangelism.  You'll get your convert quotas filled in no time with the likes of Pekar, Spiegelman, Lynda Barry, etc.  I tried to ignore comics for a few years in the late 90s, but when I finally came across a copy of Chester Brown's I Never Liked You, I was pulled back in for good.  A more didactic recommendation might be the Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics.

DD:  What skill would you like to learn?
A photographic memory would be nice, but I'll settle for a better memory in general.

DD:  What's the most important thing you've learned? 
"Best things always come when your mind's at rest" is useful to me.

DD:  Do you have a collection? If so, what is one of the items you're most proud of?
I've got a collection of sons;)  Two boys that my wife and I do our best to raise.  I'm proud of them.

DD:  What is your favorite genre of Comics? 
Naturalistic Fantasy, if that's a genre (That might be cheating because I can put anything from Blueberry to Love and Rockets to Pluto in that category.)

DD:  Do you have an Ipad? If so what do use it for the most.
I'm sure I've dropped enough money on vinyl LPs to own an Ipad by now, so I guess that says something about my aversion to new gadgets.  But if you're offering, I'll take one!

DD:  What is your favorite TV show/ movie?
Hitchcock's Vertigo is probably my favorite movie.  I love the voyeurism, suspense, mystery, history, romance, character studies, references to art and architecture, the specificity of the locations, and the sheer beauty of every scene. 

DD:  How does the Portland comics culture shapes your work
I'm a part of Periscope studio and that association has been largely responsible for my career drawing comics.  Apart from the fact that my studiomates helped me meet my first publishing deadline, I've also been exposed to artwork and techniques that I doubt I would have discovered on my own.   The influence that my peers have on my work cannot be understated.

DD:  What was your first comic convention?
I think early 90s, Seattle where I stood in line to have Art Adams and Bill Sienkiewicz sign comics from my collection.  Sienkiewicz laughed at me because I pulled my comics out of a box that was tagged with an advertisement for a chemical that controlled powdery mildew in orchards (I grew up on a pear and apple orchard).

DD:  What is your favorite part of comic conventions?
Besides pretending that I have only a casual interest in comics?  I enjoy meeting creators and looking for sketchbooks and new releases.  I haven't really felt the pull to sit behind a booth yet.  I tried it once or twice and wished I was roaming the floor instead.

DD:  If you weren’t doing comics what would you do?
Probably trying to control powdery mildew working on my parents' orchard.

DD:  Do you have a favorite restaurant that you would recommend?
My youngest son is 2, so when we rarely eat out we go for family dining.  We like Country Cat on Stark and they have weeknight specials .  We also like Dot's Cafe on Clinton for burgers and velvet.

DD:  How long have you lived in Portland, what made you choose Portland?
We moved here in September 2006 after deciding that Providence, RI was too far from family.  My wife and I have family in Central Washington and Albany so we're well situated.

DD:  What is your favorite part of Portland?
I love living near a park, and the fact that no matter where you live in Portland you're probably within walking distance of a park.  Nice to be in a city where trees get some respect!

DD:  Where in Portland/ Oregon would you most like to visit?
You name it!  I haven't been to Ashland in years, and still haven't been to Crater Lake.  And the entire east side of the state is still unexplored territory to me.  What's out there?

DD:  Would you like to write/Illustrate for another media? Or write a character from another media, for example, Dr. Who, James Bond? What would you explore?
I would like to participate in one of those music anthology books like they've done for Belle and Sebastian, Tori Amos, and Bob Dylan.  If anyone's publishing a Tom Waits or Vic Chesnutt comic anthology I hope I get an invite;)  How 'bout a Nick Cave anthology?

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