Eric Shanower is the award-winning cartoonist of the graphic novel series Age of Bronze (Image), a retelling of the Trojan War. With cartoonist Skottie Young, he is adapting L. Frank Baum’s Oz books to comics (Marvel). Shanower’s past comics work includes the Oz graphic novel series and art for An Accidental Death by Ed Brubaker, The Elsewhere Prince by Moebius and R-JM Lofficier, and Harlan Ellison’s Dream Corridor. He has illustrated for television, magazines, and children’s books. He lives in San Diego, California. See more of his work at www.age-of-bronze.com.
ARTIST INTERVIEW WITH ERIC SHANOWER
Q: Can you give us a little personal history and tell us something about your experiences growing up?
E: I was born in 1963 in Key West, Florida, USA. My father was in the US Coast Guard while I was a child, and my family moved every couple years on average. The most exotic place we lived was on the US Naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. I’ve loved narrative and illustration ever since I can remember. When I was six I fell in love with the Oz books by L. Frank Baum and decided that I would continue the Oz series by writing and illustrating Oz books when I grew up. A little later I also fell in love with comics. As a teenager I made the decision to become a professional cartoonist. After high school I attended the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art and decided I would write and draw Oz comics instead of illustrated Oz books.
Q: Have you always had an interest in the arts?
E: Yes. I’ve always been interested in stories, illustration, and the stage.
Q: Was there a particular artist or art style that influenced or inspired you?
E: I’ve loved the Oz book illustrations by John R. Neill since I first saw them at age six. I admire pen and ink drawing from the golden age of illustration. But my influences are wide, since I believe everything I’ve ever experienced, no matter how fleeting, has had some influence on me.
Q: What lead you into seeking the arts as a career?
E: As a young child I thought I’d follow a career having to do with writing, drawing, or acting. Being a cartoonist combines all of those ideas.
Q: Do your personal beliefs or feeling affect your work?
E: Of course. It would be impossible for my beliefs and feelings not to affect my work. My work is an outward expression of what’s inside. This is the way all art works. Of course, technique and skill have a lot to do with what results, but at the bottom, that’s what all art is—externalizing something internal.
Q: Has your education had any influence on your work?
E: Absolutely. That’s where the technique and skill come in. Life is a continual process of education, at least for people who know how to think. And even people who have little interest in analyzing things around them can’t completely escape being exposed to new things. Thinking and gaining new experiences are two of the joys of life, and there’s no way that what comes out of me onto the page can avoid being influenced by what has gone into me.
Q: Do you favor any particular medium (paints, pencils, computers, etc.)?
E: I like finished pen and ink work the best. I don’t like painting, although I’ll do it when a job requires it.
Q: What kind of assignments have you worked on? (A little job history here.) E: I’m primarily a cartoonist/graphic novelist. My main current project is the ongoing series Age of Bronze, a retelling of the Trojan War, published by Image. I also write comics adaptations of the Oz books by L. Frank Baum. Those are published by Marvel with art by Skottie Young. Past highlights of my career include the Oz graphic novel series (currently in print from IDW), An Accidental Death with writer Ed Brubaker (Fantagraphics), The Elsewhere Prince with writers Jean “Moebius” Giraud and R-JM Lofficier (Marvel), and art for the introductions in Harlan Ellison’s Dream Corridor (Dark Horse). I’ve done art for television, magazines, and children’s books, including two books I wrote myself.
Q: Does any single art assignments, or works, standout in your mind?
E: I’m most proud of Age of Bronze, my Trojan War retelling. In it I’ve taken all the versions of the story I can find—from Homer’s Iliad on down—and synthesized them all into one long, coherent storyline. I’ve set it in the correct historical period, the 13th century BCE. That might sound complicated and daunting, but Age of Bronze is really just a historical drama.
Q: Do you work at anything other than the arts?
E: No, not professionally.
Q: Why did you choose to participate in the Color of Comics exhibit?
E: Alex asked.
Q: Since exhibiting the depiction of people of color is a aim of the COC, what part does cultural and/or racial diversity play in your art, and your art assignments?
E: Every comics job I take begins with the story. All aspects must be in the service of communicating the story to the reader. Cultural and racial diversity has never been a foundational reason for me to tell a story. With Age of Bronze, however, it’s very important to me to present the historical period and place as accurately as I can. That necessitated researching the Mycenaean civilization and the Hittite Empire to present those long-gone cultures as convincingly as possible. Many people have retold the Trojan War with a veneer of Classical Greek or even Roman trappings. I’m not interested in updating the story. As far as racial diversity, I’m all for it, as long as its in service to the story. I was happy to find that a black man, Eurybates, is Odysseus’s best friend in Homer’s Odyssey. That gave me one chance to present an Age of Bronze character with a name and speaking role who wasn’t of a southern European or Near Eastern type. I’ve since found other ways to present characters with African ancestry in Age of Bronze and in the future will be bringing in a major character whose roots are in eastern Asia. I wouldn’t be doing this in Age of Bronze unless it were true to the story. Fortunately, it is.
Q: As an artist, what are your goals for the future?
E: One goal is to finish Age of Bronze eventually. It’s a long project. After that I’ll be working on something new—something probably quite different. In the meantime, there are always small projects I’m always working on, other comics, illustration jobs, writing, speaking engagements.
Q: Do you have any advice or suggestions for young artists just starting out?
E: The only way to learn how to draw is to do it, so keep drawing. It’s often good to study other artists and also to read art instruction books. The library is a good resource and much better than the Internet for looking at artwork. But if you’re young and not interested in someone else’s way of making art, don’t worry about it. Do it your own way. When you’re ready for some guidance, go find it, but don’t force yourself to do anything anyone else’s way until you’re really interested. But do take whatever art classes you can find. Some of them will be good and some of them will be little more than baby-sitting. Get whatever you can out of them. But don’t stress over what you don’t like. Most of all, just keep drawing.
Q: Do you have any final comments for us?
E: Comics is a great art form full of possibilities. If you want to create comics, go for it and put everything you have into it. If you just want to read comics and not make them, then read whatever comics you can get. There are all kinds and a lot of them are great.
For more information on Eric and “Age of Bronze,” visit: www.age-of-bronze.com