The hope and idea of the Issues with Perspective feature is to provide a more in depth look at the creators who makes comics and their process/influences/environment behind the making of the issues/series. I am terrible at naming things (take the podcast Pages and Panels, holy shit I hate that name) but the thought is that you will get a better perspective of the issue/series by learning more about the process and the actual creator who made it (Issues with Perspective, get it? Nah). I hope with this feature readers will get a further look into the books they love and the amazing people who make them.
For the next installment of Issues with Perspective I was really excited to be able to talk to the creator Sarah Horrocks about her work on the collection The Leopard. For me the comics I enjoy the most are the experiences I know I am not getting or going to get anywhere else. That is the distinct feeling you get right away when you read any one of Sarah's comics. Each page is its only singular experience. Sarah is often tackling very deep, relevant and personal ideas and themes admits the chaotic violent beauty of her comics. With the recent release of Leviathan and Goatlord from Sarah I decided to bug her to do a Issues with Perspective and luckily she agreed.
A huge thanks to Sarah for taking the time to answer questions and provide some tremendous insight into The Leopard, the medium and process. You can grab digital versions and The Leopard and some of Sarah's other work at her online digital store or physicals (including the new Leviathan and Goatlord comics) at her online store now! You can also listen to Sarah with another amazing creator Katie Skelly on their podcast Trash Twins.
Sarah Horrocks and The Leopard
Who is The Leopard? (Creative Team)
The Leopard is me. I write, color, draw, letter, and whatever else needs done for it.
What is The Leopard?
The Leopard is a transphobic revenge giallo. It is a comic of people telling each other how much they hate each other, and a comic about stylized violence perpetrated upon those same people. It is the story of a family of wealthy elites who re-unite at their family estate on an isolated island, in the wake of their mother's death--and all of the horror that situation creates, particularly once an inheritance becomes at stake.
Why should readers get The Leopard?
I think I'm being fairly modest to say that there is really nothing that has been done in comics that is like it. There might be a few other slasher comics out there, but nothing right now is being done the way I have done this. It is completely my own, and the result of my own idiosyncratic taste. So if you want to read something for which you can't really have the context for going in, these volumes offer an interesting opportunity. Also if you're a fan of sex, death, and hatred.
When/Where/How can readers get Leopard ?
For now I am serializing the volumes as I finish them on my gumroad site.
The first 3 volumes are on there, and each one comes with a little bit of extra in the way of backup comics--so it's pretty good value for $2 a volume. Eventually I'm going to collect all of the volumes and put them out through a publisher. But as I haven't started shoving it in front of publishers faces just yet, for the near future this is the best place to read The Leopard. There's only two volumes left, and they should be out this year.
If you'd like to read some of my stuff in print, I have some shorter books for sale on my print store.
I just released two new books, Leviathan(old hollywood hate fuck book), and Goatlord (Black Metal American Slasher)
What was a normal workday/drawing session like for you when working on the series?
If I have work that day, I usually get home, take a short nap, get up about 1am, get a page penciled in about 3 or 4 hours, or if I have inking I can ink 2 pages in that time depending on the page. Or if I'm coloring I can do about 5 pages, depending in the pages. And then on my days off, I can work twice as much, so I get twice as much done on those days. Mostly the impediments to me getting pages done every day are outside paid freelance work, or working on the podcast that I do with Katie Skelly called Trash Twins. So somedays I have to watch like 12 hours straight of Anna Nicole Smith shows. But it's good. I like a variety. I also make space to read comics and books, particularly since I also write about comics. So some weeks I decided I'm going to work on some comics criticism that week, so that shifts things. I wear a lot of hats, you see.
What is your work space like while working on comics?
I'm pretty much perpetually working, so it looks the same all of the time--I tend to surround myself with comics, art, or photography that inspire me, as well as old pages that I need to see for continuity sake. So that plus different pens and brushes--it's all kind of a tentacled mess. Particularly because I have a cat now that likes to move things around for fun.
What are the tools/applications/ you used most in the creation of Leopard? What medium are you working in?
I ink with razorblades, brushes, microns, some copics--I got these new parallel pens which are amazing--yeah I just kind of use whatever. I have a crudded up brush that I use to dry brush stuff, and I hope it never dies, but I refuse to clean it, because the worse the brush gets, the more it does what I want. I need to start working on destroying another one, because someday the inevitable will happen. I work on bristol board. And then I scan everything in and color in photoshop. I also hand letter stuff, for better or worse. Though IMO even bad hand lettering is better than digital lettering.
What is the situation that gets the most productivity out of you?
I'm pretty consistently the same level of productive--I do spurt slightly some times of the year, like for some reason I'm always really fast in the summer, and really slow in the late spring. But also really fast in the late winter. A lot of it really just just the oscillation of taking things in and making sure I have a full tank while I'm producing. But for the most part I just try to keep it moving. Even though it's only part time now, having a day job does introduce some complications--but my friend Brandon once told me that even if you only get a panel done each day, that's progress. Which seems like an obvious thing to say--but I think with comics, a comic is such a big thing, and so time consuming, that learning to not undervalue even small progress is integral to a healthy relationship to the work. So I try to always be able to close each day knowing I made some progress forward on something.
I also like to take mini-vacations from the day job, and instead of going anywhere, just bunker in and do like 15 pages in a week.
What media have you been engaged with during the creation of the Leopard series(music/movies/books/games) that helped the creation process or that you just happened to be into at that time?
I think Mario Bava's 5 Dolls for an August Moon is a pretty integral text in terms of The Leopard. Also lots of Cries and Whispers. Shintaro Kago drawings. Always Guido Crepax. I am self-taught when it comes to art, so when I read I learn--so I always try to be reading. I think there is some Cassavettes in there. I mean you can tell I drew some of the characters after people I like. I kind of cast my comics a lot of the time, because I watch so many movies, that's a fun way for me to look at my comics. Isabelle Adjani is my queen and patron saint. Music wise, when I write I listen to a lot of hiphop. When I draw I mostly listen to podcasts.
For readers who enjoy Leopard what else would you suggest to them that they might enjoy that has a similar tone/style/message of your work?
My fellow Trash Twin Katie Skelly is the only person who I know of who is approaching comics from a similar perspective--even though her perspective is very different even then. But her Pretty Vampire books are definitely similar kinds of things. Style wise, Crepax or Sayo Yamamoto, particularly her work with Lupin. Daisuke Igarashi. Some of the toning stuff I do is related to my Kyoko Okazaki love, and in fact my Goatlord comic is pretty much me drawing in her style.
For anyone maybe unfamiliar with some of your other work you have an amazing knowledge and appreciation for comics. You have written in depth about the medium with pieces covering interviews, reviews, critical analysis. Has writing objectively about comics helped or inform the way you approach your work?
Absolutely. I've always been a writer, but I've not always been an artist. So learning to be an artist, came from using the critical tools I learned as a writer and the approach that you are only as good as what you read, and just kind of applying that to comic art. I have only been drawing for about 5 or 6 years. I didn't start drawing until I was like...28? So if anyone thinks it is too late to learn how to draw, it isn't. Drawing is a skill, not a talent. Talent is how you apply a skill. Or it's this illusory thing to discourage people from the idea that anyone can make art. You just have to put in the hours. So you have to have the obsession. And I think that obsession comes across in my writing. I always want to get right into the text of a work, and really look at the lines, and study the image. One thing people don't do enough of is re-reading comics. It is a medium designed to be re-read. Every panel deserves scrutiny and study--and if you approach the comics that move you with that kind of concern, it is a very rich way to live your life I think. For me, art is what helps prepare us for death, and art is like this chance to peak around the curtain and perceive the sublime beauty of satiated nothingness. For me, the only things that keep me alive are my dog, and the notion that that next moment of sublime experience is right around the corner. Besides that, it's all just waiting for death to come in its own time, and not being worried about it. Trying to make those moments in your own art, I think also enhances your relationship and awareness in other art. It makes you more cranky about some art for sure, but it invests you in the idea that you can see the other side of death's face in a painting or sculpture or whatever.
One of the things I have always enjoyed most about your work is that there seems to be no rules. In Leopard you take tons of unique risks with page layouts, lettering, storytelling. It always pays off and feels like an experience that is truly yours. Are there rules you follow for yourself in creating?
Not really. I kind of approach each time I draw something or draw a page as the first time. So like if I'm drawing a table, is this the right table for this page? What is the table that most fits this moment? Or like the page as a whole, what is the way that I can present these actions that most communicates both the central truths of this singular page, but also fits within the larger context of the pages and book around it. I find someone like Sienkiewicz really inspiring, because there's this notion that he can do anything at any given moment, but it's whatever he thinks suits that moment. He has a ton more tools in the bag than I do, so I do the best with what I can. none of this is to say that I try and re-invent the wheel every time. I think with coloring I do have certain rules in terms of trying to keep the palette on a page limited, and try to plot where my contrasts are going to be and how that works with the composition and story. I definitely don't believe in a one approach fits all thing for my work page to page, or comic to comic. This one artist was looking at my work at my house one day and was like "why don't you just draw everything like this? why do you ink, why do you want to use those tools--you're good at this" and I don't know, it was not something he could understand for some reason--but I was like "I need to know how to use that, because in my head, what I'm seeing is so much more than what you are seeing on the page and the things you like." Like I am nowhere close to the images I want to make, my skills are so crude, but I'm just going to do it, and I'm going to use the tools in the ways that make the most sense to me, in terms of what I want to make. It's difficult sometimes, because I can't really judge if I'm a good artist or a bad artist, because the scale I'm up against, doesn't exist yet. Like I can't look at a frank miller comic and then look at a page of mine, and be like "oh well, I'm not quite there" because the pages in my head aren't frank miller pages. So it can be really difficult for me to see my own work, especially when it's fresh--because there's such a gap between what I see in my head and what's on the page--but what I see in my head isn't out there for me to learn directly from. Everything for me is approximation--where I'm like, oh this stroke by Alberto Breccia resonates with me, I need to figure out why and how, and then use it to unlock what I'm trying to get at. So it's all really frustrating, but one of the benefits of doing your own thing, is that you can...y'know do your own thing.
I was making comics before anyone read them. I used to cut up images from films and fashion magazines, and make comics stitching them together, and very few people read those, and I couldn't really sell them--but the thing with comics is I don't need anything from anyone to do them. It's nice that I'm in a place now where people will pay me for work, and are excited about what I'm making, but it could all go away tomorrow, and it wouldn't matter at all to what I am doing or why I'm doing it. I have always since I was a child wanted to tell stories, and once I figured out that comics was the medium I wanted to tell stories in, that's the end of it. I don't care about anything else. This isn't a stepping stone to anything for me. This is the thing itself. and hopefully people like it to the degree that I won't end up crazy in the streets--but I'm prepared for the eventuality of a harsh death. Doing this is a trade I'm happy to make. As a transwoman, 99 percent of living is that kind of struggle anyways. It's like "fuck everything, I've got to be me, because I'm going crazy otherwise" and my approach to comics comes from that.
With two volumes of Leopard out and you have mentioned working on a third. What has been the biggest change for you since the first volume? You have brought up in the past being self taught when it comes to art. What do you think some of the biggest lessons you have learned volume to volume?
I think the largest shift was from Vol. 0 to 1, in that I moved to more kind of stringy characters, and moved away from the digital painting type stuff I did in Vol. 0. I actually lost all of those Vol. 0 colored pages with a computer crash, so it will be fun to go back and color them again. I think what I'm doing with color is a lot more figured out. I'm also getting better at drawing violence. Volume 3 is going to be the most violent comic people can buy in 2016, I have violent on every page. Blood and viscera everywhere. Everyone is dying horribly. It's fantastic. Also some of the best pages I've drawn so far, I haven't really been able to share them much because I don't want to give away too much of who is dying in what order, and at the hands of whom. But...yeah.
Your work is often very surreal and abstract. Especially with the sometimes beautiful controlled chaos of the pages how are plotting out your comics and ideas to get the narrative across to readers while still in your style?
I think Brandon Graham was talking about my work on a podcast the other week, and he was talking about how if you just look at one of my pages without reading it, it looks insane--but when you read it, the text is such that it kind of grounds everything, and it all makes sense when you're actually inside of the comic. So I would say, I mostly kind of trust my writing--though when I do write for myself, I do keep in mind that clarity is not always my strongest suit, so I won't rely on that in my script as much. Like I wrote a thing for Skelly for her Agent series, and because her style is so much clearer than mine, I was able to load up pages with a lot more things than I do with my own comics, because I know like if Skelly draws a particular kind of statue, it's going to read as that and come across coherently as significant. Whereas for me, like I was drawing a vanity mirror for Leviathan the other month, and I wanted to draw like this nazi iron eagle thing on the top of the mirror, because I wanted to communicate that Hollywood is largely a purveyor of white supremacy, even if they aren't as overt as like...putting a nazi eagle on the top of their furniture. But it doesn't really read clearly that that's what I've drawn I don't think, so you wouldn't get that unless I told you just now(though there are other more overt symbols of this that I think anyone can read). Which none of this is to say that that's what Leviathan is about centrally, it's about fucking and killing and glamour as the beauty of status. But I have to keep these things in mind when I'm writing, that I can't have a super layered panel like you would see a Dave Gibbons do in Watchmen. But what I can do is communicate the emotions of the body, and the reason I can is because that's one of my main obsessions in life--so a lot of my scripts inherently build themselves around my strengths, since I largely learned how to draw in order to depict them. So it all fits together really well, because it's meant to. I was already formed as a writer before I learned how to draw, so my art style fits with my writing style.
Was there anything that you have found particularly challenging or blocks you hit in the creation process? On the same note what was the most enjoyable part of your creation experience?
No blocks. But there's like two two-page spreads in Leviathan that were completely insane to do, and the whole time I was cursing myself. One of them is like I dunno, 50 panels, of just changing facial expressions. And then the other is like this huge aerial crowd shot of like...I dunno, there's probably 150 people on there, and then it's overlaid across this grid of what is happening--and both the upper layer and lower layer are happening in a sequence as you rotate across and down. I like how it came out, but it was a completely ridiculous thing for me to do. I had to color each of these little people too. Just a pain in the neck. and then trying to figure out how to color the lettering so that you could understand the sequence of what was happening. Man. Leviathan is a brutal fucking book. I don't know what people are going to make of it, because there's not a single good thing in it. It's like every kind of mean. Which is kind of my comics I think. They are all basically meanness, cruelty and death...the end. Like Goatlord is just a family being slaughtered. The end. I actually finished it during the most recent Paris attacks where they killed all of those people at that concert, and it just feels appropriate. I think terrible things just happen. There's no civilization to it. That it hasn't happened to you or me or someone else, is two things, the calculated risks of a supremacist state wherein we have a privilege--and/or just dumb luck. There's nothing saying you can't be the one killed crossing an intersection today. There's a great Emily Carroll comic that's like this. But yeah. That's most of my comics. Just about the nonsensical banal horror of violent end.
Best thing you could say about Leopard? Why do you love Leopard?
I'm the only one giving you this. These colors. This style. Characters who say these things, dressed that way, in this story. It's not like, like if you like Hellboy, you'll like BRPD--or if you like rando alt-comic, you'll like Brian Chippendale comics. There's no, if you like The Leopard, you can go get it from someone else to tied you over. No one is doing this, no one wants to do this, no one is going to do this. And that's an arrogant thing to say I think, but it's also completely true--and if you read these comics, you'll understand that. And that's what I love most about The Leopard. It's me making something that only I can make, in an industry that just copy and pastes on almost everything and that mostly only listens to white hetero cisgender guys to do it. I am making The Leopard without anyone's sanction, or approval, or even need. The comics I love don't really exist yet, and I'm trying to make them--and that's what I love about The Leopard.