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Mini-comics artist Joe Lambert on sketching

Joe Lambert talks about the mini-comics scene in the USA, a forthcoming biography of Helen Keller, and his sketches...

READERSVOICE.COM: How many pages will your Helen Keller biography be and how many panels each page?

JOE LAMBERT: It will probably be 90+ pages with 12-16 panels per page.

RV: How big is the mini-comics scene or industry if you like in the U.S.? What percentage of the population might know about them?

JL: This is hard to say. For me it feels huge. I would say 95 percent of the people I have met in the last three years know about mini-comics. But before those three years I would say that 99 percent of the people I knew did not know about them.

It’s like every other microcosm in this country in that in certain regions it’s huge, but in others it’s nonexistent, like board games or one-person plays.

RV: Do your many sketches take time away from your comics, or are they necessary for creating comics?

JL: Yes, my sketches take time away from my comics. A lot of time. But for me, and a few other cartoonists I have spoken to, they are absolutely necessary for creating comics.

First of all it keeps my hands loose. If I haven’t drawn for a while (maybe because I’ve been writing for a few weeks), when I sit down at the drawing table the first few panels I’ll draw will always be terrible because I’m rusty.

So daily drawing in a sketchbook keeps my hand and mind used to the act of drawing and making marks.

Keeping a sketchbook is also beneficial to the writing process as well. In the same way that a poet or prose writer will keep a journal, it’s helpful for a cartoonist to have an outlet to think spontaneously and keep track of ideas and images that can be revisited later on.

And the act of doodling or sketching, for me, can be meditative. Ideas and problems can be worked out while drawing that won’t happen while doing other things.

It’s to the point now that I need to sketchbook everyday or I feel weird, kind of like exercising or practicing an instrument.

Cartoonists often get into cartooning because they like to draw. But drawing and cartooning are two very different things, and when we are kids and young adults we have tons of time to draw, but an adult who is cartooning full or part-time doesn’t always have time to draw.

And there are certain problems cartoonists can develop because of this problem. I think some cartoonists probably over-render their pages, or get hung up on certain styles because they just want to draw something cool, and that can get in the way of telling a story with comics.

Some cartoonists come to resent drawing because all the art they ever create is for a project that has an editor and a deadline.

I don’t want to be like that. I want my comics to be the art that I want to create and not something that is getting in the way of what I really want to do. But in order for that to happen, in order for me to be at peace with my comics I need to do some drawing because that’s what I originally fell in love with. And if that drawing happens to take place in my sketchbook, and those drawings actually benefit my comics in one way or anther, all the better.

RV: What are some of your plans?

JL: Right now I’m working on the Helen Keller book for the CCS Presents series of biographies, published by Hyperion Books. It’s late, but coming along nicely. It should be out sometime near the end of 2010.

My Secret Acres book, I Will Bite You! will debut at The Small Press Expo in October of 2010. I should be there exhibiting with Secret Acres and should have a few prints in addition to my mini-comics and the book.

I’m working on several anthology stories for some of the various anthologies mentioned earlier. I’ll be attending several conventions this summer, and next weekend I’ll be at the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival (www.comicsandgraphicsfest.com) with my Sundays Anthology friends.

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