Sitting down for a relaxed ‘In Conversation’ panel at last weekend’s Australian Comic Arts Festival in Canberra, we spoke about Tristan’s origins in film and tv, his transition from writing to art, working on licensed properties, online journalism, Aussie cultural cringe in comics, and, of course, his latest work.
‘I keep wishing I had a skateboard!’ Tristan remarks of the beautiful streets and pavements of Canberra in introduction, relaying his deceivingly youthful disposition. Going on to say that it was a school trip when he was 10 that was a key facilitator in his political mindedness now.
With an opening audience question enquiring as to ‘how do you translate artistic passion into something that would make you money’, a common question at conventions, we delved a little into Tristan’s history:
‘I started out doing film and television at uni, gearing myself in high school towards advertising and visual communication. I was always interested in cool design and advertising, clever billboard, things that would do particular things with the eye, and sat a heap of advertising rounds for tertiary courses which required a design based portfolio and an interview.
I got offered a place at college of arts in Melbourne, who basically gear you towards life in arts, and teach you about the business side of it as well, such as representation and legalities. Not very comics centric but I was there for special effects work. Not enjoying it… (ok he said, it was garbage), I left after a year to do a screen writing course and got into film and television at RMIT, and found that I really liked doing cinematography as much I liked writing, as it is about leading the eye and the design aspects which gets storyboarded out. It’s pretty much like making a comic and then bringing it to life.
In second year of that course I got work writing the (Teenage Mutant) Ninja Turtles. That happened though correspondence from reviewing comics and films on the side to make money… and also to get free comics and movies. It was a website that doesn’t exist anymore called *Terra Australis* who specialised in local genre work expanding into more cult genre and comics. I emailed them reviews and they accepted them.’
Audience question: If you started off doing writing, how did you transfer into drawing?
‘Desperation. *Also how did you develop your skills as an artist?* Desperation! It was when Mirage sold the Turtles off to Nickelodeon and all of us were out of work. I had a creator owned book planned with an artist there but we were both relying on the money we were getting to do the project on the side. When that dried up I couldn’t afford to pay the guy anymore, and neither of us could afford to work on something for free. I started back at uni, went and got a job in retail which I will never do again *not for me*. During that time, I would just draw and keep drawing. I could draw back in high school, and I knew all the design elements so basically I looked to expand on what I knew and catch up on all the years I hadn’t been drawing. Really it was just a matter of reading more, and reading what I liked looking at, the stories that I wanted to tell, and all my influences, and go ok, I see how he is doing that or she is doing that – can I apply that to my own work, and I would sit there and experiment. And I still experiment. I experiment a lot because a lot of my work is digital, with a lot of my work being done in Photoshop.’
‘General what I do, because I never learnt art traditionally, is experiment for a really long time in traditional media, digital media and figure out what works for me from that. I learnt photography, special effects, film and tv, and could always kind of draw. I learnt anatomy by drawing Aliens! I was obsessed with that film and first saw it when I was 5. From then I was very heavily into Giger’s artwork. I have never done life drawing, but if you get the opportunity you should.’
General drawing tips:
‘Things I am hyper aware of when sketching out a page is the balance of it. Obviously when you are reading a comic you are going from left to right, and there is a lot of people who look at it from page to page and not take in the fact that you open it with two pages facing you. (More on this in part 2)
Line crossing in film and television in important to understand, for example, cutting between heads that are facing the same direction happens a lot in comics- it’s weird when the camera angles are the same.
The other thing that people don’t tend to take into account is lettering. If you have a script and you are storyboarding, always consider the dialogue in your thumbnails because that is as key to directing the eye as the imagery itself. If a word balloon is placed wrong it can completely ruin a whole pages flow.’
From earlier… audience question promoted further discussion into the some of the pitfalls of the online journalism industry:
‘While popular (blog) websites accept submissions from pretty much anyone, this is also one of the problems with the internet right now. There is so much critical response to things that is from unqualified people with unqualified backgrounds – they are just people who have access to a blog or facebook, and they will vent their spleens, sometimes eloquently, more often than not, not. And that very frequently gets stuck up and paraded around because the internet is all about accessibility and agenda.
For example, how many of you saw the recent Fantastic Four movie? *handful of people* Why didn’t you see that? Was it because you heard negative word of mouth? *nod if yes – audience, nods* You reach a point when you do these creative projects when you are just like *fuck it* and you don’t pay too much attention anymore. I went and saw it, and I guess it wasn’t the FF as everyone knows it BUT there was an alarming amount of negativity being generated before it even came out perpetuated by no one in particular on the internet.
All these faceless people jumping on board a negative bandwagon because that is the popular way of thinking, especially on social media where people thrive on likes, clicks, and popularity votes. If you say something that is against the mainstream you get crucified. And it happens to me a lot. I went and saw it, and while it wasn’t the FF that everyone seems to want right now, which is probably along the lines of Avengers, you had that already twice and you said you didn’t like it.’
Audience question: What type of education is required to write online reviews:
‘I did media studies at Swinbourne University briefly between my writing career screeching to a halt and my art career exploding. I went to study teaching as a backup. One of the courses they had was philosophy that taught critical thinking, which is paramount so you can then give an objective response to something which is something that general people (on the internet) don’t do anymore. It happens in comics, especially when pitching for projects. There is already a bias towards certain ways of thinking because of what’s popular online and it’s very rarely objective enough to allow something to flourish.’
Audience discussion about the origins of cultural cringe:
‘There are ways you can tell uniquely Australian stories overseas, without making them look like photos from Christmas time in 1982. All the men are wearing footy shorts and singlets, its hot, and it was a time when everyone was a bogan with stupid hair and moustaches and it was the most relaxed Australia has ever been as far as its identity goes. Internally Australia is still finding its cultural voice. We have so much to draw from but we have a very short history compared to the rest of the world. That is how we have ended up with Australian characters in American comics, like Captain Boomerang, great in Superior Spiderman, but are a parody of themselves.
There are some stories that you can tell that are uniquely Australian that will translate everywhere and any culture can look at it from its own perspective. The Mad Max comics are a very good example of how to do a unique Australian book without being a victim of cultural cringe. It takes everything that is culturally us. Fury road is a prime example, all the language, even though it is being delivered by American and British voices, just works and it transcends the cultural cringe even though these are things that we identify as ‘boganisms’. That works, but too few Aussie projects are doing it.’
You can find Tristan on Twitter, Facebook, Deviant Art, & Instagram *google him + comics*
**Thank you to the audience who asked some great questions and contributed in generating the conversation above.