Rich Barrett is a graphic designer and lifelong comic enthusiast who is working on his first graphic novel—Nathan Sorry. Rich studied illustration at Syracuse University and worked in advertising and web design in New York City for 10 years before moving down to Charlotte, NC where he now lives with his wife, two daughters, and two dogs. Nathan Sorry is free to the public. Just go to NathanSorry.com and read the graphic novel to date. Rich is adding a new page each week. What an ingenious way to keep you in suspense. The use of 9/11 as a life-changing event is something I think our readers will find intriguing. This is part II of my interview with the illustrator and author of the graphic novel Nathan Sorry. Visit our previous issue for the initial installment of Nathan Sorry in the Shadow of 9/11.
The Interview: Part II
Chuck: Is there someone that has been very influential on how you draw? Someone you really admire? Or was there a particular school?
Rich: Yeah. I mean there’s a number of ones that I like. I would say the ones that are influencing me the most stay in my mind as I work. One writer and artist by the name of David Lapham has a comic called Stray Bullets that he published himself. It’s a crime-noir style comic. It’s something I look at a lot. There’s another artist, Cameron Stewart, who has a style I really like. And recently I’ve been reading a lot of work by this Japanese Manga artist, let’s see if I’m pronouncing his name right: Naoki Urasawa. His work is just now being released in the U.S. and I’ve been picking those up. The works of these guys are sitting on my drawing table as I work on this.
Chuck: Can you tell us how you go about the process of starting a drawing and getting it through to the finished product? How do you work? How do you create a page?
Rich: I start out with a really rough sketch in my little sketch-book. I try to keep a few pages ahead of myself in the sketchbook so I know where I’m heading as I’m drawing the page. The thumbnails in my sketchbook are really, really rough. To the point where only I could look at them and understand them. Basically, what this is doing is helping to compose the page. It helps me figure out how to arrange the panels so that the story flows properly. From there I make a tighter, but still rough pencil sketch of the full page. It’s like a 10″ X 9″ page. So I draw out everything there. Sometimes I’ll have to look at some reference for certain parts. For example, if I’m having trouble drawing a hand, I’ll take a picture of my hand and use that as a reference. Once I’m pretty happy with the drawing, I ink over it with a brush and ink. Rather than tightening up with a pencil, I’m tightening it up with ink. So I’m making a lot of drawing choices at this point with the brush as I’m going.
Then from there I’ll scan it in. Then I’ll do a fair amount in Photoshop. Once I’m happy with the line work I’ll add the tones and the kind of dot pattern or texture. So I do all that in Photoshop. The last step is the lettering which I do in Adobe InDesign. A lot of times I’ll be re-writing a dialog as I’m going. One of the things I have to be aware of is leaving enough space in each drawing for the amount of dialog that I have. So once I get that dialog in there, I’m all set.
Chuck: What about the emotions? In other words, I’ve seen you do scenes where Nathan in angry, Nathan is pensive. One scene Nathan is coming on to a woman. Are their certain emotions that are more difficult to convey in your drawings?
Rich: Yeah. I guess, in general, the trickiest thing is conveying subtleties. Comic books in general, especially in the way people think of them, everything is done in kind of big broad strokes. Superheroes fighting each other. Those things work well in comics. Sometimes it’s harder to do two people having a conversation in a bar. It’s harder because two people having a conversation is not that interesting to look at. Subtle kinds of emotions and facial expressions are more difficult to make work. There have been some scenes where I think I may have dropped the ball on that a little. But I think I improve on that with each new page.
Chuck: As you go along, I guess you’ll get reviewed by the reviewers. There seems to be a ton of fanzines in the world of comics and the reviewers can be particularly brutal sometimes. Will that stuff bother you? Will you take it to heart? Or will you have broad shoulders?
Rich: Yeah. I mean, I’m fairly new to this. I was just reviewed for the first time this past week. It wasn’t a bad review but it wasn’t a good review by any means either. I just try to take what I can from it. I think there were some valid criticisms in it. Take what you can and move on. In my regular job I’m a graphic designer so I guess I deal with clients who are the equivalent of a tough reviewer. So I’m used to getting criticism.
Chuck: That’s good. You know, I read that review. It was incomprehensible..
Rich: (laughs) Yeah. I had to read it a couple of times. He actually rewrote it from the first time I saw it. It’s still really unclear to me what he’s trying to say about my book.
Chuck: Yeah. It’s really unclear. Here’s a guy who’s in the business of criticizing the work of someone he thinks may not be communicating with his readers as well as he should, and he can’t express his own point (laughing).
Rich: Yeah (laughing). I guess his main criticism was that something was not meshing between my words and the art. Yet something was not meshing between his words and what he was trying to say. Regardless of the review, I was still honored to be reviewed on a site like that. I hope to get more even if they are kind of negative. There’s no such thing as bad publicity.
Chuck: Enough about reviewers. What in the universe of graphic novels do you admire? If you could write the best graphic novel you could write… In other words, if you were a horror writer, you’d want to write like Stephen King. Who do you want to be as good as?
Rich: I read a lot of comics. And I read a great variety of comics. Superhero comics as well as more literary comics. I guess what I prefer are the cutting edge independents, Indy creators like Daniel Clowes. You might know the comic Ghostworld.
Rich: It was made into a movie. Or Chris Ware, who does very sophisticated graphic novels written for adults. They deal with kind of complex themes and characters. They’re not really genre comics. They’re not superhero books. They’re not crime comics or horror comics. I’m not even close to creating anything in their league. I’d like to be somewhere in that general ballpark though. The story I’m doing right now sort of straddles the line between being a genre comic and a general drama.
Chuck: I think you picked a really good subject. I don’t care if someone says, “Oh, that’s been done before.” To me, that’s an invalid criticism. Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliette 400 years ago. But West Side Story was still a damn good Romeo and Juliet. I think it’s how well you do it.
Rich: Yeah, I think it’s how you get there than what it actually is, I guess. I agree. Everything has been done before. I love a lot of things that are almost familiar in their plot or their devices. I think what I’m doing is a little different than the average. I don’t think there are any comics out on the web with my story. But at the same time, I’m sure there are things similar.
Chuck: Tell me, how are the readers supposed to be thinking about Nathan Sorry? Are they supposed to be rooting for him to get away with it?
Rich: One of the things I want to try and do is to have a set of characters that you could call morally complicated. So I think that Nathan is fairly sympathetic right now. I think in general, I do want people to root for him. But I also want them to find choices in this story that the reader will find questionable.
Chuck: Sort of like watching Dexter.
Rich: (laughs) Yeah. But maybe not that extreme.
Chuck: Yeah. He’s not a serial killer.
Rich: Right. He’s not a serial killer but he might hurt a few people here and there.
Chuck: Will there be a character that finds out what Nathan is up to and challenge him about it?
Rich: (long pause) Well, I don’t want to say.
Rich: Possibly because that specter of being found out is out there.
Chuck: Well, not knowing what’s coming, is there anything else you want to tell us about Nathan?
Rich: I don’t know. It’s hard for me because I haven’t told anybody about what’s to come.
Chuck: Yeah. I understand. Can you tell me how you named him?
Rich: How did I name him?
Chuck: Yeah. Where did Nathan Sorry come from?
Rich: I actually had a reason for naming him the way I did that was going to play out in the story. Then I decided that I’m not going to do that now. I wrestled with the name for a long time trying to come up with something that fits that particular reason. So I settled on this name, and when I dropped the reason, I kept it anyway because I couldn’t think of a better name. Sorry is an odd name. That’s kind of a comic book kind of thing. One of my favorite comics was by Daniel Clowes before he did Ghostworld. It was called Baby Boring. It’s a great book. A very interesting David Lynch kind of story. It’s got a lot of bizarre things happening. I guess the last name of Sorry is kind of a homage to that book.
Chuck: So Sorry is not an editorial comment about how conflicted this man is?
Rich: It certainly could be. There’s definitely things he is sorry about.
Chuck: Well, I think I’ve asked you everything I want to ask you. Is there anything you’d like our readers to know that I haven’t asked you?
Rich: Just to tell them that my comic is at NathanSorry.com. I try to put out a page a week. People can sign up to be emailed when each new page is ready. In half an hour you can jump in and catch up to the story to date.
Chuck: And it’s free!
Rich: And it’s free (laughs).
Chuck: Thank you. That was great, Rich.