Comic artist Stan Yan explains how Garfield got him drawing

Stan Yan always had a fascination with comics. Even before he understood what they really were, he would draw stick figures in frames. And since then, he's been a bit obsessed. "All of the stories I think up in my head are in comic form," he says.

Yan recently took a break from dreaming up graphics to talk to us about his influences, Calvin and Hobbes and Garfield, how to draw time and motion, and how he changed careers from stockbroker to comic artist.

Westword: How did you start out?

Stan Yan:I am a self-taught comic-book artist, and I went to school for accounting. Going to school, I was passionate about art, but I didn't consider it a viable career choice. After school, I worked as a stockbroker on and off for thirteen years. I came home every night and drew for three or four hours, and by the time I was laid off from my first job, I had finished a graphic novel, which got me my first gig drawing SubCulture. By the second time I got laid off, I had a portfolio. For one of my Christmas cards, I compiled a bunch of my comic strips and editorial comics from my work at Campus Press into a booklet, and that's actually what I sent to get an internship at Grey Advertising. So I decided to try to make it as a freelance cartoon artist.

Who are your influences?

I guess when I grew up and when I was a little kid, my love of brushes and brush pens came from "Garfield." The line qualities that Jim Davis used when he created the "Garfield" characters interested me, and that's when I realized that he was using brushes, which got me thinking about comics.

"Calvin and Hobbes" was a huge influence on me, too. By the time "Calvin and Hobbes" was big, I had already figured out that Watterson was using brushes, but what I loved was that the writing was excellent.

What type of process does it take to create a comic?

Comics can be constructed in many different ways, whether I come up with the caption first or the funny image first. In other cases, the caption will just emphasize or make fun of the image that was already there. With comic strips, I liken the process to standup comedy. You come up with the strip first, and then try to think of a setup, which is essentially there to mislead people, and then you use the setup for the punchline.

When I am doing comic-book stories, the panels are more cinematic in nature. I think of angle changes; I think more like a camera. Often times, when I am planning out panels, I actually figure out where I put text first to make sure I am not packing on too much text.

How do you account for time in comics, like between panels? It seems like it takes some manipulation.

Scott McCLoud is the go-to comic expert, and in his first book, he talks about time -- what actually happens between the gutters, or between the panels. Comics are not like a movie. In a movie, you have control of motion and time, and you force the pacing. In comic books, you have static panels and these things called gutters, between the panels, where you are leaving the work up to the reader. You, as a reader, have to intuit the information between the panels.

As a comic creator you need to be conscious of a static medium or a moving medium, but you also have to think about how you're publishing it -- color or no color, or on the Internet. On top of that, you have a lot of comic creators who are blowing apart the boundaries between comics and movies, where they are incorporating animation or sounds.

What are you working on now?

I've got a lot going on now. I'm not just a comic book artist, but I also teach, as part of the graphic story telling programs at Community College of Aurora, and I also teach at the summer camps at the Art Students League of Denver, the MACC Academy, and the Lakewood Cultural Centers. Tom Motley, who I have learned a lot from -- I took a class taught by him and eventually worked with him, and he's actually had his comics featured in Westword -- trained me as a replacement for him at those camps before he left to teach in New York.

I am also, starting on Thursday, teaching a brand-new Denver Entertainment Arts and Design class, and I have been working on my webcomic with Kevin Freeman, called Subculture, for the last few years, and it has some current work out very recently.

What's the attraction of comic art for you?

In the end, I'm really a storyteller. If I had a choice between writing and drawing for comics, I would choose writing, hands down. That's just the way I see the world, and apparently that's the way I have always seen the world.

For more information or to contact Yan, go to his web page.

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