Interview with Yale Stewart—Part One

Artist Yale Stewart has published his webcomic JL8 since 2011. The all-ages comic tells the story of a group of DC Comics superheroes reimagined as students at an elementary school. I had the opportunity to speak with Stewart about JL8 and his relationship with comics. In part one of this interview we discuss how he first got into comics, his creative influences, and the difference between webcomics and more traditional print comics.

Levi Raab: What got you into comics?

Yale Stewart: Honestly I think that’s actually a pretty easy thing to answer. Probably Batman: The Animated Series, really. Just because for people of my generation, probably more even a little bit older ones, it’s just objectively true that you are going to access more quickly a television set than you would a comic book shop. And unfortunately, and I do think this is unfortunate, at our current day–and this was even true back then, you know, comics are just purely a direct market thing now. You don’t really see them at the grocery store, or at Target, or whatever. So your odds of coming across them outside of a comic shop are increasingly slim.

So yeah, one day I just remember… I think I was in my basement, and you know, I was like four-years-old or five-years-old, and I think my mom actually came and got me and was like hey, I think you might wanna come see this. […] So I went up into my parents’ bedroom and on this little black-and-white TV all I remember is the–and you know, this could be an entirely faulty memory–but all I remember is that shot of Batman, you know at the very end of the opening credits where he’s on top of the roof with the lightning strikes. And I watched the rest of the episode and I guess the rest of the story is history.

Actually, I didn’t start reading comics until a little bit later. It wasn’t until I wanna say like first grade, I had a friend named Shaun, and he had two older brothers who were big into comics; so he kinda got grandfathered into it. He would bring hand-me-down comics from his brothers to school and stuff.

Ironically it was Marvel stuff that got me truly into it. Like watching Batman: The Animated Series sparked my interest in superheroes and whatnot, but I do remember my mom bringing home a Batman comic at one point and I just I remember not really liking it. I didn’t really think it was as good as the show was. And you know there was an X-Men show and a Spider-Man show on at the same time, but my buddy John had Marvel comics and I remember thinking that they were better than the shows. As much as I like the shows, ‘cause I did like the shows a lot, I read the comics and was like, oh man this is just as good as the shows are, if not better in some cases.

So yeah, Batman: The Animated Series kinda piqued the interest in the genre and then my buddy John just bringing comics to school is what really kinda solidified oh this is what comics are, I am into these now, this is really cool, so on and so forth.

LR: What are some of your creative influences, for both art and writing?

YS: Writing is probably a lot easier to answer just because I find it very flattering that people consider me a writer; I don’t really consider myself a writer. The only reason I write JL8 is because I have to write JL8. I’d probably say, I mean it’s tough because I’m a pretty firm believer that you’re kind of influenced by everything that you come across, whether positively or negatively. I think, and this is probably going to sound kinda silly, one of my most conscious influences has probably been Brian Azzarello, of 100 Bullets, just because–obviously I’m not writing some hard-boiled, violent noir thing, but I’m a huge sucker for slow burn kind of long payoff kind of story telling where there’ll be kind of like an Easter-eggy thing in issue four that doesn’t pay off until issue 39, kind of a thing. Like to me when I was reading 100 Bullets, which is one of my all-time favorite comics, I thought that that was like the coolest thing. That there would be kind of like [seeds planted], and you wouldn’t even really know that it was something you had to pay attention to but you know, you picked up on it when you go back and reread the series and it’s like oh my god, this was this thing that happens in issue 75 was foreshadowed as early as like issue seven or whatever and I think that that’s really cool.

It’s not a specific writer, but just the Arthur PBS television show has been a huge influence in just kind of how to tell all-ages stories about kids of that age, especially in kind of an ensemble cast. […]  I’ve been a big fan of that show ever since I was little. Like I’m still a fan of the show, I can still watch it and enjoy it because it is very much an all-ages show. Which is very different to me than a–not that there’s anything wrong with kids’ shows–but kids’ shows to me is [sic] like Barney and Teletubbies where it’s very explicitly meant to be for a very, very young audience. Whereas an all-ages show to me is something that can literally be enjoyed by people of all ages. It might be geared towards a younger audience but even adults, like there’s enough complexity and layers to it that even an older viewer when they’re watching it with their kid isn’t just bored to death. […] So yeah, Arthur and Azzarello are probably the two biggest writing influences.

And then when it comes to art and stuff like where do you even really start? You consume so much visual media that it’s real hard to pare it down. I’d say [John] Romita Jr. is pretty high up there just because Romita Jr. is the artist that I’ve probably tried to emulate most throughout my life. Being a big Spider-Man fan who grew up in the 90s he’s, he was just my guy, and […] I think a lot of just like how he goes about visual storytelling and stuff is probably into my DNA.

Akira Toriyama of Dragon Ball Z is a huge influence, mainly because I remember specifically kind of looking at how he drew kids, […] because I just sort of liked the way that he handles them. So I tried to kind of, you know, look at it and learn what I could from it and how I designed the JL8 characters and whatnot.

But yeah, Romita Jr. and Toriyama are sort of like the big two and then everything in-between from guys like Jeff Smith, and Bill Waterson and Charles Schultz, to you know, Moebius and [unclear] and Eiichiro Oda and all kinds of stuff. I think most people are like that, where we’re all just reading so many comics, watching so many cartoons and anime or whatever that it kind of a buffet, you’re sort of just taking a little bit from here and a little bit from there. Every once and a while you’ll have… this is my favorite thing on this buffet so I’m gonna get a whole bunch of it on my plate. But you know you’re kind of just taking a little bit from everywhere, mixing it all together, and hopefully coming up with something fresh and unique and different.

LR: Can you say anything about the difference between doing a webcomic and a more traditional comic?

YS: Oh yeah, they’re quite a bit different. I mean for starters, with a […] very update-centric webcomic, because there are webcomics that just dump […] a whole chapter of something at a time but they do it once like every so many months. But with mine being kind of like an ongoing update-centric comic it’s the same stuff as doing a newspaper strip. Every time you do one you never know if somebody has missed stuff before. So at the very least you kind of have to […] do sort of like a recap panel, even like an ever so slight one. […]

I was actually talking to my girlfriend about this just the other day, that I sort of wonder how many pages a week I could do in traditional comics just because in traditional comics, and this isn’t always the case when you’re working with a writer or working […] on a book that has like a very specific page count there, if left to my own devices you know, I could be a little bit more generous or stingy with how many panels go on each page of a JL8 update. Because sometime there’ll be like 13 or 14 panels on a single page, which in traditional comics is not particularly common. But because I’m trying to–because I need to tell the joke but I need this many panels to make the joke funny, and it’s only funny if it’s all on the same page. It kinda becomes tricky. Whereas if it were a traditional comic, it first of all wouldn’t need to be all on the same page because I know that you’re going to continue reading the next one; you know there is no time gap. Whereas with JL8 either I do it all on one page and post it today, or I do a multi-page update which kinda throws off my weekly work schedule, or I break it up into the two pages but I do one page this week and another page next week and then you know the joke falls apart because there’s this weird gap in-between. […]

I mean the other thing is just the immediacy of fan reaction and stuff like that. You know, I post it and I immediately know whether people are enjoying it or not. You know there is no oh I drew this three months ago but it’s just now getting printed and hitting comic stores and now I have to wait first of all choose whether or not I even want to go on […] whatever comic book forum or website or what have you to kind of get a lay of the land of how people are enjoying what I’ve done. […]

Levi RaabFinally, and this one is like the biggest one of all: you are a one-man operation. […] Pretty much if you are a comic artist you are a one-man or one-woman show. So yeah, it can be very stressful and I do sometimes wish that I didn’t have to worry about also marketing and shipping all my orders and all these things. I wish I kind of could write, draw, get paid, whatever without having to like write, draw, pay a bunch of merchandise, and you know be kind of like a salesman and all this stuff and then eventually at the end of all that get paid. […]

It’s not wildly, wildly different you know, print guys still have to generally do a lot of conventions just to maximize their earning potential just like we do. […] I mean obviously on the bright side you can kind of make your own schedule. It’s important to have a schedule and stick to it but when push really comes to shove you know if there is like some kind of an emergency or whatever you know you’re not letting down all of Marvel by not getting those pages of Spider-Man done on time. Whereas with a webcomic it’s just like hey guys I’m really, really sorry but here’s kinda what’s going on. Most of the time your readership will be very understanding as long as you’re transparent about it, something that I’m trying to work on. […]

– Levi Raab

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