Four Days of Writing with Mark Siegel
Mark Siegel is an writer and illustrator first and foremost, but he is also the editorial director of First Second, one of the most respected graphic-novel publishers today. As such, he brings a unique perspective to the art of comics creation: Considering First Second is known for its wide-ranging, broad scope of book, Siegel’s take on what works in this industry is varied and well-honed.
When we heard Siegel was teaching a four-day course at the Writers Institute of the Florida Center for the Literary Arts in Miami, we decided to talk to him about it to get a sense of what the course would entail. Here’s what he had to say.
How did this course come about?
A few years back, I was visiting PNCA (Pacific Northwest College of Art) in Portland and gave a day-long workshop for graphic novel artists and writers in answer to a simple question: “As an editor, what are you looking for?”
For an editor, that’s a terrible question to be asked, of course. It can be tempting to answer “something young” or “something adult” or “this genre, that genre,” when in truth that’s a totally useless thing to tell an author. So rather than give a short, useless answer, I tried to open this up with everyone present, in an interactive workshop. And it turned into a fascinating journey for all of us.
The feedback was encouraging and word got around about the workshop. In the last couple of years, I’ve been invited to all kinds of places to give it, in Seattle, Savannah, Toronto, New York, among others. With every iteration, the workshop grows and fills out organically. In each new setting I learn something new. I’m very excited that in Miami we’ll have a full four days to run at it. It should be the fullest, most rewarding experience yet.
What kind of principles will you be teaching in the course?
Although there are tips sprinkled throughout it (about all aspects of graphic novel technique, formats, publishing, marketing, business)—the workshop isn’t so much about teaching a principle. It’s an invitation for creators to think in new ways about what they do, how they do it, and why they do it, and where they set their aims.
Who do you expect the audience will be?
Ideally, writers and artists interested in comics and graphic novels, and in doing something great. Librarians, booksellers, booklovers, and educators will also get something from it, but mainly this is tailored to creators.
Do you see a lot of people you wouldn't expect deciding to write comics now?
Yes, from everywhere. Screenwriters, novelists, playwrights are now being joined by journalists, nonfiction authors, TV writers, all of whom are drawn to write for comics, in part because of the unparalleled freedom to realize their vision without going through the usual mill of execs and producers.
Is there any particular genre your course will be more aimed toward?
Not especially. I’ll be making reference to all kinds of genres within comics, and outside of them, too. Storytelling is at the heart of it. Wherever great stories are to be found, that’s our playground—a comic, an HBO miniseries, a Stephen King novella, Jane Austen, Tolstoi, Pixar studios, or a Balanchine ballet. It’s all fair game.
What are some basic things you think people will get out of the class?
I’d love it if some creators walk away with an expanded toolkit they can bring to bear on their projects, their careers, and how these are rooted in the quest of their own lives.