Peter Gutiérrez has been a jack of all trades when it comes to comics. You may know him as an Eisner-nominated writer, or you may know him as a consultant in education. Or you may know him because he’s written about comics for a variety of outlets, including School Library Journal, The New York Times, Rue Morgue, The ALAN Review, Scholastic's Scope magazine, ForeWord Reviews, and, of course, GraphicNovelReporter.
Peter’s passion for writing and speaking about comics has fueled his career for the past decade and a half. “I still love the creative work,” he says. “Last year I helped Emotes develop a graphic novel for teens, and now I’m preoccupied by a superhero project that I’m writing.”
He adds, “Working in media got me interested in media in a cultural sense, and media literacy education specifically.” To that end, he’s currently serving on NCTE’s Commission on Media, and, in July, you’ll be able to hear him on the DVD of Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated, which features the work of more than 100 comic book artists and animators from around the world; he’s doing a commentary on that one along with Jonathan Maberry (Marvel Zombies and Black Panther).
But first and foremost, see Peter at the American Library Association’s upcoming conference at the end of this month, where he’ll be speaking and moderating the panel “Navigating Teaching Resources for Graphic Novels” (featuring David Serchay, Katie Monnin, and Sari Wilson) on Monday, June 28, from 1:30–2:30.
We caught up with Peter to discuss what he loves most about comics.
Do you remember your first comic book or graphic novel?
It may not have been the first—probably some Disney or Archie comic was—but the one that stands out for me is The Forever People, a book Jack Kirby did for DC in the early ’70s. I think it was issue #2. Anyway, I still have it. It’s the first comic I remember actually choosing. Something about it was just so dynamic, especially the cover, that it just captivated me. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that Kirby was a unique talent in this respect. My hands-down favorite comic growing up, though, was Master of Kung Fu by Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy (and later Mike Zeck). Only comic I ever had a subscription to.
What do you love about the graphic novel as a format for storytelling?
Individual novels or films have probably had a bigger impact on my life personally, but as a format—or medium—I’m always drawn to graphic storytelling because of the “hybrid” experience it offers: I love the images and energy but also love the words and text and the feeling of navigating it myself. When done right, it’s a best-of-both-worlds scenario.
Whose work do you admire?
The list is too long. I’d have to put Tezuka on it (especially his darker stuff), and of course Will Eisner. It seems silly to mention folks of that stature, though—it’s like being asked what filmmakers you like and saying “Hitchcock” or which playwrights and saying “Shakespeare.” Anyway, I admire everyone from Charles Burns to Craig Thompson to Jim Lee. I’m all over the place, really. Oh, I also really like Stan Sakai, whom I was lucky enough to work with once.
Who do you read outside of the graphic novel format?
Genre fiction (horror, crime, some fantasy/SF), but also a certain amount of literary fiction and poetry. And tons of film criticism and kidlit, too—they feed different parts of my brain. As with the GNs, it’s a real mixed bag. I’m old enough that a lot of my friends are now successful authors, journalists, or screenwriters, so I read a lot of their work to be supportive and because I’m interested in what they’re up to, and that determines my reading habits a lot: I read whatever they happen to be writing about. I’m also a member of Garden State Horror Writers, and a small group of us critique each other’s work every month, so that keeps me busy, too.
How many graphic novels do you read a month? How many of those are manga?
Hmmm, more than 10 but probably fewer than 20 or 25. I skim and scan much more than that—as an editor at ForeWord, I sometimes get review copies, and I wish I had time to read half of them with the attention they deserve, but sadly I’m always doing triage. Manga I’ve cut back on in the past year—the multivolume nature of the beast just kills me; wish I could read more of it, but then it leaves me no time to read anything else…or get any work done!
How did you first get involved in the field professionally?
In 1993, Billy Tucci approached me to help him work on his comic Shi: The Way of the Warrior after seeing me perform my own stories in New York—I used to be a professional storyteller. He already had a great core story, so I can’t take credit for that. But I did try to inject some of that Master of Kung Fu flavor into the scripts, and from there I was lucky enough to get into film and media work, and eventually branch out into nonfiction, too.
What kind of reaction do you get when you tell people what you do?
They’re confused, and I don’t blame them. I get confused too. Then I stop trying to explain everything I do and just focus on one or two things. If it’s a parent I’m talking to, I’ll describe some of the work I do in literacy and tell them it’s okay that their kids love comics. If it’s someone who knows comics, I’ll talk about horror or superheroes. But I’ll also sell out the industry in a heartbeat—evasively saying that I’m a “scriptwriter” or work in “media” or something equally vague and lame.
Do you collect comics? What is the most valuable piece of art, graphic novel, or comic book in your collection?
I collected comics for years—then I stopped and either sold them or gave them away except for a few boxes. It was just too consuming. Now I collect GNs without meaning to, and I try to save the best ones for my kids. As for the most valuable, I have a Daredevil #1 somewhere, also a Weird Science Fantasy Annual from the early ’50s. I also have a few pieces of pretty awesome original art that some generous artists have given me after working with them.
Is there something you covet adding to your collection?
The only time I’ve had collection-envy in recent memory is when librarian Karen Green gave me a tour of Columbia’s graphic-novel collection. It wasn’t so much the breadth or quality of the titles that got me covetous—although she’s clearly chosen the best of the best—but the fact that they were library-bound and built to last. No more floppies, no more dog-eared manga. Would love to own archive editions of the guys I mentioned earlier, Tezuka and Eisner, which I guess I could track down, but also want to own things that no publisher would ever want to do—hardbound editions of Bronze Age Marvel and DC titles of the type I grew up reading. The more obscure, the better, like the old black-and-white mystery and horror magazines. I love what Dark Horse has done with Creepy and Eerie—now I want to see those kinds of editions for anything I’m nostalgic about.… Comics are so ephemeral it’s kind of a miracle that we can even read the old ones. It’s like uncovering ancient cities or connecting with a long-lost friend again.