Welcome back comic heads!
Today we have a special creator, as he was one of the first to give me feedback on my first comic, Lightweightz: The Anthology Part One three years ago (you can read what he said here). I am grateful for his support, and for the opportunity to be able to pick his brain.
Introducing Brien Sparling…
When did you first get into comics as a reader/fan?
I bought my first comic in 1992 “for my kids,” but couldn’t bring myself to buy my own until five years later. I’ve always gravitated toward anthro (Humanoid animal) comics as far back as POGO comics by Walt Kelly. I bought occasional Sonic comics but didn’t consistently buy comics until I found Usagi YoJimbo by Stan Sakai. Walt Disney and Stan reaffirmed to me that powerful stories and totally engaging characters can be based on cartoon animals.
In 2003 the first online anthro comic gallery for clean artists, YERF, attracted my attention because of the moral line it drew against soft porn. It finally died and its archives were picked up by Artspots, another clean site, and I submitted my first online works to them. And it was there I also discovered the great power and need for artists to encourage each other.
Comics deliver scenes of intense motion and emotion…frozen in time. The reader can experience the visual gut-punch of a gorgeous splash page, take a breath and then enjoy the details, or flip pages backward to see the context of the action, or forward and see the consequences…then back to the climactic scene. Movies are almost always experienced as social events and part of the experience is reliving the remembered events in conversation. Comics on the other hand are almost always experienced alone; just the reader and their imagination.
I find that I am a bit impatient with communications in general, and a creator who wants to keep my attention has to pretty much earn it on every page. But once they’ve earned my attention, I will go back to them again and again.
What project are you currently working on?
My first web comic, Abalon of California was launched in January 2015, and updates twice weekly. It is my favorite genre: an ongoing story which combines comedy, adventure, friendship and romance while indirectly speaking about our relationship to God.
What creators have helped you along the way?
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis was the first fictional work to totally change my view of Christ-glorifying fiction. Since then, many Christian creators have been rocking my world-view on a yearly basis; some of them are current CCAS (Christian Comic Arts Society) members.
Say a little about how you’ve been able to communicate your faith through your project?
For me the major way is exchanging comments and critiques with other creators. We are accountable to God for our brothers and sisters in the faith, doubly for those who have laid their creative ‘works-of-heart’ online and are practically begging for feedback. Secondly, for over a decade I’ve wanted to tell an Epic story as an online comic. Early on I prayerfully made several creative choices in the direction of the story.
1) I wanted to take the elements of epic fantasy that I loved and put them in a new setting. Since I work a few miles from a California Franciscan mission that’s over 200 years old, it felt like an ideal setting that would allow me to naturally bring in physical action, romance, horses and spiritual battle.
2) I chose to use animal characters in order to add a layer of separation between viewer and story, an advantage if you want to evade a reader’s defenses before diving into thorny moral issues.
3) In my first draft of Abalon, spirits and saints were talked about but were not characters. But after about thirty pages of pretty good story, I still had not broached any of the spiritual issues that I wanted my story to touch on. In the current edition I tried introducing a supernatural character on page 7, and by page 9 the story was naturally bringing up a spiritual issue; cool!
What advice would you give to other Christians who are considering making comics?
Art in general and comics in particular demand a lot of time alone, but ironically art is all about communication with people. An artist who enjoys quiet reflection with their drawing board or sketch-pad will find that they continually have to practice/think about/schedule communication with people. First an artist must answer to God but secondly they must answer to people, and do so patiently, persistently and creatively.
And for the love of God, dialogue with and encourage your fellow artists!
What is your take on the current state of Christian or Christian-themed comics?
What a great time to be a Christian comics fan! Lots of courageous, up and coming talent as well as anointed experienced creators are turning out a wide range of materials. Thanks to the internet, it’s a real golden age for niche artisans and creative teams to start a project. But there is so much free material available to fans that it’s harder than ever to physically support yourself or a family as you’re trying to get started, <sigh>. Anyone with a regular income needs to patron at least one Christian Comic artist that shows promise, as an act of faith in the work of God through Christian artisans.
What is the best way for people to contact you, and to read/purchase your work?
That’s a wrap! I hope you learned something (I sure did), and make sure to check out Abalon of California! #makecomics