Managing Editor Christina Chady interviews Myopia’s author Richard Dent about the influence of poetry on his work, his artistic process, and thematic elements and social commentary. More information about Myopia may be found online.
Richard Dent received his MFA in poetry from the University of Arizona; while there his poetry was recognized by the University of Arizona Poetry Center and the American Academy of Poets. Aside from writing poetry, Richard Dent also writes fiction, screenplays and comic books. He teaches in the National University MFA program, as well as Cal State, Los Angeles. His artist page is Richdentwriter.com.
Christina Chady: How did your previous career in poetry inform your new work?
Richard Dent: My poems tend to focus on immediate objects of life, like pancakes, subways, small details, and that really helped to write for comics, because comic panels are like lines in a poem. If the image isn’t moving the concept forward, then it isn’t working. So there’s like this packed panel that parallels to a line of poetry. You have to make sure that you don’t add too much or too little, or it’s not going to work out. The biggest difference, I would say, is that comics are really expensive, so if a poem doesn’t work out, it’s not going to bother you financially. That’s probably the most beneficial aspect of having a poetry background, is really being able to fine tune that ability to pick out what’s relevant or not relevant and putting it in the right place. It’s very difficult to do. I think fiction writers do it, but there’s a lot of leeway that they get, where poets don’t get it, and I don’t think comic book writers are allowed to have it, either. I’d say screenwriters also aren’t allowed to make a lot of those mistakes as well.
C: What inspired you to try a new genre?
R: I was getting kind of depressed with poetry. Sylvia Plath didn’t stick her head in the oven to check if her pie was done. It’s hard to be a poet all of the time. I think my friends who do it have found that they are easily distracted by teaching, which I am as well, but not really, because when you’re teaching poetry you’re analyzing poetry and reading other people’s poetry. I think people who write poetry only, I really admire them, because they have a penchant for constantly being in that head space. For me, I think that I need a break from it, and I like to always be creating stuff. So, I thought I would move on to something different. When I was in the MFA program at Arizona, my major was poetry. I did also study screenwriting, so that there was sort of where it began, the break off to a new genre.
C: It’s fascinating to see you’re traveling across these different genres, and I think that pulling these different aspects together can help no matter what medium you’re in. How did your concept first develop? Was it the idea or the genre?
R: I would say that it was definitely the genre. My mindset was, Okay, so you’re depressed from writing all this poetry, so what doesn’t depress me? Films like Minority Report, the Matrix, things that deal with social justice issues but they are being metaphored into these unrealistic or speculative landscapes. And I find that those sorts of stories really lift me out of myself but still keep me grounded in something relevant. I suppose the genre was the one that, you know, genre as in science fiction, not necessarily comics.
C: What social commentary is found in Myopia?
R: There’s a lot going on. I really wrote this story as a poet, I didn’t really plan or plot ahead like you’re supposed to. I just started writing it and what came out was the struggle we have with being too intimate with our technology. There’s a lot of environmentalism. I’m one of those people who believe in Green House effect and that sort of stuff. I say it that way because I like to keep an open mind to the other side of the argument. I always like to do that with almost anything. I can’t really see why anybody would think that our presence doesn’t affect the environment. Even common sense, looking at car exhaust, that’s poison. How can it not affect something? It’s cause and effect. So, I think about that stuff and mostly about how people can’t make that connection. That probably came out in Myopia. That’s a big part of the story that isn’t really introduced in the first issue. It’s touched upon lightly, but definitely Myopia is a dystopian environmental thriller.
C: Would you mind telling us about the plot?
R: Myopia is set 200 years in the future where everyone wears the formula media lens, a device much like our smart phones today. People take it for granted. It permeates every aspect of their life. The government takes the company over and begins to influence the way people think and see. This is all due to the fact that the government is violating the magnetic energy agreement, there’s a new energy source and, like all energy sources, it needs to be managed responsibly and it isn’t being managed responsibly.
C: Could you speak to how the image and text relationships work within the graphic novel?
R: I have a lot of notes for that one. Comics are like a screenplay in this aspect; text is usually driving plot and character development and images are supporting theme and world building. These aren’t mutually exclusive, but I find that these are usually the tasks assigned to panels versus text. Since Myopia is more speculative fiction than science fiction. To me, it’s speculative – I suppose there are elements in it that could be considered ridiculous in 200 years. I won’t be around to see that, or maybe I will? They are working on that stuff, as well. So it was important to me to have really realistic drawings and I think that was the most difficult aspect of doing this project is that comic book artists, you know, make a living off drawing and even if they are super talented, they have to get their pages done by a certain deadline. What’s good about working with Patrick is, he takes a little bit longer, but his drawings are incredibly realistic. I mean, I would frame every page in that book, if you could see the pencils of it.
C: It looks beautiful. Could you describe your artistic process involved in the work? Conception, creation, completion?
R: I draft the issue and I edit it at least 30 times before turning it over to my illustrator. When you work collaboratively like this, so many people see your script, it really sort of – you should know, running a literary magazine – everyone is reading what you’re writing at some point and you work with these people and you don’t want to make it difficult for them. I really edit my scripts more than I would other things before turning it over. The illustrator storyboards it, every page he draws out thumbnails, which is a big process, which exposes some flaws that I overlooked. Then I submit notes on his thumbnails and hope that there aren’t any miscommunications when he starts to draw, because this is the only time we’ll have this exchange. If there are changes that need to be made after he’s made the page, it’s a battle, and it should be, and at that point I am taking advantage of his time. After that’s all done, hopefully there aren’t any changes. There were some in Issue One that he had to redraw, like three pages, just minor things, and I wouldn’t have asked but it was so relevant to the plot. This time when I did notes, I did a lot of notes. He said no one at Marvel, where he works, has ever given him this many notes, but he agreed with them all. I work with people that have professional backgrounds that I don’t have, so there’s a lot of that as well that I have to keep in mind.
Color was really hard for the first issue. I think for the second issue, I’m going to write a separate script just for the colorist. Color is really important because Myopia lenses are colored for different reasons, and when they are being used the panels need to be tinted with a certain color to indicate the influence of whatever lens is being used. Not only that, my artist, as we’ve mentioned, is extremely particular about details, so he has a lot of input about color as well. I try to communicate that with the colors, but it’s done really fast. They have these huge companies that they work with overseas, and the communication can sometimes be choppy. But Mohan who is my colorist – I don’t really know how that works, if he did them or oversaw the work – he was great. I can’t believe how much feedback that he changed, but it was hard. I think now Myopia is in a good place. It was really hard for me because I wanted the best of both worlds, this glossy slick standard comic book color in certain places, and I really like this water color concept he came up with in his drawings, because we don’t do inking in Myopia. Inking is where you have another person come in and go over the penciler’s lines and a lot of time when that happens, especially with someone like Patrick, whose lines are super detailed, you ruin his art. So in this situation, the colorers had a lot of work to do. That’s why I want to give them a separate script, to make their life easier.
When that’s done, lettering is next. In fact, I wanted to say real quick, my letterer was just nominated for a Ringo Award. He has worked in comics for a long time, and he’s great. That’s a really fast process. He goes through decides which font is best for the character speaking, he notes where to place the balloons in the panel and then of course the illustrator has to leave room for these balloons. Of course in Myopia, there’s a lot of resumes and letters and stories, in future issues diaries and things like that, and that’s an element that I think Taylor doesn’t usually work with, but he was fine with it and worked really fast. And production is all about Dynamite. They do all the computer work.
C: How long have you been working on Myopia?
R: It’s become a part of my life. This book was originally sold to a comic book publisher that went out of business, then it went to Kickstarter. When it went there, I wasn’t really working on it, I was working on Kickstarter. It’s an incredible amount of work. I had so many different kinds of rewards and support from different writers, it was extremely difficult as a time commitment. If you add that all together, it’s probably been six years. If I didn’t include the obstacles, I guess about a year and a half before it got started in production.
C: It sounds like all the hard work is paying off. What issues are explored that resonate the most strongly with you personally?
R: Like I said before, the environmental issues are really important to me. But it’s really about taking responsibility for your own actions. That sort of ties into the technology as well. So, as we use our technology or as we go out into the world and put our imprint onto the world, how is it connected to everything? How is it when we decide to spend six hours on social media, what’s being sacrificed? What power are we giving up and who is taking it? I feel like right now we have an opportunistic government. There are a lot of capitalist people in cabinet positions and they are the type of people who, unfortunately, think about these sorts of things a lot, while a lot of other people don’t. I think this book is a sort of think piece in that way, but hopefully it’s really fun and exciting in other aspects so that people don’t get mired down in the subliminal messages.
C: How do you feel seeing this project being realized, especially with the support that you’ve sought from renowned artists, writers, and organizations? It’s an impressive list.
R: Yeah, it was kind of all over the board. As far as the supporters are concerned, it being actualized is a relief. Because when you ask for that kind of support, if nothing came over, they wouldn’t care, but you feel like you owe them something for helping you out and believing in you. So that was nice, to be able to send them copies of the issue and say ‘thank you for the help’ and this is what it is and feel really proud of it. As far as it being done, it depends on what stage it’s in. Up until Comic Con San Diego, I was just relieved that it was done, I don’t know if I was happy about it. There were so many problems on the road to getting it done. I’d considered giving it up quite a few times, because my schedule is so busy and I have other writing projects. It was hard and I wanted to give up a few times, but I didn’t. When I was in San Diego and it was so busy and I was getting feedback and people came up to my table from all over the country, bookstore owners, fans, new fans, asking about the book. There was so much positive feedback from people who actually read it, I was just really happy to see that it’d finally been finished. I worked in isolation for so long and then to actually think people are reading your work and liking your work, it’s great.
C: What was your reception at Comic Con?
R: It was great. It lifted my spirits. People either said, ‘wow, that’s a great idea’ or bought a copy. There wasn’t a lot of ‘I don’t get it’. Of course, I had Patrick’s drawings on the table and people would flip through them and say the same things I say about his art, that it’s incredible, so much detail. They’d lean in closer, closer. There’s so much art down there, that people stopping means it’s good.
C:. What would you most want people to take away from your work?
R: I would like them to think about their own sense of complacency. I’m not thinking about every reader joining Greenpeace, but I would like them to think ‘hey, let’s not just binge-Netflix for a week straight and think there’s no consequences for that’. Be aware of how what you put your time into affects the rest of society. I haven’t really thought about it that much. Like, when Wonder Woman came out, there was a lot of people over analyzing the film, saying it’s this or that, and I got so irritated that I googled what the director thought about her own film and she didn’t think about any of that stuff, she just wanted to make the best movie she could. So, I felt more sane, because I don’t think we think about these things when we write. It’s just there’s this idea, how can I best execute it?
C: In what form can people access Myopia currently and in the future?
R: Myopia is available in so many places. I just updated my website where there’s really obnoxious links at the top where people can buy it. The process of buying a comic book is usually they prefer you go into a comic book store and buy it there, so there’s this lag time between then and when comic store owners decide to put it on Ebay or Amazon. Digital, it’s available through ComiXology, Dynamite Digital, and Dark Horse Digital. So, there are so many places, if you go to my website, richdentwriter.com, you can see all of the places that you can buy it.
C: Do you have any closing remarks?
R: I’m really excited about this interview with River Styx, because the literary magazines have been really interested in Myopia and I was worried that they might not, because I teach at an English department at a university, around creative writers, and there’s also that mixed bag of what’s literary fiction, you know, that snobbery issue. So, I was wondering, well, are people embracing it, but of course they are. It’s just a stereotype and it’s really great to see that’s all it is and people aren’t really going to react that way to something different.