A Conversation with Eric Skillman

It’s an exciting day at Criterion; Liar’s Kiss, a graphic novel written by our own Eric Skillman, designer of many of our most iconic DVD and Blu-ray covers, and drawn by Jhomar Soriano, hits stores today. We exchanged some e-mails with Eric (they flew back and forth down the hundred feet of hallway that separate the editorial and art departments) to find out about his experiences creating his first book; you can learn more about the process of putting the project together(including the cover illustration, pictured here) and preview the result at Cozy Lummox, Eric’s blog.

How long did you work on the book?

It’s been in various stages of development for about three years. The earliest inspiration, actually, came about during a Criterion project. When we made the little comic book insert with Sean Phillips for the Blast of Silence DVD, the experience of putting that together was so much fun, it inspired me to want to try my hand at something of my own. (And really, you couldn’t ask for a better first comic-making experience than that: Cribbing Allen Baron’s fantastic narration and then having Sean Phillips draw it? Just about idiot-proof.)

Why did you decide not to do the illustrations yourself?

Basically because illustration (or design) and cartooning are two different skill sets. Making one single compelling image is one thing; creating a character, imbuing him or her with a personality, and making it consistent and recognizable across a whole story . . . that’s something else entirely.

There are plenty of amazing illustrators who can’t tell a comics story, and probably wouldn’t be that interested in doing so anyway. And the reverse is true, too: there are great cartoonists, consummate storytellers, whose single-image compositions aren’t nearly as compelling as their narrative work. I would definitely love to draw a story at some point, but I need to hone my skills a bit before I get anywhere near Jhomar Soriano’s ability to bring characters to life.

How did you become familiar with Jhomar’s work?

The magic of the Internet, basically. Jhomar lives in the Philippines (in Quezon City), so we’ve never actually met in person, but I found his portfolio online and was immediately impressed with his sharp line work, deep, inky shadows, and his storytelling. I sent him an e-mail, and luckily he was available and interested in the project. Three years and 120 pages later, here we are.

What was the process of the two of you collaborating like?

We first did a few sample pages as a pitch to publishers, before getting picked up by the fantastic folks at Top Shelf Productions. I revised the script with my editor, Chris Staros, until we were both happy with it, then sent it over to Jhomar for him to draw. He would send me rough layouts of the pages, I would look them over and offer comments or suggestions, then he would draw the final pages.

I’m obviously a visual person myself, but it was important to me that this be a real collaboration, and that Jhomar have the freedom to inject some of himself into the artwork, so I tried to limit my comments to just storytelling concerns: the emotion on his face isn’t quite right, or so-and-so needs to be holding a gun on page 52 because it comes up again on page 75 . . . stuff like that. But the specific artistic choices and gorgeous page composition, Jhomar deserves all the credit for.

On that level, I found the process of writing comics to be similar to the process of art-directing illustrators: you want to find the right person for the job and give them enough information to make sure they’re conveying the ideas you want to get across, but also give them enough freedom to keep them interested and inspired, so they’re doing their best work. Or anyway, that’s the idea . . . you might hear a different story from some of the illustrators I’ve worked with!

What are your feelings on the eve of the book’s release?

I’m a bit nervous, a bit excited. Mainly I just hope people like it, so they’ll let me do another one!

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