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Preview: “Comics Are Everywhere”

San Diego Filmmaker Looks To Comic Book Artists For New Doc

Above: A scene from "Comics Are Everywhere."

"Comics Are Everywhere" is a work in progress by San Diego filmmaker Neil Kendricks. Here's a brief interview.

"Comics Are Everywhere" explores a pop-cultural intersection where alternative comics, animation, and the art world collide as seen through the eyes of emerging artists JJ Villard and Danni Shinya Luo as well established comic creators Daniel Clowes and Jaime Hernandez, among others.

Kendricks shot footage at the 2010 Comic-Con, the same year that Morgan Spurlock shot for his much bigger budgeted documentary, "Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope." A quick look at the teaser for "Comics Are Everywhere" and the trailer for "Episode IV" reveal the difference in approaches. While Spurlock tries to document the quirky, geeky fan experience, Kendricks focuses on the heart and soul of Comic-Con -- comic book artists.

Kendricks has been attending Comic-Con for decades and is a devoted fan of comics as an art form. He has even taught classes on comics and graphic novels. Kendricks is trying to get financing to finish his documentary. Here is a brief interview with him.

Esther Pearl Watson shows off her comic "Unlovable" in Neil Kendrick's upcoming documentary "Comics Are Everywhere."

Neil Kendricks

Above: Esther Pearl Watson shows off her comic "Unlovable" in Neil Kendrick's upcoming documentary "Comics Are Everywhere."

What do you feel makes you uniquely qualified to do a film about comics?

Neil Kendricks: I went to film school and got a Master's in Film, Television and New Media at SDSU. But my real qualifications stem from my life-long passion for comics. I've always loved comics, and I learned how to draw partly from looking at comics. I've been reading and admiring comics since I was a kid. And I started attending Comic-Con in the mid-1980s as a teen-ager and I've never missed it since. Over the years, my fascination with comics as an art form has ranged from writing numerous articles on comics and interviewing cartoonists to eventually teaching the class Comics and Graphic Narrative for two years at SDSU, the only university-level course in San Diego devoted to the study of comics, animation and sequential art offered in San Diego. Over the years, I've also taught classes on drawing and photography.

With this expertise in comics, I started thinking about doing this documentary back in 2007 and 2008 by first writing a series of treatments and documentary proposals. We eventually rolled into production in 2010. My main collaborator is a talented LA-based filmmaker and close friend Nathan Gulick who is doing most of the cinematography. Sometimes, I do some of the filming myself like a sequence where I filmed JJ giving a talk at his alma mater, Cal Arts last fall. We are still following two of our subjects, JJ Villard and Danni Shinya Luo. We are a very small team.

Morgan Spurlock's new documentary has been getting some attention but he does not look at comics. In fact, there aren't a lot of films that deal with the comics industry or art form. How would you describe your film that is still in production?

NK: The documentary's non-fiction narrative is still taking shape. However, what ties artists like Villard and Shinya to older, more established comic creators like Clowes is that they all have formal art-school training and they managed to find a niche or find inspiration in comics and the Art World has taken notice of their art. Both Villard and Luo have shown their work in art galleries, and, most recently, Clowes has a career retrospective at the Oakland Museum of California. Earlier this spring, We filmed interviews with the curators of the Oakland Museum. I'm interested in artists who straddle more than one arena of creative expression.

What did you have students study in your Comics and Graphic Narrative class?

NK: The students not only read and discussed major comics and graphic novels, but they wrote scripts and collaborated with art students who drew the images. The completed mini-comics were self-published as a series of anthologies titled "Word Balloons." These comic anthologies featured the students' original mini-comics that were created from scratch. Although my SDSU class was cut in 2011 due to budget cuts, many of the students are still collaborating with other students whom they met through this unique class.

In fact, my friend and colleague Neil Shigley is still publishing new volumes of Word Balloons featuring mini-omics by my former students and his new students in his Drawing and Illustration class at SDSU. I still speak to the new crop of students in Shigley's class and I stop by for critiques. I hope to some day resurrect the class at SDSU or at another college or university. Readers can check out and even purchase the five, different completed volumes of "Word Balloons" at Blurb.

Who did you interview for your film and why?

NK: I've interviewed a range of artists. Originally, I was going to do more of a survey film focused on master cartoonists whom I had interviewed in the past for articles. When we started filming in 2010 at Comic-Con, however, I realized that far more engaging stories that hadn't been told started to emerge from speaking to more alternative minded artists at different stages of their careers.

We interviewed animator and self-published artist JJ Villard and Chinese-American artist Danni Shinya Luo (who did cover for Marvel's X-23 comic-book series) to more established master cartoonists like Love and Rockets co-creator Jaime Hernandez and comics scholar Douglas Wolk (author of Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean). We also talked to cartoonist David Lloyd who is best known for his collaboration with Alan Moore on the politically charged V for Vendetta.

We also made the trek to San Francisco's 2010 Alternative Press Expo to interview Daniel Clowes of Ghost World fame and lesser-known, yet extremely skilled artists like Dan Archer and others. Archer combines comics with journalism to discuss controversial issues like human traficking and political unrest in Latin America.

Of course, some of the other artists whom we interviewed at the 2010 and 2011 Comic-Con and Alternative Press Expos (APE) won't make the final cut. But I feel this project will offer an engaging and insightful window into the world of contemporary comics and why the art form remains as resilient and relevant as ever.

What's next for your documentary?

NK: I wrote an outline for the film that has a beginning, middle and end. But we need to raise funds. So, we are planning to launch a Kickstarter campaign this summer since this project is being funded out of my very meager pockets. My collaborator Nathan Gulick has worked on the film without pay because he sees the project's great potential and we're close friends tackling our first feature. But it's a challenge to undertake such a daunting task with no funding. So, I'm learning how to do this as we film and gather material, learning the ropes of writing grants and keeping a lookout for experienced producers to help raise money.

If you are interested in comics, check the schedule for the Comic-Con International Film Festival, in previous years there have been some superior films about comics screened.

And here are some suggested films: "American Splendor," "Crumb," "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World"

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