ANTIGONE AND POWER

Antigone confronts CreonA few months ago, a student from the University of Rochester in New York contacted me. She was taking an English class on adaptations. Part of her research paper included the adaptation of Antigone that I created along with Tom Kurzanski. (The comic is available online in its entirety. Go to my published work page and scroll down. It’s there, all 32 pages.) From her email:

I love your adaptation; I especially love seeing Antigone's power shown so blatantly. In looking at your other works, it seems that female characters take a large role. In your Antigone, female power seems to be a very central part of how you tell the story. I was just wondering if you had any thoughts about this. Was portraying feminism in Antigone your intention? Was this theme of power used in order to strengthen the plot in any way, or was it more of a message in itself?

My response:

Obviously, debating the definition of what makes something "feminist" is almost as old as the movement itself. I consider myself a feminist, and I try to incorporate ideas about gender and power into my work. I see Antigone as a powerful character -- in part -- as a function of Greek dualism. The obvious counter example would be her sister Ismene. However, I see Creon as the true weak one. His desperation to hold onto his political power has weakened him. He pretends to not care about the will of the people, but it's clear that he does care. He's a bully who hides behind his authority, whereas Antigone's power comes from her own conviction of right and wrong and the will of the gods. I see Antigone as a character who, through no fault of her own, is constantly challenging people on their own convictions. That's why I had Antigone kiss her sister in the opening scene. It was her way of forcing the issue of their incest origins. It was a power play, and a rather cruel one.

The concept of "power" is omnipresent in the play, and hopefully in the comic as well. Military power. Political power. The influence of family. Love. Power of fate. Violence. As a woman, Antigone feels physically weak compared to her uncle. So she has to find other ways to exert her power. Through disobedience to his law. And then, when Creon's wife commits suicide, that's the ultimate loss of power, isn't it? In the final scene, Creon acknowledges that he is powerless before the fate of the gods.

My other comics (Karma Incorporated, Emily Edison, Astronaut Dad) all touch on feminism and power, just in different ways. For instance, Karma Incorporated, ultimately, is about domestic violence. It's just disguised as a con artist/caper story.

[tweet "I consider myself a feminist. I try to incorporate ideas about gender and power into my work."]

HAVE I TOLD YOU ABOUT THE TIME WHEN...?

My friend Kristina Krengel interviewed me for an assignment in her graphic novel class. (Pause. How awesome is it that "graphic novel class" exists?) Since you're here and I'm here, I thought I'd share what I shared. Some of these anecdotes have been posted before. Am I turning into that guy who shares the same stories over and over?

When did you begin reading comics/graphic novels and why?  I know I've talked to you about it helping with dyslexia (I've used that as a pro with my reading teachers before.  Thanks.), but was that why you began to read them or just a positive byproduct?

I began reading comics when I was about nine years old. I have dyslexia, but I wasn’t diagnosed until I was an adult. All I knew as a kid was that I had a hard time reading, and I got held back in elementary school because of my grades. Then I discovered comic books, mostly Marvel Comics -- X-MEN, POWER PACK, CLOAK AND DAGGER, X-FACTOR, and NEW MUTANTS. And something clicked. Of course, now I know word balloons group the text in a way that makes it easier for someone with dyslexia. And the illustrations reinforce the words, working in harmony, so that the reading experience is at a more “natural pace” and can be enjoyed. It helped that the stories were wonderfully dramatic, heartbreaking, funny, surprising, and a little crazy. I never missed an issue. It was the fun, expansive universe that I was able to engage in.

What are your favorite types of comics & GN?  Why?  Do you have a favorite artist or author?

It may sound like I'm cheating to say I love all comics, but I really do. I love mainstream, small press, and independent comics. I love a wide variety of genres. I love Japanese comics (manga) and European comics. Wherever there's a good story, I want to read it. I have a few favorite creators. Right now, I'd say my favorite is Naoki Urasawa. He's one of the most talented storytellers we've ever seen. MONSTER, PLUTO, 20THE CENTURY BOYS -- he crafts these amazingly dense, epic heartfelt stories. His comics are as engaging as anything you'd see on HBO, A&E, or Showtime. I also like Rutu Modan. She's an Israeli illustrator and comic book artist. Urasawa tells big, often loud, stories. Modan's work is much softer and more tender, but her stories will just destroy you. From the U.S., Will Eisner, who passed away in 2005, is my Twain, my Hemingway, my Fitzgerald. His work and his name should be right up there with those authors. He created some of the greatest literature I've ever read, and yet you won't see his name spoken with the same veneration.

I know you helped build a larger GN section in Martin's library while you were there.  Why did you want to do this?  Was it easy to get support or not?  How was the circulation of the section?

Librarians are amazing people. I've never met a librarian who wouldn't move heaven and hell to get you a book. And when I gave Martin's librarian a list of comics/graphic novels that the students would enjoy (and it was a long list), she ordered every single one. It's the most popular section of the school library. I know people bemoan that these comic book kids are no longer reading "real novels," but these kids are actually the ones who are more likely to read novels. They're not the problem; they are our future. It's the kids who never set foot in the library that we should worry about. They don't think there's anything in there for them. And I guarantee we could find a comic book they would love.

Why did you decide to start writing GN? 

I always wanted to be a writer. I've dabbled with fiction and non-fiction, essays and short stories. I've written for magazines and websites. And I knew I'd eventually stumble into comics when the opportunity was there. Twelve years ago, I wrote a one-act play for my friend who had a theater troupe. I had about a week to write it. The experience was a trial-by-fire for scriptwriting. The day after opening night, I started writing my first comic. Writing is about momentum, and one experience led me to another.

How did you go about writing (the short version) your graphic novels? How many have you written?

I've written five major works -- KARMA INCORPORATED, EMILY EDISON, ASTRONAUT DAD, WE'VE NEVER MET, and an adaptation of ANTIGONE. I've written twice as many graphic novels (mostly treatments and some full scripts) that have never seen publication. I've had 18 smaller comic book projects published in various formats.

The writing process is different for each comic book/graphic novel. It largely depends on the type of story I write. (Once again, I dabble in different genres. Each story takes a different shape and a different approach.) It also depends on the artist I work with. I try to tailor our collaboration to his or her own preferences and abilities. For instance, Paul Milligan and I largely co-wrote our graphic novel project. With Brock Rizy, our graphic novel was a lot of creative back and forth. On WE'VE NEVER MET, Chad Thomas had ideas that I injected into the work, but it was mostly me passing the finished scripts to him. I wrote ASTRONAUT DAD several years before I found an artist. It all starts with me and a notepad. I brainstorm ideas, jot down a loose outline. I then type a four page synopsis, which I reference when I type the script.

ANTIGONE FOR ALL

A month ago, I sold my last copy of ANTIGONE, an adaptation created by Tom Kurzanski and me. I talked with Tom, and we decided to make the comic available online in its entirety. Go to my published work page and scroll down. It's there, all 32 pages. A few times every year, I will have a teacher or college student contact me about obtaining a copy. I'm glad that people have shown interest in it. However, I quickly remind them this is an adaptation. While the story is all there, I did condense each scene. And like a director, I took a few creative liberties based on my own interpretation of the material (the most obvious: Antigone kissing Ismene as a way to humiliate and exert power over her). Also, I remind teachers that I never intended for this comic to be used in the classroom.

I'm proud of what Tom and I created. It's always a pleasure to work with him. Tom's shown me a tremendous amount of trust and has helped me become a better storyteller. ANTIGONE was honored as the "Indie Pick of the Month" by the Comics Buyer’s Guide. People said nice things about it, which makes me feel good.

“The comic does in 32 pages (all story) what most adaptations of such plays don’t manage in far lengthier productions: tell the story adeptly. Not only does it cover the main points and convey the themes, it also maintains a pleasant and page-turning pace — and it does all of this while keeping the entertainment goodness. As someone who has studied and taught Sophocles (including Antigone), I give serious kudos to the creative team here, especially writer David Hopkins.” — Ray Sidman, Comics Buyer’s Guide

“Silent Devil’s Antigone is a great adaptation of an ancient play that is both entertaining and powerful, making for a morality play that resonates centuries after the original was penned.” — Matthew McLean, The Comics Review

“A compelling mashup unlike anything else on the stands. It’s always a comfort to see a creator like David Hopkins trying new things with the form.” — Miles Gunter, writer for NYC Mech, Zombee, and Bastard Samurai

“Plot-wise, nothing is altered from the source material, yet what Hopkins has altered is just this side of brilliant.” “Antigone is a superior work that bridges the gap between comic books and literature.” — Dave Baxter, Broken Frontier

“Antigone is a classicist’s dream, a great example of how relevant and exciting these stories really are. It’s a comic fan’s delight, as it’s got a nice fresh look, a great sense of design and a witty and refreshing writing style. Whether you’re into Aeschylus or Action Comics, you’ll love it.” — Leah Moore, writer for Wild Girl, Albion, Tom Strong’s Terrific Tales

Also, Leah apparently gave a copy of ANTIGONE to her dad, which is pretty cool.

So now, ANTIGONE is available to everyone. Feel free to share, retweet, repost, and remind.

[tweet "Read the comic book adaptation of #Antigone for free"]

INTERVIEW FOR A CLASS

My friend and fellow teacher Lisa McWain retired a few years ago. (I took her room when she left. My previous room had no windows and a flimsy partition dividing my class from the one next door. It was a nice step up.) Last year, Lisa took some college courses, one of which was on comic books. She interviewed me for a project. I stumbled across the interview while organizing my desktop, and thought I'd post it here.

Your blog is really interesting; my favorite part is the Kennedy poop story.

Thanks. I probably spend too much time on my blog. I've been blogging for six years. It's a terrible distraction from actual writing. The Kennedy poop story was hilarious. She’s at an age where she says the funniest stuff without realizing it. A few days ago, she told me I should buy a Toyota Spyder. I told her I didn’t have enough money, so she said April, my girlfriend, could buy it for me.

The comic in D magazine – great!

That's been a good deal for me and the artist, Paul Milligan. I got involved with D Magazine through Trey Garrison who read my Superman essay with the Man from Krypton Smart Pop Book and thought I had some potential. The comic idea was proposed one afternoon, and I made a good impression on their editor Tim Rogers. Our fifth installment of Souvenir of Dallas should be in the August issue. (UPDATE: We're on our 10th installment as of June 2009.)

The Art Conspiracy idea is wonderful.

Sarah Jane Semrad and Jason Roberts are the two people behind Art Conspiracy (http://artconspiracy.org). I’m proud to have been involved with it over the years. Recently, I was asked to contribute a journal to auction for their summer fundraiser. That has taken most of my time recently, working on the journal.

Have you ever done any work in KC?

Not in Kansas City, but Lawrence, Kansas is one of my favorite cities. I’ve been there. I have some friends who live in Lawrence, and I did a store signing at Astrokitty Comics. Great store.

My dad worked as a mechanical engineer for the space program; we lived in Hunstville, AL during the late early sixties, and followed all of "his" launches.

That's really cool. The NASA space program had to be one of the proudest moments in U.S. history. We attempted something great that didn’t involve killing lots of people in another country. However, it was still part of a "war" I guess, the Cold War. I speak through Jimmy in chapter two about that. We’ve been better at bombs than rockets. I was born in 1977. Our last moon landing was in 1973. I hope I live to see us attempt another moon landing. If we wait too long, no one from the original Apollo program will be around to assist. That would be a mistake.

Background Questions: When and how did you start?

About six years ago, my friend Aja invited me to write a stage play for a production opportunity she had at UTA. I thought I’d need a few months. She gave me a few weeks. While writing it, there were many nights that went until four in the morning. In the end, I spit out a semi-decent play. Opening night was a proud and awkward moment. I wore my wedding suit, which felt oddly symbolic. The play itself was a difficult experience to watch. Afterward, I went to my apartment, determined to never write another stage play. However, I had been bitten by an urge to write and comics seemed like a natural fit. It took me awhile to get comfortable with the format and the medium itself. I want to say the more you write the easier it gets, but that's not true. You learn how to be challenged at a higher level than you were before. Hopefully.

Your biggest influences:

I don't know if these influences are all that obvious, but novelist Douglas Coupland and director Wes Anderson have made a huge impact on me. And hey, Wes Anderson and I share a birthday. The influence question is a tough one, because in the end, people are influenced by so much more than the sum of their favorite books, films, and songs. I would love to be called "Coupland-esque," but I never sit down in front of my computer trying to figure out how to write like him. I struggle enough as it is to find my own stories; let alone figure out a way to channel other writers. I like what Alan Moore once said in an interview about being influenced by hundreds of writers, instead of just one.

Advice to future writers:

The best advice isn't all that new. I've heard people say it over and over again: Writers write. They don’t sit around talking about what they want to accomplish some day in the hypothetical future. They do it. Because while you are sitting around thinking about it or attending conferences on how to do it, someone else is out there working harder than you, stealing your dream job. Lots of people want to be writers or say they have a "million dollar idea," but they don't do anything. Start today or don't do it all. People need to stop romanticizing the writing profession, and just put words on paper.

On your site, I see at least 6 different publishers as well as at least 2 works that are self-published. How do you work with the different companies?

All those companies are small operations. Often, you build a professional relationship with those people through mutual friends. I got involved with Viper and Silent Devil via some short stories I contributed to their anthologies. Over the years, I've become good friends with the editors. As their company grows, they stay loyal to the talented peopled they've worked with along the way. That's ideally what happens. Of course, comic book conventions tend to be the place where everyone meets everyone.

I have dipped into the SmartPop books before, the Harry Potter one, the Grey’s Anatomy one, etc. I read the beginning of your essay on Superman – good stuff. How did you get involved with them? Do you like writing essays?

Actually, I hate writing essays. Hate it. It does not come naturally at all. Whereas I've developed a certain pace with script writing, those essays feel like pushing a boulder uphill. I cringe when I re-read what I've written. It’s a skill I need to develop, so I force myself to get better. From a freelance perspective, the pay is much better than comics. I made more money with one 500 word essay for D Magazine than five years worth of comic book publishing. Sad and true. Essay writing can pay a few bills. I got involved with Smart Pop, because I was a friend in high school with one of the editors. We touched base when I lived in Dallas. She gave me a shot at the Superman essay, and her boss gave me the green light.

Do you share your work (and/or its process) with your students? I think they would be fascinated to hear from a real writer.

Rarely, if ever. I like to keep the two areas separate. I’ve never wanted to be "that teacher" who is continually trying to impress the students. I mean, just because you play guitar does not mean you should perform camp songs for your students. If the students discover my work on their own, that's cool. Otherwise, my writing wasn't intended to cross over into my teacher career. Although in my Creative Writing class, I will talk more openly about my process, because there is a logical application.

Why is your site named as it is?

www.davidhopkins.com was taken. I like the term "antihero." It does tend to fit the majority of my characters, especially in Karma Incorporated.

How did you become associated with the Zeus Comics Store? (and its prestigious Eisner Award)

When I lived in Dallas, Zeus was the comic book shop I frequented. It's a really well run, indie-friendly store. I wrote the nomination letter for Zeus. Lo and behold, they won the Eisner Award for best retailer. It was a proud moment -- and well earned.

When did Amazon begin selling your books?

Amazon sold my books whenever Emily Edison first came out. Viper Comics manages all that. The book has its ISBN number, which makes it easier to distribute to regular bookstores. Without much promotion, the bookstore orders were almost as high as with the comic book stores.

Which book is your favorite so far?

I like them each for different reasons. That's the diplomatic parent response, and it's true. I most enjoy writing Karma Incorporated. If the audience were there to support the series, I could keep writing about those characters indefinitely. When book two of Astronaut Dad comes out, collectively, I think that's my best written story.

How well do you draw? Do you ever send sketches with your story ideas? Do you “see” the story as you write your idea?

I used to be a good artist in junior high, but not anymore. No, I never send sketches. If I can’t use my words to describe a scene, then I've done something wrong. Plus, it’s the artist's task to create the visuals. I don't want to micromanage his or her process. I always see the story in my head as I'm writing, but it doesn't always look the way I thought it would, whenever it's all finished. And that's part of the fun.

Antigone -- You are right that I probably would not be able to use it for school. You said your illustrator took some liberties with your script. Could you tell me more about that?

The artist should take some liberties with the script. That's not a bad thing. It's part of the collaborative process. In the Antigone script, I never mentioned Eurydice being topless in her death scene. Tom Kurzanski added that, and it's chilling in its own way. However, that along with some other things made it not appropriate for a younger audience. Personally, the violence is more objectionable than partial nudity, but I'll admit I asked for Tom to make it brutal. And he did.

How do you resolve disputes like that? Do you ever have to completely change your ideas?

We were under such a tight deadline with Antigone I couldn't ask Tom to make those changes. And even if we had more time, I still probably wouldn't say anything. The artist has a right to his own vision too, and sometimes the best writers step out of the way. Very rarely is a dispute so extreme that it means completely changing or compromising your ultimate vision. There's always some wiggle room for disagreements, you just have to pick your battles. A good artist will honor your story as best they can. In the end, the goal is to have the best story possible.

I loved the opening page and the final quotes last. I thought you did a great job of using Sophocles' words. You skillfully employed all the important lines and really did justice to the work, one of my favorites.

Thanks. I tried. It was a tricky copyright issue. Antigone is public domain, but the translation itself is not. Even then, I wasn't using the entire Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald translation, only excerpts – sometimes out of order and sometimes tweaked slightly. We concluded that comic book constituted as an adapted "performance" of the text.

Where did you get your idea for opening 4 panels?

I wanted a contemporary parallel to big mythic events in a culture, just as the Oedipus story was part of the cultural consciousness of Greek society.

As far as the dialogue goes, who makes the decisions as to how to punctuate and which words to bold in the speech bubbles?

I make the decisions on punctuation. Very rarely do I use bold or italics to emphasize a particular word in the dialogue. I try to leave the emphasis to the reader. Occasionally, the artist will take that liberty and that's okay.

The epilogue was interesting. Who is that writer?

The epilogue was written by my friend Aaron Thomas Nelson. I needed a Greek scholar to double check my adaptation, make sure it would stand up to any academic scrutiny. Aaron's notes were helpful. I asked him to write an epilogue to give an opportunity for a deeper look into the story.

Astronaut Dad What a great idea! The story is wonderful. I think your characterization is especially strong here. Having lived in the times (albeit barely!), you captured them well.

I'm happy with how the story came together. With both volumes one and two, I think it's the best comic I’ve written.

When in 2007 did it come out?

It came out in November 2007.

When did you start it?

I wrote the first draft in the summer of 2003. This is one of those scripts that gathered dust for a while, because I couldn't find the right artist until Brent Schoonover was available. He was exactly what I wanted. The script went through two complete re-writes. Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir came onboard as story editors. In exchange, I helped design their website. Nunzio and Christina are very talented career writers. Their feedback has made me a better writer.

How many volumes do you anticipate?

It's a two-part series.

Do you already know the ending? (a la J.K. Rowling and the Lost creators)

Yep, it's already written and everything. I love the ending.

Which character is your favorite?

I love writing the mom characters, especially Faye. She goes through a lot in this story and it's interesting to watch as a reader. The voices for the mothers came easily, so dry and cynical.

Did the illustrator do the lettering as well as the art work?

Justin Stewart lettered Astronaut Dad.

Do you plan to keep the same illustrator throughout the series?

Definitely. He's finishing it right now.

What does Miss Kennedy think of your work?

I don't know if she really cares one way or the other. Once she realizes I dedicated Emily Edison to her, someday, she'll read it a little more closely.

INDY PICK OF THE MONTH

The most recent Comics Buyer's Guide (#1631) has a nice review of Antigone on page 74. Ray Sidman gives it four stars out of four stars, making it the "Indy Pick of the Month".

The comic does in 32 pages (all story) what most adaptations of such plays don't manage in far lengthier productions: tell the story adeptly. Not only does it cover the main points and convey the themes, it also maintains a pleasant and page-turning pace -- and it does all of this while keeping the entertainment goodness. As someone who has studied and taught Sophocles (including Antigone), I give serious kudos to the creative team here, especially writer David Hopkins.

I've been kudo'd. Thanks Ray.

COMIC BOOKS AND CREATIVE CONNECTIONS

I've been working on chapter three of Karma Incorporated (Vice & Virtue), and I hit a wall. I wouldn't say it's writer's block. Just wrote myself into a corner. And short of any deus ex machina or completely cheesy action hero feat, I don't see a way out. Normally, I'd say, "Okay then, I guess this character doesn't make it out alive." However, I need him later. That aside, Vice & Virtue is going to be great.

April will be a busy month. I've got La Reunion Workshop (sign up!), and I should probably figure out my presentation. Need to send an e-mail to the other presenters. April is also my month to finish the re-write on book two of Astronaut Dad, and hopefully finish Vice & Virtue and the first issue of Bulletproof West. Which, by the way, Dan Warner sent me and Jamar some character design that look really cool. The first chapter of Bolivar is done, and Diana Nock's working on the thumbnails. Damn. I also need to work on another article for D Magazine.

The goal is to have my writing schedule wide open starting in May. I'm making room for one new creator-owned project (and only one) this year. I'll be busy enough with the TPBs in the Fall, plus everything else still in progress.

Random thought, no one cares, but I'll share anyways...

In my minicomic Some Other Day, the character Mr. Donny also shows up in Karma Incorporated #2. On the back cover of Karma Incorporated #2, Emily Edison appears on the coffee mug. In Emily Edison, the teacher talks about Antigone. Antigone, page one, panel 2, has Jack Ruby on it. My Jack Ruby story (obviously) references the Kennedy assassination, which is also featured in Astronaut Dad. In Astronaut Dad, Ed Kelly makes a comment about Stan's daughter being a little "Annie Oakley" who's a character in Bulletproof West. Plus, Some Other Day, Karma Incorporated, and Emily Edison all mention the fictious wholesale company Dal-Mart.

LATE NIGHTS AND RE-WRITING GREEK DRAMA

I stayed up until 2 in the morning working on a script re-telling Antigone. Since I've taught this tragedy to my students for the past four years, I'm already fairly familiar with the content. I want to create a "goth surrealist" vision of this myth. It's been a lot of fun (and a real challenge) to twist and obscure everything, to plot out a visually compelling script.

Technically speaking, Antigone is an easy story to convert to a comic book format. Since not a lot of action takes place within each scene, any given scene can be condensed to 4 to 6 pages. Sophocles' work has a beautiful sense of word and image economy.

I will post the script for the prologue on the website soon.