Denver artists R. Alan Brooks and Jolyon Yates are the Denver Art Museum’s current Demonstrating Artists in the Storytelling Studio. Brooks, a comic book writer, often collaborates with Yates, a digital illustrator, creating one-of-a-kind comic stories. Read on to learn more about their creative process and latest collaboration, Neighborhood Watch.
What is it like to collaborate with another artist on your work? What is your process for creating comics together?
Brooks: It's a lot like any other relationship. At first, you don't know each other's strengths and weaknesses, so you feel a little apprehensive. But as you work together more and more, you become familiar with the other person's patterns, and then you can trust in and enjoy what they contribute in a different way.
Jolyon and I usually work together by starting with a full script from me, detailing what happens on each page, the emotions that are present, where the action is happening, and more. Then, he illustrates it, by bringing his distinct visual sensibilities and humor to it.
In the case of this story, however, we tried something called the "Marvel Method," where I broadly described what was going to happen in the story, and left it to him to determine the pacing, number of pages, etc. It was an experiment for us to collaborate in that way, but it allowed more of his voice to come through. Honestly, I'm very happy with the results.
Yates: With Alan, it's good. He speaks fluent comics whereas other writers write as if it's a screenplay, which can play havoc with basic comic storytelling like the order of speech, actions per panel, etc.
What was your process for creating the comic Neighborhood Watch? What do you hope visitors take away from it?
Brooks: I told Jolyon what I had in mind for this story, who the main characters were, how I envisioned them changing through the course of the story, and the message that I was trying to get across. With that description, he came up with the visual style for this story (a cartoonish style, to obscure the message of the story until we were ready to reveal it) and the format.I mostly want people to think about how our own fear can make us see innocent people as villains. That's the biggest point of this story.
Yates: The message is an iron fist; hopefully, the storytelling is the velvet glove making it enjoyable to read, but still impactful. The actual process was researching, then roughing it all out and designing the characters until Alan was happy. The roughs are the most important part where you solve most of the problems. The final artwork is done on a digital tablet.
The Studio is all about storytelling; what do you think is the most powerful thing about comics as a storytelling medium?
Brooks: I love comics and graphic novels specifically for their storytelling power. The balance of words and art is unique and engaging in a very intimate way. Comics are one of the few visual mediums that can be created by one or two people and still tell very expansive stories. As a result, you get some intimate tales that you may not find in animation, movies, or television.
Yates: If a story is working then it's alive in a reader's imagination and they don't notice they're looking at flat pages of lines and squiggles and boxes.
When you’re working on a new project, where do you go for inspiration?
Brooks: I'm not usually in the position of searching for inspiration. There's so much around me, and so much that I want to create. I'm inspired by compassion, humanity, great art, brave and sincere people, honest and flawed people. There's so much to draw from in this world—from the beautiful to the grotesque.
Yates: I research everything the script needs me to draw and that starts impressions about what the characters will look like. Also, artists whose work fits the mood or genre.
Is there anything else you want visitors to know about you or your work?
Brooks: For me, the greatest power of stories is the ability to make us consider our own lives from a new and different perspective. That's one of the ways that art heals the world and changes lives. And that's what I'm always reaching for in my comics.