gg: What media do you use to paint your comics? I can’t quite tell; is it gouache or…?
aa: Yeah, in the one that I just did [this issue], that’s gouache. I did it all in pthalo blue and then there’s a brownish black. Then the Scheherazade one is also gouache, just black and white. But then, the two in the first two volumes [of Mome] are ink and watercolor, and I had to do them on separate pieces of paper, so, there’s basically no original art for those.
gg: You did the ink and the watercolor on separate pieces of paper?
aa: Yeah, because I wanted the ink to be — I didn’t want the black lines to be halftoned so…
gg: Yeah, you wanted 100% black.
gg: Huh, so you did the watercolor on essentially an overlay? Explain the technique behind that.
aa: I’ve been using the computer a lot lately. My printer will print onto watercolor paper, so after I inked the black parts, I scanned them and printed them out in really light blue, onto watercolor paper, and then I painted with a brownish- red wash. Then I scanned them in color, and removed one or two of the color channels, so the blue guidelines disappeared. And then I added a lot of gradients and things in the computer too to make them look like those Japanese woodblock prints.
gg: I thought the story that appears this issue, which I just read, was really gorgeous.
aa: Oh, thank you.
gg: And I thought your use of that particular blue is stunning. Did you use the same technique where you did the black on a separate overlay?
aa: No, this one, I just did all on one and so the black is going to end up being half-toned. But I think it’s going to be OK.
gg: What are the different properties of watercolors versus gouache? Do you prefer one over the other? Does one give you different effects than the other?
aa: Yeah, they definitely give different effects. I like them both for different reasons, and then they’re both frustrating for other reasons.
Watercolor is a lot easier to make smooth blends with; you can do that with gouache, but it’s almost not a good idea because that’s not what it’s suited for. I think I have to plan things out more with gouache, it’s less of an intuitive process. In that sense gouache can be faster because you don’t have as much of an opportunity to mess with it. But I have been doing a lot of paintings recently in both, and that requires some planning too, because I have to do the watercolor first because you can’t paint watercolor on top of gouache. And then some of those paintings I feel would be better if I did them in oil, and that’s something I’m going to try explore a little bit someday when I have time.
gg: Do you prefer to paint your comics over pen and ink?
aa: I definitely prefer to paint them, but it does take longer. That’s the trade off. But I think it’s easier for me to see in shades of gray than in black and white. Getting the balance of the page right is a lot harder if you just have black and white and I don’t like crosshatching. So, I feel like that’s not available to me. [Laughs.]
gg: Traditionally, it seems to me, there’s been a tension between painting and cartooning, that is, most of the painted comics I’m aware of over the last 20, 25 years don’t work as comics. The painterly aspect almost rubs against the essence of cartooning so that each panel looks more like a frozen illustration than part of a continuity.
gg: Your painted comics still retain the qualities of cartooning — the spontaneity, the elasticity — whereas painting can smother those very same qualities… you know what I mean?
aa: Yeah, yeah. Well, I’m glad you said that because I do think about it a lot and sometimes I feel like I’m failing at that, and that’s mostly because the painting takes so long. I feel like it’s possibly taking the life out of everything.
gg: Yeah, that would seem to be the danger. So, how do you think you avoid that particular trap?
aa: [Laughs.] Well, maybe it’s just thinking about it and worrying about it a lot. [Groth laughs.] Like subconsciously it’s gotten in there or something, I don’t know.
gg: Take the last story you did or the story that’s in this issue: Do you lay down all of the black lines first?
aa: No, in that one, the black lines were all at the end, they’re on top of everything.