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Between the Panels: Writer Chris Antzoulis on Conveying Emotion through Words, Learning from Scott Snyder, and His Fondness for Batman

“Between the Panels” is a bi-weekly interview series focusing on comic book creators of all experience levels, seeking to examine not just what each individual creates, but how they go about creating it.

Comics are just one way Chris Antzoulis exercises his writing muscles. He’s also a poet with an MFA in writing from Sarah Lawrence College and a creative writing teacher at Mercy College. His work has appeared in various writing journals, including Yes Poetry, Newtown Literary, FLAPPERHOUSE, and others.


First off, the basics…

Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Writer

Your home base: Queens, New York

Website: www.chrisantzoulis.com

Social Media:

Instagram: @themaninthecave

Twitter: @CAntzoulis

Current project title(s):
 
The Good Fight anthology (www.goodfightcomic.com)



Kevin Sharp, Fanbase Press Contributor: When did reading comics first become a part of your life?

Chris Antzoulis: Around five years old. I already loved Michael Keaton’s Batman [movie], so when my mother came upon a Batman comic — the highly inappropriate Son of the Demon story — she bought it for me; however, I stopped reading comics around 10 or 11. It wasn’t until I took a comic book writing class with Scott Snyder, while earning my MFA at Sarah Lawrence, that I learned how profound and culturally relevant comics could be. And then I couldn’t devour enough of them.



KS: Sounds like the Dark Knight was your favorite character growing up?

CA: I’ve always loved Batman. Keaton was my introduction, but I was hooked on the animated series and the Nolan-verse as I grew up. Batman comics are always something I come back to when I’m not sure what else to read.

KS: What about the first time a comic really made you say, “Wow”?

CA: Paul Hornschemeier’s Mother Come Home. This book really utilized the art of comic book creation to tell a beautiful story about loss. And I don’t believe it could’ve been told any other way.

KS: Let’s talk about your writerly secret origin. What’s the first “real” piece you remember creating — prose, poetry, etc.?

CA: This is difficult for me. I’m at a point where I truly believe that whenever someone sits down to intentionally write something creatively they are writers. I wrote, seriously wrote, my first poems in middle school. I was the type of kid where school [was always] easy for me. But, writing always took effort, because there wasn’t a correct answer. So, I became addicted to playing with words, writing in poetic form. The first poem I remember writing was about playing the guitar. I’m sure it was terrible, but the act of creating it was real to me.



KS: Obviously, most people who embark on the MFA path do so with an eye toward some type of writing-based career. Were you one of those cases?

CA: Haha. You would think that’s obvious, but it wasn’t for me. I was on track to go to law school before deciding to pursue my MFA. I knew I would hate being a lawyer, and I felt stuck. I just wanted to feel fulfilled. And writing is the only thing I truly loved to do that was only for me and no one else. So, I went to get my MFA with no agenda. I just wanted to work on my poetry. Become a better writer. I became a better poet, and I found comics. Since then, I’ve just figured the rest out. On top of my writing, I am also a literary agent and a writing professor.

KS: Nowadays, do you have a set daily (or nightly) writing routine?

CA: I wouldn’t say I have a set routine, and I’m always cautious of writers sharing what they think people “have to do” to be writers, because everyone functions differently. What works for me is just the idea that I have to write something every single day. Even if it’s just one sentence.

KS: What about music or any other background noise?

CA: I need to hear life happening around me when I write. So, I often write in public. I have a go-to cafe/bakery I write in. I guess I just like knowing that I’m not alone —maybe it’s time to see a therapist.

KS: You’ve worked with a few different artists at this point. What’s something you’ve learned about collaboration in comics writing?  

CA: The biggest hurdle to get over, as a writer, with comics is that the writing is no longer just yours. It’s a collaboration, and you have to work with others to make these stories even better than they could ever be with just me working on them. I’ve learned that the keys are patience and trust. You’re building relationships. And just like any other relationship, sometimes, it works…and when it works, it’s beautiful.



(Art by Lydia Roberts)

KS: Shifting to your poetry for a moment… What strikes you as different between that and comics when it comes to which creative muscles you use? Obviously, one form involves other collaborators — what I’m wondering about is the different challenges for the writer in you.

CA: I think my strength as a writer (if I had to choose something) would be how efficiently I can convey an emotional point through language and/or character. In this way, comics and poetry are very similar. In poetry, you’re relying on the ability to birth an original concept of an emotion, and banking on the reader having felt that emotion before and that your concept (or metaphor) rings true for them. The success of a poem relies on its ability to emotionally land using only your experience and some words. With comics you’re relying on dialogue-based encounters to connect with your audience…but, the challenge is conveying the emotions with your collaborators, so the illustrations complement and add to the dialogue.

KS: If you look back at your earlier work, what stands out as different from how you do it now?

CA: With comics, I can tell you with 100% certainty that I’ve grown when it comes to pacing. With poetry, pacing is never a concern. The definition for what makes a poem is so loose that you can almost do whatever you want as long as you do it with confidence; some poets may not agree with that statement, but they can go crawl back up Shakespeare’s ass. Comics, however, have strict length depending on the project and it took a lot of practice for me to learn to utilize the space.

KS: Whether it’s a comic script, prose, or poetry, how do you know when you’ve gotten a piece as good as you can (at least for the moment)?

CA: I think that’s the million-dollar question for any writer. The first comic I ever self-published had twelve drafts before I ever sent it to my collaborator. For [The Good Fight anthology], I was asked to write a script in one week. I didn’t have time for twelve drafts. A piece of writing is never done. You can always make it better. Over time I think I’ve started to build the confidence to let things go.

KS: Let's talk about using trusted readers to give you feedback.

CA: I have people who are close to me that I send my poetry to, and others that I send comics to. (Some I’ll send both.) They know how I write. They do their best to understand what I’m trying to say without projecting their styles on me. I think it’s crucial for a writer to have these people in their lives. I believe one of my trusted readers even recommended me to you for this interview.

KS: Is there something you understand about comics now that you didn’t before? Do you see the medium differently since you’ve been involved vs. looking in as a fan from the outside?

CA: When I was a child I loved superheroes and action. When I got slightly older, I fell into the trap of believing that comics were for children, and I owe so much to my professor for unlocking this world for me. I see the medium as one of the greatest ways to literally connect with others, and I love trying my best to be part of that.

KS: What’s a comic or graphic novel by someone else that you look at with awe?

CA: Ray Fawkes’s One Soul. There’s so much room to experiment with comics, what they can convey, and how they convey it. I think One Soul is a beautifully successful experiment with the form.

KS: Finally, can you talk a bit about your most recent comics project?

CA: I have a story called The Feed in the upcoming comic anthology, The Good Fight: A Peaceful Stand Against Bigotry and Racism. I’m so proud and excited to be included in this collection. Not only do I get to share space in a book filled with writers and artists that I look up to, but I whole-heartedly believe in the message the book is putting out. My particular piece is about bullying, specifically cyber-bullying. Unfortunately this is not a foreign concept to people in the comic community. I’m lucky I was given a platform to create a story, made strikingly gorgeous by my artist Lydia Roberts, to talk about this issue and the emotions involved.








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