“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.
Corinna Bechko arrived on the comics scene with her 2009 horror graphic novel, Heathentown. Since then, she’s played with numerous recognizable characters and franchises from Aladdin to Star Wars to Lara Croft to Vampirella — not bad for someone from a Zoology background!
First up, the particulars…
Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Writer
Your home base: Los Angeles, CA
Current project titles:
Green Lantern Earth One TPB (DC Comics)
Femme Magnifique (Black Crown)
Disney’s Aladdin: Four Tales of Agrabah (Dark Horse)
One Way Tickets
Kevin Sharp, Fanbase Press Contributor: Big question right up front: Why comics? What attracts you to writing for this medium specifically?
Corinna Bechko: It’s always wonderful to discover how an artist changes, redefines, and deepens a story. I tend to write scripts that are short on visual details not intrinsic to the plot in the hope that my collaborators will have room to explore their own side of the tale. I don’t think there’s any other medium where that happens as organically, or as intimately.
KS: What’s something important you’ve discovered when it comes to this kind of writer/artist collaboration?
CB: First and foremost, that it is a collaboration. With that in mind, I try to only give the necessary details and leave the rest to the artist. For instance, if it’s going to be important in the next issue that someone has a yellow necklace, I highlight that. If it doesn’t matter, I leave everything up to the artist. It is easy to write a ton of extraneous detail but that doesn’t work in anyone’s favor.
KS: Let’s get into your writing process. As both a prose fiction and comics writer, how do your creative methods differ when it comes to a piece for one or the other?
CB: Both begin with a plan and a fairly specific outline, but the one for comics is much tighter. That’s because space is such a consideration, and because so much of the impact is about how the visuals are paced. For instance, it matters a lot if action falls on as opposed to between page turns in a comic, but it doesn’t in a novel. So, I tend to work with a much clearer idea of exactly where I’m headed with comics. For prose I’m a bit more freeform and tighten it up in the edits.
KS: For any size project in any medium, how do you know when you’ve gotten something as good as you can get it before it’s time to let it “leave the nest” for someone else to read?
CB: The short answer is deadlines! I don’t often have the luxury of making anything completely perfect. If writers ever did, what would editors do? But seriously, I have a tendency to fiddle with any text for way too long, so I’m happy when someone else can take an unbiased look. It’s nice to put it in someone else’s hands sometimes.
KS: Do you have trusted readers to give you feedback?
CB: Certainly! I belong to two writing groups, and I have to say it’s great to have a support system for more personal writing that doesn’t necessarily have an editor yet. And by great, I mean essential.
KS: You’ve written company characters from DC, Disney, and an interesting variety of others. Is there a particular challenge or dynamic that you need to adapt to when it to playing in someone else’s sandbox vs. playing in your own?
CB: I approach each more or less the same way, but the research involved is different. So, the real change is how I approach setting the stage. I really try to match the tone and mood of my for-hire work to that of the world already in existence. It’s a huge honor to be allowed to create in someone else’s universe, so I always try to keep that thought in mind as I proceed with the story. For instance, I love to write on the dark end of the spectrum, but I kept that tendency well in check while working on Aladdin, which exists in a more joyful realm than, say, Heathentown.
KS: What’s one word that sums up an important trait for being successful in this business?
KS: How about a tour of your current studio setup?
CB: I have a studio/office overlooking the backyard which is a steep hillside. In my studio, I have a large aquarium housing a rescued mud turtle named Cash Flagg, a rescued one-winged lovebird named Orpheus, and a lot of paleontology books. My cat Vera usually joins me when I work, so she has her own miniature couch and a scratching post/hidey hole, too. There’s also a lot of art (much of it purchased from friends), some posters, and a number of paintings done by zoo animals. My desk is very sturdy, a big, old, second-hand wooden beast that was bought at a flea market. There are a lot of aspirational craft supplies too, in the hopes that someday I’ll have enough time to use them.
KS: Are you a set daily/nightly routine writer, or a “catch as catch can” writer?
CB: I actually get a lot of work done on the train going to and from work. I’m lucky enough to not have to commute by car, so I have a solid hour each way to write. I also work a lot on the weekends, but without a set routine, and sometimes at night after I get home.
KS: Backing up a bit… Roughly when did reading comics first become an important part of your life?
CB: When I was in middle school a friend started buying Love and Rockets and I always read them, too. That was my introduction to what comics could actually do, and why they are important. We were reading them a few years after they were released, but that didn’t matter. They seemed wonderfully fresh to us.
KS: Do you have a memory of when a comic made you think “I want to try doing that”?
CB: There’s no question it was Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor. The comic, that is, not the film.
KS: What’s the first piece of “real” writing you remember creating, whatever age that was?
CB: Honestly? I wrote a poem about cows during first grade. It seemed important at the time. The first piece I had published was a short horror story about a woman who was possessed by some sort of fire demon… and liked it. That was during college.
KS: You mentioned American Splendor as a big influence. What’s a comic or graphic novel by someone else that you look at as an example of the craft at its highest form?
CB: Oh man, definitely Black Hole by Charles Burns. It’s such a fine distillation of exactly what a comic can be, and it tells its story seamlessly in both words and images. I can’t think of a better example than that!
KS: Finally, let’s talk a little about your most recent and upcoming projects.
CB: There are a few! Green Lantern: Earth One Vol. 1 is out in paperback from DC, by Gabriel Hardman and myself, with art by Gabriel and colors by Jordan Boyd. So is Femme Magnifique, from Black Crown Publishing, which contains my short about Mary Anning with art by Shawn McManus. I also did a short for Star Trek Waypoint featuring art by Daniel Irizarri. And Disney’s Aladdin: Four Tales of Agrabah is debuting, as well, from Dark Horse. Then, Smithsonian Dig It! Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Creatures, co-written with Brenda Scott Royce, is timed to coincide with the opening of the Smithsonian’s new exhibit in D.C. [August 2019].
Gabriel and I also have a new anthology of horror shorts that is available in his Big Cartel shop called One Way Tickets.