At some point in nearly every interview I’ve ever done, the interviewer will ask about my influences. It’s happened enough times that I have a little list in my head that I can throw out there whenever the question comes up -- Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman, Peter Straub, Terry Gilliam, Mike Mignola, and the Danish comic book artist Teddy Kristiansen. It’s short and to the point and usually satisfies the interviewer's expectations, though I keep waiting for someone to ask why there are so many authors on the list.
I can go through the names and explain how each one of these people influenced either the way I draw, or the kind of material I like to draw, or the things I write when I’m not drawing. But it’s not a very complete list. I’ve been influenced by just about everything I’ve ever seen or read. Or at the very least, I’ve learned something about storytelling from every book, piece of art, movie, or play that I’ve seen. It’s just the way I’m wired. I like to take things apart to see how they work, even if they aren’t working all that well.
For me, the really interesting question is “Who are your heroes?”. It’s a fun one to answer, because you get to talk about the artists or writers or directors you really admire, and it’s a little more revealing than the usual list of people who have influenced your work.
You might be asking, “What’s the difference?”. Well, let me use an example. Nothing against Neil Gaiman, but he’s an influence of mine, not a hero. His SANDMAN series got me interested in comic books after a long time away, and there’s no way I would be drawing comics if it hadn’t been for his work. And while I’ve enjoyed his projects outside of the comic book field, I don’t have a framed picture of him or a signed first edition on display in my office. I do, however, have a signed copy of Ray Bradbury’s ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING that is among my most cherished possessions.
And while my heroes have all influenced my work to various degrees, they have taken on a special legendary status in my mind that makes me go a little weak at the knees when I see them at conventions. I do my best to hide it, of course. No one wants to see me faint from fanboy excitement. It's not a pretty sight.
So here are my heroes, in no particular order: RAY BRADBURY, F. PAUL WILSON, DENNIS POTTER, FRANK HERBERT, CHRISTOPHER FOWLER, KIM NEWMAN, RICHARD MATHESON, and MICHAEL PENN.
One of the really nice things about my life is that I’ve met most of my heroes* and all but one of my influences at some point or another. I’ve worked with a few of them, gotten to know others, and while I can’t say that we’re friends exactly, I sometimes get to trade emails with a handful of them every once and a while. And yes, I do get weak at the knees when I see their names in my email inbox. Can't help it.
Of course, now that I think about it, I DO have a signed copy of Gaiman’s MR. PUNCH, one of the truly great graphic novels of all time, sitting in my office. And I think I’ve got a signed first edition of CORALINE somewhere, too. So maybe it's time I finally added Mr. Gaiman to the list...
*At least the ones who are still with us, though I did meet Frank Herbert at a signing a year or two before he passed away. There's a photo of me at age 12 or 13 looking like I might pass out as Mr. Herbert signs a copy of HERETICS OF DUNE for me.