FAUST by Eric Shanower

Updated: We've included a short interview with Eric down below.

It was earlier this week that the Aria Serious crew invited comic artist Eric Shanower back to the Civic Theatre, this time to sketch the gothic tale of Gounod's Faust. Those of you who frequent us might remember the wonderful collection Eric did for us in January for Turandot. You can see these drawing here.

Eric is a two time Eisner award winner and a New York Times bestselling author who's ongoing epic work, The Age of Bronze, is a detailed retelling of The Trojan War. Eric is also known for his Oz novels and comics. We've included a link to his home page and if you love comics, good storytelling and incredible art you owe yourself a visit. Seriously.

But enough with talk, and onto what you really came here to see - Faust as seen through the eyes of Eric Shanower. We've asked Eric for a short interview and should he respond we'll update this post with what he had to say. Comic artists live complicated lives, so it might take a few days.

Eric will join us in a few weeks for Carmen.

A conversation with Eric Shanower:

It's very good to have you back for us with FAUST. How did you like the show?

Shanower: I liked it a lot, to my surprise. I saw a production of
Faust a long time ago when I was a teenager. I’d been really looking forward to that one, because in the Tintin comics by Herge, there’s a recurring character, an opera diva named Bianca Castafiore. She’s always irrepressibly breaking into “The Jewel Song” from Faust, much to the chagrin of the other characters. So I wanted to hear the song. But I found the production so long and boring with so little action—very stand and sing—that I was greatly disappointed. (I do recall liking the costumes, though.)

So when you invited me to
Faust at San Diego Opera, I was willing but not very enthusiastic. But, wow, I loved the show! So much action, so much emotion, such beauty for the eyes and ears. I was really surprised.

It's been a few months since we last spoke. What are you working on these days?

Shanower: Pretty much the same thing as last time. I write and draw a comic book series retelling the Trojan War story,
Age of Bronze, published by Image Comics. And I write comics adaptations of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books for Marvel Comics—currently I’m adapting the fourth Oz book, Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz. I have a few other smaller projects: turning a script for a presentation onAge of Bronze that I gave at an academic conference last fall into an article for a book collecting the papers given there; writing an introduction to a graphic novel collection of another Oz comic book series, Royal Historian of Oz by Tommy Kovac and Andy Hirsch, published by SLG; and a few other things it’s too early to mention in public.

When we spoke last you mentioned that Seattle's Ring Cycle was your favorite production you've ever seen. How was it to see and hear Greer again?

Shanower: Seattle’s current Ring Cycle was amazing. It made me think of Hal Foster’s
Prince Valiantcomics come to life. The millions they spent were certainly evident all over the stage with amazing special effects. I’ve always fallen asleep when I’ve tried to watch the Ring on video, so this was a completely different experience.

I was very happy to see and hear Greer Grimsley as Mephistofeles in
Faust. He has some riveting scenes, particularly in the last act with Marguerite in the church and then in the very last scene. I wish he would have stayed put more, though. He kept moving around stage and it was difficult to capture some of his more striking gestures. He also has the best costumes.

Actually the singer that impressed me the most was Brian Mulligan as Valentin. Since I saw a rehearsal, some of the singers were saving their voices for public performance, but Mulligan was full-on and his performance in the final act was quite stirring.

What did you think of production? You have a very distinct drawing style. Did this gothic production influence you in what you drew the other night?

Shanower: I thought the design was beautiful. I was pleasantly surprised to see the set and costume designer was Bob Perdziola. My partner David was a student of his, then his assistant on several shows, though not this one. So I’ve met Bob a few times.

The design influenced me to the extent of what I was trying to get down on paper objectively—to draw pretty much what I was seeing. It didn’t really influence me in any inspirational way, I don’t think.

Did the music?

The music didn’t really influence what I drew. My inspiration is really more visual and I think I tend to take cues from what’s going on in the story. Of course, when a singer holds a really impressive note for a long time, that’s great, because when the singer remains in one position it’s much easier to draw from. I found that
Faust had a lot more constant action than Turandot a couple months ago, so it was harder to capture things—maybe I need to alter my approach, be more gestural. This is only the second time I’ve done this, so I’m still exploring.

We've tried to get a few other artists to join us for Comic Book night but they always seem to cancel. One of the reasons I think you continue to show up is that you've had an early introduction to opera. We know your first opera was EUGENE ONEGIN but did you have an earlier introduction to opera or classical music?

Shanower: I remember when I was about five years old getting for Christmas a record titled something like
A Child’s Introduction to the Opera. I tried to listen to it a few times, but I don’t think I even got through side one. I remember the artwork on the cover much more than I remember any of the music that was on it. My parents took me to symphonies, ballets, museums, etc. I think they felt it was a natural responsibility to expose their children to higher culture—but I was much more interested in comic books. I always liked the theatre, however, and though my parents never took me to opera when I was pre-teen, I did go see a few operas as a teenager through my own choice when they were easily accessible and sung in English because I simply considered them not much different than plays and musicals. That’s how I saw Faust the first time.

Anything else you wish to share with us?

Shanower: Thanks for inviting me to draw during the opera again. I hope folks like what I produced, I hope they’ll go see Faust—it’s a really entertaining show. And I look forward to Carmen.

Artwork © copyright 2011 by Eric Shanower. All rights reserved.

Artwork © copyright 2011 by Eric Shanower. All rights reserved.


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