Donna Barr is an American comic book author and cartoonist. She is best known for her series, Stinz and The Desert Peach.
was originally published in 1986 as a short story in a hand-bound
book. After several
consequent publications and printings, it was eventually self-published under A Fine Line
Press. Her other long-running series, The Desert Peach is about Pfirsich Rommel, the fictional
homosexual younger brother of Erwin "The Desert Fox" Rommel. The first three issues were
published by Thoughts & Images. Additional issues were published by Fantagraphics Books,
Aeon Press, and then self-published. Other works include Hader and the Colonel, The Barr
Girls, and Bosom Enemies.
Donna has also recently published a number of novels, including Permanent Party, An
Insupportable Light, and Bread and Swans. The last two of these feature Stinz and The Desert
Tools and Techniques did an interview with Donna over the internet and we are very thankful for her generosity in taking part in this initial column.
To start the conversation we asked her what tools she uses in creating her comic book art (ex. Pens, brushes, pencils, photoshop etc.) And if she would also tell us what brands she prefers when it comes to the tools she uses?
"I use pencils, brushes (#2 round for lines, #5 round for large blacks), crowquill pens, Rotring (r) pens, markers, watercolors, digital manipulation, scanning, whiteout.... there aren't really any limits."
(crowquill pen) (Rotring Art Pen)
Any specific kinds of lead sizes for your pencils (ex. HB, B, mechanical)?
school pencil, mechanical if I got one laying aorund."
Are you fond of any particular brands of brushes or pencils?
on sale or at the quarter store."
Between brushes, crowquill, pens and markers, what are you most comfortable with?
matter -- whatever I grab out of the boxes."
Where do you purchase your tools? Art store (Which one?) Online (What website)? Do you have any recommended stores to shop at for artists?
"Art stores, rummage sales, whatever and wherever. Recommended: http://www.danielsmith.com/ and http://www.dickblick.com/"
What kind of paper do you use?
"Whatever's on sale, preferably smooth or bristol."
Is there a difference in outcome of your art between smooth and bristol?
Do you use different tools mattering on the paper surface?
"Take a look at Desert Peach #13 "Nobody" - it's running and will be up at http://www.desert-peach.com It alternates between nice Rotring-Bristol Board pages and insane left-handed pencil scribbles w/whitout splats on tracing paper, depending on which character's head you're looking at."
What size do you do your original art? (Traditional 11x17 or so? Or other?)
"I've used all sizes; right now, because of a cool deal I got on Manga sketch paper, I'm using 8.5 x 11. Whatever I get. Does it matter?"
(Desert Peach #9 page 10)
I just think it's a matter of comfort. Some artists like to draw big, others not. Then there are artists like yourself who can switch between sizes without troubles. What is your method or process for creating your original comic book art? (ex. thumbs, roughs, inks? Or straight to finishes?)
"Roughs, then light-table to create basic outline and lettering, then finishing. If digital work required, MacBook and GIMP."
Your opinion on digital lettering?
Is there any out of the ordinary tricks or methods you employ in creating your work? Something you think no one else does?
"Thousands and thousands of drawings before I ever began to accept the quality for publication. If someone thinks they can draw or write like I do, they're welcome to try."
When you say thousands of drawings do you mean you go through multiple drawings of one page/one panel before you think its ok?
"Thousands of finished pages. They looked like this: http://www.moderntales.com/comics/midnightlibrary.php?view=archive&chapter=12184&mpe=1 That's one-sixth of a black sketchbook page. Lots of details about why and how there, too!"
How long generally does it take you to do one page of art then? And how long for a normal sized comic (22 pages or thereabouts?).
Ha! Do you approach covers any differently than an interior page?
"No. When possible new readers ask which issue they'd like, I tell them, "Pick the cover you like. I was in the same mood when I drew it. Personal rant: books (most of them) that do gorgeous covers and crap pages. WTF?? Do they think the readers will not look inside before they buy the thing?"
(Some of my favorite Donna Barr covers - Desert Peach #'s 4, 18 & 27. Stinz #'s 2, 5 and vol.2 #3)
What time of the day do you like to work? Or when do you get the most work done?
"For creative work, about 5:00 pm to midnight."
Where do you do most of your work? At an art table? Desk? Cafe?
"(See photo.) As you can see, it gets pretty casual, here. I don't need a lot of expensive equipment to turn out what I do. That's my little MacBook, where I use GIMP and OpenOffice for ALL processing, digital artwork or layout -- both open source, work on PC and Mac and both FREE.Add me widdow laptop and Passport backup drive, and I can work anywhere, on anything, even publishing whereever I want. I already GOT the go-anywhere studio. And I bet I'm not the only one. A LOT of the new artists don't even USE paper!"
So your a fan of the ever increasing influence the computer and digital world is having on creating the comic book?
"To me, the FORMAT does not matter. It's the art form itself."
Since you are the sole creator of your work, how do you approach the writing aspect? Full script before you start drawing?
"Nope. Just tear through a rough, slap it on a light table, slap a piece of whatever paper I got on that, a bit of tape, and off we go. I rough the lines, do the lettering, pull that puppy off and then sit and do finals and details. Lots of freehand."
How did you learn to do comics? Self-taught? Or schooling? (If schooling where did you go to school?
"Self-taught. Began drawing in 1954, writing in 1963, reworked style for publication in 1986."
(Desert Peach #1 page 1)
Did you save any of your earlier work from before 1986?
"Most of it was burned because it wasn't good enough for me. What's left is at: http://scua.sdsu.edu/aboutcoll.shtml#BARR My brother stood by the bonfire, biting his fingers, because he wanted it all, but was too respectful of an artist's decision to interfere. I didn't find this out 'till later."
What do you think when you look back at your art from earlier times?
"Who did this? ELVES?"
"I ALWAYS think what I'm doing right now is total crap, but I have to get it out on schedule. Then five years later I look at it and wonder why I can't do that any more. I move on all the time, so I'm always experimenting."
Many artists believe they get better with time, but many fans sometimes say the opposite. What's your opinion about your work?
"Don't ask me. I'm only management. (My characters have a union, local 117). Fans says something is "better" because they got used to something and then it changed (like editors, who see the rough first). Go on Deviantart.com or Facebook and listen to screaming about changes to the website. My fans have always had more brains and intellectual brawn than most (including a huge and -- I have to say this -- important peer following), so I don't worry about their reaction. If I start worrying about them, how can I offer them anything honestly good? I have a big collector's fan following in India (again, WTF?), so I'm crossing my fingers for a Bollywood deal. The musical is already written and broke even in 1992, so...."
(Desert Peach #2 page 1)
(Desert Peach #7 page 29)
Your opinion on collaborations? (ie: You just the writer, or you as artist working from anothers script)
"I can hack as good as the next guy; PAY ME. "
Finally, where can someone see more of your work? (a website? Just released project? Or upcoming project?)
Thank you Donna. We here at Tools and Techniques highly recommend you check out Donna's comics. Very entertaining stuff. I still have my copy of The Desert Peach #1 (in near mint condition!) and will keep it as long as I have a comic collection. Early issues of The Desert Peach opened my mind to what a comic could be about. At the time (mid 1980's) The Desert Peach was the only comic starring a gay character and while in the 80's that caused quite a stir it endeared her to many people for having the courage to do something no one else had. Plus it was just damn good comics.
(Desert Peach #1)