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The Comics Interpreter - George Pratt

The Comics Interpreter - George Pratt

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Published by: api-3706368 on Oct 14, 2008
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George Pratt
Painting in four colors
George Pratt has had an enigmatic career.
Despite being one of the \ue000nest painters

ever to work in comics, his name still rare- ly comes up in typical debates about the medium\u2019s best practitioners. Maybe that\u2019s because in the public consciousness Pratt\u2019s not easily associated with any one charac- ter or series, any

one publisher,
or even
movement. If he had
come from an earlier gen-
eration he might have been a
perfect \ue000t for EC, and likely routinely

placed in the pantheon among some of the medium\u2019s most respected and revered artists. As it is, Pratt is still most readily

identi\ue000ed with his \ue000rst signi\ue000cant com- ics work, Enemy Ace, which is easily as complex and textured as the best of EC\u2019s

legendary war comics. The 1990 graphic
novel, published in DC\u2019s premier format

was based on the character created by Robert Kanigher and originally drawn by Joe Kubert, and immediately announced Pratt as a formidable talent within the

medium.The intensely researched Enemy
Ace (which Pratt spent three years
laboring over) produced authentic aircraft
that would\u2019ve made George Evans proud,

and military uniforms that might\u2019ve even forced Harvey Kurtzman to keep the cap sealed on his red corrections pen. While not a huge hit stateside, the book\u2019s depth, artistry and attention to detail nonetheless resulted in multiple translations worldwide and Pratt recieved personal accolades from World War veterans touched by his empa-

thy and respectful accuracy.
While Enemy Ace was clearly a labor
of love for the then-budding artist,
George Pratt continues to put ample
research, energy,
and creative vitality
into even his most commercial
projects. Never shortchanging the

readers or himself in the process. Pratt sty- mies lazy conventional criticism that artists can\u2019t imbue mainstream work with person- al statement by infusing his own themes and interests into even the most crass com- mercial characters. To that end he was rec-

ognized with a 2003 Eisner Award as Best
Painter/Multimedia Artist for his work on
Wolverine: Netsuke. In that work, as well
as his 2000 graphic novel Batman: Harvest
Breed, Pratt still managed sequences de-
tailing the stark horrors of war and the in-
evitable human toll; both emotional and of
the \ue001esh. Be it feudal Japan, Vietnam, or a
World War, Pratt\u2019s fascination with large-
scale human con\ue001ict is one that even the

artist can\u2019t explain fully. Still Pratt\u2019s rumi- nations on the brutality of war are perpetu- ally relevant, and never moreso than in eras of false patriotism, jingoism, and war

pro\ue000teering. All of which sadly symbol-
ize new millennium America.Thankfully

we\u2019re not quite a half-decade into the next thousand years. But given his past history and current interests it \ue000gures that George

Pratt will continue to touch on similar themes in his future projects, regardless of the political climate. No doubt he\u2019ll also

continue to pour the same ar-
tistic vigor and passion
for the craft into
his work,
regardless of shal-
low trends and false
movements; undaunt-
ed by inferior artists
trumping his sales, if not
his considerable talents.
The Comics InterpreterIssue #2

Robert Young: Let\u2019s start with your various artistic peers? You\u2019re good friends with Jeff Jones, Jon Muth,

Kent Williams, Bill Koeb, John Van
Fleet, Scott Hampton, and Tommy
Lee Edwards, among others. Is it
just a case of all the painterly types
in comics sticking together? Mutual
George Pratt: Well, John Van Fleet,
Kent Williams, Mark Chiarello and
myself all went to school together
and became friends there. We found
that we had the same in\ue001uences,

generally, and that sort of pulled us together artistically. Scott Hampton I met while in school, as well as Jeff Muth. Jeff I met at a convention while in school and he sort of took me under his wing and allowed me to come to upstate New York to

paint with him. Very
cool. So there\u2019s no
conscious thought
there of everyone
sticking together
because of the
painter thing, just
a by-product of
knowing each
other. Happenstance.
Young: How big a role do your
artist friends play in how you
approach your work and in your
own artistic development?
Pratt: Early on, cer-
tainly, that played a
much bigger role than
it does now, at least in approach and
technique. Now we just sort of help
bolster each other and keep each
other in line or keep each other
cranking. A nice support group. But
early on Kent Williams and I spent
loads of time together \ue000guring out

drawing and painting. Kent was my real spiritual painter buddy and we learned an awful lot from each oth- er. One would stumble onto some- thing and pass it on to the other. It was an extremely exciting time for us. When you\u2019re just

starting out everything
is a plateau, growth
comes in great
strides. As you get
older those pla-

to level out and you have to work harder to continue to grow. The nat- ural tendency is to slow down and sort of repeat oneself. That\u2019s death.

Complacency is murder. I continu-
ally struggle to \ue000nd ways to interest
myself as I work.

Young: Outside of your circle of friends are there any current comics artists whose work you particularly


Pratt: Dave Mazzuchelli\u2019s work is always fantastic, and he\u2019s a super nice guy. Mike Mignola\u2019s work I always enjoy as well. Mike does go back to the old days when we were

all in school, though he was in Cali-
fornia we met several times in New
York. Most of the comics that really
turn me on are either European or
from the 40\u2019s - 70\u2019s. Milton Caniff,
Hugo Pratt, Alex Toth, Noel Sickles,
Dino Battaglia, Attilio Michelluzzi,
Jacques Tardi, Hermann, etc. Just
brilliant stuff. These days I really
enjoy Dave Cooper\u2019s work, Dave
McKean\u2019s work, mostly
the work he writes
himself, Seth,
Jeff Brown
and Chester
The Comics InterpreterIssue #2
George PrattPainting in four colours
Brown as well as Dan Clowes (who
incidentally was my roommate at
Pratt). I think Toby Cypress has an
interesting style. I always love what
Tony Salmons does, so wacky and
bold. Great black and white work.

Young: As a fellow painter in com- ics do you have any thoughts about the enormous commercial success

of Alex Ross?

Pratt: Alex hit a nerve with people and it\u2019s great to see that painted comics can command that much attention. More power to him.

Young: It has to be asked: There are numerous paintings in your comics that, if they appeared on the covers or interiors of say The New Yorker

or even The Saturday Evening Post,
would immediately be taken more
seriously (or posited as \ue000ne art) than
they ever will be as long as they\u2019re
inside a comic with Wolverine or
Batman in the title. Have you ever
had second thoughts about pouring
such artistry into mainstream com-

Pratt: Not at all. I do gallery work as well and painting is painting. The comics work has different goals, namely to tell a story, keep the reader turning the pages and reading the story. They shouldn\u2019t be getting too caught up in the art. Again, it\u2019s about the story. If they\u2019re getting hung up on the paintings then it\u2019s working against itself, whereas my gallery work is paint-

ing for painting\u2019s sake. I\u2019m not try- ing to say anything profound in my paintings for galleries, they\u2019re ve- hicles for paint. It is a dialogue with the material that\u2019s interesting to me.

And there I want the paintings to be paintings. I\u2019m not interested in ap- ing nature at all, everything is sec- ond best in that attempt, even pho-

tography really. But paintings that
are paintings bring something else
to the table.
Young: Also, do you enjoy any
speci\ue000c comics where the art holds

little or no aesthetic appeal for you, but the storytelling is so deft or personal that you\u2019re drawn in any-

Pratt: De\ue000nitely. Though even then

there\u2019s a certain aesthetic at work there that is part and parcel of the appeal. This is something that I\u2019ve had to nurture in myself because my initial reaction is always to be swayed by the eye candy of great art. And great art can save a sorry

story, at least for me. I can stom- ach a lame story if the art is nice. I can just wallow in the beauty of

the art and forget the story. But a
great story cannot always save bad
art for me.
But more and more I \ue000nd my-

self trying various books because I want a satisfying read, I hunger for a good read. So I\u2019m getting better about trying books where the art is less than inspired, but carries the story in a different way that has

nothing to do with \ue001ash and pomp.
There\u2019s something quiet in some

of the work that is just right for the story they\u2019re telling. Nothing else would have been as effective. So I\u2019m growing to appreciate all the different approaches and that\u2019s

opening up my own work as well.
Young: You\u2019ve done some teaching,
speci\ue000cally at Savannah College of
Art & Design. What\u2019s the most im-
portant message you try to convey
to your students?

Pratt: I don\u2019t try to teach anyone to draw or paint like myself. I show them ways of approaching tech-

niques with various media and push them to \ue000nd their own way with it all. But basically go where

you need to go, but learn how
to truly draw and paint \ue000rst. Don\u2019t

blow off the hard work of really learning how to draw. If you can\u2019t draw then nothing you say will come across. You have to learn how to speak before you can sing.

The Comics InterpreterIssue #2

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