AN INTERVIEW WITH RICHARD DENT, AUTHOR OF THE COMIC BOOK MYOPIA
Discovering a new comic book worth reading is like discovering The Fountain of Youth. I might as well be Ponce de Leon when it happens. Not only does the alchemic mix of nostalgia, nerdom, and pop culture turn the lead-heavy banality of everyday life toward a gold tinge, but I am also confronted with the primary reason why I read books—to expand my own imagination. Myopia is a comic book with that expansive potential.
Myopia is a new dystopian comic book series where the population wears contact lenses (the formula media lens) which function like smartphones, connecting everyone to global information networks, entertainment, and each other. Eventually the government takes control of the technology and the media company, influencing the way people form perceptions.
Richard Dent is the raconteur of this near future vision. Though the sci-fi genre is endlessly renewable, it is rare that an author brings such lyrical and literary attention to the craft, as Richard Dent has done. He brings a poet’s eye to the movement and development of dialogue and scriptwriting, allowing his collaboration with the artist Patrick Berkenkotter to feel lyrical in its visual storytelling.
Getting a chance to talk with Richard Dent about Myopia reminded me of those causal, across-the-long-boxes conversations every comic book enthusiast has had at Comic Con or at their local comic book shop. It was humorous, literary, enlightening, and above all else, left me wanting to read more of his work.
STEVEN LEYVA: In the same way Warren Ellis’s Spider Jerusalem from Transmetropolitan is informed by and modeled after Hunter S. Thompson, who would you say are the prototypes for Bill Glen and James Chase, whether in literary fiction or comic books?
RICHARD DENT: They are a dual personality situation. The impulse to write it was to get away from poetry. I wanted to write something fun, so I approached it, and wrote it, like a literary person would. Probably, Professor X, Magneto, Batman/Bruce Wayne were influences. Also Guy Montag from Fahrenheit 451. The development of that character as well as that way he moves from gullible to being a target is reflected in Bill and James. They start off with good intentions, but then they pass the baton from gullible, to more informed, to being a target. Really any pop culture sci-fi media from my childhood could be counted as influence.
SL: Is any Doctor Who in there as well? I thought James Chase walking into a job interview with the last living falcon on his shoulder felt like a very Doctor Who moment.
RD: That show is one that I admit to watching consistently, but I made so many changes to Myopia from the screenplay to the comic book. During that transition, I actually hit a falcon on my bicycle in the middle of LA. A baby falcon. I thought how crazy is that. I was able to rush the bird to vet care and it survived, thankfully. The experience made me think about how hostile civilization is towards animals so I put a falcon in that scene with James.
SL: Certain panels of issue one of Myopia are text/document heavy, which reminds me of the way Alan Moore uses written text and documents, as opposed to speech-bubbles, in Watchmen. Would you count that seminal graphic novel and Alan Moore among your influences for Myopia?
RD: Absolutely. Watchmen is one of the few comics that I would actually call a graphic novel, because it has so many novel-ish elements and qualities. Alan Moore’s Watchmen is what I call novel writing and graphic storytelling combined. Some of that is the scope.
SL: Were those document heavy pages an attempt to make it feel more like a novel?
RD: Yes I am hoping so. There are other ways I have include novel elements as well. It allows two different kinds of readers to enjoy the work. It gives something to the general readers who want to fly through the panels, but it also gives something to the readers who are really into world building, something to sink their teeth into.
SL: As a poet and self-described otaku, I often think about the intersections of graphic storytelling, animation, and poetry. What do think poets can learn about poetry by studying comics? What do you think comic book writers could learn from reading poetry?
RD: I was doing a book signing the other night, and a kid said he wanted to buck the trend of three-act structure, in that way that young writers are adamant about bucking all conventions. But to do that requires a kind of discipline. Poetry was great training for form and how to revise endlessly and almost edit it to death. What comic book writers could learn from poetry is the discipline of being reserved in what they should put in a panel. How a panel can, like a line of verse, do so much with so little. And sometimes they don’t put enough into the panel. That panel-to-line association is what they could learn.
What poets could learn is this idea of parallel action. In a comic, and also in a film, you can have multiple actions/plots occurring simultaneously. Comics also juggle the power of words and images, and that’s what you should be thinking when writing a poem.
You can really go into the parallel backstories while having a forward moving story.
SL: Issue one of Myopia has everything readers have come to expect in an origin story: a sense of mystery, an establishment of storyworld, a character who’s been orphaned (like Bruce Wayne, Kal-El, Peter Parker, etc.) and, of course, an unresolved conflict that keeps us reading into issue two. What were the most surprising moments for you as the writer in crafting Myopia? Did those surprises persist as you adapted the story for different media?
RD: When I was writing the screenplay I was unemployed, but it was a good time to do something different. I just took a break and wrote it organically, without really plotting it out. I did a lot of revisions. In that incarnation I tried to make James more like the Bruce Willis character from Fifth Element. When I brought it over to comics that just didn’t fit.
Overall there was an expansion of storyworld. As a poet I overwrite, though no one ever sees an early draft of anything I write, but that feeds back into final revisions. I was surprised that I was able to employ those poet habits in a screenplay and have it make sense. I was surprised how much I can say in a different way when it was transferred to a comic. With James in issue one the reader is often wondering about his personal life, even with small hints here and there. Rather than spelling it out like I would in a screenplay, I realized I could leave much more unanswered.
I also marveled at how much the illustrator was able to produce exactly what was in my mind. The collaboration between what the illustrator and the writer are thinking is amazing. I thought, “Am I just that good of a writer, that his drawings match so well to what I was thinking? Or is he that good of an illustrator?”
SL: Myopia appears to have some undercurrents of social commentary (eco-responsibility, unintended consequences of technology, government surveillance). What are some the most important contemporary social justice issues for you and how do those issues inform your work?
RD: All the ones you mentioned are ones that I care about. It’s just so hard to pinpoint a specific one. I feel like social media has become so unreliable in that pursuit. Everything you say will be critiqued. I’ve come to distrust the credibility of everything. It works against all the efforts to gain a foothold of awareness for those issues. I feel that my creative work is free from that social media toxicity.
Because of that it’s more important than ever to read or watch movies. I’ve been watching American Horror Story and how much those stories function as social commentary. I can only watch them in October because they scare me so much.
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