Interview Questions by Hilary De Silvia

Hello Ken,

Please introduce yourself.

A: Hi, I’m Ken Lowery, and I’m an advertising and comic book writer living in Dallas, Texas. I’ve written and published several comics, wrote and produced three seasons of the web series The Variants, and edited and contributed to Write More Good, a satirical journalistic writing guide based on the Twitter feed @FakeAPStylebook that some friends and I created. I also used to be a copy editor and journalist.

Q:At what age did you develop a passion for creative writing?

A: You’ll probably get this a lot, but I’ve been writing for almost as long as I can remember. My first attempt was probably second grade, when I saw enough of a Jaws sequel (I forget which one) on HBO that I decided to lug out the family typewriter and write my own Jaws movie. The studios weren’t into it. A few years later I was way into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles so I wrote what must have been a five-page screenplay called Donatello’s Quest, because Donatello was an underappreciated nerd and who can’t relate to that?

Q:What does “being creative” mean to you?

A: It’s mostly about being restless. I say I write not because I want to but because it’s a compulsion: I can’t not be writing, whether or not I derive joy from the actual act. (And to be clear, I frequently do.)

But being creative isn’t just in the act itself. It’s a mode for a living, not just a thing you do. Because I grew up reading lots and lots of critics alongside all the usual fiction intake, I learned to constantly interrogate myself about why certain stories worked on me the way they did – why did this one push my buttons, and why did that one fail to? Why do people respond to this character the way they do? And in your own work, always: How could this thing be better? That’s where the restlessness comes in. You appreciate and love what exists, and you ask yourself where you could go from there.

Q:Why do you do what you do?

A: The compulsion I mention above, with a little extra help from me-too-ism. I’d finished The Variants and Write More Good was long since done, and that may well have been it for me and creative writing… but I had some comic scripts I just wanted to do, and I saw friends doing their own comics for no other reason than they wanted to. And I thought, why can’t that be me? Why stop here?

It’s not competitiveness, not exactly. I want to do the best work I can do, but I don’t really care about outshining anyone else. I’m constantly competing with myself, because if I’m going to take up peoples’ time with my work, I’d better make damn sure I’m not wasting anyone’s time.

“Time” is the secret third ingredient. I’m your garden-variety writer with depression and a morbid sense of humor, so I’m crushingly aware that we only get one shot at this. I need to show something for all the help and privilege I’ve been given. All I’ve got is good writing. So that’s what I do.

Q: Can you describe the time when you first realized that creating was something you absolutely had to do?

A: It probably wasn’t until my early 30s when I thought, okay, I’m locked into this for life. I’d always been doing something on the side, whether it was the web series or freelance movie criticism or whatever, but I remember making the conscious decision to pursue art whether or not I could make a career out of it. I have a comic story I’m very proud of, “Murder Ballad,” specifically about this decision – what you gain, what you give up, and how irrevocable that decision can be.

Q: What was the intention of your work? Has it’s meaning changed since you began producing and dabbling in different material?

A: Intention is a good, potent word, and it ties in closely to the previous question. The writing habit was so compulsive and, for so long, strictly for my own enjoyment, that I never developed a master plan or consciously built my writing toward something until my early 30s. So to me, personally, the work has changed from something I simply do to some kind of sum total of my life. Namely, what do I believe about life?

Looking at my work you might not get a rosy picture; it’s mostly doomed people staving off the inevitable for short bursts of time. Nonetheless, I remain a cautious optimist.

Q: Is it difficult moving and adjusting to the different tasks or jobs surrounding writing?

A: I actually do better when I’m doing different kinds of writing at around the same time. Switching gears and having multiple deadlines keeps me fired up. And most of all, it keeps me interested. Having just one thing to do? That’s the shortest route to Procrastination Town.

Q: How do you distinguish yourself from other people in your category, and how does your work stand out in your opinion?

A: Well, I can’t say if it does stand out, but I sure hope it does. I try to write the kinds of stories I’d buy if they were already available, so at least I know I’m filling a hole in the market – even if that hole is only big enough for me and a handful of other folks.

I worry I’m too weird for mainstream and not weird enough for true indie, but I think a lot of creators who don’t track hard one way or another feel that way. I’ll have to let time, luck and the market decide if I’m offering something worthwhile.

Q: How is your personality reflected in your work?

A: Oh, it’s all me. My concerns, my interests, my insecurities and worries and the stuff that makes me laugh. Any writer’s work inevitably reveals something about them, but some work is more personal than others. If it’s not me all over the page, I just can’t care about finishing it. So the math is simple.

Q: In descriptive terms, what would you call your style of work?

A: I try to do thoughtful genre fiction. I write in recognizable genres (ghost stories, Westerns, psychedelic sci-fi) but (hopefully) skip past superficial tropes to get at the core of what makes them compelling. I think of genre as a mode rather than a collection of trappings; so, for instance, film noir isn’t detectives and dames and dark alleys but rather a statement of belief in how the world works. Same for horror, same for Westerns, same for crime stories: what about the worldview expressed in these genres hooks people? I dig at that, and go to work.

Q: What or who inspires/influences your writing and creative style?

A: My oldest influences in writing are Stephen King and Roger Ebert, though maybe not for the reasons you think. Both of them valued clear, conversational styles, and were expert in conveying complex ideas in plain but captivating language. If your stuff isn’t at least a little accessible to the general public, why not just let it sit in a drawer?

In comics, my strongest influences are Garth Ennis and Jason Aaron. Ennis churned out at least three legitimate masterpieces (more, according to folks like me) and is exceptional at interpersonal drama, absurdist humor and building long, strong stories. Aaron works in a wide variety of genres and never gives anything but his A game; his shtick may not be for you, but I don’t think anyone can deny how damn good at it he is.

Q: Do you believe that art is still as important as it used to be?

A: Art is more widely available than it’s ever been; I don’t think anyone under the age of 30 appreciates how hard it could be to get a VHS or DVD of an even semi-obscure movie not that long ago. There are fewer gatekeepers and more outlets than ever before, which is great.

Art is consequently undervalued; if it’s everywhere, and it’s not “serious” work like STEM work, how much can it really be worth? Your work is constantly in demand, but no one wants to pay for it.

I think it’s in the best interests of large studios, publishers and other controlling interests to keep art – that is, the pop culture that they produce – both pervasive and unexamined. Devaluing art means artists will work for less, and will be less inclined to value their own work.

I can’t speak to art’s importance relative to human history. But I can say artists are in a very precarious position.

Q: What are you trying to communicate with your art?

A: We’ve only got so much time on this earth, and we can do real damage to each other if we’re not careful. Be careful, and be kind.

Q: How do you prepare your ideas and form them into a solid thread of work?

A: If I’m not simply seized by an idea (which happens maybe a quarter of the time), I just start picking at a genre or basic story hook that I like. I ask the questions I list above: Why do I like this? Why do I keep returning to it? What about it moves me?

Then there’s a bunch of internal hemming and hawing while I procrastinate and stew in the idea. When it’s time to get serious, I think about how many pages I’ll need to tell the story, and then outline it. For comics, this is fairly simple: just number down the lefthand column of lined paper, with each number standing for a page. Then I write out a quick sentence about what happens on that page. This takes care of the “what comes next?” question that stalls out so many projects and so many people.

I copy this outline over to a Word doc and page break each line, then start filling in each page. Usually at this stage I’m just writing out the relevant dialog or page beats and then breaking them up by panel – I try to stick to 4-6 panels a page, so some storytelling can get done but the artist isn’t too crowded.

Once I’m happy with how those pieces are broken up – and I’ve made sure to note page-turn reveals, which panels are the big ones on each page, and so on – I start filling in the “PAGE 1, PANEL 1” descriptions. This is the most labor-intensive part but also the one that requires the least thought; by the time I’m here, I know what the story is.

Q: How do you overcome creative blocks?

A: Persistence. If that doesn’t work, I feed my head for awhile. New movies, new TV shows, new music, new comics or books – just pump your poor little brain full of stuff. If that doesn’t work, I talk to a trusted creative friend about it. Comics is a collaborative art, and so often, the best ideas come from discussion rather than one person sitting around and stewing.

Q: What are your views on criticism and that which you have received towards your work?

A: Criticism is necessary for any art form, and a lively field of critics means more stuff is challenged, more stuff gets exposed to new audiences, and (ideally) the audience and the artists become savvier.

I’ve personally had mostly middling-to-good reviews. Those are nice. Perpetual downer that I am, they rarely stick; I just let them slide off and move on to the next thing. But that level of thick skin means I don’t take the harsh stuff to heart either.

Q: What is the best advice you ever had about how to be more creative?

A: Always be curious. No one person told me this; it’s something I inferred over time observing my favorite artists and critics. Largely this means trying new media out all the time; it can also mean simply being more aware of the people around you, asking people about their hobbies, little stuff like that. Life is infinitely complex and the many, many ways people pass their time is so often the stuff of good story hooks. It’s also pretty life-affirming.

Q: Have you completed or are currently working on any new material for the year 2016, and or are there any upcoming projects that surely will be spectacular for the 2017?

A: I’ve got a couple pitches I’m putting in front of editors soon, but it’s all so early in the process that I can’t say much about them. (I’ll just glance knowingly at the words “Western” and “psychedelic sci-fi” above.)

I’ve also written two one-shot comics I’m proud of: a cyberpunk story inspired, indirectly, by Mad Max: Fury Road and a fantasy comic about a goblin, an orc, an elf, and the restaurant they run together. The former is both cynical and hopeful; the latter gets weird and melancholy and is occasionally pretty damn funny.

Once again, thank you for your time and support. It is greatly appreciated.
~The Monroe Echo~