April 18, 2007

Five Questions With Sam Grant

African-American writer Sam GrantSam Grant, currently a professor of Graphic, Illustration and Web Design, sharpened his drawing skills by creating "storyboards" for directors to shoot videos and commercials. To keep his skills fast and fresh, Sam would give himself "projects" like this one, to maintain his edge. Twenty years later, The Opposite Sex resurfaces, and rekindles Sam’s desire to pursue his passion.

When not at the drawing board, Sam spends most of his free time at home with his wife and daughter. Two older sons are grown and out on their own, but always come home for the holidays. Sam is currently giving back some of his design knowledge as a college instructor, but still finds time to work on his personal drawings. The creative spark that lit itself in him at age two, still burns as bright as ever. For more information, visit www.samgrant.com

1. Why did you choose to create a graphic novel rather than a “traditional” novel?

The choice was never really an issue. I was a storyboard artist back in the late 80’s, and drawing books in graphic novel format was good practice. That style used the same principles of flow and design that cinematographers use to set up scenes in movies. I wrote approximately 6 graphic novels during that decade. The Opposite Sex was the largest and most ambitious of the group.

2. Without giving away too much of the plot or climax, what’s The Opposite Sex about?

The story centers on high school student Michael Chandler, a former little league superstar, who suddenly stopped playing baseball about 4 years ago and took a profound interest in the sciences. However, that irrational decision has come back to haunt him, as he, along with family and friends discover that life has a funny way of working itself out. Suddenly, an accident in the high school chemistry lab created a whole new set of challenges for him and the people around him. After these events are set in motion, no one at Westside High will ever be the same.

3. What were some of the challenges in creating the novel and how did you overcome them?

Putting the story together is tough. When you’ve got an idea, that’s just a good beginning. Constructing an experience around that idea is real challenge. I used the same principles on my short stories as I did on the elaborate ones. I started with a simple outline, peppered with a series of plot twists. Once I got the story rolling, I let it tell itself. I would write as I drew. This isn’t always productive, but it sometimes leads to sparks of wisdom. I eventually discovered the best method was to write a complete draft outline, and flesh it out in the writing process. This technique gave me the freedom to write as much as I wanted, and still stay on point.

4. What is the special appeal of graphic novels and do you think the appeal is limited to a certain demographic?

Graphic novels have gotten a bum rap in America, because of our fascination with the superhero genre. Many people think that graphic novels are merely thick comic books written for children under the age of 15. This stigma has no bearing in other countries around the world. In places like France, Spain, and Japan, illustrators of graphic novels enjoy the same notoriety as literary authors in America. This scenario has gradually been changing over the years, but most people don’t notice the impact. For example, Americans see the superhero comic book transition to film in obvious examples such as Spiderman and X-Men. What they may not know is that movies such as Road to Perdition, A History of Violence and V for Vendetta were all based on graphic novels. Sin City was literally snatched from a graphic novel series. Eventually, this will be a legitimate practice among producers in Hollywood. So just like reading a paperback version of a classic film, if you really want to get the full impact of one of these new movies, find the graphic novel it was based on, and enjoy the ride.

5. How do you balance your work at Miami Dade College and the demands of your art?

The hardest thing is the time commitment. If you have a good story and clear method of telling it, you need a serious schedule. Teaching requires a commitment to a series of repetitive tasks like lecturing, planning, grading and testing. The best advice I’ve gotten from a fellow writer was to pick the time of day when you’re the most creative, and work during that period exclusively. When that time ends, stop working until the next night. I don’t take work home anymore, because I’ve found a way to maximize my office hours at work. I make the best of my schedule by getting most of my schoolwork done during the time I’m on campus. It’s not easy, but if you stick to it for about 3 weeks in a row, it’ll become a permanent habit.

(Optional) What makes you laugh?

I’m old school. I like jokes from comedians like Bill Cosby. I also admire two classic comics, the late Flip Wilson and Richard Pryor. These guys weren’t just comedians, they were storytellers. I like well-written jokes that develop gradually. My favorite joke of all time is “Who’s on First?” by Abbott & Costello. Lately, I’m into classic radio shows from the 1940s. I think making somebody feel like they saw something on radio, was pretty incredible. I’m eating this stuff up nowadays. It’s like I just dug up a chest of buried treasure.




Professor Zero said...

Your blog never ceases to inspire.

Geoffrey Philp said...

Give thanks,Professor Zero!