The Process of Making Comics with Grant Snider

Few things are more charming to me than a Grant Snider comic. He approaches his work with a level of care and earnestness that we rarely see in the genre. His drawings are tender and playful, at once funny and a little gut-wrenching. Here, he shares his process in creating “City in Color.”

—Kristen Radtke

THE BELIEVER: How did this comic start?

GRANT SNIDER: First, a confession: I visited New York City for the first time just last year. Until then, it existed only in my imagination—mostly formed by old New Yorker magazine covers and Wu-Tang Clan albums. This comic is a collection of sketches from my second trip to New York. Before a stay at the Spruceton Inn Artist Residency in the Catskills, I spent a weekend at my twin brother’s apartment in Brooklyn. We went on a Saturday morning run to Desert Island Comics in Williamsburg that kept running well into the afternoon. The route took us about six miles through various Brooklyn neighborhoods. It’s incredible how the people, architecture, and colors changed from block to block. I also included some impressions of Manhattan—people-watching at the Whitney, glimpsing the skyline from the airplane, the inescapable construction of new high-rises. Slowly, the city of my imagination is being replaced by the city I’ve put down in my sketchbook.

 BLVR: What’s your process like?

GS: It starts with the sketchbook. I try to write and draw small snapshots of my day. A weird tree I saw, the way the street looked at sunset, interesting signage. Other times I’ll go on a deliberate drawing excursion. Later, I may assemble them into a small story, told in a one or two page comic. Other times, I’ll draw an entire sequence, and slowly refine my initial rough drawing into the finished piece. It’s nice when an idea comes fully formed, but my process is usually much messier than that.

BLVR: Was any aspect of making this work particularly challenging?

GS: I struggle with editing. Anything can be material for a comic. This is incredible and terrifying. What should be left in? What should be taken out? Without the confines of the panel, the page, and increasingly, the Instagram image format, I’d create rambling, unreadable work. It’s also a challenge to make the personal more universal. I find that adding structure—through repetition, rhyme, and color—makes my ordinary, individual experience interesting to others.

BLVR: What drives you to create new work?

GS: A self-imposed deadline of one new piece per week. Sometimes I’m frustrated with the end result. Other times it turns out better than I imagined. But I always have something new to share. I hope my comics can continue to be a lifelong conversation with myself (and hopefully, my readers). And if one piece falls short—well, there’s the next comic to work on.

BLVR: Without naming any comics artists, what influences you most?

GS: Illustrated poetry for children. I try to capture it’s sincerity, simplicity, immediacy, and strong visual imagery. Specifically: a collection called Sing a Song of Popcorn that I’ve been reading since I was young. It has illustrations by Caldecott medalists (Arnold Lobel, Maurice Sendak, Leo and Diane Dillon) and poems by notable poets of all types (Edward Lear, Langston Hughes, Issa, Christina Rossetti). I stole it from my parents house under the guise of reading it to my own kids. But mostly, I just admire its pages myself. A poetry collection called Zero Makes Me Hungry has a similarly wonderful selection of poets (Mary Oliver, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Eve Merriam), along with colorful retro graphics. Finding it at the library was like stumbling upon an illuminated manuscript from 1976. And there’s a great poetry series edited by Paul B. Janeczko with illustrations by Chris Raschka that explores poetic forms, concrete poetry, and the history of poetry. It’s educational without being serious or boring. And the poems and drawings are packed with insights and inspiration.

BLVR: Which comic should we drop everything and read right now?

GS: Macanudo by Liniers—the fourth volume is about to be published in English by Enchanted Lion Books. I can’t wait to read more strips about gnomes, penguins, and sensitive robots.

BLVR: What are you working on next?

GS: Next week’s “Incidental Comic.” A picture book proposal. A collection of my past work on reading, writing, and literature. A secret poetry Instagram. Studying my sketchbook for clues about what new ideas to pursue.

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