BOYTOONS MAGAZINE #163 – Chatting with Steve MacIsaac!

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A few months ago, Fraser and I had the opportunity to meet artist/writer Steve MacIsaac in person while he was in Vancouver.  This was a great pleasure for me because I had long admired Steve’s work.  He is a gifted writer who has this delicious way of creating beautifully flawed characters that you can’t help but love, and often empathize with.  

His art is striking and bold, and wonderfully unique.  It is immediately recognizable as Steve MacIsaac’s!  It serves as a brilliant accompaniment to his deeply thoughtful scripts. Clearly, this is a creator with great skill and a passion for telling stories that don’t sugar coat the human condition and still manage to arouse us all at the same time. 

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His latest series is Shirtlifter.  It’s at times deeply personal, and laced with honesty and even a touch of humor that totally sucks you in.   

Steve was at the Seattle Erotic Art Festival as a guest speaker with me a few weeks ago.  I found his insights absolutely fascinating, and felt that you would all really enjoy a chance to get to know this important artist a little better.  Naturally, I simply had to pester him with some of my silly little questions.  LOL!  Steve graciously accepted to answer them all.  

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BOYTOONS MAGAZINE: You describe your work as “Neurotica“. Why is that?

STEVE MACISAAC:  That’s more of a tongue-in-cheek answer than a real label – I don’t really call my stuff that. But I guess the idea behind that name is that my work is frequently explicit and unafraid of sexuality, the sex is often in service of something darker and more melancholy than most erotic work. Porn tends to be about idealization, escapism, fantasy, and while there are certainly elements of that in kinds of characters I draw, in general I’m more interested in representing reality than in fantasy.

 BTM:  Your characters make for such a wonderful read, because they are so real.  They are deliciously flawed as individuals and in my opinion that makes them tremendously endearing.  Now, I know that some of your work is partially autobiographical, but when it comes to the fictional aspects, do you naturally try to explore the underbelly of human emotion?  Why is that?

SM:  I’m interested in what makes people tick, and sometimes that requires working through the negative aspects of our lives, or at least the more introspective. I think gay culture is wonderfully diverse and multi-faceted – it works, but I wouldn’t exactly call it functional. It’s a system that’s grown up to meet a need, and the needs of gay men have largely been shaped by necessity, by growing up outside the “acceptable” boundaries of the American mainstream. So the “delicious flaws” are the same flaws you’d see in any kind of fiction writing, but writ maybe larger by the fact that the characters have developed these flaws because they’ve had to.

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BTM:  Shirtlifter #3 is a wonderful blend of great story telling and hot, unabashed sex.  In fact, there seems to be more sexual content in #3 than in the previous issues.  What prompted you to go in this direction? 

SM:  I think because the story I’m working on is an anti-romance, two people who are determined NOT to be together who find something compelling about the other, almost against their wills. The draw was initially sexual, but over the course of the novel (which will continue in #4 and #5) their relationship gets more complex. I think it’s hard to depict sexual attraction without actually depicting it; we get to know Conner the way that Matt (the main character) gets to know him – in the bedroom. Sex is a really great way of depicting character, but it’s underutilized. So the explicitness is there as a reflection of their relationship – it IS based on sex, but develops into something else, which is I think true to how many gay relationships start.

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BTM:  You are an accomplished writer who partially draws upon personal experience to tell his stories. When you write stuff based upon your personal experience, do you find that you occasionally modify events from how they truly happened, or do you generally stick to how things went down?  And is it cathartic to some degree to depict things that have happened to you, or can it leave you feeling a little exposed?

SM:  In my autobiographical work there’s almost always some level of modification. I think it’s actually impossible to be 100% true, simply because even if I tried to record everything exactly as it went down, it’d still only be true to MY perception of events, and someone else would have a different take. I’ll combine characters, or change their name and appearance, or change the chronology. But it’s always in the service of what I perceive as the essence of the point I’m trying to make. An example of that would be “Crush”, which didn’t exactly happen to me in the way that is written -part of that is an experience of a friend of mine, combined with something that happened to me. The two incidents together were more resonant than if I’d tried to be strictly “true.”

I don’t feel too exposed because I am very much in control of what I show. I don’t really put things out about myself that I feel uncomfortable about. I think reading issue #2, which is a collection of my autobiographical stuff, people would be hard pressed to read that and feel that they know me. They know a collection of incidents and impressions, but I don’t think that it’s especially intimate. There’s a lot of time gaps between stories, and my appearance changes over the course of the issue. I think overall the effect is that my whole story is not really there.

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BTM:  You worked with writer Dale Lazarov on STICKY, which was published by publisher Bruno Gmunder.  Can you tell us a little bit about that?  How did that project differ from projects you create entirely yourself, from story to art? 

SM:  Well, when I worked with Dale on that book, those pages were basically the first comics I’d ever completed. Although I published a number of stories in various anthologies that came out before STICKY was published, those stories were all being worked on after I’d started working on STICKY. So STICKY was basically Comics 101 for me. I wanted to work with a writer because I wanted to focus on learning how to draw and on how to construct a comic page, which balances a lot of different tasks: layout, drawing sequentially, choosing angles, working with color.

It was a tremendous learning experience, because I had three rock-solid scripts that I liked for their humanity as well as for their structure, specificity and detail. Dale always knew exactly what he wanted, but was also flexible enough to allow me room for improvisation and interpretation. So I got practice both with following a script to the letter and with coming up with my own solutions to page layout and design. And of course, the fact that we’d decided to make the stories wordless was maybe the biggest and most important decision we made; it really forced me to be clear in my visuals, and that improved my drawing a hundredfold. I still think that my silent pages tend to be my strongest, because I think I often rely on words a little too much in my own work. So working on that book was a great lesson in “less is more”.

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BTM:   What is your creative process like? 

SM:  It varies from project to project. Most of my stories I go into with no real script, just maybe a title and a vague idea of what I want to do. I’ll work out some very sketchy thumbnails, take some reference photographs, and then just start drawing and writing, working things out as I go. I’ll generally work on all the pages at once – I could be working on Page 6 and 16 simultaneously – and I’ll start editing and rewriting and moving things around, refining until the story comes into focus. I can get away with that with short, short pieces.

But with “Unpacking” , because it is so long, it’s much more structured: I had an outline and basically drew the first draft of Book One in sequence, start to finish, because I was serializing it online. I knew the basic story points I wanted to get to, and some of the dialogue, and the rest was improvised as I went along. I then revised that first draft, cut out a bunch of pages and added a few more, reordered and re-sequenced the middle section, when it was published as a physical comic. I’m following the same process for Book Two, which I’ve just started, and will likely do the same for Book Three (the last one in the series). 

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BTM:   What can we look forward to seeing next from Steve MacIsaac?  Can you tell us a bit about the things you are currently working on? 

SM:  I have a short story coming out in an anthology from Arsenal Pulp Press in the fall called I Like It Like That; other than that, I am working on the rough draft Unpacking Book Two for the Modern Tales website; the revised and finished version will be published in  SHIRTLIFTER #4 in early 2010.

BTM:  Thanks so much for chatting with me, Steve.  I really appreciated it, and I’m sure my readers did too.  I really look forward to Shirtlifter #4 and all your other projects.  

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All artwork © Copyright and TM 2009, Steve MacIsaac.  All rights reserved.  

Comments

  1. Thank you for that insightful interview with Steve!

    Great stuff!

  2. Great interview Patrick, interesting reading and have to agree about the honesty and humor in #3, it does totally suck you in and I throughly enjoyed reading it. Very cool. :)

  3. wow, i really like you secuential arts, very cool, keep nice!
    cheers! Daniel

  4. Hiya Dave! Thanks so much, dear friend! Glad you enjoyed the interview. Hope you’re having a great week!

    Hugz + kisses,
    Patrick XOXOX

  5. Hello dear Sarah…

    Thanks so much for the kind words. I am so pleased you enjoyed the interview. it was lots of fun chatting with Steve about his work and putting the article together. His stuff is AWESOME!!!

    Loads of luv to ya!
    Patrick XOXOX

  6. Hello Daniel…

    Thanks so much for the kind words. It was greatly appreciated! Drop by anytime!

    Hugz + kisses,
    Patrick XOXO

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