Books, news, & views from Karen Traviss

Writers need artists

(Note: this piece comes from my Facebook page today.)

Let's hear it for artists. I've been writing comics for a few years, and the thrill of seeing the pencils for an issue is as fresh now as it was on day one. What brings me to mention this is seeing more pages today for the new series I'm doing for 412 Comics.

I'm working with an old mate, Steve Kurth, who was also the artist on my G.I. Joe run. I've always been lucky with artists, but sometimes I'm extra-lucky. Steve is a master of characterisation: my fiction is built on characterisation. This happy convergence makes for great things.

When Steve draws a character for the first time, no matter how minutely I've described them in the script and how well I think I can visualise them, he always manages to present me with a fascinating stranger whose life is etched on their face, and the indefinable magic he brings to the interpretation sets me off on new tangents. A good artist – and I've had many, including cover artists for novels – raises your game without trying: through them, I see the world I've built differently. Sometimes it's like seeing it for the first time. An artist can add a detail or pass a remark, and bang – the story's universe shifts in front of you. When I use the phrase "thrill of discovery," I mean exactly that.

Telling people what a creative lightning strike feels like can be hard, because it's like explaining flavour or colour. All I can say is that artists open doors I've walked past and enable me to go somewhere unexpected. And exploring the unknown is why I write.

Publishing can be a pretty crappy industry. I've worked with some truly awful people, and when someone who's spent decades in news journalism says that, you can gauge how bad it can be. But I can honestly say that every artist I've worked with has been a joy and an education, and I'm a better writer for having worked alongside them. The fact that they can still make my day no matter how frustrating that day has been is a testament to their talent.

I would urge any writer who has the chance to work on comics – or games – to grab it. The experience of working closely with artists will change you, no matter how visual a writer you are to start with. And even writers need creatives to look up to and ask, "How did you ever come up with that?"