Interview with Big Head Press’s Scott Bieser
If you have a passing familiarity with the cultural wing of the liberty movement, odds are you’ve heard of Scott Bieser. The prolific artist and writer has helped to put Big Head Press on the map as a great source for high quality, thoughtful graphic novels with a decidedly libertarian bent. AFL spoke with Scott about his work, Big Head Press, and libertarianism in the arts.
1. Why did you start Big Head Press and how did you realize there was a market need?
Big Head Press was started in order to publish The Probability Broach: The Graphic Novel, which was the GN-adaptation of L. Neil Smith’s first novel, which has sold something close to 60,000 copies since it was published, in three editions.
The market need — or more directly, the cultural need — we saw was for more stories promoting individualism and rationality versus statism and mysticism, and after The Probability Broach we sought more stories from various writers along these lines.
2. Describe the company and what you do a little. How do you get the word out? Is it your primary job or do you do other work?
Big Head Press is my brother Frank, who handles the money and contracts and runs the website, and I, who get graphic stories created and formatted for print or e-publication. So I write, draw, edit (the other artists and writers), letter, and generally manage all aspects of production. And of course, there are our free-lancers, most of whom are also creator-owners of the works.
3. I assume you consider yourself a libertarian politically, what inspired you to become one?
My experiences in high school got me started questioning authority — then I stumbled across Ayn Rand my freshman year in college, went through a year with no sense of humor, then grew out of that as I met some libertarians at my second college (UT-Austin) and my reading world spread to include Rothbard and Von Mises as well as the Friedmans and R.A. Wilson, and Robert Heinlein. Lately I’ve been preferring the political label “voluntaryist” but will generally accept the label “libertarian” with the proviso that I’m not a party member nor do I consider electoral politics a viable path to anything.
4. As an artist, how do you get your ideas? Are there any other artists who have influenced/inspired you?
Ideas come to me from everywhere — from life, from art, from the cultural soup in which we all wade about. Everyone has ideas — what’s important is what one does with them. Artists who have inspired me range from Thomas Nast and Jeff MacNelly through Dan DeCarlo (principal Archie comics artist in the 60s-80s) and Jack Davis (Mad Magazine) to Jack Kirby, John Romita, and Dave Gibbons. There are many others that I appreciate but I think those are the ones that most inform my own styles.
5. What is your personal philosophy on art?
Art is a communication of both ideas and mood, or feeling, from the artist to his audience, whoever that might be. Art “works” when it delivers the ideas and moods intended by the artist. Art can consist words or images or both, and words and images may or may not be art. The mood/feeling component is, I think what sets art apart from other types of communication.
6. Many in the liberty movement seek to promote their philosophy through activism and academia, why do you think art should be included in that mix?
Storytelling is a form of art and it is also the primary medium through which our cultural assumptions about ethics, economics, and justice are transmitted to and reinforced among the broader public. Libertarianism needs champions in this field, and we’ve had some, but we need more.
7. Do you have any favorite piece of art, literature, film etc. that promotes libertarian ideals?
Off-hand I can think of three novels: The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein, And Then There Were None (a short story, actually) by Eric Frank Russell, and The Probability Broach by L. Neil Smith. I also like Alongside Night by J. Neil Schulman and hope he manages to get that made into a feature film.
8. What would be your advice for aspiring artists who share your love of liberty?
Make friends with some rich people, acquire a rich relative, or marry someone going to work in a high-paying field who can support your sorry ass while you build your career. Because otherwise you’ll be working in retail or some low-paying service industry half your waking hours and doing art the other half, and that’s a rough way to live.
9. Could you describe your creative process? How do you go from nothing to one of your excellent strips, for instance?
It’s really only with Quantum Vibe that I start from nothing. Sandy Sandfort develops the short stories for Escape From Terra which I adapt to comic-script form so artists Lee Oaks or Leila Del Duca can draw them. With my graphic novels I worked with scripts from L. Neil Smith or Stephen Grant.
Quantum Vibe is a story I’ve been developing for a long time, which grew out of an idea I had for a MMOG (massively multiplayer on-line game) which I had during a 6-month period of unemployment after I was laid off from Interplay Productions in 2000. After I decided to walk away from games and go back to comics, this game idea became the setting for a story involving a scientist living 500 years in the future who comes up with a new idea that changes the course of human history — and I don’t want to give away too much right now by explaining what that is.
I’ve been baking this idea slowly over the past decade, making various changes and additions, until now the viewpoint character became the scientist’s young assistant, and a dozen other important characters have been dreamed up and primed for their roles. While the over-all arc of the story is already set, many of the details are still being dreamed up as I go along. From time to time an idea for a particular scene or a new character name will come to me while I’m doing something else, like driving to a convention or cooking lunch. It’s a continuing process.
Now, with that in the background, my regular production goes something like this:
Each week, I write script for a week’s worth of strips, nailing down the dialog, movements, and description of settings, following the general arc which is mostly in my head. Then I start in Photoshop by pasting-in the dialog for each panel using a “Lint McCree International” font I purchased on-line. This gets me started thinking about each panel layout and I start drawing using my WACOM tablet — first with a rough drawing of the page to place and arrange everything, then “inking” in a layer over the pencils to lay down the lines. Then I had the page to my assistant, who is also my son Zeke Bieser, who adds a layer of grey-tones underneath the lines. (At least we do this most of the time, except when his workload at the junior-college he attends doesn’t overwhelm him. In those cases I do the grey-tones myself.)
Then I “finish” the strips in Illustrator, where I build the word-balloons behind the dialog lettering, add some special effects where needed, and output to jpeg files for the web page or to pdf files for printing. When we get fully geared-up for e-publishing this will change my routine just a bit.
10. Did you have any formal training as an artist?
Before taking any training I drew political cartoons and caricatures, but then I took classical art classes at the University of Texas at Austin, and commercial art classes at Austin Community College. I got some value from both but I think I could have done just as well getting my classical training at ACC as well. They have, or had, a great program.
11. How can those interested in promoting liberty cultivate and inspire artists and other creatives within the movement?
In the short term, buy buying books, films, and other art of quality promoting libertarianism. This feeds the creators. If your library is full, buy copies for gifts to friends, relatives and libraries. Beyond that, I’d love to see someday some sort of foundation geared towards promoting young artists with good potential (the Libertarian Futurist Society attempts this with science-fiction writers although they are woefully under-funded), and a marketing genius or two to help those of us working in the trenches already to reach wider audiences.
What are you waiting for? Go check out Big Head Press and their excellent graphic novels. Hungry for more? AFL has a list of even more libertarian graphic novels (scroll down) for your reading/viewing pleasure.