Work in Progress

The Baltimore Sun

Even in the ever-morphing world of the graphic novel, Steven Parke's illustrations stand out. Instead of drawing, he uses photographs to tell a story. But he doesn't just point his camera and shoot. Parke manipulates his images digitally, lifting pieces from different shoots, tinkering with the lighting. The results duplicate reality, but with a twist.

Parke started out studying acting, then spent time in the music industry, including 13 years as Prince's personal art department. Now, working with writer Jonathon Scott Fuqua, he is close to wrapping his third graphic novel, the story of a teen whose special ability helps her fit right in with a traveling sideshow. Coming in the spring from Soft Skull Press, Medusa's Daughter will appear in a graphic novel, a straight novel and what Parke calls a "graphic novella," for "kids who may have a little more trouble reading." Parke, 43, lives in Mayfield with his wife, Kathryn, and son, Duncan, 6.

IN HIS WORDS -- Especially with young people, they're used to seeing things online now, in games and gaming, that are very realistic. They're always trying to create this very realistic world. They're also into movies. Movies are a big draw for young adults. So using photographs brings a sense of cinematic scope to the look of the book.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS --Jonathon and I get together to work on characters, ideas, plot lines. When it comes to writing it out, he has to do it. Then I come in and do the storyboarding - making sure that I leave enough room for his words.

PHOTOS GET NO RESPECT --Some people [look at my work] and go, "This is all photos. I like artwork." Well, photographs are artwork - they're just a different form. You can get prejudice inside the industry, too, because you're not drawing, and people are used to drawing. For the record: I love drawing graphic novels. I love drawing. It's just a different way of expressing it - that's all. It's all telling a story, just in a different medium.

NEITHER DO GRAPHIC NOVELS --We've heard from librarians; sometimes they have parents who will look at what their kids are reading and go, "You know, my kid's reading comic books." And the librarians, of course, say, "You mean a graphic novel." And they're like, "Well, yeah." And so the librarians say, "But it helps them - they're reading, right?" And the parents are like, "Yeah, but they're reading comic books."

THEY JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND --There is a definite bias against comic books from a lot of people, which is why [the industry] went to the graphic novel phase. People so much think comic books are for kids. That is so far from reality at this point, because they cover such a wide age group.

A MEANS TO AN END --The "graphic novella" allows people to get into the characters and the story line and all that, but without a lot of effort. And then they feel like, "Hey, you know what? That wasn't so bad." The next step is, you've got a book with a lot of pictures. "That's not so bad, either." The final form is a straight novel, which is much more language and word-intensive. And with each format of the book, what's cool about it is, they each open the story a little bit.

WORKING FOR PRINCE --It was a great experience, just getting to hang out on weekends and getting to watch him play in a room the size of your basement. That was incredible.

I tell people, "Imagine if you worked for Microsoft, and Bill Gates hung out with you all day." That would be cool, but it would start to become overwhelming - it gets very difficult to feel free to express yourself artistically. But that's true of any job where you're working with other people. If you're hired to come in and do their vision, that's the way it is.

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