Some excerpts from a 1986 interview in The Comics Journal with Bill Sienkiewicz:
On his influences:
“First and foremost among illustrators is Bob Peak. Then there’s Bob Heindel, Bernie Fuchs, Sandy Kossin, Barron Storey. Robert Baxter is a really big influence. Francis Bacon. I’ve really been getting into Gustav Klimt, because of his use of pattern. Picasso to a certain degree. Lyonel Feininger. Kurt Schwitters’ work I absolutely adore. I think they’ve influenced me in my comics work as well. I’m talking about inspiration, not copying. People don’t seem to understand that.”
“I was ready to move away from comics as my main source of expression, and try to do more illustration, more fine art work, paintings for galleries. Then a number of things happened, and I had to put a hold on those plans. So when I came back to doing comics, it was with a different sensibility. I’ve been lucky enough to experience other methods of expression, having my work at the Society of Illustrators, having galleries interested in my stuff, doing work for magazines other than comic books. So when I came back into comics, it was with this sense of knowing that I can do other things. I felt ‘I’m going to have some fun.’ I found I’d been so entranced by the illustrators, by art as seriousness, art with a capital A, and I said, ‘I’ve got to make it more fun.’
So I started to do a lot of work in sketchbooks. I was not going at all for literal translation. I discovered Ralph Steadman’s work. All of a sudden it was ‘Yeah, fun!’
My goal became truth through the lie, greater reality achieved through exaggeration. I’d spent so much time studying anatomy, going to life drawing classes, priding myself on knowing where every muscle is on a human body. Then, after having gotten into the business, I realized that in part it doesn’t matter. I’d been struggling so hard to learn it all so I could forget it. Zen comics. Now my concern is with pattern and shape.”
“There are times when I want to be seen as a serious artist even though I draw people with their underwear on the outside of their clothes. That was one of the things I found hard to take after awhile with The New Mutants. I think that was part of the reason I think I started doing the Chuck Jones-influenced stuff in later issues.
There was an incredible sense of personality in all of his work. the sense of it all being really personal: one visions, the little takes [on characters’ faces], screwing around with anatomy so effectively, trapezoidal shadows, backgrounds that looked flat with outlines that didn’t really fit. It took the art school sensibility that everything has to be realistic and said ‘Screw it!’ I’m not talking about the kind of stylization he was doing by the ’60s with Tom and Jerry. I’m talking about the cartoons like Bewitched Bunny, Broomstick Bunny, Lumberjack Rabbit. It’s gorgeous, irreverent work and shows how much art cartoons can be.”
“Teaching pointed out to me again the conflict in me that what I find compelling artistically may not be the best solution to a commercial problem. There were a number of times when I gave an assignment and the results I would see were disorienting, compelling, interesting, visceral, very challenging, but I’d have to tell the student that technically he blew the assignment and lost the job, but damn, it’s really a great piece of work. I would find it really tough to grade, because I was fighting that battle within myself.
It also made me realize I wanted to take more classes myself. I was learning so much from the students there as well, watching the different things they’d try.”
On commercial art and style:
“I get bored drawing representational stuff. I’ve gone to art exhibits and seen pictures done with very exacting and belabored rendering technique, and in a lot of ways they’re very pretty, but my initial reaction is ‘So what?’ This person isn’t telling me anything; it isn’t adding anything. It’s pointless. No sense of playing around at all. It’s as if they’re trying hard not to have their own point of view. It’s like reportage, with them removed, uninvolved. Cartooning cuts though all the shit, if it’s done well.”
“I think it’s the essence of art. It’s distilling it down, making it dramatic. It’s also more than real. I think that’s what writing and comics and art should be. But I think what most people want is this bowdlerized stuff, which is just sort of bland, right across the board. Ho hum, gag me with a winnebago.
The question I keep getting is ‘Why did your style change?’ It frustrates me. They’ve got the right to ask it, but I think their question points up a complete ignorance of art as a process, of art as a means of moving through life.
What artists are called upon to do in this business is to immediately have an identifiable style. And then thou shalt deviate not. Most artists don’t hit their maturity, their stride until their 40s. In this business you’re supposed to hit the ground running.
I know I came into the business with a style that was commercial, and that my style has become less commercial. Talking to certain people, I feel pushed out of the business, but I realize that I’ve done that to myself. I’ve followed my own different drummer. As far as I’m concerned, there’s part of me that’s a definite elitist. If being an elitist is wanting to see work other than pop pap, then that’s what I am. That’s the way I want to go. I’d rather have a really interesting ‘conversation’ through my work with 20,000 people than go with everybody.
The problem I have with mainstream companies is the damned penchant they have for accessibility at the lowest level of understanding. I think they’re trying to turn comics so ‘idiot-proof’ they’ll be like Saturday morning drivel. I’m not saying that’s entirely wrong, aiming wide to a hit a big target and sell lots of books but there’s so much more that can be done to add to the drama. The art can be more subjective so that it does more than tell the story. It becomes an intrinsic part of the story. Subtext. Layer upon layer.
It’s always easier, instead of facing the fact that I’m moving away from mainstream comics style, to start feeling pushed out, and blame it on the Other Guy. But I’ve made my decision to move in this direction, to play around with it as much as I can, to explore comics as a means of expression rather than something you do by rote. The companies have every right, because it is a commercial art. They’re paying for that. I don’t happen to like it, so I do different projects.
I find myself in a constant battle. I know the standard styles are what sells. I want to make a decent living. Now I could do x and x would sell. But there’s also part of me that wants to follow this other drummer inside me and see how much I can push that envelope. And that doesn’t sell as well. I’m starving by any means. But I’ve become an adjective and an example and an oddity. I feel my work requires a little bit of work on the part of the reader. I like to presume intellect and involvement on the part of the readers.”
“It’s odd that when I first came into the business, artistically I was everybody else but me. Actually, it’s not odd. It’s pretty normal artistic development. Other people do it as well. I was Neal [Adams]; I came under the Bob Peak influence for awhile. Steadman. I was very much wearing my influences on my sleeve. Now I feel that all the influences are coalesced. And I’m sure they’ll continue to do so.
I’ll always be experimenting, trying to figure out who I am artistically. Every time I do a piece it surprises me, because invariably along the way it assumed a life and direction of its own and lead me in another direction.”