Create the boundaries

Chris Wisnia

Photo By anne stokes

Davis-based comic-book artist Chris Wisnia has been self-publishing work since ’04, but his latest series, Doris Danger: Giant Monster Adventures, was picked up last year by San Jose’s SLG Publishing, an independent company. While Wisnia’s tabloid-style tales and deep appreciation for art history provide his comics with creative depth, it’s his collection of ’80s World Wrestling Federation figures that truly reveal his inner geek—and he’s damn proud of it.

Share with me the geekiest object you own.

I’ve got a huge collection of rubber ’80s wrestling dolls: Junkyard Dog, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Nikolai Volkoff. They’re just ’80s WWF guys; they made these figures around ’85 to ’89, and they don’t have joints like most toys, so they can flex and do wrestling moves, and they’ve got a ring they can jump around in.

What is Tabloia Weekly Magazine?

[The title’s] a combination of tabloid and paranoia; the first issue was Tabloia Weekly Magazine No. 572. I call them tabloid tales even though none of them are true. The weekly magazine thing was kind of a joke; I realized that it would be kind of an umbrella title, and I could do a pseudo-anthology of all these different stories.

Tell me about the Francis Bacon references.

I like to make real art references. That reference was in a story about a body that was found on the freeway that had been run over. I’ve actually witnessed not a body get run over, but right after it had been run over. I drove by the scene and saw the body on the freeway. It was an image that stuck with me, and it sparked that whole story that I made a comic of. … Just seeing something like that, my mind immediately thought of a Francis Bacon painting. He’s not my favorite artist, but I use references to try and serve the story.

Did you illustrate as a kid?

I drew a lot of comics when I was younger. I would make up my own superheroes; I made up a spy character, kind of a James Bond-style spy character. I think those were my main things I was drawn to as a kid. I was [drawing comics] before I was reading them. My parents were real supportive of my drawing, so it was something I always did. It wasn’t until after college where I thought, “Hey, maybe I can try and make a living at this.” I’ve been trying for 10 years, and it hasn’t happened yet; I still have a day job, but my mom bought me my first comics.

Why draw in black and white?

Color is a lot more expensive. … Working in black and white has really forced me to strengthen my compositions, because you’re not falling back on color for shortcuts like depth perception. Now, I actually really enjoy making an interesting piece with those limitations. There’s an artist, Robert Ryman, who only does white paintings. He’s a minimalist, but he uses white in all these interesting ways. I’m no Robert Ryman, but from an artistic, pseudo-intellectual background, like I have, I think about things like that—setting up guidelines and what can you do with those guidelines. What can you create with those limitations, and how can you create the boundaries?

What are you reading now?

Usually, now I pretty much just read old Stan Lee, Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko. I don’t read as much new stuff anymore; it doesn’t inspire me the way the older stuff does. The ’60s stuff is my favorite, so I just get my hands on whatever I can of that. I’ve got a 3 1/2-year-old son who I’ve been reading a lot of the old ’60s comics with. They reprint them now, so I pick up the reprints and we read those together.

Any current projects?

I’ve started a new project recently, it’s a James Bond spy-type project, but all the settings are basically modern-art paintings. So the character goes to France, and he’s in a Van Gogh land, and he goes to the Van Gogh diner, and inside, there’s the Van Gogh pool room. Or the Van Gogh self-portraits are a bunch of villain brothers and he fights the Van Goghs. … Just any art history becomes the settings and the characters of the story. That’s what intrigues me most is finding ways to reference art and art history and pop culture and comics’ history.

What inspires you to create?

Maybe it’s just what I know. Maybe there’s some comfort there, you know? There’s some pride in being able to create something. There’s some hope in being able to share something that other people might enjoy. It’s just something that I do, that I need to do, that if I’m not doing it, I just don’t feel quite right.