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By: Heidi MacDonald
Blog: PW -The Beat
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During this year’s C2E2, Comics Beat was #blessed to be able to sit down for a quick roundtable interview with Brad Neely, Daniel Weidenfeld, and Dave Newberg – the driving force behind Adult Swim’s hit show China, IL. What happened next was mostly laughing, carefully edited to read like a real conversation.
CB: Okay so China, IL! What can we expect from the rest of the third season?
Weidenfeld: Well, we have an episode coming up where the mayor bans eating anchovies on pizza in town – you can only eat pepperoni. It sort of becomes our take on the idea of a “gay gene.” We’re showing that now because of everything going on in Indiana. The pizza laws.
Neely: And at the end of the season we have an hour-long musical, kind of in the style of a Disney musical like Lion King, with thirteen original songs by me. We’ve got Cat Power singing, Rosa Salazar, Evan Peters, so we’re real excited about that. Otherwise we’ve got three or four other episodes in there.
CB: You’ve got an extensive cast of voice talent this season. How hard was it to round up all these people? There’s Hulk Hogan, Danny Trejo, Christian Slater, etc. Did you have to come to these people, or did they seek you out?
Neely: Yeah, no one comes to us, haha. We have to go to them. We just aren’t shy about asking, all they can do is say no. There’s an equally long list of people that we have asked that were either busy or thought we were disgusting. We’re very lucky to have these folks.
Weidenfeld: Yeah, Christian Slater has a monologue, and he just kills it, it’s so funny. He was so great, and such a pro, just amazing to record. We did it over the phone in like 15 minutes – it was perfect. And Danny Trejo was the same. We’re just really lucky to have all these talents that bring their own voices and their own style of comedy to keep it varied.
Neely: We have Donald Glover this season, which has been great. We like to think that he came over from Community and moved on to regular college. Stayed in school.
CB: What was it like to get Hulk Hogan onboard as the Dean?
Weidenfeld: Once we got Hulk Hogan, we re-wrote everything because we knew we now had America’s dad as the Dean. The father of masculinity. So everything changed for the better, for us. He’s very fun.
Neely: He recorded for an hour, how many 5-Hour Energy’s did he drink?
Weidenfeld: He brought three and slammed them all. But when you think about how big he is, the ratio kind of works out. He’s something else.
CB: I know in previous seasons the show is sort of done piece by piece and brought together at the end. Are you approaching the production differently this season?
Neely: Well, there’s a plan always. But you know, you have to stay on your toes to adapt to whatever is the funniest or working the most. We bring in every actor individually, we don’t record in an ensemble – to facilitate greater dexterity in editing. But we encourage the actors to read the lines in their own words, and improvise after we get what’s on the page.
Weidenfeld: Brad writes every episode, so we tend to write them a little long, so it’d be really hard to bring everyone into a room and have them all feeding off that energy. It’d be a lot harder to cut as a result. And with Brad doing three of the main voices on the show, we always have the luxury of re-recording. It’s incredible to have that flexibility, especially on an animated show. If we have to cut something, we can salvage lines that are important for story.
Neely: Yeah, we fix things by changing my characters’ stuff, because we don’t want to have to call somebody back in, especially after they’ve done something that’s great, and we’ll work around that and re-work my lines.
CB: Are there limits placed upon you by the network? Do you find that you have more or less creative space either way?
Neely: Strangely – you wouldn’t suspect this of a network with the reputation Adult Swim has – but they insist on us making sense on a emotional and character level. The story has to have an appropriate escalation and resolution. They’re pros about holding us accountable to those standards. They’re very involved when it comes to that.
Weidenfeld: Sometimes they’ll have a very specific thought of something they wants us to do, and we’ll have a conversation about it. There’s a real back and forth respect. We always try to meet in the middle in some capacity.
Neely: It’s a healthy working relationship. They don’t hold back when they think something isn’t working, or could be more forceful.
Weidenfeld: We can say shit now five times per episode. Never a fuck though. They don’t give fucks. Or dicksucker… or cocksucker.
Neely: But we can have an extended pause in between those two words.
CB: So do these episodes start with a joke, or does the joke come together after?
Neely: Every episode starts differently. Some of them just come from a nugget of, “I want to talk about Listerine strips,” or, “Don’t you hate it when you have to order food from a counter?” Sometimes we start with, “Alright, we need to see Frank in this kind of situation.” So we try to keep it balanced where there’s half that come from big stupid ideas and half that come from real deal emotional necessity.
Weidenfeld: But the main thing that has to happen in any given episode, is there has to be one big visual funny that Brad sees.
China, IL airs Sundays at 11:30 p.m. (ET/PT) on Adult Swim.
By Harper W. Harris
The first book in The Chronicles of Claudette, Giants Beware! was quite well received; in fact, it earned the creators several awards, including the Cybils Award for Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novels. The book, and its new follow up, Dragons Beware!, follow the courageous and battle hungry Claudette, her brother and culinary prodigy Gaston, and Marie the princess with a penchant for negotiation in their medieval adventures. The first graphic novel in the series left readers hungry for more sword slinging action, clever humor, and fun character building, and the wait is finally over! With Dragons Beware! hitting shelves today, we figured this was a great time to sit down with the series creators Rafael Rosado and Jorge Aguirre to discuss creating the sequel, their backgrounds in animation, and the future of Claudette and her pals.
You both have backgrounds in animated TV series and films…how did you come to writing and illustrating this comic series respectively?
RAFAEL: We’ve been friends for a very long time and we always wanted to collaborate on something. I’ve been on the art side of animation and Jorge on the writing side. I had these characters bouncing around in my head and in my sketchbook, and a rough outline of a story. I brought that to Jorge, and he developed it, and thus a graphic novel series and a great collaboration was born.
Have you been fans of comics since childhood, or was it something you only came to later?
RR: I’ve been a comics fan my whole life! Starting with Disney comics, moving on to Mexican wrestler comics, and finally superhero comics, particularly Kirby. I discovered Underground and Alternative comics in the early 80s and sort of left superheroes behind.
JORGE: I loved comics as a kid. I remember writing a letter to Dick Giordano (the editor of DC comics in the 1980s), in which I asked him if I needed to be able to draw to get into the comic book industry. He wrote me back: “No.”
What inspired the stories and characters in the first book, Giants Beware?
RR: I wanted to make kids comics that told a big story and were sort of cinematic in tone. Bone was a huge inspiration, of course.
JA: When I was a kid, my dad used to tell me Greek myths during the painfully long twenty hour Spring break drive from Ohio to Florida. I think some of that mythology seeps its way into the stories we tell.
Was it a challenge to figure out what the story for this second book should be?
RR/JA: Yes and no. We always knew – even when we were working on GIANTS BEWARE, that the second book (if we were ever lucky enough to get a second book, which thanks to First Second, we were!) was going to be about facing off against a dragon to get a powerful sword made by Claudette’s father, Augustine. And we knew the evil wizard part of the equation. But it was a big challenge for us to figure out how much wizard, how much dragon, and how much sword to have in the story.
Have you had plans for where these characters would go after writing Giants Beware!, or did the story in Dragons Beware! find its inspiration later?
RR/JA: We had a rough outline of like 5 or 6 books when we worked on the original pitch of the story, which became Giants Beware!. But as we finished GB, we fell in love with Claudette, Gaston, and Marie, and it just takes more time to develop characters you love. And we found out there were other things about this world, which we had created, that we wanted to explore. If we get to tell more of these stories, eventually, everything we had in mind will get out there.
One of the best things about the series, and Dragons Beware! especially, is its rich cast of unique characters. Which of the kids do you each find yourself most identifying with?
JA: I wish I could say I identified with brave Claudette. But I probably have some of the neurotic, perfectionist, worrier characteristics of Gaston mixed with the naive, curious optimism of Marie.
RR: Same here, Gaston. For more or less the same reasons. I’m definitively not impulsive, like Claudette.
How did the two of you come to work on this series together?
JA: We met in college at Ohio State University. We bonded in a video making class, in which a poorly written script of mine was selected to be directed by a more experienced student, Rafael. After that, we always wanted to work together again.
RR: Jorge’s one of my best and oldest friends: he was even in my wedding! It’s a real pleasure to be able to work with him on this series.
What was your writing process on Dragons Beware? Did it change from how you worked on Giants Beware?
JA: Rafael and I work on the story together, passing ideas, paragraphs, outlines back and forth and talking a lot until we’re happy with the story. That part did not change between books. But when I was writing the script for Giants Beware, I didn’t fully realize how quickly a page of script could expand into pages and pages of artwork. Rafael and I had to make a lot of tough cuts along the way just to keep the book from exploding into twice its final size. I was better at knowing the relationship between words and art when we did the second book (though, I’m still learning). The hard part was trying to give Claudette, Gaston, and Marie new character journeys. And we tried hard not to repeat ourselves.
Are the three main characters inspired by anyone in particular, in their personalities or designs?
RR: As far as the designs go, I wanted characters whose silhouettes were clear and quickly identifiable. Claudette has the big head and crazy, spiky hair, Gaston has the cue ball head with huge ears, and Marie has the triple hair bun and puffy skirt. Hopefully they’re successful designs that way.
What made you choose the heroes’ particular talents–negotiating for Marie and cooking for Gaston in particular?
JA: Rafael originally drew Gaston as a scaredy cat. And when we were working on first book, I think I was watching a lot of TOP CHEF and so we added that to his character because it seemed like fun and interesting. As for Marie, we both liked the idea of taking the princess archetype and giving it a fresh take.
What are the challenges of writing a family book?
JA/RR: We don’t see it any more or less challenging than writing for a different age group. We’re basically writing for each other. We’re trying to entertain and make each other laugh. The only limitation, if you can even call it that, is that we don’t have our characters curse and we go easy on the blood.
Jorge, how has your writing for children’s television informed your graphic novel writing?
JA: Writing for TV probably informs the structure of our books (which is related to your next question about pacing). We think of our stories in terms of Three Acts, and we like the story the to be in a certain place in a certain act. Overall, writing for me is all related – whether I’m writing for TV or graphic novels. It’s all about structure and characters.
The pacing in Dragons Beware has a very cinematic sense of editing; do you each take inspiration in style more from animation or comic books?
RR: I’ve been working as a storyboard artist for over twenty years, so it’s inevitable that my comic book work would reflect that. That being said, there’s only so much overlap between the two forms. You’re missing that element of time, obviously, but there are effective ways to control the pacing in comics.
JA: We’re both heavily influenced by films and filmmaking so the structure of our books probably resembles a three act film. In fact, when we were plotting the first book, I was reading a screenplay writing book called Save the Cat. Reading books about writing is an excellent way to avoid ever having to write. But I’ve learned to read those books with a grain of salt. I take what’s useful to me.
I hear there are rumblings of a third book in the Chronicles of Claudette series…what can you tell us about what’s coming for our heroes?
JA/RR: Yes! The script is done and Rafael is drawing like crazy. We can tell you that there are monsters in the third book. Funny, vile, awful, silly monsters. Better beware!
Dragons Beware!, published by First Second, hits stores near you today!
Photo by Abigail Huller, via Oakland Museum of California
Do you still work the same way you did 25 years ago, drawing by hand at a table?
Yes. I was just at an antiquarian book fair, and I picked up this catalog for a cartooning correspondence course from 1921. There was a photo of all the tools you need to use for cartooning in 1921, and it could be a photo of my drawing board: T-square, a watercolor brush, some ink, a pen, an eraser and a pencil. I do the coloring on a computer, but for the drawing I need to not have any screens around me at all.
Ben Sisario chats to the artist about Eightball
And also, more tantalizingly, Patience, which turns out to be a full on SF story that “Energized” the artist.
Your new book, “Patience,” is a time-travel story, a very common comic-book trope. How did you come to that theme?
At a certain point I realized that the time-travel story, as many times as it’s been done, is an archetype that can go off in any direction. I didn’t want it to be about science of time travel. It’s more about the psychological aspect of what that would mean. I feel like a lot of my work is about time travel in other ways, about memory and living multiple lives at the same time.
“Patience” is sort of about chasing after a relationship to make it perfect. That’s a poignant topic regardless of the sci-fi aspect.
It had a lot to it, which is why is why I made it as long as it is. One of the main rules I have for working is that as soon as it becomes boring I either get rid of what I have and start over, or go in a completely new direction. And I have to say this one was never boring. It was really energizing to work on from start to finish, even though it was five years.
Poster above is by Giselle Sarmiento.
SVA—the School of Visual Arts— holds a yearly mini comic-con for its senior class Fresh Meat.
SVA has been a hotbed of cartooning since it was founded back in 1947 by Tarzan artist Burne Hogarth and Silas H. Rhodes. Notable comics alums are literally too numerous to begin to mention, but range from Kyle Baker to Dash Shaw to Raina Telgemeier. And the next one may be at this show.
And here are the deets:
Fresh Meat is the School of Visual Arts’ annual in-house comics fair, where our talented artists exhibit and sell their own self-published works.
This event is free and open to the public.
WHEN: Friday, May 1st from 6:00PM-9:00PM
WHERE: SVA Student Center, 217 East 23rd Street
(Between 2nd & 3rd Avenues)
Organized by Cartoon Allies, a student-run organization at SVA, Fresh Meat has been the annual highlight of SVA cartoonists and illustrators for more than a decade, providing students with the opportunity to exhibit their self-published works and to transform the student lounge into a bustling marketplace of unique comics.
This event began in 2001 as the SVA Comics Festival, first organized by Raina Telgemeier, who was our ambitious student body president and is now a New York Times bestselling cartoonist (Smile, Drama). This first event featured such exhibitors as Dash Shaw (BodyWorld) and Tintin Pantoja (Who is AC?), and has since hosted other notable alumni such as Jess Fink (Chester 5000, We Can Fix It!), Liz Baillie (Freewheel), David McGuire (Gastrophobia), Edwin Huang (Skullkickers), Allison Strejlau (Regular Show), Laura Knetzger (Bug Boys), Gus Storms (EGOs), and Molly Ostertag (Strong Female Protagonist). Fresh Meat continues to be the premier event to meet the rising talent in the next generation of cartoonists.
The Beat has been reporting over the last few weeks on Ty Templeton’s severe heart attack and I’m pleased to report that he’s home and recovering. In Templeton fashion, he made a comic out of it, but he also revealed the severity of his health issues—he was brought back to life three times and wasn’t expected to survive.
My wife updated the internet about what was going on, so folks knew what was happening, but she kept how bad it was a secret so my kids didn’t know how the real details of it all until I was out of danger. It seems the staff didn’t expect me to survive more than a day or two, and I ended up earning the nickname “Miracle Man” from some of the doctors there when I woke up from the medially induced coma a little earlier than they saw coming. That’s kind of cool. My first professional inking job was in the back of a Miracleman comic from Eclipse, back in the day, so it seems only fitting.
Recovery is slower than I expected. I have to nap every time I climb a set of stairs, and drawing still isn’t back up to speed (hence the stolen panels in the above Bun Toon), but never fear, I’m getting better slowly, and expect to be putting pencil to paper in a week or so, just as soon as I can go more than an hour awake. There’s probably another Bun Toon or two in the whole experience (you people need to know what it’s like to be awake for an aortic stent operation, science is COOL!)
I’m going to close with this: For everyone who needs to think about changing their lifestyle, please use me as the poster boy, and don’t wait until your own wake up call. I’ll take the hit for everyone if they just learn my lesson. NO PROCESSED FOODS! Raw veggies, water and fruits, and no meat until after sundown, and it’s a long life for all of us. Oh, and walk around a bit, not just back and forth to the fridge.
While thankful for Templeton’s survival. it’s worth heeding his closing thoughts as well. As someone who makes her living sitting down for 12 hours a day I can tell you that is extremely unhealthy and I’m not alone. No sleep deadlines backed up by caffeine and nicotine and performance enhancing energy drinks are an industry norm. It’s a good idea to take care of yourself in some way. A couple of ideas:
I’d like to recommend this book, No Pain: Injury Prevention for Cartoonists by Kriota Wilberg which has important information on how to sit if you’ve got to do it. (And just a few minutes ago we reported on one well known cartoonist’s arm injury, so this is a real thing.)
Everyone wants to lsoe weight but there’s love handles and there’s a serious issue. For those who are thinking “I’ve tried and this is impossible” I’d like to point out this inspiring public post by Action Labs’ Jamal Igle who has instituted a lifestyle change that has yielded incredible results for him:
I’ve recently made some health changes myself, going from a diet that was high in sugar and carbs to cutting out bread and sweets about 95% of the time and reintroducing more weight resistance exercise into my life style. Finding the time for all this is hard, but my discovery was that feeling better makes me MORE productive as opposed to sitting and fretting and chugging more and more coffee as a hedge against time. I have a ways to go, but something is better than nothing.
Reporting on health issues for cartoonists is a once a week feature of this site and others. Some of it is chance, but some of it is preventable. Take a few moments to think about yourself and what changes you can make that are achievable to improve your health—if not for you, for the people you love. They’ll be glad you did and so will you.
The Pulitzers, awarded for excellence in journalism, were announced yesterday, and the winner for cartooning was Adam Zyglis of The Buffalo News. Finalists were Kevin “Kal” Kallaugher of the Baltimore Sun and Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins), of Daily Kos. (On her FB page Columbia U librarian Karen Green revealed she was one of the judges for the category.) You can see some more of Zyglis’s work here.
As usual, WaPo’s Michael Cavna was on the scene for the first interview:
“Hearing I’d won was surreal,” Zyglis tells The Post’s Comic Riffs this afternoon, shortly after receiving the news. “I was working in a corner of the newsroom, and suddenly, people started shouting and coming up and hugging me.”
Perhaps Zyglis, who’s in his 30s, pretty youthful for a Pulitzer winner, should not have been so surprised. In recent years he won the Berryman Award, was a finalist for a Reuben, was named the 2015 recipient of the Grambs Aronson Award for Cartooning With a Conscience and was a runner–up for the National Headliner Award. Given all that it would be more surreal if he HADN’T won.
Cartoonist Ty Templeton—generally considered one of the funniest people of his generation—is in stable but critical condition after suffering a heart attack wife, KT Smith reported on Facebook. Templeton, 52, suffered the attack yesterday but in an update today she reports he’s in a medically induced coma and on a ventilator, but expected to be taken off of it tomorrow.
On his blog, Templeton, like many, had been talking about going to a convention, but also complaining about stomach pains:
Oy, what a weekend. I’m supposed to be at a convention in Kitchener, Ontario, but I’ve been having my tummy problems again. (Long time readers don’t need tickets to a new Stones Tour, but you get the picture).
I worked with Ty quite a bit during my editing days and the short version is…he’s such a great guy and so talented. His Bun Toons comic strips are biting and hilarious takes on comics history and controversy, like this one on complaints over Marvel continuity
Templeton’s work includes his debut classic Stig’s Inferno, and tons of comics for DC, Marvel and Bongo, including an award winning run on The Batman Adventures.
Get well letters can be sent to Templeton here.
There are a lot of comics events going on around town tonight but here’s a pretty cool one, especially if you’d also like to check out the Metropolitan Museum of Art:
Dutch cartoonist Barbara Stok will speak on her work and her recent portrait of of Vincent van Gogh’s brief and intense period of creativity during his time in the south of France.
The event is free with a museum admission, but you need to RSVP in the link. The museum is also open until 9 pm.
Stok is known for her candid autobiographical comic strips. In 2009 she won the Stripschapprijs, one of the most prestigious comic awards in the Netherlands, for her entire oeuvre. In addition to her work for newspapers and magazines, she has created nine books. Her book Vincent, a joint initiative by the Van Gogh Museum, the Mondriaan Fund, and Nijgh & Van Ditmar publishers, is the first in SelfMadeHero’s Art Masters series and has been published around the world.
Vincent will be available for purchase in the Uris Center Met Store. Stok will be signing books after the presentation.
By: Heidi MacDonald
Blog: PW -The Beat
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Today is a day to send shout-outs to the Center for Cartoon Studies, located in White River Junction, VT and recognize it’s many good deeds. While my shout out should be a loving essay on how teaching comics has had a strong effect on storytelling and how the bucolic yet isolated campus in rural Vermont allows students to focus in on making comics, or the print room or the other great things about the faculty which includes James Sturm and Steve Bissette, I don’t have time for that.
Instead I will just direct you to Rob Clough’s series looking at the WORK of CCS grads (which he didn’t tag with CCS, shame shame shame), and spotlight a few of them:
• Chuck Forsman, now putting out an exciting new action focused comics series, THE REVENGER:
• Melissa Mendes, who is serializing a great comic called The Weight.
• Colleen Frakes, creator of Island Brat and much more, including StevenUniverse fan art.
• Melanie Gilman creator of the Eisner nominated webcomic As The Crow Flies
• Sean Ford creator of Only Skin and Shadow Hills.
• Eleri Mai Harris whose non fiction comics grace The Nib on numerous occasions.
• Alexis Frederick-Frost artist on the Adventures in Cartooning series.
• Sophie Goldstein, whose The Oven is coming out later this month and is amazing.
……and dozens more. I have to leave the office now or I would spend hours more looking at the great great yards from this school. Someone smarter than me needs to look at how the precepts taught at CCS have changed cartooning, and how Sturms ideas about applied cartooning are changing the business. But for today…just a shout out.
April Fools? Or totally cools?
Beloved comics figures Jen Vaughn is leaving her marketing position at Fantagraphics, and Tom Spurgeon has her exit inerview:
VAUGHN: The plan was to stay in comics. Period. I’ve worked with comics and graphics novels at almost every level: handselling Y: the Last Man and Jeffrey Brown at a bookstore (Bookstop in Austin), comic book library, teaching comics to people from age seven to seventy, teaching teachers how to integrate comics in their curriculum, interned a company (Top Shelf), gone to comic book school, drawn — and printed — my own comics, wrote for a comics news site (The Beat), had a webcomic for a year and half, organized a small comic con, hosted indie comics — ye old Nerdlingers — worked at a comics non-profit, worked at a comics publisher. Basically, the only things left for me are to work at a printer in Asia and be a full-time freelancer. And maybe become a font…
Vaughn is a popular industry figure for all the above as well as her very funny and charming comics—which she hasn’t had as much time to work on as she’d like, hence the going freelance. Future projects include:
VAUGHN: Probably working in the aforementioned studio with Gaudiano, Moritat, and Thies. I’m inking two mainstream books and that news will be out soon. They are rad as hell and I’m working with great creative teams, I adore the pencillers especially. Anyone who follows me on Twitter (@thejenya) can hazard a guess. Meanwhile, Ryan K. Lindsay is writing a one-shot comic for me about power struggles, teens and more; can’t wait to sink my teeth in his script. Kevin Church promised me a space epic. My own ideas have been bubbling up for a bit so I may throw a thing or two out in the world.
Oh oh oh… also, I have the pleasure of working on a menstruation comic with the Menstrupedia people, who helped raise awareness and break the taboo about speaking about menstruation in India. Rajat Mittal hired me and I got to pick my creative team so Fanta editor Kristy Valenti is helping with rewrites and Fanta designer Keeli McCarthy is helping with some coloring/lettering and design. I’m all about getting paid and passing on some work to other people. And some my first mini-comics were menstruation-related. It is basically the perfect convergence of projects to start out with. My email is email@example.com if someone is dying to have me do something. My dance card is a bit full now but I have a list of people I want to collaborate with.
Vaughn was a huge addition to Fantagraphics, especially teamed with her publicity partner Jacq Cohen
, overseeing Fanta’s successful kickstarter campaign and helping in innumerable other ways to negotiate the very changed world of comics retail and marketing. It’s a big loss for them, but Vaughn has trained her replacement interns in her mystical way of the stick. Although we’re saddened not to be working with her in that business capacity, the sorrow is mitigated by having more Jen Vaughn comics in the world! YAY!
It isn’t quite clear what happened from Canadian cartoonist Eric Orchard’s Twitter and FB stream—being beaten up will often leave a person confused—but it seems that he was assaulted by three police officers, and then hospitalized. Doubtless there is a lot more to the story, but it’s hard to imagine Orchard, creator of many beautiful illustrations and the graphic novel Maddy Kettle being a dangerous offender. His gn Bera the One Headed Troll (above) will be published by First Second next year. We wish him a complete recovery and that justice is served in some manner. The artist also has a Patreon campaign that is worthy of support.
After a four year hiatus, a new issue of Sammy Harkham’s acclaimed Crickets is coming at the end of April. You can pre order it at the What Things Do website. It’s billed as “Special all Blood of the Virgin issue! The mishegoss continues.”
Cricket’s #3 came out at the end of 2010 and Harkham won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for his 2012 collection Everything Together. He’s also known as the ground-breaking editor of the Kramer’s Ergot anthology. His keenly observed slice of life short stories—and editorial vision—have been a huge influence on the current generation of cartoonists, so a new issue is definitely a comics event.
By Matthew Jent
Hope Larson is a New York Times bestselling graphic novelist, an Eisner-award winning cartoonist, and the writer & director of Got A Girl’s music video for “Live Too Fast.” Her graphic novel adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s classic sci-fi/fantasy tale A Wrinkle in Time is out this week in paperback. Originally from Ashville, NC, she currently lives in Los Angeles.
A New Yorker profile on Madeleine L’Engle a few years ago said, “There are really two kinds of girls. Those who read Madeleine L’Engle when they were small, and those who didn’t.” Did you have a relationship with A Wrinkle in Time or L’Engle’s writing before coming on board to adapt & illustrate the graphic novel?
Larson: Yeah, I was definitely the kind who read L’Engle. I started with A Wrinkle in Time, but I ended up reading a lot of her other books, too. There was a bookstore in Asheville called Accent on Books, and my parents would often take me and my brother there after church on Sundays, since it was next to the restaurant where we often ate Sunday lunch. Accent on Books had a great kids’ section, and there was a shelf with seemingly limitless books by L’Engle. Her books fascinated me because they were more thematically complicated and edgier than most of the other books for younger readers.
Wrinkle is one of those books I returned to many times over my childhood and adolescence. I loved the sci-fi/fantasy aspects of it, and I loved the imperfect character of Meg.
What’s it like to take on something that looms so large in the culture and in readers’ lives? Did you have any hesitation in adapting it?
Larson: I was definitely nervous about adapting it. I actually declined the job at first, but when the publisher asked me to reconsider I said yes. I thought, well, I love this book and I know what it means to people, and at least I know I’ll be adapting it with love and respect.
My version will not and cannot take the place of the original, but maybe it will serve as a gateway to this story for kids who might not have found it otherwise. Hopefully those kids will go on to read the original, too.
What was your process like for scripting or outlining the adaptation?
Larson: I bought a very cheap copy of the book and completely butchered it — drew page breaks in it, highlighted it, ripped the pages out as I completed them. I put pretty much everything that’s in the novel into the script for the graphic novel. I figured I’d make the publisher tell me what to cut, but none of us could figure out what to remove without destroying what makes Wrinkle special, so we ended up with a very large graphic novel.
Does the dialogue come entirely from the text of the novel?
Larson: Very little of the dialogue changed. I tweaked a few bits for space, and I added a few bits of internal monologue for clarity. L’Engle had a background in theater, and her work makes a lot of sense in light of that fact. Wrinkle is mostly dialogue, like a play, without a lot of action or direction. This made it a good candidate for adaptation into a comic since the story was carried primarily by the dialogue, and I had a lot of freedom with the “acting”.
Did you learn anything new about Wrinkle, or your own craft in general, through adapting & illustrating this book?
Larson: It was a luxury to live inside someone else’s book for a while, and get to know it intimately. When I’m drawing a book I’ve written, a book I’ve already spent months or years scripting and editing, it’s hard to see the whole for what it is and to appreciate it. I generally have no idea if what I’m writing has much value, or where it stands in my body of work. It was nice to work on a book that absolutely, definitely was a great and important story.
I don’t know how much I really learned about craft, but I implemented workflow practices that I still use now. I put in a lot of checks and balances. I made self-care and taking care of my body — since drawing is so physically destructive, believe it or not — a priority. I definitely learned my limits on this book.
Afterwards I burned out big time and there were a couple of years when I didn’t draw much. I focused on writing and film and doing other things. While I don’t recommend burnout as a career choice, it led me to some interesting places before I found my way back to drawing again.
You do a lot with the white & black & blue color palette in A Wrinkle in Time, especially the blue/black flashback or memory panels. Can you talk about your use of color in this book and in your work in general?
Larson: Thanks! A big shout-out to Jenn Manley Lee, who did the coloring and was an all-around rockstar.
The flashback stuff was one of the trickier bits to figure out. The first chapter was one of the most challenging parts of the adaptation since it’s largely in Meg’s head and she’s reflecting back on things which have happened while lying in bed during this terrible storm. There’s a lot going on.
I’ve never been comfortable working in full color, and I also have a background in printmaking, so I stick to limited color palettes as often as possible. Flat washes of color and bold black lines have always appealed to me. Eleanor Davis and I were talking recently about how we both struggle to combine line and color in a way that feels integrated and satisfactory to us. It’s an ongoing frustration and I still haven’t figured it out.
What do you look for in a protagonist? Is there a relationship between Meg in A Wrinkle in Time and the characters you write and draw in your own books?
Larson: Yeah, there’s absolutely a through-line from Meg to the characters I write. The earlier ones, for sure. I can’t get enough of weird-outcast-girl-saves-the-day stories. These days I write more of a range of character types, but the complicated outsider is the one that comes most naturally to me.
What was the reaction like to your adaptation? Do you introduce yourself at parties as New York Times Bestselling Graphic Novelist Hope Larson?
Larson: Yes, and I have a license plate frame that says that, too.
Honestly, the response has been a gratifying one. I was locked up with that book for so long with no idea what would happen when it came out; I was just hoping not to be tarred and feathered. What’s meant to most of me is hearing that reluctant readers and kids with autism have found the adaptation useful and accessible. That validates my work as a cartoonist like nothing else.
Are there other novels or stories you’d like to adapt as graphic novels?
Larson: There isn’t a story I particularly want to adapt. I’m pretty busy with my own stuff right now, but never say never.
Can we talk about your webcomic Solo? You recently called it your romance comic, in response to the Fresh Romance Kickstarter. Is a modern narrative about love & relationships inherently a romance comic, or do you see Solo as part of the tradition of romance comics as they existed from the 1940s-70s?
Larson: I haven’t read that many of those old romance comics but I have read a few of the classic DC ones… and thought they were boring. I don’t know that Solo exists within any kind of romance comic historical context, but it’s the only story I’ve ever written that is, definitively, a love story. There are a lot of other elements, but the relationship between Leah and Wade has always been the reason I wanted to write this story.
But is it a romance? What is a romance versus a love story or a story about love? I don’t know! Just looking at modern romance novels, they’ve come a long way from the ones I used to get from the library as a kid. They can be very smart and complicated and empowering. I don’t know that Solo fits in with those stories, exactly, but it’s not radically different from them, either.
You’re releasing Solo page by page as you complete them, “the moment the ink’s dry, raw and fresh and full of mistakes,” as you said on your blog. It seems like a very personal project. Do you want to publish Solo in book form when it’s complete, or will it live exclusively online?
Larson: It’s quite a personal story but it’s not autobiographical. It’s had a looooong gestation period. It’s not The Story of Hope’s Divorce because the script predates that, but having gone through a divorce I have to pat myself on the back and say that I nailed the emotional aspects of divorce. There was a long period when I thought about shelving the project over my worries that readers would see it as some kind of tell-all, but ultimately I decided that would be a shame. And anyway, a lot of people assume my other work is autobiographical, too!
I definitely want to publish it when it’s complete. I’ve been putting together little minicomic versions for shows, which has been fun. I’m about a third of the way through the story right now, so it’s going to be a while before I have to worry about what to do with the thing.
What’s a normal workday like for you? Are you writing or drawing every day?
Larson: Right now I have a lot of different projects on the go, so I try and split my workday up. I either write in the mornings and draw in the afternoons or vice versa, with a break in between to go for a run or bike ride. If I have busywork (lettering, or flatting colors, or e-mails) I try and leave that until the evening. It really depends on what’s the most pressing item on my to-do list, though. Whenever possible, I take weekends off to rest and hang on to my sanity.
Music plays a large part in Solo — do you listen to music as you work? Did you have a playlist for A Wrinkle in Time?
Larson: I do listen to music when I work, whether I’m writing and drawing. I love music, but in a naïve way; my understanding of music on a theoretical and historical level is fairly shallow. I like writing about musicians because it’s a way to put all the ideas that interest me about being a creative person into a more appealing wrapper.
I didn’t have a playlist for A Wrinkle in Time. The main thing I remember listening to while drawing it is the Millennium series — The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc.
What are you excited about in comics today? Are there books or creators you’re reading or looking forward to?
Larson: I’m presenting the LA Times Book Award for graphic novels this year, so I’ve been reading the finalists. I really need to read more of Jaime Hernandez’s work. I need to read more Roz Chast. I’m very excited about Sam Alden’s work right now. I’m reading Saga. I liked Megahex a lot in spite of the fact that I’m not the target audience for that book!
What’s next? What are you working on in the near future that you can (and wanna) talk about?
Larson: Hooooo boy. So many things! Next week Jen Wang and I are starting to pitch the cartoon series we’ve been working on for the past year, which is exciting! I’m finishing up the first draft of the script for a middle-grade graphic novel I’ll both write and draw. I’m working with Rebecca Mock to put the finishing touches on Compass South, the first book in our Four Points series of middle grade graphic novels, which will be out next year. The second volume, Knife’s Edge, will be out in 2017; it’s scripted, but we have a long road of drawing, coloring, lettering and revisions ahead. Those projects and Solo are the biggies, but I’m also working on a few other things that may or may not happen.
If my life is a rollercoaster, it feels like I’m just about to go over the top — and I mean that in a good way.
Photo by Luigi Novi. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
This weekend’s SC Comicon will feature a tribute to artist Jeremy Dale who died at the tragically young age of 34 last November. Now Dale’s good friend Joe Peacock whas written an amazing piece called What The Heck Happened To Jeremy Dale?? talking about what caused his death.
A few weeks ago, Jeremy’s wife, Kelly Dale, finally received the results of the autopsy performed on Jeremy. There have been so many questions about how and why his death happened, and now, there are finally answers. We took the time to process this information, and she asked me to write my account of how it all went down.
A Drink and Draw remembering Dale will be held on Saturday, March 21, from 7PM until at the Quest Brewing Company in Greensville.
As detailed in the Moment of Cerebus blog, Dave Sim, 58, checked himself into the hospital after suffering severe abdominal pains, which was a good thing because he has an intestinal blockage and had to undergo surgery (performed by a Dr. Monica Torres, for everyone keeping track.) He’s recovering and in good spirits. There are a number of comments referencing some kind of hand problem that has prevented him from drawing, and you can see him wearing a hand brace in the photos. I missed out on the origins of this, but hope that he gets that fixed up, too. Best wishes for a speedy recovery.
•Simplified explanation, read the blog for the gory details.
BookCon—the consumer-focused book show that is tacked on to the trade BEA show—is expanding to two days this year, May 30-31, with way more authors, more exhibitors and more more. And there will be a very cool panel on comics, on Saturday, May 30th at 11:30am. Here’s the logline:
COMICS ARE AWESOME!
Join comics superstars Ben Hatke (Little Robot), Jenni Holm (Sunny Side Up), Jeff Smith (Bone), and Raina Telgemeier (Sisters) as they talk about how comics work, how they make their own comics, and what makes comics so completely awesome. If you’re a fan of comics, don’t miss this great discussion – it’ll have amazing authors sharing their latest work and exciting art drawn right before your eyes! Moderated by Heidi MacDonald (Publishers Weekly).
That’s right, this super awesome panel will be moderated by me; I’ll try to live up to the awesomeness. But getting to listen to four such talented creators in a whole new arena is a very exciting challenge. Be there!
Ticket information for BookCon are in the above link.
By Cal Cleary and Harper Harris
James Kochalka, the first Cartoonist Laureate of Vermont and an Ignatz and Harvey award winner, has had quite a varied career, ranging from fronting his own band (James Kochalka Rockstar), to creating comics, to collaborating on video games. His long running online comic strip American Elf continues to have a strong fan base, and his SuperF*ckers comic book has become a popular animated series on YouTube’s Cartoon Hangover channel. His newest work, the Glorkian Warrior series, sees the release of both a video game based on its characters and the second book in the series, The Glorkian Warrior Eats Adventure Pie. We got a chance to chat with Kochalka regarding his career as well as his lovably bumbling hero, the Glorkian Warrior.
How did you get started as a cartoonist?
Professionally? Well, that road began when I bought an early issue of Eightball by Dan Clowes. Then, a couple months later I saw there was an interview with him in The Comics Journal, so I bought that. I had never encountered that magazine before. In The Comics Journal I think I saw something about some mini comic, and decided to order it through the mail. Before very long I trading my own mini comics with other cartoonists through the mail, and soon after that I was a full time professional cartoonist. It all happened within a period of about two years or so… from discovering Eightball to becoming a professional cartoonist and quitting my job as a waiter at a Chinese restaurant.
Did you read a lot of comics as a kid, or was it something you got into later as an artist?
Excerpt from The Blue Drip (1976)
I read them constantly as a kid, and drew them constantly too. I have over 2000 pages of comics saved that I drew when I was a kid. There was only a very brief period of not drawing comics… the first couple years of college I didn’t draw any comics, but the rest of my life I was always working on something. Long before I knew that mini comics were a “thing” I was making them and selling them to my friends at school. I drew my first graphic novel when I was a kid in the 1970’s… which probably marks it as one of the first graphic novels ever drawn, although noone has seen it beyond one of my childhood friends.
The Glorkian Warrior has been a resilient idea, starting with a short comic for Pop Gun, going into a Kickstarter-funded video game with Pixeljam (Glorkian Warrior: The Trials of Glork), before your current three-book deal. What is it that keeps bringing you back to Glork?
I just love to draw him. As soon as I did the first little doodle of the guy, he just felt so real to me, so alive. Basically that’s how I create my characters, I just doodle until one of the doodles has an undeniable spark of life.
Now, with Glorkian Warrior… I was working on this at the same time I was working on my autobiographic comic, the American Elf diary strip. And then when I quit American Elf, and my elf-avator stand-in was gone, I suddenly started to think of Glork as my stand-in. The spark of life that Glorkian Warrior has is my spark of life. What makes me a living being is the same thing that imbues Glorkian Warrior with life.
I hope that doesn’t sound too weird. I just like to draw him. He’s elastic and springy, and he does silly things.
What made you go with First Second as a publisher for the Glorkian Warrior series?
Excerpt from The Blue Drip (1976)
I thought the book would fit in well with their line, and I wanted to see what a new publisher could do for me. I asked Top Shelf’s advice before bringing it to another publisher, and they were all for it. I don’t need permission to do books with other publishers, but I always talk it over with Chris Staros before I do.
Your work has had lots of multimedia crossover…with SuperF*ckers you had the animated series (which you did a voice on too), and with Glorkian Warrior you’ve got the video game. Were these things you thought of initially when formulating the characters, or just natural extensions of the kinds of stories you wanted to tell?
I just love making art, music, anything. I just like making stuff, anything, all the time. I like writing songs, I like making sand castles, I like inventing new recipes, I like to draw, I like to design board games, I like to invent drawing games. I also like to move my body and dance, or swim, or hike in the woods. I just feel like a creative, active life is more fun.
Regarding, Glorkian Warrior I came up with the basic idea for the video game before I started drawing the comics, but then I started drawing the comics before I started actually making the game.
You’ve obviously got a pretty wide range of work…what was it like going from something like SuperF*ckers to Glorkian Warrior?
Easy. The transition is easy. Whether I’m working on books for adults or books for kids I feel like I’m still exploring the fundamentals of human nature.
What inspired you to write books aimed at a younger audience?
First it was accidental. I wrote Monkey Vs. Robot and Peanutbutter & Jeremy and Pinky & Stinky thinking I was making them for an adult audience. Kids just happened to like them. Then once I had my own kids I started drawing books with them in mind as my target audience. So the Johnny Boo, Dragon Puncher, and Glorkian Warrior books were all written as bedtime stories for my own kids.
You were Vermont’s first Cartoonist Laureate. What was that experience like?
It was like being named the State Flower. I’ve always been proud of being a Vermonter, but it was an amazing feeling to think Vermont is proud of ME. Honestly, it just felt so good I think the good feeling might last the rest of my lifetime if I’m lucky. And every time a new Cartoonist Laureate is named, I feel like I’m being honored all over again. Ed Koren, the amazing New Yorker cartoonist, is the current Cartoonist Laureate of Vermont. He’s also a volunteer fireman in the town where he lives. Anyhow, he called me up for advice a few times leading up to his inauguration. It was rather amazing to be in the position of offering advice to such a seasoned master of cartooning. Oh, and we did a drawing together about it. That was really fun.
One of the most charming things about the Glorkian Warrior stories is the fantastic hand lettering. Do you feel lettering plays a strong role in the way you tell stories?
Yes! Oh thank you so much. I’ve been waiting for the last twenty years for someone to notice that there is something special about my lettering. Secretly I’ve always coveted a “best lettering” Eisner award, I don’t know why. Partly because it’s probably the worst Eisner award, the most laughable. But also because lettering is actually incredibly important in comics. Meaning is conveyed through the artistry of the lettering, or at least it can be if you do it well. I try to use my lettering to convey emotion, it’s one more tool to that effect in addition to the words themselves and of course the drawings.
I also letter with a brush and ink, which I think very few people do. Most letter with a pen. And I know why, it’s because lettering with a brush is outrageously difficult. For several years I’ve inked my taxes with a brush and ink… but that’s probably a colossal waste of my time.
What is your technique when it comes to illustrating the Glorkian Warrior books? Have you found your style changing dramatically with new technology?
I draw with a brush and india ink, but I do all the coloring on the computer. I use a Cintiq, so I can draw the color right on the screen. So, all the swirling colors in the backgrounds of the Glorkian Warrior books were drawn on the Cintiq screen, in photoshop. Yeah, that’s a big change. I wouldn’t be able to do that without the Cintiq or something like it.
The Glorkian Warrior stories tend to have an interesting shaggy dog structure. How do you go about plotting these stories? And how hungry are you when you’re writing them?
I write them fairly stream-of-consciousness style, and then I go back and edit to give them some kind of narrative structure. There’s just enough, I think, so you feel like maybe something actually happened.
I’m hungry all the time, except when I’m drawing or when I’m full.
What were your inspirations for the original characters Glorkian Warrior and Super Backpack? Are you drawing from any other bumbling hero analogs?
It comes from me carrying my sons on my back or shoulders when they were little. I sometimes still like to lift my 11 year-old up on my shoulders and carry him around. I plan to continue to carry them both until I’m just not physically able. Anyhow, I’m the bumbling hero. The bumbling hero is me.
By the end of the third book it should be clear that the Glorkian Warrior graphic novels are a sprawling metaphor about fatherhood and raising children.
I know you’re passionate about video games, and Baby Alien seems like the cutest homage to Super Metroid I’ve ever seen. Do you have any plans or hopes to work on another video game anytime soon?
Yeah, I love the baby Metroid from Metroid 2. I was definitely inspired by that for Baby Alien. I also took inspiration from Space Invaders and also my cats. My Baby Alien is like a space invader with a cute kitten face who sucks on your head like a baby Metroid.
Gosh I hope I make another video game. I’ve been designing some games, but I need to find a developer who’s willing to take them on and work with me. But if Glorkian Warrior is the only commercial video game I ever make, at least I had fun and it’s a good one. I’ll never stop designing new games in my mind, though.
A few years ago I invented a new version of chess that I’d like to turn into an iPad app, and I may have just found some guys who want to make it. We’ll see if they can handle it. Last year I invented a really cool new way for three people to play tic-tac-toe. I amaze myself with this stuff, probably more than I amaze anyone else.
What can readers look forward to in the third volume of Glorkian Warrior?
Gonk joins the Junior Junior Glorkian Warriors, we finally meet the Glorkian Super Grandma, and there’s a new villain introduced: Quackaboodle the Space God.
Any other upcoming projects you’re excited for readers to get their hands on?
Yes! I’m making another animated cartoon, a short pilot episode, for a major kids network. I think I’m not supposed to talk about it, and it’s killing me to keep quiet.
The Glorkian Warrior Eats Adventure Pie will arrive in stores near you from First Second on March 17th.
By Harper Harris and Kyle Pinion
In The Sculptor, David Smith is an out of work artist, who feels as though he never quite reached the level of fame he always thought was right within his grasp. When the physical representation of Death comes offering a deal: the power to sculpt anything he can imagine with his bare hands with the caveat that his life ends in 200 days, David cannot resist the possible benefits of such an ability. The after-effects that this bargain has on his friends, New York City, and his love-life become the center-piece of this newest graphic novel by acclaimed cartoonist Scott McCloud.
30 years in the making, McCloud’s new opus is available on February 3rd through First Second. McCloud was kind enough to sit down with us for a lengthy discussion about the new book, critical expectations, his creative process and how he balances his busy speaking schedule and the creation of a 500-plus page graphic novel.
Kyle: How is the press circuit treating you? I know you’ve been on interviews for weeks now. Are you exhausted?
Scott McCloud: No, I store energy like a cactus stores water and five years squirreled away in my hobbit hole drawing, you store up a lot of energy. So I was definitely ready to come out into the sunlight and talk to people. And the reception so far has been amazing. So far it’s been really encouraging I think is what I mean to say.
Kyle: Well, that’s good to hear. That actually pivots over to one thought that I was curious about. Over the past 15, 20 years now, though you’ve of course published books like Zot! and you did some work with DC in the past as well on the Superman Adventures, you’ve been known as the guy that breaks down comic book storytelling via Understanding Comics and the like. With critical response in mind, did you ever feel a certain level of pressure as someone expected to live up to that analysis with The Sculptor?
McCloud: Oh yeah. There was definitely a big target on my chest when I did this thing, but it was a good kind of pressure. The pressure was pretty strong after Understanding Comics, that anything I did in the way of fiction afterwards would be judged with that in mind. I did one or two pieces of fiction that are best left forgotten, that didn’t do so well. But after Making Comics, there was definitely a bulls-eye on me because I wasn’t just telling people how to read them, I was telling people how to make them. I had to put my money where my mouth was. But in the end, I thought that was a really healthy kind of pressure because it meant that failure was not an option. I had to really give this my all and I was lucky enough to have an editor who had the same attitude about it and gave me a little extra room, a little extra time to do so. This was originally going to be a three year book and we allowed it to grow to five years with his blessing because he felt that we could pull off something really wonderful. But yeah, I was trying to apply all of these ideas that I had been talking about in books like Making Comics, I’ve been trying to apply them in this work but I’ve also been trying to make sure that they’re hidden, transparent, not on the surface. I didn’t want people thinking about panel transitions and compositions and my use of bleed while reading the thing. I wanted them to be thinking about the story and I hope that’s the effect people will have in the reading experience.
Harper: To delve into The Sculptor itself and how you got started with it, one of the concepts in the book is just how David, an out of work sculptor, feels like he’s got this unrealized potential…he’s got all this creativity stored up and then he feels like he can be this big famous sculptor but he doesn’t have the means to do it yet. As a writer, when you were getting started with this project, do you feel like your creative soul was restless or you had something big you had to accomplish and you just were ready to get it out?
McCloud: I felt like that when I was in my 20s. When I was the same age as David, I felt a lot more like David than I do now. I’ve been lucky because I’ve actually gotten some attention and I’ve been able to get my work out there, but I have a lot of feeling for those who don’t have that, who haven’t had that luck. Whether they’re young and just starting out or if they’ve been at it for 30 years, there are a lot of people who have trouble getting their work out into the sunlight and who rightly feared that their work might be forgotten someday, maybe even in their lifetime. Something that happens to a lot of artists is being forgotten in your lifetime. I can easily put myself in that mindset again of imagining that and imagining that fear, the fear that comes with that. And then the fact that David has this family that’s already gone, both in terms of their physical lives but also in terms of the memories of them, even though they were all three very creative people, his parents and his sister. That made it a much more urgent need on his part to not be forgotten.
Kyle: Now this is a concept that you created decades ago. I think I heard once it was about 30 years ago, is that correct?
Scott McCloud: Yeah, it was really terrifying when I realized it was 30. I was saying 20 and then I think it was Ivy, my wife, just reminded me “nah, it’s actually more like 30.” That’s a long time!
Kyle: It’s a concept that’s older than Harper here actually.
McCloud: It’s older than a lot of readers. It may be older than most of the people who will read this book, some may be younger than the idea for the book itself.
Kyle: I wonder, how has your life experience changed the way you’re approaching the material than if you had written it back in 1980, whatever year it was that you initially thought of it?
McCloud: Well, I think it’s a better book for having been written much later but the important thing for me was I had this young man’s idea and had had a lot of the things we associate with young ideas. It has lots of bold, preposterously ambitious ideas in it. It’s trying to address questions of life and art, mortality, the nature of existence and that sort of thing. I think as we get older, we’re more likely to just address the struggles of getting your coffee in the morning and going to a job you hate or whatever. People tend to scale down their ambitions a little. My goal for this one was to see if maybe I could take that young man’s idea and capture the enthusiasm I had when I was a young man and channel that crazy ambition but channel it in a direction that was informed by the perspective I’d gained as an older man, nearly twice the age that I was when I first came up with it, when I started to work on this thing. And hopefully I’ve been able to do that. To not castrate it, not rob it of the vitality of that young idea but try to preserve the vitality while giving a perspective, direction and a more meaningful shape through what I’ve learned in the intervening years.
Harper: Being that this was an idea that gestated for such a long time and you added things and changed things as you were thinking about it, when you actually sat down to start putting pen to paper and writing it, what was your process like? Were you coming up with a script first, or was it just a rough draft, or were you doing thumbnails?
McCloud: The first part of the process was when I realized I really wanted to work on this book, it was just as I was starting a 50 state tour in support of that previous book, Making Comics, 2006 and 2007. And I was so desperate to work on The Sculptor but all I could really do was sit in the passenger seat while my wife drove. I’m not allowed to drive. I’m a terrible driver. And just think about it for a year. And in a way, that was actually really good. That first part of the process was just thinking about the story and taking lots and lots and lots of notes. Then I got to work in earnest after we had a publisher and we were ready to start active work on the thing. I started to create the layouts and for the first year, I did nothing but create these layouts which were – my layouts are pretty tight. They look a lot like a finished comic, just a rough version. But all of this takes place before there’s any finished art, right? So I make this thing, I make the whole thing. I send it to my editor, Mark Siegel. I also send it to my “five kibitzers” as I call them – friends who I know will be honest and tell me what parts suck, whatever parts of the story don’t work. And then I revised it based on their input and I revised it again and I revised it again. I did four revisions of this nearly 500 page book in layout form. Took me two years. This is all before I ever drew a single finished panel. And then I started drawing the real thing and that took three years. It took me three years to draw those near 500 pages and that was done on my Cintiq tablet in Photoshop. It’s entirely digital even though it has that slightly rough hand-drawn quality to it, the entire thing was done digitally. In fact, the layouts were all done digitally too. 40 pages at a time in a giant Photoshop document.
Harper: Why is sculpture was the main thrust of the book as opposed to him being a painter or something that was a little bit maybe closer to your own craft?
McCloud: Well on the one hand, sculpture makes good visual theatre in the sense that it exists in three dimensions, it’s dynamic. The idea of going up against that hard surface, in the case of the sort of things that David is doing, has a nice sense of explosive physical conflict to it. But beyond that, the choice of sculpture as opposed to any other form, I have to be honest, I never even considered anything else simply because that was the starting point. That that was this idea in its original state as it existed in that little three ring binder that I have been carrying around with me since high school where I would write down ideas. That’s where it began, the idea of a sculptor in particular. I don’t really know if it would be quite as effective if it were say flat visual arts like painting or drawing, although interestingly enough, a book that I really enjoyed, Dylan Horrocks’ Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen is I think coming out around the same time and in a way, he does have that notion of the artist being given supernatural abilities of one sort or another, in his case through literally a magic pen. So he gets to explore a slightly different side of that artistic deal with fate.
Kyle: Did you have to do any sort of background research at all?
McCloud: I researched the art world in that area as far as just the cultural and business aspects of it and then just looked at a lot of sculpture. But in the end, I think it’s important to note that what David makes in many ways fails. It fails the test and he’s unable to get a wider audience for it for much of the book. The only things that David ever makes that gain the favor of that world, we don’t actually see. We don’t see the work he makes before the story begins that had gotten him some attention early on, we don’t see the work that he makes that his friend Ollie considers very promising. That stuff is off panel. What I felt I was able to draw or what I was able to imagine is the sort of work that a sculptor might not get recognition for. And so I was able to just pour my crazy imagination into it and then knowing that I wasn’t presenting this as some kind of masterpiece that would be universally acclaimed, I was presenting his sculpture as something that would probably confound or be uninteresting to that world. But I did research some of the experience of living in that world, talked to a couple of people who are part of it. In large part, I was just researching what it is to live in New York in 2000 something because of course this took place over several years and just try to get the city right, just try to show the physical environment of the city as well as the cultural environment.
Kyle: In order for David to gain his amazing abilities, he had to strike a bit of a Faustian pact with the embodiment of death. Do those type of stories fascinate you? It’s basically the fulcrum that this story into motion, at least in the beginning stages before we get to know the characters better. Do you find yourself a fan of tales like The Devil and Daniel Webster and the like?
McCloud: Now that you mention The Devil and Daniel Webster, I actually really enjoyed that but it’s been literally 40 years since I’ve read that one, but I remember really being into it. I don’t know that the story was in any way commenting on those other stories, but in some way, I think the important departure here is that it is a deal with death and that the ultimate result is still oblivion, as shown in the blank pages towards the beginning of the story. Like most Faustian bargains, the ending is not in question, right? You know the final fate of the character. But this time, because of that notion of oblivion rather than eternal damnation, it’s kind of the secular version of that story, isn’t it? And I think understanding the difference between that secular, updated version and versions that are more tied to questions of morality than to questions of existential terror, that was interesting to me. I think that was the main thing was that the way in which the echoes of religious beliefs were resonated a bit through this story, but of course it’s a profoundly non-religious story despite the supernatural element that sets it in motion.
Harper: David can be frustrating at times when he is making the wrong choice, which he does quite often. Did you find it difficult to write a protagonist that has those flaws?
McCloud: Well interestingly enough, David was even less likeable in early drafts of the layouts. A lot of my friends who were reading it over, and my editor, pointed out ways in which he was a difficult character to get into. You can have a character with very negative aspects to their personality who audiences still have a passageway into. That was my goal primarily was that even when David is being frustrating, I wanted my audience to be able to get inside his head, to see what it was like to be him from the inside. It goes in a slightly different direction from the question of likeability. Relatability and likeability, I’ve come to understand are two slightly different things when writing characters. He had to be relatable first and foremost and that was one of the goals that I internalized when I was going through rewrite after rewrite, to make sure that we could understand where he was coming from, and to get a sense of what drove him forward even when he was being frustrating or stubborn. Part of that was understanding the difference between wanting to be remembered and being terrified of being forgotten. They’re two different things. Understanding that difference, I think, was one of my crucial procedures as I constructed and reconstructed this story.
Kyle: I’d like to also talk a little bit about one of the other key themes that hit me while I was reading, you display clinical depression in this book with a lot of nuance and that’s not something you see done particularly very well in really many forms of media – television, film, comics, whatever we might be talking about. How much thought and work went into giving that characteristic to that particular character – or was there personal experience at all involved there that sort of informed how that character was resolved?
McCloud: Yeah, there was a lot of personal experience that went into that and that was crucial to being able to capture those thought processes and the kind of relationship that one might have with somebody going through that. I think in early drafts it felt a little bit more pat, a little bit more like just a mechanical necessity of the plot and I think it gained in resolution and nuance I think with the rewrites. That was something that we were very concerned with, that it not simply be a plot device but that it be part of the texture of the story without necessarily departing from what the story was about. One of the things about getting increasing specific in the portrayal of something like that is that you don’t want the story to become about itself, you don’t want to lose sight of why the story exists in the first place. And so that was the balancing act, making sure that this felt like a real emotional story but an emotional story that existed within the universe of the ideas of the story as a whole.
Kyle: This is strange to say, but it’s probably my favorite part of the book because it felt so real to life.
McCloud: That’s really cool. I have to say, much of what I was doing there was channeling because sometimes when you have direct real life experience, sometimes you just close your eyes and let a character speak from experiences. You can hear the voice in your head. You know what words come next because it’s part of the texture of your own life. It’s not a trick you can do often because you – unless you have profound relationships with many, many people which I suppose normal people do. Maybe that’s just me speaking as an overworked comic artist that I’m only able to slot in a few in the course of a lifetime.
Harper: Looking at taking the writing process into the art process, how much thought goes into the panel to panel storytelling, or the perspectives that you choose, or whether you’re going to have an establishing shot to set the mood first, or whether you just go back and forth between the two characters?
McCloud: Every single composition, every single panel choice and pacing choice was done very deliberately, but always with the goal that it wouldn’t seem deliberate. I wanted this book to feel as if it had just written itself, so transparency was the goal. One what that I tried to do that was by being very rigorous about capturing the rhythm of ordinary conversations, right down to the silence is something that Mark Siegel encouraged me to do. Sometimes it’s important, those pauses between speech are vitally important to capturing a credible rhythm of speech. Something that a lot of comics feel they don’t have the time to do, especially if you’ve got a 23 page story, having a panel of somebody just in between sentences, taking a sip of coffee or something, you’re not going to see that. And yet that’s something that we intuitively recognize as the music of humans in conversation. And when we recognize it, they become real. And when they become real, you stop thinking about panel transitions, you stop thinking about composition choices, you stop thinking about bleeds and you are lost in the world of the story. The first line of offense in conquering the reader’s perception of a real illusionistic world inside that story is the way people act with other people. You get that right and you’re more likely to be able to cast that spell and keep readers in the story.
Kyle: In looking through the panel compositions, it seems like there’s a push and pull between the opaque and the transparent and one of the things Harper pointed out to me was this really interesting use of how you show distance, utilizing either opaque figures or transparent figures, or to emphasize perspective and focus. Was this a tool you consciously decided to use on the book as a visual theme or is this just a natural part of your storytelling tools?
McCloud: Yeah, I think that’s something that I’ve wanted to try out for a long time but I don’t really know that I ever had the opportunity. Nothing I’d done before would have been appropriate for that particular technique. Part of it is the fact that we have a POV character and with a POV character, you can play with perception and emotion visualized in a way that you can’t with a third party objective: omniscient viewpoint. It’s very manga. Manga was interesting to me for a lot of reasons when I first got into it in the 80s and one of the reasons I liked it was that notion of emotional and perceptional participation. That sense that you are here, you’re part of the story. You are the protagonist. And that was done in a number of ways, sort of sliced up aspect to aspect, pieces of perception of the world around you or moving along with the moving character rather than just watching the character move. There were also all of these emotional expressionistic techniques. If the character was nauseous, for instance, the whole world might become a little bit wobbly around them because you were perceiving the world through their eyes. So I tried to do that and I found with the two colors, there were lots of opportunities to do that. As you mentioned, through transparency, opacity, by using colored contours rather than black contours. I think 100 years of CMYK printing tends to condition us to always have a black contour, but there are plenty of reasons not to. So I use them as depth cues and I use them as you said to indicate the perspective of the character, like when he’s focusing on one particular person at a party and everybody else is dimmed out because we’re seeing his mental map of what matters and what doesn’t.
Harper: I know a lot of your work in the past has been black and white. Was there ever a stage that this book was going to be in color or a different style of color use than the way you used it in the book?
McCloud: No. There were practical considerations of cost but there was also the creative considerations that I really like to do it all myself and I’m a shitty colorist. I’ve never had a good color sense and it looks good to me and then everybody else tells me, no Scott, that’s not good, so. But I can choose from a Pantone swatch book, that I can do. And two colors to me is just a little bit nicer than one because with that second color, I can use it not only for the techniques we talked about but just for the simple utilitarian task of clarifying form. When you have that second color, you can make it more quickly obvious to the eye, even at a casual glance, what the forms are on the page, where are the faces versus the background, where the figures and silhouettes are and sense of depth. All of these things really come into sharp, immediate focus when you have that second color. So there were a lot of reasons to go for it.
Harper: In picking the light blue tone that permeates the book; was that a difficult choice or was that something that as you were working through the art, that was just the obvious choice?
McCloud: Actually in May, when time had pretty much run out and it was time for Scott to pick the damn color, I was in Atlanta at the offices of a company called MailChimp. I had given a lecture there either that day or the day before, I’ve forgotten which. And they very kindly gave me their Pantone swatch book and an hour or two in a quiet room in the offices to just sit and select which color it would be. And I will forever be grateful to MailChimp for saving my ass because my Pantone swatch book was locked up in an office here in California, the office I’m sitting in right now. I had the key in Atlanta and there was nobody there who could go and retrieve it for me and those things are expensive, so thank god that MailChimp came to my rescue and gave me that Pantone swatch book and I was actually to select the magical hue 653. I will never forget that number.
Kyle: Between Serial and Scott McCloud giving them praise, MailChimp is having a great couple of months here. I’m trying to couch my next question as carefully as possible here, because it deals with sort of the latter half of the book.
Kyle: The actual production of the art towards the end, especially in a selection that is full of a lot of panels, was that a physically stressful piece to produce, especially if you were producing it multiple times in multiple drafts? I’m referring to the very end of the book.
McCloud: Oh yeah. No, I know what you’re referring to and it was tremendously difficult, but it was a kind of difficulty that I had come to relish. I really loved the hard work. The hard work of this book was gratifying work. I loved working hard, I loved being challenged, I loved being forced to do something that I had never been able to do before. That was great. What wasn’t great was the fact that I was straining the limits of my system, that it was taking forever to save these files. It was so complex at 1,200 dots per inch – at least I think it’s 12, not 1,000. I think the book is 12 – 1,200 dots per inch, in RGB no less, even though it was a two color book. The thing was just enormous. Those files were enormous. They were like half a gigabyte each and boy, was it slow churning out these things and saving them. That was the hard part was the waiting. Do I save and have to stop drawing for a couple of minutes or do I wait and risk a lightning storm and a blackout or whatever. That was hard, that was hard. But I don’t know, generally speaking though, the hardest things about this book were also the most gratifying because that’s when I felt like I was really finally climbing the mountain.
Harper: One thing I noticed that I really enjoyed in the storytelling was how you used the gutters as far as for pacing. So the distance between the panels in calmer, normal section of the book, there’s a little bit of distance and there are white gutters and then when there’s these parts that are a little more intense or – for example, when David discovers he has these powers and he’s running home to figure out what’s going on and to try them out, the gutters completely disappear and it’s just this thick black line in between panels. It really changed the pacing a lot and the feeling of timing.
McCloud: As you mention it, I’m not sure that I did this much in my first comic Zot!, but there was a pretty rigorous practical set of standards for when that might happen, when I might go to a different gutter style or when I might go to a bleed, for example. And it’s just like for any given moment in the story, the question was: does it pass the test? Is this the kind of moment where David is overwhelmed by what’s happening, where he’s sent into just an emotional rhapsody of one sort or another, of rage or wonder. In those cases, the borders do collapse to a single black line in between panels and it goes full bleed. All of those are full bleed as well. To me, it feels right. And I guess what it is is I had seen other artists who had done that. Sometimes artists just do that for everything. There are a few artists who always have that single black line and full bleeds throughout an entire book. It just has this – I don’t know, it’s like in Wagner when the extra trombones come in. It just seems to be that orchestral color that tells you that something of great weight is happening. And this is a story where I decided to use the full orchestra, so that was one of my tools.
Kyle: I know you speak to a number of different companies professionally, you’re probably on speaker bureaus and the like…
McCloud: Actually you know what, I’ll tell you a secret. I do it all myself. People just email me and I say well, here’s how much it is and I’m either free or I’m not and then we do it.
Kyle: That’s even easier.
McCloud: It’s incredibly informal, yeah. It’s really weird. I should have representation for it. I have representation for Hollywood, I have representation for my books but when it comes to speaking, I don’t know, I just haven’t found anyone that could do it better. It’s weird. So yeah, I just do it all myself. It’s kind of insane. Although I will say for the First Second book tour and my European tour, February, March and April, a lot of that is delegated to the individual publisher.
Kyle: Of course. How do you balance that schedule with your creative time? Is there a lot of creative time being done in hotel rooms? How does that work?
McCloud: We did a lot on hotel rooms last year when we were doing the technical finishes on the book. In fact, I particularly remember writing the entire book to – was it a Holiday Inn in St. Louis maybe or someplace, but we were driving west and we’d stopped for the night and I actually had to unpack my Mac Pro and the Cintiq and everything and it was finally done and we were writing – we got kicked out of our room. So I actually wheeled the Mac Pro out to where the elevators were and Ivy and I were sitting there and while all of these files are being written to a drive, copied to a drive so that we could run to FedEx and send it out. And we looked like homeless people. Our dog was with us and all our coats and we looked like we had camped out next to the elevator and were asking for handouts or something. But all it was was like I had all of this equipment and all of our suitcases just waiting for a file to copy.
Kyle: I’ve never heard of Holiday Inn ever kicking anyone out of a room.
McCloud: *laughs* They were very sweet, they were very sweet. We just explained it and – but it was just nuts. I mean yeah, we’ve had extreme moments like that where it was just really crazy. But as far as the travel schedule versus the work schedule, I worked 11 hours a day, seven days a week for five years, except for the last year where it was more like 14 hours a day. And then I would still travel but in a given month, if I do two or three lectures, that’s really only, what, six days lecturing, traveling and lecturing. So the six days out of 30 is – is that 20%? So 80% of the time I’m working. Of course, Ivy always makes fun of me for this, is that I will say “oh yeah, I was working except when I was traveling.” And she’s like “that’s working too, you know”. It’s not like when I’m hopping on a plane to give a lecture at Google, it’s not as if that’s not work. Of course that’s work. So yeah, I pretty much only work. But then when the book is done, then we have fun, then we play and that’s what we’re going to do this year.
Harper: Was the publishing deal worked out before the creative process or afterwards? I know you had the idea obviously, but was this something that you presented to the publisher and then you went from there? What made First Second the logical choice for that?
McCloud: Well, we went to four publishers and they were all interested in the book to varying degrees. And for various reasons, we went with First Second, but one of the most important reasons of all was just talking to Mark Siegel and seeing that they were willing to put a lot of resources behind it but they also had that sensibility where Mark – Mark is kind of unique. I talked to some real world class editors but Mark has I think the rigorous demanding aesthetic sense of grand, traditional New York 20th century editor while at the same time, also having tremendous chops as an artist and a writer himself. That’s a very unusual combination to find and it turned out to be essential to this particular book, because I really don’t think anybody else could have pulled this story out of me the way that Mark did.
Kyle: What can your fans expect when you’re on the book tour? Will you be speaking at all or will you be displaying any excerpts at all from the book itself?
McCloud: We’re going to be bringing along visuals but for the US tour, the 14 cities in 16 days coming up in February, which’ll probably be this month by the time this goes out. For those where it’s going to be mostly conversation format, so I’m going to be in conversation with somebody. But then I’ll have some visuals standing by so I can show process stuff, I can show excerpts, I can show art from the book, things like that. But otherwise, I had suggested that it be conversation format just so that each talk is different. So if you see me in New York or Chicago or LA, each one of those conversations is going to be different and that way if – for the ones that wind up on the web, they’ll all be their own unique conversation which ought to be a lot of fun. But there will still be some visuals thrown in. And I should mention, I’m still doing the full prepared visual lecture thing. That’ll also be happening and already we have about five more talks in the spring that are slipping in between the cracks, even though I’m also going to six countries. It’s kind of insane. We’re doing 14 cities in 16 days followed by England, Spain, Italy, Germany, France and the Netherlands, all of it in February, March and April. But I’ve also managed to slot in talks in Mississippi, Virginia, Ohio and Vermont into that same period and with a couple of others that are about to land as well. Those things that are a bit separate that I’ve arranged for separately, those are going to be the full stand up, hour long visual lecture which has hundreds of images going by very fast and that’s quite a show. These were organized separately, they’re not just a part of the promotional tour, though of course I’ll talk about The Sculptor a little.
Harper: The Sculptor is a dense book and it’s got a lot of really big ideas and themes about art and life and love and all sorts of different things. What do you hope is the key takeaway or the key message that you hope readers pull from it as they’re picking it up?
McCloud: Well, there will be a lot of talk about the themes and the ambition of the book. I think a lot of people already are looking at it as a bid for consideration as a big, serious book. But, my very first goal for the book, and in a lot of ways still my most important goal, is just to create something that is an enjoyable read, that’s a page turner, that has a kind of narrative momentum that just carries you from panel to panel and page to page. If I can pull that off first and foremost, I’ll be happy. I want it to be something that people really get into, that’s engrossing, that they can lose themselves in. And hopefully something that they can find as a rewarding re-read as well. That’s a lot of stuff in there that I think will become apparent on second reading and third reading.
Kyle: Is this going to mark a trend of more fiction based writing from you or are you going to return to analysis after this?
McCloud: Actually, my next book will be a nonfiction book and it’s going to be about visual communication and some of the common denominators across different disciplines in terms of visual education. I feel as if there are common principles to data visualization, information graphics, educational animation, and educational comics. People in all of these fields I think are knocking on the same door and I think it might be useful to see if I can discern some of the fundamental principles that lie behind all of those disciplines and put them in one work, so that’s the next project. That’ll also be with First Second Books.
Kyle: Lastly, where can people find information about the upcoming book tour? Will that be on First Second’s website or will that be on your website?
McCloud: It’s on First Second’s website now. I tweeted about it just the other day and as soon as I’m done with today’s interviews, I am so finally putting up a blog post on my own front page at ScottMcCloud.com and updating my side bar, which is still telling you all about the things I did last year. By the time people get to hear this, they’ll definitely be up.
You can pick up The Sculptor in book stores or your local comic shop starting February 3rd.
For those who are so inclined you can also listen to the full audio of the interview below:
By Harper Harris
Although Scott McCloud has worked on fiction comics before, it’s been a while. He wrote and drew his fantastically unique superhero series Zot! in the mid-eighties, and since then the only major return was writing a few issues of Superman Adventures in 1996 and The New Adventures of Abraham Lincoln in 1998. What he’s most famous for is his work within comics theory, in the form of the seminal Understanding Comics, Reinventing Comics, and finally Making Comics. These are highly regarded works amongst the comics community; reading the first often marks the beginning of a true devotee to sequential storytelling, acting as a kind of benchmark in fandom. McCloud set a pretty high bar for himself with this series when he set out to return to comics fiction with his massive new graphic novel, The Sculptor, and luckily for him, it mostly holds up to the sort of scrutiny that he brought to the comics world with his analytic books.
The Sculptor revolves around the life of David Smith, a young artist who we find at his lowest: the acclaim surrounding his earlier work has faded away, he has no family left, and he’s spending his last few bucks on a cheap diner meal for his twenty sixth birthday. The inciting action of the book is a Faustian deal with death: David agrees that for the power to create great art, he will only live for 200 more days. Although his new found powers–the ability to sculpt any material with just his bare hands–grants him artistic ability, he still struggles to deal with the fickle art world and most importantly, the fact that he may have met the love of his life with just a few months to live.
The writing is quite strong. David, while not the most likeable guy in every circumstance, is relatable and familiar, especially if you’ve ever known a fine artist. He’s frustrating but inspiring, and his struggles, both existential and tangible, hit a lot of the right emotional beats. It’s a massive graphic novel at just under 500 pages, but for the majority of the book it is a page turner; I found myself not knowing where things were going, in a very exciting way. McCloud throws in many different conflicts, from a breakdown in communication with a loved one to the inability to make art that is both crowd-pleasing and truly great. Perhaps most noteworthy is his portrayal of depression, which comes across as refreshingly true-to-life, not using it as a plot device but rather making it a crucial part of character development.
The art, too, is perhaps McCloud’s best. There’s an excellent sense of pacing that subtly draws you into the perspective of David, with things moving along quickly with smaller gutter space when he’s excited or scared. The book is two-toned, being in black and white with blue shading, and it looks fantastic. McCloud’s cartooning is pretty phenomenal, capturing the moods of each of the characters often with only a look, and particularly important to the book is his rendering of the actual sculptures, which are visually interesting and feel true to both real life abstract sculpture and David’s character. The Sculptor subtly plays with storytelling techniques that are exciting and fresh, crafted with the ambition of a young artist but the forethought of a cartooning master.
My biggest issue with the book comes with the last act, as David’s life is winding down. Things take a narrative twist at this point, and while I wasn’t wholly against the twist, it loses a lot of the “down to earth-ness” that it had up until that point. There are moments when it truly shines–a life flashing before your eyes sequence with literally hundreds of panels over ten pages stands out–but the book loses a lot of momentum and latches onto some unfortunate narrative cliches. The ending is not a mess, but it feels rushed and a bit of a misstep compared to the rest of the book, which is plotted with a lot of care and subtlety and has a unique unpredictability.
That said, the book tackles some fascinating themes. The Sculptor captures what it is to be a frustrated artist better than most stories, and does it in a way that is visually gorgeous, especially if you’re a fan of black and white cartooning. Throughout the bulk of the book, it brings in characters, ideas, and narrative devices that are distinctive and oftentimes quite beautiful. The way in which death is portrayed and explained, for example, and how he shows David the afterlife as a terrifyingly blank page are worth a lot of rumination, and while they reference earlier works (The Seventh Seal in particular), McCloud brings his own visual language to the whole concept.
Although the last bit left me a bit less than 100% engaged, the majority of the book had me cancelling plans so I could continue reading. Overall, it’s a major graphic accomplishment, one that is both a compelling page-turner and a relevant meditation on life, art, and love, presented by one of the most important cartoonists of our time. It’s certain to be the start of many best of 2015 lists, and despite my issues with it, I can’t say I wouldn’t consider it among the better graphic novels in the last several years. The Sculptor‘s careful storytelling and alluring art far outweigh the narrative problems that slowly creep in towards the last part, and in the end, it’s a book I would strongly recommend with just a few qualifiers.
The Sculptor releases on February 3rd. If you act fast, you can still order signed copies through Barnes and Noble. See ScottMcCloud.com for details on the book tour.
By: Heidi MacDonald
Blog: PW -The Beat
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By Harper Harris
Mariko and Jillian Tamaki‘s This One Summer was one of the most highly acclaimed graphic novels of 2014, popping up on a great number of top ten lists as well as winning an Ignatz Award for Best Graphic Novel. To say it was an attention grabber for the already heralded Canadian creators is an understatement.
Just last week, this tale of two childhood friends on the cusp of adolescence was awarded with the prestigious Caldecott Honor, being the first ever graphic novel to do so, along with the Printz Honor (and joins Gene Luen Yang‘s Boxers & Saints as the only other graphic novel to notch that award as well).
Mariko and Jillian were kind enough to join me for a brief Q&A regarding the recent wins and the creative process on this landmark work.
Where were you each when you learned you won the Caldecott Honor? Who called whom?
Jillian Tamaki: I was in bed.
Mariko Tamaki: I think we eventually texted each other about it.
Is there a sense of accomplishment or “I’ve made it” for winning such a prestigious award? Jillian, how does it compare to your Eisner nominations or the Ignatz award that This One Summer also received?
JT: The feeling is one of gratitude. I’ll never felt like “I’ve made it!” until I’m like a hunched-over old person still making things.
Is it more gratifying to get recognition outside of the world of comics, which you’ve done multiple times at this point?
JT: Both are gratifying. Honours granted by librarians are special to me because it represents a knowledgeable, discerning audience that actually works with young people. Honours granted by comics people are special because it means perhaps I am creating something of value within the medium.
Were you relieved that you both got nominated for this award, rather than one or the other as in some past awards?
MT: When one of us gets nominated, I generally see it as a misconception of how graphic novels work. So, yes.
Do awards matter to you? I hope that’s not a weirdly loaded question.
JT: Um, they are nice, yes. Especially when there is money attached, because comics are not lucrative. But I try to not let outside validation determine the micro and macro decisions I make as a creative person.
MT: I guess awards help sales. There are many awesome comics and books out there that have not been nominated, so we’re in good company either way.
This One Summer ended up on many top ten lists for 2014…how does it feel to have one of the most critically acclaimed OGNs of the year among fans? Is it rewarding to see that fans of more mainstream comics are picking up and really enjoying works like yours?
JT: Of course!
As cousins, were you making comics as kids together? When did you decide to pursue sequential art collaboratively?
MT: We lived in distant cities as kids, so there was little comics making. It wasn’t until we made our first mini comic of Skim back in…2006 (?) that we started working together.
How long has this idea been gestating, and how long did it take to actually script and illustrate This One Summer?
JT: It took probably 3 years in total. It took a year of solid work to do the final artwork.
MT: Roughly 6 months to script. Plus changes.
What was your working process on This One Summer? Especially since I understand you don’t live near each other? Was there an initial script first and then an art stage, or was it done in a more section by section basis?
JT: We Skyped a lot. Mariko scripts the dialogue with occasional actions. I do a sketch version. We edit it together, a lot. Then I do the final art.
Where were your individual high and low points in the creative process of this book? Were there any parts that drove you crazy or were difficult to pull off?
JT: The most difficult part was the editing of the sketch phase. As it is with any book, I’m sure.
When I started reading This One Summer, I almost thought it was autobiographical…do either of your personal experiences play a role in the story? Were any of the designs of the characters based on real people?
MT: Nope. There is an actual cottage area that inspired TOS, up in Georgian Bay, Ontario, which I highly recommend people visit.
What is it about the adolescent stage of life that attracts you?
MT: I think most people spend their whole lives trying to figure out how and what to be. As I understand it, it’s not something that stops with adulthood. I think adolescence is interesting because it’s the start of this process. Everything is just that much more on the surface that it is when you’re an adult.
I love how you use Rose and Windy watching horror movies as a kind of metaphor for seeing the world in a more adult way…are you big classic horror movie fans, or how did that aspect of the story develop?
JT: No, I am a chicken. It was easy for me to draw the freaked-out kids.
Your capturing of the pre-teen voice and body language is wonderful…where do you pull that from? Is it based on your memories, or did you embark on any research?
JT: I am fascinated by the storytelling potential of bodies. We are very attuned to what they are communicating and I like to stretch that to effect. Sometimes I get very hung up on tiny details that I’m sure no one will see, but I think it adds up to an overall sensitivity.
MT: I am a chronic eavesdropper. Although the other day on the subway I was pretty sure some kid called me out for doing it so, I’m going to have to learn to be a little less gleeful listening to teenagers talk.
Rose’s family is fraying apart for much of the book. Why was it important to highlight the onset of familial strife, particularly seen from the eyes of a younger character?
MT: Who doesn’t have a little familial strife in their lives these days? It would seem kind of weird to me not to include it, whether writing about kids or adults.
This One Summer is considered to be all-ages, but there are different elements that clearly resonate with adults, which sort of mirrors how Rose is beginning to see the world as well. Who do you feel is the intended audience for the book? Or do you feel like This One Summer is fairly wide-ranging in its appeal?
JT: I only think of a few ideal readers when I work on the book. Some of those readers are real people, some are imagined. They’re usually not young kids. Some are teenagers. Most are my age.
MT: I think a books audience is self selecting. I don’t see a 10 year old reading this book cover to cover. Beyond that I think the idea is to write about not for.
What made First Second your choice of publisher, and why return to them after Skim, specifically?
JT: Groundwood, which published SKIM, put out TOS in Canada, and they have done a wonderful job. First Second made sense in that they had very strong ties to the American library system, in addition to the Macmillan network. But I think it has been excellent having both publishers, as Groundwood can prioritize the Canadian industry. After all, we are Canadian authors and the content is largely Canadian.
How are your next individual projects coming along? Mariko, I understand you’re working on a new YA novel, and Jillian it sounds like you’ve got some more “irons in the fire” in addition to your work on Adventure Time.
JT: My webcomic “SuperMutant Magic Academy” comes out in book form in April from D&Q. Also in April, Youth in Decline is publishing a short story of mine called SexCoven. It will be part of their “Frontier” series.
MT: My next prose YA book, Saving Montgomery Sole, will be released by Roaring Brook/Penguin Canada in Winter 2016.
This One Summer is available through First Second and on sale at your local book retailer
By: Lindsey Morris
Lesson #1 : Appearances can be deceiving.
Help Us! Great Warrior is the latest effort from cartoonist Madeleine Flores, who took the strip from humble beginnings on Tumblr to the eight-issue limited series it now has with BOOM! Box. The comic found a strong following quickly when it was introduced online, so it’s no surprise that this new iteration has already seen acclaim and success. Who wouldn’t be able to relate to a lumpy warrior whose main concerns are looking cute, eating junk food, and defeating evil?
Lesson #2 : The sooner you beat the baddies, the sooner you can have dessert.
Flores and colorist Trillian Gunn create a landscape of pastel imperfection where monsters roam freely, sleepy time is mercilessly interrupted, and there is just never enough cake to go around. A cruel world, indeed. The titular Great Warrior is constantly called upon to help fight demons, but sometimes she just has better things to do, you know? All work and no play never worked out for anyone.
Lesson #3 : Honesty is the best policy.
From lamenting her lack of deodorant, to trying to pawn off heroic missions on her friends, Great Warrior is a charming goofball of a lead character. Her supporting cast of ladies, Hadiyah and Leo, bring personalities that help balance the levity of the book, offering more serious tones to the mix. Between the three of them, and Great Warrior’s new companion Buckets, they make a ragtag group of champions that will surely dominate the day in the issues to come.
Help Us! Great Warrior #1 is an excellent introduction to a great all-ages comic steeped in fantasy, snacks, and friendship.
By: Heidi MacDonald
Blog: PW -The Beat
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By Harper Harris
Andi Watson is a British cartoonist whose work has spanned from projects such as Dark Horse’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer to his creator owned work like Skeleton Key. In recent years, he’s moved into more youth-oriented material like Glister and Gum Girl.
Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula, his newest original graphic novel from First Second, centers on the title princess, and her struggles to run the monster-filled Underworld, in the wake of her layabout father doing little else than eating and complaining. After her father fires the chef, Princess Decomposia replaces him with a vampire baking whiz named Count Spatula. Their budding relationship is told within the pages of Watson’s latest offering.
I had an opportunity to sit down with Watson about the genesis of this new work, monsters, cooking, and his creative process.
What were your biggest influences on Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula? What was its genesis for you?
My biggest drive was to create an original graphic novel front to back. After a couple of decades of making comics I had never actually made a single volume that was over sixty-odd pages or hadn’t been serialised. I felt like it was a challenge I hadn’t overcome yet, and after making a lot of comics over the years, finding something fresh is always welcome. I also wanted to tell a story that combined the relationship and romance side of my work with fun genre things to draw. I’ve kind of flipped between the two, but in this book I put them together. So it was satisfying to write and a pleasure to draw.
How would you compare the process of working on Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula with your works just previous like Gum Girl or the Glister books?
I guess they are all stories with a beginning, middle and an end. That was good training before stepping into a hundred-and-sixty page book. I find figuring out structure and pacing beforehand really helps me. With Gum Girl it was with twenty page stories and I found that discipline really useful. Being concise is a handy skill in comics, and it helped keep me on track. What set this book and Glister apart from Gum Girl was the lack of a long gestation period. I find I do my best work by knuckling down and just getting on with a story. When I’m drawing the pages and am ‘in the zone’ I don’t want any hold ups. Delays of even a few days make it harder to get back to ‘peak fitness’ so I prefer to keep my head down and keep working. That doesn’t always fit in with the publishing process but it’s how I’m best able to concentrate and maintain focus.
Compared to Gum Girl, Princess Decomposia has a bit more of stripped down artistic style (particularly being in black and white), why that choice?
Gum Girl interior art
Funnily enough, if you look at the Gum Girl line art, they’re quite stripped down too. That’s because it’s a colour book and I wanted to have lots of open shapes to hold the colour and little to no black. Working with colour meant spending a lot of time squinting at a computer screen and I wanted to cut that back with Princess Decomposia. I aimed to have as much of the work complete on the page as possible – including the lettering – and as it’s set in the Underworld, the black and white art is appropriate. I was also determined to work on the pace and rhythm of the pages rather than get bogged down in rendering realistic stonework. If the reader is absorbing and understanding the story without even realising it, then I’ve done a good job. The art is there to tell the story, not draw attention to itself. Having said that, the most satisfying aspect of drawing a comic is bringing a character to life, getting their body language and facial expressions right. If I do that and do it concisely, so much the better.
What was your process in writing this book? Did you have a set place you wanted to the story to end up, or did you let the characters run with the themes you determined?
Starting a new book is the hardest part of the whole process. I find it intimidating. The beginning is always made up of page after page of scribbled notes. I might have characters, but no story, or an interesting setting, but no characters. Everything has to mesh and the themes grow organically out of the material. Plot and character have to interact and shape each other. It’s a bit like pushing a very heavy bicycle up a steep hill. At a critical point I know I have enough and the story starts to come together and I can cycle down the other side of hill. I like to have a structure in place and an ending. I make sure I have room to maneuver and if new and better ideas, or a better ending occur to me, I can incorporate that into the story.
A good deal of your work centers on female protagonists, particularly in your all-ages titles, what draws your creative voice to the opposite gender so often?
I guess it began way back when I made Skeleton Key. That was a reaction to what was on the shelves at the time: few female characters wearing fewer clothes. That’s changed quite a bit, not only are there more female characters but many more female creators. But I do enjoy drawing women and because gender stereotypes are pushed so heavily on women, I think they provide more dramatic story opportunities. Want to write a female physicist, plumber or warrior? That’s a story in itself.
Although done in an all-ages style, Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula definitely explores some grown-up problems…stress of work, delegating, the relationship with an older parent. Did you find maintaining a balance between the conflicts and the style difficult?
I think Princess Decomposia’s experience is one that kids and adults can relate to. A princess has a certain amount of privilege, but that is countered by her many responsibilities. A child understands having a parent in their life telling them what to do. An adult sees the responsibilities in their life that constrain their freedoms. The Princess is stuck between being a child and an adult and the story is about how she navigates that. I think a good story can appeal to everyone, there are different things that different age groups pick up on, stuff sitting under the surface.
You say in the back of the book that you make comics for “grown-ups and children and those somewhere in between.” What has led you down that unique path? Is it difficult to try to appeal to both children and adults?
It’s possible to make a book that appeals to both audiences, and it’d be nice to think that a parent and their child could find something to appeal to them in the same comic. It’s possible in movies and animation if you look at what Pixar have created, and I always return to Ghibli and their films as the best examples of that. As for myself, I’ve made books for kids and grown ups and enjoyed both. Breakfast After Noon was as challenging to make as Glister. They were equally fulfilling. I enjoy trying new things and although it makes career sense to find a niche and dig in, I’ve worked in different genres and looked for fresh challenges. That’s what keeps me interested in the medium, the freedom to work in different ways and tell all kinds of stories.
What were your inspirations for the designs and personalities of the characters, in particular the Princess, the Count, and the King?
The Princess arrived quite quickly in my sketchbooks. I knew I wanted iconic designs for the characters, being able to recognise them from their silhouettes. She has the distinctive bat-wing hair and puritan collar and cuffs in a nod to Wednesday Addams. The Count is a chef, so his outfit is the usual hat, jacket, necktie and checked trousers. He also has the smooth bald head and pointed ears like Nosferatu … his skin probably sparkles a bit too, like a sugar cube in sunlight. The King was tricky in that I needed him to look both old and healthy. So the shape of his face is rounded but within that he’s rather wizened. He also has the crown, so again, he’s recognisable from his outline.
Looking at your past works, you seem to have a soft spot for monsters, working on books like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hellboy, among others. Where did this love for monsters come from?
The monsters go even further back than that. There was a quilt monster, giant cat and hockey-playing Chinese hopping-vampires in Skeleton Key. The short answer is that they’re a lot of fun to come up with and a welcome change to draw. If my main characters are ‘human’ shaped then it’s a nice gear change to draw something unusual. And monsters are fun to write, even more so when they’re the protagonists, as in Princess Decomposia.
You also have done some coming of age and slice-of-life style stories…how did you decide to combine real life problems with the gothic setting of Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula?
The story and themes came naturally out of the characters. If the Princess is a dutiful daughter then I find it interesting to dig in and explore the relationships. If she has a certain kind of dynamic with her father then how will she react to Count Spatula? This spills out into the supporting characters like Clove the sous chef. If one character is overworked then Clove is the one who appears to have the balance right. It all goes into making the characters interesting and giving their actions a real-life foundation that readers can relate to.
Although a lot of the cooking in the book is fantastical in nature, did you do any research on cooking? I think what I’m really trying to ask here is… Andi, are you fond of cooking?
I’m a lousy cook but an enthusiastic baker. Nothing super fancy, but I began when my daughter was little and we’d have fun making fairy cakes and covering the kitchen with flour. I’d recommend it as a way to get into baking, there’s no pressure, it’s enjoyable and even a slightly scorched rock cake is delicious. Time is a consideration, so I don’t have hours to spend on delicate confections, but I love making cookies, cakes, tray bakes and buns. Those recipes are hard to mess up.
What made First Second Press the best place to publish Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula? How did all of this fall into place on the publishing side?
In retrospect it was a big risk making an entire graphic novel without a publisher on board and it wasn’t until it was finished that I began to look around and get an idea of my options. Because First Second are graphic novel publishers, have a strong record with books for different age groups and have published things like Anya’s Ghost, I decided to give them a go. I thought they’d be a good fit, but publishing being the contrary beast it is, figured they’d give it a pass. I was delighted when they decided to go with it, and against expectations, things moved really quickly. I’ve really enjoyed working with the team there, it’s been a delight.
For readers of Princess Depcomposia, what are you hoping is their key takeaway from your work here?
I hope it’s a fun and entertaining read for everyone, with attractive art and a sweet story. I’d also like to think that there’s more than that under the surface for those who want to come back for seconds.
What are your future plans after this big release?
I have a webcomic, Princess at Midnight that finishes at the end of January. It’s been years in the making, a kind of Game of Thrones for kids, about sibling rivalry in a fantasy world. I’m hoping to find a publisher for that as it’d be lovely to get it in print. I’ve also completed a graphic novel for grown ups that I hope to find a home for this year. As for new stuff, I’ve finished writing a new spooky graphic novel that I’ll start drawing soon. And if Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula finds an audience, I’d love to do more with those characters.
Gabrielle Bell is having an art sale on most of the July Diary that makes up jher book Truth is Fragmentary. Pages are a reasonable $100, shipping included. Bell is having the sale as a fundraiser, and while it’s neat to be able to get original art by a great cartoonist for next to nothing, it’s also telling that a cartoonist of Bell’s stature still has to sell art to makes ends meet. NYC, you’re bumming me out in a supreme fashion.
Bell also posted a new comic visible in the link.
By: Heidi MacDonald
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By Harper Harris
In one of the most visually and emotionally striking films nominated for Best Animated Short Film at this year’s Academy Awards, The Dam Keeper has garnered a lot of well-deserved praise. The creators, Robert Kondo and Daisuke “Dice” Tsutsumi, have worked as art directors on such films as Toy Story 3, Ratatouille, and Ice Age, but got together to create The Dam Keeper as a very personal short film, and it shows. The film, done in a gorgeous painted style with almost no words, is unique and heartbreaking despite its short running time of only 18 minutes. What’s more exciting than such a great short? Why, how about a series of graphic novels by the creators, published through First Second, that explores this world?
The Dam Keeper is set in a sort of post-apocalyptic world with anthropomorphic people living in a valley, the only safe haven from the dark and dangerous clouds that surround it. Keeping this darkness at bay is Pig, a young boy with no family who must wind the windmill every day to blow back the clouds. In the short, he meets a girl his age, Fox, and through a series of wordless interactions, they become friends. However, a misunderstanding causes a rift between the two that has drastic consequences for the entire valley, which leads to the dramatic climax. Kondo and Tsutsumi recently announced that they plan to elaborate on the world of The Dam Keeper through a series of new graphic novels. I got a chance to speak with both creators to hear about this interesting cross-media expansion on their celebrated short film. The below answers come from the team collectively.
Where did the initial idea for the short film spring from?
The Dam Keeper was our first effort to write and direct together as a team. Initial ideas of an unsung hero in a polluted world went through different variations in discovering our creative process. Along the way, we rediscovered a childhood folktale, The Little Dutch Boy, about a boy whose little act of sacrifice ended up saving his town. We wondered, “What if our character held the responsibility of saving his town not just once but every day?”How did you decide on the very unique visual style for the short film?
We spent time thinking about what might distinguish us as a team. Because we worked closely together for over seven years at Pixar and had influenced each other’s artwork, we actually could paint like each other. This made us unique within the art department there and it felt like the unique thing we could apply to our film. Not to mention, creating a painted look seemed a more natural route for us at the time than building a 3D CG pipeline.
With over 8,000 painted stills, it must have been a painstaking process! How long did the film take to create?
The actual production and post-production ran for 9 months — a long process, but considering we all had full-time jobs during the day, it was an extremely well run production thanks to our producers Megan Bartel and Duncan Ramsay.
Part of what makes the short so interesting is how little we as an audience really know about the circumstances in this world where a dark cloud constantly threatens the valley beneath. What made you decide to explore this world more deeply?
For us, on one level, the dark cloud represents our character’s internal demon. On another level, it also speaks to us quite literally, and so we have always imagined other cities and people living on the other side of the dam. It feels natural for us to explore how different societies might deal with this deadly fog and how the particular inhabitants of each civilization would have their own respective social issues, just as we saw with Pig’s idyllic-seeming town in the short.
Speaking of, will the book series focus primarily on Pig’s future as he grows up, or will there be a look into the past of this world as well?
There will be elements of both, with a very emotional storyline for Pig and his friends set against the ticking time bomb of their polluted world. But there will be a lot of laughter along the way, too.
One of the many things that makes The Dam Keeper so endearing is its lack of dialogue…do you plan to keep the companion graphic novels in the same silent style?
Dialogue will be an important addition to the story and we hope to use it while maintaining the feeling and tone of the short.
Will these companion pieces be graphic novels in a comic book style, or more along the lines of illustrated novels?
Much as we did with the short, we are exploring different ways to execute this new form of storytelling, not just in terms of format but as a team, since we haven’t done a book together before.
Why a graphic novel series to continue the stories in this whimsical world instead of, for example, an animated series?
We are concurrently pursuing an animated feature adaptation of The Dam Keeper. Our company, Tonko House is open to telling stories in different formats. We believe graphic novels are different than films, but are great vehicles for narrative just the same. We are inspired by stories like Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki‘s This One Summer and Gene Luen Yang‘s American Born Chinese.
What kind of adventures can we hope to see Pig, Fox, and Hippo get into?
Pig and Fox’s adventures will be epic, wondrous, revelatory and daunting all at the same time — they will be taken out of their element and challenged as they come of age. And they will be joined on this journey by a most unexpected ally or enemy, depending on whose point of view it is.
What inspired you to jump the story ahead to their teen years rather than continuing to explore their youth?
The early teen years are such an interesting rite of passage, when innocence challenged by one’s awareness of the world forces growth in character. The underlying story is based upon a personal anecdote that fits well at this point in our characters’ lives as they are forced to engage with who they are and who they want to be.
While the short covers some darker territory, it maintains a childlike tone that is both charming and quite beautiful; can we expect the story to get a little more adult in tone in the continued story as the characters grow older?
We believe in the balance of light and darkness, and we will strive to capture both to connect with international audiences of all ages. We want the choices our characters make to have real consequences, whether it is neglecting your responsibility and letting the darkness in, or something new and possibly more far-reaching. We feel that if our characters and their motivations ring true, then this journey of boys becoming men will be enjoyable by many regardless of age.
How did you come to choose First Second as the publisher for this series?
We are big fans of First Second first and foremost as readers. As creators, since conceiving the larger story of The Dam Keeper, we have been searching for the right people to work with in both film and publishing to help protect it and take it to the highest level of work we are capable of. When we met our editor, Mark Siegel, there was an instant connection and the kind of partnership we had sought after. We feel we are in great hands to learn this new medium for Tonko House.
How many books do you foresee being in the series?
It’s a bit of wait and see!
Do you feel that you may hand the reins over to a different writer or artist at some point to let them explore this world, or will this always be a personal project for the two of you?
We would most likely always be involved with how the world of The Dam Keeper expands. The story we are working on now is based on our own personal life experiences, and we hope any artists or writers we work with will bring the same level of personal investment and motivation into this world. Coming from big feature animation studios where teamwork is essential, we hope always to collaborate with and learn from other artists since those experience have proven to be extremely rewarding time and time again.
When can we expect the first book to release? Where can fans follow both of you and your work?
We’ll be working around the clock to have the books ready as early as possible.
Any news related to The Dam Keeper will be found here:
The first of two graphic novel sequels to The Dam Keeper will arrive in 2016 from First Second.