Vendela Vida is a force to be reckoned with. She's written four novels and one book of nonfiction; she's a founding editor of the Believer and a cofounder of 826 Valencia, plus she's done some screenwriting. Her newest novel, The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty, is her strongest work yet. In this moving, darkly funny, beautifully [...]Add a Comment
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Blog: PowellsBooks.BLOG (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
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Blog: PW -The Beat (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
JacketFlap tags: Cartoonists, Indies, Interviews, Television, Top News, Adult Swim, babycakes, brad neely, China, creased comics, daniel Weidenfeld, dave newburg, il, professor brothers, Add a tag
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.Add a Comment
Blog: PW -The Beat (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
JacketFlap tags: Comics, Conventions, Crowdfunding, Diversity, Fandom, Interviews, Kickstarter, Top News, comics convention, flame con, Geeks OUT, geeksout, Interview, joey stern, LGBTQ, queer, Add a tag
Back in November, queer nerd organization Geeks OUT launched a kickstarter campaign to fund the creation of a convention by queer nerds, for queer nerds. A month later they’d far exceeded their $15k goal, raising nearly $20,000 to make their con a reality. I spoke with Joey Stern about what led him start Geeks OUT, how that led to Flame Con, and what queer geeks and their allied communities can expect from New York City’s first ever LGBTQ comic convention on June 13.
Edie Nugent: Tell me a little about your role at Geeks OUT and how you got involved with the organization.
Joey Stern: We founded Geeks OUT in 2010 after New York Comic Con. There was only queer panel that year and it was so packed that you had to stand in the back just to be there.
We wanted to make an organization that connected these fans, and gave them a more than once a year event to gather and see each other. We also wanted to make NYCC a gayer place, so we held events and parties as we fund raised to get enough money for a table.
It was really intense, but a year later, we debuted at NYCC with monthly queer comic/geek events and a table where people could come and find a group for themselves.
Nugent: So how did you decide to make the leap from that to putting on an entire convention?
Stern: We and the board of Geeks OUT felt like it was a natural progression and an opportunity to introduce an existing queer audience to amazing queer and ally artists and creators.
There’s so much out there now, it’s really hard to find a lot of the stuff that’s made for you, and Flame Con offers a connection for people and creators to meet and find new passions.
It also creates connections and empowers queer fandom, which is an important part of what we do.
Nugent: Why do you think comic book fandom appeals to the queer experience?
Stern: There really is no art like Comic Books. It’s not only informative, but it offers a lot more context for the writers’ words than traditional books do (or paintings offer on their own). They also have an indie experience, and like queer culture, were for a long time considered the realm of weirdos and freaks.
Comics in general are often about exploring new worlds and future tomorrows. And I think that idea is really appealing to anyone who has experiences of being on the outer edge of polite society.
For me, the X-men’s construct of creating new family, and finding friendship with people like you was really informative.
Nugent: You really leveraged queer fandom to launch Flame Con, raising almost $20k for the event. Were you surprised by how much support you received?
Stern: Yeah! Oh man, it was terrifying, we were worried the whole thing was going to fail, but people really came out to support us and this effort. It just shows how vibrant and important this community is.
Nugent: Do you think recent media attention on sexual harassment at cons, especially of cosplayers, helped identify a real need for a more progressive type of con experience?
Stern: Sure! But I think a lot of that work has been done by cosplayers coming to the media. It’s been really amazing to see people having that conversation and pushing for safer spaces (and to see cons, like NYCC respond positively to those changes).
Nugent: What are some programming highlights from Flame Con that you’re excited about?
Stern: We’re excited to be putting on all sorts of programming – hopefully something for everyone! A panel about writing for LGBT teens hosted by award-winning author David Levithan, a Q&A with Steve Orlando, writer of DC’s upcoming Midnighter series (DC’s first ongoing title to feature a gay man as a lead character,) a great panel on queer horror with Mark Patton, star of the infamously queer Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge and Cecil Baldwin, voice of the hit podcast Welcome to Night Vale, a panel about looking at Sherlock Holmes from a queer perspective, a discussion with some up-and-coming industry pros about costume design, and lots more. We’re really packing something interesting into every minute of this con! There’s also a performance from Sarah Donner!
Nugent: What makes Flame Con different from other cons that aren’t queer-centric?
Stern: It’s tailored to its audience. All Gender bathrooms, queer artists and creators taking center stage, and panels that are not Gay 101, but a bit more focused.
Nugent: How so?
Stern: Bigger cons have panels focused on Gay Artists, we have panels focused on writing Gay Sherlock Fan Fiction.Add a Comment
Blog: Manga Maniac Cafe (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
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This morning I have an interview with Debbie Mason, author of Wedding Bells in Christmas. Be sure to enter the giveaway, too!
What’s one thing you won’t leave home without? Cell phone.
Name three things on your desk right now. Lilacs, a cup of coffee, and at least a hundred scraps of paper with notes for my new proposal scribbled on them.
What’s your favorite snack when you’re working on a deadline? Chocolate.
If you could trade places with anyone for just one day, who would you be? My oldest daughter. She’s studying at King’s College in London, England.
You have been granted the use of one superpower for one week. Which power would you choose, and what would you do with it? Time travel. I’d travel back to 18th century Scotland in hopes of finding Jamie Frazer. Yes, I know he’s a fictional character, but a girl can dream.
WEDDING BELLS IN CHRISTMAS by Debbie Mason (May 26, 2015; Forever Mass Market)
To have and to hold from this day forward
Wedding bells are ringing in the charming town of Christmas, but not for Vivian Westfield. She’s just had her heart trampled under the cowboy boots of Chance McBride and lost her dream job at a big-city newspaper. But when she returns for a wedding, she stumbles on a story that could resurrect her career. First, though, she’ll have to deal with the handsome man standing in her way . . . and a still-burning flame that’s too hot to ignore.
Chance recognizes trouble when he sees it. He just didn’t expect to find it in the first-class cabin on the flight home for his father’s wedding. Yet there she is, as gorgeous as ever. Vivi dared Chance to want things he knew he could never have. It’s why he left her. But Christmas’s meddling matchmakers have them firmly in their sights. So if they want to survive the next week, they’ll have to play the part of an adoring couple-an irresistible charade that may give them a second chance at the real thing . . .
About the author:
Debbie Mason is the bestselling author of the Christmas, Colorado series. Her books have been praised for their “likable characters, clever dialogue and juicy plots” (RT Book Reviews). She also writes historical paranormals as Debbie Mazzuca. Her MacLeod series has received several nominations for best paranormal as well as a Holt Medallion Award of Merit. When she isn’t writing or reading, Debbie enjoys spending time with her very own real-life hero, their four wonderful children, an adorable grandbaby, and a yappy Yorkie named Bella.
Social Media Links:
“I thought we’d already settled this, Slick.” His hand wrapped around the neck of the bottle, he moved it between them. “You and me, we’re together now.”
“We are, but I wasn’t sure if that meant you wanted me to—”
She bowed her head when he gave his a frustrated shake, set his beer bottle on the dock, and got to his feet.
He held out his hand. “Come on.”
“No, I want to talk about this.”
“We will, once I have you naked and in my arms.”
She smiled and patted the blanket. “We can do that right here.”
He kept his eyes on her as he undid his shorts and stripped them off. “In the water. Now.” Without waiting for her response, which she was having trouble forming due to the delectable view he provided, he turned around, giving her a brief look at his muscled back, tight backside, and powerful legs before diving into the water.
He reappeared moments later, looking like he belonged on a movie set or in a magazine as he smoothed his hair back from his gorgeous face with his hands. “Come to me.”
There was something beneath the command in his deep voice that had her rising to her feet. Her eyes locked to his as she walked to the edge of the dock. The dancing moonlight shimmered across the water, illuminating his serious, almost pained expression. For some reason this was important to him. Maybe he needed to know she trusted him to take care of her, to protect her.
She looked into the dark depths. Oh God, she really didn’t want to get in the water. But from day one this man had pushed her out of her comfort zone. Why did she expect him to change now? Taking a deep breath, she loosened her towel, letting it drop to her feet.
“Jesus, God,” Chance said, his voice gruff, his eyes drinking her in.
He’d seen every inch of her body, kissed and caressed it, too, but the way he looked at her now felt strangely more intimate. She lifted her hands, about to cover herself, but dropped them to her sides when he said, “Don’t ever hide yourself from me. You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, Vivi Westfield. I . . .” He had that pained look on his face again, then he smiled and held up
his hands. “I’ll catch you.”
Vivi didn’t let herself think; she just closed her eyes and jumped.Add a Comment
Blog: Brooklyn Arden (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
JacketFlap tags: Behind the Book, Books I Edit, Editing, Interviews, Add a tag
Megan Morrison and I met in 2003, via our mutual friend Melissa Anelli of the Harry Potter fan site The Leaky Cauldron, and I read an early draft of Grounded in 2004. I liked its characters and action a lot -- Rapunzel descending from her tower against her will, and traveling across the land of Tyme with a thief named Jack -- but to my eye, it didn't have enough emotional and world-building depth to elevate it from "cute and smart" to "real and meaningful," and I thought Meg could do more with it. So I told her that, in a three-page editorial letter, and offered to look at a revision when she was ready.
I did not think at the time--and nor did Meg--that this readiness would take eight years. But when she contacted me about the ms. again in 2012, she said that she had rewritten the book, "revised the rewrite, plotted the entire series in detail from back to front, and then revised it again. . . . Though the plot sounds similar to what it was, the book is very different, with a cast of characters who are fully realized and motivated, including the peripheral characters, who don't come to the fore until later books in the series. I love it and believe in it." I had never forgotten Grounded--and in fact had been hoping for this e-mail for eight years--so I asked to see it again.
And this time, I loved it and believed in it too, as Meg was 100% right in her estimation of her revised novel. I adore fairy tales in part because the transformations they contain speak to some of our deepest human stories and relationships, and my favorite retellings round out those transformations with complex psychology and world-building, while honoring the readerly pleasures of wonder or romance or connection at their heart. The new Grounded kept all the charm of Rapunzel and Jack's banter and the cleverness of the land of Tyme, whose history, geography, and even the resulting economics and sociology have all been fully thought through. But it achieved the reality and deeper meaning I'd been hoping for, thanks to Rapunzel's complex relationship with her Witch, whom she truly loves, and who has good reason to keep her in the tower; and Rapunzel's own process of growing up, finding out hard truths, and yet moving forward into wholeness. The book made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me intensely happy as a reader; and since it came out earlier this month, both Meg and I have been delighted by its critical reception -- including two starred reviews! -- which has praised both its many pleasures and that emotional depth. (It's also an Amazon.com Best Book of the Month for May.) Publishing it has reminded me yet again: Good things come to editors who wait.
Four more notes, before I share Meg's Five Questions:
- You can actually see a rare scene of the editor and author at work, sort of, in Melissa Anelli's Harry, A History. Page 79 documents a writing weekend among the three of us that took place at my apartment, where Meg was working on Grounded, Melissa was writing for the Leaky Cauldron, and I was editing A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth Bunce, another great fairy-tale retelling. (And also making pancakes.)
- This entire series of five-question posts was actually inspired by Meg herself, as she's written "Five Reasons to Read _________" posts like this one on her blog for years.
- Meg wrote about her side of this story at Literary Rambles and in this interview, which also reflects on her experience as a Harry Potter fan and a fanfiction author.
- And Meg and her friend Kristin Brown, who's a professional geographer, talk about their collaboration in creating "plausible geography" for Tyme in this fascinating interview.
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
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And a happy Thursday to you all. It’s May 21st and that means another episode of Fuse #8 TV is up and running. As per usual I kick the whole kerschmozzle off with a new edition of “Reading (Too Much) Into Picture Books”. Though I had a recent request to tackle The Giving Tree, I couldn’t find an adequate hook. Until I do, I find that the board book Subway by Anastasia Suen (illustrated by Karen Katz) has a spy thriller vibe going on just below its seemingly innocuous surface. Doubt me? Check it out.
As for our special guest, I was pleased as punch to speak to Geoff Rodkey. For years I’ve been a fan of his Chronicles of Egg series. Now he has a whole new bunch of books out, this time with Little, Brown. Beginning with The Tapper Twins Go to War (With Each Other), Geoff speaks frankly and honestly about his screenwriting life, publishers he’s dealt with, and the true nature of his work on the Carmen Sandiego video games.
All other Fuse #8 TV episodes are archived here.
Once more, thanks to Little, Brown for being my sponsor and helping to put this together.Add a Comment
Blog: Read Roger - The Horn Book editor's rants and raves (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
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Talks with Roger is a sponsored supplement to our free monthly e-newsletter, Notes from the Horn Book. To receive Notes, sign up here.
In Ava and Taco Cat, Carol Weston’s second book about sisters Ava and Pip, fifth-grader Ava negotiates some of tweendom’s most essential relationships: with your sister, your best friend, and your parents. Put a much-longed-for cat into the mix and you’ve got middle-grade drama at its most appealing.
Roger Sutton: How are you, Carol?
Carol Weston: I’m well, thank you. How are you?
RS: Just fine.
CW: I’m glad you’re calling me on pub day.
RS: What’s that like, pub day?
CW: This is not the first time I’ve had a book come out, but I think for first-time authors, you expect it to be Christmas morning or something, and sometimes it’s quiet. The book is in the stores, but it doesn’t mean that everybody has just finished reading it.
RS: Did you ever read Anne Lamott’s essay in Bird by Bird about book publication day? Where she talks about getting up in the morning and thinking it’s going to be great, and how she practices aw-shucks stubbing her toe in the dirt, preparing to receive all the compliments, and of course no one pays any attention whatsoever.
CW: I loved Bird by Bird. I’ve actually had forty letters published in the New York Times. It’s always exciting, and people do see them, but it’s not as though your phone rings in the morning. A week later people will say, “Oh, I saw you had a letter in the Times.” So I guess it’s good that I planned today to wake up, read the paper, go to the gym.
RS: I think it can be hard these days, with social media, because there can be such quick response to things, and when you don’t get it…
CW: Oh, it is such a noisy world. It’s amazing any of us gets any attention. I’m probably better taking it in stride and having realistic expectations. That said, if I’m having a book event I work pretty hard to let people know. I don’t just hope that the bookstore will fill up all by itself. Bookstores appreciate it when authors know that they have to do their part. If you have a book event in your hometown, or a place where you have friends, and you let your friends know, then you’re probably good to go. But if you have a book event in Indianapolis and you don’t know anybody, then even famous authors have to hope for the best.
RS: What do you find are the special challenges, both artistically and in terms of promoting the second book in a series?
CW: You know, it’s funny. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky and I, together, have decided that we’re not necessarily calling this a series, maybe because of those challenges. For instance, the New York Times gave the first book, Ava and Pip, a lovely review, but they may or may not mention a second book in a series.
CW: Unless it’s Harry Potter. On the other hand, as we were just saying, it’s hard to get noticed at all, so if you can get your first book in the series to be noticed, to land, then it’s nice. Kids love series books. If they like the first one, they’ll gobble them up. Child and parent are both happy to see another one in the bookstore. I’m already very far along in the third book, which will be called Ava XOX. Each book needs to work as a standalone, but I love that I created this whole world, Ava’s town of Misty Oaks. I hope to keep writing brand-new books, but I also like finding my way back into the same characters, the same family.
RS: Do you find you have to do any particular kind of extra work, because there are going to be some readers who read the first book and some who haven’t? How do you balance the expectations of those two groups?
CW: Pretty carefully. I will have a few lines that are there to amuse the fans, but I have to be sure never to confuse the new readers. So I’ll say something like “My big sister Pip, who used to be so, so shy…” To somebody who’s read the first book, that’s practically the entire plot of it. You know, I met Sue Grafton before she became Sue Grafton.
RS: What letter is she up to?
CW: I think she’s up to — X has not come out. W Is for Wasted I definitely read, and I think X has not come out. We became friends back in Columbus, Ohio, and we’re still very good friends. I read A Is for Alibi in manuscript form, and now she’s up to W, so I have watched her deftly reintroduce Kinsey Millhone in each book. I’ve been able to learn at the hands of a master.
RS: She has it tough, too, because she’s got to finish the alphabet. She must have realized by about F or G that she was in it for the long haul, whereas you can keep going with Ava or not.
CW: That’s true. And even my editor — I love my editor; his name is Steve Geck — he and I both are thinking, well, maybe we’ll keep going, or maybe not, but I love that he’s given me the open invitation. I am under contract to write one more Ava book, and also one non-Ava book, but I said to him, “I love hanging out in Misty Oaks.” I love that he wants me to be taken seriously as a literary writer, so he doesn’t want me to get pigeonholed, but neither of us is going to leave Ava and Pip hanging if we’re both still enjoying working with them. I appreciate that it’s not set in stone.
RS: I think it’s very interesting the way you have these very standard, child-appealing motifs, like getting a new pet, dealing with your sister, and what happens when your best friend gets a new best friend. But those are all complicated in interesting ways in this book. Like the fact that the sisters are only two years apart. Often you’ll see more of an age difference in that kind of a story, so that one is clearly a teenager and one is clearly not. Here we see the way the sisters’ interests blend and diverge throughout the book. It goes back and forth. I thought that was neat.
CW: Thank you. Well, as you may know, I’m also the Dear Carol advice columnist for Girls’ Life magazine. I’ve been doing that for twenty-one years. And I’m the mother of two daughters (now grown up), so I happen to be acutely aware of what it means to be an eleven-year-old girl versus a thirteen-year-old girl versus a fifteen-year-old girl. If I were writing about boys, I’d probably struggle with that a little bit more. But with girls, I know every little step along the way. I like the idea of the girls who are in between, who aren’t kids, but they’re not teens. Ava’s sister Pip is still pretty darn young, but, yeah, she’s got herself a boyfriend. It’s pretty innocent, but it’s important.
RS: About the pet adoption — I wanted to thank you for showing how difficult the period of adjustment is. We got a dog a couple years ago — rescue dog — and he was very shy and scared in the shelter, and they said, “Oh, you get him home and he’ll warm right up.” Well, it took two years.
RS: Six months living in the closet. We’d go for walks and then come in and he’d march to his little closet and sit there and look at us. So I love that you show that it’s not going to be this wonderful bonding as soon as you get them in the door, which I think some kids expect.
CW: It does take a while. Everything’s gradual. Everything’s baby steps.
RS: The other thing I wanted to ask you, both in terms of this book and your position as an advice columnist for girls, is why do you think we see so many middle-grade dramas for girls mining these stories of three-way friendships? I’m a guy. It didn’t really work for us like that as boys. But for girls, it’s huge.
CW: Do you mean why in real life, or why there are so many books about that?
RS: I guess both.
CW: It is so hard for girls. That first friendship: “We’re best friends.” It’s almost like being a couple. So when all of a sudden there’s somebody else, you’re kind of like, “Huh?” Most adults know how to navigate friendships, and if our friend makes another friend, well, that’s certainly fine. But when you’re a child, and your best friend makes another friend at camp or school, it feels like an earthquake. It shouldn’t be devastating, and eventually kids learn that you don’t have to like all of your friend’s friends. You and your friend just have to like each other. But that’s a lesson you have to learn. I get so many letters about it. When I write my fiction I don’t want it to be all laden with takeaway messages, but I know what kids think about because of the advice column, and I can’t help wanting to help them.
RS: So how do you keep on this side of the line, so that you’re not preaching or being didactic about how a person should be with her friends?
CW: You create realistic characters and add humor. In my advice column, I really can’t be very funny. I think adult advice columnists can be, but eleven-year-olds do not want humor about bras or boyfriends or anything like that. I’ve learned to just make it very sincere and earnest. But in fiction I can be funny, and that’s helpful.
RS: Why do you think that is? I think you’re right, but why do you think that kids can accept it in fiction, whereas they couldn’t in straight-on advice?
CW: With an advice person, they want somebody very safe, where they can say, “My right breast is smaller than my left breast” or “I like my best friend’s boyfriend. I’m a terrible person.” They don’t want to know whether the advice columnist has a sense of humor. It’s just too important. A kid finally admitting something — they just want you to give them the equivalent of a big hug and a bunch of wisdom, to tell them that it’s okay, and they’re not the only one, and here are some ideas.
With fiction, kids want to laugh. They want to learn, but they also want to laugh. They want to just turn the pages and have fun. It’s a different animal. As far as not preaching, I’m also lucky—and it’s a luck that I’ve worked for—in that I have a group of friends of all ages, kids and grownups, who read my work. If I’m getting a little heavy-handed about anything, they’ll say so. And this includes my husband and my kids. They will give me very honest feedback
RS: Do you find that these readers have pointed out something consistently to you so that you think, “Oh, yeah, I really need to work on this?”
CW: Yes. In the old days, because I’m an advice columnist, I would get my characters in trouble and then quickly help them out. By now I’ve learned that when I’m writing fiction, you get your characters in trouble, and you keep them in trouble for a long time. You throw more obstacles at them, and make them suffer. I hate making an eleven-year-old girl suffer. I try to help her out as much as I can. I surround her with lifesavers.
RS: That’s interesting, because that’s almost the same thing as what you’re saying about humor. That in real life, of course you want to help a child as quickly as you can, but in fiction, kids want to see other kids get in trouble, just as they want to be able to laugh at the characters they read about. Because there’s a distance between them and the character in the book. It’s not them.
Do you see a lot of yourself in Ava?
CW: I really wasn’t a big reader in fifth grade. I admired kids who were, and my best friend was a bookworm, but I was just a kid with a diary for the longest time. I would read the schoolbooks, but pleasure reading wasn’t something that I really did. I did read Aesop’s Fables, but they’re really short. There is a lot of me in Ava. I’m certainly a cat person. It’s funny: it’s my fourteenth book, but this is the first time I’ve written about a fifth-grade girl with a diary and a cat. You’d think I would have written that one already.Add a Comment
Blog: Read Roger - The Horn Book editor's rants and raves (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
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Horn Book Editors: We’d like to know: Is that Roger our Roger?
Anita Eerdmans: Yes and no. In the original Dutch, the main character is called simply Neighbor (Buurman). One of our acquisitions team members objected to the impersonal nature of it and suggested we give Neighbor a name — maybe something alliterative with the title. Something like… “Roger.” Those of us who know Roger Sutton were immediately struck by the character’s uncanny likeness (bowtie and all). And so to our great delight, “Neighbor” became “Roger” (with thanks to the Belgian publisher, De Eenhoorn, who allowed the change).
From the May/June 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
The post Publisher Anita Eerdmans on Roger Is Reading a Book appeared first on The Horn Book.Add a Comment
Blog: Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
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“Because both Skye and Batty grew out of parts of my personality (as did Jane and Rosalind, though not so much), some of the tensions between the two sisters came from internal struggles of my own. … [W]riting about Batty’s struggles was hard. I had to spend a lot of time re-living scared and lonely parts of my childhood.”
Over at Kirkus today, I talk to author Jeanne Birdsall, pictured here, about the latest novel in the Penderwick series, The Penderwicks in Spring (Knopf, March 2014).
That link will be here soon.
Until tomorrow …
Photo of Jeanne taken by William Diehl and used by her permission.Add a Comment
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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.
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.
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!Add a Comment
Blog: Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
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You may have seen this recent Horn Book article by Betsy Bird on illustrators who come from an animation background. Today’s visiting illustrator, Ovi Nedelcu, is one of those, and he’s here today to share artwork and talk about his experiences.
Ovi, a character designer and story artist who lives in Portland, has been working in animation full-time for the past fifteen years for various studios, such as WB, Disney, Cartoon Network, and Sony — but mostly at LAIKA, working on both Coraline and The Boxtrolls. He’s not new to publication—his first published work was for DC comics back in 1998, and since then he’s published a comic book series and has illustrated a couple of picture books—but Just like Daddy (POW! Kids Books), out on shelves now, is his debut as an author-illustrator. It’s the story of one preschooler’s grand perceptions of his father’s day, juxtaposed with the everyday reality of his 9-to-5 job. It’s a warm story propelled by Ovi’s expressive cartoon art.
Ovi also talks about the book below, so let’s get right to it. I thank him for visiting.
The book is basically about the relationship between a boy and his father. It’s a boy’s perception of what it’s like to be a grown-up — and the reality thereof. This is one book I really feel gives both the child and the adult something to enjoy and smile about while reading it. There is a take-away for both.
The idea came to me by just observing things my kids would mimic throughout the day. They would copy things I would do, like fold my legs, push-ups, put on my shoes, etc. My wife would point out how cute it was that they were trying to do things “just like daddy,” and that’s when it hit me as a good idea for a picture book.
It affects it in a couple of ways, I think.
One of them is speed. You have to get things done “yesterday,” so you don’t really have too much time to sit around and second-guess yourself too much. You have to go with your gut and just get the work done.
The second thing I learned in animation (from doing storyboards, particularly) is to not be too precious about my drawings initially. I draw probably thousands of storyboards on any given film, and you have to be willing to throw away something you just drew in order to draw a better idea. The whole point is to get the film up in storyboards as fast as you can so you can get it wrong as fast you can and change/fix it. If we spent all our time rendering our storyboards so that they look pretty but don’t really tell the best story in the animation reel (rough cut of the film in storyboards), then we just wasted all that time polishing storyboards we now have to throw out and re-draw.
So, to apply that to book-making is great, because I can rough out a book in a day or less and then take a look at it and fix the story structure before I even worry about tones or useless details that will change as the story evolves and gets better. If you spend a lot of time on rendering your sketches or drawings, then you start to become attached to them and it will be harder to toss them out and start over to get a better idea and story across. Remember, story is king. Focus on the story, not the rendering. If the story doesn’t work, the rendering won’t make it better.
I try and focus on the visual story structure, character development, staging, compositions, pacing, and word play — and then add the details and rendering later. If it doesn’t work in a sketch, it won’t work in an illustration. It might look pretty, but there will always be something “wrong” with it. You can’t cover up a story with fancy words the same way you can’t cover up a bad illustration with fancy details.
The biggest difference is the complexity and intensity of the story. With a comic book, you get to elaborate on stories and really build things with characters, plot lines, subplots, and story arcs, like you would in a film. With picture books, you basically have to focus on one main theme or story point/issue and try and resolve it by the end. It’s hard to tell complex stories in picture books, because you are only allowed so much room to do so. You have to keep the audience in mind as well, which are kids and then adults. That’s not to say stories can’t have multiple layers of meaning; it’s just you have to really stay focused on that one issue.
I like using traditional mediums, like pencil, pen, paint, and such. I use acrylic, watercolor, oils, gouache, pastel, and color pencils — but I mostly paint digital, due to time and schedule. I have created a library of digital brushes that reflect the look of traditional media. I also try and paint digitally the same way I would if I was using real brushes, meaning I try not to use too many layers or manipulate the digital painting with effects or filters. I try and respect the process and use the same techniques and steps as I would if I were painting it traditionally, because I never want to lose that hand-crafted look or process to my work. I want to be connected to it as much as possible.
I also sketch in my sketchbook all the time. I always try and have it with me. I like using just a rich ballpoint pen.
The process of illustrating a book is really similar to storyboarding for a film. Once I’m done writing/outlining the book or if I’m illustrating a book someone else wrote, I start to do small thumbnails of the pages. I try and do them as simple (shapes and lines) as possible and not focus on details or rendering. I’m just laying down the basic composition and “feeling” of the illustration and trying to figure out what is the best way to capture the story point and the feeling of the piece. I ask myself questions like:
- What’s the story point/theme?
- What am I trying to communicate to the audience?
- How do I want them to feel?
- What is the feeling of the moment/illustration?
- What are the characters thinking/feeling?
- Why do they feel that way?
- What do the characters want/desire?
- What’s stopping them?
- What’s the conflict/problem/antagonist?
- What does the character learn?
- How do they change/grow?
Those are the type of questions I ask that inform what I put down on paper.
I try and use compositions and body language/gesture/silhouette, etc. to communicate the story point visually.
After I have my pages roughed out, I enlarge them to print size on the computer and digitally I go back and do a second pass over them and clean things up a bit. This is essentially my under drawing and what I paint over once I finish cleaning it up a bit. I try not to clean the drawing up too much, because I want there to be a bit of play and back and forth between the drawing and the painting so that the process still feels organic and hand-crafted as much as possible. I want the under drawing to be “clear” but not “clean,” meaning I want the pose or gesture to clearly read and communicate the idea — but I don’t want the drawing to be cleaned up to the point where it’s stiff and lifeless.
Once I start painting, I like to block in my BG, MG, FG with my color scheme. Then I go back in and paint BG to FG using only a few brushes. I don’t do any black and white value studies, I just go right into color and try and do the values with the color. Once I have all the basic shapes and forms painted in, I go back in and do a final detail pass over the illustration and try and emphasize the focal points.
JUST LIKE DADDY. Copyright © 2015 by Ovi Nedelcu. Published by POW! Kids Books, Brooklyn. All images here reproduced by permission of Ovi Nedelcu.Display Comments Add a Comment
Blog: Finding Wonderland: The WritingYA Weblog (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
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Children's Book Week was just last week, and thanks to First Second we're still celebrating--throughout April and May, MacTeenBooks has organized a massive multi-blog tour featuring Five Questions with a wide range of amazing cartoonists for kids... Read the rest of this postAdd a Comment
Blog: Pub(lishing) Crawl (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
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Welcome, Jenny, and thanks for stopping by! Tracked is your debut novel, and like many authors, your publication journey wasn’t all smooth sailing. Can you tell us about your road to publication? (Was this the book that got you your agent? Were there any roadblocks you hit that made you want to give up? etc…)
Hi, Erin! Thanks for having me on Pub Crawl, one of my favorite sites!
Let me preface my answer by saying…this is for all the struggling writers out there—those who are facing rejection and are almost ready to give up. I hope my story encourages you, and give you hope. I want you to know you’re not alone.
I started writing novels in 2009. In 2010, things seemed to be going pretty well. I’d already snagged my first agent, the good old-fashioned way, through a cold query. But truthfully, I wasn’t ready. My project had the tiniest glimmer of spark, but I didn’t know how to revise it or level up as a writer. I floundered so badly. But lucky for me, shortly after parting ways with my first agent, I signed with Sara Crowe. And that made all the difference on my path to publication.
You see, Sara is the perfect agent for strugglers like me. She doesn’t give up. If she believes in you, she’ll stick with you, even when you’re knocked to the mat, a time or two. When our first project didn’t sell, we tried another round. When it still didn’t sell, we tried another book. When even that didn’t sell, she remained tenacious and steadfast, encouraging me to start a new project. So I did. I wrote Tracked in 2011, and it sold in 2012, after quite a bit of editorial revision.
But the wait didn’t end there. Tracked was bumped, and then bumped a second time, and then nearly bumped again. (It’s nobody’s fault. It just business, and it happens more often than you might guess.) But now, nearly three years later, that book—the one that almost wasn’t—is here, and I couldn’t be more excited and thankful! It’s such a sweet victory to see it out in the world at last; I’m so proud of Tracked, and how far it’s come, thanks to everyone who believed in it and helped me nail down that final draft.
So the moral of the story is to just…keep…writing. Always be writing the next book. Always, always, always!
Such great advice. And thanks for your honesty. The internet can turn into a highlights reel where people only share good news. It’s easy to forget that every writer has their ups and downs.
Tracked is the first in a series, correct? Are you working on the sequels now? Something else?
I am working on the sequel. Final edits are almost here, and I’m so happy about this book. I’ve come so far, and so has Phee, the protagonist. I can’t wait for readers to see what happens next. This next chapter in her journey…It’s going to be so satisfying and bittersweet, I promise.
I’m also working on a new project, a dark, twisty, heartbreaking horror-slash-love story. I love this main character so much, and I can’t get him out of my head. I hope to share his story with readers someday soon.
You had me at horror-slash-love story! I can’t wait to read it! So what’s a typical writing day for you? Do you have any writing rituals?
Ha! I wish I could say I had a typical writing day, but between full-time work in the library and a full-time family, I just write whenever I can, wherever I can, especially on nights and weekends. And while I can write anytime, anywhere, I do tend to favor 10 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. drafting sessions in my big, comfy, red chair.
You’ve already shared so much great advice, but do you have anything else to share with aspiring writers?
I have two favorite bits of advice, and the first comes from my dear friend and fellow author, A. Lee Martinez. He says that artists only need two out of three things to succeed: Luck, Talent, and Persistence. So even if you’re luckless, if you keep honing your craft, and you never give up, something good is bound to happen.
The second piece of advice comes from my heart: No matter how many times you’re knocked down, always get back up. Get back up, and keep writing.
So true! You can’t succeed if you don’t keep writing! Now for a few quick Pub-themed questions… There’s a creeper at the pub! What are you reading to avoid him?
Why, Fine Cuisine for First Dates by Hannibal Lecter, of course.
Bahaha! And uh-oh. PUB BRAWL! What weapon are you wielding and why?
Unless I’m allowed to borrow Thor’s Hammer, I’d think I’d have to go with my dog-eared copy of Jeff Herman’s Guide to Publishers, Editors and Agents, 2010 edition. It’s pretty thick; one good hit to the head would probably do the trick, actually.
Thanks so much for asking me to visit, Erin. It was a pleasure, and it’s an honor to have your name on Tracked’s jacket!
And I was so honored to provide it!
To our Pub Crawl readers: Trust me, you do not want to miss this book. Here’s what I had to say about Tracked:
Deeply inventive, Tracked is an action-packed sci-fi with heart. Martin has crafted a world that feels familiar yet fresh, and her spitfire heroine shines as the galaxy’s newest street racing star. Sequel, please!
—Erin Bowman, author of the Taken trilogy
If that still isn’t enough to convince you to pick up a copy, check out the official synopsis:
The Fast and the Furious gets a futuristic twist in this action-packed debut!
On corporately controlled Castra, rally racing is a high-stakes game that seventeen-year-old Phoebe Van Zant knows all too well. Phee’s legendary racer father disappeared mysteriously, but that hasn’t stopped her from speeding headlong into trouble. When she and her best friend, Bear, attract the attention of Charles Benroyal, they are blackmailed into racing for Benroyal Corp, a company that represents everything Phee detests. Worse, Phee risks losing Bear as she falls for Cash, her charming new teammate. But when she discovers that Benroyal is controlling more than a corporation, Phee realizes she has a much bigger role in Castra’s future than she could ever have imagined. It’s up to Phee to take Benroyal down. But even with the help of her team, can a street-rat destroy an empire?
To celebrate Tracked‘s release, I’m giving away a copy to ONE lucky reader.
If the winner has a US mailing address, he/she can chose to receive a hardcover copy OR an ebook. For international addresses, this giveaway is for an e-copy only. Use the rafflecopter widget below to enter!
Happy belated release day, Jenny! I’m so happy Tracked is finally in the world and that readers can fall in love with Phee just as I did. Can’t wait for book #2!
Jenny Martin is an author and Texas school librarian. She lives in the Dallas/Fort Worth area with her husband and son, where she is an active member of the YA publishing community. Tracked is is her debut book. You can visit her online at readjennymartin.com.Add a Comment
Blog: PW -The Beat (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
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Welcome to MATT CHATS, where I (Matt) talk to a person of interest in the comic book industry every Tuesday at 4:30 PM Eastern. Today I am speaking with an industry veteran but relative necomer to the Image renaissance. When Brian Buccelleto offered the first two issues of his upcoming Image series Sons of the Devil (also a short film) to reviewers on a recent episode of the Word Balloon podcast, I jumped at the chance to read them and talk to him. As a fan of his collaborations with Francis Manapul on The Flash and Detective Comics, I was not disappointed, more than happy to discuss with Brian the differences between something on the screen and on the page, the effect crowdfunding has on financials and other aspects of the creative process.
Did you talk with Kyle Higgins about the process of bringing something from the screen to the comic book page?
He’s a really close friend of mine and so we talk about everything – including the process of filmmaking and comic books. That said, he helped me out a lot on the film. Shout out to Kyle!
How are your philosophies similar?
We love film and comics and want to do both. So I think everything we create is done with the hope of being able to tell the stories in both mediums.
What do you think are the pros and cons of doing a film simultaneously with a comic, as opposed to adapting a film years later like Higgins did?
I think the biggest pro for doing it simultaneously is that you can actually SEE the story come to life on screen, which informs what you do in the comic AS you are doing it. Having actors take your material, interpret it, and make it their own helps you see the characters in new and interesting ways. Also, in the case of Sons of the Devil, we were able to secure interesting locations and have visual reference that I then gave Toni in the script. I think there was a certain level of synergy with doing both comic and film together. For Kyle and C.O.W.L./The League, I think adapting it later allowed him distance to cherry pick the best elements of his short. Honestly, I don’t know if there is a downside to either. Making comics and films are each awesome experiences… getting to do BOTH is off the charts awesome.
What are some storytelling benefits of telling a story both on the comic page and on the screen?
I think the two mediums are similar but have their own inherent advantages in how the story is told. Film is a forward-moving visual medium where you experience the story with sight and sound. There is a momentum to films that you want to sustain because you HOPEFULLY have the viewer’s undivided attention and you want to keep it. It’s more of a sensory experience for the viewer. Comics are also visual, but are experienced at a pace dictated by the reader. There is no captive audience. In some ways that’s a disadvantage… but the benefit of a comic is that a reader can spend as much time on a single page as he/she wants. And the reader can go back and re-read and really digest the material without it hurting the experience.
What kind of audience did the Kickstarter attract? Was it more composed of fans of films or comics?
It was mostly comprised of fans of my work, who were intrigued by my transmedia concept.
Does the fact that the comic was funded through a Kickstarter campaign change the financials of the series at all? Because of the Kickstarter, for example, is the sales threshold lower?
II I don’t think being a Kickstarter project has any bearing on sales thresholds. In the case of SOTD, almost all of the funds we got went into the budget of the short film – which ended up costing more than what we got from Kickstarter. So financially speaking, the Kickstarter didn’t pay for the ongoing series. I had to get financial support from other means. But Kickstarter allowed me to start the comic book and get far enough down the road to pitch it to Image. This allowed me to take the concept from its initial plan as a one-shot to becoming an ongoing series.
Kickstarter is as much about marketing tool nowadays as it is a way to amass funds. How big of an impact do you think the campaign has had on the visibility of the work?
Honestly, I don’t know how directly Kickstarter will factor into the marketing of the book. I had approximately 250 backers, so I don’t think that number will significantly impact the sales number for issue 1.
For any artists looking to be discovered, can you describe how you searched for an artist for Sons of the Devil?
I feel VERY lucky. I was searching an international portfolio website called Behance when I came across Toni Infante’s work. I also tried DeviantArt and inquired using social media.
What were some of the challenges of working with a less experienced artist?
Honestly, I don’t look at his art or our lack of American comic credits and think “less experienced.” He is a professional artist with an amazing skillset, and I haven’t had any challenges that you might associate with a new artist.
Were there any benefits?
Only that I get the honor of working with him.
Was it hard letting go of the coloring duties for Sons of the Devil?
Not really. I’ve been coloring for 20 years and have had my fill. Of course, him showing me great coloring samples helped to make the decision easy.
You’re perhaps best known in the comics scene for your collaborations with Francis Manapul. Has it been difficult in any ways to be seen as a writer in your own right?
Not really. I made the decision to do my own solo stuff very early on, so that I could carve out my own identity as a writer. I self-published a book called Foster early on in our Flash run and did a 12-issue Black Bat story for Dynamite. I think it took a little more time for me to build trust within DC editorial so that they saw me as an individual in collaboration with Francis and not just the guy that he brought in to help. But to their credit, they have been very supportive of me and have allowed me amazing opportunities to shine on my own with Rogues Rebellion, Injustice and a few solo arcs on Flash. Oddly enough, I think Francis has had a tougher time being seen as a writer because he is such an amazing artist that it overshadowed his own writing chops. But he IS a writer/storyteller and has future plans to do his own solo stuff.
What are your hopes for Sons of the Devil professionally, creatively and personally?
Personally and creatively, I am always trying to grow as a writer and tell personal stories that resonate. So my hope is that each project I do is better than the last. Professionally, I would love for SOTD to be an ongoing series AND a television series.
Do you think the amount of great output from Image Comics good for business, or does it make it harder for your book to stand out?
I think there is always room for good books from every corner of publishing. The Image brand is obviously something any creator would want to be associated with. The amount of quality content that Image puts out means that retailers and fans will be more likely to try the book because Image’s track record is a promise of quality. As far as standing out among the other great books, I think that’s a challenge no matter how many books Image is publishing. There are 400 books that come out in a given month… so standing out is bound to be a challenge,
What’s the most exciting part of taking the plunge with a creator-owned series from Image?
Being able to tell the stories I want to tell EXACTLY how I want to tell them. Unfiltered.
You can find Brian on Twitter and his name on issues and trades in comic shops across the world.Add a Comment
Blog: A Chair, A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
JacketFlap tags: ALA, ASCLA, interviews, Add a tag
One of the ALA groups I'm a part of is ASCLA, the Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies.
ASLCA's newsletter is Interface, available online. And I was highlighted in their recent Member Spotlight!
So if you want to know about the library job that pays the bills, head over to the ASCLA Newsletter.
Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.
© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy Add a Comment
Blog: Sarah McIntyre (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
JacketFlap tags: interviews, Add a tag
Writer Emma Newman hosts the most excellent podcasts called Tea and Jeopardy with her butler, Latimer, and I got to dress up, visit their chequerboard palace and have a chat with them. And I got to bring along someone special...
Do have a listen! I have a bit of a schoolgirl crush on Emma's dulcet tones; she has the most melodic speaking voice you'll ever hear. She designs and wears gorgeous costumes, and we both outdid ourselves for this podcast. It's half an hour long, and be prepared for some Light Peril.
In other news:
Last night my studio mate Elissa Elwick and I went along to the House of Illustration to celebrate the launch of illustrator Laura Ellen Anderson and writer Cerrie Burnell's new picture book, Mermaid. I've known Laura from her excellent work on Evil Emperor Penguin in The Phoenix Comic, and Stuart and I met Cerrie (who also works as a CBeebies presenter) when we were up at the Manchester Children's Book Festival last year.
Here's World Book Day UK director Kirsten Grant and my fab editor at Scholastic UK, Pauliina Malinen.
Cerrie's daughter and I drew a mermaid together:
Congratulations, Cerrie, Laura and the whole Scholastic gang!
I first met Sarah Nicolas several years ago at an RWA conference in Orlando, FL and instantly liked her. She’s funny, nice, and a generous soul. It’s wonderful when good things happen to good people, so it’s a true joy to help her celebrate the release of her debut YA novel, Dragons are People, Too. I (virtually) sat down with her recently to chat about her book, publishing path, and what’s next.
A little about Sarah…she’s a 30-something YA author who currently lives in Orlando, FL. She believes that some boys are worth trusting, all girls have power, and dragons are people too. She’s a proud member of the Gator Nation and has a BS in Mechanical Engineering, but has switched careers entirely. She now works as an Event Coordinator for a County Library. She also blogs at YAtopia.
A little about Dragons Are People, Too
Never judge a dragon by her human cover…
Sixteen-year-old Kitty Lung has everyone convinced she’s a normal teen—not a secret government operative, not the one charged with protecting the president’s son, and certainly not a were-dragon. The only one she trusts with the truth is her best friend—and secret crush—the über-hot Bulisani Mathe.
Then a junior operative breaks Rule Number One by changing into his dragon form in public—on Kitty’s watch—and suddenly, the world knows. About dragons. About the Draconic Intelligence Command (DIC) Kitty works for. About Kitty herself.
Now the government is hunting down and incarcerating dragons to stop a public panic, and a new shape-shifting enemy has kidnapped the president’s son. Kitty and Bulisani are the last free dragons, wanted by both their allies and their enemies. If they can’t rescue the president’s son and liberate their fellow dragons before getting caught themselves, dragons might never live free again.
Read the first chapter and get more info at Entangled Teen’s homepage! Follow along with the blog tour for excerpts, reviews, and an awesome giveaway!
On to the questions…
1. I’m a sucker for dragons and political thrillers, so I’m already intrigued–what inspired you to put dragons into the “Secret Service” so to speak?
Oh man, that is a good question. I have always loved dragons and I’m a HUGE fan of spy-type movies and TV shows, so I guess it was just a natural combination of two of my interests. I just thought, if the US government was aware of these “people” with these amazing abilities – what would they do with them? Weaponize them, of course.
2. Is this a stand-alone novel or will there be a series? I it’s a series, any juicy tidbits on future books?
There is at least one sequel. That was always the plan. But I keep getting more and more ideas and I’m not sure if I can fit it all in! I’ll give you the only tidbit I’ve given my agent: ICE DRAGONS.
3. Ooo! I already can’t wait for that one. Can you tell us a little bit more about your protagonist, Kitty Lung? What drew you to write her story?
When the book starts, Kitty is very good at her job and is well-suited for the structured way her life is. She loses her temper easily, but Sani is able to keep her in check. Then all of that structure and safety gets violently ripped away from her and the way she reacts to that was my favorite thing to explore.
4. What was your favorite aspect of writing this book?
There is a scene where Kitty gets into a fight with an F-22 Raptor. Enough said.
5. Not enough by half, but I get you can’t give away all the good stuff. Was there anything about the novel you struggled with? How did you overcome it?
I did take a huge break from this book (we’re talking a year-ish) because I was struggling with having too much to do. Brenda Drake had read part of it and was really upset when I took that time off. I don’t know what happened – one day I just decided to make it a priority.
6. You’re a book marketer as well as an author–is it strange being on the other side of the desk? Are you doing anything differently for “your” novel?
I’m not doing much differently, but it is a very different experience. I somehow simultaneously feel like I have too much to do and am not doing enough. The work on this side is much more creative though, whereas when I’m working as a publicist, it’s more logical and coordination. Promoting your own book is harder than promoting others. The “no, thank you”s hurt a bit more.
7. Since this is your debut novel, could you share some of your journey? What did you learn that might help someone on the same path? What mistakes (if you made any) do you wish you could have avoided?
Oh man, there is so much. I think the biggest thing is not to get discouraged if the first (or second or third) book you write doesn’t sell. That’s perfectly okay and pretty normal. That time isn’t “wasted” either, because you learn so much along the way.
8. Anything else you’d like to share about the novel or you personally?
I just love Kitty and Sani and all of my characters so much and I hope you’ll enjoy spending time with them in Dragons Are People, Too!
Thanks Sarah, and best of luck on your novel. Looking forward to reading it.Add a Comment
Blog: Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
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“The stories about jumbies were part of regular conversations when I was growing up. People talked about La Diablesse and douen and all the other, as if they’re walking down the road or lived at your neighbor’s house. They were very much alive to me, even though I knew they were probably just stories. And I also read and listened to fairy tales, which were just as scary, but they were also in books that were so beautifully illustrated, and I felt like all the kids who grew up hearing jumbie stories got cheated. Where were our fairy tale books? Where were our beautiful illustrations? I figured I’d have to make those books myself.”
Over at Kirkus today, I’ve got a middle-grade novel on the mind. I talk to author Tracey Baptiste, pictured here, about her newest novel, The Jumbies (Algonquin, April 2014), a book unlike any other you’ll read this year.
That link will be here soon.
Until tomorrow …
Photo of Tracey taken by Latifah Abdur Photography and used by her permission.Add a Comment
Blog: PW -The Beat (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
JacketFlap tags: Image, Interviews, Top News, Working for a Living, nate simpson, nonplayer, Add a tag
On the questionably damp morning of the last day of ECCC ’15, I caught up with Image creator Nate Simpson in a small breakfast place called The Crumpet Shop in Downtown Seattle’s world famous Pike Place market to talk about the second issue of Nonplayer, close enough to taste. The conversation spans his interest in narrative art, AI, and a discussion on creating comics in an rapidly gestating environment. Simpson is known for his work on Nonplayer, the first issue of which was release April, 2011. He lives in Seattle with his wife and young child and while he’s not working on game art, he wakes up at 3AM daily to turn out comics pages.
Nonplayer #2 is out from Image Comics on June 3rd.
[You’re joining us after a brief introduction.]
Comics Beat: Well, how about you? How did you get into comics?
Nate Simpson: Well, it was the X-Men; the late Chris Claremont era – Jim Lee, Marc Silvestri, and all that. Actually, right when I started getting out of comics was when all those guys were jumping ship to Image. Then I went off the college in ’93 and I didn’t really have much of an exposure to independent comics until art school six or seven years later.
CB: So you went to college then attended art school years later?
NS: Yeah, I went to college and totally got out of touch with comics completely. I went to the University of Chicago for Paleontology; there were not people reading comics, it was just not happening. After three years studying I realized I didn’t want to be a paleontologist – I just liked drawing dinosaurs. So I switched over to the Art Institute of Chicago…and that was just after Chris Ware had left. There was an indie comics culture there and I got into stuff like John Porcellino’s King Kat – that sort of stuff. From there I slowly worked my way back into comics through the indie angle, but I never really took it seriously as a career path until many, many years later. I fell into game art pretty much right out of art school and if you’re looking at it from a purely utilitarian standpoint – for an artist – there’s really no better game in town. It pays way better and it’s way more forgiving from a scheduling standpoint.
CB: There may be less pitching involved?
NS: Yeah, not at my level. So yeah, game art was going to be life until I came across this book of storyboards for Miyazaki movies – have you seen his original storyboards for Nausicaä?
CB: Oh, yeah.
NS: Dude, that shit melted my brain. It just the one guy working by himself with such a comprehensive vision and the final product was so similar to what his original vision was like.
CB: Did you see the documentary about him – The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness? It was filmed during the production of The Wind Rises and showed a lot of his storyboarding process. He uses a stopwatch while boarding to set the time of shots from the outset, so as each scene was set – he knew how long it would be. What’s really crazy is that the studio launches into production when he’s only half-way done with the script.
NS: That’s how assured he is – there’s no way to go back!
CB: That’s a really interesting place to come from, in my mind. When you mentioned that it was the Claremont X-Men and Liefeld posse were your earlier comic interested – I was going to say I don’t necessarily see those influences in your current work.
NS: Well, the one thing we overlooked is that is that I also had a major Moebius fetish. I think stylistically that’s more of where I’m coming from.
CB: That makes sense. I remember when I first saw the promo art featuring Elloden I thought that it looked very [Geof] Darrow – who’s a contemporary of Moebius.
NS: Oh yeah. I bought all three of the Hard Boiled issue when they came out, and they released like every year and a half – and I was so angry at him!
NS: It’s so ironic. I was saying “what kind of asshole takes a year and a half?”
CB: These names remind me of an interview with Paul Pope I did right when the first volume of Battling Boy had come out where I asked him what he was reading. He said he was staying in his “fortress of influence” which was essentially Moebius, Toth, and Miyazaki.
It really excites me that as Western comics really finds its footing with its Eastern – mainly manga – influences, Miyazaki is beyond that. People were looking to him long ago, even though he hasn’t made a new comic in some time.
Getting back to it – would you say the Miyazaki influence is one of production or also stylistic?
NS: I would definitely say both, but it’s so hard to parse what part of each person you’re taking because it’s a very organic process. However, I was inspired in the wrong way by those storyboards because what I wanted to do was exactly that: make storyboards for a movie.
So the first thing I did was quit my job, which required a huge amount of patience from my wife who didn’t have a job at the time. We were just living off of savings as I was saying “I’m gonna express myself!”
It was a weird six or seven months of writing this screenplay and doing some storyboards for this big, grand, epic sci-fi space opera called “Gordon and the Star-Eater” and it was…horrible. It was the worst.
CB: Sounds like something I’d read.
NS: So after those six or seven months, I stepped back from the screenplay, read it again and went “this is complete shit.” I had wasted more than half a year, we’re out of money, and I had to figure out how to salvage this – make it worth leaving my job. I got super despondent about it and wrote about it on my blog; about how I was feeling lost. Although only three friends really read my blog, one of whom was a co-worker named Ray – who’s gone on to do concept art on Skyrim – told me to just draw a comic.
At the time I naively thought it was the simpler thing to do, rather than a screenplay and storyboard for a movie.
CB: And in many ways, it is. You don’t need cameras or intensely expensive equipment and software or a crew or anything like that.
NB: Exactly. It was very self-contained. I didn’t have to pitch it to anybody; I just had to do it and either it’s good or it’s not – it is what it is. I don’t know if you have something like this, but the “Star-Eater” project is something I’d been thinking about for around 15 years prior. I knew all the scenes, I knew everything that had to happen. It was so set in stone that there was no way for anything to mutate or grow; it was not a creative enterprise at all.
CB: That sounds like a dangerous thing to enter into.
NS: It really is. There was nothing there with that project; it was dead…it was taxidermied.
So that moment when Ray told me to do a comic I got, for the first time in many years, a blank slate to ask myself what I should do – and the story for Nonplayer came on the same day, all at once. “Here’s the stuff I’m interested in now and here’s the stuff I would have been writing about it wasn’t creatively constipated because of this other project.”
Writing out the script for Nonplayer happened really fast; the first two issues were written out in two weeks…and then it’s taken fucking five years to draw them.
CB: Something I’m curious about is your editing process. Given that much time between original script and final product, how many iterations or changes or evolutions have they gone through?
NS: Oh you have no idea; so many revisions. I save every iteration of the book. Some of the individual pages have up to 40 or 50 different versions from the very roughest thumbnail all the way [to final touches]. I’ve even made animated gifs of the process and it’s really cool to see stuff shift around, but the dialogue in changing with the art is changing and in some cases, entire scenes are added or removed – it’s a pretty fluid process.
That’s the great freedom and the great pitfall of working digitally is that you can continue to edit all the way through the process and what’s what I do: just keep polishing and polishing. If I were working in analog media, I would have erased through the page nine times, but there’s not common sense stopping point and that’s a long road that can really eat up your time.
CB: Would you say that the fact that you’re working digitally is enabling in that sense?
NS: Oh, absolutely. Here’s the thing though: without these tools […] I’ve been an adult for about 15 years before starting on Nonplayer and the thing that changed in my life that was enabling for Nonplayer to happen was the invention of the Cintiq.
I had tried to draw comics in pen and ink before and I found it so confining and difficult because I’d have second thoughts or would want to change something – it would drive me crazy. It was upsetting that I didn’t have the freedom to continuously modify. If I had been born 50 years earlier, I never would have attempted a comic, I would’ve lived and died having done some other thing.
CB: Proto game art?
NS: Yeah, maybe. I don’t know – I would’ve dug ditches or something. Maybe I would’ve been a paleontologist or a painter or something.
It’s sort of interesting, my training is in painting and drawing; there was a lot of oil painting. Once nice thing about that is that you keep working it – they even encourage you. I mean, some of those teachers work on one painting for 10-15 years; there’s not a time limit on a painting, you can build the paint out a foot deep if you want to. But that’s never really worked for comics, unless you’re doing painterly comics.
Comics as a pop medium is not an additive one; you need to have the idea and you need to get it out as cleanly and as quickly as you can; but these digital tools […] you have a clean end product but you work in a more painterly way, ironically. I sometimes redraw a line up to 50 times to get it just the way I want it!
CB: It’s so much easier to do that when you’re able to. It’s fascinating to think that we’ve hit a point technologically where it’s potentially as easy to edit the pages as it is to edit the script.
NS: That’s absolutely true. But here’s the other interesting thing: I think we’re in a weird time-gap where people who were trained to use analog materials, like me, have gotten access to these weird digital tools – so there’s a combination of ability and tools. But I notice that younger artists seem much more comfortable working quickly and iteratively – they just use the tools better than I do and they’re much faster than I am.
CB: While a bit reductive and not wholly true, something I do notice is a lot of artist I would consider your contemporaries only use digital for certain stages, like just for color and flatting or inking and up. But if you look at the “Tumblr generation” of artists, you see a swathe of amazing color sketches that were digital from the ground up and that’s all they work in. Sometimes you’ll see some of their analog work, but they’ve figured out how to fine tune the digital tools to fit their style that it becomes very cohesive.
NS: The end product is such a result of the tools, there’s no way to do what they do in any other way, whereas what I’m doing is kind of replicating what comics look like back when Moebius was doing them in the ‘70s. A better artist could do what I’m doing now digitally in an analog form. What I’m doing is “hacking my way” toward a finished product that has that level of polish, but I’m doing it sort of the hard way.
CB: Isn’t that the human condition?
NS: Yeah maybe – we’re all trying to rebuild what we saw when we were 13.
CB: That’s creation and memory. I’m fascinated by the idea of what it means to take something from here [motions to temple] and put it somewhere so other people can see it and how do your tools and the “you” of that time affect, muddle, or change the product. With digital, the opportunity is there to be as clear as possible is there, but it’s the tool could enable some distance or change from the original concept.
Reminds me of Nick Drogotta who, up until issue 15 of East of West was working exclusively digital, but people kept asking for original pages so he switched to penciling on paper to accommodate.
NS: Yeah, and there are guys who do the opposite too, right? There are guys who pencil digitally, then ink on printed out pages. I guess you could do it either way.
Do you know who William Stout is?
CB: No, I do not.
NS: He’s an artist who was predominate in the ’70s – I think he did a bunch of Conan stuff and also a bunch of dinosaur drawings that I got super obsessed with. But seeing his work in person, which I have a couple times, he’s the example the resonated the most for me. There’s something about seeing it on the page; the way that the inks and watercolor […] it was like looking at a jewel. I’d seen them in reproduction and thought they were beautiful but seeing them in real life I understood. It has to be made that way because the important thing is not the reproduction – the important thing is this real object.
And certainly the ethos behind Nonplayer from the very beginning was the only thing that’s important is the book at the end – everything is aimed in that direction and there’s no “object”. There’s a part of me that really wants to make the object; there’s a part of me that’d love to have the freedom to take a step away from the way I’m doing things with Nonplayer and try a different approach. Maybe on another book or whatever, because those are skills that I have.
That’s another thing that doesn’t get talked about very much; it’s that people see the way that Nonplayer gets made and they think it’s the way I draw – “this is the only way he draws”. They think I’m a slow, meticulous artist who works digitally and nothing else because they’ve never seen anything else that I’ve done. I think there’s a little bit of selection bias or something happening there where the only reason they’ve heard of me is because that was only book I made that caught peoples’ attention. For instance, as a game artist, I have to work very quickly, very iteratively, and very roughly sometimes.
CB: It’s a very small sample to base an opinion off of.
NS: Because that first comic was made at the level of polish it had, all of the others will be have equal to or better than the first one. The second one, by at least some measures, is better. So in a way, I’m locked into that and it’s a pretty rough thing to be locked into. I love working on it, but as an economic proposition, it doesn’t make any sense at all. It doesn’t come close to paying for itself which is why I work on it from the hours of 3AM to 6AM every morning; I have to have a job and a life outside of it.
Sometimes I ask myself if the first comic I had made had been rough, gestural, and quick, it theoretically could have been more financially sustainable, maybe. But would it have gotten anyone’s attention? I might not have, that might not be what people were picking up.
CB: It’s that weird strongly-held belief that artists can only do one style where whatever their working on the time is likely influencing how they draw it. I personally would hazard that most artists at DC and Marvel have the potential for artistic fluidity, but they are working towards specific, recognizable style. Take a look at one of my favorite cartoonists, Boulet – he is able to do so many different kinds of work.
NS: Oh yeah, Moebius was a master of that too, he was all over the place.
CB: Definitely, but his work is always recognizable – I feel he kind of transcended shifts in style.
NS: He was so prolific that if he made something people thought was shitty, the next day he’d make 10 other things.
CB: His speed definitely helped.
NS: This touches on the hot-button topic with issue two coming out; I think there’s a certain amount of…wariness. There’s a certain kind of person who feels like I’ve cheated them in some way and here’s a part of me – a voice inside – that agrees with them. There’s always that little voice inside of me that’s always frustrated with how long this is taking. “Who do I think I am? Who else gets to come out with a #2 four years later and have the temerity to ask people to pay attention to it?” I should be skulking in the darkness, meekly handing it out and scuttle away. But because I’ve put so much time into it, because I’ve been thinking about this for so long, I have no choice but to promote it as hard as I can.
But there are a lot of people who are telling me that everyone else does 12 of these a year and I do 1/48th of one.
CB: I would maybe say that’s a product of, realistically many things but, the oppressive nature of the direct market and the hilarious difference in “creation time” vs “read time”.
NS: We have such a “box office mojo” obsessed culture that we’re having trouble separating the question of comics as an economic engine and a question of comics as a creative pursuit. Making a comic this slowly is a completely losing proposition economically, both for me personally as a creator […] I guess Image makes a little money off of it but it’s barely worth their time. It really doesn’t do much for the retailers – it really doesn’t do much for anybody from a monetary standpoint.
But I’m still doing it in my spare time. It’s getting done. There are gonna be seven of them, two down, 5 to go. I would love to go faster and I would like to find a way to work on this full time and there are some discussion going on about that, but I doubt it’ll ever be financially self-sustaining. It’s just not how it’s gonna go. Does that make it less valid from an artistic standpoint? Assuming this all gets done, assuming I don’t get hit by an asteroid or something, it’ll get done eventually. And when it’s done, it’ll be collected in trade – that big, polished, finished thing – will people factor in the time it took to make it when they make a decision about whether or not they want to buy it? Or, more importantly, when they’re deciding whether or not it’s a good book?
I’m deep in the shit right now, so it’s hard for me to even think that far ahead. I have to remind myself of this every morning at 3AM. “This is worth it because it’s gonna be good in the end.”
CB: That raises an interesting question about the worth of artistic agency. How much is your project “worth” to somebody? I think you’re maybe missing the direction comics can go – for a long time they were driven by the big two, but as other publishers get more of that market share and pushing to have good comics available for every reader possible, you start seeing other shifts.
For instance, Brandon Graham works on a lot of stuff so his solo projects like Multiple Warheads are produced pretty slowly and he shrugs off people giving him flak for it. Of course, he seems to be in a situation where that works for him; having enough going on for it to be okay.
NS: He’s very self-contained, very charismatic, and doesn’t need anybody’s love.
CB: He doesn’t need anyone’s validation, he don’t need no man.
NS: Yeah, exactly. It just occurred to me […] I sometimes feel sorry for myself – as do others – over how I just can’t get all the time I need to be able to work on this all the time, and that would be great if that happened. But, in a weird way, the fact that this comic is not my sole source of income gives me much less freedom on the time axis, but a huge amount of freedom on the quality axis that full-time comics artists don’t have because if next month’s rent depends on you getting this book out the door, that’s going to be controlling your artistic decisions. So in a weird way, I have maximum freedom. Especially with the advances in medicine, I don’t have to worry about dying of old age then, you know, I can just keep this going! So it’s both a blessing and a curse.
CB: Something I’m interested in with Nonplayer, from a storytelling perspective is this idea of the hyper-real where you have a possible near future version of our world but within it is still the need for fantasy. I’m curious about this idea of meta-escapism; do you think this kind of story could have been as easily discussed if not for online gaming?
NS: Yeah – it definitely wouldn’t be the same story if there weren’t MMOs. One thing you’ll see in issue two is some of the new characters are the developers that are building that virtual world. So the choice of doing an online game came at least partly from having worked in games; the personalities involved in that whole thing but I think if we somehow managed to skip online gaming and went straight to the metaverse or some sort of cyberpunk version of what the online world is supposed to look like – I think the story would not be the same. The core conceit of the story is that there are two worlds that are, from an atmospheric perspective, very different from one another, but equal.
Jarvath and near-future Los Angeles, in the structure of Nonplayer are completely equal – neither one is more real than the other. That’s just the core conceit of the story.
[Interviewer note: Nate and I discussed some concepts that crop up in parts of Nonplayer that aren’t out yet and have been omitted from the transcription.]
CB: It sounds like from this and for previous interviews that you have a huge interest in AI and it sounds like that makes its way into Nonplayer.
NS: Oh yeah, there’s this book called Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom that I recommend to everyone. It’s a little dry at the beginning, but then you get into the 100 pages and, well, my brain has exploded so many times reading this book. Broadly speaking, there are two “kinds” of AI that he thinks we may end up developing. One is essentially a human-equivalent AI that is probably developed as a result of us trying to model the way a real human brain works and then evolve it from there.
CB: That makes sense – it’s the only real sentient option we have to currently base off of as we know it.
NS: Right, there is one living template that we can attempt to replicate and yeah, that work is ongoing. We are scanning human brains and attempting to recreate them in a digital matrix: that will happen. However, there are all these other – to my mind more interesting but scarier – things happening where there are forms of essentially alien intelligence that may or may not be evolving and even improving themselves over time and their resemblance to our consciousness is as distant as ours is from an ant. So there’s the potential for these immense intelligences that have nothing in common with us that could be unfathomably dangerous to the existence of humankind. That’s what they [Bostrom] talk about when they talk about the “singularity” – that sort of intelligence having an efflorescence.
Nonplayer has both. In the second issue, I introduce another AI character which is working for this regulatory bureau which is one of the latter category – it’s an alien intelligence that is unbounded in its power, but it’s kept in a cage; a god in a cage whose entire function it to monitor the internet and catch other AIs that are loose. I also have the first kind running so I get to play around with both kinds and I don’t have to pick sides; I can just explore all of it.
To answer your question: AI is of interest to me, yes.
CB: I think this links back nicely to how you earlier said that you were “constipated” while trying to create. This looks like a great example of allowing your work to be dated to a specific set of interests and influences you are having during the process of the work; not to make work in a vacuum.
NS: Yeah, absolutely. Also, when people write AIs now, especially for movies, it’s always a monster. It’s always basically a mean human with some extra power. I feel like an honest depiction of a malevolent AI would be so much more deeply horrifying because it’s less like a human and more like a spider or something. I don’t even think it’d be capable of malevolence, specifically because I don’t think it’s going to care about us.
CB: Right, does our potentially limited palette of emotional or social queues even apply to an intelligence that is extremely not human in nature?
NS: I don’t even know if you get to use the work “nature” and that’s where it gets really interesting. We’ll find out if we’re even compatible in 20 to 30 years and I hope it works out for us.
I hope the AI likes Nonplayer. They very well may be the only things to read the final issue.
[Interviewer’s Note: I spend more time than is worth transcribing telling Nate about Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn’s Alex + Ada – another fantastic Image title involving AI sentience.]
NS: You know, one thing I like about Eric [Stephenson] is that he really has the patience to let a book unfold, even if some books don’t perform that well in issue format, but once they’re collected they can be great.
CB: Yeah, having that be an option in a system that demands certain things upon stories based on a very tight schedule is nice.
NS: Woe betide the person who has a story that doesn’t fit neatly into the structures that are currently in place.
CB: And inside this structure, it looks like Nonplayer occupies this unique role of the Pariah almost, in certain circles of comics readership.
NS: It’s a target, for sure.
CB: Do you think with the changing climate of comics creation, would this sort of reaction happen again?
NS: I think people are looking at it and consciously or unconsciously, they’re recognizing that it’s economically stupid. Maybe we’re part of a culture that places a lot of emphasis on that, right? Why do we care so much about how much a movie makes on its opening weekend? How is that relevant to anything? I see how it’s relevant to the people who made it, but I don’t see how it should affect what I feel about the movie, but people like to crow over the dead bodies about a failed movie.
I feel there’s a similar impulse with Nonplayer where there’s a little bit of schadenfreude where people just like to see a ship go down. Yeah, I think some people decided that I was lazy; there’s definitely a narrative of laziness there, but I’ve never stopped working on it or maybe I don’t know what the definition of lazy is.
CB: It’s interesting how those narratives around creators get formed. I feel like it was different when it was only letters sections, conventions, and signings, but now everyone has a blog, mailing list, or twitter account to work with.
NS: That’s actually the one thing that saved my bacon; if my book came out in a vacuum – if it just hit the stands one day and no one had any idea who I was, I think it would have vanished immediately. There’s the narrative of the book, but there’s also the narrative of the creation of the book and if I’m being honest I think that most of the people who are supporting Nonplayer are, on some level, supporting the enterprise as much as they’re supporting the book itself. They understand how painful it was to make it and I find, in a lot of cases, that there are people with similar ambitions or projects who empathize with the difficulty of the project.
So, for everyone person who casually shits on the book in a comment thread on Newsarama, there are a lot of people out there who either read my blog or whatever that understand what it is that I’m trying to do and are much more forgiving.
CB: Do you think we’re approaching an era more based around creative compassion?
NS: I hope we are! There is the existence of all these crowd-funding stuff so a lot of people keep coming to me to put Nonplayer on Kickstarter or Patreon since it’s not sustainable in the comics market. They ask me why I shouldn’t try to find a way for people to give me their money directly.
Well I have a little experience with Kickstarer through games; if there’s a target on me now, you cannot imagine the size of the target that would be on if I were running a Kickstarter. “Now look at this guy! This lazy ass is coming out, hat in hand, asking for your money directly.”
CB: Do you think that’s a good reason not to do one?
NS: I think it’s actually a bad reason not to do it, but I am definitely conscious of having a target on my back and to ignore that requires maybe more self-confidence than I personally have. Also I don’t know what it would be that I would offer through a Kickstarter – I already sell posters and whatnot. I’m not even sure that having a successful Kickstarter campaign would allow me to work on the book full-time anyway.
Either way, as weird a book as Nonplayer is, there’s no other place and no other time that it could have become a real comic. Eric…really rolled the dice on it.
CB: I’m curious how that happened, how did Nonplayer find its way to Image?
NS: Joe Keatinge. I was posting these pages to my blog that three people read and one day I sent a fan letter to Brandon Graham. I’ve always been a fan of his and sent him a link to some of the images on my blog to show what I was working on. He posted a couple of his images and the day after that Warren Ellis, who apparently read’s Graham’s blog, posted a couple images from it and all of a sudden I had three readers to 3,000 in a week. The internet really make this thing happen. I don’t really remember the whole mechanism, but then I began interacting more frequently with that group of Image creators including Brandon and Justin “Moritat” Norman. Joe was a part of that circle, he was working at Image and he was a big fan of the book and pitched it to Eric on multiple occasions and finally Eric said “well sure, let’s put it out.”
I’m certain he couldn’t have anticipated how long it would take me to get out the second issue, but he knew it wasn’t gonna be monthly. I’m sure he would prefer the book to come out a lot faster than it has because we have to climb a completely new promotional mountain for every one of these issues because there’s no momentum at all. But he stands by the book and he likes the book, I don’t know many other publishers who would be okay with that release cadence.
Even if Nonplayer is never successful financially, I think it’s successful because I’m proud of it. It could sell two copies and I’d still be proud of it.
CB: Yeah, Image is in a really unique gestating place where it’s trying out all kinds of new stuff and who knows where they’ll be in five years.
NS: I don’t know how true these things are because I didn’t hear them directly from the horse’s mouth, but some of the people who have been associated with some of the more recent big successes at Image like Saga or Shutter […] I’ve been hearing that they were “somewhat inspired” to do the projects that they decided to do because of Nonplayer. Obviously their books are coming out monthly so they’ve got something I don’t, but if it’s true, that’s very gratifying. Maybe it served that purpose; to shake something loose or open up a possibility just a little bit in a new direction.
I’ve talked to two or three pretty prominent female artists who weren’t active in 2011 or 2012 who are now a really big deal, and Nonplayer was very high on their list of things that got them excited about what comics could be.
CB: I find that a really great thing and sort of brings me to my last question that we didn’t touch on by accident. Many years from now, when you get your comps of the nice, assuming hardcover of the collected Nonplayer, do you have plans of what’s next?
NS: What’s a good intersection to commit seppuku?
I have another project that I’m writing that I expect someone else to draw and I’m very excited about it. That’s another strategy I’m exploring to make it so I can work on comics full-time. If I’m a writer on a book, that takes up two days a week and I can spend four days a week on Nonplayer, which will speed that up immensely. The question, of course, is there any universe where writing a book and drawing another slow book brings in an amount of money similar to what you make in games? The answer’s probably no, but we’ll see.
CB: That’ll be an interesting test of faith to see if people who feel burned on Nonplayer will be willing to pick up a book you’re on.
NS: Yeah, I’d have to have multiple issues in the can before we even pull the trigger and it would have to be a bunch of proven artists, probably multiple artists similar to the way Brandon did Prophet. Many people predict retailer gloom and doom saying no retailer will ever trust me again and all that, but my personal experience has been the opposite. Retailers have really liked Nonplayer, it’s an easy hand sell and they just want more of it, so that’s a good problem to have.
CB: As readership changes, so do the shops, it seems.
NS: Yeah! I love where comic shops are headed. They’re not these back-alley, heavy metal places anymore. They’re getting a lot friendlier, especially to female readers. I may be benefiting on some level from the shift in demographics, my comic is a little more accessible than what was being made when it first came out – now everything’s so much broader. Frankly, Image has been the biggest beneficiary, just look at their market share, it’s crazy.
CB: Thank you very much for your time, Nate.
NS: Thank you.Display Comments Add a Comment
Blog: PW -The Beat (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
JacketFlap tags: Alan Moore, Books, Comics, Controversy!, Crowdfunding, Grant Morrison, Interviews, Kickstarter, Top News, AARGH, Bloomsbury, British Library, Dobby the House Elf, Flann O'Brien, from hell, Golliwogg, gorse, Horse Hospital, Iain Sinclair, Jack the Ripper, John Clare, Joyce Brabner, Kirsten Norrie, London, Lost Girls, Mad Love, Melinda Gebbie, Michael Moorcock, Patricia Cornwell, Ramsey Campbell, Richard Coles, Robin Ince, Second Avenue Caper, steve moore, Swandown, The Cardinal and the Corpse, The Communards, The Infinite Monkey Cage, Toby Jones, Walter Sickert, Add a tag
Previous parts of this interview: Part I – Steve Moore, River of Ghosts, The Show, and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and Part II – Punk Rock, Crossed, and Providence. Now read on…
AM: [Laughs] No, because it’s all going to be bollocks.
PÓM: Oh yeah.
AM: Alright, I stand to be corrected, but what are the latest revelations on Jack the Ripper?
PÓM: Somebody claimed to have bought a scarf, a very expensive scarf…1
AM: Oh yeah, I read about that. And obviously at the time, that’s bollocks…
PÓM: Oh yes, absolutely and complete bollocks!
AM: And they’ve since proved that it’s bollocks – I think that they’ve just said that, no, there’s no connection at all between Catherine Eddowes and the stain on this scarf.
PÓM: I do remember thinking that they seemed to be in possession of an awful lot of information about DNA and all of that that seemed… unlikely.
AM: Unlikely at the time, yes. No no, that – these are always going to be non-starters. Alright, unless there is some brilliant piece of evidence waiting to be discovered that – how likely is that?
PÓM: I know. I just wondered if – ‘cause you did From Hell, I presume you still have some interest in the subject.
AM: Well, with From Hell, at the end of it, in The Dance of the Gull Catchers, there is that statement about – Look, how long can this go on? About Koch’s Snowflake2, about the increasing trivia applied around the crinkly edges of this case, but the area of the case cannot exceed the original events and consequently, new books about Jack the Ripper, they’re less about Jack the Ripper than they are about keeping the Jack the Ripper industry going, because it’s been quite lucrative for a few years, you know? And I honestly think that that is the truth.
So, no, I tend to be dismissive of – every four or five years there will be ‘At last, the final truth!’ And it never is. And it’s very often preposterous, or a deliberate hoax. Or you’ll get, say, Patricia Cornwell, with her vandalisation of a Walter Sickert painting in the ridiculous hope that she could match the DNA to that on the letters received the police, which were not from the killer anyway.3
PÓM: I remember when the documentary was on the telly, I saw it was coming up…
AM: Yeah, I saw that, and I saw at the end of it, all she’d got was some footage of Walter Sickert being led out, probably in his eighties, to be filmed in a garden somewhere, and she said, ‘Yes, look at those eyes – pure evil.’ Ignorant woman.
PÓM: I remember she said something like ‘I knew as soon as I looked into his eyes that it had to be him.’4 And this is a woman who…
AM: That was all the evidence that she’d got, and – the thing is, that Patricia Cornwell is apparently supposed to be an actual real-life pathologist…5
AM: …apparently cases in the American legal system have presumably depended upon her evidence – I hope she was doing a little bit more than looking in people’s eyes.
PÓM: I know! I have never been so disappointed with something on the television – in my life! Because I expected – because of who she was, and what she was, I expected this was going to be really incisive and good and interesting.
AM: I had read some of her books, so perhaps I wasn’t expecting quite as much as you were.
PÓM: [Laughs] Fair enough!
AM: I read a few of her books with the beautiful woman pathologist…6
PÓM: Oh, I know who you mean…
AM: …who somehow always ends up at the centre of every case. She’s always the one that the serial killer gets an obsession with, even though there’s no way in the real world that he would ever know who she was. She’s always smarter than the police. And then when I found out that Patricia Cornwell was herself a pathologist at some point I thought, ‘Yes, I think I can see where this is going.’
PÓM: Yes. It did seem as well the whole Jack the Ripper thing was kind of because her father had left home when she was five, and there were some elements of that in there, which is where it started getting strange.
AM: Yeah, well a lot of these people who get obsessed with true crimes, they’re – sometimes, they can be working out something in their own psychology, rather than anything to actually do with the crime that they are officially dealing with. I haven’t really taken a great deal of interest in Jack the Ripper since finishing From Hell – probably more in Psychogeography and London.
AM: Oh yes, I met him once. I met him with Robin Ince.8
PÓM: Yeah. He was doing a thing in the British Library, he was doing – because he’s got a first volume of his autobiography out – another good Northampton lad!
AM: Is he? Yeah, he’s from out in the outskirts, I think he’s from one of the villages.
PÓM: That’s where he’s being a Rev these days. A thoroughly lovely man.
AM: He seemed really nice when I met him, and of course he was great in The Communards.
PÓM: Well, he was. He was. Not a great dancer, but a charming human being. But, yeah, I’ve recently joined the British Library, which is completely fantastic.9 I’m doing research into Flann O’Brien, and The Cardinal and the Corpse, all of that.
[There’s actually a part of the interview missing here, because I felt it was so far removed from having even the slightest relevance to this particular site that it was best elsewhere. It concerns English writer Iain Sinclair‘s 1992 documentary film The Cardinal and the Corpse, which almost no-one has seen besides Alan and myself. It also peripherally concerns Irish writer Flann O’Brien, about whom I have been spending quite a lot of time reading and researching of late. The interview is here, on the gorse website. By absolutely no coincidence whatsoever I have an essay on Flann O’Brien in gorse #3, entitled The Cardinal & the Corpse, A Flanntasy in Several Parts, which I commend to you all. End of outrageous and gratuitious self-promotion.]
PÓM: Are you doing some series of things with Joyce Brabner?10
AM: There is a work that I’m – I’m doing a work with Joyce, but I’m starting that at the moment. I can’t tell you much about that, because it will be sometime this year – I’m more or less starting work on it now, over the next – probably over the weekend, and it’s likely to be something to do with identity, but I really can’t tell you much more than that – I’ve got my ideas, but they’re not really well formed enough yet, but later in the year I’ll be able to fill you in more with that.PÓM: Ok, cool. Sure, we’ll talk again, undoubtedly. And I think I’m going to wrap it up – I must say, when you’re talking about doing Swandown, and things like that – that’s the thing with the pedalo, isn’t it? With the swan-shaped pedalo?11
AM: That is one of the sweetest films I’ve ever seen, and not just because I’m in it. In fact, I think that my contribution is one of the more negligible aspects of it. It’s English poetry. It shows you that there is no landscape that cannot be made poetic with the addition of a big plastic swan. And in fact, since then I also earlier this year – no, last year, last year. Spring or Summer, I went and filmed a bit with Andrew and Iain for their next project, which is called By Our Selves, and it’s all about John Clare12, and it’s got Andrew mucking about dressed as a straw bear, and recreating John Clare’s limping walk from Epping Forest and Matthew Arnold’s mental asylum back to Helpston in Northampton. Eighty miles or something, where he was eating grass and hallucinating. Yeah, so Andrew and Iain came up to Northampton, I spent a lovely afternoon sitting pretending to be a version of John Clare. They’ve got Toby Jones13 doing all the heavy lifting in terms of being John Clare, so that should be – ‘cause he’s an incredible actor… PÓM: What I was going to say about that is, you do really seem to be having far too much fun, still – you’re doing everything you want to.
AM: That stuff is the best. Things like that that just come out of the blue. I still enjoy me comics work, I still enjoy the ordinary writing that I do, but – the little surprising things like that, that I’ve not done before, that are a great afternoon out, seeing lovely people, and knowing that it’s going to end up as a really poetic cinematic document, yeah, I am having a lot of fun with that, when it happens. It’s irregular, but charming when it does.
PÓM: Well, good. And I think that’s it. Is there anything that you’re doing that I should know about that I don’t know about?
AM: Yeah, probably. Whether I actually consciously know about it, is the big question. There must be some – did you hear about The Dying Fire?
AM: This was a book that I’ve just brought out from Mad Love Publishing, it’s the collected poetry of Dominic Allard…14
PÓM: Yes, I did, because I have a copy inside. Yes, of course.
AM: Ah right. With the big introduction. That seems to be going quite well, and Dominic seems a bit stupefied by the sudden exposure – mind you, Dominic seems a bit stupefied by most things, it has to be said. But, no, that was really good, taking the books down to him, and giving him a load of copies, so there’s that. What else have I been doing? I’ve been reading through Steve Moore’s journals, which I collected from his house, and that’s bittersweet. There’s some incredible information in there, things that I’d forgotten about. Just day-by-day stuff in Steve’s life, but he was meticulous about listing it all.
PÓM: Do you do that? Do you keep a journal, or anything like that?
AM: No I don’t. And Steve’s journals are part of the reason why I don’t.
PÓM: Oh yes, one other thing I did want to ask you. Do you remember our last interview? That was the written interview.15
PÓM: Did you ever get any feedback on that, or did you hear – there was a certain amount of…
AM: I don’t know if I did or not, Pádraig. Where would I have got it from?
AM: Well, indeed. There was huge amounts of hoopla on the internet about it, which – it was interesting. It was…
AM: Oh, that was the stuff about the Golliwogg?
PÓM: Yes, the Golliwogg, and…
AM: Yes, that was when I wrote my – Yes, I remember – that was when I spent the Christmas writing the rejoinder?
PÓM: Yes, yes!
AM: Yeah, I didn’t hear much about it, to tell the truth, once I’d got it out of me system, and I thought that the issues had been addressed, I just kind of let it go. Why, did – you say that there was a lot of furore?
PÓM: Oh, I had – when I put it up on my blog, and it just spread out everywhere, and I was getting hundreds of comments and replies. It was all quite fascinating – it genuinely didn’t bother me in any way, shape, or form. The people who said rude things, I just deleted them, because people have strange notions about what the right to free speech actually means. And it was just – it was interesting – it was great. It was a fantastic piece of, em…
PÓM: I was going to say a fantastic piece of writing, of a thing to put out there, and I was delighted to be in that way involved with it but, yes, a fine piece of invective, and all the better for it.
AM: I was talking with somebody who read it, and he was saying ‘I think you might have revived a kind of literary form, that has not been really practiced since the eighteenth century,’ the really crushing, bitter, stinging satire, if you will. Yeah, I was quite pleased with it. After doing it, I tended to put it out of me mind.
PÓM: No harm in that. I must say…
AM: Was any of the response positive?
PÓM: Oh yeah! Oh Christ, yes! Plenty of it. There was lots of people who are just happy to do down anything that turns up, but there was a lot of people that thought you gave someone a kickin’ that deserved a kickin’.
AM: Well, that’s good. I had a very nice comment from Ramsey Campbell16. He said, pretty much, ‘Right on, Alan,’ so that was nice. I did see, in the Michael Moorcock issue of Locus that came out recently that Mike, he was talking a little bit about Grant Morrison as well, just because he was asked some question about why he doesn’t encourage other people to do Jerry Cornelius stories these days, which apparently does rather connect up with some of Morrison’s work. Ah, I thought it needed saying, and it was better out than in.
PÓM: Well, indeed. Sure, it’s all part of life’s rich pageant.
AM: Mel’s fine – oh, yes, that’s something that I should probably tell you about. Mel is preparing for her first spectacular exhibition. This will be at the Horse Hospital in Bloomsbury.
PÓM: Oh, I love Bloomsbury, I have to say. I could live in Bloomsbury.18
AM: Have you been to the Horse Hospital?
PÓM: I don’t think we have, no.
AM: Well, I did a gig there with the lovely Kirsten Norrie19 – which also, she appears with me in that, By Our Selves, the John Clare film. But I did a gig where Kirstin was singing, and I was reading a part of Jerusalem, so I went to the Horse Hospital, and in there, I knew that our gig was underground, in the basement, and I thought, ‘Oh, this is a bit weird, there’s no stairs, there’s just these ramps.’ And then I thought ‘Horse Hospital!’
But it’s a lovely little space, and I believe that Mel will be doing her exhibition there on April the 10th, and there’s tons and tons of drawings, there’s seven or eight of her paintings, and I believe that there might be some bronze busts that she’s done of the three main characters from Lost Girls. So, if anyone reading this happens to be in the Bloomsbury area around April 10th this year, they could do worse than to drop in.
PÓM: I shall be sure to tell people.
AM: OK, you take care, like I say, Pádraig, and love to Deirdre – and that’s what Mel’s doing, she’s preparing that.
1On the 6th of September 2014 the Daily Mail carried a story that DNA evidence had been found on a scarf – allegedly once the property of Catherine Eddowes, the fourth of the five ‘canonical’ victims of the serial killer known as Jack the Ripper, whose exploits set Victorian London into a frenzy of speculation which has still not died away – which proved that the killer was actually Polish immigrant Aaron Kosminski. The story is here, although you really also need to read the refutation, here, as well.
2I refer you to the Koch’s Snowflake page on Wikipedia, because they explain it better than I ever will.
3Crime writer Patricia Cornwell wrote a book called Portrait of a Killer — Jack the Ripper: Case Closed, published in 2002, where she claimed that British painter Walter Sickert was the Whitechapel murderer, and went to extraordinary – and, frankly, borderline insane – lengths to prove it, including supposedly cutting up one of his paintings in an effort to find clues of some kind. There’s an excellent piece about it on the Casebook: Jack the Ripper website, here. In the meantime, Cornell has written more on the subject, a Kindle Single called Chasing the Ripper, published in 2014, and available here, if you’re feeling brave.
4 Yes, she really says something almost exactly like that. Here‘s the relevant bit from the documentary, courtesy of those nice people over at YouTube.
5Patricia Cornwell isn’t actually a ‘real-life pathologist,’ although she did work in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia for six years, first as a technical writer and then as a computer analyst, so had at least some input into their findings, one imagines.
6Dr Kay Scarpetta, the protagonist of twenty-two Cornwell novels thus far.
7The Reverend Richard Coles is a Church of England priest, currently working as the parish priest of St Mary the Virgin, Finedon, Northampton, in the Diocese of Peterborough. He was previously in The Communards with Jimmy Somerville, formerly of The Bronsky Beat, with whom Coles had also occasionally played. He is openly gay and lives with his civil partner in a celibate relationship, although they have four dachshunds, and he remains the only vicar in Britain to have had a Number 1 hit single. Above and beyond all that, he does regular appearances on the television and radio in Britain, and is a thoroughly lovely human being. He did an appearance in the British Library on Friday the 20th of February 2015 to publicise his autobiography, Fathomless Riches, which I attended with my wife Deirdre.
8Robin Ince is an English Science-Comedian and renowned Atheist. He is involved with the occasionally annual Christmastime event Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People, as well as the radio programme The Infinite Monkey Cage, both of which have included Alan Moore on occasion.
9If you think I’m being overly mean in describing the Rev. Coles as a bad dancer, I suggest you go look at this video of The Communards performing Never Can Say Goodbye, and make up your own mind. The British Library, by the way, is one of my favourite places in the whole wide world. If Heaven is not very like it, I shall be very disappointed.
10Joyce Brabner is an American comics writer, and the widow of the late Harvey Pekar. She has collaborated with Moore before, on Brought to Light, and on Real War Comics. Most recently she has written the non-fiction graphic novel Second Avenue Caper: When Goodfellas, Divas, and Dealers Plotted Against the Plague, about the real-life efforts of people caught up in the AIDS epidemic in New York in the early 1980s. It’s good stuff, and you all need to go read it.
11Swandown is a 2012 film in which Andrew Kötting and Iain Sinclair pedaled a swan pedalo down the Thames from the Hastings, on the sea, to Hackney, in London, occasionally joined by people like Alan Moore and comedian Stewart Lee. Look, I promise I’m not making this stuff up, and there’s a photograph to prove it. From left to right we have Lee, Moore, Kötting, and Sinclair.
12John Clare, known as The Northamptonshire Peasant Poet, was the writer of collections like Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery and Village Minstrel and other Poems. The film By Our Selves is in part based on Iain Sinclair’s book The Edge of the Orison: In the Traces of John Clare’s ‘Journey Out of Essex’. More information can be found on the By Our Selves Kickstarter page. It was successfully funded, and the project is ongoing.
13Toby Jones is an excellent English actor. Amongst other things, he has done the voice of Dobby the House Elf in the Harry Potter films, appeared in an episode of Doctor Who, and had parts in films like Captain America: The First Avenger, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Hunger Games, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and many many more.
14Mad Love Publishing is a publishing company Moore set up in the late 1980s with others, originally to publish AARGH (Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia), and subsequently the first two issues of Big Numbers. The company had a long hiatus, but has reappeared recently as the publisher of Dodgem Logic, and most recently of The Dying Fire, a poetry collection by Moore’s old school friend Dominic Allard. The Northants Herald & Post reported on the story here.
15The interview referred to hear, which Alan doesn’t at first realise I’m referring to, is the infamous Last Alan Moore Interview?, which some of you may have already read, or at least read about. It has, to date, a bit over 100,000 views, and 350 replies, which is not too bad for the first post on a new blog!
16Ramsey Campbell is an English horror writer who has written numerous novels, including The Doll Who Ate His Mother, The Face That Must Die, and The House on Nazareth Hill, as well as numerous collections of short stories. He has a list of awards for his work as long as your arm, including the British Fantasy Award, the World Fantasy Award, the International Horror Guild Award, and the Bram Stoker Award.
17Melinda Gebbie is an American comics creator, now settled with her husband, Alan Moore, in the heart of England. They’ve worked together on various things, including Lost Girls.
18Bloomsbury is the bit of London that contains the British Museum, occasional headquarters of the Victorian version of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and the British Library. It’s full of culturally wonderfully stuff, parks with friendly squirrels in, and lots of Blue Plaques to all sorts of writers and the like. I recommend you go visit, at least once in your life. The exhibition in the Horse Hospital runs until the 9th of May, so there’s time to see it yet.
19Kirsten Norrie is a Scottish artist and musician, and a member of Wolf in the Winter, an international performance collective.Display Comments Add a Comment
Blog: Manga Maniac Cafe (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
JacketFlap tags: Interviews, Romance, Interview, Add a tag
[Manga Maniac Café] Good morning, Lucy! What’s one thing you won’t leave home without?
[Lucy Monroe] My debit card. I get very nervous if I can’t pay for things (like transportation home if I need it).
[Manga Maniac Café] Name three things on your desk right now.
[Lucy Monroe] My water bottle. My phone. A credit card offer I need to shred.
[Manga Maniac Café] What’s your favorite snack when you’re working on a deadline?
[Lucy Monroe] My husband makes mini chocolate chip-pecan cookies for me when I’m super tight deadlines.
[Manga Maniac Café] If you could trade places with anyone for just one day, who would you be?
[Lucy Monroe] The Queen of England. I’m very curious and I want to see the rooms you can’t when on tour of Buckingham Palace. But just for a day, mind. I love my life and don’t want to live in anyone’s skin but my own.
About WILD HEAT:
Sometimes old flames are the hottest of all . . .
In the quaint little town of Cailkirn, Alaska, it’s impossible to keep a secret, especially one as juicy as the unexpected return of Kitty Grant. Tack MacKinnon remembers her wild red curls and even wilder spirit-and still feels the sting from when she shattered his heart in college. But there’s a pain in Kitty’s gorgeous eyes that guts him to the core and Tack is determined to do whatever it takes to see the woman he still loves smile again-even if it means taking on her demons as his own. After fleeing an abusive ex-husband, Kitty decides that the best way to heal her broken heart is to come back home. But she gets a whole new shock when she sees how undeniably sexy Tack has become. More handsome, more muscular, more charming-more everything-he’s impossible to resist. Before she knows it, they’re reigniting sparks that could set the whole state of Alaska on fire. Yet trust doesn’t come easy to Kitty anymore, and as things heat up between her and Tack, she can’t help but wonder if one of them is going to get burned . . .
About Lucy Monroe:
A USA Today Bestseller, most of Lucy Monroe’s titles have spent multiple weeks on national bestsellers lists, including Neilson Bookscan (in both North America and the UK), Amazon & B&N.com. She is ranked as a top selling contemporary romance author on Amazon.
Amazon – http://amzn.to/1GszZ3I
BAM – http://bit.ly/1GsCvXH
B&N – http://bit.ly/1HyVsIy
IndieBound – http://bit.ly/1EAPF4L
GooglePlay – http://bit.ly/1Dt10Oq
iTunes – http://apple.co/1OQf3CZ
Kobo – http://bit.ly/1z2yeYH
An almost frenzied need to bring her back to the present washed over him. His instincts were telling him the best way to accomplish that, but his brain insisted it was a bad, bad idea.
Fighting the urge to act on his instincts, Tack cleaned up the detritus of lunch. It only took a couple of minutes to put everything back in his pack. But in that short time, Kitty didn’t just maintain her distant silence, but she drew further away from him.
And she couldn’t afford to do that.
He couldn’t say how he knew that, he just did.
Tack’s certainty growing that she’d checked out mentally in a way that was dangerous for her emotions, he put his pack aside and scooted closer to Kitty. She didn’t seem to notice.
“Wildcat?” he prompted, his voice as gentle as he could make it. “You okay in there?”
“Of course.” The words were right, but the vacant tone was anything but.
He slid his hand under her hair, cupping her neck, giving physical contact to draw her back to him and now. She didn’t react to the touch at all and that scared him.
“Damn it, Caitlin Elizabeth Grant, look at me.”
Her brows furrowed. “Don’t.”
“What?” he asked in a tone as gentle as he’d spoken sternly before. Come on, wildcat, tell me not to yell at you.
Her silence changed, as if she was searching for words. “Call me Caitlin.” She frowned. “I don’t like it.”
“I thought you wanted me to.” She’d said so, hadn’t she?
“Why not? Why don’t you like it?”
And that was it. He was done playing nice, his own misgivings not nearly as powerful as his need to stop whatever was going on inside Kitty’s mind.
With careful, but inexorable pressure, he turned her head so she faced him. Her pupils were dilated like they’d been yesterday, her complexion waxy, but her lips were pink and parted invitingly.
Her breathing changed just a little bit and he took that as a victory.
“I’m going to kiss you, wildcat. Are you up for it?”
Tack’s gut was telling him this is what he needed to do, but damned if he would kiss her without her permission.
She’d had enough choices taken away, that was becoming clearer the more he found out about her life before returning to Cailkirn.
“What?” Suddenly she was looking at him and seeing him. “You’re going to kiss me? Why would you do that?”
He almost laughed. He did groan. His body was burning for her. “Because I want to.”
“You really need to ask?”
“You don’t sound real sure there, sweetheart.”
She bit her bottom lip and then released it. “I don’t think I’m very good at it.”
“Good thing I am then, huh?”
“I tell you what, let’s give it a try and you can let me know if you agree, okay?”
More relieved at her acquiescence than he should be, he tipped his head forward and slid his lips across hers in the simplest and most chaste of touches.
A small sigh shuddered out of her, the breath washing over his lips.
He kissed her again, this time molding their mouths and moving his lips against hers for long delicious moments. Her small hands came up to clutch the front of his long sleeved t-shirt, her fingers twisting in the fabric as she tried to pull him closer.
He went willingly, allowing their upper bodies to touch.
It wasn’t skin on skin contact, but that didn’t seem to matter to the electric shocks short-circuiting his nerve endings.
He flicked his tongue out to taste her. The flavor of grapes and ripe strawberries exploded on his tongue along with a sweetness that was all Kitty Grant.
Certain it would become an addiction way too easily, he still wanted more of that taste. He delved into her mouth and she welcomed him, sliding her tongue along his, and pressing their lips closer together.
His reasons for initiating the kiss melted, along with everything else around them and he reveled in the touch and feel of this woman he’d craved for too many years of his life.
He maneuvered them so she was lying on her back on the tarp and he was partially over her without once breaking his lips from hers. To do so would have been a travesty of epic proportions.
Her fingers kneaded him through his shirt like a cat. Such an innocent touch, but it felt good. So good, that between that and the kiss, his erection was pressing hard enough against his fly he’d be surprised if it didn’t leave an imprint in his flesh.
He wanted skin though. Craved her skin under his fingertips and damned if common sense was going to stop him from getting exactly that.Add a Comment
Blog: Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
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Illustrator Tom Lichtenheld visits 7-Imp this morning to share the backstory of the illustrations for Beth Ferry’s Stick and Stone, released earlier this month by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. It’s the story of two friends who stand up and look out for each other, and it’s been met with positive reviews, Booklist writing that the two characters “are a delight to know” and that the “irresistible cadence of the text should make this a repeat favorite.” (This is an especially good story-time read, I might add, for the youngest of listeners.)
I thank Tom for sharing the story of the illustrations. It’s certainly a good read for those of you who, like me, like to hear about picture-book process.
Let’s get right to it. I now hand the site over to Tom. …
My story of working on this book is mostly about making mistakes and starting over.
I was immediately attracted to the manuscript because of its concise language, dynamic arc, and wide-open opportunities for visualizing the story.
This is the first drawing I did of Stick and Stone, right after I read the manuscript. Admittedly, Stick looks like a carrot and Stone resembles a potato, but I was mostly concerned with capturing their personalities.
Then I did a tighter sketch, thinking about how they’d behave within the story. Although the story has lots of action, I wanted to anthropomorphize the characters as little as possible. Stick can have little arms and legs, naturally. And Pinecone gets them because … heck, he can’t even roll, but giving Stone appendages would have been cheating.
Then the mistakes began.
I began by trying to visually explain how Stick and Stone first met. This front endpaper shows a bird stretching to reach a berry in a tree.
Then, on the title page, the branch snaps and falls to the ground. Thus, we have Stick…
… who falls onto Stone.
Now we have our characters — and a relationship.
But the visual story I added was answering questions that no one would ask. It was also too busy, and it didn’t establish the right level of suspension of disbelief.
But Ignoring the Voice
I went through the story and did what I often do — added side jokes and visual gags. For instance, these are from the part of the story where Stick and Stone explore the world together, building a friendship along the way. “They wander, explore.”
These are fun little vignettes, but they’re more about the places than the friendship that’s forming between travelling companions, so conceptually they don’t completely serve the story.
Then there’s the episode where Stick gets lost and Stone goes out searching for him, day and night. These were my first sketches.
Then I had the idea of bringing his search to the city …
… just so I could do these two gags:
Again, these are funny — but not in harmony with the spare, poetic voice of the text, which is one of the things that initially attracted me to the project.
My background as an art director prompts me to play with composition and styles as I’m working on illustrations. This was one of my first design exercises.
Can you tell I’d just visited the Hamilton Type museum?
It didn’t take long for me to realize that the ornamental typography and all the superfluous gags were overwhelming the images and the story, so I started over, simplifying both the illustrations and the design to be more reflective of the text.
I switched to a simple font to go along with the new, minimal feel.
The manuscript didn’t specify a setting, so I was free to come up with an appropriate place for the interaction to start. A playground seemed logical, because it’s a fun, active place where kids have to work out a lot of relationship dynamics on their own.
Even in this simpler version, I still found opportunities to play with the type.
Now their travels are helping build the relationship. On the left, Stone is making a trail for Stick. On the right, they’re facing a scary situation together.
The dolphins are an inside gag — a reference to the old Houghton Mifflin logo.
I wanted the illustrations to have some texture, so I worked on Mi-Teintes paper, which comes in a variety of earthy colors and is heavy enough to handle a variety of media.
This is the entire book printed out and tacked to a large piece of foamcore in my studio. This helps me keep track of everything: paper colors, design, editorial notes, etc. Notice the variety of cover designs at the bottom, none of which were used. At the last minute, I changed my mind and came up with an entirely new cover, which the publisher graciously agreed to.
For the final art, I used Pan Pastels, watercolor dyes, and colored pencils. The paper cut-outs at the top of the frame are masks I make when using Pan Pastels.
The black and white base art is done in pencil (at about 50%), then scanned, cleaned up and placed into an InDesign file. I have a large format printer that takes heavy paper and uses non-water-soluble inks, so I print the pencil art onto colored paper and start applying color.
I know I could use Photoshop to do a lot of this, and I certainly do for a number of things. But in general I’ve discovered that working on paper with real tools is more stimulating. Photoshop is predictable and endlessly fixable, so there’s very little risk. And I’ve read that risk is one of the things that produces dopamine in the brain, so I will always have a studio full of unpredictable, drug-inducing art supplies.
That’s my part of the story behind Stick and Stone. I’m grateful to the author, Beth Ferry, the editor, Kate O’Sullivan, the art director, Scott Magoon (yes, that Scott Magoon), and everyone else who made it happen. They’re all the best! Which reminds me … one more from the cutting room floor …
STICK AND STONE. Text copyright © 2015 by Beth Ferry. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Tom Lichtenheld. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston. All images here reproduced by permission of Tom Lichtenheld.Display Comments Add a Comment
Blog: Manga Maniac Cafe (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
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Please give a warm welcome to Marina Adair this morning! She stopped by the virtual offices to answer a few quick questions, and she brought a giveaway for you to enter!
What’s one thing you won’t leave home without?
Name three things on your desk right now.
Since I write in bed, it is my cat Suki, my other cat Awesome Bob, and a bag of powdered sugar mini-doughnuts.
What’s your favorite snack when you’re working on a deadline?
The previously mentioned powdered sugar mini-doughnuts. Yum!
If you could trade places with anyone for just one day, who would you be?
A zoo keeper. I would want full access to go and visit all of the animals.
You have been granted the use of one superpower for one week. Which power would you choose, and what would you do with it?
Zoolingualism. I would spend the entire week trying to figure out why my cat Suki likes to sleep in my dirty clothes and what Awesome Bob is thinking when he eats the fern, even though he knows the fern makes him sick. I imagine the conversation would go a lot like this:
SUGAR ON TOP by Marina Adair (April 28, 2015; Forever Mass Market; Sugar, Georgia Book #2)
She’s sassy and sweet
The last thing Glory Mann wants is to become chairman of the Miss Peach Pageant in Sugar, Georgia. Spending months hearing nothing but the clinking of pearls and judgment? No thank you! But when Glory is forced to take the rap for a scandal she didn’t commit, the judge sentences her to head the committee. Even worse, her co-chairman is rugged, ripped . . . and barely knows she’s alive.
He’s ready and willing
Single dad Cal McGraw can’t take any more drama in his life. After a difficult divorce, his little girl became a boy-crazy teenager and his hands are full. The last thing he needs is to spend his down time with the town bad girl. Glory is pure trouble-tempting and tantalizing trouble. But he can’t deny the strong chemistry between them-or how her touch turns him inside out. Now as squabbles threaten to blow up the contest and the town of Sugar itself, Cal must risk everything on the sexy wild card to get a second chance at love . . .
About the author:
Marina Adair is a lifelong fan of romance novels. Along with the Sugar series, she is also the author of the St. Helena Vineyard series and the upcoming Shelter Cove series. She currently lives in a hundred-year-old log cabin, nestled in the majestic redwoods of the Santa Cruz Mountains, with her husband and daughter. As a writer, Marina is devoted to giving her readers contemporary romance where the towns are small, the personalities large, and the romance explosive. She also loves to interact with readers and you can catch her on Twitter at @MarinaEAdair or visit her atwww.MarinaAdair.com.
Social Media Links:
Glory walked to the door and peeked out the peephole, doing some panting of her own when she recognized Cal’s sexy blue eyes peeking back.
She knew the minute he realized she was on the other side of the door because he smiled and took a step back, as though waiting for her to just open up her door and welcome him inside.
“I know that you know it’s me, Boots, so open up.”
Oh, she knew it was him all right. Her nipples told her that the second he’d knocked. Plus she could smell the testosterone through the door, and his soap, which from the looks of it he’d showered, too. Although, she thought bitterly, he’d put on a fresh pair of jeans and an untucked gray button-up, not a pair of shorts with dancing pigs on them and a tank that said RESIDENT BED HOG across the chest.
“Or I can go get my tools from the truck—your call.”
And since the thought of Cal with tools made her hot, she opened the door—wide enough to see his face.
“What do you want?” she asked, more than aware that she hadn’t put her bra back on after her shower.
“Our date wasn’t over.”
Time to be firm. “I had a fun time, I’d love to do it again, but like I already told you, panties are a strict date five topic.”
“You said date four if they’re special.”
She had said that, damn it.
He pushed the door open a tad and his eyes dropped to her pajamas. He grinned. “And, Boots, those shorts don’t leave much room for imagination.” He pushed the door open wider and leaned in. “Or panties.”
He was right. She was commando under there. Not that she’d confirm his suspicions or even had time to. Before she knew what was happening, Cal took her hand in his and led her down the stairs toward his truck—and the already opened passenger door.
She stopped at the bottom step. “I’m not wearing shoes and I’m in my pajamas.”
“Which answers the question of what you sleep in. Although, I have to admit, I took you for more of an in-the-buff girl.” She felt her cheeks heat but played it cool. “Ah, good to know.”
Okay, maybe not so cool.
Cal slipped his jacket over her shoulders, then turned around to offer her his back. “Pajama issue solved. Now climb on.”
Knowing that he wasn’t going to let her be until she did as he asked, at least that was the lie she told herself, she wrapped her arms around his neck and legs around his middle—which only managed to smash her front deliciously against his broad, muscular back.
He walked her over to his truck, sat her on the seat, and shut her door, not saying a word until he was in the driver’s seat with his door shut.
He didn’t start the engine, didn’t explain what he was doing, just turned to her and smiled. “I had a great time tonight, which after my day seemed impossible. But you made it fun, made it easy to talk about Payton, and just . . . easy. With you, tonight, it all seemed so easy, so thank you.”
And wasn’t that the most romantic thing anyone had ever said to her. “I had a great time, too.”
“Good.” His smile was back and he got out of the truck, walked around, and opened her door.
Glory rolled her eyes, but inside she was melting. “What are you doing?”
“Walking my date to her doorstep.” He looked at her bare feet and waggled a brow. “Or carrying.”
“That’s okay, I can walk.” But one hand was already around her back, the other firmly planted on her butt, and he was scooping her out of the truck, not putting her down until he was up the stairs and at her door.
Hands shoved in his pockets, he leaned against the rail. She opened her mouth to speak when he said, “Hang on.” He reached out and closed her front door. “There. Now, you were saying.”
“Just, thank you,” she whispered and neither of them moved, neither of them spoke. It was as though time hung, and in that one moment nothing else mattered. Only the two of them and this insane connection.
His eyes dropped and he cleared his throat. That’s when she realized he was waiting for his jacket.
“Oh, right. Sorry.” She started to take it off when he gripped the collar and tugged her to him.
“I don’t care about the jacket, I’ll get it next time.”
Her knees wobbled at the idea that he wanted a next time.
Oh my God, Charlotte was right, she had it bad. Glory was a certified McGraw addict; she had every last symptom, even down to wanting their next time to be now.
Cal must have been suffering from the same affliction, because he tilted his head and delivered a gentle kiss that seemed to last for hours. Languid and soft and with deliberate control, the man kissed her as if there was nowhere else he’d rather be. This wasn’t a race or a sprint to the bed; to him, kissing was his way of connecting, sharing.
By the time they came up for air, Glory’s bones had turned to mush and her entire world had shifted because Cal wasn’t just special, he was perfect.
Then he did the one thing that could have made her fall, had her opening herself up to all the what-ifs and going all in. Cal gave her one last kiss on the cheek and made his way down the stairs, giving her what she wanted, time to prove he was serious, that she was worth waiting for, worth fighting for.
Only every step he took caused her chest to coil tighter and tighter until it hurt to breathe.
One date. A hundred. It didn’t matter. This was Cal. He was one of the good ones. He’d come all this way, in the middle of the night, to escort her to the door, and there she was, watching him walk away, wondering if she’d get another chance.
The least she could do was invite him inside and offer him a cold beverage.
He was rounding the truck when her feet finally got the message from her brain, and she took off down the steps, not stopping until she was standing in front of him. “Don’t go.”Add a Comment
Blog: PW -The Beat (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
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Welcome to MATT CHATS, a weekly interview series in which I, Matt O’Keefe, talk with people of interest in the comic book industry. Whether they’re writers, artists, letterers, editors, retailers, etc. if they have something to say, I want to hear it and share it with you. Here’s a special conversation I had recently with webcomics maven Scott Kurtz.
Scott Kurtz is one of the original webcomic pioneers, having created PvP (Player vs. Player) nearly seventeen years ago and making a living writing and drawing it for almost as long. He eventually launched a spinoff of PvP named Table Titans about friends playing a role playing game that’s taken on a life and legacy of its own. I spoke with Kurtz about the huge-and-still-growing webcomic series, the role the owners of Dungeons and Dragons have in the comic, building an online empire and more.
What were your initial hopes for Table Titans creatively, professionally and personally?
My hope with Table Titans was to create a comic book that captured the spirit and joy of tabletop roleplaying. I’ve personally wanted to make a fantasy comic for many years, and after a reader survey revealed many of our fans were into tabletop gaming, it seemed a perfect topic. We’ve been telling stories for years at our kitchen table that nobody but our gaming group is aware of. What an amazing opportunity to tell them to a wider audience and simultaneously encourage them to tell their own stories collaboratively with friends.
How do those hopes compare to where you are now?
All of our hopes with Table Titans have been fulfilled and exceeded. The comic is doing gangbusters. In only two years it has the same traffic as PvP on days we post new strips. That’s more than we could have ever hoped for. And every email, and fan interaction at cons involves someone telling us how they started playing D&D because of the strip or one of our podcasts about gaming.
You brought Steve Hamaker on to color Table Titans, but choose to leave the pages black & white when he’s unavailable. What brought about that choice?
Steve is always available. It’s just that sometimes I’m late getting pages in to him where it works inside his schedule. So on those days, we run in black and white and then once Steve gets the time to color them we pop them up. It’s my problem. Steve is a monster.
How did the collaboration with Wizards of the Coast on Table Titans come about?
We had an existing relationship with Wizards from our D&D podcasts and live shows we do with Penny Arcade. So we talk all the time. And we ran the idea of Table Titans past them at the early stages of outlining the comic. They loved the idea and we talked to them about the possibility of working in a marketing partnership with them on it. They promote the comic, the comic promotes D&D. Win-win, right?
Do you have to jump through many hoops to use their characters and concepts?
Not really. We’re not an official Licensee. It’s a marketing partnership. So they’re very hands off. There are a lot of things I can put in the comic that, while are a part of D&D, aren’t owned by Wizards. Orcs, Elves, Dwarves, Dragons, Goblins, Clerics, Fighters, etc. I just don’t get in trouble when I drop in something they do own like the drow or a beholder or displacer beast.
How involved is Wizards of the Coast in the storylines in Table Titans?
Not terribly. We talk all the time about what they have coming up as far as their campaign settings and if it interests us from a story level, we get to incorporate it into the comic. Season one of the comic centered around their campaign to reintroduce the idea of D&D as a collaborative storytelling exercise. We focused on that theme quite a bit. And season two lined up with their “sundering” campaign (sort of). So we see what they’re doing and if it ignites an idea we run with it. But these are our stories. They’re very hands off.
What are the big benefits of getting to use the Dungeons & Dragons content in Table Titans?
The biggest benefit is that we’re associated with Wizards of the Coast and they promote the strip on their social media sites. We’ve also worked with them collaboratively on a couple of non-comic projects. We’ve jointly made a beholder dice bag and a vinyl figure of our main character Val standing triumphant over a beholder. Those projects are a lot of fun. Plus I grew up playing D&D and so it’s the game I want reflected in the comic. I could have just made up a fake game they were playing, but how great is it that they get to play D&D. Just like we all do?
Are there ever times you wish you were using creator-owned characters and setting instead?
All of Table Titans is creator owned. We own everything we create. Sure if we drop in a displacer beast or a drow (as we have done in the two years we’ve produced the strip), Wizards owns those characters. But it’s worth creating an antagonist from the pages of the offical Monster Manual for our characters to go up against. And in the end, we own Table Titans. We’re also currently working on our own campaign setting which we’ll be featuring in the strip in upcoming seasons. We wanted to show the natural progression players take. Season 1 was D&D encounter groups (what you do when you’re learning). Season 2 is a purchased campaign setting. Season 3 and beyond will show the Titans playing their own home-brew setting. And in the real world, we’ll be building that setting ourselves.
How business minded would you say a lot of your creative decisions are?
It’s impossible not to be business minded about all the decisions you make. But at Toonhound Studios, we make what we love and find a way to monetize it afterwards. We try not to put the cart before the horse. I’ve also been lucky to have found a business partner in Cory Casoni (formerly the marketing director at Oni Press, currently the Director of Business Development & Brand Management at Toonhound Studios LLC). Cory came on board about 3 years ago and we’ve been building Toonhound Studios into an American Mangaka. That’s why we work with so many talented people on all of our projects like Dylan Meconis, Brian Hurtt, Tavis Maiden and Steve Hamaker. We’re trying to build the independent publisher of the future here. And having a ball doing it.
Are you setting out to build a webcomics empire, or is it happening organically?
It’s happening organically. And it’s nothing that I had any interest in until I hired Cory. His first couple of years were spent undoing all the mistakes I made on my own over the first 15 years of my career. HA HA!. Then once all the old business was settled we sat down and said “What’s next?” Honestly, I handn’t thought much past “I want to be a cartoonist.” So that’s been a difficult but exciting and challenging question to try to answer. We are always trying to remain fluid and lean and ready to adapt. Things change so fast in this industry. We always want to be creating new content and trying things that challenge us and scare us a little bit. So yes we have plans. But to say we’re trying to build an “empire” is a little far reaching I think.
You eventually stepped away from The Trenches, and helped bring in and guide the new artists on the series. Would you ever do that with Table Titans one day?
We’re already doing it. Brian Hurtt will be taking over drawing duties on Table Titans for the next season. He’ll be writing and drawing a story with a side group called the Dungeon Dogs. Meanwhile I’ll be busy drawing the next Table Titans adventure and we’ll move the comic from posting 2 days a week to 4. Tavis Maiden (tenkoking.com) is also working on a new project with me that takes place in the Table Titans universe that’s so crazy and hilarious It’s hard not to talk about it. And I’m writing PvP now with Dylan Meconis, so everything at Toonhound is a group effort. Working collaboratively is my next step as a cartoonist and it’s making all of our work better across the board. Hands down.
How do you see Table Titans (and PvP) evolving as time goes on?
Who knows. I’m equally nervous and excited about it. I just turned 44 and PvP is turning 17 in May. I don’t see myself ever stopping either strip. I love making them so much. I still love writing and drawing PvP after over a decade and a half. I want to join my heroes Stan Sakai, and Sergio Aragones in celebrating 20 and 30 years of making the comic. Same goes for Table Titans. I can definitely see myself creating new comics and characters and working with others to carry on PvP and Table Titans with my guidance while I work on other things. Another hero of mine is Jim Davis and he built an amarican Mangaka at PAWS. A lot of people give him shit about that or look down on him for it. But they respect and honor Miyazaki for working the same way. Makes no sense to me, but it’s all cultrual. I know the benefits of collaboration and I intend to do more of it as my career continues.Add a Comment
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Author/illustrator Rowboat Watkins and I had a long conversation about his picture book, Rude Cakes, coming to shelves in June from Chronicle Books — and I’m posting the conversation today. The book is the surreal story of cheeky, impudent cakes (words I never thought I’d string together)—throw in some cyclopses with some unexpected behavior traits—and it’s funny and entertaining. There are some spreads from it in our chat below. (Pictured above is a sketchbook image.)
Rowboat and I also talk below about picture books and elbow room; Sendak (Rowboat was a Sendak Fellow several years back); giant paper legs growing up hallways; resolute poodles; four-horsepower Super Rosengarts, both metaphorical and very real; the severities of plain white walls; and much more. This is essentially a conversation for the die-hardiest of die-hard picture book fans—I can’t promise the absence of a digression or two—and I enjoyed every second of it. Later in our chat, Rowboat writes:
Anything that betrays its own messy history of becoming itself makes my eyes widen.
… which I’d pretty much like to tattoo on my forehead.
Let’s get to it, and I thank him for visiting.
Jules: Hi there, Rowboat! I’m glad you’re visiting 7-Imp. I like your new book.
I bet authors hate to be asked about “inspiration,” so I’d like to ask what inspired this story without using the word “inspired” or “inspiration.” Oops. Too late.
But no really, can you talk about when this notion of sentient cakes came to you? Was it during the Sendak Fellowship, by chance, which I’d also love to ask about. Eventually. Or maybe I just did.
Clearly, I’m not very organized.
Rowboat: Hey, Jules.
Am glad you like the book. It’s weird seeing it as a real alive book. Exciting. But weird. And a little bit scary. But mostly exciting. I think. I could be lying. 50/50, as my daughter likes to say.
As to the inspiration, I’m going to ignore what I believe is your insinuation that cakes aren’t really sentient. Water under the bridge.
I’ve been drawing sentient cakes for over a decade.
And giant hairy hands looming in from the sides and top of my sketchbooks for almost as long.
Why? I don’t know. Sometimes it’s better not to ask too many questions.
Anyway, at some point in an extended trough I’d been sliding into for who-knows-how-long, I finally hit the bottom. Conk. Like in a cartoon. Conk. Honestly. My brain literally made the sound conk. I kid you not. And I just knew I couldn’t sink any lower. Which was weird, because I’m pretty much always sure there is somewhere lower to sink. But for whatever reason, I thought, “Well, I don’t like any of my ideas (because they all suck), and it sure would be fun to draw a book with a giant hairy hand looming in from the top of the page. Who wouldn’t love that? I would.”
And then I thought about a dream I’d cut out of a recently-failed dummy about a tiny poodle who wanted to be tough — but wasn’t. As part of the poodle’s wan regimen for making himself tough, he tries dreaming about tough things — such as, flowers with mustaches; hammers; piles of rocks; and rude cakes who kicked each other on purpose and never said sorry. And I thought, “Well, the poodle story is going nowhere fast, but who wouldn’t want to read about rude cakes who kicked each other on purpose? I would. Maybe there’s a way I can have a giant hairy hand loom in from the top of a page and have it grab a rude cake, who at some point earlier in the story had rudely kicked another cake?”
Genius! I was like the guy (or lady) who invented the peanut butter cup. Combine two individually delicious things (a giant hairy looming hand and a remorseless kicking cake) to make something even more delicious. Great job, brain. Way to go. Idiot.
When one is at the bottom of a deep dark hole of one’s own doing, options are limited. I had nothing to lose, since I couldn’t write a worse story than the ones I’d already been writing. So I just made myself start typing. And then the book kind of wrote itself in, like, a day. And a half. All at once. Which had never happened before and will undoubtedly never happen again and was more than a little bit scary. I was so nervous after I’d finished writing it I thought I would spontaneously combust. It was the same feeling you have when you find out the girl you’ve secretly had a crush on for months (or years) actually likes you, too. Totally thrilling. Equally terrifying. So I kept it a secret for a few days before emailing it to two friends to ask their opinion.
Does that answer your question at all?
It occurs to me I should say one more thing specific to your question about inspiration, Jules, which is this: In my first two or three passes on the story, there were multiple rude cakes and they were all eaten by polite cyclops-children, who wiped their mouths with napkins and held out their hairy little pinkies when they drank from their glasses and thanked their parents for giving them such delicious little cakes to eat. It was totally ham-handed and kind of dumb, but that’s what the story was, so I was going with it. Because at least I was going to get to draw giant hairy looming hands and rude sentient cakes.
It was only when I started making rough thumbnails of cakes being daintily shoved into appreciative adolescent cyclops-maws that I suddenly realized the cakes looked a lot like hats. What? It was like a literal cartoon lightbulb went off in my head — only I don’t remember what sound it made.
It had never occurred to me that cyclopses might want to do anything with little rude cakes other than eat them, but now I had this whole unexpected sartorial direction — and that was the AHA moment I had been blindly throwing out grappling hooks for. If I hadn’t simply started writing and drawing the book in all of its ham-handedness, I would have never discovered the twist.
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And here are a few pix of my room at the Sendak Fellowship. I didn’t mean to ignore your question about the Fellowship, Jules. Honest. I could bore you to death with all I have to day about my time there. But I didn’t want to overstay my welcome before I’d allowed you to ask more than one question.
Jules: Hear hear for sketching AND for ham-handedness. (Should your next book be about monsters with hams for hands? Hmm.)
I love seeing these early images. Did you name your early cyclopses? What is the plural for cyclops anyway? I see there’s a Pearl up there, and I’m wondering who she is.
I knew you weren’t ignoring my Sendak question. I have a bad habit of asking more than one question at once and figured you were taking them one at a time. Looks like you got to draw/paint on the walls there? Or are those taped?
I’d have so many questions about the Fellowship that it’d be annoying. I guess it’d be neat to know what it was like. Is it true Fellows were able to spend their days alone, thinking, creating, etc. — and then whenever you needed advice from the great man himself, you could ask for it? Is there anything he told you that changed the way you make stories? You are welcome to tell me to shove off or ignore that question, if you’d rather not share. I’d respect that, especially since I know you developed a friendship with Maurice, and that’s a private thing.
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Rowboat: Pearl is my daughter. And she uses the words literal and literally more than anyone in Christendom. About things which are debatably debatable — or at best figuratively true. And no, she didn’t learn this from me. When I talk about literal brain conks and literal cartoon lightbulbs, these aren’t mere metaphors, Jules. They seem to have really happened. Then again, why would you trust anything said by someone whose brain goes conk?
The cyclopses never had names. Sorry. They were originally nameless, giant, hairy, one-eyed monsters — grown-ups and kids. Until I remembered there was already a perfectly good name for giant, one-eyed monsters and that I didn’t need to call them hairy if I drew them hairy. And then I realized it would be simpler if I didn’t worry about what age the cyclopses were. When in doubt, simplify. I always forget this.
The first person to read the story was my friend Ali Bahrampour. Ali is a copy chief by day, but he’s also one of the smartest people and picture book-makers I know (and funniest and nicest and darkest). And he’s been selfishly squirreling away everything he’s written and drawn since he published his singular gem, Otto: The Story of a Mirror back in 2003. Which is just plain wrong, but it’s his selfish life and far be it from me to begrudge him his secret, selfish squirrelings.
In the version Ali read, I used cyclops as a plural of itself. Because I liked the sound. Cyclops. Like fish. Or moose. But Ali flagged this and (apologetically) noted that the plural of cyclops is cyclopes. As in “sigh-kloh-pees.” What?!?! Cyclopes? The whole book was ruined. Who the hell ever heard of sigh-kloh-pees? Not me. It sounded contagious. Who would even know how to pronounce it? I don’t remember what sound my brain made at the time, but it was not good.
To make a long story short (and you were the one who opened up this giant hairy one-eyed can of worms in the first place, Jules), the copyeditors at Chronicle were nice enough to let me use cyclopses instead cyclopes. Because “cyclopses” is at least a debatably debatable usage, whereas cyclopes is quite literally depressing.
As to the walls of my room in the Nuthouse (it’s what we called the fellows’ house, because its thin roof was under constant attack from acorns), I didn’t remember anyone telling me I couldn’t draw on the walls. Which were so oppressively blank and looked exactly like the horrible case of writer’s block which had settled in my head. Only with fresher paint. I had no clue what to work on. And I was afraid to talk to Maurice, because he was MAURICE-frigging-SENDAK. And I was afraid of talking to the other fellows, because they each seemed so legitimate and accomplished. And I was ashamed that I had no idea what to do with my month living next door to all of them, as they briskly buffed and honed their brilliant dummies. The only dummy in my room was me. Bad joke. What do you expect? My brain goes conk.
Anyway, desperate times call for desperate measures. So I went to Staples (I didn’t know any other art stores near Ridgefield, Connecticut) and bought a bunch of construction paper and double-stick tape. And I started covering my walls. At first I drew only on the paper. Because I’m a goody-two-shoes coward by nature and I didn’t want to get in trouble. But then I started drawing off the paper a little. And then I accidentally started drawing smally in the hallway. And maybe I kind of drew in the stairwell leading up to the kitchen? And in the kitchen? And in the pantry? And coat closet? Just one leafy tree. Because this wasn’t my house. But at this point I was talking to and cooking with and getting lost in the woods with the other fellows, even if I was still mortally afraid of Maurice. And because Lynn and Dona, who ran the fellowship, didn’t seem to mind that acorns were falling from the electrical outlets. Or that bandits were claiming the lightswitches. Or that a faint hairy hand was reaching for the original Chris Van Allsburg, which hung in the breakfast nook.
When I had my first one on one talk with Maurice, maybe a week or so into the fellowship, he nervously said, “Why don’t you like me?” And I told him I was terrified and that, as is always the case when I’m afraid of talking to someone new, my mind becomes an empty room. This was a few years before my brain started conking, so I didn’t mention that. Then he told me he liked my feet. The one’s I had taped on the wall. And he said he would like to live in a room like this. And I told him he owned the house and that it was his room anyway. And then he sat down and asked me about my daughter.
Were you allowed to draw on the walls of your room when you were a kid, Jules? And do you let your daughters draw on the walls in theirs?
Jules: I love that Staples story. And the Maurice part. For some reason, I got teary-eyed. Maybe because, though I generally don’t get really starry-eyed over authors and illustrators (as in, I know they’re just people too, right?), I would have given anything to have met Sendak in person. I know he was a mere mortal, like the rest of us, but he had such respect for children that I feel like … I dunno … it really is the end of an era with him gone.
CYCLOPES? WHO KNEW? Whoa. Well, I’ve learned something new this week.
No, I never drew on my walls, though I guess in high school I painted song lyrics around my door frame. My girls don’t draw on the walls, though my husband and I talk about one day letting them turn over the kitchen table and paint on the bottom of it.
New subject: Did I already tell you that I read Rude Cakes at a story time, and it even made the fussy toddlers get quiet? I’m reading at another story time tomorrow at an elementary school, and I’m bringin’ this again.
Have you shared this, by chance, with children other than your daughter?
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Rowboat: I don’t know what can done about Ali. Sergio (Ruzzier) was a Sendak Fellow the same year Ali was there, and he’s been trying to get Ali to send out his dummies for years. Without success. You know how charming Sergio is, so you can imagine how cagey Ali must be to resist. Maybe you should invite Ali to talk sometime? And ask him to share some of his work? Maybe this would poke a hole in the dam? And get him on someone’s radar. If nothing else, I’m sure you’d love talking to Ali.
Can I ask what lyrics you painted around your door frame? I was never allowed to put anything up on the walls, growing up. Not even a postage stamp. Lucky for my childhood door frames, I’m terrible at remembering lyrics. I’ve been listening to the same forty or so albums for the past however-many-decades, and I still couldn’t do more than hum gibberish if I had to sing something a cappella on the spot. Which will never happen. Trust me.
The same is true for books. I have only the gauziest of impressions of what any of my life-long favorites are about. I’d blame this on the brain surgery I had after a bad exchange with a truck while riding my bike, but the truth is my memory was dicey before then. The upside of all of this being I could be stuck on a desert island with three books and three records and I would never get bored. Because there would always be so much to discover. Maybe even two books and one record?
One of the things I discovered after going to the fellowship was how much I liked having giant paper legs growing up the walls. I would have never pegged myself for this kind of person before, but there you have it. I am apparently that kind of person. And I liked it so much that I finally had to put one up in the hall of the building where I live. I would have put it up in my apartment (I really would have), but all of our walls are crammed with stuff. So it had to be the hallway or nothing. And … it looked GREAT!!! What a thrill that there was finally a giant paper leg in the hall.
The problem was, there was only one. For weeks I tried to pretend this was okay. But after a while, it became too much. So while everyone was off at work and school one day, I put up another one. Because my neighbors never said anything about the first leg. And I couldn’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want to walk by twice as many six-foot-tall paper legs springing from the baseboards, while tromping off to work or coming home with heavy bags of groceries. I mean, come on.
A master plan started simmering in my head to paper the whole length of the stairwell with a chorus line of giant legs kicking up to the second and third floor landings and on to the roof. This kind of thing can simmer in my head, because it is totally unencumbered by song lyrics or historical facts or anything it ever encountered on the printed page. So the glass is half full.
But one day, a couple days after the second leg gloriously appeared, my favorite neighbors left a message on my voicemail asking me to call them. And I learned the very sad lesson that some people apparently prefer to haul heavy bags of groceries against a wan backdrop of dull white paint. How could this be? These are smart capable people. Job-having, child-rearing, book-reading, vote-casting citizens. Plain white walls are just so … I don’t even know what they are, but they sure are sadder without legs.
My neighbors were so contrite and polite about the whole thing, and I felt horrible for putting them in the position of having to sheepishly explain why life is lived better while tromping off to work against a legless wall of nothing. If only I could have remembered all the lyrics to The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle, this kind of thing might never have happened. Suffice it to say, there will never be a chorus line of giant legs kicking their papery way up to the roof. And my neighbors, whom I love, will never have to worry about anything else springing from the baseboards in our common stairwell. Really.
The only thing more disturbing than suddenly needing to grow giant legs in one’s hallway is suddenly deciding to blog about wanting to put up giant legs in one’s hallway. On a secret blog that no one reads. Which is here. And here. The entries are from a few years ago, but the shame of it all still smells fresh. Now you know my deepest, darkest secrets, Jules.
You asked me earlier if there was anything I learned from Maurice that changed the way I made books. I learned so much from him, and he had so much to say about everything that it would be impossible to choose. And the structure of the Fellowship was less about some traditional student/teacher model than about becoming a part of a community of like-minded nutjobs. About fellowship. Fruity as that may sound, that’s really what I think it was about. Because making books can be so lonely and dispiriting and disorienting. And even someone as accomplished as Maurice still needs friends in whose adoring faces he can see glimmers of his own goodness.
That I have become the kind of rainbow-twirling person who can say this kind of thing is hard to swallow. But there you go. I like giant legs and sometimes twirl rainbows. It is so easy to lose your way when you are stuck inside your own head all the time and you don’t know how to do anything but hum. Know what I mean?
I am curious to hear how story time went, Jules. I’ve not read the book to anyone other than my daughter. I didn’t even read it to her. She can read it herself. And she watched me working on it for months. Since my desk is right next to the kitchen and you can’t get anywhere in the apartment without walking by my desk. I have given the book to a couple friends, and I know they have read it to their kids and I’ve heard that they supposedly laughed and liked the book. But what else are someone’s friends going to say? I even gave a copy to my leg-hating neighbors, but their daughter is maybe a little too young for the book, since she just turned two.
My secret hope is that one day her parents will walk into her room and they will spy something strange growing from the baseboards. I have no idea what that something will be. Or how far in the future it will be. But I say this and wish this lovingly. Because hope springs eternal. And you will never be able to convince me that anything is truly done better against a wan backdrop of dull white paint. Except brain surgery. Or starting over.
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Jules: I share your disdain for plain white walls. Well, there are some people who decorate the rooms they inhabit with a lovely sort of asceticism I can only strive toward, and that in and of itself can be a great thing. But I always end up hanging up lots of stuff. You could ask my husband and daughters any time about the number of nail holes I’ve put into our walls, and they will laugh. I visited the Biltmore recently, where they hang pictures from cords that hang from the ceiling and go down the wall, so as not to put holes in the walls, but I can’t very well do that either.
Let’s see … the song lyrics were the chorus of a song that started out with “let me pull down on your high ideals / to sweet earth, honest and wide.” They were by Sam Phillips, who at that time went by her real name, Leslie. (This was 1987/1988, and the song sounds very dated now.) I started listening to her back in high school. When she sung under her given name, Leslie, she was singing what is called contemporary Christian music. And I was a Christian back then. Or tried really hard to be one and tried really hard to understand all that. Right around the time I started having big questions about religion, she stopped singing contemporary Christian music. I don’t know if she underwent some kind of religious conversion herself (and that’s not any of my business), but she got really tired of the pressures of that market and just walked away. Her music changed a lot, too, in even better ways, but I digress. That particular song was, I think, her goodbye to all of that. And it spoke to me. And it’s like we went along paths in life that I saw as similar ones, though again, I don’t know what she, personally, believes now. All I know is she is still making fabulous music—she’s in her 50s now—and I’ve followed her all these years. So talented that it’s criminal.
“Strange things are happening every day.” Those are the opening lines to one of her best songs. (Bonus: A stroh violin!)
She also has a song called “Lever Pulled Down”:
I’m a lever pulled down / I’m a flipped switch. / I’m a lever pulled down / and I don’t know why it’s so. / I’m a lever pulled down / and I’d give my life for the lightning in our dreams.
AHHHHHH. It’s like a lost Whitman piece, and the song itself is this delightfully scrappy country kind of thing.
Anyway, how’d I get onto the topic of religion? The Dalai Lama once said, “my religion is compassion.” That works for me now.
I still remember, speaking of Sendak and speaking of faith (because that’s what he was discussing when he made this comment), a chat with Roger Sutton he once did where he said … well, he said this. I just went and looked it up, because I posted it at 7-Imp the day I heard about his death:
[D]eath is a comfort because that’s what saves you. Suffering, cancer, some horrible disease, I’m terrified of pain. Death will just take you away from that. So what’s to be afraid of? It’s a cessation of pain. What more could you ask? It’s like the good nurse. … I think the most graceful thing offered us is sleep without dreams. That is so sensible.
Sleep without dreams. I like that too.
I meant to say earlier, when we were talking about the loss of the great man, that when I read about his death (on Twitter, of all places), I cried with a grief that surprised me, because again, I’d never met him in person. But I guess it’s perfectly normal for people to respond to their favorite artists (or musicians, etc.) in this way.
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I feel like I should extend my sympathy to you for this bike wreck with a truck that has happened in your past. OUCH. Did you know that happened with Ludwig Bemelmans, too? Here’s the scoop. He collided with a four-horsepower Super Rosengart, as he writes, while bicycling one day, and in the hospital he was inspired to write Madeline (though evidently his inspiration came from other sources too). But your bike adventure sounds much worse.
And, yes, I read your story to kindergartners. They loved it. I asked them to guess what was on the bottom of the cover. Anyone IN THE KNOW knows it’s a cyclops. Duh. Someone said a donut. I think someone said a spaceship. They laughed outloud at the spread where the “GIANT CYCLOPSESE” are revealed — also at the spread where the rude cake begs, “PLEASE!” I told them the “cyclopes” story. I thought they’d roar with laughter at the pronunciation of that word, but they did not. But I’m still glad you got away with “cyclopses,” because I’d probably stare at “cyclopes” and wouldn’t be sure how to read it.
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I guess I should ask you what you’re working on next. But I’m also curious to know: What inspires you? Generally. In life. Other than giant legs in the hallway. (For the record, you could paint some in my hallway any time.)
Rowboat: Sweet Jesus, Jules. (Can I say that?) Who wouldn’t want to collide with a four-horsepower Super Rosengart? While vacationing on the île d’Yeu. With a sack of lobsters slung jauntily over their shoulder. And then write Madeline. Seriously. I have total collision envy. If only my truck moment were half that delectable. Or classy. Or inspiring. All mine did was knock the smell out of me for a year. And the hearing out of half my ears forever. Lamely impersonating roadkill on the corner of 6th Avenue and 9th Street. Without any whiff of inspiration.
Speaking of inspiration and roadkill, I’m currently floored by the breezy profundity of Bárður Oskarsson’s The Flat Rabbit. Wow. Right? Clearly Oskarsson ran into some kind of Super Rosengart of his own.
Jules: Yes, I wrote about that book here at Kirkus (with art here at 7-Imp). I am still thinking about that book, even after all this time. It’s even part of an essay on international picture books I just wrote for this.
Rowboat: As to how I’ve gone through life having never heard of Sam Phillips before, I stand duly shamed. Is it possible I heard you talk about her on Number Five Bus? And ignored your pompoms on her behalf? Did I make that up? I remember loving your interview with the nifty Steads (I hope they resume their bus chats, by the way), but maybe I’m confusing your story with Anna Karenina? Or some other something I ran into and loved and then forgot as its outlines blurred ever further out of focus? Anyway, I may have snubbed your rumored exhortations once, but there’s only so much foolishness and regret I can visit upon myself.
I just listened to some of Sam Phillips’ songs online, and if she is not the very essence of a sack of shoulder-slung lobsters slamming into a Four-Horsepower Super Rosengart, then I don’t know if running into Super Rosengarts means anything anymore. I say that after having listened to only a handful of her songs. WIth one working ear. And a brain as empty as the Dalai Lama’s Man Cave. I have no idea what that means. My brain sometimes goes conk, remember. All I meant to say is I think I get why Sam Phillips continues to floor you. If there were one album of hers you’d recommend for starters, it would be…?
Jules: Yes, I talked about Sam in the chat I had with Phil and Erin last year. I’m always talking about Sam’s music. I might very well annoy people, and I’m really off the subject of picture books, aren’t I? As for which album to recommend first … It’s so hard to pick. I always say Fan Dance if people ask me this, though she described it in later years as something like “an album where I had a conversation with myself.” (I paraphrase.) May not be her most accessible album, that is, but it’s my favorite. Then, go backwards in time and listen to Martinis & Bikinis.
Rowboat: For reasons that elude me, at this very moment, all I can think about is The Cars. The band. Whom I haven’t listened to or thought about in eons. And that commercial for Head-On, where the voiceover keeps saying “Apply directly to the forehead” over and over again.
Why? Why? Why? I loved The Cars. And the Talking Heads.
Jules: Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)” … Oh for the love of all things pantsy, it’s one of the world’s best songs. The lyrics SLAY ME.
Rowboat: And The Pretenders. The Pretenders never stop sounding fresh to me. And full of nail holes.
That’s exactly the kind of thing that inspires me, Jules. A room full of nail holes. I say that as someone who hails from a long line of devout spacklers. Militant spacklers. “Hurry! Hide all evidence of our uncertainty. For Heaven’s Sake, use a daub or Colgate if you must, but get those ungodly voids filled in before someone sees!”
Anything that betrays its own messy history of becoming itself makes my eyes widen. It’s what’s so exciting about John Burningham.
Or Esphyr Slobodkina.
The Little Fireman, illustrated by Esphyr Slobodkina
Or Bill Traylor.
Or Milton Avery.
Or the quilters of Gee’s Bend.
Or Kitty Crowther.
All their work feels like tomorrow everything could be hung a little more to the left. Or the right. Like, if I didn’t keep checking in, the sofa might run away. It’s totally different than walking into a room where you know everything hanging there now will always tastefully hang exactly as it does. Because the room is stunning and perfect and it is already the fullest expression of itself, and as such it doesn’t need me to visit again, because the armchairs will never go AWOL.
I think this is why Maurice’s illustrations for [Wilhelm Grimm’s] Dear Mili or Outside Over There (both unimpeachable stunners) do less for me than his spots for [Ruth Krauss’] A Hole is to Dig, which take my breath away every time. Part of this predilection is undoubtedly sublimated envy; I will never have Maurice’s drawing chops. But part of it also has to do with there being too many exquisitely upholstered pillows in the room. And my being afraid to sit down anywhere. All that exquisiteness starts to close in on itself. It’s why people’s dummies sometimes look more alive and inviting than the final art.
A picture book is such an intimate space to begin with. One in which I want to feel like I can kick off my shoes and make mental crumbs between the pillows, or leave a ring on the side table. Which is a complete joke, because I’m the unrepentant Crumb Stasi of my own home. Of my own life. Constantly torn between a native allegiance to walls without nail holes, and a secret desire to draw acorns falling from the lightswitch plates. It’s a battle that is lost and won on both sides of the frontline every minute of every day. With no clear victor in sight.
For the love of pants, I didn’t mean to go all Paths of Glory on you like that, Jules. But it’s something I think about all the time. The ongoing struggle between the necessity of hard work, and an equally imperative need for pointless tangents of fun. Purposeless joy. Apply directly to the forehead. It’s the people who make their own virtuosity look effortless and fun who most inspire me. Because there’s something so generous about creating the hope or illusion in the mind of the viewer that, if they only tried, they could do it too.
Speaking of pants and pointless tangents, the book I’m currently working on is about an elephant who doesn’t want to wear them. It’s called Pete without Pants. He’s supposed to come streaking past you sometime is 2016. There is also a mermaid lurking in the corals. And some marshmallows and gorillas.
One of the last Talmudic imperatives Maurice shared with me before he died was, “You need to become a better spy.” At the time, I understood it to mean something about how to sneak my secret agendas past the Crumb Stasi of the marketplace. How to create the illusion of compliance without capitulation. But I have come to realize his advice has just as much to do with sneaking my timid slant for mischief past the repressive ministry of my own brain. I’m almost a 100% sure that’s how any of us will find “the lightning in our dreams.” And I’m reasonably certain it sounds something like kids laughing.
Am so glad to hear your kindergarteners liked the book, Jules. And that they’re still too young to hear anything funny in the real pronunciation of cyclopes. Here’s hoping we have occasion to ride our Rosengarts into each other again sometime soon. I’ll bring the lobster if you promise to arrange for airfare to the Île d’Yeu.
p.s. Militant Spacklers. Band name. I call it. (My girls and I have a list of band names—most of them come from books we read together—and I’m adding that to it.)
I enjoyed this conversation. Immensely. Thank you, Rowboat.
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