Throughout these interviews the term all-ages keeps coming up and
You've said you just wanted to make a fun story for your FLIGHT
contribution, but the story itself seems a bit subversive. While
being fun and hopeful it also touches on some serious issues like job security, corporate tactics, depression, immigration? while you wanted to tell a story that was fun, was the deeper meaning intentional or was it perhaps something that grew from the unconscious and bled itself onto the page?
The subtext is definitely intentional. Even though it’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, the first half of the comic focuses on frustration from having your livelihood taken away from you, and feeling powerless to do anything about it. I wanted to create something that would have an equal balance of whimsy and sadness. Like most of my of my comics, it plays with the contrast of high fantasy and day-to-day reality. And with Flight, the extra-cool part was being able to make the color choices symbolic as well. Everything turns gray once the depression begins… you see the insides of rabbit apartments, which are made up of earth tones to reflect grass and dirt…the evil birds are red to evoke the threat of Communism or Nazi invasion. It all makes for good shorthand when you have a simple art style like mine.
Speaking of all-ages, you deal with the subject of what's appealing
and appropriate for a younger audience day in and day out as editor for Nickelodeon Magazine. Does your position of being both an editor and a creator sometimes collide?
Being a cartoonist on the side, I can totally relate with the artists and writers I work with. Chris Duffy (senior comics editor) and I both genuinely love kids comics (and pretty much every other kind of comic), and are huge fans of all the people we use in the magazine.
Do you see yourself in a position where you can help fellow artists gain further exposure or do you need to look at your role as editor to emphasis timeliness and getting the right story?
I guess it might sound cool on your resume. But I kind of doubt being in Nickelodeon Magazine really helps cartoonists in terms of exposure or creating future customers for their own works. Our readership is mostly 8-12-year-old kids, who don’t usually go to comic shops or conventions, let alone seek out additional projects by their favorite artist. So even though a million kids a month read Patty Cake or Grampa and Julie strips in Nickelodeon Magazine, the comic book versions by SLG or Top Shelf aren’t exactly sure-fire hits in the direct comics market. One positive tradeoff, though, is the complete freedom to hire someone like Johnny Ryan to do comics for us, even though his other published work (Angry Youth) is totally inappropriate. I personally love to discover new artists who could do something unique and different, that kids would also appreciate. Especially if it makes us laugh. More than anything else, the kids who read our magazine expect comics to be funny. They don't really care whether Mike Mignola, Ellen Forney or someone straight out of art school drew it!
Do you find there's difficulty in appealing to an audience with
dwindling attention spans as younger audiences have an over abundance of stimulation already available to them?
Not really. Kids will always seek out things that will make them laugh. And Nickelodeon Magazine is filled with parody, gags that are actually funny, and unique comics, as well as interesting articles, bizarre facts, etc. Video games and iPods still have a long way to catch up in those fields, and the Internet still hasn't completely replaced the coolness of receiving your favorite magazine in the mail or convincing your parent to buy it for you at the grocery store.
JAX EPOCH AND THE QUICKEN FORDBIDDEN was probably my first exposure to your work [That and TEEN BOAT] and it’s had quite a long and successful shelf life. Has JAX been something that had always been laid out on a specific path or do you find that having continuously
worked on it for so long that your initial plans have changed?
John Green and I created the series when we still in art school, and probably over-ambitious about what we hoped to accomplish. We envisioned Quicken Forbidden as an epic series about an apocalyptic battle between magic and reality along the lines of Akira (specifically the manga series). After several years of self-publishing, we became humble and certainly more realistic in our goals. I started finding ways to speed the story up so we could resolve most of the major plot threads by Issue15. Sadly, the realities of self-publishing made it impossible for us to keep going past our 13th issue. Which is where AiT/Planet Lar stepped in and became our knights in shining armor, when then offered to publish the trade paperback collections (which we re-dubbed Jax Epoch and the Quicken Forbidden). The collections have really given the series a long shelf life and allowed people to digest the story in much more satisfying chunks. They also allowed us to extend sequences and fine-tune mistakes we made along the way. Originally, I thought it would be cool if the series ended with a really downbeat ending. Jax, guilty of destroying her home dimension, is forced to sacrifice herself to save the rest of universe. But now I realize, killing the main character of your comic series can be a cruel blow to the fans that have invested so much time in caring about them. But we got to have our cake and eat it too, by killing her off in the last issue we self-published. And then we can resurrect her for an extended epilogue in the third and final trade paperback! That’s what John Green and I are currently working on, with the hopes of having it come out by next year.
For that matter, ASTRONAUT ELEMENTARY, is this a project that has
solid plans or do you find yourself coming up with new material week by week?
I draw it week to week, but the overall story line is completely charted out. Over the course of the school semester, each of the students' story lines start to become more intertwined, introducing elements that start off small but increasingly build towards a climax that will involve all of the students and their graduation from elementary school.
FLIGHT has a majority of creators with strong animation ties, but
you’ve worn many hats yourself, tell us about Dexter’s Lab: Chicken
Scratch and your experience with seeing your work adapted for the big screen?
Well, it was loosely adapted from an issue of the Dexter's Lab comic book that I wrote. Same title, same set-up, but it spikes off in a different direction and ends dramatically different. When they adapted other Cartoon Network comics into episodes of their respective TV show, the comic writer usually got a small "inspired by" credit. But since "Chicken Scratch" was adapted into a short to run before the Power Puff Girls movie, it didn’t go through the same production stages. I was also told after the fact, that Genndy Tartokofsky didn’t feel I deserved credit, because I never would have wrote the comic if he hadn’t created the TV show in the first place. Which really bummed me out, because I really was a big fan of his. I still think Dexter’s Lab was one of the best cartoons ever.
AGNES QUILL for Slave Labor Graphics, will this be a collection of the webcomics or a continuation? How would you describe the title to new readers?
Agnes Quill is a teen detective/horror series with lots of Indiana Jones style high adventure. It’s set in a city called Legerdemain, which is built around a cemetery the size of central park. Agnes’ family is known for being able to talk to ghosts, so they tend to bother her with their problems. The book will be out in October from Slave Labor Graphics and will include all the online stuff, but also a ton of material that is completely new. Mostly prose material that fleshes out the unique city that Agnes lives in, and gives lots of background into her family heritage. There are journal entries and newspaper clippings that add up to an illustrated novella.
Lifemeter Comics, still fairly young yet garnering quite a bit of
attention and showcasing some remarkable talent, tell us about how this project got started?
Life Meter Comics spun out of the realization that lots of cartoonists I know, at some point, have drawn an awesome rendition of Mario, Link from the Legend of Zelda, or some other game icon in their sketchbooks. Zack Giallongo had a picture of Pit from Kid Icarus that made people flip out when they saw it. The two of us shared a table at a convention where it seemed like every other person was wearing a Nintendo nostalgia shirt, or cosplaying as Princess Toadstool. It just put a spotlight on how many people probably had a deep emotional connection with video games. So we started encouraging our friends to execute any crazy ideas they had floating around in their heads that involved a video game character. We just asked that it be true to the spirit of the source material, and not be a parody. That way it would be a total tribute to the stuff that inspired us as artists. By collecting it all on one website (which was designed by Stephanie Yue), it makes it easier for gamers to find and appreciate the pieces without having to search through a million individual artist blogs.