“Chasing something hungrily”-Taking a look back On Buster Wilde with creator Scot Zellman

anthro, anthropomorphic, artist spotlight, comic, interview, Uncategorized

Whilst writing my recent post on the excellent Buster Wilde comics I found myself in the middle of a twitter conversation with writer and published Alex Vance and eventually asked him some more formal questions for the piece. Alex was responsible for the printed Buster Wilde collection a few years ago and I inquired if it might be possible for him to reach out to the man responsible for the strips Scot Zellman in the hope that he might answer a few lingering questions I had about his creation.

He graciously obliged but I honestly didn’t expect a reply, it has been over a decade after all. A few days later however Scot shot me back a message and took time out his schedule to indulge me with rather a long interview. I’d like to thank him again for taking the time to answer me and give a wonderful insight into what went into the making of a comics classic all those years ago.

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Marfedblog: The first boring, obvious question a lot of people must have asked. Why did the Buster Wilde strips stop, was it simply a desire to move onto other projects, lack of time and interest in it or something else?

Scot Zellman: I think I lost interest mostly due to frustration. I’d hoped the strip would reach a wider gay audience, especially through the gay-interest newsweeklies I was sending copies to in the hopes they would run it, but I quickly found the strip and Buster character made a much bigger impression on a gay furry community. That was an education because at the time I had no idea there was such a thing as “furries” gay or straight.

My education in furry fandom was hard and fast and while the specific trappings were never of personal interest I certainly appreciated the enthusiastic response even if I did have to turn down a large number of requests for commissioned pieces featuring a much less G-rated version of Buster.

I saw the strip as a slapsticky, funny animal, Warner Bros.-style cartoon antidote to the gay strips I was seeing at the time, most of which looked and sounded the same and featured no talking animals, something mainstream comic strips were full of. It was pretty easy, actually, to end the strip. I needed to focus on my “real” job and I wasn’t really interested in being a niche cartoonist with a small audience. After a couple years I thought “Okay, playtime’s over. Time to move on.”

 

Mb: It’s unusual you made the comic and it caught on with furs, an audience you didn’t even know was out there, did it lead you to look into what other anthro comics were popular with them or artists who considered themselves furs?

 SZ: I did look around a bit, especially when I’d get fan mail from other artists or from folks who’d recommend other artist/cartoonist sites.  The only anthro comic/character I really eventually found interesting and still follow these days is the Blacksad series. And that’s mostly because I love hard-boiled detective stories and film noir. Plus, the artwork is beautiful.
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Mb: Why do you think the gay weeklies and such were so reluctant to run the comics? The comic itself or partly the attitude towards LGBT at the time?
SZ: Most gay weeklies weren’t really reluctant to run the strip, they were reluctant to pay me to run the strip.  I think the ones that were reluctant to run it for non-financial reasons wanted something a little less slapsticky and a little more mature and thoughtful (Dykes To Watch Out For, Curbside, and The Mostly Unfabulous Life of Ethan Green were big back then.) Or whoever was in charge of picking the comics to run just didn’t think it was funny. That happens, too.

Mb: The comic debuted around 1997, was it difficult working with the limitations of the internet back then in terms of storage and bandwith?

I know nothing of computer tech and wouldn’t know where to begin in setting up my own website, especially in 1997. I had a tech-savvy friend do all that for me. I had been a cartoonist for my college daily newspaper, so I was well-versed in the process of keeping artwork looking good when it’s reproduced/reduced for the printed page.  As for the original website, I supplied my webmaster with good-sized, pristine copies and let him do his best with the internet limitations of the time. 

Mb: What attracted you to the idea of showcasing Buster Wilde online as a webcomic? What was the reaction of other artist or those around you to adopting such a new medium in terms of comics?

I never really heard from others about the novelty of being online. Mostly people sent me emails telling me how much they liked Buster and the strip. I actually forget sometimes that the strip is still online these days. I usually just think of it as a book.

Mb: What was the audience and there reaction like at the comics peak? Was it difficult to find an audience in a time when comics online were not as recognised

The reaction was uniformly positive. In fact, I can’t remember getting any negative email at all.  As for my expectations, I had none.  I assumed people were seeing it and the ones who really loved it were the folks sending me the fan mail.

JK: Buster Wilde now seems like a snapshot of, albeit a humorous exaggerated one, gay club culture at the time. Is that how you saw it and how do you think the strips might differ if they were coming out now? Would any characters differ or just settings and such?

I haven’t been out clubbing in ages, but I don’t imagine things have changed too much. Going out will always be about the same things:  fun, excitement, adventure, and the giddy hope you’ll meet someone thrilled to meet you no matter how sceptical or clumsy or overexcited or over it all you may be.

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Mb: The printed book shows a few iterations of Buster before the one you settled on. What was the original idea and how did that develop into what you eventually drew? What was the eureka moment when it all fit together?

SZ: I was trying to come up with a gay-themed “funny animal” comic strip for my local gay paper and at one point I thought that a straight man who turned into a gay werewolf would be funny and allow for a lot of opportunities to poke fun at both gay and straight people. The eureka moment came when, after some time trying to come up with a name for the character, the name “Buster Wilde” popped into my head after Oscar Wilde, of course. Once I had “Buster Wilde” the rest just poured out of me.

Mb: How do you feel about webcomics becoming a lot more established since Buster Wilde and do you ever follow any at the moment? Do you think you would have an easier time building an audience now?

It’s a logical technological progression, so I’m not surprised and it certainly makes it easier to get your work “out there.” I still worry that books will be marginalized to the point being hard to find or disappeared entirely. That said, I do have the book versions of my favourite online strips. I follow Bob the Angry Flower, Poorly Drawn Lines, Scenes from a Multiverse, and Doonesbury regularly. That’s about it.

I don’t know. Probably, but I’m still pretty disconnected from what’s going on online.

Mb: Are there comics that inspired the humour and structure in the Buster Wilde strips? Are any of the events (obviously not the lycanthropy) inspired by real events or people?

I’d say the primary inspiration were the old Warner Bros. cartoons, especially the Chuck Jones Bugs Bunny, Wile E. Coyote and Daffy Duck cartoons. Plus, I’ve always just loved slapstick and pratfalls.

The personal inspiration was just my years going out, my friends, and my love of good-natured, accepting straight people who are easily unnerved and exasperated by gay people.

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Mb: The Unfinished strips included in the print version have a more experimental panel layout than the other strips, would this have been something we would have seen more of if the strips had continued? Did you ever find the regular format limiting in any way?

SZ: That was an experiment in longer-form  storytelling told in a comic book page format that, because I’m a comic book reader, thought I’d try just for fun.  The regular format I’d already been working with didn’t feel limiting in any way since I felt like I could do whatever the gag called for.  That said, I do like the inherent restrictions of the “Sunday comics” format.
Mb: Did you have an overarching story or a direction the strips were going in?

 SZ: Sort of, but not really. The goal was to cram as much humor into each “episode” as I could without overloading it to the point of incomprehensibility. As for the overarching story, I just knew that the character’s stories would continue to unfold and more characters and adventures would be introduced as time went by.

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Mb: Are you surprised that people like myself, still talk about and hold it in such high regard after all this time and Do you have a favourite strip out of the bunch?

Not really. Once people find something they love it usually sticks with them. I’m the same way with older comic strips, TV shows, movies, comic books. The ear-piercing strip. The bare minimum amount of dialogue, the right amount of slapstick, and a funny the turnaround/topper.  The strip still makes me LOL as they say.

Mb: Overall what do you think the appeal of Buster is?

The exact same appeal of the friendliest, sweetest Golden Retriever you’ve ever met. He’s just happy all the time and you’re his best friend

 

Mb: Raspberry Flan. Are there any other suitable bathroom foods?

Baked Alaska Flambe.

Buster Wilde can be read in it’s entirety here. The printed version can also be purchased here or from amazon.

“This weirdo parade”-Furry artist makes it ‘Onta’ the cover of Island issue 6

anthro, anthropomorphic, artist spotlight, interview, Uncategorized

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New to readers of the Island anthology, but well known in the Furry subculture, is an artist usually featured in Hard Blush; a series releasing extensively gay furry comics, Onta. Whilst he’s associated more with pornographic and adult comics, his entry into Graham and Rios’ anthology series Badge of Pride will be a more slice of life offering, as the artist delves deeper into the lives of his cast of characters. Marty, Taylor, Jessie and Mu show their wildly different experiences and expressions of sexuality during a local gay pride parade. Showing that even now Pride is an important part of LGBT life, meaning different thing to each person, whether they love it or loathe it.

I found myself drawn to, and feeling sympathetic towards, the quiet and retiring lion, Jess portrayed as finding it particularly difficult to identify with the more flamboyant carnival atmosphere he finds himself caught up in. He bemoans “I can’t relate to any of this shit” and finds himself “sulking like an idiot” while others throw themselves into the party with more ease and gusto.

With Island issue 6 out next week I finally got a chance to ask Onta a few questions about his newest comic.

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Marfed: How did you first discover the furry subculture and were you already drawing by this point? What lead you to want to draw comics, especially furry ones?

Onta: I discovered it as many do, through erotica. Specifically Japanese gay kemono artist. There where many inspiration but Aoi Takayuki and Poju’s entry where a really big deal for my entry into furry.

I had slacked around for a while trying to commit to various projects but could never fully commit to something. I felt if I created a persona and boxed myself into a small limited area my mind would do better. I had been trying to make comics for years and had failed quite often. Miu asking me to do a page for the first edition of Cocktails was really my first major completed comic’s work which was pretty late in my career as an artist. I didn’t have fully formed characters and story, even if only porn prior so it gave me a big boost. I felt very weird after completing it as it was a new sensation.

M: How did working on Brandon and Emma’s Island anthology come about? Were you a fan of either of their work before hand and have you been following the issues of Island up to now?

Onta: Brandon approached me a year and some change ago. I believe he was introduce to my work through Fangdangler (Adriel Forsythe). I used to be pretty big into indie comics back in the day following Derek Kirk Kim and similar artists and I gradually fell out of that sort of thing as work in animation industry and later games industry took over. I have become a fan of both Brandon and Emma since my involvement.

M: Can you tell us a little bit behind the story you have in Island and what lead you to write it? What was the best part of working on this story for Island? How did you tackle including characters from your previous work that readers might be unfamiliar with?

The creation of this story was not simple and actually require a lot of outside help including reviews and feedback cycles. Understand that although I’ve made quite a few comics they all heavily rely on adult scenes to fill out the whole thing. Having to make a story that relies nearly 100% on interactions is new territory for me. , I’m having to introduce my characters to new readers meaning I couldn’t rely on previously established character elements. I wrote the story and somewhat over emphasized their characters as to catch everyone up with this entry hopefully it pays off and people get the archetypes. As for the story itself I wanted something that would both satisfy furry fans and attempt to mirror gay acceptance with furry acceptance. Hopefully the irony of hating furries but enjoying the message of gay tolerance isn’t lost on most readers. I also had to work on facial construction on Jessee as his face has always been a loose cannon as far as structures go.

The best part was honestly getting it done. It was very, very hard work. I think this is the most professional I’ve even been on a project because I feel these characters are on the end of their lifecycle with me so a lot of pushing was needed to get the story out.

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M: Not only are you in the issue, you drew the cover too. How did that come about and how does it feel that in January Marty and company will be rubbing shoulders with the likes Spider-man and Batman on comic shelves?

Once again that came out of the blue when I was asked. To be frank again, it was just a “do the work and make it nice” scenario. I think 21 year old me would be handling all of this a lot differently. As an older feller I feel It’s more of a “do a good job and don’t fuck up” feeling.

M: Are there any other furry artists’ work you could see fitting into Island in future issues?

Onta: I definitely think Miu (creator of duo Peaches and Cream), Seel and Rikose would do great in Island.

M: Were you at all worried about the perception of your work with a non furry audience with a lot of it being very adult in its art and themes?

I’m only worried about Brandon book doing well or not and I’ll be working hard to get furry fans to purchase and offset sales slump from those uninterested. I’m in too deep to worry if people will respect me or my art or the adult themes. I never anticipated any serious published work ever so it showing up out of the blue is a nice treat but it’s so far off from my mind I’m in it to do the work and hopefully make Brandon happy. If it does well and people like I’m excited but I have zero expectations from my work in Island beyond doing a good job for my employer.

M: Do you feel that furry is slowly becoming more mainstream and the public more accepting of works like yours that would at one time have been considered exclusively for a furry audience?

Onta: I think as time goes by and people deal with the fact that everything is up for grabs as far as sexualizing stuff, people will learn to deal with furry as two distinct things. The Disney movie coming out won’t hurt and will probably spawn a huge new group of furries.

M: I found myself identifying with Jess a lot and his feeling of not fitting in with the rest of the Pride attendees or the typical Gay identity. Is this something you that comes from direct experience yourself or from other people you have met? Which character, if any do you feel you identify with the most?

Onta: I think the majority of gay people are completely underrepresented. I also believe there is a strong “Full gay or get out” sort of mentality from both the gay scene and in general. No one wants anything but very clear sexual labels and it just doesn’t work that way. I think Jess’s position is the first baby steps for a lot of people. Someone who doesn’t aggressively hide their sexuality but also doesn’t reveal or revel in it.

Each character represents a part of me. Not equally or even in the same way. Some characters represent desire or wishful thinking others are more mirroring my personality or thoughts.

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M: The idea of Jess coming to terms with his own sexuality has been subtly hinted at in your adult work, what made you want to pick up on this thread again? What interests you about it?
Onta: I think the furry fandom has a unique appeal to people who are taking their first steps into exploring the sexuality as gay males. Furry’s and furry conventions are sort of a microcosm. A lot of niches, interest and kinks sort of converge under this one major theme and since Anthro fans are pretty much used to being social pariahs, grouping with similar folk sort of soften how much you stick out from normal everyday life.

Since my work is directed at the furry fandom to some extent I felt I should include a swathe of personality types with varying levels of sexual and emotional maturity. Jess, although my least popular character and more popular with woman was the best angle to allow new readers and furry fans in general entry into the story I wanted to present without alienating them.

M: Do you still think Pride is important even in 2016 and why?
Onta: I’m not sure. The internet is doing a lot of good (and some bad) where visibility is concerned. I think pride is more of an event for many people then a social cause at this point as it’s often presented with some level of showmanship over any real attempt to present or solve issues that non-hetero folks deal with. I wanted to present something a bit more realistic with the way I’ve noticed the crowds interact with the parade without getting too catty/snide about it.

M: Badge of Pride raises some interesting points as well as being fun, could you see yourself doing more works of this type for a mainstream audience that deal with topics like sexuality and identity as well as your adult work?
Onta: This comic took a lot out of me. I don’t know. I didn’t want to indulge in a dark, self-hatred, depressive style slice of life comic though was my first kneejerk response when asked to make a story. I felt I should focus on entertaining the people first and get my messages across somewhat subtly. I have people who have read the script and given feedback to thank for that. If the reception is good and people genuinely like it and Image doesn’t get mad and numbers are good on sales it would be a good serious consideration.

Island issue 6 featuring the ‘Badge of Pride” by Onta is released on January 27th while his adult works can be found in pages of Hard Blush available here.

“I’m still working on taking my own ideas seriously”- Talking comics and body horror with artist Tessa Black

artist spotlight, comic, Comic spotlight, First Impressions, interview

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One of the biggest pleasures for me reading and collecting comics this year has been the sheer volume of exciting and interesting anthologies that have been released thus far. Between the ones from the major publishers and kickstarters, it’s been really easy to find something inventive and interesting from complete newcomers to more well known names. I’ve sung it’s praises on here before, a lot I know, but for me Image comics Island is still one of most consistently inventive in terms of content and creators as well as being readily available in comic stores. One of the clear standouts for me so far has to be Tessa Black’s “Seawitch” which was featured way back in Islands third issue.A trans Designer, Illustrator and long time artist from Vancouver, Seawitch is surprisingly Black’s first foray into the world of comics and it’s instantly striking in how confident, fully formed and realised the idea and execution is.

Created over the course of a single weekend, this deliciously unnerving and thoughtful comic depicts a woman stood alone on a beach, before entering the ocean as she begins drifting down to the depths and slowly undressing in a slow build of body horror. Clothing and jewellery and even body parts discarded as she descends to the ocean floor.A long dead pilot the only silent observer on this arresting and quietly unnerving, yet intimate scene. Slowly transforming her body to match the environment around her it culminates on the final page with the Seawitch at ease in her new surroundings, undressed and comfortable in the silent watery depths. For me it’s the collection of smaller moments leading up to this. A series of panels depicts a figure gently pulling a pair of socks, each pulled down with the other foot. It’s an every day act but here it is oddly intimate, sensual but uncomfortable.Black reframes this almost crushingly mundane act and make it feel voyeuristic, a far too personal and intimate an act for us to be witness to.

With it’s clean fluid lines and coloured only in minimal blues it captures the solitude and coldness of the sea, adding in alien, oceanic textures to the figures body. Although it works on a surface level as a slow build body horror, after being lucky enough to  talk to Black over e-mail she also expertly uses her first comics creation to communicate her personal experiences of being trans, addressing the idea of clothing as performance and how environment and peoples ideas of us shapes both our identity and form to certain extents.

Before Islands and Seawitch, had you ever considered producing comics before? If so what ideas did you have and what prevented you from making them?

I’ve been around comic artists for a few years, but always felt the burden of their expectations or opinions of certain genres and approaches in the medium. I still don’t consider myself a comic book artist or even an avid reader, but it’d definitely something I’d like to explore.

Did you find yourself changing your approach to drawing a comic rather than single illustrations? How did the idea for the minimalist color palette come about?

I think you can definitely see the change in approach when you compare my regular art with the comic. I was pretty pressed for time, so I would have coloured it with flats in a limited palette if I’d had more time. I still intend to do so when I get some time, so I can re-release it anywhere else. I’d probably add in illustrations on the side, similar to to the work of William Stout, which inspired me greatly as a kid.

On your tumblr, have a run of insect girls, or people with insect parts. What about insects appeals to you? Is it there bodies mostly or also behaviours?

I really like insects for a whole host of reasons. Their anatomy is so different from ours, more similar overall to the things we make than the way we see ourselves as humans. Despite drawing sexy bug ladies, I’m more interested in conforming the layers and segments of insects to conform to a more familiar silhouette.

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Also a series brightly colored goo-girls.  What attracted you to draw them, the malleability of them or some other aspect?

I like goo girls and shape shifting in general. I’d like to play around with the idea of being able to fluidly present your own body based on subconscious thought. Having a form decided by the subconscious, without being predisposed by genetic or environmental (physical) pressures.

You also mentioned you went through a phase of drawing yourself, what broke this series of drawings, or was it just a desire to move onto something else?

I think I started drawing who I wanted to be just after starting my transition. A lot of folks recommended that to work towards feeling comfortable with my body or thinking about clothing styles. I tried being pretty realistic with how I expected to look, and that shape formed the basis for a lot of my exploration of erotic art.It all started with a fairly simple and cartoony bodies but adapted to become softer and more varied as I experienced changes in my own body. I also get bored of things pretty easy and dislike seeing repetition in themes or processes in my art. I never really had much of a signature style and I’m always much more interested in trying new things than sticking to old ways. It feels like the best way to learn is to shake things up and tackle new directions in art, but that’s just me!

“You let your ghosties get the best of you”- Chatting with Comics creator Mark Kalesniko

interview

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“You can either stay and rot, or you can escape and burn. That’s OK; he’s a songwriter, after all, and he needs simple choices like that in his songs. But nobody ever writes about how it is possible to escape and rot, how escapes can go off at half-cock, how you can leave the suburbs for the city but end up living a limp suburban life anyway. That’s what happened to me; that’s what happens to most people” High Fidelity- Nick Hornby

A few years back, after heavily getting back into comics, I was gifted with the book 500 Essential Graphic Novels and surprised by the breadth and depth of the selection set about bookmarking and ordering a few dozen titles. Amongst them was Mark Kalesniko’s Alex,  A character I instantly fell in love with and creator who’s work I quickly consumed.

Having moved back to his home town of Bandini in Canada, with his tail between his legs, after abandoning his dream of animation at ‘Mickey Walt’, Alex wakes up on a park bench, groggy from another night of alcohol fuelled self destruction. Hungover, high school yearbook in his jacket and with an expressionistic painting of the town he has no memory of.

The frustrated Alex fills his time wrestling with his past, struggling with artists’ block, hard drinking, and Gilligan’s Island whilst avoiding old school friends and facing up to the unthinkable. Having to be an artist, rather than a cartoonist. Freeway, drawn over ten years features a younger Alex in his animating career. Stuck in a seemingly never ending traffic jam he reminisces about his uncertain start in LA , whilst he imagines himself living an idyllic life, back in the golden days of animation.

Although optimistic now, I spent most of my teens and twenties as a shamefully stereotypically moody and sullen sod, even now I’m drawn to characters like Alex. Back then my favourite book was High Fidelity, which is the reason for the quote at the start of the review which pretty much sums up Alex’s story. Both books features a downtrodden lead character, stuck in their ways and unhappy with the way life turned out. Kalesinko’s work is great for wallowing in self pity and misery, in the same way that we’re drawn to sad songs, knowing full well they’ll bring us yet deeper into sadness. Tackling themes of depression, self destruction, inner peace and the death of a dream, they are both hugely moving and funny reads. Kalesinko can tease out the comedy of even the most disastrous and destructive events of Alex’s life, presented with his sparse fine line with the pacing and sense of movement that clearly comes from his own stint in animation.

While a lot of elements are shamelessly autobiographical in his books, after emailing Kalesniko over the course of a few weeks, he’s far from anything like his destructive stand in from his comics, and amongst one of the nicest people I’ve had the chance to talk to since starting this blog. The rest of this article is dedicated to the interview I had with him, I don’t usually say so, but he gave some great answers, and it’s one of my favourite interviews to date.

Marfedblog: I found the short Alex story ‘OCD’ funny, but also touching, it’s odd that on every occasion in other media people who have it are presented as being unaware they are doing it, or at ease with it, whereas you presented Alex as getting annoyed even with himself. Does this come from personal experience, do you share any of these traits with Alex? Are there any other of your traits you’ve imbued him with?

Mark Kalesniko: Yes this does come from personal experience, I do suffer from OCD and find it very frustrating and exhausting especially when leaving the house.  I did exaggerate some of the traits for comic effect and the last  gag with the iron I have never done but wanted to.

I do draw from my own life experiences for my Alex stories but they are in no way autobiographical. First my own life is quite dull so I will incorporate events that have happened to other people just to make my story more entertaining. For example, in my book “Why Did Pete Duel Kill Himself?”, I have a bully who enters Alex’s house and beats him up right in his bedroom. That incident never happened to me but it did happen to a neighbour kid so I incorporated in to my story to show the horror of a bully out to get you. That is the beauty of fiction is to combine different ideas from different sources to make a more interesting story. Also in fiction, the story can wrap up to a conclusion that is both satisfying to both the author and the reader, while reality doesn’t always conclude so neatly.

kalesniko-ocd-08MB: With comics like this do you find it beneficial to tackle the more serious aspects of it with humour? Do you think it’s an important part of getting information across to an audience?

MK: OCD is exhausting and anxiety inducing malady and to show it with humour I believe breaks the stigma. I am not laughing at the person who suffers from it, I laugh with them. I am trying to make the OCD smaller, less brutal, give some one who suffers from it some distance, to see that there are others who are going through it and they are not alone. When we laugh, we can begin a conversation which in turn helps both those that suffer with OCD and those who know people who suffer a better understanding.

Humour and comedy has always been a good way to broach difficult subjects be it race, religion or illness. A recent example is the comedian Tig Nataro who created a whole comedy routine over a series of tragic events that happened to her. By using humour, it eases the pain and makes things more bearable especially for people who are suffering through their own personal problems.

MB: Again in Overpass you write about a difficult subject, Suicide, and inject humour into it with Alex musing over the practicalities of the act. What was your intention with the comic? Similar to making OCD smaller in the other story?

MK: I have written about suicide before with “Uncle Bob” and “Why Did Pete Duel Kill Himself?”. Both stories dealt with the tragedy and confusion of such a desperate act. In “Overpass”, I started thinking of the act itself and how much effort and planning it would take and that Alex is so depressed that even the act is not worth the effort and in turn he actually saves his own life. It’s humour born out of the absurdity of the situation.

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MB: How did the idea of drawing Alex as a dog come about? Is it simply to make him stand out more visually amongst other characters or is there something else behind it?

MK: The dog headed character of Alex is based on a character I created as a child. Originally, Alex had a brother and they went on adventures alone the lines of Carl Barks “Donald Duck.” As I got older, I wanted to create stories with more complex themes and decided to haul out my childhood character and put him in adult situations.I found that using a dog to represent Alex could reflect alienation and loneliness. Although Alex doesn’t actually look like a dog to his family and peers, his seeing himself as a dog reveals the way he feels about himself, that he is different. For the reader, the dog evokes a sense of distance and perspective in seeing elements of the plot, just as animals were used in fairy tales centuries ago to represent ideas or character traits.

MB: The shorts featured on your website, where do they fit into the ongoing story of Alex? Will the next book be set after the events of Alex or do you have another part of his life in mind for it?

MK: The Alex time line is confusing. Originally, “Freeway” was suppose to come before “Alex” and was the back story for why Alex moved back to Bandini but when I completed “Freeway”, I purposely ended it in the mid 90s a few years after Alex’s time period. The reason being, I had more stories to tell of Alex in L.A.  but I couldn’t figure away to tell them if he was still in Canada. Also at the same time I got a germ of an idea for another Alex/Bandini story set after the events in “Alex.” So to solve the problem, I decided to free Alex of the time line.  All the books and stories of Alex stand alone and do not need to be read in any particular order. And I wanted to explore different aspects of Alex’s character that both L.A. and Bandini bring out in him. So Alex is  unstuck in time. As for “Overpass”, “Tarantula” and “OCD” they are all set in L.A. and take place after “Freeway” as does the new Alex story I’m currently working on. If I live to 100 I hope to also draw the Alex/Bandini story.

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MB: Freeway and Alex both tackle the subject of artists working within a strict system and how stifling that can be for creativity , has this been your general experience of certain industries and do you personally see this situation changing at all? 

MK: “Alex” and “Freeway” were both written when I was a young man and express the views that an artist should be free of any constraints and working for himself. At the time, I felt that working in a corporate setting was stifling, political and no way to reach your artistic expression. Now that I’m older, I have a more nuanced view. Working in a corporate setting, an artist can exchange ideas, learn new things and be part of a bigger project that can be satisfying and rewarding. So I see the value in both and its the choice of the artist to balance the two to get the most reward from it.

MB: Who were your inspirations when developing your own unique drawing style?

MK: Egon Schiele is probably my greatest inspiration for my drawing style. I love his lines, the expressionism of his paintings and drawings. The raw feelings he has for his subjects. It is very powerful. He inspired not only my graphic novels but also my personal paintings. In comic books, Guido Crepax  has had a strong influence. His line work is very sensual and I love the way he lays out his pages. Also I love Carl Barks “Donald Duck” and Hank Ketcham’s “Dennis the Menace”, both drew with a strong draftsmanship  that let me the reader go to different places and actually look around. As matter of fact it’s “Dennis the Menace in Hollywood” that was a huge inspiration for Freeway. When I was a kid I loved exploring the detail of each page and how he took me on a virtual tour of Los Angeles. It  inspired me to draw my own tour of downtown L.A. in Freeway.

 

MB: In Alex, he spends the book suffering from artists block, have you ever suffered from it yourself and why do you think it’s a subject that artists tend to go back to and explore in their works? 

MK: I have never had a block that stopped me from finishing a book. I have had blocks in certain sequences of my books where I had to put that section away and hope when I get back to it I’d have a solution. One of the best examples of this was  during the creation of Mail Order Bride, I had a scene where Monty and Kyung were arguing about her art school friends. I originally had a very weak argument that Monty was making and I knew it wasn’t working, so I put it aside. One evening , my wife and I were in Pasadena enjoying these Hurdy-Gurdy street performers who had as part of their act, dancing puppets of a maiden and devil. As Matter of fact, those puppets inspired the  puppets in my book. Talking to the performers later, I said how much I like your maiden and devil but one of them corrected me and said that’s not a devil that’s a fool. That statement inspired me and I was able to rewrite the scene using the devil/fool puppet as a symbol of the foolishness of Monty’s argument with Kyung.

Why do artists explore the artist’s block in there work? I believe  it’s every artist’s greatest fear. What if I can’t come up with a new idea? What if I never create again? For myself, it scares me to death.

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MB: In your research for Freeway and the buildings featured was there anything surprising that came up that made its way into the story? What was your favourite to draw and why?

MK: The route that Alex and Chloe take in present day Bunker Hill is the same route I take when my wife and I go downtown to explore. In researching and drawing the Bunker Hill of the past, I was quite surprised how well the two routes synced up. The Bunker hill of the past is completely gone, not only are the buildings demolished but even the topography of the hill was radically changed. When I did my research I was pleasantly surprised at how the present and the past would lead in and out of each other making the journey through time much more seamless. I could not have planned that.

My favourite structures to draw were Angels Flight and the Bradbury Building because they both still exist. There is nothing like drawing something right in front of you. You can see how the building is built. How it fits in to space. How big or small it is. In a photograph, which in Freeway I needed because so many of the structures of the past are gone, I sometimes had difficulty making out how a building worked. A shadow could be too strong or an angle just a little off and I would have no idea how to draw it or what details were there. I’m grateful to have those photos but it’s easier if you can draw something right in front of you.

MB: Do you have any plans for other graphic novels any time soon?

MK: Yes, I’m working on two books at the same time. One is a horror story and the other is another Alex story. They should be out in a year or two.

Mark Kalesinko’s books can be bought from amazon and most comic stores, his shorts and further information are available from his website.

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History, Horror & Sci-Fi Make For Dark Comedy In Jason’s If You Steal

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For well over a decade now Fantagraphics have published the deadpan comics of Norwegian cartoonist John Arne Sæterøy, familiar to many by his pen name, Jason. “I’ve been both surprised and grateful” explains Jason over e-mail at finding an audience outside of Europe “Originally, I expected foreign royalties to be sort of a pleasant bonus. Maybe enough to go on a vacation or something. I’m still waiting for the moment when I have to go back to having a real job”. September will see the release of If You Steal his first book since 2013’s sombre, Chandler inspired Lost Cat. Eleven new tales make up his new book featuring giant reptiles, assassins, ruminations on the JFK assassination and Irish singer songwriter, Van Morrison, his work here presented as a horror comic. This time around Jason is once again returning to the short story format with this book. “If in the middle of twenty page story you discover it doesn’t work that’s one thing” says the artist on the shorter French album books he is most well known for, “If it’s in the middle of a 200 page story, that’s something else. Luckily that hasn’t happened so far”

Historical figures, horror favourites and sci-fi classics are all fodder for Jason’s melancholic stories. This time around one of his short stories stars Mexican Painter Frida Kahlo, here recast as an assassin for hire. “Some I draw just because they are fun to draw as animal characters” he divulges on his inclusion of historical figures in his work, “Take Frida Kahlo, Her iconic quality”. Others he admits have more significance for him. His literary heist comic The Left Bank Gang has a group of the 20th century’s greatest writers, Fitzgerald, Joyce, Pound and Hemingway re-imagined as struggling cartoonists. Attempting to pull of a high stakes bank heist the book is equal parts biography, revisionist history and hysterical crime caper as well as being one of the few books Jason has expressed an interest in revisiting. “For Hemingway it was an interest in his life. I read a lot of biographies about him” says Jason on the writer “The idea for a comic about him came later. I want to draw another album with Hemingway. It would take place during World War II, it’s a totally different story so I wouldn’t call it a sequel”.

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Known for his solitary, often silent anthropomorphic protagonists his stories are often characterised by high concept ideas that combine the high brow with pop culture staples. First encountering his work through the silent, text free Sshhhh! I was immediately impressed with how deceptively simplistic Jason’s ligne claire style is on the surface, depicting the deep melancholy and dark humour within. Even in his other books his characters are often silent for a lot of the time, their dialogue clipped and to the point. Throughout his comics small gestures and silences speak volumes, portraying his characters more than masses of text ever could. Stories are expertly told through facial expressions, action and more often than not, inaction. If You Steal, as with his other books finds the absurd humour arising from the comics high concepts. Time travelling to kill Hitler, zombie apocalypses and musketeers in modern day are all hilarious in their pitch black delivery but often serve more as frameworks for him to hang deeper stories over. Jason’s work predominantly explores themes of isolation, loneliness and the difficulties of human interaction through his trademark dry wit and offbeat mastery of dark comedy. Some stories leave you smirking and laughing, others heartbroken and devastated. The majority of them, both.

If You Steal is available to order from Fantagraphics books.

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Interview: The Opportunity Zoo- Leo Magna discusses his return to the world of Furpilled

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Lately life has been full of these weird little coincidences. Last week I started on what I’ve been jokingly calling a super-secret project for another website at the encouragement from one of it’s other contributors. Part of this was writing about the web comic Furpilled. Drawn by Leo Magna it’s a delightful anthropomorphic slice of life comic featuring a colourful cast of LGBT characters in Santa Monica, California. Focusing on the everyday exploits and romantic lives of this group of friends, it ran for eight years, won an Ursa Minor Award and ended in 2011. In the upcoming article I encourage people to check it out, making the claim that it still deserves some attention after all this time, and sang the praises of his new comic Perception.

The very next day, after a four year hiatus he sends out a message that Furpilled will be back, with both comics alternating and updating once a week. Surprised and delighted by it’s return I got in contact with Leo Magna to talk about the sudden announcement and his plans for the future.

What’s been happening in your own life that has prompted you to revisit the world of Furpilled and How much of this was fans asking for more?

Well, when I decided to end the comic it was because it was at a good point to end it, and my life was about to get hectic. I was about to move across country for school, so I figured that it was time. All of the stories for the characters were converging to a point where it seemed appropriate to stop. Now that I am done with school and I have more time on hand, I figured that it could be a good time to re-start it. I get at least one message a week regarding the comic, so the fans asking for it is definitely a big factor for it.

Did you ever expect there to be such a dedicated fan base for the comic even after all this time, considering that you originally intended it to be only a handful of pages?

Honestly, no, I never thought that there would be such a dedicated fan base. To this day it surprises me. And I am really thankful for them. They are why I’m still drawing.

The series came to an end four years ago and tied up a lot of the loose ends and story-lines. Did you want this to be a definitive ending at the time, or was it always your intention to write more stories with the characters? Will it be picking up where it left of or four years later?

Because Furpilled is a slice-of-life comic, there are always stories to tell. The stories really will never end until I decide to drive all the characters off the cliff.

Time has passed, yes. So there will be a time gap for Husky and the gang. This new series will pick up four years after we last saw the gang, and we get to see where they are now. The majority of the stories will take place four years after, but some of them will be from that gap.The previous ending was appropriate for the problems that the characters were facing then. Andy and Indigo starting up as a couple, Husky and Saetto getting over their exes and start trusting each other, Chris letting go of his past and ending a bad relationship.

Out of all the cast, is there a character you would like to develop more in the new run that you didn’t get a chance to originally? Is there any character you feel more confident in writing after this time away from them?

For this new series I want to focus more on Husky, Andy, and Indigo. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I think their stories will be interesting because they will be so opposite. I’ve always liked contrast like that.

In Furpilled the characters, although they had difficulties and low points,always had a strong supportive social group. What led you to want to explore the other side of this with Perception? Which side have you experienced the most in your own life?

The strong social circle that all the characters in Furpilled have is based on my own circle of friends. After having moved away from them, and after so many years in the LGBT community, I started to realize just how lucky I was to have them all. I never felt out of place with them because they were all equally as eccentric as I am. Very few of them were “straight” in the strict sense of the term, so my sexuality was never really an issue. When I started Furpilled, they definitely were my inspiration, so while we touched on the subject of coming out, we never really had stories for that.

All the characters in the comic are openly gay (or bisexual) and older in age than the characters in Perception. Perception is meant to explore what it’s like to come out, and discover that you’re not the only one out there that’s different. There is also this added pressure that Joe feels to want to have his fraternity brothers perceive him as a regular guy, because he thinks that they are all just regular guys. But that’s the funny thing, there is no such thing as a “regular guy”. That’s where we start in the story, with Joe waking up from a drunken one night stand with another guy, and immediately regretting it.

The landscape in terms of LGBT in America has changed substantially in the last four years since Furpilled ended. Although still not fully accepted at large, there has been progress with marriage rights and such. Will any of this play into the comic and to what degree? Are there any particular changes you would like to explore?

Oh gods yeah! Can you believe it! four years ago I couldn’t get married, and how here I am thinking about dinner for my husband! It’s crazy! And it’s not just here, all over the world things are changing. It’s a great time to be alive. These new chapters will definitely touch on that. I don’t want to give too much away as far as ideas go, but count on marriage and transgender issues coming up.

The cast is made up mostly of LGB characters, with Ian being non gender binary. Have you ever considered including a trans character in the comic?

Well, I don’t think this was expanded much in the comic, but Ian’s ex (she shows up briefly) is transgender, so the thought was always there. As for these new stories, spoilers, Yes.

What else in terms of mainstream or furry comics are you enjoying right now?

Neil Gaiman picked up Sandman again, and I can’t tell you just how much I love that. As far as furry comics, Circles just ended last January, and it broke my heart. There are a couple of online comics that update on FurAffinity that I like to keep up with, Seattlefur by RainYatsu, and Deceit by Mad-Dog.

As with other story titles in Furpilled this one is derived from a song? Are there any clues we could glean from listening to the Goldfish track?

Yes, Goldfish – Choose your own Adventure. And no, there aren’t any clues, really. I love to listen to music when I draw, so I put on random songs. For every chapter, though, a song will come up that just resonates with the theme of the story. Then I proceed to listen to it on a loop until I’m done with the chapter.

Both Perception and Furpilled will be updating exclusively through Leo’s Patreon Page. The first four volumes of Furpilled can be read online or purchased from Sofawolf Press

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Interview: ‘I’d love To See Invention Seeping Into Comics’ – Tom Muller On Designing For Wolf, Material, Zero, Valiant, And Vertigo

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The old adage ‘never judge a book by it’s cover’ really doesn’t work in the world of comics. Up there on the shelves among hundreds of titles vying for our attention, it’s the first port of call and important visual real estate for informing a potential reader and giving them a strong sense of just what the comic is all about. It’s surprising then that the role a designer plays in the overall aesthetic of a comic is quite often overlooked when it comes to talking about and appreciating them.

It’s not just the covers but the insides too, with more companies employing the particular talents of designers to give each of their titles it’s own distinct look and feel, unifying it together. Although it’s not limited to the two companies, Image and Boom! are particularly notable in just how many beautiful or eye catching books have been on comic book shops shelves in the last few years, in no small part to work of designs and design teams such asComicraft on Kurt Busiek and Benjamin Dewey’s Autumnlands, Stephanie Gonzaga’s brilliant work on the Adventure Time Mathematical Editions orFonografiks whose work graces the pages of Saga and They’re Not Like Us and gives those books their unique, elegant and instantly recognisable looks.

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It’s with all this in mind along with Ales Kot and Matt Taylor’s new supernatural Image comic, Wolf debuting last week, that I spoke with the designer behind the title, Tom Muller (via email) to discuss his work on Wolf and Material, working with writer Ales Kot, and his particular approach to graphic design within comics.

Marfedblog: You’ve previously worked with Ales Kot on his series Zero. What is it that drew you back to working with Kot again?

Tom Muller: We never stopped working together ever since we started working on Zero. All the series I’m designing with Ales, The Surface, Material, and now Wolf, gestated long before Zero ended, so we never stopped collaborating. We’ve got a great rapport and friendship and Ales’ series allow me to experiment with the medium, which is one of the reasons why we keep collaborating.

MB: Wolf is set in LA with Kot citing it as a definite influence behind the tone of the comic, did that setting have any impact upon the design work on the comic? If so in what ways?

TM: I think when Ales first started discussing Wolf and the setting, and we were discussing visual cues, ranging from David Lynch, Trent Reznor, psychedelia, Witch house, and the neon underbelly of L.A., and obviously the description of the central characters. The idea came to me of designing the logo as something that looked like it was painted on a wall, like a tag. It felt that fits the character and the story well.

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MB: What prompted the idea behind the fantastic internal design with the graffiti, spread over the front and back inside covers?

TM: Since the first issue was double sized with 58 pages of story cover to cover, I felt it’d be an appropriate way to launch a series by going unapologetically cinematic and big with the opening and the inside covers.

MB: How does working on the design of Material differ from your approach on Zero? Which have you enjoyed working on the most, or are most proud of?

TM: The main difference between Zero and Material is that I’m the sole cover artist/designer on Material, instead of collaborating with an artist and remixing their art on the covers for Zero.

From the start we wanted the covers for Material to look much more like magazine covers, something you could envision sitting on a shelf between Wired, 032C, Businessweek, Makeshift and Riposten. We drew inspiration from 80s art publications like ZG. The intent with Material is much more adult and refined, in that we want to reach an audience beyond the traditional comic landscape.

I think it’s too early to say which series gives me the most pride or enjoyment – both are very different in approach – but for what it’s worth, I’m very happy we ended up doingZero the way we did, going against the grain and showing you can push design further than what you usually see in comics.

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MB: Does Ales have much input on work you’re producing for Material or is it left up to you? What about the new series Wolf?

TM: Of course. Ales will always brief me on what the covers should reflect. Sometimes we discuss this at length, or he’ll email me a one sentence description or a single keyword, which I then interpret.

With Wolf my involvement has been quite minimal compared to Zero and Material, because we’re running no ads or editorial/design content; and Matt Taylor’s covers are already so iconic I feel I don’t need to add more than what’s needed. And issues three and four Matt has started to incorporate the logo into his art, taking some work off my shoulders so all I need to do is add the rest of the cover elements like credits and indicia. Generally speaking, with all the books I’m designing for Ales I’m left pretty much to my own devices, but of course Ales will always have input to make sure we’re all working towards the same goal.

MB: How do you think the role of designer is seen in the comics industry in general, do you think it’s an area that is overlooked?

TM: As a designer I’m often equally interested in discovering who designed a particular logo (or series) as who the artist, writer, colorist and letterer are. More often than not designers aren’t credited on series, even if they make a significant contribution which is very different from the rest of the publishing and design industry where designers and design agencies are usually credited, and often it even boosts the visibility and selling power if a client or brand can boast they collaborated with a certain designer or studio; and I’d love to see that happen more in comics. When a new high profile series (re)launches with a brand new logo I think it’s fair to give a nod to the designer of that logo or series and to be fair, I do see this happen more and more, especially within creator-owned comics, and smaller independent publishers.

material1afterMB: Previously in talking about how the design for issue one evolve, you mentioned removing a picture from Ferguson. Was this because it was too soon after the event to be used in such a way, or was it purely for design reasons?

TM: The Material #1 cover had originally the very recognisable “Seasons Greetings” photo that became a symbol of the Ferguson riots. We had chosen that photo because it’s obviously a very powerful image, and it reflects one of the storylines in the series. But in this case that photo wasn’t in the public domain (i.e. free to use), so we decided to alter the cover in such a way that we kept the energy of that image, without actually explicitly using it.