Monkeybrain to Publish Natalie Nourigat’s Travelogue ‘Tally Marks’

Natalie Nourigat, one of the many varied members of Periscope Studios, has been tremendously prolific as of late. Contributing various stories to a number of places you’ve likely seen – like in The Thrilling Adventure Hour anthology, It Girl and The Atomics, Husbands and several others – she’s really made a name for herself especially over the last year or two.

Her next project is another move off in an unexpected manner, as she’ll be building up a sketchbook while she tours round Europe. And oh! Look! You can see her travel plan here:

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Which is also the cover for the digital comic which’ll compile all of the work. Tally Marks, her travelogue as she moves through Europe and sees whatever a Natalie Nourigat likes to see, will then be published by Monkeybrain on an ongoing basis over the next few months.

The first part came out this last Wednesday, in Monkeybrain’s typical unexpected “by the way here’s THIS” fashion, and looks as though it’s going to offer a tremendously entertaining and fun trip through the heart of Europe.

You can find the first issue of the book on ComiXology through the Monkeybrain portal, and there’s also further stuff to look at on her site.

Interview: Blasting Through Crime (and Time!) with Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder’s ‘Rocket Girl’

The vivid, striking, lush artwork of Amy Reeder first came to my attention in Madame Xanadu, a vastly underappreciated Vertigo series she drew with writer Matt Wagner. For all that the book made sweeping, bold approaches to setting and place, the heart of every issue was how closely Reeder holds onto the central character. She never for a moment leaves the character isolated in the magical worlds that the book created – she sticks tight to the myriad expressions and pauses of her lead.

Which is why when she joined up with writer and editor Brandon Montclare for a one-shot comic called ‘Halloween Eve’, it was so exciting. That was then my introduction to Montclare the writer, having read several of the comics he worked on as editor – and what an introduction that was. Halloween Eve is the story of a woman in a costume shop, refusing to put on a costume herself and making fun of all the people who do. Quickly trapping her in a confusing vision of hallucinogenic strangeness, Montclare and Reeder seamlessly managed to not only deliver a gorgeously-realised piece of comics art – but to wrap the character in a tight, smart parable about identity and growing up.

They followed that story with the announcement of a new series, called ‘Rocket Girl’. This was a story of time travel, crime-fighting, and all kinds of unexpected and involving twists and turns – but once again, the series never lost that immediate focus on the Rocket Girl herself, Dayoung Johansson. With the first trade of Rocket Girl now out in stores, Brandon and Amy were both kind enough to answer a few questions on how the book came about, their collaborative process, and life working on a creator owned series – where every issue might prove to be the last.

 

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Steve: Rocket Girl is, at heart, the very simplest concept – it’s all in the title. “Here is a girl, and she has a rocket.” When did you first conceive of the character? And whose idea was it?

Brandon: The title came first. And by accident.  After the success of Halloween Eve we were thinking about a longer follow-up. As close as we collaborate, our division of labor is often rather traditional. So I was pitching Amy all kinds of ideas—Rocket Girl wasn’t one of them! It was a fake title I made up on the spot as I was trying to analogize something or other. Amy liked the sound of it so much, that soon after I had to come up with a story to support it. That’s not the way you want to build a proper story, but it worked. I think starting with the title—and a simple one at that—was a big influence on the directness of the story.  Which in turn influenced DaYoung’s personal directness.

Amy: You might have seen this in the trade—that’s exactly how it happened.  I mean, seriously, how come there wasn’t already a Rocket Girl?  Best name ever.  I immediately had an image in my head.  And it was pretty amazing how Brandon whipped up the perfect story to match it.

Steve: The 2013 seen here is the 2013 that everybody in the 1980s thought would happen – jetpacks and flying cars and robots and stuff. Where did that decision come from? Why make 2013 the future utopia and then send her back in time to the 80s?

Brandon: I think everyone appreciates the crazy expectations of old sci-fi. So it seemed like a cool thing to make part of the story. Rocket Girl suggests there’s a specific reason why these predictions didn’t come true. A lot of making the current year the “past” in the POV of the title character is just me being clever. More important than 2013 is 1986, where the majority of pages are spent. I was intrigued by doing an 80s period piece—it’s in all of our lifetimes or near enough, but quite distinct. It’s a truly different world that doesn’t exist anymore.

Amy: I like to call this the “Brandon Twist”—I’ve noticed a trend in his writing to flip something on its head like this.  You know, this whole, “It’s about this but this is actually THIS.”  I don’t think I’m making any sense.  But trust me, it’s a thing!!

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Steve: How do you work as collaborators? Do you bounce a story between each other, looking for common interests and ideas, and then link those together into a story?

Amy: We do very much communicate on what we want to find something we both like.  And really, sometimes we don’t communicate it, but we’ve been friends for so long…I know what he’ll totally love and he writes things I would love, too.  For instance, I’ve always had an obsession with past predictions of the future and what it says about humanity, and Brandon just up and wrote a whole story about it.

Brandon: I think comics are best served when every other creator prioritizes the penciler (as it happens, Amy doesn’t just pencil—she inks, colors, and letters Rocket Girl). That’s not lip service. The craft of comics is mostly choosing images and thinking about how you sequence them. There isn’t even proportionate space for dialogue. So as writer, I am chiefly trying to set up Amy so she can do her best stuff. That carries through everything—initial development, plot, breaking down the pages.

Beyond that foundation, we work traditionally. I write a full script (mostly). Amy does all the layouts (mostly).  Those parenthetical qualifiers are down to the secret strength of our collaboration, which is simply closeness. She reads the script and offers input. I’m looking at her layouts or finishes or colors or letters or cover design, and likewise I might come up with something clever.  We’re both completely committed to Rocket Girl and we are both types that really care about always doing our very best work. So discussions about creative direction arise because we’re eyeballing everything we do separately. This applies equally to the business side of things, or all the other decisions that are part of the process of getting ideas out of our heads and into the hands of readers.

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Steve: Amy, your art attracts all kinds of well-justified acclaim, and one thing that’s always striking is how much you experiment with breaking panel borders, spreading out action, and depicting sequence. Is this something that’s in the script, or is this you interpreting things?

Amy: As big-headed as this sounds, I guess I’d say it’s me!  Brandon tries to facilitate this by giving the story some space and giving me a lot of exciting story elements to work with.  Without that, my own quality would go down, bigtime.  But yeah, I’m always trying something new because I have a superstition that once something is repeated, it’s sort of lost its “soul.”  Never the same pose, never the same layout, that’s what I say.

That said, I try not to get TOO crazy with the layouts.  My goal is simply to get people lost in the story, to feel the whole thing, not just see it.  Attempting that is a huge rush and it’s why I draw comics, to manipulate people’s feelings.  But just, not in a mean way.

Brandon: Amy is one of the most innovative storytellers working in the comics medium.  And you can only be one of the best innovators if you’re also one of the best basic storytellers.  Plus her stuff has a nice finish! Despite all the acclaim, she’s in a way actually underrated because there are so few people as good as her and I don’t know that she always gets the credit she deserves. I’ve been fortunate to work as an editor with many legendary artists.

In my observations, the only other artist to enjoy an equal amount of openly verbalized envy among pros is Frank Quitely.  And you can ask Frank Quitely how fond he is of Amy’s stuff.  Or Bill Sienkiewicz.  She’s a titan.  She’s so clearly a Top Ten artist… or maybe this is all just my opinion.  But sticking to my guns: I definitely want to give that calibre of artist as much room as possible.  In addition to that, I maybe try to provide cool visual opportunities or inspirations—but I’m smart enough to leave it to her.

Steve: How did the design for her outfit come together? Do you want things to look practical and ‘real’, or are you more interested in creating an unusual and distinct aesthetic for her? Do you think heroes need to have a sense of practicality about them?

Amy: Oh, I think that’s a bit of a yes and no for me.  On the one hand, I’m very intent on fully “realizing” objects and that includes clothes and texture.  So it hangs on her in a believable way, and it’s designed to work in a 3D realm.  I know how the rocket pack comes on and off and I think having her completely covered from head to toe is believable.  But her helmet and pads are so bulky…I don’t think she can actually raise her arms without them getting in the way of the helmet, but I can get away with drawing it in a way to make it seem like it works.

So I would say I lean on the side of practicality—enough that people can picture it existing—but not so much that it holds me back from getting to do some exaggeration.

Steve: There are all kinds of background details at play, especially in some of the 2013 pages. What level of worldbuilding do you both do before starting on the comic itself? Do you plan out society, trends, architecture, and so on?

Brandon: There’s actually very little world-building done outside of the script.  There’s no Dungeon Master’s Guide.  That’s not a tool I find helpful, and Amy is the same way as I don’t think she has much sketchbook stuff that’s dedicated to background.  We had conversations about the New York Teen Police Department or Quintum Mechanics then and now.  But nothing was ever too fleshed out except on the page.  I write a fair amount of art direction/non-dialogue in the script.  It’s been enough for Rocket Girl; moreover, overthinking these things can turn counterproductive.

It’s a slippery slope to have a secret rulebook because it might make you accidentally skip presenting to the audience something important. Rocket Girl is a character piece at its core.  The world is just something the move through (or bounce off).  I’m proud of the economy, because I think everything that’s been demonstrated about the alternate 2013 has been done through story action and not exposition dumps.

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Amy: Brandon’s right in that I mostly don’t do a lot of drawing off the page to create the future scenes, but there’s a bit of worldbuilding that goes on in my head.  I spend so much time on this that it’s inevitable that I start making up things outside of the direct story.  I have air traffic laws.  There are vents on most of the flying cars and around buildings that cancel out any wind.  There’s lots of parking up high on buildings that makes for more interesting architecture.  The rockets in the rocket packs are individually moveable and react to the position of the body.

Now that I think of it, one of these days I should really write out all this stuff I’ve come up with!

Steve: Something which stands out to me about your stories is that you always use the fantasy as a metaphor for something else – not everybody does that anymore. In Halloween Eve the story was about a girl in a costume shop who couldn’t manage her own identity, for example. Was this something you had in mind while creating Rocket Girl – that there was a subtextual meaning behind the sci fi and time travel and crime fighting?

Brandon: Yes.  It’s hard to expand beyond that simple answer because it’s the foundation of my creative approach.  I don’t know if it’s an uncommon approach but I do know that I’m all in.  And that commitment manifests in me trying to do something that’s re-readable.  The best comics or movies or music, in my opinion, gets more enjoyable with each re-experiencing.

I worked under Bob Schreck editing All Star Superman.  I think I’ve read that book maybe more than any human being on earth. The script drafts, the art as it came in, creating a balloon guide, multiple lettering drafts, four proof stages.  It kept getting better.  I still pull it off my shelf every 6-12 months, and it keeps getting better.  That’s what I aspire to—and I have a layered approach where I hope things work on discrete multiple levels.

I think you can read Halloween Eve as a straight fantasy adventure (albeit with a feminine climax).  You can read it as a take on A Christmas Carol or Wizard of Oz.  In general it’s a story about growing up.  Or at its core it’s an essay about the nuances of identity.

Amy: It’s pretty cool to witness what Brandon does with these scripts!  And I can identify with his description of reading All Star Superman, because my process requires me to read and re-read his scripts and ruminate on them while I’m working on them.  And I’m constantly realizing something tricky he did that I didn’t notice before.  I feel like I’ve learned a lot through working with him!

Steve: The first trade, which is out now, collects together the first five issues. At the end, there’s a firm ending, but not something definitive – it feels like a pause rather than culmination. Was that the intention? Did you want things to wrap up at issue #5, but also leave space to pick things up again for the second arc?

Brandon: The practical history is that we originally planned for a very hard ending to #5.  It was very tight getting there, story-wise.  But we prepared for it because the market is so unpredictable.  With the success of the launch, we felt that we should push #5 all the way to #10.  This would give more breathing room and allow for an unrushed build-up.  It importantly gives us a chance to flesh out important characters.  It happens to allows for more action (which we thoroughly took advantage of in #4).  So while I hope #5 ends with some finality, it is more of a midway point to the big bang that will conclude the second arc.  If we ever do #11, it will be a very different book.

Amy: I really can’t wait for everyone to dive into this second arc.  Think of it as a 2-episode TV miniseries… it’s just too big for one arc, and too important to squeeze into a small time frame.  It’s what we’ve been leading toward this whole time, and it’s really amazing.

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Steve: Also,  do you do the trade dress yourselves? Because it’s FANTASTIC

Amy: Thank you!!  Yes, I did do it myself!  It’s been a fun, creative new outlet, designing these books.  I designed the logo as well.  Luckily for me, I have a technical mind along with my artistic side, because doing this sort of thing does involve some calculating.  But it is amazingly rewarding to be this involved in my own book.

Steve: If I’m right, issue #6 is planned for this September, heading into a new storyline. What can readers expect to see from the issue? What’s coming next for her?

Brandon: More of everything you like!  There are still some paradoxes to be addressed (I hesitate to say “resolved” due to respect of time travel laws).  What happened to 2013 is the big issue that unfolds over the next five issues.  In #6 we’ll go back to DaYoung’s rookie year in the NYTPD and be introduced to her disgraced ex-partner Tasha Tallchief.  That’s a flashback within a flashback (which aren’t supposed to do) while cleverly or ironically being of course set in the future (which either compounds or annihilates the former parenthetical).

Amy: I’m actually really excited about issue 6 because I’ve been dying to put Rocket Girl in plainclothes, trying to fit into the world.  She’s been wearing the same clothes this whole time!  We’ll see how long she lasts without that jetpack.  The new arc continues to be FULL of fun…we don’t waste a single page.  You’ll see her relationships with others build…we are going to get you hooked on these people because it makes the ending to the arc that much more sublime.

Steve: How long-term are your plans with the book?

Brandon: We’re focusing on the next arc which will have an air of finality at #10.  We can end there and be very pleased with the story.  But if there is fan support we’ll do more as long as it’s creatively interesting—and for the record I’ve only become more and more jazzed about this story as it’s progressed.

Steve: You wrote on The Beat recently about sales at Image, and how 1000 sales can mean the difference between an ongoing series and a story being cut down to a miniseries. Is there a certain level at which the series can stay afloat? Do you mark out a line, and if the series drops below that line then you know it has to start wrapping up?

Brandon: I was pleased that my comment got some mileage—mostly because I’m at from the Neal Adams school of thought that believes broadcasting information is the most important and progressive thing we can do in the current creator-owned market.  That being said: monthly sales are practically-speaking the most important factor, but not a dispositive one.  If we had a Walking Dead-level cable series and zero monthly sales, Amy & I could do Rocket Girl for the rest of our lives.  We do mark out a line, but it’s in pencil.  It can be moved or erased.  There’s no reason to give up that flexibility.

I do believe that a quality book can and should support the creative team.  Rocket Girl is a labor of love—but it supports itself and satisfies its creators.  Necessary income is up to the individual—whether you’re happy in Mom’s basement or instead need to take over a Hell’s Kitchen loft like a certain ex-Daredevil artist.  Unfortunately great quality books don’t always find or keep their audience.  I personally believe that you have to be prepared to move on.

Steve: How are these sales calculated? Are they being drawn from pre-order numbers?

Brandon: It’s a combination of data and projection, and it gets both more complicated and more accurate the longer a property is out in the world.  But as I mentioned, Direct Market single issue sales are the most important number.  It’s also a dependable number.  Comic shops don’t get to return unsold copies (as opposed to standard returnability in bookstores, and what remains of the newsstands) in exchange for a bigger discount.  Pre-orders, order adjustments before FOC, and re-orders are almost formulaic at this point—although Rocket Girl happens to do much better on reorder and sell-through than the average comic.  So pre-orders are where you need to push because it’s so hard to break out of the cycle.

At this point, I can use real dollars because there is enough surplus on the balance sheet.  We have the cash flow to cover current daily production.  We can weather for at least a few issues a precipitous decline in sales or thunderous rise in costs.  Fan support through five issues has secured that, for which we’re grateful.  The short version is Amy and I are locked in to making at least as much on Rocket Girl as we would at Marvel or DC at least through issue 10.  Given that we’re bimonthly, there’s plenty of time to determine the future.

We’ll see how sales are at #9 and #10.  And by that time, we’ll have a sense of how well the collected edition is doing.  We’ll monitor how well merchandise sells and sales at conventions. Ancillary rights are still almost completely untapped—obviously there’s a lot of potential there.  There is a reality in creator-owned that you have to take charge of some elements of the business.  But with that, you come to realize that a healthy business plan actually helps the creative process rather than distract from it.

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Steve: Do you think, now readers and creators are connected online, that being more open like this about the realities of comic-making becomes useful? That there can only be a benefit in letting readers know exactly what they can do to best help a comic continue?

Brandon: My motivation for sharing is usually for other creators or people who want to break into comics.  That being said, I’ve discovered straight-up fans appreciate knowing this information as well.  It should have been more obvious to me after the Kickstarter, where regular people loved being a part of each and every step in the process.  It should have made sense even before that, because I gobbled this kind of stuff up when I was just a fan, before working professionally in publishing.  But for some reason, that took some time to sink in.

It’s certainly not required of fans—all they have to is get entertainment value out of the comics for which they pay.  But comics fans are often very sophisticated and dedicated to the health of the medium.  I think if they know where their dollars go, that can shape some of their buying habits.  And this is perfectly legitimate because they (and I, as an equal fan) have an interest in comics flourishing.

Amy: The Internet can certainly have its drawbacks even with regards to the industry, but yeah—I think it all balances out to very positive, especially in instances like this.  Brandon said it—comics readers like to know this sort of thing.  I think consumers in general care a lot more about their buying habits these days, but there’s a long history of fan interaction with creators that is at the core of comics fandom.  They know us; they see our faces, and we interact with them.  Comics are personal, both in how they’re created and how they’re consumed.

Steve: What else are you currently working on? I hear that Halloween Eve will possibly be coming back this year?

Amy: No major plans for me; since I’m doing the art, colors and letters, I pretty much have my work cut out for me for this year!  But I prefer focusing on one thing at a time.

Brandon: Rocket Girl is the focus right now.  We’d love to do more Halloween Eve, but there hasn’t been enough time in our schedules to make that happen.  But keep your eyes peeled as the holiday gets closer.  We going to try to do some small things this year, maybe with another artist as Amy takes a more writerly role.

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Many thanks to both Brandon and Amy for being so generous with their time – especially with SDCC looming! You can find Brandon at his website here, and over on Twitter here. Likewise, Amy’s website is right here, with her Twitter page here. The first trade of Rocket Girl – which I have to assume you’ve already put on your wishlist – is out right now through Image Comics, with issue #6 kicking off the series once more in September.

SDCC ’14: New Projects Galore at the Drawn and Quarterly Panel

I followed this live thanks to Deb Aoki, whose twitter stream across the weekend was a must-follow EVENT! She hit a lot of panels, and covered them fantastically well – spotlighting lots of stuff which didn’t get covered anywhere else.

One of the many panels she covered was the Drawn and Quarterly Panel, at which the publisher announced a truckload of new projects, updated on some of their in-progress works, and started the build-up for their 25th anniversary next year. Comics Reporter have gathered together a bunch of the various things mentioned at the panel, so here’s a quick overview of what was discussed:

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The big final announcement was for Drawn And Quarterly: 25 years Of Contemporary Cartooning, Comics And Graphic Novels, which is a giant thing filled with essays, sketches, comics, all kinds of magic.

Above is the cover, from Chester Brown – and there’ll also be material from people like Lisa Hanawalt, Michael DeForge, and Jonathan Lethem, along with an essay by Margaret Atwood on Kate Beaton. It’s due for release in May 2015.

 

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Jillian Tamaki’s excellent webcomic Supermutant Magic Academy, which you can see here and is a book I secretly title ‘Superior X-Men’, will be coming to print next year. Tamaki will be working on new pages for the print edition, which’ll close out the story so the book features a complete narrative and definitive end (or at least, definitive for a volume). When some webcomics go to print, they tend to end at a convenient moment rather than a definitive point, so it’ll be fun to see where/how she ties things up.

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(Promo for a previous release of Melody)

Melody by Sylvie Rancourt will be getting republished – all of it – with a translation from Helge Dascher. This prompted many an excited tweet from Heidi MacDonald, so I have to assume this is something well worth following up on. Here, I’ve found a link which tells us more. Uh – nudity warning.

Zach Davisson – who wrote at Comics Bulletin whilst I was there a little while back! – will be translating Shigeru Mizuki’s biography of, uh, Hitler. You might have heard of this project before, as it understandably raised a little controversy when the book was first announced in the original Japanese format. Running at over 300 pages, this is understandably quite a huge project – the tentative release date is for between 2015/16.

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The new Michael DeForge comic First Year Healthy, which he’s been publishing online recently, will come to print in early 2015.

Preview: Sean Murphy’s B/W Pages for ‘Tokyo Ghost’

With apologies to Matt Hollingsworth, who will be colourist for this new Image series, I wanted to share the black and white pages for ‘Tokyo Ghost’ with you. Drawn by Sean Murphy, who has been racing through a hot streak ever since completing ‘Punk Rock Jesus’ and through into ‘The Wake’, Tokyo Ghost will be his next project and is to be written by Rick Remender.

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A sci-fi story – as were seemingly all the books announced at Image Expo last week – this was described by Remender as being a mix between Judge Dredd and Akira. The solicitation says:

TOKYO GHOST welcomes readers to the isles of New Los Angeles, 2189. Humanity has become nothing more than a sea of consumers, ravenous and starving wolves, sick from toxic contamination, who have to borrow, beg, and steal for the funds to buy, buy, buy their next digital fix. Getting a thrill, a distraction from reality, is the only thing left to live for.

Entertainment is the biggest industry, the drug everyone needs, and gangsters run it all. And who do these gangsters turn to when they need the “law” enforced? Led Dent and Debbie Decay, constables of the law, which is a nice way to say “brutal killing machines.” The duo are about to be presented with an assignment that will force them out of the decay of LA and into the mysterious lost nation of Tokyo.

The preview pages are a little graphic – just a heads-up on that.

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Continuing on with his sketchy, angular sense of design and page composition, this sees Murphy cementing his particular style of comics once again. He’s certainly no stranger to the dystopian, but each of the various projects he’s worked on which feature a ‘city of the future’ have emphasised a different style of city. The Wake’s future landscape evoked a Waterworld-style crashed society, with buildings coated in seawater and rust; here we have a dirt-track Gotham City for the lead character to motor through on two wheels.

The characters are similar in style to his previous work – a little like David Finch, the men have sketchy, tensed-up faces whilst the women are clean and perfect – but there’s a realism in Murphy’s characterisation which matches him a notch above Finch, to my mind. His design, also, keeps him away from repetition between the various projects he works on. Whilst the guy whose face gets held up to a wall may look a lot like one of the characters from The Wake, the design of his outfit marks him as coming from a different world.

Murphy’s picking up an interesting body of work, moving from project to project with fresh acclaim each time. This looks to be no exception to that hot streak.

Tokyo Ghost is due for release in Summer of 2015.

SCCC ’14: Transformers and Windblade to Cross Over for ‘Combiner Wars’ Next Year

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You may not have necessarily expected this, because people always have a wariness to media adaptations entering comics – but IDW have an incredibly strong set of comics in their Transformers line. Made up of a few ongoing series backed with the odd miniseries and one-shot, the series has been especially good over the last few years or so.

So it’s with that note that I’m going to tell you about SDCC’s news that the main series will be crossing over next year for a big event storyline called ‘Combiner Wars’. This is tying in to a new set of action figures that Hasbro are putting out, where you can dissemble two figures and build them into one big ‘un.

In March, those big figs are going to show up in the comics universe, with issues 39-41 of Transformers and 1-3 of a new Windblade miniseries hosting the storyline. That means Mairghread Scott and Sarah Stone are handling half of the story as they continue on the success of their current Windblade miniseries into a second story. John Barber and Livio Ramondelli – who did the above image – will handle the Transformers issues.

A five-part story with a prologue setting things up, the press release quoth:

It’s an arms-race of truly titanic proportions as a long-lost ancient artifact allows the Cybertronians to unite into more powerful, gigantic forms. Will Cybertron—or the galaxy—be able to withstand the onslaught?

Interview: Bring Out Your Dead For Adam Murphy’s ‘CorpseTalk’!

Adam Murphy’s series ‘CorpseTalk’ has been the heart of The Phoenix Magazine ever since it first launched. A long-running strip in which Murphy – acting as interviewer within his own strip – speaks to a number of deceased historical figures about their lives, the first 33 editions have now been collected for “The Phoenix Presents: CorpseTalk”.

History was always the lesson where somebody with a beard brought out a heavy hardback book, dropped it on the table in front of you, and asked you to recite the history of cavalier helmets to the rest of class. Well… in my experience it was, anyway. It’s kinda boring when it’s presented poorly – but when somebody gets properly into the heart of it, it can suddenly become one of the most exciting and interesting subjects around.

Which is why CorpseTalk has been such a success. A little in line with the Horrible Histories series, Corpse Talk doesn’t gloss over the fiddly (and therefore interesting) bits of history. When he sits down to interview people like Shakespeare, Boudicca, or Genghis Khan, Murphy properly goes into their lives – and especially the really good bits.

Which is why I was so keen to talk to Adam about the series! And, happily, he’s kindly agreed to do just that for The Spire! Read on to find out more about the origins of CorpseTalk, how the series has come together over the years – and why Genghis Khan will never be invited back…

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Steve: When did you start doing CorpseTalk? Was it something you’d worked on, or just thought about, prior to The Phoenix?

Adam: The Phoenix approached me because they knew I could do non-fiction (I had done some work that didn’t get published for the short-lived DFC) and they wanted a non-fiction feature for the magazine. They originally wanted it to be about current, modern famous people. I did a couple of test runs, and very quickly realised that it was going to get my ass sued. That’s when I realised it had to be about dead people – they can’t complain.

That was the initial impetus, but actually, the key that makes it really work, that it’s me as the interviewer and digging up corpses – that was my wife’s genius idea.

Steve: How do you plan each strip? Do you improvise a conversation and see where it leads, or do you work out a final joke and work your way to it, or anything like that?

Adam: I do a lot of research then do lots of drafts. Lots and lots of drafts… Basically, the first drafts are just trying to figure out what order to present the information in. What the reader needs to know early on in order to make sense of what happens later, what sort of contextual information do I need – that sort of stuff. And then I just revise and revise and chat it over with my wife – see what she laughs at and what she thinks is boring.

It takes a lot of reworking because the whole thing is such a house of cards – every panel is totally dependent on all the others. And it’s really only towards the end, the last draft or so, that I think the proper shape of it starts to emerge and that’s when jokes start to pop up and I start to see “Oh you can do something funny there” or “You need a joke here – can you think of something?”

Steve: Do you feel that there’s been a development over the years, in the way the strip is styled? Has ‘Adam’ eased into his role as an interviewer, so to speak?

Adam: I’ve certainly been through different drawing processes – so the look of it has changed. Obviously the move from one page to two pages made a big difference in terms of having space, but also for a while, I was trying to do as much of the drawing straight ahead with no pencilling as possible. Partly for speed and partly for the increased expressivity of it. But now I pencil everything, but I know when I really need to pencil in detail and where I can do it more quickly and keep it loose.

In terms of the writing and the interviewer persona, I’m not sure…I think yeah, maybe there is a more consistent approach now that when I started. But each person is so different, and the demands of their unique story are so different, that it really feels like re-inventing the wheel each time.

Steve: How much research do you typically do for each strip?

Adam: Too much! Ha! That’s the short answer. Usually I spend about 2-3 hours just reading and gleaning what I can until I have a good sense of the person, who they are and what they’re about.  But then, I’ll often find that while I’m doing the early drafts, that there extra are bits that I need; if I’m not convinced that I’ve got the whole story or I need to check my facts, so that usually takes up a few extra hours of going back and forth. But that’s nothing compared with the hours of revisions of the script drafts – it’s that, rather than the research, that takes the time.

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Steve: Is it easy to get lost in the story sometimes, and find you’ve spent far too long going into depth on it – and you have to whittle down? How do you pick the element of somebody’s life story which fits best into the comic format?

Adam: It’s very easy to get lost in the research and the drafts, but it’s also unavoidable to a certain extent. I mean I think I could do it faster if I was more accepting of how shitty the first drafts are, no I’d spend less time staring into space agonising that it’s not working and this, finally, is going to be the one that kills me. But it’s unavoidable that it needs to go through a bunch of drafts.

I think in terms of the length of it, I very rarely end up with a lot more material than I need. Because I script it using post-its, one post-it for each panel, and I know how many panels are going to be on a page, so as I’m working, I can see very quickly if I’m using up too much space. And I’ll kind of work on that as I’m going.

Nowadays, I tend to end up with roughly the right amount of material by the end of any draft. So it’s more just a question of shaping. By shaping, I mean, expanding on the bits that need more explanation or are more interesting and cutting the bits…you very quickly see the bits that are not germane to the whole arc of the story.

Steve: Are there any characters you’d want to bring back at some point?

Adam: Yeah, all of them! Or a lot of them anyway. Especially with the early ones where I only had one page. Like I only had one page to do Genghis Khan. And that guy’s life is epic! There’s all sorts of interesting information that’s come out reasonably recently – recent scholarship on Mongols, and there’s all sorts of just bizarre moral quandaries to think about in terms of his impact in history and the vast amount of people killed and lives destroyed by him. And I have that sort of reaction to almost everyone.

But I tend to think I would love to do a full-length, book length, comic biography of a person and really get into all the juicy detail. But that’s a totally different beast – I think what makes CorpseTalk work is the format. It’s so tight and pared down so there’s no waffle, no novelization, none of all that stuff I’d love to get into in a book.

And I think at the moment, it’s just a basic rule of CorpseTalk that there aren’t repeat guests, so we don’t bring people back. It’s hard for me to see how that would be viable in the format. Plus there are so many people we haven’t done that are just so fascinating!

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Steve: How do you decide which ‘guests’ you want to have appear in the series? Do you have a list of possibilities which you add to whenever a name comes to you?

Adam: Yeah, basically. But we’re now at the stage where we’ve sent out calls for requests from kids and we have a HUGE list of probably like 3 or 4 years’ worth of suggestions. I’ll add my own suggestions to that and then we’ll sit and look at the balance of people – Do we have a good balance of different types of people? Basically, not all warrior kings (there are an awful lot of those guys).

Do we have enough artists, scientists etc. Do we have a good balance of men and women? Do we have a good balance of famous people and relatively obscure ones? Then I’ll just sit and plough through the list for a few months and then come back and fine-tune it again.

Steve: Are there any people you’d like to include, but aren’t well known enough to all ages? Or do you actively look sometimes to feature characters who are new to your readers?

Adam: Yeah, we definitely want to feature people that kids, and adults, haven’t heard of. So long as people come out at the end of it saying ‘Wow! That was really cool!’ It doesn’t matter whether they’re famous or not. Or known to the readers or not known. But I do think we need to balance it. There needs to be enough famous people in there to keep the recognition up…

Steve: Do you get many requests for interviewees to feature? Have you ever taken one and put them into a strip?

Adam: Yes! We get loads! We now have a list that will easily last me 3-4 years. Most of the strips have been requests. It’s quite rare that I’ll just do one that I want to do.

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Steve: Is the plan to continue doing CorpseTalk for as long as you want? Do you have the planned out far into the future?

Adam: Yeah! I’m still loving it! So long as kids are still loving it, I want to keep doing it. There’s really no shortage of people to dig up! But I wouldn’t say it’s planned out. Every few months we need to revise the order of people. But there’s so many awesome guests already on the list and there’s no shortage of dead people.

Steve: What else are you working on at the moment? I know you launched ‘Fever Dreams’ (which is slightly more adult!) last year. Do you have anything else in the works right now that you can tell people about?

Adam: Yes! I’m a part of ‘IDP’, which is a collaborative graphic novel that’s commissioned by the Edinburgh Book Festival, published by Freight, and launching at the Edinburgh Book Festival in August this year.

It’s speculative science-fiction, set in the near future, following a massive global-warming related flood. It was a really interesting project because the first and last chapters carry the main story, but then other authors and artists, like me, were asked to do the middle chapters spinning off at different tangents but within the same world.

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I did a chapter on the back story of the main characters; how they met and the tensions between them, as well as digging into some of the political/philosophical underpinnings of the world. It was an interesting challenge and a great learning experimenter, and I’m very proud of the chapter that I’ve churned out. I think it’s going to be an amazing book! That’s the biggest thing that’s coming out in the near future.

Plus I’m working away on my other ongoing series for The Phoenix: Lost Tales, which adapts unusual or lesser known folk tales from around the world. I have a fantastic one that I’m finishing up just now – a folk-tale from Japan that I remember loving when I was a kid. They tend to slot in as and when I have time, so that’ll be done when it’s done :-)

Plus of course the CorpseTalk Book: Season 1 has just come out! It is the first 33 episodes of CorpseTalk, plus a bunch of cool bonus facts, and features folks like Genghis Khan, Marie Antoinette, Marie Curie, Henry VIII and his six wives, William Wallace, Boudicca… It’s an amazing list of people. That’s now out from David Fickling Books.

You can get it directly from me from my website (currently running a special offer where each book comes with a free, custom watercolour of your favourite historical corpse) or from The Phoenix website, or wherever good books are sold :-)

Many thanks to Adam for his time! And just so you know where to find him online – as mentioned, you can find his website right here, and he’s also on Twitter here!

CorpseTalk Season 1 is out now. It’s REALLY good.

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