Tuesday, February 24, 2015

An Interview with LUMBERJANES Writer Grace Ellis and Artist Brooke A. Allen

Grace Ellis is a writer most well-known for co-creating Lumberjanes and her work on the site Autostraddle. She is a proud native of wondrous Ohio and when she’s not coming up with amazing mix-tapes, she’s most likely enjoying nature and the great outdoors. http://ohheygrace.tumblr.com

Brooke Allen is a cartoonist/illustrator spending most days in DC with her best pup Dog Linus drawing Lumberjanes and doing covers and shorts for glorious things like Regular ShowAdventure Time, and Bravest Warriors. http://brookeallen.tumblr.com

Lumberjanes #1 Cover A
When it launched in 2014, Lumberjanes became an immediate hit for BOOM! Studios, and remains one of the publisher's bestselling original series. Lumberjanes was created by writers Grace Ellis and Shannon Watters, who then brought in artist Brooke A. Allen and co-writer Noelle Stevenson to round out the creative team. Allen, Ellis and Watters are guests at STAPLE! 2015.

Lumberjanes is a true all-ages title, with readers ranging from elementary school kids to adults. Is it a challenge to find the right toneboth in the writing and the artto keep it accessible and engaging for such a broad audience?

Grace Ellis: I don't think so. I mean, from where I'm sitting, the only difference between all-ages media and media "for adults" is that you have to cut out the sex and violence and swearing, in most cases. (And honestly, that's a good writing technique anyway, since I can't tell you how many writing classes I took where people relied on so much on sex and violence to make their stories interesting that it actually became uninteresting; those things work best when they're used with a lot of intention. Anyway.) The most important thing for me is to tell a compelling story. Kids are smart. They'll keep up with you without you stooping to what you think their level is, and I think because Lumberjanes doesn't stoop at all, we were able to find an adult audience as well as a younger audience.

Lumberjanes also contains many references to
famous feminists, who can be Googled if necessary!
Another thing we're trying to do with Lumberjanes—since the world of the story is intentionally rooted in a world that not only shares our frame of pop culture but also references it like we do—is to make sure there's no penalty for not getting all the pop culture references. Like even if you've never seen Terminator, you know it's funny when someone says, "come with us if you want to not get eaten by a raptor." So I think for me, that's really the biggest challenge in writing this particular book, since it's all-ages: finding the line where something is funny to everyone but there's also almost a bonus joke if you're well-versed in pop culture.

Brooke A. Allen: For me, it's been a breeze because I work from the scripts so really the only censorship that happens on my end is to hold off on making things look too scary or too adult but rarely (if ever) have I been in a situation where I think, “Oh, maybe I drew that too gory.” I do remember one time in one of the first few issues ,when I was still grappling with how to draw the characters and render the surroundings, there's Mal and Molly's CPR smooch that I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to draw, and it was a combination of trying not to make it look sexy (because it's an innocent situation) and then just trying to figure out how their weird lil’ faces fit together. Style-wise, I think it was a bit of a struggle for me also to break away from naturally wanting to over-render things and in turn keep the characters more streamlined, which is a different kind of censorship, but visually I think it can be the difference between what's appealing to young readers and what's appealing to adults. So finding the right visual blend of easy readability, complexity, and humor that makes it approachable for any age group is the balancing act.

Were you surprised by the immediate and passionate fan response to Lumberjanes?

GE: Absolutely. I wasn't expecting many people to read it at all, but I'm delighted that people seem to dig it! Sometimes I have to work to convince myself that this isn't just Shannon playing an extremely elaborate prank on me. BUT IF IT TURNS OUT THAT IT IS: I knew it and I'm onto you, Watters.

BAA: Absolutely! I knew Noelle and Grace had fan bases and I hoped their fans would pick it up, but I certainly wasn't expecting the response it got. It was a little overwhelming, but in a good way!

What are the biggest influences on your work?

GE: When I need to get psyched up to write Lumberjanes, I read a bunch of riot grrl zines or old school Girl Scout handbooks and listen to the Gravity Falls extended theme song on repeat while I text Shannon. But I think the biggest influence on the series hasn't been any one thing in particular, but the lack of things and the void this series is kind of constructed to fill. This series is a lot of wish fulfillment; we're lucky enough to be making exactly the series we would've wanted when we were kids, but there was never anything like it when we were growing up, definitely nothing with real live lesbian characters. So really, the biggest influence on Lumberjanes has been all the stories that we wish existed. And also ‘90s tomboy characters, that trope was influential too. And Taylor Swift! Just in general. As a human.

BAA: Cartoons and animation, especially the ones I grew up with like all of the old Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon toons, Disney movies, Don Bluth films like All Dogs Go to Heaven and The Secret of NIMH, Looney Tunes, Hanna-Barbera, if it was animated I loved it (except Spawn...anything but Spawn). Comics-wise, I draw a lot of inspiration from people like Chynna Clugston, Bastien Vives, Walt Kelly, Claire Wendling, and Christophe Blaine just to name a few (it's a long list). And nature. Nature is the best.

Lumberjanes originally was conceived as an eight-issue miniseries, but once it was clear the book was a hit, it was changed to being an ongoing series. What effect did that have on the structure of Lumberjanes' first story arc? Would the miniseries version have ended with the same revelations?

BAA: This is probably better answered by Grace, Noelle, and Shannon but I think the miniseries probably would have ended very much the same, maybe answering a few more questions, but overall pretty similar because I think the first arc was pretty much realized. And then we found out soon after the first issue that it would be ongoing and that gave the first arc a little more room to breathe, but I think key elements of it stayed the same.

GE: Someone put a bug in our ear really early in the process that it was possible that Lumberjanes would get picked up as an ongoing, so we started leaving tiny threads we could pull if we did get picked up and were able to expand the world a little more. So the first arc would've been approximately the same: it was designed to be really episodic and full of fun camp times and friendship before revealing there was a bigger mystery. But now that we have more time, we can worry about the even bigger mystery of what's actually going on at the camp in a broader sense. It's one thing to know that there's something cosmically strange about this place, but it's another to delve into why and how it's affected the camp in the past, present and future, you know? I'm really excited about it. There's a lot of really cool stuff in store.

Lumberjanes badges designed by Kate Leth
If you could receive a Hardcore Comic Creator Type merit badge for a new skill you've mastered in the year since Lumberjanes launched, what would it be?

GE: I want the Patience Makes Perfect badge! It's tough being a writer because your work happens SO LONG before the finished product hits the shelves, so I've learned to contain my excitement until I can share it with everyone else.

BAA: I think earned a platinum Up All Night badge pretty early on... Hopefully this year I’ll get my Time Management badge too.

Aside from Lumberjanes, what other projects are you working on?

GE: I've got a bunch of other irons in the fire, but none of those projects have been announced yet. Not all of them are comics, but I think all of them complement Lumberjanes pretty well, actually. So, vague stuff to look forward to, eh?

BAA: Some short stories for BOOM!, some smaller projects for other companies, mostly  *~*~ secret things~*~*. I'm also working on some new toy designs.

One last question: if it's really cold outside, does Camp Director Rosie change into long pants, or is she so hardcore that it's cargo shorts no matter what?

BAA: I'd have to check with Grace and Noelle for the official answer, but I'm pretty sure she'd wear shorts even in the vacuum of space. Although designing a hardcore lady type parka suit would be fun.

GE: This one is so tough! Hmm. Ok, I feel like she's a cargo shorts kind of gal, but when it gets unbearably cold, I bet she goes for some really nice, insulated snow overalls with some long underwear. But otherwise: cargo shorts for life.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Interview With Dean Trippe

Dean Trippe is the creator of the superhero parody webcomic, Butterfly, co-founder and editor of the superhero redesign art site, Project: Rooftop, illustrator of Oni Press’s Power Lunch children’s books, and was a contributor to the Eisner and Harvey award-winning anthology, Comic Book Tattoo. His most recent work, a short, autobiographical comic dealing with childhood trauma and the power of fictional heroes to save very real lives, is called Something Terrible. http://deantrippe.com
MATT HIRST: Thank you for doing this. These interviews are one of the great perks I get for volunteering for Staple.

DEAN TRIPPE: Thanks so much, man. Means a lot. And no problem! Happy to do it.

MH: You have had a lot of really good interviews, and of course, many great discussions in your own podcasts with Scott Fogg and Jason Horn. Are there any questions that you are surprised you have not been asked?

DT: No one’s really wanted to go too deep on my sick rap skills, but I suppose my album’s been out of print since 2004, so maybe folks today don’t even remember.

MH: Something Terrible can be counted among a number of moving survivor accounts. What I feel differentiates this work is the expression of living with a sense of fear and stigma at being a potential abuser. That seems like an experience that has seldom been shared. Have you found other narrative accounts since you published it that impress you, for this kind of expression or for other reasons?

DT: I hear from folks who’ve had similar experiences multiple times per week, but yeah, it’s rare for folks to come out about being sexually abused and get heavy into the fear and stigmas that come with surviving such crimes. The one that stands out to me came before Something Terrible, David Holthouse’s account of plotting to murder his rapist, presented in TAH episode 425, Slow to React. ( http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/425/slow-to-react?act=1 )

MH: Your mini-comic Something Terrible reached millions of readers. Movies made from comics (not just super hero genre) have made millions and won international recognition. I don’t see that level of awareness towards the direct market comic book. What do you think comic book publishers could do better or differently to get more awareness?

DT: The biggest issue that should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind is ACCESS. Every gatekeeper at all levels of the industry should be welcoming to new talent, diverse ideas, and folks just getting into fandom. If you want an industry that can thrive in the 21st century, you have to look beyond the 35-year-old, videogame-playing demographic, and comic shops themselves, have to get way better. There are plenty of excellent shops in the country, but I hear from people all the time who have negative experiences at the only LCS near them. We’ve got to welcome everyone, treat everyone well, and hope each person who enters into our world finds a place where they’ll be safe.

MH: You studied comics in college; what would you say are the top five fiction comics every aspiring comic book creator should read to learn the ins and outs of the art form?

DT: I’ll just list some of my favorites for brilliant visual storytelling: Brubaker and Cooke’s Catwoman arc, Mignola’s Hellboy: The Chained Coffin and Other Stories, Morrison and Quitely’s We3,

MH: Are there any of the other guest that you are looking forward to meeting at Staple 2015?

DT: Oh, dude, everybody! It’s a great list. Too many friends I haven’t seen in too long. I’m so happy to be coming back to Austin. I’m psyched to see Babs Tarr, Jess Fink, Kate Leth, Timothy Doyle, Robert Wilson IV, and so many more of the cool kids of comics world.

MH: Do you have any new projects you are willing to hint about?

DT: I’ve got a teen fantasy revenge story and a bright and shiny superhero book in the works. Hoping to have both of those up this year.

MH: This last question may be crazy, but I have been thinking about this for many years now and I think you may have some great insights -- maybe even some answers? Why do we form such a personal attachment to characters who are:  1) Owned by corporate entities (DC, Marvel, etc.)  2) Largely brought to us by hundreds of creators who give up any ownership stake and control over any innovation  3) Radically removed from the creators and contexts of their generation?
DT: Epic tales have inspired and connected with individuals in our mundane lives for as long as there have been storytellers. When civil rights preachers in the South used stories of the Israelites to express the feeling of a coming promised land, they were using old tales to explain a modern condition. And to instill hope, because we know stories have resolutions, of one kind or another. The fact that our modern corporate landscape has found a way to turn creativity into a capital engine is certainly weird, and at time destructive, but it doesn’t affect the power of poor artists and writers pouring their hearts and minds into fantastic tales, and honestly, has the side effect of allowing creators to collaborate across generations, improving upon earlier drafts, refining or refocusing ideas over decades. The good ideas stick. The bad ones fall away. Our heroes are bigger than their corporate caretakers, so even when there’s a bizarre misstep, of marketing or malice, our characters endure.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Interview with Zach Taylor

A ten year veteran of the self-published comic book scene, Zach Taylor, took some time from his simultaneous projects Bear Quest 3 and Work Force! staring The Miner to answer some questions.  You can follow him on Twitter @z_bill and like him on hist Facebook page.  He also has cast posted to Youtube at Largocasts.  His comics can be found at gnourg.com and Bear Quest 1 and Bear Quest 2 are for sale along with some cool posters at his store

Who would you list as comic book influences?

Jack Kirby deserves mention over all others. Dave Sim, Jeff Smith, and Mark Oakley (who did a book called Thieves & Kings that few people know about and that's a shame) got me into indie comics and the idea of self-publishing. Grant Morrison and Kirby were my gateway back into mainstream superheroes. I could also label a lot of filmmakers as influences, but I'll just give a shout to Terry Gilliam, the greatest imaginative mind ever.

I'm still waiting for someone famous to say Bear Quest is "Jack Kirby meets Jim Woodring by way of Super Mario" so I can make it a blurb.

Having ten years of insider’s perspective into the world of self published comics what would you see as the high and low watermarks

Kind of hard to say, because Texas, apart from Staple!, is off the radar in terms of the indie comics scene. Tough to be on the pulse of it. The promise of real self-publishing with wide distribution and success, the landscape of Cerebus and Bone, died before I even started making comics. And I see little of that spirit in most webcomics today. Comics, with ongoing storylines, real domain remains to be print. The bright side is that I feel a greater kinship with the medium as a whole, mainstream and all. Maybe I'm delusional. But when I see guys like Matt Kindt, Jeff Lemire, and Brandon Graham, people I consider straight cartoonists, able to draw, write, whatever, win the good graces of the big comics publishers...I smile and think of our Great Comics Family. Band together or we die alone.
You went a long period only working in black and white.  How did inform your current color work and would suggest it to other artist?

The black and white period came from frustration in printing my color work. I did digital painting in college, and always seemed to have to give the excuse "it looked better on the computer" in portfolio class. So, when I started making comics seriously, I made it my mission to create a style that was impossible to print incorrectly. That brought about a raw, strict black and white (no shades of gray!) style. Plus, it might have been my "dark" angsty years, haha.

Would I suggest it to another artist? Not if he or she isn't inclined to do it already. Artists will eventually arrive where they need to be artistically if they keep at it. It may take waaaay longer than planned, but they will get there. For instance, while I was in my black and white period, people would see my occasional color work and ask, "What the hell? This is much better than what you are doing. Why aren't you doing stuff like this?" And they were right, it was better. But I couldn't just jump right to color. I had to go through this extended black and white phase to bring myself to that point artistically.
I found an old copy of you books The Moonman on Wheels and I was wondering how would you contrast it with The Miner.  Like the Bear they both have these ballistic trajectory through life but have very different attitudes.
Difficult to talk about Moon Man because it's out of print and not available on my website, but what the hell? Moon Man is good high concept that was in the hands of a guy who didn't have much respect for his audience. A much more bitter guy made it. The Miner was that guy lightening up and making something fun and approachable. In a way though, they are both about characters feeling entitled to something they never earned. Unrealized potential. He walks into town and expects to be loved by everyone despite being a stranger who hasn't proven himself. I WAS that guy when I made Moon Man, but The Miner overcame that and decided to fit in and have a good time regardless of the apathy of the universe. I would like to revisit the defeatist tone of my early work though. I had some good ideas that I was too stubborn to write properly.

You work is influenced by video games, you have a strong Twitter and Facebook presence, you started a vlog, you do free hand and pixel art on the computer.  What is the connection between art and computers in general and what is your relationship in particular.

All media is going to collapse into one someday. Just a big mass of comic/game/movie/novel/rollercoaster/whatever. I want to contribute to the spirit of that with Bear Quest, which is at its core the history of a video game property told through a comic. But, I don't know, I'm torn between digital and print, painting and pixels, comics and video games. They all try to grab me away equally. I just hope that whatever our Entertainment Future might be, that a) I don't end up hating it, and b) it's got some spot where I fit in.

As far as social media, I try to keep up with twitter (@z_bill Hit me up!) mainly. I'm a fan of YouTube Let's Plays and podcasts, so I decided to create what I call Largocasts, where I talk about whatever I feel like (comics, games, process, storytelling, etc) as sped-up artwork plays. Trying to figure out what I can do with the platform, maybe create a little community, do something fun and audio/visual.

Do you see the collapse of media distinctions as a threat to print comics, comics as a static medium and/or some thing as aggressively low tech as zones and mini comics?
I wouldn't say "threat," but yeah, there's no way comics will exist in this same form in a hundred years. Things will be different, but no one can predict how. I mean, I'm definitely that old-fogey-in-the-making who is unable to give up on his "books printed on paper." I love books. But I'm going to look at comics' evolution the same way I'm looking at the current superhero blockbuster movie explosion: All my senses could easily judge these films as terrible. But I've consciously decided to find things I like about them, that way I don't become that hateful old fogey. And I've got some standing in the future of The All-Media. Whatever that looks like.

So, the Bear has made a few appearances at Staple! and other conventions, are their any stories you’d like to share?

Yes, The Bear has started showing up at cons and creating mayhem. I guess he heard I wrote a book about him? Weird thing is I've never seen him! I always remember walking out of the con, then...I guess I black out? I wake up in an alleyway, go back in, and everyone tells me The Bear showed up and caused all this trouble, leaving me to apologize. He's prone to shuffle merchandise around, dance, knock things over, and randomly maul people. He's going to get me in trouble!

Though for some reason, most kids don't seem scared of him. There are pictures of him playing with legos in a circle with children. And I once heard about a toddler, initially terrified, taking what looked like her first steps from her carriage to embrace his calf. Good thing she couldn't read yet or she'd know what a monster he is!

There was also an epic battle with Sonic the Hedgehog. Most the time he's in a confused frenzy at these cons.

Just to get basic terminology Bear Quest is a side scroller, Bear Quest 2 is an overhead rpg, and Bear Quest 3 is a first person shooter?  What games in each of these categories do you credit as influences.

That sounds right! (Though sticklers would call BQ2 "isometric" perspective, not "overhead") First BQ has resemblances to Pitfall and Hudson's Adventure Island. But the screenshots I mimicked when I made it were from a game no one played called Dynowarz for NES. BQ2 I just say Zelda to make it easy. However, the real influence is my favorite game from the 16 bit era, Landstalker for Genesis. Yep, I was a Sega kid. BQ3 is straight up Doom. The game panels there are actual screenshots from a fully modded Doom 2 level!

Bear Quest seems to resist over analysis at the same time it seems to invite it.  Every page has parallel storytelling but by my count there are at least four levels of storytelling.  There is what happens on the screen of the video game, what happens in the game world, what is happening subjectively for the player and in Bear Quest 3 we see the screen and the game world jump out of the player’s subject space and into the objective space of the Largo Game Console.  Where do you see it taking place?

I love this question. I can tell you are paying attention, haha! The idea that Bear Quest is just a simple rendition of "what would be happening if this game were real" breaks down slowly. At first, readers assume he's just an oblivious beast being playful. They forget about the person that may be playing the game. Is the bear being controlled? Are YOU controlling him? If he escapes into the player's world, then what does that mean about the former "reality" of the game? There are lots of different ways to look at it, and I wouldn't want to force my version.

If you are lost though, it might help to think of each panel as a viewport. Does The Bear see pixels in a world that is actually detailed… or does he see a detailed world interpreted down to pixels for someone else (The player? The reader?) to see? These questions get weirder and more meta the deeper we go in the story. Especially in BQ3, when The Bear enters the "Largo World" and now the game panels look, in many ways, more realistic than the reality! Then the insane reality-bending thing that happens when he is eaten by an armadillo, haha! It's an experimental work, no doubt. And if readers aren't asking, "What is the game? What is real?" then they are just looking at the purdy pictures.
Is there an overarching meaning to why we see Largo game systems running through out you Miner and Bear stories?
Oh absolutely! The Largo Infinite Handheld System is the glue that ties all my work together. The Miner, or another character in his story (such as The Sailor in my currently running comic, Workforce!), is prone to play Largo video games. Technically, he could pull out Bear Quest and start playing. It's a very popular game franchise, which has spawned many sequels, merchandise, and even costumes! So, by extension, the "Largo World" of BQ3 and The Miner's world are the same place. Which, to confuse things further, is named Gnourg. Call it my "Hyboria" or "Westeros" in that big geeky fantasy tradition of naming your world some nonsense word, haha. Though, gnourg.com is the website where you read all these stories. And has been around for 15 years! It's almost like I planned all this, right?

Apart from the connections, might there be a reason there are so many games being played in these stories? Games are my stand-in for most all media. It's relevant that the city is crumbling, or an adventure is happening elsewhere, and all these characters want to do is beat a video game. I'm not making some judgmental statement about humanity and how we bury ourselves in trivial entertainment and ignore our actual problems. But we absolutely do that. I see that and it goes in my books. I am so, so guilty of it myself. It should be obvious that I spend a good deal of my time with my head in fantasy worlds, both my own and others. I believe it's healthy, at least for me, to do this. It's how I cope with the real world. That's why beating the game always gives the hero insight into how to beat adversity.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

An Interview with Jess Fink, illustrator and creator of CHESTER 5000, WE CAN FIX IT, and just all kinds of online stuff (like KID WITH EXPERIENCE)

By Dave Farabee

Jess Fink wears many hats: illustrator, cartoonist, designer of many a Threadless t-shirt, and more. She's been drawing since she was a kid and earned her degree in Illustration and Cartooning from the School of Visual Arts. Jess has produced female-friendly erotic comics like Chester 5000, a sci-fi autobiography in We Can Fix It, and has many an online offering to be enjoyed from her Tumblr (which we should perhaps mention is NSFW). Alan Moore described her work as "liquid and elegantly stylized." In advance of her STAPLE! appearance, she kindly took time to tell us a little more about herself and her work.

Both erotica and biography are among the less-traveled paths in comicdom, or perhaps just less-discussed in between the Batmans and Walking Deads. What led you to those paths?

I suppose it's because I didn't come from a super hero/marvel/DC comics background. As a kid I was heavily influenced by animation, especially Looney Tunes, I wanted to watch every cartoon. I'd wanted to be an animator since I was 7. The first comic I bought was The Maxx, after seeing it on MTV, and I adored it. I didn't know comics could be like that! After that I dove in and read any indie comic that appealed to me. I also got heavily into manga and anime. In college I read tons of auto bio comics by artists like Julie Duchet, Craig Thompson, Chester Brown, Lynda Barry. It blew my mind to think I could talk about my own life in my comics. As for making erotica, I think it was a thing I always drew and as I got older I just became less ashamed of it. Live action porn had always left me with a bad taste in my mouth and I preferred to make my own. I had a great teacher, Tom Hart, who introduced me to some fantastic erotic comics by Molly Kiely that told stories and were compassionate, funny and sexy. I also found out about Fantagraphics' Eros imprint, and I jumped on submitting things to them right away.

How important is the internet to your livelihood?

Very! It used to be that Erotic comics were kept in the secret, back room of the comic store that no one talked about, not so with web comics. The internet has made it possible for a lot of artists who would otherwise be censored or marginalized to produce their work and find an audience. I love print comics too, but the internet is definitely where I've made my home.

Science fiction tropes from robots to time travel weave through your work. Simply springboards or does science fiction hold any special meaning for you?

I love Science Fiction, I always have. The kind of sci fi I love is usually more focused on talking about what it means to be human, rather than on the awe of new technology though. I guess it's the same with erotica, I want more of this type of sci fi so I try to make it.

How do you strike a balance between humor and drama in your work?

It's super important to me that things be funny. It's always easier for me to believe stories that have humor in them because I think it's just a natural impulse.

The square page format pervades your sequential work, from the formatting of Chester 5000 and We Can Fix It to your autobiographical one-pagers. What led you to that format?

Actually, not all of my work is square! For Chester it felt better to use a square format so I could really fit all the swirling art nouveau panels in and not overwork myself on each page. Recently I've been doing quick auto bio comics in a square just because it's faster and looser. We Can Fix It doesn't have a square format though, and neither do a lot of my older auto bio comics. My comics for the Smut Peddler anthologies have all been standard sizes as well.

Monday, February 2, 2015


by Taryn M. Gray

Kate Leth, of Kate or Die fame, has a lot going for her these days. Hailing from Halifax, Nova Scotia, the artist/writer/Queen of the Valkyries has her hands full with the New York Times-bestselling Adventure Time: Seeing Red, the ongoing Bravest Warriors comic series, a Fraggle Rock mini and the current Edward Scissorhands mini. We were fortunate enough to grab a few seconds of her time before her big STAPLE! appearance next month.

What has stood out as one of your biggest accomplishments in your career thus far? Your proudest moment since you began working in the comic book industry?

It was very, very exciting to see my first Adventure Time graphic novel make the NYT Bestseller list! Honestly, though, my favorite ongoing experiences are either seeing pictures of kids reading my books or meeting younger fans. I've gotten fan art from kids a few times, and that's one of the best feelings in the world. It's just so great!

How has working in the comic industry changed you? How has it influenced your writing, your art, your attitude or your outlook on life in general?

Well, it's changed pretty much everything. I was a college dropout working in a comic book store before my boss encouraged me to start making my own work! I became a writer when I was offered a writing job. Comics are the first thing I've ever felt like I was good at, and I've become so involved in so many different aspects of it now that I feel like it's my whole life. I read or write or review comics every single day.

In the past year and a half (give or take) you have been spearheading a revolutionary organization - The Valkyries. Can you explain who these women are and what this group means for women and other minority groups who want to become a part of the comic community? [Full disclosure: Both the writer and the editor of this piece are members of the Valkyries. -ed.]

My warrior women! The Valkyries are an amazing group of women who work in, manage, own or otherwise are integral to comic shops all over the world. There are close to 400 members now, and it's growing all the time. It started as a place to chat about the job and swap stories, but it's become so much more than that - there are comic trades, convention meet-ups, files upon files of comics to appeal to every demographic, ongoing discussions about how to host book clubs and ladies' nights; I love every minute of it. I think places like that, safe spaces, are really important. A sense of community goes a long way.

Finally, as the new year begins, what are some of your hopes for the comics community? What advice can you give to make sure we can realize, even achieve, those goals?

Same hopes as always, I suppose! I hope for more diversity and representation in comics. I want to see more women working in and playing interesting roles in all kinds of media. My advice is pretty well tied into that, too: support the kinds of creators and stories you want to see. Keep breathing life into this industry and it'll keep growing and bettering itself all the time.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Hillbilly Philosopher

The Hillbilly Philosopher is an independently produced animated short, written and illustrated by Justin Buschardt and Jonathan Hubbell, animated by Tad Catalano, narrated by Danu Uribe, and made entirely in Austin, Texas. The pilot episode, completed in September of 2014, will be screened on Sunday, March 8 at STAPLE! followed by a Q and A session with the creators.

What follows below (after the trailer) is an in depth write-up by their friend Michele Cummins, and then the rather lengthy and bizarre bios they sent me instead of something normal like normal people would do. Weirdos.

Full disclosure: I am good friends with Jonathan, know Justin less well but like him just fine, and have never met Tad. I have a very small but I daresay pivotal voice role in the film.

- Chris "Uncle Staple" Nicholas, January 2015

Watch the official trailer  below and then come see the whole thing at STAPLE!

Hillbilly Philosopher Preview from Hillbilly Philosopher on Vimeo.

Hillbilly Philosopher
By Michele Cummins
January 11th, 2015

"All comic novels that are any good must be about matters of life and death." 
- a note from Flannery O'Conner in the opening of her novel "Wise Blood" 

One terribly dark night in 2002 (the year of the horse) Jonathan Hubbell found himself where no man (or even horse) should ever be - on a bridged section of a railroad track hearing none other than the burgeoning roar of an oncoming train.  

He didn't die. But reflecting on that experience, Hubbell decided a good cartoon scenario could start with a character on those railroad tracks. But this character never before had a reason to think too deeply about anything due to his small-town surroundings. The character would suddenly be forced to confront the possibility of his own death, making him more acutely aware of his existence and allowing him to cultivate an overwhelming desire to understand life. 

The Train of Fate
That is the premise of the Hillbilly Philosopher cartoon. Floyd, a small-town southern hillbilly stereotype, has a near-death experience, and after he must confront his existential thoughts and questions. He goes through a coming-of-age journey, but consider age replaced by intellectual maturity.

In the first episode, we find Floyd having a nervous breakdown on a railroad track because he sees two men kissing for the first time in his life. The amorous act shakes up his entire insular worldview. He soon, however, recognizes the reason the ground under him is literally shaking is that an oncoming train is close behind him. 

After the collision of these two events, Floyd's escape from death becomes his launching point for character development. We watch Floyd continue to confront new people and situations as his journey progresses. The story is about transcendence of race, sexuality, differences, and a multitude of social issues. He grows and learns while we get to laugh at him because we've already figured out how to transcend all that stuff, right?!

Butts & Floyd
Floyd's questions (Kantian questions) are confounding enough that he leaves his hometown to travel across the globe in search of answers. He embarks on this journey with his best friend Butts. "I mean you gotta have two stupid dudes," Hubbell assures me. "It's the formula. Butts… he's the sweetie. He's a big dude and he's also a kindergarten art teacher." The characters may start out ignorant but they are multi-layered and strive to become better people, which makes them both relatable and lovable.

Immanuel Kant
Jonathan Hubbell and his writing partner Justin Buschardt have now logged somewhere around five years flinging their pencils, souls, and bodily fluids (blood, sweat, & tears, that is) into the production of Hillbilly Philosopher. The final component to their current team is animator Tad Catalano of Mighty Coconut, who was hired two years ago (after a successful Kickstarter campaign - ed.). 
A Diamond in the rough.
"We had to get Tad drunk to work with us." Hubbell explains. "Tad's skill level is just so high that it was better when he was drunk because Hillbilly Philosopher is meant to have a simplicity to it." There have been voice-acting contributions from talented friends as well and Hubbell is slowly expanding the team as the project grows. 

Now that the cartoon is finally ready for the world, Hubbell stays busy sharing the pilot with networks and other such avenues to see where it can land a future as a regular series. There are open screening parties in the works for this Spring around the Austin area and a few outside, including one at the Original House of Blues in New Orleans on May 21st.
And now the bios!

'sup dawg?
Justin Buschardt – Co-Creator of Hillbilly Philosopher 
Birthed through “unknown” means via the tire of a double-wide trailer, his uncle blankly watched as he chewed his way through the hot, semi-malleable rubber until Justin’s beautiful tarred face emerged victoriously into the scorching desert life.
A swan then swooped down with transcendence to snip Justin’s umbilical chord, nearly killing his tiny body (along with tiny penis) in the gesture.  The graceful bird was shot almost immediately by the nearby uncle’s 20 gauge coach gun & the two relatives—one recently brought to planet’s existence—ate pieces of the elegant glider for “dinner.”
Justin’s portion was put in a blender, of course, so as to make it bottle-friendly and more digestible to his new baby belly.
27 years later, Justin Buschardt was found in Texas “celebrating America” by lavishly firing-off gluten-free pepper-spray in a county courthouse restroom.
Upon his forcible (yet homoerotic, at times) escorting from the institution—by men desperate for the perceived social structure of their authority—and out to the streets, Justin’s overalls then “lost they main buttons” (according to his statement), thus quickly & publicly collapsing his already-undignified trousers down to his bare feet.  This left only the tips of his tropically painted toenails protruding from beneath the crumpled denim bottom-wear he mama had bought him.   
During this time, an animal-rights parade was stampeding violently down the road—crushing small-businesses and emergency clinics—in front of both Justin and his accompanying police officers as several previously-hidden fish flapped berserk-style haplessly to ground from Justin’s ill-kempt pantalones, flailing wildly on the sidewalk.   
The fish were shot excessively to death using violent force by nearby officers on duty and even some of the animal-rights activists and one priest who admits to being high.  This seems to have occurred both out of confusion and, as of late, the public statement by Texas law enforcement representatives has simply been that the act was warranted granting the specific manner of “non-free speech” gesturing exhibited that afternoon by the land-trapped sea life.  The particular clauses utilized as legal leverage in this case have only been alluded to as part of a soon-to-be “law rule” in south Texas and thus remain shrouded from the public’s total knowledge until a future election year, if then.


These here'n funny toons t'ain't gonna
draw theyself! Git, now! Shoo!
Jonathan Hubbell – Co-Creator of Hillbilly Philosopher 
Found in a swamp during the Reagan years by Ronald Reagan on a routine presidential swamp stay and getaway, Jonathan was fished out of the murky depths with a .22 caliber rifle and petrified-wood cane. 
His body covered in barnacles and several colonies of shrimp (even his special bathing-suit region), experts later determined that it was these very shrimp that had kept him somehow “alive” all of his years spent submerged—though, there’s really no time to get into all of that now. 
Jonathan was used as an example of “Trickle-Down” economics by universities for years following the incident until it was widely acknowledged that this made no sense.  At such point, Hubbell was sent on donkey (using government funding) to work at an auto shop outside of Abilene. 
He became quick friends with Buschardt—who had been working there at the time as a “person to keep quiet, often”—but their friendship solidified one evening when Justin observed Jonathan spraying his donkey in the face with gluten-free pepper-spray to settle an argument that had apparently been festering for months.
Good morning, my dear.
I trust you slept well?
Tad Catalano – Blind Animator of Hillbilly Philosopher 
“On those cold, moonless nights, you will hear his sorrowful wailings before you notice the mystical melodies he creates with his flutes,” Justin Buschardt relayed to Jonathan Hubbell one evening at the auto shop, after hours. 
At the time, Justin was sleeping in a rusty bunk bed with Jonathan and the idea that the two should make an animated short (that would one day, hopefully, lead to an animated series) had just begun to poke its seedling out of the soil, as the French say.  However, after several attempts to “animate” the story on their own, using pieces of foil, drills and antiquated figurines they’d find at pawn shops in west Texas, Justin began rambling about a man he’d heard about named Tad Catalano—a man who could possibly bring their dreams into reality without any of said supplies.
“But, he’s blind?” Jonathan inquired during twilight after Justin dismissively uttered this fact somewhere midway through a string of 1,000 other facts, as though it were irrelevant.  Justin replied, “Yes, he is the first blind animator in history—or will be—but I think it would be smart to work with him. “  There was a pause:  “I mean, anybody can do anything, right?” Justin asked.  Jonathan replied, “No, probably not.  In fact, not at all:  quite clearly.  However, something deeply irrational inside of my brain-heart knows how you mean when you say what you’re expressing this to me when you’re saying that how you did that just a recent ago.”  Hubbell continued:  “We have no choice then but to discover the first blind animator in history and we will fucking work with him.  It will be our mission.  It’s what God would’ve wanted.”
During the course of accommodating Tad’s disability—which had stunningly little to do with gluten (to Jonathan’s surprise and Justin’s disappointment)—both a friendship and newfound respect for our disabled human came to fruition.  Since Tad was unable to see the images to which he was applying motion, much of production involved his “caning” the two creators on their backs (and sometimes in the face or mouth) with his exotic wooden flutes, as he screamed wildly at them: “figure out how to make your ‘Looney Looney Mahoney Tunes’ move, and fast!!”
The motivation was needed.
Somewhere in between (1) grappling to understand the confusing, abusive, artistic (?) process, (2) searching around Tad’s house and yard at his behest for his “lost medication,” and (3) driving the “animator” to Taco Bell, Hillbilly Philosopher was completed, already making its mark as the best art ever created (in history and future).

THE END?!?!?!?

UPDATE: The lovely and talented comedian and actress Danu Uribe, who does the narration for Hillbilly Philosopher, will be joining the creators for the Q&A session at STAPLE! She sent in a normal, yet extraodinarliy impressive, bio:

Danu Uribe is an Emmy-nominated, on-camera and voice-over talent with fifteen years of stage, screen and studio experience in radio, video games, television, film, theater, animation, and eLearning projects. She takes pride in having created more than a hundred unique characters for educational software curricula used by students all over the United States in addition to performing around the world (from CONAN to Broadway) in The Intergalactic Nemesis Trilogy. In her spare time, she performs improvisational and sketch comedy at The New Movement Theater in Austin, Texas. Discover Danu at www.DanuUribe.com.