First of all Dave, I just want to say “thanks” for initiating this instalment of “Now I’ll Ask YOU One”. Very interested to see where the conversation leads us.
The Aardvark-Vanaheim support staff (Oliver and Margaret) helped hook up Ultraist Studios with a virtual fax number 206-202-3112 so we should be good to go.
The whole family and I enjoyed doing that reading before Christmas as well.
How did I come up with the idea of getting the kids to come up with their own members of the supporting cast?
That’s an interesting question, and will make for a long winded answer… Years ago Blair showed me a copy of Jim Henson’s Designs and Doodles: A Muppet Sketchbook and I was amazed at how such simple crude drawings had so much charisma and were turned into such appealing iconic characters as muppets. It made me think of The Art of Star Wars book I had, and how those original Star Wars designs also seemed crude and yet appealing and were turned into such iconic characters in the movie. Contrast that to the most recent Star Wars movies that had designs that were amazingly slick and polished in comparison, and yet the final product that we see in the films came across as over designed and devoid of appeal.
Somewhere along the line, I also noticed that it was Steve Ditko that had created most of my favourite superhero designs (especially in the Spider-Man Universe), and while John Romita Sr. may have polished them all up on his run, there wasn’t anything quite as iconic (in my opinion) created afterwards. Very interesting… Then just a couple years ago, over in the Marvel camp, The Amazing Spider-Man got the Brand New Day reboot where they promised to introduce all new villains, and echoing the above Star Wars scenario, we got (in my opinion) slick polished art with over-designed characters devoid of appeal. They didn’t hold a flame to the Ditko classics!
I began to wonder how much a part of innocence and naivety and child-like wonder plays into creating appealing characters and concepts…
Meanwhile over in the Spy Guy Universe, I was finding similar things happening. Spy Guy was a character I had created back in high school. So were most of his villains. All crudely drawn but (in my opinion) high in appeal. However I noticed the new characters I was creating were starting to lean into the over-designed and devoid of appeal side of the spectrum. Yikes. That’s not good.
A couple years ago Anika (my oldest daughter) designed a superhero called “Zap Girl”.
The design of “Zap Girl” reminded me of a Ditko character. Again, very interesting…
For fun, not too long ago, I asked all of my children (who were old enough to hold a crayon) to each draw their own characters, to see what they would come up with this time around. Anika created “Katie Whips”, Raina created “Fire Girl”, and Erikson created “Frosty Guy”. I then did a redraw of those characters in my sketchbook and I liked the results. A LOT. I mean how can you not? Who thinks of a pre-teen in high heels, khaki shorts and armed with a diamond tip whip? It’s brilliant!
Also I should mention that Mike Mignola and his daughter Katie’s “The Magician And The Snake” is one of my favourite short stories. AND I was well aware that Ethan and Malachai Nicolle’s Axe Cop was tearing up the webcomic scene so all of this had been percolating in my mind for years. There was something to all this…
Enter INDIE COMICS MAGAZINE (which is where THIS story will be printed and available at all fine comic shops in April – just in case anyone wants to grab it).
Gary Scott-Beatty asked if I would be interested in contributing an 8 page story for Indie Comics Magazine #2 which would be distributed through Diamond Comics. This was just as I was about to take 2 and a half months (unpaid) off from my animation “Clark Kent Day Job” to finish up SPY GUY #2. Given that SPY GUY has yet to break through the Diamond Comics direct market blockade, I knew I had to take advantage of the opportunity… but what story did I want to tell that was interesting enough to take me away from my focus of finishing the next comic? I had ideas, but none of them were as interesting as the work I was in the middle of. Then I got to thinking about how I had been wanting to do a project with my kids, and I got to thinking about how fast they’re growing up, and how slow I’ve been producing new comics and how that was THE ONE thing I would rather work on than what I was in the middle of. So that’s what I did. Katie Whips already fit into the story I had in mind. But Raina and Erikson’s characters weren’t going to fit. I told them the sort of story I was thinking of doing, and they presented me with “Two-Gun Tiny” and “Super Shooter And His Army Men Lightning Hawks”. Perfect! They designed the characters and helped write their character’s dialogue and I crammed it into the basic museum heist story I had in mind.
And THAT is basically how I came up with the idea of getting the kids to come up with their own members of the supporting cast! I look forward to collaborating with them again in the near future!
After that long winded answer, I’ll turn the text over to Blair…
Blair: Hi Dave! First of all, thanks for allowing us to have this dialogue. I really enjoyed the conversations you’ve had with Steve Bissette and Jimmy Gownley, so I’m thrilled that Mike and I get to have a go at this ourselves.
As for your question about The Possum being my first super hero, the answer is definitely not. Mike and I have been coming up with super heros and cartoon characters for as long as I can remember. Way back to the first grade, I remember having characters that were pretty much pom poms with eyes and feet that I’d draw all the time, then it was funny roman soldiers for a while which took up large sheets of paper where they performed elaborate battle scenes. Then as I got older (around 3rd or 4th grade), a porcupine called Spike (I know….. real original) became my trademark character. Spike was inspired by Garfield, and he’d always be accompanied by some sort of witty caption that consisted of him wanting a hug or something like that (ha ha ha…. Real original again). I remember drawing Viking characters at the dining room table, using the Armour All logo as reference and Mike turns to me and says “I’ve figured out a way to draw any kind of character!” I was sceptical, but Mike being 13 years old and a whole 2 years older than me, I thought I’d see what he was talking about. Mike had a standard cartoon man that he could draw, and he turned him into a business man by drawing him a brief case and a tie. Then he made him into a scuba diver by giving him a mask, flippers and oxygen tank! This was a revelation to me! I now had the knowledge to make up characters from my head, rather than seeing something I liked and just making a cheap knock off character out of it! Most of my characters were still imitations of what Mike was drawing, and by this time Mike had started to draw Spy Guy, so I made a knight character with the same proportions as Spy Guy and called him Sir Lance. This was around the 6th grade I think, and I filled sketch books with one page gags, made Sunday morning style comic strips, and even started writing a novel about these knight characters (I think I completed 8 or 9 pages of it even). Sir Lance was the most developed of any character I had created before The Possum, and he was my “go to” character all the way through high school. Once I discovered Cerebus in my high school days, I even got through 10 pages of a revamped Sir Lance comic book, complete with my version of Gerhard cross hatching and a cartoon proportioned hero in a world of realistic proportioned people. I guess if you want to get technical, The Possum was my first fully developed “Super hero” as all of my other characters were of the Sunday strip variety. I had created tons of super heroes throughout my childhood and would fill sketchbooks full of super hero characters, but I’d mainly design their costumes and powers, draw a cool pose and then move on, and The Possum was really, no different than that at first.
I touched on how The Possum came to be in the introduction page of The Possum #1, but I condensed it down to a sentence or two, so I’ll give you the full version: I’m not sure how I did it, but somehow during high school I managed to maintain good marks despite the fact that my note taking to doodling ratio favoured doodling by a considerable margin. My memory of each class that I attended consisted of me drawing and whoever was sitting beside me, looking over my shoulder and offering their suggestions of what should be drawn next. During Mrs Trickey‘s math class, it was comics of me and Howard becoming so board that we’d turn into skeletons or we’d start bleeding out our eyes. In Mr Warcholak‘s history class it was Geoff Grimwood and I drawing 101 ways to kill a Happy Face (I still think we were on to something with that one, and if we had the ability to make posters and buttons back then, we would’ve been millionaires). I remember drawing the first drawing of the Possum in either English class or History class, but for the life of me I can’t remember if I was sitting with Geoff Grimwood, Howard McGill, or Jay Jackson, but the three of them were the usual suspects anyways, so one of them gets partial credit for at least inspiring the character. We were coming up with the lamest super heroes we could think of, while we were supposed to be learning about the Russian revolution or something that at the time I thought would have no relevance to anything in my life. The Possum did nothing more than entertain us for the 40 minutes it took to get through that class, then I turned the page in my sketchbook and moved on. It wasn’t until ten years later that my wife, Rochelle (a talented artist in her own right) and I were moving from downtown Toronto where we lived at the time, to Burlington, Ontario. I was wanting to draw a comic book for some time, but everything that I was experimenting with seemed contrived and without purpose. I was going through our closets while packing and I came across my old sketchbook from high school, and as I flipped through the pages I saw that old drawing of The Possum. It immediately brought a smile to my face. I sat down on the stairs and, in my (at the time) current sketchbook, I drew a new version of The Possum. At that moment the Possum’s world became clear to me and I spent the next 20 minutes or so laying down the backdrop of what would become the world in which The Possum takes place. It’s funny how ideas come to you. I was racking my brain for months and months, trying to come up with an idea for a comic and then within 20 minutes of seeing that picture, I had my character. There’s something about youthful imagination and energy that we just can’t duplicate as adults. All of those characters that I created growing up were poorly executed, but each one of them has a charm and an innocence to them that makes them special. I’d love to do some back up features in future Possum issues, staring some of my favourites.
OK, now I’ll ask YOU one:
I know early on in Cerebus, you experimented with getting Deni to fill in blacks for you, and that you were less than happy with the results. Being a bit of a control freak myself, my question to you is how hard was it to hand the job of drawing backgrounds over to Gerhard? Was it merely a case of survival, or did you lose sleep over it?
PS. Mike here with an added comment to Blair’s question: When it comes to my own comic work, I’m a control freak as well. Maybe that’s partially due to doing the “team sport” of animation for most of my waking life. Obviously Gerhard’s results speak for themselves AND you managed to cross the 300 finish line together, so “mission accomplished!”. I always saw the Dave & Ger team as being a high watermark in collaboration (maybe Blair and I can attempt some of that when we do our SPY GUY / POSSUM crossover). What I’m curious about is; how do you find the dynamic different between doing the collaborative work throughout the run of Cerebus compared to your current solo projects like glamourpuss?