Mike: I hadn’t really thought about how the Uber-Travelling and Anti-Travelling affected SPY GUY before.
I did think I would be a lot more productive being at the extreme end of Anti-Travelling, but truth is the productivity so far has remained about the same. While I was travelling, I would always manage to find time to get my ideas down on paper. In Hawaii I roughed out the First Strike three part story on Ala Moana beach during lunch hours. I would also wake up crazy early in the morning to ink pages before driving to work. In Montreal I managed to get my pages for SPY GUY: Bootleg scanned, and the cover done during downtime at the office. In California I didn’t have any downtime at work (it was a tight ship) but I tried to squeeze comics in whenever I could in my “free time” at home. In Toronto I would escape to the library at lunch hour to work on SPUD & HARRY. I also roughed out a lot of that comic and SPY GUY #1 on the GO Train. Blair and I plotted the SPY GUY POSSUM crossover on the plane to San Diego. I guess you do what you have to do to be more productive.
The two things I found that always put a halt to my comic making more than anything else was the actual move (that would put me out of commission for a good three or four months while we got our bearings and settled in… and it was a financial drain) and having babies (which throws off the whole sleep schedule until the baby starts sleeping through the night).
One definite difference I see is that during the Uber-Travelling I was always in sponge-mode. It was all about absorbing information. Great for inspiration and ideas. I think there is an energy you get travelling and seeing new things and meeting new people. I know recently I was super-energized after San Diego Comic Con. A drawback is there are a lot of things to sap your concentration when travelling around too. It’s easier to lose focus. I think if you need inspiration, travel helps. If you are already inspired, travel just becomes a distraction. Travelling did give me a better macro view on things. An overall idea of the big picture. It was good for Erika and I with regards to establishing our marriage and family too. Getting away from old surroundings and starting with a clean slate. Learning to rely on each other. Have some adventure in our lives. But it is an ethereal experience.
During Anti-Travelling I am in pure emission-mode. It’s all about exerting energy and building things. Everything becomes more tangible. Because right now I’m super-saturated with ideas I find this mode more comfortable. It allows me to process the thoughts better, and be less distracted by people and other worldly commotion. I think the concentration levels are better staying put. There is more focus and more intensity. It’s easier to think through problems. It’s easier to do the work out of a permanent base of operations. There is a solid foundation. It’s better to catch your bearings and fully understand where you are and where you are going. What you are doing. Not travelling allows more intimate knowledge of a thing as you settle into it. You become entrenched in the routines, which is good if you have a good routine going.
I’d like to take it to an even further extreme by starting to grow more food in my yard and becoming more self-sufficient. Even moving to a northern homestead with acreage and lower expenses… one of these days.
Tying this back to SPY GUY, I do think I’ve been able to give far more thought to this recent comic, especially when I took the time off to just focus on it. It was amazing to see the momentum begin to build as I got into the groove. I do think the quality has been better as well. Hopefully I can figure out a way to afford another couple months off to keep going. It would be nice to get these funny-books out more frequently.
Blair: My planning for The Possum pretty much consists of a bunch of sketchbooks with quick sketches, and notes with many random ideas all scattered throughout. I’ve gotten into the habit of always carrying a sketchbook on me, so that when an idea strikes me (whether for a new villain, a story or some stupid thing that Stuart and his friends could be doing) I’ll write it down, usually with a crude little sketch accompanying it. I pretty much have a bucket of ideas that can happen around the comic book store, such as them playing road hockey, sitting out front of the convenience store eating freezies, building a smash up derby car, etc. Then I’ll have a bucket of ideas for villains and then a bucket of ideas for soap opera type story arcs that can weave their way through all of the issues, such as the relationship with Steve Tacola and Stuart Spankly, which is what this first long term story arc will focus on. I’ve only planned ahead a few issues, knowing what villain I want The Possum to fight (issue #5 is the giant robot, which I’m just finishing up now, issue #6 will be a hypnotist villain called Waldo and for issue #7 I’m pretty sure I want to make it a James Bond type story involving an awesome car, a hot woman and the high school prom, but no idea is set in stone until I finish the previous comic and write the little “Next issue” caption at the bottom of the last page. What I’ve been finding though is that the ideas for the little happenings have been growing and growing faster than I can make these comics, so I’ve decided that I really need to start sprinkling them in more and more each issue, which works out well because I really want to condense the story in each issue more, like we were talking about earlier on in this discussion.
I saw an interview with Larry David (co creator of Seinfeld and star of Curb Your Enthusiasm) and he was explaining how he always carries around a notebook with him to write ideas down when he gets them. Then every now and then when the ideas get all over the place, he keeps another set of notebooks at home that he’ll take all of the scattered ideas in his small notebooks and organize those ideas more properly in the larger ones. This is similar to the way I work, but where I differ is that each time I start a new sketchbook, I’ll compile most of the key ideas into a few pages of the new sketchbook and then continue on with my scattered ideas. Each time I start scripting a new comic, I’ll flip through all of my old sketchbooks and make sure I’m not forgetting anything. During this process, I’ll also flag certain pages with sticky notes to be used in future issues.
I leave a lot of room for changing issue to issue, but I’m pretty locked down on the over all story arc between Steve and Stuart at this point, as I have to make that one evolve slowly, but also I have to make it evolve towards a specific event that I’d like to take place. (I can’t give too much away here though)
The long term planning and the plotting of each issue usually take place sporadically over years (which hopefully can be accelerated once I start accelerating the time between each comic coming out and the amount of time I spend making comics). I talked earlier about how often we think about comics, and I mentioned the time thinking while driving, in the shower, or before bed, and a lot of that thinking is directed towards this kind of planning. The first chance I get, it all goes into the sketchbook. A lot of the time when I start a comic, I know the way I want it to end, but I don’t know exactly how I’m going to get the character in that position. During the process of pencilling out the pages, I’ll be thinking “how the heck is he going to get THERE?” With issue #3, I was pencilling along and until I realized that the story was progressing quicker than I had planned and it was looking like I was going to be about 3 pages too short. I remember racking my brain trying to figure out how I was going to solve this dilemma and Mike finally said “whatever you’re trying to say with your story, reiterate that in those 3 pages”, hence the cockroach hallucination in the Happy Mexican washroom came into existence. That was a case of a happy accident, because looking back at that story, I think the hallucination really adds to it, and it has been received really well.
I’m kind of forced to work this way, due to time restraints as I very rarely have moments when I can sit down and just plan. If anything I’d say that I wish I could plan a bit more ahead of time, but I tend to have a hard time working small and thumbnailing. With animation, I tend to do my thumbnail drawings full scale (almost as a rough first pass) and with my comic pages I tend to need to see the panels on the actual page in order to get a clear idea of how it will work. Likewise with the dialogue and story, I need to see where the characters are going to take me, and usually what I have plotted out for each issue changes considerably once I start pencilling the actual pages and start to get a clear feeling as to what the characters would naturally do. Working this way wouldn’t work if I didn’t at least have that first plotting attempt written out so I at least have markers that I know I have to hit.
Looking through my old sketchbooks always amazes me how early on in the process a lot of my ideas came to me and it’s kind of depressing knowing how long it may take to get other ideas into an actual comic. The seed idea for issue #5 that I’m finishing up right now was actually first sketched out in 2003 or so….. What happened to the last 8 years!!!
The struggle for me is always finding time to draw. So much of my time is spent drawing storyboards for animation that any time I get to work on my comic, I want it to be productive drawing time and not thinking time. I can think and plan while doing other things (until I get stumped and need to set aside a few hours to figure things out), but drawing time is always at a premium. I’ve tried different methods of squeezing in pure drawing time like 1 hour before I start my day job, or 1 hour before I go to bed each day, but before I know it my day job work starts to creep in, or I’m hit with a really tight deadline and it throws everything off. I was able to take a month off of work earlier this year and focus strictly on comics and I must say, it was bliss. Unfortunately, that can’t be the norm right now, so until it is, I’ll have to keep focussed and draw when I can draw and plan when I can’t draw.
As for fine tuning, I try to pencil the entire comic out first (reading it and adjusting my plot as I go) and then once it’s all pencilled, I’ll tweak dialogue and make minor changes as I ink. I give myself one last chance to fix drawings that I’m not happy with or dialogue that doesn’t work before I scan all the pages, but I don’t usually tweak things after I ink unless it’s really bugging me. I’m well aware of the trap that most people can fall into with over planning or over tweaking things, but that doesn’t seem to be in my nature. Sometimes I struggle with the “Quality” vs. “Quantity” battle but I usually lean towards “Quantity” and I search for ways to get more “Quality”. I look at artists like yourself, Erik Larsen or Sergio Aragones as good role models for buckling down and just producing comics consistently while at the same time turning out quality work. Also my 12 plus years working in animation has taught me to draw fast and meet deadlines (especially when your working on footage rates). My problem right now is that I need two of me.
Now we’ll ask you one:
Both Mike and I have really fond memories of spending hours and hours drawing comics at our grandparent’s cottage in our parent’s tent trailer. My uncle had an old box of comics up there for us to read and destroy as well, which really was our introduction to comics and is one of the big things that got us interested in them. It’s interesting that certain comics really stuck out in our minds as kids from that old box, such as Amazing Spiderman 232 (John Romita Jr.) and Batman 244 (Neal Adams) to name a couple.
I’m wondering, if you have specific childhood memories of experiences with comics that may have lead you towards where you are now?
Mike here with an extra part to this question: The thing I find interesting about our cottage experience is how much it still resonates with me. I end up in that environment and it all comes rushing back. A setting like that would be my ideal comic studio.
Last summer at the cottage, the older children and grandparents were off to bed as my wife was helping the little one fall asleep, leaving me all alone on the couch in the main room. Making use of the quiet time, I wandered over to the nearby shelf and leafed through the stacks of paper books and pamplets looking for something interesting to read, just as I have done for decades before. These are the same shelves where I discovered Peanuts, and Andy Capp, and Archie, and Neal Adam’s Batman. What did I find on the shelf this time? Spy Guy #1 and The Possum #4! This made me smile. I brought them back to the couch and read through them. It brought back those oldest memories of reading comic books, and something about this experience brought things full circle in my mind, making me satisfied with what my brother and I had accomplished in making our own. (It also confirmed for me the idea of comics as paper artifacts. As physical art objects that can be found, and experienced, and enjoyed from a shelf in a cottage – but that is another story).
Do you have those childhood comic-book memories that are so powerful that they still resonate with you into the present? Specifically ones anchored by specific locations and/or sensations.