Thursday, 11 March 2010

Interview: Joey Weiser, creator of "Cavemen in Space" & "The Ride Home"

Joey Weiser, creator of The Ride Home and Monster Isle recently spoke to us about his upcoming graphic novel Cavemen in Space. Best known for creating characters as varied as Van Gnomes, Sewer Dragons, Sarcastic Kaiju and ineffective Superheroes, we were definitely expecting our interview with him to be fun, and we certainly weren't disappointed. Read on to read Mr Weiser's thoughts about his new book, the process of self-funding a project, his appreciation for Akira Toriyama, giant monsters, the oft-unexpressed creative benefits of serialised comics and the pitfalls of the "all ages" label in American comic books. Enjoy!

Cavemen in Space features a prehistoric cast that have been transplanted through time to a space station ("The Wheel") in a future where humanity is in contact with alien life and intergalactic conglomerates. In terms of narrative and setting, what were your influences and intentions when writing the comic?

Well, the sci-fi element was just something that I thought was funny, and a good starting point for a concept. I don’t have a particularly strong interest in science fiction unless it’s really goofy. Like Mystery Science Theater goofy. When getting started on Cavemen in Space, I watched a lot of the original Star Trek series. 

The main concept that I wanted to focus on with Cavemen in Space was to have a large cast of characters, and pay as much attention to each one as possible, and give them all individual stories that are intertwined. My first book, The Ride Home, was very much about following a single character from point A to B to C. With this one, I wanted to challenge myself a bit more. 

Evolution of the species: The "Cavemen in Space" cast as they were initially designed... 
... and as they appear in the final version of the book.

The cast of the comic are introduced quite openly in the sequence where Washington gives the CEO of Zanntu Empire a tour of “The Wheel”. Immediately, the reader has an understanding of the characters and their identities. What is your approach when it comes to creating characters, and, by extension, their stories?

It’s somewhat different project to project, but with Cavemen in Space, I came up with the characters first, and built the story around them. The premise of Cavemen in Space is obviously just putting two opposites together, right? So, from there I came up with some concepts from both the cavemen world and the goofy future world that I could work with… like the cave artist, or a super-intelligent guy with a glass dome on his head that you can see his brain. That kind of stuff got me thinking about character ideas and then I could figure out how they might need to grow in the story, or how they would interact with other characters and it all eventually fell into place. A lot of outlines and diagrams were drawn, I can tell you that!

In the comic, the cavemen and women are given presidential names by Professor Casimir. Is there special significance behind the character’s names?

Yeah, that came from a couple things. I just thought, “Hm…if a government-run space project were to adopt seven prehistoric people, what would they name them?” In Cavemen in Space, a single governing “Earth Corporation” runs the world. I guess it’s somewhat presumptuous to assume that they would be named after American Presidents and First Ladies.

Also, I like the idea of having a cast of characters with names that refer to something else. It’s a bit of a nod to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Although Cavemen in Space is being distributed via AdHouse, you’ve been raising the money to print and publish the book yourself. Can you tell us more about this process?

Right, sure. Well, basically AdHouse kindly agreed to distribute the book if I could pay for the publication. I had seen other cartoonists like Jamie Tanner and Box Brown be extremely successful using that Kickstarter site, and was watching Liz Baillie start her own fundraiser. Liz was actually a big factor, pushing me to raise the money myself and self-publish. I was really pleased to see her fundraiser be fully funded in the end as well! 

So, basically I modeled my fundraiser off of Liz’s and took a look at what the people at Kickstarter were doing as well, and did my own spin on it. I just added a section to my website, set up a bunch of paypal buttons and there you go! As rewards for donations I’ve offered a variety of things including Cavemen in Space itself, and original art, mini-comics, and even some fun bonuses like these limited handcrafted woolly mammoths, made by my wife.

One of the Mammoths created by Michele Chidester

In the past, you’ve listed Jeff Smith as a direct influence, but you’ve also been quick to state your admiration for Akira Toriyama, whose affect on your work might not be so immediately apparent.  Can you tell us more about your relationship with Toriyama’s work? Who/what else is an indirect influence on your output?

Watch out, this is one subject I can go on and on about. I’ll try to keep it short… Then I was in middle school was about when I was first becoming interested in Japanese comics and animation. Around this time there wasn’t a whole lot available in the US, except like Akira and Tenchi Muyo, and I ate that stuff up. This was before Dragon Ball Z was airing on TV even. I think the only anime on TV was Sailor Moon, super early in the morning. Anyway, I would go to my dad’s office and use the internet to find out as much as I could about what was going on in Japan and anime and manga and stuff. I’d find lots of online galleries and fansites and often just print out pages and pages of artwork that I liked. Well, I quickly developed an affection for Toriyama’s artwork and was pretty fascinated by whatever I could find of his, especially from the Dragon Ball stuff. Later, the first English dubbed Dragon Ball Z hit American airwaves and I was like, “Oh no!  Wait… This is terrible!” but eventually I found out about fansubs and got back into it by watching the Japanese versions. Following this I started finding imported manga here and there, and then eventually did a short exchange program in Japan where I bought basically the entire Toriyama library.

As I grew older I really came to like Toriyama’s humor stuff a lot more than his muscley punchy stuff. But what I really admire about Toriyama is the way he draws. He is one of those cartoonists who can draw anything and make it look effortless and perfectly fit within his world. I can’t say for sure, I can only gather so much from what I’ve read from interviews and dust jackets, but his work looks (and I don’t want this to sound like a negative comment because it’s totally not) like he doesn’t even care. He just draws whatever the hell he wants, however the hell he wants to, and it just happens to come out perfect. I mean, obviously he cares about creating a good product, but it looks like he’s just screwing around on the page and it happens to be totally great. Even in the more muscley punchy parts of Dragon Ball, he draws action like nobody else.

Neatly following on from a question featuring Toryama, you seem to have a fascination with monsters. Fantastic creatures (of one form or another) feature prominently in a lot of your comics, the most obvious example being Monster Isle. Also, we saw your poster for FLUKE which features a giant lumberjack fighting a Kaiju-style monster. As a fellow lover of all things giant and monstrous, I’m interested to hear about what it is exactly about these creatures that appeals to you so much.

I grew up loving Godzilla. I would always want to rent Godzilla movies from the store whenever we would go, and I had a VHS copy of a King Gidorah film that I basically wore out until it was, sadly, unwatchable. Kaiju just always looked really cool, sounded really cool, and there were always sparks and stuff flying everywhere making it very exciting for me as a kid. I think on some level it was always obvious to me that they were guys in suits, and that seemed fun too!

You were kind enough to send us a copy of the first issue of your upcoming Mermin comic, which features an aquatic boy on the run from his own kind who is learning how to cope with a new-found human world of school, socialisation and gym class. Can you tell us a little about your motivation behind the project?

Sure! Well, the basic answer is that I was trying out these characters called "The Late-Night Gang" for possible future projects and ended up not really being that into it. I did one mini and a short story, and they were fun, but that’s about all I had interest in doing at the moment. However, I really liked the “Henry of the Black Lagoon” character so I decided to create a project with an aquatic fish-boy and ditch the rest. 

A large focus for me with Mermin is the idea of serialization. Towards the end of Cavemen in Space I was finally watching Hayao Miyazaki’s Future Boy Conan series for the first time, and I was completely blown away. One thing I was struck with was how concise and stripped down everything seemed, and yet a lot happened in each episode! At the end of each and every episode we were in a completely different part of the story than where we began. That really struck me, as someone who has become more accustomed to drawn out, airy storytelling. And when I thought about it, a lot of my favorite comics from Bone to all the manga stuff to all that 80’s and 90’s alternative comics stuff like Jimmy Corrigan and whatever were originally serialized. And I had always thought of it as an unfortunate constraint put on the authors by the comics market of their particular time or location. But when I started analyzing it, I realized it really can create very compelling storytelling, and decided to give it a try.

Several sources describe a lot of your work as being for “all-ages”. What do you think about this label? Is it an appropriate descriptor, or an uninformative generalisation?

Yeah, that’s a funny thing. It shouldn’t be an issue but it sort of is. I like the term “all-ages” personally, because that’s how I see my work. For, literally, ALL AGES. However, in the comics world it’s basically read as “for children……..and some adults who like that sort of thing.” “All-ages” should be a limitless term! However, in the comics direct market, it’s limiting because it’s looked at as kids stuff. And in the bookstore market it’s completely meaningless, because everything is shelved according to age groups – Children, Tweens, Teens, Young Adults, etc. So yeah, I like the term “all-ages” but I’m afraid it often isn’t heard with the same ears as I’m using. I’m speaking from my experience in the US market, of course. I don’t really know how things work in other parts of the world.

Actually, perhaps I shouldn’t sound so grumpy. Things are actually looking up for all-ages and kids comics. A lot more publishers are moving to start publishing more books in this category. And it’s true that I’d love for kids to enjoy my comics, just as much as adults. I just create what I do naturally and it happens to be this kind of material. 

Besides Cavemen in Space and Mermin, do you have any other projects in the pipeline?

Well, I continue to do Monster Isle on a weekly basis. That can be found over at my website. Mermin is going to be my main focus for the time being, but I always try to find time to do some anthology stories here and there. I’ll have a medieval comic in the upcoming Wide Awake Press Free Comic Book Day download thing they do every year. I’m also inking a few pages for the new FLUKE Anthology. For those who don’t know, FLUKE is a mini-comics show that they do in Athens, Georgia every year. It’s held in a bar, and tables are first-come first-serve, and everybody has a grand time. And with the price of admission, you also get a free anthology. Well, this year’s anthology was written and penciled (roughly) by one of the FLUKE managers, Patrick Dean. Patrick’s a hilarious and incredible cartoonist in his own right, but decided that he wanted other local cartoonists to finish the pages for him, so he handed out random pages to folks to ink/ reinterpret in their own style. The pages I’ve seen so far look great. It’s going to be a really fun book, I think. At least an interesting experiment if anything!

Cavemen in Space is available to pre-order via your local comics shop now (Diamond Code: MAR10 0679). Alternatively, if you wish to contribute to the graphic novel's fundraiser, signed copies of the yet-to-be printed graphic novel (plus the excellent first issue of Mermin) are being offered as incentive for donating $30 US. With many other awesome rewards available too (Signed books! Custom art! Your likeness being drawn into future comics!), you really have no excuse to at least check it out. What are you waiting for? Click the banner already!


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