Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Heeby Jeeby Comix Interview Part 2

The very first time I read Heeby Jeeby Comix, I couldn't help but be reminded of the feeling of reading MAD Magazine as a pre-adolescent. I have a distinct memory of the heady mixture of physical humour and gross jokes combining with the sarcasm and satire creating an exciting sensation that, as a reader, I was being treated as an equal. If there's one word to describe both MAD and Heeby Jeeby, it's definitely "inclusive", a quality that makes both all the better for it.

Following on from Monday's talk of the challenges - or lack thereof - of producing comics that both children and adults can enjoy, we were very interested to ask the for the team's thoughts on two of the most troublesome words in comic marketing today - the dreaded "all ages" label. Read on for these, as well as contemplation of the failings of child-specific entertainment, the importance of respecting young readers and the mechanics of monster design.

The elephant in the room is, of course, the "all ages" label. Frustrating for creators and fans is the perception that the tag is synonymous with "just for children". What are your thoughts on this tricky subject? 

Dan Moynihan: Well, I think phrases such as "all ages" and "fun for the whole family" are such a turn-off because they get applied to so many things that have been misguidedly dumbed-down and are really just for young children. But I often find the best entertainment to be something that can truly be enjoyed by all ages.

Bob Flynn: Heeby Jeeby Comix is not just for kids—it just so happens that kids seem to like it. I've seen the early proof. We don't include language or content that would prevent kids from getting to it. If it were only for kids, we'd just put that label on it: JUST FOR KIDS. I actually think that would turn away kids to be honest, and keep older folk away completely. When we say "all ages" we truly mean it. And hopefully it's a cue to parents that we consider it safe for their children.

Also, just because something isn't vulgar or violent doesn't mean it's boring.

Chris Houghton: The "all-ages" label sadly does get confused with "just for children" a lot of times. But really, is there much valuable content out there that is "just for children?" The TV shows or movies I watched as a kid that were made just for children were always the worst. It's the stories that are well-told that just so happen to be appropriate for kids, that kids like the best. Nobody wants to be talked down to.

David DeGrand: Chris sums it up really well, I hate the notion that people can't separate "all ages" from "kids only". That doesn't really make much sense anyway, if you think about it. I think we all approach Heeby Jeeby wanting to just create funny content that doesn't include profanity and adult subject matter. Other than that, all bets are pretty much off. My goal is for an adult to laugh at my comics just as much as a child.

Whilst we love grape juice, we certainly wont be inviting David DeGrand's inventor/ robot duo around for Punch Out!! any time soon. 

Childhood is one of those areas of experience that unites all of us, in that you're either a child currently, or you once were. What do you consider the great unifiers to be when writing for this kind of cross-generational audience?

DeGrand: For me, the best children's authors (Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak in particular) are able to create whole worlds where it seems like there are no rules and all bets are off. This seems to be how a child's imagination works, where things just seem to happen on a whim, regardless of whether they make sense. So I feel that sense of playfulness is one of the most important unifying factors in the type of material that we do, to maintain an "anything goes" type of mentality.

Flynn: I guess the trick is to find a way to connect to people, and stories communicate best when you can relate to them. Hunger is universal, whether you're old or young, so you empathize with a hungry character. We all hated getting up for school in the morning—that sort of thing. I've had more than a few people tell me that I've scared them off of eating sugar cereal (again, we've all eaten cereal). But I say this after the fact. I'm sure we all write what we personally think is funny, and hope it connects.

Houghton: I'd say pretty much the same kind of unifying factors of any story: fear, love, hatred, friendship, excitement, etc. These emotions and relationships may be tied to different subject matters in kids stories than more "adult" stories but everyone can relate them.

Moynihan: Even with a comic that is humorous and silly, it is more memorable if the reader has some emotional connection to the characters and story. Adults can always look back at their own childhoods in relation to a story about children, but children can also enjoy stories about adults. Kids want to imagine what their adult lives might be like, what they will become, so it goes that way, too.

One of the most appealing things about the comic is how it never patronises kids (or big kids, for that matter); death, poop and child-eating trolls all proudly feature in the issue. Was this a conscious reaction to the sanitised nature of (the majority of) mainstream children's entertainment, or something that occurs naturally in your work?

Flynn: I can speak to my comics. I certainly deal in death (and poop, ha!), but I think I get away with it because I'm not explicit. You don't see any turds for example. We don't want to revolt or disturb anyone—there's a fine line between that and a laugh. I kill off my little swamp creature at the end, but I don't show it (and it's his own fault). Same goes with the girl—she played a considerable role in her transformation, so I don't feel that bad for her. And I leave it open. All I can do is hope people see the humor in it that I do.

As far as what's good for kids—they like candy and ice cream just like the rest of us. Sure they need their vegetables, but I figure other people have that covered.

Moynihan: I'm probably the least "edgy" of the four of us, but not on purpose—I just do what comes naturally!

DeGrand: Bob and I had a great conversation once regarding how many people seem to think you have to go way out of your way to avoid anything that might be deemed inappropriate for kids in order to create "kid friendly" content. I've always felt that kids can handle way more than adults think they can (read any Grimm fairy tale or watch The Wizard of Oz). When I was a kid, my favorite things in the world were monsters and pretty much anything gross and weird, so all that stuff naturally appears in my comics. 

Houghton: I don't think it's a conscious effort to do anything more than create entertaining comics. Kids can be pretty bizarre and like seeing silly and bizarre things. Of course, I wouldn't want to create something that's inappropriate for Heeby Jeeby but weird stuff is encouraged. Some of the weirdest people I know are kids!

Meet Dan Moynihan's Pencil Parker: combining the industriousness of MacGyver with the dashing roguish charm of Roger Moore's James Bond. The best Bond, if you ask me.

On his blog, Bob stated that he wanted his monster-themed cover design to appeal to children, blending "cute and weird" whilst avoiding becoming "bizarre and gross". From a design perspective, where do you think the line is drawn in monster design?

Houghton: Good question! I think because our comics are being presented in a very light-hearted way, most of the monsters are be viewed as goofy rather than terrifying. 

Flynn: For marketing reasons, I wanted the cover to be friendly for this first issue—to pull in readers of all types, and to not scare away any parents. I definitely made this cover with kids in mind—less-so with my comics. As for monsters, furry = cute; slimy = gross (usually). I actually consider these 3 to be more in the "creature" department. I drew in the three-eyed guy to hint that something bizarre awaits. And I used a lot of what we like to call "heeby jeeby green" to up the weird factor (slime without showing slime).

Moynihan: I don't know about this, but the question makes me wonder: how long have non-scary monsters existed? Were there "cute and weird" monsters in the era of Beowulf? I really want to know! In any case, kids and monsters seem to go together well.

DeGrand: I feel that that line has been blurred beyond recognition since monsters really appeal more to kids than adults anyway. It can be tricky since monsters in general are supposed to be scary, but not too scary. As long as we stay away from anything too graphic then I say the weirder the better! 

Heeby Jeeby Comix #1 is available over on the team's official blog (via ComiXpress) now for $5 (plus shipping). One of our favourite comics this year, we think that it's absolutely necessary that you buy two copies today (one's for your inner child - duh!). 

Please join us again on Friday for the concluding part of the interview, where the awesome foursome kick back, relax, and talk about their influences, how their own childhood experience affects their work and what they think might be the best "all ages" comic of all time.


1 comment:

  1. This is such great insight. And I'm with Dan---how long HAVE non-scary monsters existed???