Monday, December 20, 2010

Something something webcomics part II - An interview with Josh Greathouse, creator of Scotty Odyssey

You know how some of your friends are more attractive, talented, and smart than you? (Well, I honestly don't often have this problem, but I hear some people do). Josh Greathouse happens to be one of those friends. He was lucky/awesome enough to go to Savannah, Georgia to major in sequential art, aka comics drawing/writing. He has been pumping out comics since he started school and his latest is Scotty Odyssey. From my own interpretation, it seems Scotty Odyssey is a family-friendly adventure webcomic that feels a little James Bond crossed with a Saturday morning cartoon crossed with Jeff Smith's Bone. In other words, it's totally awesome. Here are some questions from a recent interview with the comics creator.

ALD Graphic Novels: Is it best to start at the beginning to read Scotty Odyssey? If not, where is a good place to start? Is there anything the reader should know from the outset?

Josh Greathouse: I try to do all my comics so anyone can pick it up and enjoy it, for the joke or the art. All you really need to know is, it’s about a boy and his pet having adventures around the world with his family. I feel that most comics are too complex and need to know a million things before you can enjoy the first page. My goal is you can read the entire comic or just one and still have an idea of what it’s about.

ALDGN: What inspired you to write Scotty Odyssey? Any particular comics artists or writers?

JG: Actually a couple of artists did inspire Scotty. I just got my copy of Chris Sanders’ Kiskaloo in the mail and was reading it. I love his style and storytelling. I have missed doing more playful and fun like I use to enjoy as a kid. Well, I decided to just doodle a cat close to Chris Sanders style however not drawing his character. I own a print of Brian Stelfreeze called King Cheetah. So why not draw a cheetah? I did a couple and after drawing him playing with a laser I decided to maybe try and come up with a story for this little guy. I just saw or was looking at Skotty Young’s blog a couple days earlier and saw a picture of him. I figured out later I based my character Scotty off of him, with the same hat and increased his ears and noise, then added some freckles. I like the two kids but what kind of story would they have. Also, why would a kid have a pet cheetah? Then I thought of the Venture Brothers, which made me think of a childhood favorite...Johnny Quest. After watching the entire original cartoon, I decided to do a story that had Johnny Quest adventures with these kids, then have some random normal kid stuff between. Like bully at school, homework and just a normal life. That in a nutshell is how this comic was born.

ALDGN: What comics are you reading now? What are some of your favorites?

JG: Um let’s see, I’m reading Invincible by image, The Marvelous World of Oz by Marvel, Usagi YoJimbo by DarkHorse, Xenozoic (love that book) by Mark Schultz, Skull Kickers by Image and rereading Calvin and Hobbes. I kind jump around things. Oh I forgot, Akira and One Piece as well.

ALDGN: Are you a trade graphic novel man or do you collect single issues? Neither?

JG: I do everything. I read from the apps, single issues and graphic novels. The main thing depends on timing and coast. I’ve been trying to save money, so I’ll try and buy more things in graphic novel. One is saving money and two you get to enjoy more at once of that story. However, there are some comics I want to support and see more of, so have to buy the monthlies. Also, there are artist I know and love their work, so there are times you have to pick up a single issue they worked on. I just got into the reading off the apps for the companies and find it’s some of the most entertaining way to read comics. They do panel-to-panel and cheaper and easier to find older issues. So for Oz, Usagi Yojimbo, Invisible and any Manga I do graphic novel. Hellboy, mini series’ from artist I like or know personally, the Goon, Skull Kickers. For the apps, Elephantmen and some old marvel stuff.

ALDGN: What kind of weird questions do you get at conventions?

JG: I’ve gotten a couple but the worst was. I did a print of Scott Pilgrim, my version of the comic. At DragonCon in Atlanta, a lot of people would ask me if I did the comic and movie? Some would just congratulate me on the movie. Then there was the awkward moment of telling them… that wasn’t me.

ALDGN: You went to school for sequential art in Savannah, one of the only places that it's available. How was the experience? Did the classes help or do you think just spending all of that time drawing and not going to school would have been better?

JG: The experience is too hard to some up into words. Going to Scad, I went from liking comics to creating and understanding comics. Scad Seqa program is amazing and also trying to improve on itself. However that said, you still need to work on your art outside of class, trying to improve it any way. If it weren’t for Scad I wouldn’t be living in Atlanta and knowing the professionals I know, going to cons or doing a webcomics. I had the opportunity to go to Tokyo with Dexter Vines, Sanford Greene and Mark Schultz. There is so many great experiences cause I went to Scad.

That said, my art has improved so much more out of college since I now know where my weakness are. Scad helped me with understanding comics, the basics of creating comics and contacts in the professional world. So yes, every class helped since they opened up a world of knowledge and help me understand this medium. Then I had to take what I learn and push it farther for my own needs. Art college isn’t for everyone but it was what I needed. Also, getting advice from pros is something every artist should be doing, that helps a lot more then one thinks.

I don’t know if I did that argument justice but I recommended reading this if you are thinking of art school.

ALDGN: Is there an end in mind for Scotty Odyssey? Have you had a general outline of what's going to happen throughout the series?

JG: I’m hoping to make Scotty something I do for a long long time. I do try to think of major story ideas that will lead the comic along. I then like to do a couple short and sweet ones in between the major ones. Just to lighten the mood and keep it easy to read. It’s a balancing act really.

ALDGN: What are some of your favorite webcomics?

JG: Abominable Charles is on the top of the list. Then Kiskaloo, I believe that comic is over but it is an amazing short run. I hope he makes more. Girls with Slingshots is some of the best writing and acting I have ever seen. Sinfest is a fun and just enjoyable comic. Oglaf is not at all safe for work but some of the funniest I’ve seen. Pvp is one I’ve looked up to and have read every one. Sheldon and Drive just are good clean fun. For the rest just look under my links.

ALDGN: Are there any other projects you're working on that we should keep an eye out for?

JG: Nothing really right now I can talk about. I’m hoping to have some news about it in the next couple of months.

ALDGN: Anything else on your mind?

JG: Just want to thank you for taking the time to ask me. I’m also glad to hear a library is doing this and more with comics. We are really in a great time to be with comics. Things are growing and the medium is always changing. I’m curious to see the next twenty years with comics. Also check out the site, Monday, Wednesday and Friday for updates at Thanks again!

There you have it, folks. Make sure and check out Scotty Odyssey, keep updated with it, and keep your eye out for whatever other comic awesomeness Mr. Greathouse pumps out next.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Graphic novel book club selections May-August 2011

Yes, graphic novel aficionados, the library plans just this far ahead. It's time to choose some graphic novels for the upcoming trimester of 2011. Feel free to suggest some yourself or weigh in on these options.

Revolver by Matt Kindt
A story involving duality, a young journalist lives in two universes at once. One is a violent dystopia where he is a hero and the other is a dull place where his job is awful and his life's activities are suddenly mundane.

Creature Tech by Doug TenNapel
A story of a young scientist whose father was a pastor, Creature Tech very tastefully explores the age-long argument of religion versus science. The protagonist is attacked by a parasite that gives him super powers and a new philosophy. Also, there are space eels.

Almost Silent by Jason
A collection of Jason's early work, I'll let Amazon describe each story, as I have not read this particular graphic novel. "You Can’t Get There From Here...tells the tale of a love triangle involving Frankenstein, Frankenstein’s Monster, and The Monster’s Bride...Tell Me Something is a brisk (271 panels), near-totally-silent (just a few intertitles) graphic novelette about love lost and found again, told with a tricky mixture of forward- and back-flashing narrative...The Living and the Dead is a hilariously deadpan (and gory) take on the traditional Romero-style zombie thriller."

Transmetropolitan series by Warren Ellis
A 90s series that follows Spider Jerusalem, a vulgar journalist who lives in an overpopulated and dirty futuristic city. Over the course of the series, he uncovers a government plot involving aliens. Or does he?

Blankets by Craig Thompson
Blankets is an autobiographical black and white epic of Craig Thompson's first love. This graphic novel is chock full of humor and is truly compelling and critically acclaimed.

American Vampire by Snyder and Stephen King
We're always talking about Stephen King in the book club anyway, why not read a Stephen King graphic novel? This original story involves vampires and the wild west, how could you go wrong?

Tricked by Alex Robertson
I have not read this graphic novel, either. Go Amazon! "A creatively blocked rock star, a signature--forging memorabilia-shop clerk, a teenager seeking the father she has never known, a functional schizophrenic not taking his meds, a waitress suffering from her latest breakup, and a pretty Latina doing temp work eventually converge for a violent climax...Inspired plotwise, it seems, by The Bridge of San Luis Rey and the twenty-fifth anniversary of John Lennon's murder, Robinson excels at less-than-transparent personae whose adventures he skips among in chapters presented in a countdown, 49 to 1, that bolsters the story's inherent suspense."

Traditionally, the graphic novel book club has taken a break in July for recuperating and reading things that are not comic-related, so let me know if you all would like a break. Either is fine with me. I also acknowledge that the superhero and manga side of the graphic novel world is a bit under-represented here due to a lack of knowledge on my part. If you have any suggestions or recommendations for these genres (preferably a 80+ page standalone or short series that was recently published) let me know. In any case, I'd like some feedback on what you all would like to read and/or what you would NOT like to read. Thanks!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Something something webcomics: Achewood!

Deadlines are for chumps. Nick and I arrived at this conclusion independently, and decided that the Webcomics column here needed a better name. And by "better" I mean "one flexible enough to accommodate long periods of slacking and forgetting to update it."

We've been hard at work trying to come up with a hilarious and boldly original new name for this column, but in the meantime I'm calling it "Webcomics Whenever."

So this week we're talking about Achewood. The best webcomic.

Achewood is a comic about some anthropomorphic animals. They're pretty normal dudes, which means that their conversations range from yuppie erudite to truck stop vulgar. (remember how last week I was like, "if you're easily offended, don't go clicking things on the internet?" Same thing applies here).

Achewood's creator Chris Onstad is a Stanford graduate with a passion for gourmet cooking, and like South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, Onstad understands that the best humor works the corner of Evil Intelligent and Endearingly Dumb:

Achewood's two central characters are Ray and his childhood friend Roast Beef. Ray is an impossibly wealthy media mogul, who does things like buying the helicopter from "Airwolf" and the jarred head of The Who drummer Keith Moon on eBay:

Roast Beef is a down-on-his-luck computer guy, whose insecurities manifest themselves in his actions and the fact that his dialog is 2 points smaller than everyone else's:

I love this comic. If you're not going to get mad at me about some occasional bad language and some vague drawings of male parts (I mean, it's got nothing on Watchmen), you should read it from the beginning.

And then buy an Achewood t-shirt and wear it to a senior-level "Mass Media and Politics" class, which is totally how I met my wife.

Next Whenever: Law Enforcement and Sharp Objects!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Flight Volume One - Sunday December 19th

Flight is a graphic novel anthology edited by Kazu Kibuishi, who went on to create the successful Amulet series. The anthology is meant as a vehicle to promote young and upcoming talented artists. Each artist was given only "flight" as a theme, and as a result we get a story about a young girl who grows wings, a dirigible, a boy and his dog who build an airplane, and a short story about jet lag, among others. Like many anthologies, some stories are hit and some are miss. Questions for this one were a little difficult, so if anyone has any they'd like to submit, feel free.

1. What was your favorite story? Least favorite? Best and worst art?

It was a solid consensus that the scrapbook-feeling free-association story "Dummy Brother" was intolerable both visually and story-wise. We all thoroughly enjoyed "The Bowl" by Chiang for its clever storytelling and vivid art. We also enjoyed the cuteness of "Outside My Window."

2. The theme of the book is only flight. Did this restrict the graphic artists too much? Too little?

It seemed that "write something about flight" was the prompt for each of the artists. Since this theme is pretty nebulous and even romantic, it provided a good clear canvas for artists to work with.

3. As any anthology, Flight is schizophrenic age wise and content-wise. What demographic is it marketed to? What demographic is it meant for?

We did discuss this a bit. Especially since Flight: Explorer was specifically aimed towards children, stories like Copper seemed kid-like and out of place when compared to some of the uninterpretable and strange adult-oriented stories later in this book. I think this can serve as an example that comics creators really don't know who their primary audience consists of. Perhaps its mostly male twenty somethings, maybe they are all twelve year olds, or a mix of many populations.

4. What are the advantages and disadvantages of telling a story in just a few pages and panels?

Part of the problem with many of these stories is they seemed to just be teasers for a more fully realized story. Or, they abruptly or ambiguously ended in an unsatisfying manner. A few of the stories, like "The Bowl," managed to tell an interesting and satisfying story in just a few panels, but it proved a challenge to many of the other authors. Part of the problem/solution could be that some stories are continued in Flight: Volume Two.

5. In "I Wish" by Vera Bergosol, what happens at the end? (p. 48). What was her decision?

In the final panels, we see two figures, then one, then none. It could be argued that the girl went for a casual flight and took her friend along, but then why would only one figure remain after she supposedly took flight? It could also be interpreted that she took flight, then he left to go back home. In a macabre person's point of view (like mine), then it's possible that she couldn't fly at all with those wings, and both of them jumped to their deaths.

6. How did the anime drawing style come through in a few of these works?

I especially found it strange in the third story, "Hugo Earheart," in which Hugo looks suspiciously like Astro Boy and befriends a very anime-looking elf girl. Many of the authors were Asian in origin, so perhaps they are simply drawing upon Eastern influences. Or, judging from Scott McCloud's afterword, perhaps manga and japanese style art is the wave of the future.

7. What are your thoughts on the current "steampunk" trend in comics and fiction? (As seen in "Hugo Earhart," "Formidable," and Appelhans' story?)

Steampunk is an interesting trend that consists of an alternate universe in which steam power is the only means of technology. As a result, goggles, top hats, and flying machines are prevalent. Steampunk was interesting in these stories, but it seems a medium can only go so far with a certain trend. (Hear that, zombies?!)

8. What commentary is "The Bowl" (p. 179) making on historians and museums? What happened to the man/god inside of it?

Perhaps none, but the message that I was getting was the misinterpretation of history. This man's entire life was changed by a bowl, but the museum writing only speaks of calcium left over and what the bowl could have been used for. It shows that we really know nothing about the past or history, we can only blindly draw conclusions from fleeting evidence.

9. Why was flight of all themes chosen for this anthology? What makes it important or special to so many people?

As previously mentioned, flight is just universal and romantic enough that it can be an inspiration to many different types of people. From the first poem in this anthology that romanticized the act of taking off itself to the mundane problems like jet lag, the authors in Flight found their own way to interpret the theme.

10. How did "Outside My Window" (p. 79) fit in with the theme and the rest of the stories?

I have no idea. Any takers?

11. Many of these stories had no POWs or SMACKs to illustrate sounds and all of them completely lack thought or narration bubbles. Is this the new trend in comics? Why is this important?

Hearkening back to last month's selection, V for Vendetta, I think the lack of illustrated onomatopoeias is the indicator of a "grown up" or "serious" graphic novel, aka no superheroes. While these stories were by no means all serious, these sounds have been parodied and overused to the extent that they've fallen out of popularity along with thought balloons.

12. In his afterword, Scott McCloud predicts that manga and anime will become more serious, abandoning the guys with giant swords and Japanese schoolgirls. What do you think?

There have already been a few serious manga series', including McCloud's own Zot! and a favorite of mine, Planetes. However, the less classy school girls and dudes with giant swords are still selling by the pile, so I wouldn't count them out yet. Maybe we can count on awful Shakespeare and James Patterson adaptations of manga being on their way out, though.