Monday, April 5, 2010

Imagine a World and It Appears: Farel Dalrymple

When I was younger my world was an immense place of excitement and adventure. My bicycle wasn't just a way of getting around, it was a means to travel from one setting to another, between worlds. I remember riding through my neighborhood, my mind painting in the details that simply weren't there in reality.

Imagination was enough, though. Farel Dalrymple proves this, and his art carries me close to places my mind would travel. Looking at his work in "Pop Gun War," "Omega: the Unknown," and work on his forthcoming book "The Wrenchies," it's easy to tell that Dalrymple can still travel to those places we go as children. He was kind enough to stop by Hideous Energy for an interview, and also supply the page with its second illustrated title card.

Unicorn Girl

Hideous Energy: When did you know you wanted to be an illustrator?

Farel Dalrymple: "I think I wanted to be some sort of artist since elementary school. My mom was an artist and art director for a Christian book publishing company, and was really into illustration and graphic design. I would flip through the Society of Illustrators books that were lying around our house. Whenever we'd go to the library I’d get whatever books I could find about comics. I was fascinated at N. C. Wyeth's illustration on a Robinson Crusoe poster my mom had put in my bedroom. Lacking discipline and getting sidetracked by other stuff growing up, by the time I was an adult I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to be, right up until I actually started art school. I remember right before I signed up for classes I had this vague idea of me as a "fine artist" or something. Of course by the time I graduated from SVA’s illustration department I realized all I ever wanted to do was make my own comics."

HE: What college did you go to, and did you go in knowing you would be seeking a degree in illustration?

FD: "I went to the School of Visual Arts in New York City with a bunch of other excellent people that went on to do excellent comics and illustration. I had to choose a major when I enrolled but was sort of torn about it, thinking maybe about going into the fine arts department. I was advised to go into the illustration department, which I ended up being pretty grateful for. The illustration department there is almost a glorified craft school with a lot of intensive drawing and painting classes. Some people might take exception to this but it is just my opinion that the fine arts department was more about learning how to talk about and understand art, and kind of justifying what you are doing to your professors and peers. I am not the type that likes to talk too much about what I am doing. Class critiques and portfolio reviews were annoying to me. I just like to be left alone to do my thing with the occasional feedback from other likeminded artists. I don’t like working in a vacuum but too much talk sort of ruins the experience of making art for me personally."

HE: Did you have a strong imagination as a young boy? If so, how much of this do you think you've held onto?

FD: "I suppose I did. I spent a lot of time by myself growing up and was always entertained, though I probably watched way too much television. I always like getting sucked into stories as well as making up my own. Doing it for a living though has taken some of the fun out of all that for me. It is more of challenge these days to get excited by new ideas. It still happens sometimes."

HE: I've almost gotten a job at a book store in the past, but I was afraid it would take away the magic of the place for me. Has becoming a creator changed how you are as a reader (or viewer, or listener)?

FD: "Sure, somewhat, I might see more details and nuances in stories that an average reader/watcher might not see, but I still enjoy escaping into a good story. I am not too snobby about what I look at. It is all about what I expect out of something. I might be more of a fan of more things if I wasn’t a cartoonist but there is a lot of stuff out there I appreciate. I am just not as fanatic in general about anything the way I used to be. I am getting old and cynical."

HE: What sort of stuff did you watch when you were a kid? What about now?

FD: "Wow, that would be quite a long list. We mostly had cable growing up so I watched whatever I could stuff in my eyeballs. I was attracted to the weird and cult and sci-fi stuff but I watched a lot cheesy sitcoms and dramas as well. It is sort of lame that movies and TV are some the few areas I can have long conversations with people about. Well mostly anyway. There are a lot of times in my life where I had no TV so my knowledge of popular culture has some big gaps in it. These days my girlfriend and I watch a lot Star Trek shows we get from the library. I go to the movies occasionally but mostly I just watch whatever fun thing I can from the library. Any decent comedies or science-fiction/fantasy stuff are top on my list to watch. I’ll watch some arty stuff here and there but I just don’t have the time to be as geeky as I used to be about watching every art house movie out there. There is just too much stuff to watch, too many books to read, and too much music to listen to. I used to be really frustrated by this now I don’t have the energy."

HE: What comics - if any - did you read as a kid? (What comics - if any - do you read now?)

FD: As a youngster I read mostly super hero stuff. I was a hard-core marvel zombie. But I also read newspaper comics and illustrated children's books. And I remember pouring over the Roy Crane and E.C. Segar stuff in the Smithsonian collection of newspaper strips and thinking how fun it would be to do that for living. I really dug adventure strips. I read a lot of comics still, though the range now is a lot broader. I had given up going to comic shops and buying new comics for a few years in my late teens and early twenties. At art school I got exposed to the indie comics scene through Dave Roman and John Green and got a renewed vigor in collecting comics. Now I mostly just get books from the library and every once in a while I buy books from the comic shop. I think the last time I went into the comic book store I bought two Grant Morrison comics and the latest Big Questions by Anders Nilsen and a book called "I want you" by Lisa Hanawalt. Mostly though I get a lot of comics, "graphic novels" or whatever from the library. There is a really good library system here in Portland."

HE: What was the first piece of illustration you would say "got you noticed" by the comic book world?

FD: "I think it was probably the first issue of Pop Gun War. Most people seemed to respond pretty positively to it and it won a gold medal from the Society of illustrators."

HE: There is an awesome map in the front of "Pop Gun War," and I have some sort of weird obsession with fake maps. How weird do you think this is? Do you love fake maps too?

Pop Gun War Map

FD: "I don’t think it is weird to be passionate about what you like. I think that is great. A certain amount of obsession can be good if you channel it right. I think maps are neat but I don’t have a collection of them or anything. I always like when authors include additional material about their characters. A map seems like a good way to help visualize the world the characters inhabit. Specifically with Pop Gun War I wanted to do a map just because it lent itself to the whole world-building thing I am going for. I think also at the time I was reading some A.A. Milne and liked the whole 100-acre wood idea. It is fun for me to read a story then to see where all the characters would hang out. Tolkien did that too with his middle earth. I am sure a bunch of other authors do it as well. It also helps me personally organize my ideas in a way and stimulate new stories. Some of the locations I labeled in that pop gun war map I'm still planning on doing stories about or related to."

HE: How did "Pop Gun War" come about for you? Both creatively, and the publication by Dark Horse?

FD: "I had done one comic previously in art school called Smith's Adventures in the Supermundane. After graduating I was still pretty excited by trying to make the sort of comic I wanted to read. It came out of a bunch of sketches and ideas I had in my sketchbook. I think Jim Mahfood or Scott Morse had given Diana Schutz a copy of Pop Gun War to look at. I remember I was working at a coffee shop in the east village of NYC at the time. I got a call from Diana while I was working and she offered me a job in the Happy Endings book she was putting together. A couple years later I asked her if dark horse would put out the collection of the first five issues."

HE: "Pop Gun War" has been described as "urban fantasy." Does that label fit, or do you find it too limiting?

FD: "That seems like a fair description to me. The story takes place in an urban setting and there are a lot of fantastic elements."

HE: How much of your time in a day is spent drawing in some form?

FD: "It varies from day to day much to my dismay. I would like to be more consistent but I burn myself out a lot. I probably draw/ink/paint straight about 6 hours a day on average."

HE: Do you always carry a sketchbook around?

FD: "I do like to have my sketchbook or something to draw with whenever I leave the house just so I am not caught without it if I need it. I don't always use it every time I go out but it is a nice security blanket. It is also a nice buffer so I don't have to talk to people if I don't want to."

HE: What is the drawing process like for you? (Do you utilize any digital tools/programs?)

FD: "I draw with a pencil, I ink with a brush and pens, and I color with watercolors. I scan in my pages and do some production in Photoshop, like cleanup and a little color tweaking."

HE: How quickly can you complete a page?

FD: "It depends on the page but from conception to colors I like to try to get a page done in about 9 hours. I fiddle with pages too much though and often it takes me quite a bit longer."

HE: You recently did work for "Papercutter," an anthology released by Tugboat Press;
how much work have you contributed to anthologies?

FD: "I love Papercutter. Greg means is like the best editor I have ever worked with. It seems like I am in about one or two anthologies a year. I am trying now to use the same characters in any anthology I do. Last year I was in the free comic day nerd burglar comic and in the MySpace Dark Horse comic’s thing. This year I did a Vice magazine comic and the Papercutter story. They all have the same characters and are sort of a loose continuation of an ongoing story. My hope is to develop those characters into a long form comic some day."

HE: So have you started approaching compilations as a way to maybe test out new material?

FD: "Sure. I like participating in anthologies mostly because it is like being part of a special club or something. I also like the idea of knocking out two birds with one story. Anthologies seem like a good way to feature ideas that might not fit into whatever long form story I am working on at the time."

HE: How did the "Omega the Unknown" book come about? Had you read any of Jonathan Lethem's novels?

FD: "Jonathan just emailed me one day and asked if I wanted to the comic. I believe he told me that Bob Fingerman turned him onto my work. I had read a couple of his books and loved them. Motherless Brooklyn was one of my favorite books at the time. It was a delightful shock to get that email from one of my favorite writers."

HE: Wow, yeah, that would be an insane email to get. I read "Fortress of Solitude," and if Lethem emailed me and asked me to rob some old ladies I would probably agree. After you got that email did you immediately start emailing all of your favorite writers?

FD: "Nah, I am not much for writing fan letters. I think about it a lot but rarely end up doing it. Hopefully my work is as much as a love letter to all those I admire as any email could be. And the whole Omega thing seemed almost too good to be true. I could hardly believe it wasn’t all going to end abruptly. Even as I was drawing the final issues I couldn’t believe that it was really happening and was waiting for Marvel to come to their senses and get a real superhero artist on the book. Everything about it seemed sort of surreal. My favorite writer contacting me, Marvel doing a book like that, and letting us pick our own colorist, design our own covers and all that, it is still very weird and awesome to me. I don’t know how well the book sold for them but I love that they took a chance on us. I hope they do more books like."

HE: Do you prefer working alone, or collaborating with someone? Why?

FD: "They both have their ups and downs for me. I usually prefer to work alone but I love collaborating with a writer I am really into. Most paying gigs I get are with writers, which is usually fine. It is just a different sort of challenge for me. I have about five or six projects in a file folder that I plan on developing with several of my favorite comic book writers. I am just waiting for the right time."
The Wrenchies

HE: There are some mentions of "The Wrenchies" on your blog, even some images of these mysterious kids. What can you tell me about them?

FD: "The Wrenchies are children in a post-apocalyptic future. They are all orphans along with the rest of the children in that future. The wrenches are also an older group of 21st century superheroes. They join forces in the future to overcome the evil Shadowsmen that are controlling the post-apocalyptic world. I am hoping to have the book done this year sometime. No tentative pub date, but I am aiming to have it finished by the fall."

The Wrenchies

HE: Can you reveal what exactly led to this post-apocalyptic existence?

FD: "Even in the finished story it won’t be completely clear what exactly happened. There will be an impetus for it and an acknowledgement of some worldwide cataclysm but it won’t be all spelled out. I didn’t want to get too bogged down in the science of it all, you know like how radiation would affect people and all that. A lot of it is sort of silly and doesn’t really help the story so I am keeping that part of it vague."

Thanks to Farel for stopping by for the interview, and supplying the second title card. Go check out his blog, and his books.

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