The lovely Sophie Goldstein tagged me in this Writing Blog Tour thing that’s been making the rounds among cartoonists I know. Longtime followers of this blog will have noticed I’ve not been using it much in the past couple of years, but it makes sense for me to do this here, I think. So, onwards:
1. What am I working on?
The last few months have been spent, to a large extent, on projects for Maple Key Comics. For the book’s second issue, I completed a 24-pager called “A Sickness Upon the Land,” which was a refreshing diversion from my work on The Black Dog and the Hole at the Heart of the World. I’m also working on the fourth chapter of Black Dog and a three-parter called “The Pestle,” the latter of which will be serialized in Maple Key Comics issues 4-6.
I guess I’m doing some freelance stuff too–book design and branding for a few different people.
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
This is a tricky question. Black Dog, I think, has similar elements to an indie comic like Adrian Tomine’s Optic Nerve (if I may be permitted to make that comparison), but with a generous dose of House of Leaves and some jokes and pop-cultural references thrown in. It’s talky.
“A Sickness,” on the other hand, is a horror/fantasy thing based on a fallacious medical concept that I read about in Roy Porter’s most excellent history Flesh in the Age of Reason. I know there’s a lot of #grimdark fantasy going around right now, what with the outlandish popularity of Game of Thrones and Mormon young adult novels in which vampires have to chew their babies out of their mothers’ wombs, but “A Sickness” is focused a lot on medicine, magic, and their intersection.
“The Pestle” has a similar focus, but is more of a morality play than the aforementioned. With “the Pestle” I’m trying to focus on some class issues, the omission of which from fantasy novels has long troubled me.
3. Why do I write what I do?
Why indeed. I’ve always thought of my writing as being somewhat exploratory–I’m always trying to think my way through a problem or a concept when I’m writing. With The Black Dog and the Hole at the Heart of the World, it’s a personal problem–looking back at my romantic history and the periods where I thought I was unlovable due to some unforgivable and unresolvable defect.
With “A Sickness” it’s this old idea about the soul being something physical, a substance that can be withdrawn from the body. I wanted to do something with monsters and ghosts and things that are more fun to draw than people talking. “The Pestle” deals a lot with the town and surroundings of Hanover, NH, home of Dartmouth College. Much of the area around Hanover is pretty severely economically depressed, whereas Hanover is very affluent. Through writing this fiction, I’m attempting to explore that while entertaining myself and my eventual readers.
4. How does your writing process work?
It tends to work in stages: First, I’ll read about or encounter an idea–recently, it’s been stuff about premodern medicine–that sticks in my mental craw. The idea rattles around back there, picking up other pieces of intellectual detritus–with “The Pestle,” it’s that thing about Hanover, some stuff about Solomon’s Lesser Key, and the Schola Medica Salernitana–until one day something clicks into place, and a plot begins to coalesce around this skeleton of ideas.
Then I start writing. I work full-script most of the time, so I write the whole thing out by hand before I start doing any real drawing. Then I type it up and make copious adjustments before going on to thumbnails, then thumbnails to page, all the while doing further rewrites and improvising lines here and there. I feel pretty good about myself when I can throw in an extra joke or revealing line while I’m penciling.