Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Interview: Andy Runton (Owly) and Christian Slade (Korgi), Part One

We’ve been a bit interview happy around here lately! This week we’re very excited about our interview with Andy Runton (Owly) and Christian Slade (Korgi). The Owly series is an all-ages phenomenon and one of our favorites, and the first volume of Korgi was a huge hit around here as well. Owly and Korgi are joining forces for Free Comic Book Day and each has their own book coming out soon.

If you haven’t seen Owly, visit the Top Shelf site to preview Volume 1, The Way Home; Volume 2, Just a Little Blue; and Volume 3, Flying Lessons. You can also preview Korgi, Sprouting Wings.

Why interview Andy and Christian together? Owly and Korgi are wordless books and they’re both exceedingly sweet and endearing, and, of course, they’re both published by Top Shelf. The creators have very different styles, however, so each series has its own appeal. We thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast the attitudes, working styles, and backgrounds of these two creators. What does Owly owe to Hellboy? Read on!

Sarah: Why did you write, um...draw, um...make your story with no words?

Andy Runton: Well, the real reason is that I don't really consider myself a writer. I tried to write "wordy" comics but the dialogue was always lacking. In fact, the first Owly comic ideas originally had words but I decided to leave them off and use his eyes and body language to tell the story. That was okay with me because I always loved silent characters, and it made me work harder to make sure the story was clear. My biggest inspirations were probably Snoopy and Woodstock, Dumbo, and Pete's Dragon. They were some of my favorites when I was growing up, and they were all silent characters, but they still had lots of personality. That's exactly what I was trying to do, too.

Christian Slade: I too enjoyed Peanuts comic strips and Disney animated films. I have always enjoyed stories told through pictures alone. Everything you need to know about Korgi is in the drawings. Also, the actions of Sprout the korgi are based on my dogs and they don’t use words to communicate.

Tracy: Your books are similar in that there is no dialogue, but your artistic styles are completely different. Could you give us a little background on how you developed your style and what works or artists had an influence on you?

Runton: Wow, well, that's a tough one because Owly didn't really come together for me until I was 28... so that's a lot of inspirational ground to cover. Honestly one of the things that really guided me and continues to guide me is the simple fact that I don't like to draw people. I never have. I somehow just see more character in animals. I loved Babar, Paddington Bear, Curious George, and Lyle Lyle Crocodile as a kid (and still do as an adult). I think the first animated movie I saw was The Rescuers and all of the Disney films were hugely inspirational for me because animals usually dominated the story lines. I also lived for Saturday morning cartoons. After I'd watch I used to try to draw what I had seen. This was pre-VCR and DVD so I'd have to watch closely to study the characters. That's really helped me out over the years. I found myself drawn to animated cartoons because a lot of characters designed for animation are simplified (so that it's less time consuming for the animators) and that made it easier for me to draw them as well. Keeping it simple was always the name of the game. The fact that I'm a bit impatient when I'm drawing probably has something to do with that.

When I was little I'd copy Peanuts drawings from the newspaper and cartoon animal drawings from books trying to learn how they did things. Growing up I read G.I. Joe and other comic books but when I found the early black and white Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird, and Eric Talbot, my life changed. Here were superheroes that weren't people and I could draw them! I couldn't get enough.

After a while I stopped going to the comic shop and things got kinda crazy as my school-work got harder. The big turning point for me was really seeing Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes. It had been around for a while but it took me a while to notice it. Once I really saw his comics I was older and I realized I had so much to learn and I didn't even know where to start. His artwork blew me away and I continued to see it every day in the newspaper. That kept my cartooning spark alive. Years later when I got back into comics it was because of that spark and because of Hellboy by Mike Mignola and the work of indie cartoonists like Jim Mahfood and Scott Morse. Their heavy use of black and bold sense of design was one of the main things that drew me in for good and really excited me.

Slade: I can relate quite a bit to Andy's answer too. I spent many youthful days in front of a TV drawing. When my family got a VCR, I paused scenes of cartoons and would lay paper over the television screen and proceed to draw my favorite characters in pencil. These were early attempts along with copying comic strips from newspapers which I would clip out and keep in a photo album. My first comic strip obsession was Garfield, followed by Bloom County, and then Calvin and Hobbes. Today, my favorite comic strip is Hagar The Horrible. I also love many of the Disney films. I was even able to work at Disney as an animator for a bit.

By the time I finished college (a place where I found out how hard I needed to work to become a professional), I was aware of many levels of Art History, but also some of the places in between. Before photography, newspapers, books, and magazines used artists to create everything from history and fantasy to maps and other decorations. Many of these artists, specifically pen and ink artists, influenced my work.

Regarding the style for Korgi; I thought it would be neat to create a comic that had drawings that felt more like a children's book rather than a comic book. My hope is to bring a background of illustration and animation to the comics medium.

Shelby: How did you get the idea for your story?

Slade: My wife, Ann, and I got the idea for Korgi while traveling to different dog shows to sell my paintings. The more we researched the breed that we had, the Pembroke Welsh Corgi, we discovered many poems and tales about the dogs involving fairies. There is a collectible market for Welsh Corgi artwork that I have contributed to over the years. Many of the paintings revolve around a fantasy theme, and it is in these early works that the seeds for Korgi can be found. Ann and I are always talking about Korgi, and since we have gotten to know these characters (and there are new ones to be introduced in future books) it’s almost as if we are letting the characters tell the story themselves. We want to establish the characters so well that they take on a life of their own. Korgi is drawn from the world around Ann and I. We get inspiration from all the best things – from the landscapes of the places we have visited, to the way our dog tilts his head when he is begging for a cookie, it’s all Korgi!

Runton: Well my story is similar to Christian's in that Owly's stories are a combination of reality and imagination. I've always loved owls, but oddly enough, I never really drew them until I started drawing the little owl that eventually became Owly. When I was in college, I lived at home and I would stay up really late working on design projects. I would leave little notes for my mom and let her know what time I went to bed so she wouldn't worry about waking me up. I started stayed up so late that she started calling me her "little night owl." But I could tell she was worrying about me so I wanted to make her smile when she read the notes. Now, she's always loved my cute little drawings - the cuter the better. So I started drawing this cute little owl on the notes to make her happy. I drew him like that for years and after a while he sort of became my mascot. Years later when I was trying to come up with a comic book idea I tried everything, dragons, aliens, ninjas... nothing worked. Then one day I just looked at Owly and saw what I had. He'd been there all the time and I had totally missed it.

But that wasn't all. Over time I'd been drawing little birds and animals on the notes along with Owly. Through him I was somehow able to capture how I saw nature and how beautiful it was to me. I could take little snippets of things that really happened to me... like bluebirds rejecting a birdhouse, or hummingbirds having to leave for the winter, and I could reinterpret it all through Owly's eyes. I could draw on the excitement, happiness, sadness, beauty, and joy that I saw around me, bring it into my art and enjoy every minute of it. I combined all of that with my love of comics and drew a little Owly story one day. It all felt so natural. I loved it! After that I started writing and drawing more and more stories using Owly and everything just clicked.

For a couple of guys who create books without words, Andy and Christian can certainly string together a sentence! In fact, they gave us such great information that we’ll have to continue the interview tomorrow. How does a Masters thesis become an all-ages comic? Is Chris Staros really the nicest guy in publishing? And what spectacular news does Christian Slade want to share? Come back tomorrow to find out!

Andy Runton’s website
Christian Slade’s website


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