CCS/MoCCA Mania Continues!
It's hard to describe the whirlwind of activity here at the Center for Cartoon Studies over the past few weeks, and it's all reaching critical mass this week. Since it's damn near impossible to describe in words, I'll show you --
What's it all about? If you've been frequenting Myrant, you already know -- they're working their asses off for the many comics, min-comics and art objects they're debuting at this weekend's MoCCA festival!
Here's the active link for MoCCA (The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art). This year's festival runs June 23-24 at the Puck Building (293 Lafayette at Houston) in New York City from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm.
CCS is buzzing like a beehive as the CCSers juggle production time on various projects, rushing each to completion for their respective debuts this weekend, and I've no doubt that buzz won't subside until they're on the road Friday morning bound for New York City. Up north, the Trees & Hills Comics Group is having their production party this week, collating, stapling and trimming this year's Trees & Hills anthology in time for MoCCA.
But some folks have been ready for weeks, having other fish to fry this June. Among the pre-prepared is CCS pioneer class graduate Caitlin Plovnick, who completed work and production on her latest creation Dead Air #1 before the May CCS graduation ceremony -- in part because she and Rich Tommaso were immediately thereafter moving to Brooklyn! Packing up all they owned in the world that they could carry, Caitlin and Rich made the big move to the Big Apple neighborhood, where Caitlin began her internship at DC Comics that very Monday. Whew! From graduation to working in the comics industry in two days flat!
Caitlin and Rich will be at MoCCA; Rich has a lovely piece in the ambitious Sundays anthology, and Caitlin will be there with her new creation, Dead Air. This is the first issue of an engaging three-issue serialized work; don't hesitate in getting into this series from the beginning, it's good stuff.
SB: Caitlin, what’s your background -- where are you from, and what led to your two years at CCS?
CAITLIN PLOVNICK: I grew up in Newton, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. I went to Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson NY and majored in literature with a special focus on 'literary' fairy tales (literary meaning only that they were written by a known author and published) but didn't really know what I was doing, in truth. After graduating I lived in Boston for several years and worked at Comicopia, a comic book store in Kenmore Square. Moved from there to White River to attend the Center for Cartoon Studies and now I'm in New York interning for DC.
SB: What were your formative experiences as a comic reader?
CAITLIN: I always read newspaper strips as a kid but my obsession with comics started at age 12 when I picked up the first ElfQuest collection at a friend's house. I was so impressed with the beautiful drawings and seductive storytelling that I couldn't get it out of my head. The next day when my twin brother was away somewhere I ransacked his comic book collection and read everything I could, eager for the same experience (I didn't find any ElfQuest in his collection but did luck into an E-Man parody called "SmeltQuest"). My helpful friend showed me a good comic book store where I could find the rest of the ElfQuest series and this helped me to find many other comics that also appealed to me. As a result, I was always a little surprised when people talked about there being no comics for girls because pretty much all of the comics that I read seemed to be written for girls. That store (Million Year Picnic, BTW) had a great selection (although I ended up working for their competition years later).
SB: What were your first comics creations?
CAITLIN: I've always been a compulsive doodler and tried to tell stories with pictures. I have a notebook that I saved from elementary school in which I divided pages up into a grid and drew sequential pictures that are completely incomprehensible to me now -- I wasn't drawing them for anyone else and just wanted to keep track of a story as I thought it up. Later, when I started reading comics, I learned how to draw stories that made actual sense when I looked at them later. Most of my experience in making comics consists of these personal school notebook creations. My first completed comics project was a mini that I made for a college class in 2001 called Bug.
SB: What led to your being part of CCS’s first class?
CAITLIN: I found out about CCS when I was working at Comicopia and James Sturm was scheduled to come by for a book signing and portfolio review to promote the school. I didn't think I had the skill to be accepted, but the night before the signing my brother talked me into showing a portfolio anyway, which in my case was a manilla folder stuffed with random scribbles and sketches. James was nice about it -- encouraged me to apply for the school and I was able to pull together a more professional, coherent portfolio for the application.
SB: What assignments and comics projects you were part of over your two years at CCS would you cite as personal favorites?
CAITLIN: I did one short comic called Apocalypse High School for a homework assignment that I still really like. It's about a couple of girls trapped in a high school bathroom during the apocalypse, until eventually one of them tries to escape and gets eaten by a monster. I'd like to do more comics that combine girly young adult stories with horror and sci-fi.
Another favorite project was Dandy Cat, a comic created in one day by Lauren O'Connell and Aaron Shive that I got to be involved in.
SB: Oh, ya, I loved Dandy Cat! That was hilarious!
CAITLIN: The premise was that it was a magazine created by and for cats, and it was a good chance to create crude, funny comics as quickly as possible. I liked being able to focus on jokes and drawing deliberately bad
SB: What’s your current project, Caitlin, which will be debuting at MoCCA?
CAITLIN: My new comic is called Dead Air -- it is the first issue of a three-part series about a group of young adults who try to achieve greatness despite never having done anything great. It centers around three roommates who are in a band together and follows their separate attempts to figure out what they want to do with their lives, which meanwhile are passing them by. Along the way they encounter snotty activists, perky college students and one very enthusiastic drug dealer, all of whom have similar ambitions.
SB: How autobiographical, or based on the lives of your friends, family, peers, is Dead Air?
CAITLIN: Some of it is autobiographical... the central idea is based on what a jerk I was a few years ago when I wanted to be a cartoonist but all I did was sit around and read comics and mope about how I wasn't a cartoonist yet. I tried to translate cartooning into music and took visual cues from the apartment I was living in and the musicians I was living with. I don't like writing about real people, though -- the characters are more or less entirely fictional when it comes to what they actually do and think. A lot is taken from random observations of people and media, but I found it was easiest to figure out what each character's motivations and actions should be if I just made them up.
SB: You're steeping yourself in turf familiar -- perhaps over-familiar -- to a generation growing up with reality TV and slacker-melodrama. What sets Dead Air apart from the other static and noise in the genre that's already out there?
CAITLIN: Well, I'm not exactly sure. I'd like to think that it's different because it has a more gentle sense of humor - I'm not trying to sell or justify anything, so it's not as angry, proud or critical as it could be. Does that make any sense? A lot of that stuff takes itself very seriously -- Dead Air doesn't take itself seriously at all. Also, I tried to keep it free of pop culture references so that it could be more of a universally understood coming-of-age story. I would really like it to be read as a coming-of-age story rather than a Portrait of Our Times. And what sets it apart there is the question of how you come of age in an age that worships adolescence. Or maybe I just felt like doing something that's already been done to death...
SB: Ah, you're being tough on yourself; it really does stand apart from the pack. Dead Air orbits music, and its importance to your characters' lives, and you found some creative ways to visualize music. How did that develop, and where did it take you?
CAITLIN: I wanted the music to be present in the story without distracting from it. I tried the trick of writing lyrics at the top of the page with musical notes around them, but it interrupted the dialogue and was annoying to read. Also, I didn't want to reference any real bands. It seemed the best way to include music was to draw it into the background, with different patterns for different types of music. It was fun because I got to listen to music and try to figure out what elements were important to it that could be depicted visually. There's one scene where a radio is playing Oldies in the background, and tried to show that with clean, evenly spaced bubbles, to give the dea of something light and pop-y with a simple rhythm. I had a lot of fun making up rules for this -- loud music had to take up more space in a panel, distortion could be represented by thick, messy lines... the most fun to draw was the main characters' practice session -- the music they played was just a random mixture of all the symbols I'd already used, to show that it was discordant but also influenced by all the music they listened to.
I also tried to pay attention to rhythm in the page-by-page layouts -- there's a fairly consistent structure until something happens to shake up the characters, and then the rhythm changes.
SB: Even more difficult to illustrate than the music is the heart of Dead Air; it is, after all, essentially about tedium and ennui. The pacing of Dead Air is note-perfect, it reads effortlessly. How many drafts did you work through to arrive at the final version of this first issue?
CAITLIN: I usually work with several drafts. For Dead Air, I first wrote a summary of what I wanted to happen, and then broke that down into separate pages. After that, I would scribble down a general idea of what the page would look like, followed by a slightly clearer thumbnail of the page. Once I had thumbnails for the whole story (all three chapters), I read through it and made notes on what I wanted to change. Many many pages of notes. Then I went through page by page, using the notes to construct the "final" version (although I made some changes to those too).
SB: Given the multiple drafts, how do you keep the final drawing process fresh for yourself, or is that a non-issue?
CAITLIN: Sometimes it is a problem -- if I've re-drafted a page many times it can be hard to draw the final version because it already feels like it's done. But usually the drafts are still so rough that the final draft feels completely different, and I do also change my mind a lot at that stage and throw in new ideas.
SB: What have you got in mind for creative life after Dead Air?
CAITLIN: I'd like to do a nicer, less cynical story. I have a bunch of notes and doodles for a comic about two high school girls in love with each other. There are already a lot of comics being produced for and about teenage girls, but a lot of it feels very unfamiliar to me when I read it. I'd like to try to capture the intensity of friendships at that age -- the wonderful, reckless obsessions that make everything else seem unimportant.
I'd also like to try my hand at writing a script for someone else to draw, and for that I've been working on a story called The Shallows, about a self-involved hipster boy who accidentally gets himself involved in a mermaid war.
SB: Your studies at CCS, your previous work in comics retail at Comicopia, and your current stint interning with a mainstream comics publisher, prompts the question: where do you see the future of the medium and industry going, Caitlin?
CAITLIN: I think the medium is versatile enough to survive regardless of what happens to the industry...as far as that goes, it seems like there's a lot of interest in comics and graphic novels right now, which is cool, but I'd honestly like to see it slow down just a little bit. That is, I'd like to see more time and attention devoted to individual projects rendered by people who really care about the medium, and less time spent on marketing stunts and gimmicks. It's always good to get new people interested in comics, but they're not going to stick around if they don't get to read anything really good. Right now there's a lot of emphasis on writers and less, it seems, on artists. I'd like to see more of a push to let the artwork do the storytelling. Good writing is important, but sometimes it seems like all of the action is in the dialogue -- characters talk too much and do too little. The worst is when they just talk about what they ought to be doing! Maybe some of this could be avoided with more communication between writers and artists, I don't know.
In any case, as much as I bitch and moan, I find it hard to be in a comic book store without trying to purchase everything in sight...
SB: Finally, if there were absolutely no constraints on you -- money, rent, time or venue weren't an issue -- what would your all-time dream project be?
CAITLIN: Oh man! I would love to spend as much time as possible on a modern fantasy epic I came up with years ago and still don't feel ready to draw. It would go on forever and I would make it up as I drew it. I would love to get a chance to fully explore the world and the characters, without having to make sure that everything contained a metaphor or a lesson. People talk about fantasy in terms of escapism, but I would love to approach it more as exploration. All fiction is escapist, really, but fantasy gives you a unique chance to look into what you don't know, rather than reiterating what you already do. I'd love to just wallow in imagination all day, with no constraints, and see what happens.
SB: I’ve always seen fantasy and its related genres as ‘confrontist,’ really. Thanks for your time, Caitlin. Good luck at MoCCA, and happy trails!
Have a great Tuesday, one and all, and see you here tomorrow with more interview fun!