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Little Willow

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Interview: Dave Roman

Today, author/artist Dave Roman and I talking about illustration, inspiration, boats that are teenagers, and things and people which are purposely and hilariously overdramatic. We're also talking about the White Rabbit from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland traveling through a wormhole. Care to join us?

In fifteen words or less, how would you describe your style of illustration?

Cute and cartoony, with thick brushy lines. Characters usually have dots for eyes. Noses optional.

Do you feel as if your artwork is a natural extension of yourself?

I've been drawing as long as I can remember, and usually find a way to work it into everything I do. I'm probably more comfortable hiding behind my comics than I am talking to people at parties!

If I were to look at the sketchbooks you filled as a teenager, what would I see?

Unlike most carefree teenagers, my sketchbooks were full of angst, despair and overdramatic responses to ex-girlfriends.

How difficult is it for you see something in your mind's eye and then get it on the page?

Completely impossible. The images in my mind are out of focus, amorphous, and tricky to peg down. It's like having three versions of an idea overlapping at the same time. When I translate it for the physical world, I have to decide which is the final, "locked-in" image. They're not allowed to dance and change the way they did in my mind. Luckily, as time passes, I start to forget what I originally imagined and learn to love the final for what it is.

You teamed up with your long-time friend John Green for your new graphic novel, Teen Boat! You two have been working together since your days at The School of Visual Arts, right?

I met John Green at a Long Island comic convention while I was still in high school. He's a few years older and was already a student at the School of Visual Arts, which is where I wanted to go to college. We hit it off pretty quick! Within weeks, we were collaborating on a bunch of crazy comics, and devising publishing schemes. About two years later, I wrote John a script for a 24-page comic called Quicken Forbidden that he drew as a class project. We wanted to do something inspired by our mutual love of Akira, Jim Henson's fantasy movies, and Chris Bachalo comics. The story was a sci-fi twist on Alice in Wonderland, about a girl named Jax Epoch who chases a white rabbit into a wormhole, and discovers an alternate dimension. But instead of having adventures there, she "borrows" a spell book and magic armor, bringing them back to NYC, which of course creates world-bleeding chaos of apocalyptic proportions. John and I self-published the first issue of Quicken Forbidden in 1997 and distributed it to comic shops across the US and Canada. This was during the height of the "bad girl" comics boom (what I refer to as a pre-Buffy the Vampire Slayer world), so Jax Epoch was our attempt at creating a kick-ass girl hero who looked a lot more like the type of awesome, albeit nerdy, girls we hung out with.

Three cheers for Alice, Buffy, and girls who are awesome, smart, and strong! What inspired Teen Boat!? Are you a nautical enthusiast?

Having worked on Teen Boat!, I've certainly grown to appreciate all things nautical! But oddly enough, the inspiration came to us while we were on a bus. Long trips can often lead to loopy thoughts, especially for comic creators. One minute John Green and I are discussing 80's cartoons and the spectrum of cool vs. less-cool transformation powers, then we're talking about imaginary boardroom meetings gone wrong, and before long we were pitching tag lines like "The ANGST of being a teen, the THRILL of being a boat." It easily could have stayed a joke amongst ourselves, but we felt compelled to share our idea of a teenager who transforms into a yacht with all our cartoonists friends. The more they laughed, the more John and I were motivated to turn the silly premise into something real. And one of the many beautiful things about comics is there's very little stopping you from making that happen. Our first Teen Boat! books were printed on a black and white photocopier, hand stapled, and hand sold for 50 cents each at indie comic shows. Ten years later, it's a full-color hardcover book sold in bookstores everywhere and endorsed by the Junior Library Guild! Definitely a testament to anything being possible!

What a fantastic journey! Congratulations. Your webcomic and series of mini-comics called Astronaut Elementary evolved into the graphic novel Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity, which was published by First Second Books. What was that journey like?

I'm probably one of the luckiest authors in the world. My current career feels like the perfect extension of all the writing and drawing I did as a kid.

Even when I had an awesome day job, I was still working on comics like Astronaut Academy and Teen Boat! after hours, with late night drawing sessions and lots of long hours folding and stapling mini-comics! But I was investing in my future, and now those side projects have become my full-time gig.

Sometimes, like with Astronaut Academy, you serve as both writer and illustrator. Other times, like Teen Boat!, you collaborate with another artist. When/why do you choose to fly solo, and when/why do you decide to collaborate?

With Astronaut Academy and the stories I've done for the FLIGHT anthology, there's a bizarre whimsy that's just easier for me to draw than to explain in a script! But since Teen Boat was born out of conversations with artist John Green, it was natural for us to continue that as a team. I also believe that's a case where Teen Boat is funnier because of the technical drawing skills John Green brings to the table. Seeing an average-looking kid transform into an architecturally accurate yacht is hilarious, but also kind of cool! With the book Agnes Quill: An Anthology of Mystery, I got to enjoy the best of both worlds. I wrote four separate scripts about a single character, Agnes Quill, got to draw one chapter myself, and then had three additional artists tackle the remaining stories in their uniquely different art styles. We got to celebrate the artists as individuals and also showcase the fun of collaboration.

Speaking of collaborations: You co-wrote X-Men: Misfits with your spouse, Raina Telgemeier. How did you two land that gig, and how did you split up the writing duties?

The editors at Del Rey Manga (who had negotiated a deal with Marvel) reached out to Raina after her success with The Baby-Sitters Club graphic novels, even though her only exposure to the X-Men franchise was through the films. I offered to help since I was used to jumping into different franchises at Nickelodeon, and knew that my sister (a childhood X-Men fanatic) would freak if we passed on the opportunity. The task was to re-imagine the X-Men from the ground up, so having too much knowledge of pre-existing continuity actually slowed down the process a bit at first. Marvel and Del Rey really encouraged us to push it further from what people had already seen with the characters. So we just tried to have as much fun with it as we could.

Misfits was illustrated by Anzu, whose style is very different from yours and from Raina's. Was it fun to dip your toes into that world?

Seeing how Anzu interpreted and expanded on our crazy ideas was definitely the best part. She put a lot of heart into the book and it definitely struck a chord with a lot of people. At almost every convention or school event Raina and I do, we hear from people upset that the second book was never published. And X-Men: Misfits fan fiction still pops up all the time!

Who is your favorite X-Men character?

I developed quite a fondness for the X-Men universe (especially Nightcrawler and Kitty Pryde), so maybe someday we'll get another chance to play with those characters.

Is there a story behind Yaytime!? Who coined the word, and what does it say about you?

I was working on series of intentionally cute and silly paintings and one of them had a bunny looking at her watch, so I wrote, "It's yaytime...let's go!" above her. It got just about the best response of anything I had ever painted, so I printed the image on stickers to give away at conventions. When it came time to update my website, for some reason it just seemed like the thing to do. And before long, I was also making T-shirts, buttons, and using it as my online screen name.

As to what it "says" about me...mostly that I like to draw bunnies! But if I had to pitch it as a brand, I'd say "yaytime" is about shared enthusiasm. Whether for books, art, cartoons, food, people, places, or whatever excitement we get from connecting with and celebrating that which makes life fun.

You worked as the comics editor for Nickelodeon Magazine for over a decade. What was one of your favorite assignments?

The best part of Nickelodeon Magazine was getting to work with so many amazingly creative people. I couldn't help but benefit from being exposed to the mad skills of my co-workers, and of course all the contributing artists and writers. Getting to hire Sergio Aragones and Evan Dorkin (seriously two of my all-time comic book role-models), was especially thrilling. It was rad getting to help younger artists like Dan Moynihan, Todd Webb and Travis Nichols bring their DYI mini-comic sensibility to a national kids' magazine. The main part of my job (besides emails) was adapting TV shows to comics, that didn't feel like lame tie-ins. Chris Duffy (Senior Editor) encouraged us to make sure every comic was cool on its own merits - even if a kid never saw the show on which it was based. This could be challenging, but I think helped make the world a better place, in the process. I'm super proud of everything we put out, but have an extra special fondness for the Avatar: The Last Airbender comics (which were collected as a book called "The Lost Adventures" from Dark Horse) and the Invader Zim comic by Jhonen Vasquez (another comics hero of mine), which was one of the most hilarious things of all time.

What are you currently working on? Spill the beans about your upcoming sequels and new series!

I'm currently in a race against time to finish the art for Astronaut Academy: Re-Entry. I'm pushing myself to make it better than the first one, but in like half the time (first book took almost 5 years!). I've never done a book this long that I didn't serialize in some way, shape or form. So it feels like I've been keeping a big, crazy secret from the world! I'm also writing the follow-up to Teen Boat!, which will certainly be the book that turns all skeptics into boat believers. Oh, and double also: I'm collaborating with Jason Ho, Jordyn F. Bochon, and Matt Bayne on new Agnes Quill comics that are super creepy and full of teen-detective-in-haunted-city escapades.

List some of your favorite comic book/graphic novel artists and series.

Sergio Aragones (Groo: The Wanderer), Aaron Renier (Spiralbound), Andi Watson (Skeleton Key), Carl Barks (Uncle Scrooge), Andy Ristaino (Escape from Dullsville), Osamu Tezuka (Buddha), Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes), Charles Schulz (Peanuts), Vera Brosgol (Anya's Ghost), Fuuji Mihona (Gals!) Eleanor Davis (Secret Science Alliance), Michael Kupperman (Snake & Bacon), Debbie Huey (Bumper Boy)…

Tell me some of your inspirations a la fine art, music, movies...

Disneyland (theme park and all art related to it), everything Jim Henson ever worked on, every movie by Studio Ghibli (except Tales of Earthsea), all the Christmas specials by Rankin & Bass, Christmas in general, Bill & Ted (both the movies and the comics), The Three Caballeros, The Goofy Gophers, The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley, Monty Python's Flying Circus, Kids in the Hall, SNL and sketch comedy in general, Land of the Lost, Digimon, Farscape, Lane Smith, Rodney Greenblatt, J. Otto Seibold, They Might Be Giants, The Frames, Faith No More, The Aquabats, Harry and the Potters...

Name your ten favorite novels.

Howl's Moving Castle, Dogsbody, The Lives of Christopher Chant, and pretty much anything else by Diana Wynne Jones; Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol, the Harry Potter series, A Series of Unfortunate Events, About a Boy, Something Under The Bed Is Drooling, Goodbye Chunky Rice.

More Info to Go

Visit Dave Roman's website. If you are an artist, I strongly recommend that you check out his page entitled advice for building a career as a freelance artist and/or paid cartoonist.

Visit John Green's website.

Read my review of Teen Boat! by Dave Roman and John Green.

Read my review of Astronaut Academy: Re-Entry by Dave Roman.

This interview is part of the 2012 Summer Blog Blast Tour. Here is today's roundup:
Dave Roman at Bildungsroman
Devine at Crazy QuiltEdi
Robin LaFevers at Finding Wonderland

The first two people who commented on this entry won free copies of Dave's books. Thanks to everyone who participated in the giveaway. The books have been claimed.
Tags: blog tour, books, contests, graphic novels, illustrators, interviews, sbbt

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