- Posted by Johanna on May 5, 2009 at 12:28 pm
- Category: Graphic Novel News
I spoke (via online chat) a few days ago with Allen Gladfelter, artist of Strongman, recently released by SLG Publishing. He talks about how he and writer Charles Soule work together, the importance of location research, an upcoming project with Joshua Dysart, and plans for a Strongman sequel.
Allen, Strongman is about a Mexican wrestler. Are you a wrestling fan?
I wasn’t so much before I started working on Strongman, but in the course of researching the Mexican Lucha Libre tradition, I came to appreciate it quite a bit.
Well, to be honest, I didn’t know a thing about Lucha Libre before I started working on Strongman. So I read a few books and got to thinking that I really need to see this for myself. I took a little side trip to Mexico and caught a Lucha Libre event live. It’s all REAL! The luchadores show up in their masks, the kids gape in awe, the people drink Tecate two at a time and munch on spicy snacks while the luchadores wage melodramatic battles of good versus evil. It’s a loud, close quarters, hilarious, and very entertaining scene. I can totally get the appeal.
That sounds like a fun way to research! Is that level of involvement typical for your art?
For me it is. I mean, that’s how I want to approach my work. When I am faced with having to tell a story where the setting is a significant story element, then I think it’s important to go see that place for yourself if at all possible. It’s important to have something authentic to say about these places. For Strongman, I ventured to both Mexico and New York City because I needed to be able to get the sense of place correct. It makes the life that our hero, Tigre, is living all that much more real and believable.
How did you come to work on Strongman? Did you know the writer?
Charles Soule posted an ad on Digital Webbing, and I responded to it. He auditioned about a half dozen guys and decided that he liked my approach the best. While the other guys were just drawing wrestlers in superhero poses, I was drawing wrestlers walking down dark alleys with Eisner-type debris flying around in the wind. Charles has said that he thought my temperament would be better suited to the mood he was trying to achieve than any of the other guys.
Clever approach! Did you take a different tack based on information he provided?
Well, yes and no. Environment and mood have always been a primary interest of mine. My first published work was a story in Steve Buccellatto’s ComicCulture magazine written by Benjamin Raab called “The Lost Tribe”. That was a supernatural horror noir story set in a stygian kind of old Prague. I couldn’t go to Prague for that, but I worked hard trying to get a spooky, creepy feel for the place. So right from the start, environment and mood are evident as predominant artistic concerns. I think I simply have continued that approach in Strongman, and I intend to continue doing that.
Could you talk about how other examples of your work demonstrate that as well?
I did a short graphic novel called Like That, written by Patrick Rills, that is set in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. We have our lovebirds (it’s a romance comic!) hanging out and walking around on the Louisiana State University campus.
I have been providing covers for the Disney/Pixar World of Cars comics coming out from BOOM! Studios. I lived for a time in that part of Arizona along Route 66 where Radiator Springs is supposed to be, and I have taken it upon myself to start taking in auto racing events whenever possible, and I think that helps.
I once did a comic called Transaction that took place during the 1999 WTO protests, which I witnessed first hand. (It was a peaceful protest until the police started lobbing tear gas cans into the crowd!)
I drew a comic written by Joshua Dysart that is set deep in the Louisiana Swamp, and I actually got in a swamp boat and got a tour of the cypress groves out there. That was called How It Gets In, and it hasn’t been published yet. It’s pretty weird and we’ll probably have to self-publish it one of these days.
What’s the premise?
This guy is sitting around his house, abusing himself with the news porn on the television, when a fly emerges from the TV set and he swallows it. He coughs, gags, and then gets up and ventures out into the swamp, that’s when he finds that he has become the victim and the carrier of all that war and filth that TV spews on us.
That’s Josh’s side. My take on it was more personal. For me it was also about how sadness, disappointment, and sickness can divert someone from the single-minded pursuit of art. Josh had something to say, so he wrote it all down. I read it and it spoke to me and I drew it. It was a personal thing, just for fun really. It’s a pure work of art, born into the world through vessels who can’t quite explain how it came to be. (Read it online at Josh’s site.) Josh is a mad man, you know.
He’s one of my oldest friends in comics. I met him shortly after reading his work on Violent Messiahs. He’s a really friendly, positive guy, a cinephile, jazzbo, voracious reader, and I feel a real affinity for his dedication to his work. Did you know that for his recent Vertigo series, Unknown Soldier, he actually went all the way to UGANDA to research the civil war there? And then he put it all into his comic book! That’s the way to do it, I’ll tell you what. I really admire him for his willingness to go half way around the world to make his comic book the best it can be. And Unknown Soldier is a fantastic book.
What else are you working on now?
I am currently finishing up my Bachelor of Fine Art in Illustration. It will be my second degree after my Bachelor of Science in Education.
I’m going to continue self-publishing my personal work, The Inspectre: The Ghost Who Solves Crime, created in collaboration with my writing buddy, Mark Cooper. (That link has some of the images, but the words aren’t posted yet. Sorry, Mark! We’ll have to get on that asap.) It’s actually quite a bit different than the rest of my work. Much more cartoony, in a way.
The art style is based more on expressionistic wood-block printing and the picture books of Lynd Ward. Lots of black, inky shadows and spooky stuff. It’s about a ghost detective archetype struggling to maintain a sense of identity in the afterworld where your habits can overtake you and you can forget who you are and just wind up trapped on a lonesome road or in the corner of a room in an old house. So he finds a mystery to solve, and it turns out that the double cross may be that his need to investigate may simply be the habit that traps him. We’re talking with some companies about publishing it, but we don’t have anything in writing yet, so I can’t say when that’s going to hit. But it will, you’ll see!
I have another project called Guns McMenamin that’s going to be premiered at San Diego this year. It’s an action/comedy series, something like The Dukes of Hazard crossed with The Fast and the Furious. And it’s set in Baton Rouge. I’ll be travelling to Baton Rouge to research the place and prepare for the major set pieces later this year.
And we are planning to do a sequel to Strongman that I’ll start drawing in June.
How do you work with Charles? You’re doing a sequel, so y’all must get along ok.
More than OK! Charles is a good collaborator. He’s challenging but not recalcitrant. Creative, energetic, a little bit gonzo, even. He has quite a few interesting projects that are going full steam ahead, and I think it won’t be long before he’s as out there as Bendis or Kirkman or Cebulski.
What method do you use? How much back-and-forth do you have?
We start with a plot synopsis. I read what he’s got in mind and then tell him if I think it works or not. Then we discuss it at length before he produces a full script. I read that and do thumbnail layouts to see how it all flows, then we have another lengthy discussion about how it’s all shaping up.
If I have a difference of opinion with Charles, then I better be able to explain myself pretty clearly, and sometimes he agrees with me, sometimes not. Eventually, we come to an agreement, and I go back and draw the pages as best as I can. I send pages to him in 20-page packets and move on to the next batch while he letters them and gets them ready for the book. I think our system works pretty well.
What can you tell me about the next book?
As the cloud of guilt and depression begins to lift from Tigre’s life, he decides that he needs to return to Mexico. He finds the place has not changed to his liking in the 30 years since he left. Poverty, violence, civil war. This would never have stood had Tigre remained in his country and continued fighting for truth and justice. Well, he’s back now, and those outlaw gangs and corrupt politicians better watch out!
I’m going to start drawing it in June, it will take about a year to complete, then about 3 or 4 months to produce and distribute…. So I guess it’ll be about late 2010.
Thanks very much for your time, Allen!
You’re welcome. I’d like to say that I’m really happy to speak to you, and I’d like to shout out to my friends and collaborators Mark Cooper, Charles Soule, Patrick Rills, Josh Dysart, and Steve Buccellatto. I’ve always appreciated their hard work and support. And if I don’t throw a word in to my mother and sister, I would be a bad son and brother. I couldn’t be a cartoonist without their support.