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Back in mid-May, Molly Crabapple and John Leavitt launched their latest project, Puppet Makers, at Zuda Comics. When Crabapple gave me the head-up about the project a few weeks back, I immediately recalled our enjoyable last interview (August 24, 2009), and decided to go for another round of questions. Here’s the official synopsis on the project: “Versailles 1685, France has industrialized centuries before her neighbors but focuses on creating exquisitely ornate robotic shells for the aristocracy called, DOLLIES. Towering, lavishly expensive, and run on electricity provided by damming the Seine. Only the court elite wears Dollies, but their upkeep is beginning to bankrupt France. During the king’s birthday party, his Dolly explodes but is found to be empty. Rumors fly, blaming THE SMASHERS, a ring of Luddite terrorists who may lurk within the palace. The church’s cardinal sends a neophyte priest, JEAN JAQUES, to uncover Smashers at court. Amidst the contrary, conniving and self-indulgent upper class, Jean is thwarted at every turn. As he begins to uncover the truth behind the king’s disappearance, he finds that decadence and deceit may be a greater threat to the throne of France and his own life than her missing monarch.”
Tim O’Shea: What is the core appeal of steampunk fiction for you as a creator?
Molly Crabapple: I started drawing steampunk pictures in college. A teacher assigned me to design a skateboard deck, and, rebellious thing that I was, I thought it would be hilarious to imagine kateboarding as the sport of trussed Victorian ladies. I drew a board titled “Lady Etheldrina’s Wheeled Conveyance”, which shows a bouffant haired aristocrat on a skateboard, which is then being hauled by her maid.
I like working in the steampunk genre because I get to imagine the horrifying and hilarious ways technology would distort my favorite time periods.
O’Shea: Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems like the opening panel of your story must have been hell to draw. Was it?
Crabapple: Yes! Oh yes it was.
O’Shea: How many weeks is Puppet Makers running–and how frequently will it be updated?
Crabapple: Puppet Makers should run to 240 pages, and is updated every Wednesday
O’Shea: Given that Kevin Colden’s I Rule the Night is a mature content story at Zuda, I was surprised to see you did not develop a mature content tale yourself. Care to explain your thinking on not going for a mature content tale?
Crabapple: I had a few reasons. First, me and John feel like we’ve been pigeonholed as the people who make the comics about sexy sexy sex, and while we like boobs as much as anyone, doing only boobs causes people to overlook your other talents. Second, I hate content filters with a fiery passion. The world isn’t childproof- if you don’t want your kid to see the organ they came out of, keep them away from a computer. Not that that will work anyway.
O’Shea: When you’re steampunking history as you are with this story, is there still an amount of research to be done on the front end? Do you or collaborator John Leavitt do the bulk of the research (or is the load shared)?
Crabapple: When you steampunk up a time period, you actually need to know more about it than if you were doing straight historical drama, because you have to know their design grammer and societal norms well enough to imagine how anachronistic tech would change them.
Luckily, me and John are both history junkies. We’ve spent years intrigued by the machinations of Versailles- how Louis XIV’s perfect trap for the nobility eventually led to the French revolution. We gobble up biographies and design books. I’ve been memorizing Baroque: Style in the Age of Magnificence.
O’Shea: How did John first come up with an idea of a soundtrack for Puppet Maker (which includes the range of “Celebrity Skin – Hole; The Infanta – The Decemberists; Rip Her To Shreads – Blondie; and Queen Bitch – David Bowie) Did you have any input on the soundtrack as well?
Crabapple: John’s a music genius. The soundtrack is all him. Though Celebrity Skin is one of my favorite songs
O’Shea: Do you approach your layout or pacing differently when creating for Zuda versus an ACT-I-VATE project, or do the slightly differing interfaces have no bearing on your approach?
Crabapple: I can be more fancy pants on Zuda because I’m getting paid. Act-i-vate was more of a fun side project. Also, Zuda is a horizontal page layout, which just makes more sense on a computer screen.
O’Shea: Have you already gotten an iPad, or are you holding off until the first round of bugs are sorted out? As a creator, how maddening is it to try to stay on top of every new app that might be the new “best” way to present your webcomic?
Crabapple: I’m probably not going to get an iPad (Apple’s shitty attitude towards scantily clad pictures and indie developers is a major turnoff). However, Scarlett Takes Manhattan is available on the ipad and iphone via the Comixology app. As far as I’m concerned, they’re the best app out there for displaying comics on mobile devices.
O’Shea: Given your obvious love of theater, any temptation to adapt one of your webcomics to a play?
Crabapple: We’re talking to one of my heroes about doing Scarlett as a play. God knows, he’s a busy gentleman, so perhaps it won’t happen. But there are murmurings
O’Shea: How goes the world of Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School?
Crabapple: Busy! We did Sketchy’s at MoMA several months ago, and we’re bringing it to the Brooklyn Museum in August. We’re at over 120 branches, are beta testing a new website, and throwing a splendiferous warehouse party called The Art Monkeys Ball on June 12.