Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
SLG Publishing‘s booth at SDCC [Booth #1815, right next to DC Comics] is going to be extremely busy this year with a number of SLG creators making appearances. Three first-time graphic novelists, Joe Pimienta, Lindsay Hornsby, and Lauren Affe, will be debuting their book, A Friendly Game, at SDCC–and will be at the SLG booth as well. The book (which SLG gave a 10-page preview here) is described as follows: “Friends play many kinds of games with each other: cops and robbers, checkers, tag. The best of friends will make up their own games. Todd and Kevin’s friendship is built on such a game. However, the rules and premise are far from the typical childhood games. A dispute amongst the two splits them into very different directions: one sees the game for the cruel act that it is, while the other decides it must move to the next level. Imagine No Country for Old Men crossed with Lord of the Flies, or even imagine if Johnny the Homicidal Maniac were once a little kid. There you have a Friendly Game.” Thanks to assistance from SLG’s Dan Vado and Jennifer de Guzman, I was able to email interview all three characters. If you’re at SDCC, be sure to check this book out while you’re there–and even if you’re not, once you read the preview–SLG’s made it quite convenient for you to order the book. It was a pleasure to interview the three creators and I hope this is the first of many times we’ll be seeing their names in years to come.
Tim O’Shea: Did the idea for this story find its start at Savannah College of Art and Design ([SCAD] where all three of you attended)?
Joe Pimienta: Yes. It originally started as an 8-page story I did for scripting class. But part of the assignment was to have drawn pages and character designs, so, I asked Lindsay to do that. Once I finished the assignment, I put it away and didn’t think about it until 6 months later when Lindsay took advanced scripting and asked me if we could develop the story more. I was surprised, since the subject matter was so different from what she normally does. We talked about a bigger story arc, making my short story only the first pages for the final story arc. It wasn’t until senior project, 2 years later, that we actually started drawing pages for it.
Lindsay Hornsby: When I took Advanced Scripting, I really wanted to do something different. The focus of the class was to create longer narratives, and the idea of expanding on Joe’s original concept had kind of been floating around in the back of my mind. Typically, I write and draw more cartoony and comedic storylines. Basically, the complete opposite from what occurs in A Friendly Game. By the end of the class, I had a pretty good chunk of the story worked out, enough for us to start on the pages in Senior Project.
O’Shea: How far along in the creative process were you when the project landed at SLG? Can you share your various reactions to the SLG development?
Pimienta: Our first meeting with Dan Vado was in May 2008. We had 82 penciled pages, 36 inked, no tones, no letters. Dan expressed interest in the story but told us that since it wasn’t finished, there was not much for him to do. A year later, we showed him 188 penciled pages, 100 inked and 4 pages toned. Also, we went from a duo to a trio, since we asked Lauren if she wanted to tone the book. After that meeting… we had a lot of work to do, re-do and celebrate.
Hornsby: It felt like we’d had a completed book even though we still had a good amount of work ahead of us. Not just from adding Lauren to the team either, since the lettering hadn’t been touched yet. We had a big binder of all 188 pages plus Lauren’s toned pages to show to Dan so he could see how far we’d gotten since the year before. No dialogue whatsoever. I was a little worried we might seem overwhelming (it was a really fat binder), but Dan still was genuinely interested. He stressed that he really needed to see the ending with dialogue, so the next week I lettered the last 10 or 15 pages and we sent him the full pitch binder.
Lauren Affe: At the time I was asking a bunch of friends whose art I admired if I could grab a hold of some of their finished comic work to color for practice and to add some bulk to my portfolio. I approached Lindsay and got a section of pages of A Friendly Game to play around with. I had only about 3 story pages plus one chapter spot illustration toned and in my portfolio on Editors Day 2009. Lindsay and Joe really liked the approach I took to their work and I found myself talking to Dan Vado with them that day. It happened really fast and I can’t say I was able to process what I was undertaking. After that the work began, toning the other 195 pages.
O’Shea: Could each of you speak to what you appreciate about the other two colaborators’ storytelling talents?
Pimienta: Lindsay is really good for making dialogues flow naturally, which is why I was glad she did the scripting part. Whenever I ink, I go all over the place with splatters and gesture lines; Lindsay, on the other hand has a tighter brushstroke and clean-cut style, which I thought was very fitting for the story. Lauren’s eye for value is flat-out superb. Originally, she tried coloring some of the pages just for fun, but then she tried a monochromatic scheme and it took Lindsay’s inks to a whole another level. When I first saw her toned pages of A Friendly Game I got excited about working on the book again.
Hornsby: Joe thinks of some really awesome shots that most people wouldn’t consider. Sometimes a single panel will just jump out at you, but at the same time the entire page flows together so smoothly. His pacing seriously strengthened several of the scenes that I wrote. Lauren’s tones bring out subtleties in the pages that I didn’t even know could have existed. Both Joe and I had gotten so deep into this project that it had started to wear us down, but Lauren’s tones started the spark back up again.
Affe: Joe has an excellent sense of timing in his visuals. He’s not afraid to just let in an extra couple panels after the dialogue has ended to put great punctuation at the end of a scene. Its a great bridge between Lindsay’s dialogue that really gave the story structure. Much the same can be said for her inks. They did a fantastic job of editing Joe’s pencils-blocking out what was important on the page to draw the eye really effortlessly through a page without getting hung of extraneous detail.
However, what I appreciate about them both this their ability to collaborate so well together. Much too often there are often disagreements on what is important. Each person, whether it be the penciler, inker, or writer, are bringing their own vision on what the project should be and if they aren’t on the same page, their individual ideas can ultimately weaken the final product. Joe and Lindsay are able to communicate and step back to ask if what they’re doing is serving the story they’re trying to tell. For as much collaboration that happens in comics, it’s rare to find a team that is so able to work instep with each other like these two.
O’Shea: Can each of you single out a favorite scene or character in A Friendly Game?
Pimienta: My favorite character is the dead mouse in the prologue. No, not really. My favorite character is actually Kevin, because I’ve been that scared about confronting big responsibilities. But overall, I think my favorite scenes are the dinner scene with Todd, Kevin and Kevin’s mother and the tension between the two boys in front of the parental figure who has no idea what the boys have done. Plus, the whole scene was a challenge to draw. The other favorite scene is Kevin in his room after running out of the basement, because it’s all pantomime.
Hornsby: I can’t say too much about my favorite scene because I think it would give away too much…It’s toward the end of Act Two and involves Todd interacting with his dad. I also really like the prologue with the two boys; it’s two friends hanging out before everything goes to hell. I’m going to feel like a creeper f or saying this, but I really do like Todd. He’s a really great antagonist to write for, and Joe gave him some really creepy faces that were fun to ink. And the puppy, because he starts this series of events without any intention of causing trouble, and I feel like I’ve run into those sort of situations before.
Affe: Since Joe and Lindsay have already picked the two main characters and already made points I was going to make…In the interest of adding variation…the puppy dog?
My favorite scenes seem to always be the ones without dialogue, where characters are just LOOKING at one another building up tension or having moments of self reflection or horror. If I had to pick one, the bridge from End of Act II to Act III stands out to me. The main character, Kevin, has just found his resolve to confront his psychotic friend, when he’s suddenly thrown another…uh “curve ball” so to speak. You’ll have read it to find out I guess…
O’Shea: Can each of you explain how important you think it was to go with tones for this story visually, rather than straight black and white?
Pimienta: The book was originally intended for black and white. Before we asked Lauren to join the party, Lindsay and I were always sure we wanted to keep it black and white. Once we saw Lauren’s approach to the pages, it became clear that there was always something missing to the end result; something we couldn’t have seen on the script page or the inked page: mid-tones and a value range. Lauren’s gray tones filled the gaps Lindsay and I couldn’t put our fingers on to point out what was missing. It enriched the visual aspect of the story above and beyond. I think the common analogy is “the tones are the icing on the cake” and Lauren’s tones are icing plus a cherry.
Hornsby: I actually saw Laruen’s toned pages for the first time on Editor’s Day before we were going to see Dan. Lauren had them in her portfolio and I honestly just couldn’t stop looking at them. It was like seeing the pages completely finished, like Joe said, the missing element. And it was really spontaneous, but we asked her to sit in with us when we talked to Dan because her tones completed the book.
Affe: I love stories told in just crisp black and white, which is actually something a colorist shouldn’t say. But I’m saying it. I LOVE images that are able to carry themselves without any “filler” between its lines. So, when it came to Joe and Lindsay’s project, it was at first a hard balance to strike- keeping the integrity of the black and white imagery that I have such great enthusiasm for, while still being able to enhance it.
Very early on, I tried straight color, but there was so much black that had such great weight to the pages, that adding layers of color seem extraneous and quite frankly stupid. I had to start over and limit myself to a pallet of five values. I had much better results.
If done right, colors and tones should be there helping tell the story along with the dialogue and inks, not slapped on because all the cool books are doing it.
The tones allowed me to help add a middle ground between the heavy lines and spot blacks without being obtrusive. I could add shadows and help describe times of day or give more form to a face or more atmosphere to an environment that may have been lost when pencils went to ink.
I am so appreciative to Joe and Lindsay for being open and allowing me to put the finishing touches on something they had already been “married” to for years.
O’Shea: What was the hardest part of the project for you?
Pimienta: The hardest part of working on this book was after finishing school in June -09 and all three of us ended up living in different parts of the country. Lindsay moved to Kentucky, Lauren stayed in Georgia and I moved to California.
O’Shea: Could all three of you discuss the challenges of collaborating while living in three different states?
Pimienta: Well, I’m glad I got to collaborate with artists and friends I trusted. there were periods where there was no communication and i just had to trust them. we all had side jobs and with the hour difference, it was obstacle to get together via skype and talk about our progress and our status. I cant speak for them, but I felt lucky to work with them.
Hornsby: The FTP (File Transfer Protocol) is the best invention to date, right after the Internet. At least, when you’re in three different states anyhow. Lauren and I spent a lot of time tossing pages back and forth with the FTP; she’d finish toning a chunk of pages and I would grab them to letter. Joe did mail me some pages that he had redrawn because he no longer had access to a scanner. I warned him ahead of time that if they got lost in the mail, I would be really, really mad at him. But they didn’t, so it turned out okay.
Before we left SCAD, when he was almost done penciling the book, Joe started to draw at a smaller page size because he wanted to go faster and save paper. I was stubborn, and did every single page at what now seems giant, 10 x 15. The three of us were in our separate parts of the country when the time came to create the cover of the book, and Joe and Lauren convinced me over Skype to ink the cover digitally instead. It turned out great, but still kind of sets off my OCD tendencies that it doesn’t physically exist.
Affe: The distance did make things difficult at times. Clearing up mysteries of misnumbered/absent pages would have probably easily been solved if Lindsay and Joe were still five minutes down the road. But as Lindsay has already pointed out, the internet helped close that gap. Especially working around graduation and two part-time jobs. It was great to be able to come home and hop on Skype to “talk shop” for a while, go offline and then get to work.