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Writer Jim McCann and artist Janet K. Lee‘s Return of the Dapper Men (Archaia) will have its pre-release West Coast debut at Meltdown Comics (in Los Angeles) this Wednesday–with McCann at the store to help celebrate the event, as well as sign advance copies of the graphic novel. As detailed in the recent CBR preview of the book: “Welcome to Anoreve, a world in between time, where children have played so long it’s almost become work, machines have worked so long they have begun to play and all the clocks have stopped at the same time. This is how this land has remained, until 314 dapper-looking gentlemen rain down from the sky and set off in different directions to start the world again. Now Ayden, the only boy to still ask questions; Zoe, the robot girl all other machines hold dear; and the Dapper Man known only as “41” must discover what happened that made time stop, understand what their true places are in this world, and learn what “tomorrow” really means. The sun is setting for the first time in memory, and once that happens, everything changes.” There’s been a great deal of interest and discussion in Lee’s art, so I was motivated to email interview her so I could better grasp her artistic style for the book, which will officially be released on November 17. I can honestly say this marks the first time I’ve gotten to discuss the craft of decoupage in an interview.
Tim O’Shea: There seems to be an immense amount of trust between you and Jim McCann. On one level, McCann had an incredible level of trust in your artistic talent, despite the fact this is your first graphic novel. And you had to trust McCann to deliver a script that you could bring to life visually. Would you agree there’s a deep level of trust to your collaboration with McCann?
Janet Lee: Before there was a book, before Jim was ever at Marvel or I started showing art regularly, we were really good friends. That that friendship absolutely shaped our collaboration on RETURN OF THE DAPPER MEN. I can ask Jim any question, make suggestions freely, knowing that we’ll still be friends at the end of it. I would absolutely hope he feels the same way about me. Even when there’s a difference of opinion, I know Jim’s only intention is to make the book the best it can be, and I trust his vision.
O’Shea: I’m revealing my artistic ignorance here, but is your book the first graphic novel to so prominently use decoupage?
Lee: While I’m not 100% certain, I don’t remember ever seeing a graphic novel constructed in decoupage before. But ultimately, decoupage is another form of collage, and there have been many comics to use collage in amazing ways.
O’Shea: In terms of your decoupage work, what kind of wood do you use to mount the art. And how much of a challenge is it from a production side working to get the decoupage into book form? Were there lessons you learned along the way that made the production process easier for you?
Lee: I usually like to construct the pages on pine board– the cheaper and knottier the better. I love the texture that the wood gives to the pages– plus it’s good support for all the layers of paper I’m attaching to it. Once the page is constructed, I take it to a professional scanner to produce the image file.
Our main goal after scanning the boards was to make sure as much as possible that the tactile, 3-D effect of the original art translated to the printed page. For that we brought in Jeremy Brody– who also created our amazing animated trailer. Jeremy knew my art– knew the challenges associated with it– and he took so much care to get the pages the way I wanted them. I can’t thank him enough. I think the biggest lesson learned is that I should have talked to Jeremy earlier so that we could establish some guidelines at the beginning of the project– we’ll be doing that with the next books, absolutely. Which I know will make Jeremy very happy!
All joking aside, almost everything I did for Dapper Men was a learning opportunity. I refined my process constantly throughout the process, and honestly, I’m looking forward to the next book because now I can do so much more.
O’Shea: Are you hoping to collaborate with McCann in other stories down the road?
Lee: I would be honored to work on any story with Jim at any time. He’s amazing! There are two more books in the Dapper Men series. And, oddly enough, RETURN OF THE DAPPER MEN isn’t the first story Jim based on my artwork. There are more we want to do. Honestly, I’d be happy to keep working with Jim as long as there are stories to tell.
O’Shea: As a parent yourself, I’m curious what fairy tales do you like to share with your child? What fairy tales appealed to you as a child?
Lee: Confession: my kids know I’m an absolute soft-touch when it comes to books. I’ll buy them anything that they want. And we love to read. Ethan and I just finished OZMA OF OZ and now we’re reading A WRINKLE IN TIME. I love the original RESCUERS books, and I can’t wait to start reading Susan Cooper’s THE DARK IS RISING books. Those are all books I loved growing up too, so reading to your kids as a parent is this wonderful way to experience your favorite books again for the first time. Not sure those are really fairy tales, but as a kid, I loved Roman mythology, Middle Eastern myths, Grimm’s fairytales– I still have all my old books and I still read them to the kids.
O’Shea: What is it about steampunk that appeals to/clicks with you as a storyteller?
Lee: I don’t even know where to begin: everything? The late Victorian era was a time of explosive growth and learning– not always in a beneficial way, but always with such fervor and hope. As a result, there’s an underlying tension between the simpler, organic forms (Art Nouveau) and the industrialization to come (Art Deco) that completely inspires me artistically; as that period inspired so many others from Lewis Carroll to Jules Verne.
O’Shea: How shocked were you when McCann scored Tim Gunn to write the intro?
Lee: That Jim McCann– he just has this way of making things work, doesn’t he? And I think ultimately it’s because Jim’s exactly as advertised: he really cares about people. That’s the secret to his success. Jim and I talked about who we wanted to write the forward, and Tim Gunn was our first choice. Jim had met Tim through Marvel, and they had gotten to know each other. So Jim sent him the script and went over to Tim’s apartment one day for tea and to show him some of the original artwork. And Tim– the other most-genuine person in existence– said yes.
O’Shea: What storytelling qualities do you most admire in McCann–and vice versa, what about your approach on storytelling has served to influence McCann to a certain extent?
Lee: I love the way that Jim can spin amazing tales from just the littlest spark. I guess in some sense, I’m the “raw idea guy”, or perhaps even the “muse” since my images were the genesis of the stories. And while I always think of my artwork as being narrative images, Jim constructs these whole amazing and complicated stories from them. The process is so much more collaborative than I ever imagined it would be. Jim’s stories make fantastical ideas pop into my head, and in turn, when I make pictures from those ideas, they inspire more stories in Jim. It’s almost a chicken-and-egg story!
O’Shea: What was the most intimidating or challenging aspects of developing this story with McCann?
Lee: There have been so many times throughout the making of Dapper Men when I felt like I’d been thrown in the deep end of the pool without fully knowing how to swim. This was my first illustration work; this was Jim’s first long-form script. Having a partner you trust and a story you love makes all the difference in the world. Going into this, I knew vaguely how pages were sized and constructed, I knew what I liked in the composition and phrasing of panels from my favorite graphic novels, and, having worked in the trade book industry for the past decade, I know how a book is bought and sold in the US– what makes it successful– but that’s about it. It was really a blessing that I just jumped in over my head– I didn’t have time to think about how badly I could mess the whole thing up!
O’Shea: Not everyone works on a story that gets described by the USA Today as an “instant classic”. Have you heard from long lost friends after getting such mainstream exposure?
Lee: Not yet… Should I be worried? The funniest part has been my family. They are incredibly excited– even my parents who have only basic understanding of the internets.
O’Shea: As buzz has built around the book, have you experienced increased interest in your gallery pieces?
Lee: I’ll have to let you know about that one. I pretty much took myself off the gallery circuit when I started working on Dapper Men, so I’ve missed most of my regular shows and have had very few pieces up for months. But I’m gearing up for my first post-Dapper show now, so we’ll see how that goes. If nothing else, I’m a better, more confident artist having illustrated Dapper Men. Heck, I’d rather buy me now!