Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
With this interview, Jason Little threw me a great curveball with the manner in which he answered the questions. In addition to his text replies, he supplied me with a wealth of graphics to accompany his answers. This approach appeals to me and I hope it clicks with other folks as well as proves to be an approach that interest others to try (be sure to click on the thumbnails for larger versions of the graphics). This email interview was in the wake of the December 15 release of Motel Art Improvement Service (Dark Horse), described by the publisher as “Eighteen–year–old Bee has finally saved up enough to embark on her long–planned cross–country bicycle trip. However, she doesn’t make it very far before disaster leaves her stranded at a motel. Her hormones surge when she meets a misunderstood young artist on a mission to ‘upgrade’ the banal “artwork” that hangs on the walls of every motel room. Taking a job there as a housekeeper, Bee snoops around in the motel’s dirty laundry and finds herself entangled in a scary drug deal gone dangerously wrong.” My thanks to Dark Horse’s Jim Gibbons for introducing me to the storyteller, as well as Little himself for the interview.
Tim O’Shea: Out of the gates, let me reveal a bit of ignorance on my part. Could you define “bubblegum noir”?
Jason Little: “Bubblegum noir” came from a comment in a reader mail. This is the second time I’ve lost track of his name, I will go through my email archives and find it! Bubblegum rock is a genre from the late 60s and early 70s with an emphasis on hooks, danceable beat, and enough mention of sugar in the lyrics to cause tooth decay. I suppose in the same way Bee is “bubblegum” because of the bright colors and clear cartooning, but noir because of the suspense, and flashes of darker content.
O’Shea: Can you explain your affinity for telling a tale in the bubblegum noir vein?
Little: I’m just following my natural tendencies, making a book that I would want to read, or that I would’ve wanted to read when I was eighteen. Like Tintin, but dirtier.
O’Shea: Motel Art Improvement Service is your second Bee story. Do you hope to do several more books’ worth of stories with Bee, or do you see a finite end to your pursuits with this character?
Little: I have two more stories in mind at present. I have a desire to do more, but I don’t intend to continue if that desire is replaced by a stronger desire to do something else. Anyway, one of the two stories is a 3d Bee book, possibly a thinner volume. There will be drugs in that one. And 3d. 3d on drugs. The other is one that is actually the first story I conceived with Bee, back in ’95, called The Library Libertine Labyrinth. It’s a clearinghouse of all my voyeuristic experiences working in a public library. And there will be some strategic breaking of the third wall.
O’Shea: Back in July, you wrote that “Bee in…The Ramble”, you wrote: “This story is the implementation of a new practice I call “putting it all in there.” There’s more variety in this story than in my previous work; this is a direction in which I’m going to push Bee, henceforth.” Care to talk about that direction some?
Little: Sure. And bear in mind that I’m describing an unbegun project, not the one that’s about to come out. This LLL project will be a taller book. I’m thinking that there will be some color, some black and white, with opportunities for changing style and media. I have a backlog of different drawing media that I’ve wanted to explore but didn’t allow myself to use in Motel Art. So I need to liberalize the constraint to keep myself stimulated.
O’Shea: Also, in that post, you said “Try to identify some of my peers in the final scene.” Who were some of the peers you worked in there?
O’Shea: And how did you come up with the “brief stereo moment“?
Little: My interest in 3d comics goes back to Jack’s Luck Runs Out. I had just figured out that I could “free-view” stereo pairs, so I decided to draw a comic that would be read as a cross-eyed stereogram. Unfortunately only a small percentage of the comics reading population has the inclination and ability to free-view, so I’ve been pursuing anaglyph stereo—the kind with red/blue glasses—instead, as of late.
O’Shea: As a storyteller, what is it about Bee that holds your interest in constructing multiple stories around her?
Little: I originally designed her to be a very minimal character, like Tintin, a tabula rasa onto whom the reader can project his or her personality. Tintin’s character developed slowly, over his twenty-six books, but mostly in terms of his relationships with the other characters—patterns of interaction. We never find out an iota of backstory about Tintin. I thought that I would keep Bee in this vein, but I changed my mind, and decided that a tabula rasa Bee was enabling lazy character work on my part. So I’m revealing a little bit of backstory, interests, neuroses, relations, etc. in each new book.
O’Shea: Visiting your website, I noticed this: ” An author’s most immediate tool to promote his or her work is to read to an audience of potential readers. Cartoonists do this as well, but with slide show accompaniment. I use PowerPoint with synchronized music, and act out all the parts live. The experience is somewhere between comics, animation, and live radio theater.”
Little: R. Sikoryak, who is the founding father of the present wave of cartoon slide shows, got me involved with his Carousel group. I did theater in high school, and this is a great way for me to continue that interest, without all the pesky memorizing of dialogue.
O’Shea: What kind of music goes with Motel Art Improvement Service?
Little: The excerpt that I read has music all swiped from the Lolita soundtrack by Bob Harris and Nelson Riddle. My Shutterbug Follies excerpt is mostly Etienne Charry and Pram. I think if there was a Bee movie I’d want to commission a dyke rock band playing hooky sentimental waltzes like those written by Yann Tiersen.
O’Shea: Do you ever find you want to explore new story dynamics based on audience reaction to a moment in your slide show?
Little: I haven’t had that experience specifically. Mostly what’s surprising about performing comics is that the audience laughs a lot, often at times that you don’t necessarily identify as funny moments. The audience responds to anything unexpected with laughter. I’ve been putting more formal surprises into the newer work, so it’s gratifying to hear an audience respond to it.
O’Shea: While attending Oberlin College you studied photography, does your knowledge of photography visually influence your artistic approach?
Little: I think it encouraged my main theme with Bee, which is voyeurism. And I feel like studying photography gave me an alternate perspective on image-making—alternative to drawing— which I still use. I think actually using the camera made me think about “camera-placement” in comics, that you can have low and high-angle shots.
O’Shea: When you’re working out the mechanics of a story, do you ever bounce ideas off of your wife–writer Myla Goldberg?
Little: Absolutely. I owe my writer’s work ethic to her entirely. I get comments from her on everything I write, usually in the first and the final draft. She and I both have new books out this fall. She just finished a massive tour promoting The False Friend.
O’Shea: Were you involved in the design of Motel Art Improvement Service, or did you leave that to Dark Horse?
Little: I did all the design myself. Charlie Oarr gave me some essential advice. Diana Schutz and Cary Grazzini at Dark Horse were really supportive, and I am extremely satisfied with the finished book.
O’Shea: Are you doing anything in particular to promote the book?
Little: I plan to do some slideshows, signings, and conventions. And I’ve make some tchotchkes: a sticker, buttons, and I’m working on a poster.