Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Back in April, writer/artist Matthew Loux released the fourth volume in his all ages Salt Water Taffy series for Oni Press, Caldera’s Revenge (Part 1). This installment (as detailed by Oni): “Part 1 of Jack and Benny’s first multi-volume adventure! The boys are having a hard time reading The Hidden History of Chowder Bay, given to them by Captain Hollister. So when a spooky whaling ship appears in the bay, it’s no time at all before the boys abandon the tome and find themselves in the middle of the action, searching for the fiercest whale that ever lived: Caldera!” The advantage of an interview like this is the fact that back in June 2009 Loux and I discussed the early days of Salt Water Taffy for Robot 6–and this second go-round allowed me to consider Loux’s work then and now (when developing my questions). Thanks to Loux for his time and thoughts. As happens periodically with these discussions, Loux has a question for his readers at the end.
Tim O’Shea: The most recent volume (Vol. 4/Caldera’s Revenge) of Salt Water Taffy was the first part of a two-parter tale (to be completed with Volume 5). Was there any trepidation on your part to do a two-parter split between two volumes, or in fact are you hoping it will draw readers even more into the story than if the two volumes were standalones?
Matthew Loux: When I was working out the story for Caldera’s Revenge I had originally figured it to be one volume like the previous three Salt Water Taffy‘s, but once the script was finished and I started laying out pages, I quickly realized that there was no way I could fit it all and still do the storytelling justice. We were faced with the option of doing a larger book and breaking from the original format, or splitting it into two. I was in favor of keeping the original format and doing two books instead of one. Luckily I was able to end Caldera pt. 1 on a really nice cliffhanger which became a perfect place leave off, and it will be a great spot to pick up again in Caldera pt. 2. Even though I didn’t originally write the story with that in mind, I think It works extremely well for both books.
O’Shea: When we last spoke about Salt Water Taffy, part of the appeal of the all age aspect of storytelling was “it frees me from the expectations Indie comic artists often have to do serious or emotionally challenging stories. I love that kind of work when it’s done well, but it will be a long time before i attempt anything super deep in my own career.” Are you getting the itch yet (or comfortable enough in your creative talents) to tackle the super deep, or are you too content in the fun of creating Salt Water Taffy to consider a shift of that nature?
Loux: Yeah, not yet. I have a bunch of story ideas that still fall within the adventure/comedy genre. Some have darker tones than the all ages stories, but Im still not that interested in doing anything too deep. If I do someday it won’t be me whining about how hard it was in high school or whatever. If anything it would be historical somehow and I’d probably need to hire a different artist because my style is too cartoony. I have been working on upping the bar on creating more interesting story structures, as well as injecting some more emotion into the characters and plots. I think the whole of Caldera’s Revenge will be a good example of that.
O’Shea: In that last interview, you discussed your admiration for Carl Barks and his ability to create “age appropriate comics that are just enormously enjoyable to everyone”. Are there certain nuances of Barks’ work that you try to capitalize upon in your own storytelling?
Loux: I really enjoy the amount of sarcasm in his dialog and his depiction of imperfect main characters. Plus there’s a sense of defeatist humor that I love. Scrooge and Donald are always sorta grouchy and are often getting foiled and I find that much funnier than if they were more heroic or competent characters. Flawed characters are much more fun and relatable for the reader. I don’t really study his work, or the work of anyone when I’m doing a story, I just can notice a subliminal influence sometimes.
O’Shea: Do you envision a finite end for Salt Water Taffy, or do you see an endless number of stories and comedic bits to explore with Jack and Benny?
Loux: I don’t think I’ll ever do a ‘series end’ storyline. I might stop making books or at least take some breaks, but no finite ending for me. The Salt Water Taffy world has become very tangible in my head and I’m constantly thinking of new situations for the various characters. Even if I eventually run out of stories, I wouldn’t want to stop the possibility of more in the future.
O’Shea: Some of the inspiration for the Salt Water Taffy stories is rooted in your own childhood. How pleased or impressed is your family that you were able to build a fictional universe partially from time spent with them? What does your brother think of the tales?
Loux: They all like the books and are pleased I think. My dad keeps referring to John and Sue Putnam, (Jack and Benny’s parents) as him and my Mom, even though they aren’t at all based on them. And Jack and Benny are only based on my brother and me as a starting point. In a way Jack and Benny are both drawn from aspects of my own personality.
I think my brother likes the books. I know he has them and I’m pretty sure he’s read them, though he’s not into comics or books really. I do know that my whole family is proud of me and my books, and have been very supportive of my art throughout my whole life, and for this I am a very lucky guy.
Loux: Whenever I am spending many months at a time working on the same comic, creatively I am desperate for a break of some kind. I think all comic artist can relate to that. So to break up the monotony I’ve been experimenting with some other art methods like a different inking style, or practicing some coloring or whatnot. I don’t have enough time to really go too crazy with it, but it’s fun to try new things. These are hopefully practices for future projects too, so it’s not really a waste of time, and I’ve been able to keep on schedule too, so no harm done!
O’Shea: Back in 2008, when CBR interviewed you your Salt Water Taffy work was taking all of your time and you did not see the way clear to do any side work. More recently you have begun doing some side work. Have you gotten faster as an artist or just decided to make time to do side work?
Loux: Yeah, since 2008 I was able to ink a Star Wars Adventure book, do some short stories for some comic anthologies, and work on Good Night Gabbaland as well as some shorts for the Gabba ‘Comic Book Time‘ Anthology. These are all projects I couldn’t turn down due to how awesome they were. Especially the Yo Gabba Gabba comic. Oni Press is generally pretty good about their flexibility in schedule, and I was able to fit those projects in between (and during) Salt Water Taffy Books, and I just powered out the work. Either way I’ve never blown a deadline yet so hooray for me I guess.
O’Shea: When you work on a property like Yo Gabba Gabba, does it take a different mindset–and/or does it come with a different stress level, given that it’s not your own brainchild in the way that Salt Water Taffy is?
Loux: It might be more stressful if it was a property I had less interest in, but I love Yo Gabba Gabba, so it was an incredible thrill to be able to do a comic about it. I know it’s a show for very little kids, but I just totally enjoy the cuteness and crazy characters and catchy songs. I’m also a long time fan of the creator, Christian Jacobs’ band, The Aquabats. I was even privileged to be on a Yo Gabba Gabba Panel last summer at San Diego Comic Con with Christian, DJ Lance, and a whole bunch more of the shows creators. It was such a thrill even though I barely said anything up there. Good Night Gabbaland was also my first comic published in color which was just fantastic. I was able to figure out some good coloring methods on that book that I really hope I can apply to some projects in the future.
O’Shea: When you get to collaborate with J. Torres (as you did last year with some of the Yo Gabba Gabba work) are there any storytelling lessons (or qualities that you admire) that you take away from such collaboration?
Loux: It really got me thinking about how I would approach writing a comic for a very little kid. What would be a simple enough story, what would be both entertaining and engaging, yet wouldn’t go over their heads. I’d love to try one some time if anyone want’s to hire me for it. Otherwise it was lots of fun working with J, he’s very easygoing and enthusiastic regarding what I drew. And I was happy working with such an experienced writer. I used to read his Oni books when I was just out of school and trying to break into the industry, so working with him was very cool, and he’s a great dude.
O’Shea: In terms of your inking technique, as you recently noted:”I work right to left because I am left handed. This way I am less likely to smudge my ink.” Have you always inked that way, or is that something you adapted to doing after a few smudged pieces? Also are there other ways you might approach your work differently than a right-handed person?
Loux: Yeah, it’s a trick I picked up in school with my paintings. I used to do a lot of watercolor illustrations and the way I worked was in a very tight manner, finishing one section at a time and slowly working my way through the whole composition. That translates even better for inking comic pages so I’ve done it that way right from the beginning. The way I do a page, is after measuring out the panels I sketch the lose compositions with thumbnails and script in hand. This I do from left to right, top to bottom so I can tell if it reads OK. Then I do a second pencil pass where I tighten up the drawing. This I do Right to Left, bottom to top. I then ink the same way. It’s purely functional. I also do my page thumbnails right to left too (if that makes sense) again because of smudging. Besides that everything else I do is probably the same as a righty. It is funny, when I think if it, my identity as a lefty has been pretty important to me throughout my life. It was something that made me different as a kid, and I was always proud of that. I also always identified it with my artistic abilities, the thing that defines me the most.
O’Shea: In our last interview you noted that the comedy of the Marx Brothers (and that era in general) appealed to you as a kid. In terms of film, these days, are you still drawn to that era of comedy–or what kind of comedy currently clicks with you?
Loux: I find it a little harder to get into those old movies these days because I’m more used to a faster paced comedy i guess. I love ridiculous humor like any Will Ferrell movies, Shows with great crazy characters like Arrested Development, 30 Rock, or the Mighty Boosh. I’m also a fan of American Dad though a lot of people don’t give it much of a chance. With the accessibility of Netflix on demand, I’ve been able to watch the shows Im usually too busy to keep up on.
O’Shea: You’ve been answering a slew of questions, now it’s only fair to ask: Any questions you have for Loux fans out there reading this interview?
Loux: Sure, what do you like about my stuff? I’ll try to do more if it as long as it’s not insane or inappropriate.