While browsing through Archaia’s upcoming Summer titles, I came across a preview image of a rabbit against a grey wintery background. The clearly hand done classic rough lines and subtle blue and grey wash stuck with me.I have a soft spot for comics that approach art as more than a means to accompany a story, but also as a way to tell a story. I found out that the book that contained the art that spoke to me in this way, was Shane-Michael Vidaurri’s, Iron: Or, The War After.
Shane-Michael Vidaurri is an illustrator currently working out of New Jersey. His book Iron: Or The War After is scheduled to be released in the Summer according to Archaia. I spoke with Vidaurri about what it feels like to be published by the likes of Archaia for the first time and the inspiration behind Iron: Or, The War After.
How did you first develop the story and world behind Iron?
Looking through my old sketchbooks I can see that the sketches and ideas that would eventually become IRON started in 2008. I don’t think I was really thinking about doing a story at this point, I was just exploring. In 2009 I developed a couple of the characters, and a vague idea of a story, but it was still all over the place. In early 2010 I decided to shift my focus and really try to concentrate on this project. I did a short five-page comic in the world of IRON, and while it was quite rough, it featured three of the main characters. After that, I solidified the story I wanted to tell and how I wanted the artwork to look.
From there I had to outline the plot. I had a lot of ideas, stories and characters in my head, but very few of them got to see the light of day. IRON: or, The War After was originally IRON: or, The Propagandist. This was because I originally envisioned a completely separate storyline that I ended up cutting, even before I gave the outline to Archaia. I still like the story I had in mind, but it didn’t work with the overall arc of the book that I wanted. IRON consists of four chapters and I had a very specific story to tell for each chapter.
What made you decide to illustrate the cast of Iron as anthropomorphic characters?
To me, it just felt like a natural progression. Back in 2009 I wrote a lot of what would become IRON as a work of fiction. I thought it might work better as a novel than a comic. I wrote two chapters. I never flat out said in these chapters that the characters were human or animal, and when I read it back I realized that when I pictured them in my mind they were the animals from my sketchbook. So, my mind kind of decided for me – which obviously makes no sense.
I think it was helpful for me as a writer to set my story firmly in a fantasy world. I knew I wanted to have these interconnected stories in a war torn world, but I didn’t want to have too many parallels to real conflicts. I didn’t want to make a statement on a specific war, or group of people, instead on the nature of these things, and why people might act a certain way. I think most of it was me figuring out how I wanted to tell my story, and anthropomorphic characters worked in mine. I liked drawing them, and I liked how they fit into my narrative.
How did you first pitch to Arcahia? Did you have a full pitch packet or a portion of the graphic novel completed?
I printed out an 18 page mini-comic and I went to NYCC with the intention of getting it in front of as many people as I could. I was just trying to get in the habit of going to these things and getting my work in front of publishers. I’d talked to Mark Smylie before and he was very positive, but he told me he didn’t think Archaia could use my work. When he saw IRON he told me he’d love to publish it, but he wasn’t sure if it was right for Archaia. I saw a couple of other publishers and it seemed to me like my pitch for IRON was really impressing people, and I was very happy about that – but I didn’t really nail it with anyone. It wasn’t until about two months later that Mark told me Archaia wanted to publish it.
It’s my first comic longer than 25 pages, so, obviously things were going to be different. Doing a 150-page story is daunting. When you start it, you think you will never finish it. Or at least I did. I got a lot faster as I worked on it. I think I finished the second half of the book in about the time it took me to do the first quarter. Another good thing was that Archaia was really supportive. They trusted me to tell the story I wanted to tell. My editor, Rebecca Taylor, was really great. She kept me on track in terms of my story, and she really trusted me to visualize it the way I wanted. She understood the characters and what I was trying to do with them and made sure that I didn’t write myself into any tricky spots.
One thing I learned is that no one else is going to paint my books for me. Sometimes, when I was working on IRON, I was kind of hoping some little fairy or gremlin would come out of the woodwork and start painting it for me, but they never did. Perhaps next time.
Much of Iron is told through art and panel by panel action, as a creator what caused you make the choice to tell much of the story without dialogue?
It’s just how I was comfortable making IRON. Other writers use narration to great effect, and I love it when they do it, but I didn’t think it fit in IRON.
As a writer and artist, in your opinion how should a writer approach an artist to draw his story and how should an artist approach a writer to help him develop a strong story?
I know that as an illustrator I wouldn’t want everything to be spelled out in a script. I’d like a lot of room to make my own contribution. But, this is just based on my creative preferences. I’ve read script proposals from writers with so much text per page it made me cry, but I’m sure there are comic artists out there who would thrive on that kind of detail from a writer. And that’s okay. It’s just about finding the right person. An illustrator/ writer combo is a balancing act.
Keep in mind I’ve never worked in a writer/illustrator team, so this may all be useless. Given that – I think it boils down to what kind of writer you are, and what kind of illustrator you need. Are you willing to trust the illustrator? Or are you going to dictate the visuals? As an illustrator, can you work with a writer who gives sparse direction? Or are you going to feel lost in the woods?
As a writer I know that I’d want an artist who will understand the pacing and the mood I’d trying to convey and run with it. I think I could work as a writer with an illustrator, but not as an illustrator. I imagine my approach as an illustrator would be frustrating. I don’t like doing a lot of sketches, and I really only sketch out a couple pages in advance.
I’ve recently re-read Lone Wolf and Cub. That book is the perfect blend of a complex overarching story, and beautifully executed short stories. You’d be hard pressed to find another comic that is so consistent over that many volumes. I read Marjane Satrapi’s The Sigh (which is published by Archaia) which, in contrast to Lone Wolf, is short and sweet. It’s quite perfect, more illustrated book than comic, and I loved it. I really admire her work. She is definitely one of my favorite authors in comics. Her characters are so lifelike, and her illustrations match the wonderful fluidity of her dialogue.
I read many more novels than comics these days. Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 was probably the last book that really inspired me. It is such a rich book, in it’s imagery and characters. He is really someone to pay attention to in terms of unfolding a story. You cannot anticipate his work even though it ends very naturally every time. Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived In The Castle was another novel that I really loved. Jackson has such a way with atmosphere. She can turn things from calm to sinister so easily. Currently, I’m reading Reflections Of A Golden Eye by Carson McCullers. I’m enjoying it immensely. Her book The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter may be my favorite novel. Either way, if you haven’t already, I urge you to read the first chapter. It may be the greatest chapter of anything I’ve ever read.
Any last minute advice for creators looking to pitch their work to a publisher?
Separate your view of your work from other peoples. You need to get out there and get your work in front of people, but, if you get rejected, don’t take it to heart. I mean, I’ve had tables at comic conventions where I’ve been completely ignored and my booth is blocked by the line to the guy at the table next to me drawing R2D2 and C3PO porn. That’s a slight exaggeration, but only slight. I think it’s important to believe that the work you are doing is worthwhile. To care about it and do the best job you can with the tools you have available.