by Nicola D’Agostino
This is the original text of the interview with US cartoonist Drew Weing, already published in italian form on the Comicsblog.it website.
Nicola D’Agostino: How did you start working on Set to Sea? Did you already have the whole storyline in mind?
Drew Weing: It kind of snuck up on me! When I was at art school, I had done an exercise where we drew a single panel of a comic, and improvised a new panel to add to it every day. So one day in 2005, I drew a panel with a guy sleeping. The only thing I knew about him was that he was a big fellow. I spent more than a year adding to it bit by bit, just improvising panels as I went. I started “Set to Sea” with no idea that it would be set in the past, or even set on the sea, so to speak!
NdA: And how did it become a published book?
DW: About halfway through, I decided I needed to finalize and pencil out the entire story to the end. I also ended up editing the first half quite a bit – it was clunky and unfocused, unsurprisingly. When I had the whole story drawn in at least pencil form, My wife, Eleanor Davis, helped me make up some little hand-stitched, hand-glued hardback books, to give to friends and potential publishers. This was just before the Small Press Expo in 2008. At the show, I apprehensively handed one to Gary Groth. He actually called offering to publish it as we were packing up the car in the parking lot after the show ended. It was very flattering.
NdA: Reading Set to Sea, the E.C. Segar influence/homage is pretty much obvious. What’s also in there?
DW: Plenty of classic book illustrators like “Phiz” and Gustave Doré. Besides Segar, many other newspaper comics, like Billy DeBeck’s “Barney Google”, which is sadly underappreciated. And a lot of inspiration from my cartoonist friend, Chris Wright, who got me back into crosshatching (wholly unintentionally on his part, I’m sure.) There’s a lot more I’m forgetting!
NdA: What other authors and books would you like to suggest to check out?
DW: One author I got into as a result of Set to Sea research was Patrick O’Brian and his Aubrey/Maturin series (where the Master and Commander movie came from) is just splendid. His predecessor, C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower series, is also quite fine. Richard Dana’s “Two Years Before the Mast” is a really compelling, non-fictional account of early-1800s sailing.
NdA: Would you describe Set to Sea as a book for younger readers?
DW: I’m not sure it’d be good for younger kids, it’s maybe a little too bloody. That’s probably naive, though, considering what’s on TV every day. I’m sure they’d mainly find it boring!
NdA: What is your workflow?
DW: It got a little ridiculous for some of the more complicated panels. I would always start with a rough thumbnail sketch. For a big crowded scene with a lot of depth, I’d sometimes have to pencil in 3 different layers – the background, the characters on top of that, and then sometimes foreground elements on top of that. Then it’d all get traced onto bristol board and inked with old-fashioned crowquill pens.
NdA: In The Journal Comic you did on the computer some parts of the strip and processing. What about Set to Sea?
DW: For various neurotic reasons, it seemed important that Set to Sea should be done the old-fashioned way, with ink and paper. If I made a mistake, I either used huge globs of white out or pasted little cut-out bits of paper over top of it. The book reproduces the panels almost exactly as the originals look, except for a little specks cleaned up here and there. They’re even printed at the original size.
NdA: Did you ever try to draw with a tablet?
DW: We’ve got a tablet that we use for coloring and what-not, but I’ve never really drawn any finished art with it! Maybe someday, though – I’m not a Luddite!
NdA: You wrote* that as soon as Set to Sea’s web serialization is finished you plan to pull most of the story offline except for a preview, and let it live in book form. Was that a specific request from the publisher?
DW: Nope, they’ve been very open to whatever I wanted to do. I just feel like in the end, it reads better and is more satisfying in book form. There’s just something about a book that’s conducive to slow pacing, focusing, getting lost in a story. On the internet, you’ve always got a dozen different distractions pulling at you. Plus, crosshatching just looks better in print.
NdA: What’s next?
DW: My next big project WILL be for kids – a comic called “Margo Maloo, Monster Mediator.” It’s going to be this spooky, atmospheric kids comic about this one legendary girl who helps kids deal with their monster problems. But it’s still a long ways off, I’m afraid! I’ve got some shorter works in the offing as well, though.
* Addendum Drew wrote on his website that the whole story will stay online until September 10th.
So hurry and read it and -if you like it- you can buy it in its printed form from Fantagraphics or through Amazon.