INDIE SPOTLIGHT – ANIMALS by ERIC GRISSOM and CLAIRE CONNELLY

Entertainment, be it movies, comics, novels, or music, play with our emotions.  It is a simple statement, and I am sure many of you are thinking to yourself that I am just stating the obvious, but I think we sometimes forget. We become conditioned to a particular formula in our storytelling that takes us on a very familiar ride. Personally, I am a sucker for the Summer Blockbuster film. I enjoy the spectacle, the hero faced with a problem gathers an unlikely band of allies and after experiencing a setback that threatens his or her success, finds that thing deep down inside and rallies to overcome impossible odds and saves the day. It is a familiar path; a roller coaster I have ridden countless times.  I know the drops, the loops, and ultimately I know how it all ends, an adrenaline rush of excitement when we (and I am including myself along with the hero, because a good movie will make me feel like I was part of the story) ultimately triumph.

Maybe the Summer Blockbuster isn’t your thing. Maybe you prefer that romantic comedy where an attractive man and woman from different walks of life are forced into a situation where they cannot escape each other, and after sixty minutes of arguing and fighting over their differences, realize they really love one another and live happily ever after. Maybe you enjoy a good history documentary on World War II (spoiler, the Nazi’s lose), or maybe you enjoy watching the Kardashians complain about how hard their life is from their million-dollar mansion. The Green Goblin is pumpkin bombing New York City and here comes Spider-Man. We all know how that plays out.

You get the point. So often stories fit comfortably into that formulaic box. But every once in a while, a story deviates from the established path and tells us a different kind of tale. A story where we don’t know what is going to happen, or where we are left feeling emotionally at the end. That moment in Watchmen when you realize the bad guy has won. Leaving Million Dollar Baby sad and depressed. Ilyn Payne taking Ned Stark’s head.

It’s these moments when we are surprised, when we are forced the think, that linger in our minds long after the story ends. You find yourself thinking about it while waiting on-line for coffee the next day, or that moment in bed before you fall asleep. Those are the stories that are worth telling and sadly, in a world where commercial success dictates the vast majority of entertainment put out into the world, something different is hard to find.

The independent comics scene is a great place to find such rare gems. Stories told simply because they are burning a hole in the creators mind. Beautiful art that might not fit into the house style of Marvel or DC. Storytelling boiled down to its purest form. No scenes designed for product placement, no Megan Fox stumbling through her lines, no remake of some failed sitcom from twenty years ago. Independent comics is about passion for telling stories, about showing the world what you can do, about trying something different and making something special.

That is why I decided to create this Indie Spotlight. To help show people on the fence about jumping into the independents, some of the great works available on Comixology Submit. Granted everyone’s taste is different. Some people might not love the things I love. However, these books all share a common theme. They are projects that feature writing and art quality that I feel is on par with the stuff being produced by the bigger publishers, and in many cases exceed those standards.

So without further ado…

 


Our FOURTH Spotlight is on ERIC GRISSOM and CLAIRE CONNELLY’S comic ANIMALS.

Comixology recently had a bundle sale, offering thirty titles from the Comixology Submit line for the price of $3.99, and among this trove I discovered Animals. To be honest, I am not that into anthropomorphic stories. They tend to be comedic in nature and for the most part that sense of humor doesn’t resonate with me. However I was familiar with the creators, Eric from his series DEADHORSE with artist Phil Loan, and Claire from her comic THE UNAUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY of WINSTON CHURCHILL: A DOCUMENTARY with writer Erica Schultz, and was intrigued to see what the two of them could create together.

Settling in for what I expected to be a comedic tale, what I got instead was this expertly crafted story set in a world where barnyard animals have swapped roles with human beings. In the first installment of the series, titled CHICKENS, we find a young chicken named, Marigold, helping her mother run a bed and breakfast that is on the verge of being condemned. Marigold’s mother is struggling financially and her brother Danny is sort of coasting through life, forcing Marigold to assume the bulk of the responsibility. There is an inherent sadness to this book, and Claire does a brilliant job capturing that somber tone on Marigold’s face, expressing her unhappiness at this life she is trapped in. A difficult task for a human character, but even more impressive when you factor in that Marigold is nonhuman.


I really felt for Marigold and I think most people can relate to a situation that traps us in a place we feel like we do not belong. Be it relationships, family, or career, that human emotion created a deep connection to the character and as I continued reading, I forgot that Marigold was a chicken; she became of reflection of myself at a younger time in my life.

In the second installment, titled PIGS, we follow Harold, a worker at the local slaughterhouse where human beings are killed and processed as food for the denizens of ANIMALS. Unlike his fellow co-workers, Harold has yet to become desensitized to the cruelty of the slaughterhouse and the disgusting conditions where rancid meat is packaged. The stress of the job weighs heavy on Harold, and on one sleepless night, Harold encounters a runaway human on his walk through the park. Harold feels for this human and tries to save the creature. However, the rest of the citizens of the town do not feel the same kindness and Harold is ostracized due to his compassion.

 


Harold, a character that clearly has traits we identify as a heroic, he has compassion for humans and a willingness to act to help protect the weak that are incapable of saving themselves. Yet despite these traits, Harold is painted as less than a man (or a Hog in this case) in his wife’s eyes for having these feelings.

I love how Claire draws the humans in this series, so feral in nature, yet recognizably human, creating a stark contrast between the world of ANIMALS and our real lives. We’re human, we root for the humans, and the humans are clearly the victims in this story, yet when you think of the same scenario in real life, if we switched the roles back to their nature order of human beings at the top of the food chain, a person attempting to save a chicken from being slaughtered would be considered soft in our world, yet when seeing it through the role reversed world of ANIMALS, the cruelty of slaughterhouse becomes that more apparent.

It is a thought-provoking story and while it might not be enough to make you forgo that Porterhouse steak, it most definitely will make you question how that steak came to be on your plate. It is even more poignant when you consider that many of the ill-treatment the humans suffer in the slaughterhouse of ANIMALS, are acts of cruelty that currently happen in slaughterhouses across America today. Instances such as the ineffectiveness of stunning an animal before slaughter, leaving the creature fully aware as it is hung upside down, dismembered, and at times sometimes boiled alive, is heart wrenching to think about, and perhaps we should all think about it just a little but more.

Both issues are available on Comixology, each for the bargain price of $1.99 as is other great work from these two creators from New Jersey. Support independent comics. Support books that dare to tell a different type of story like ANIMALS, and support great creators like Eric and Claire.


ERIC GRISSOM, Writer, creator, and letterer of ANIMALS was kind enough to answer the questions below on being an independent comic creator, what storytelling means to him, and his love of Crazy Jane from DOOM PATROL.

WHERE DID THE IDEA FOR ANIMALS COME FROM?

It’s always hard for me to answer that question.  I usually will see an image in my mind or maybe it’s an emotion I’m feeling, some piece of story.  It comes from some place. Inside me? Outside me? The other side of the universe?  Who knows?  With Animals it was a pen packed with humans and a pig who wanted to fly.

HOW DID YOU MEET CLAIRE CONNELLY AND HOW DID SHE COME TO BE THE ARTIST ON THIS PROJECT? 

I met Claire and her sister Paige at the old Asbury Park Comicon (back when it was still in a bowling alley).  I picked up a few of her mini comics and fell in love with her style and storytelling.  She creates these beautiful, dark, and quiet stories that have such an emotional weight to them.  I was an immediate fan of her work.

Not long after we met, I wrote a 9 page short I was calling Animals that centered on a quiet pig named Harold who is moved from the accounting department of a slaughterhouse to the killing floor.  I had no artist lined up to draw it and any artists I had previously worked with wanted no part of a story that was going to go to the places Animals was headed.  Without any idea what to do next, I posted about the story on my web site and asked if anyone was interested.  Claire contacted me and I flipped.  She was the perfect fit.  We created the short together and released it on Ryan Ferrier’s Challenger Comics. After the short, we both liked working together and decided to turn it into a larger work.  The result was a four-story collection that focuses on different animals within that world: Chickens, Pigs, Cows, and Humans.

THERE ARE SOME DEEP EMOTIONAL TONES IN ANIMALS THAT TOUCH ON UNIVERSAL HUMAN EMOTIONS.  WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO CREATE SUCH A PERSONAL STORY AND DRESS THAT STORY IN A WORLD WHERE HUMANS HAVE SWAPPED ROLES WITH BARNYARD ANIMALS?

I think all great art is metaphor.  A representation of some unspoken deeper truth that can’t be talked about directly.  In my own work, I’m always trying to make those connections and communicate those ideas.  Whether I’m successful or not is another matter entirely, but it’s certainly my intent.

The factory farming system and animal cruelty are important issues for me and I wanted very much to create a world where I could expose some of these practices to readers.  Most people don’t know or care where our food comes from, only that it’s cheap and super-sized.  It’s this darkness, this unspoken cost of living in our culture that exists outside of our awareness; a machine fed on suffering that despite its screams is mostly silent.  The Animals stories are structured around this idea too.  In the first story, “Chickens”, the slaughterhouse shadow looms over the story, but is not the focus. Each story will move us closer and closer to the heart of it.

I also thought it was important to place the focus on the animals, rather than the humans, because that’s who I want readers to identify with.  Had the stories all been from the human perspective, the animals would be the villains and the humans would once again be the sole focus and center of their universe, which to be honest, is partly the problem with humanity to begin with.  The stories are also very much about how we connect to each other, about relationships and family. Hope and love and loneliness. All of the things that link us together.

I FEEL LIKE ANIMALS IS ONE OF THOSE STORIES THAT EFFECTS EACH READER IN ITS OWN UNIQUE WAY.  HOW HAS THIS STORY AFFECTED YOU?

I’m not sure.  I’m so close to the material I don’t know how much it actually affected me as a person.  Each story I write certainly has some impact on me though. While on the whole, the situations are very dark; I always try to find some sense of hope.  

CAN YOU WALK ME THROUGH YOUR PROCESS? HOW DO YOU BREAK AN ISSUE AND HOW DO YOU WRITE THE SCRIPT? IS IT MARVEL STYLE OR FULL SCRIPT?

I usually start with an outline and create my first drafts from there.  Once the world and the characters start to take form, I’ll often start seeing new directions to go which means I’ll then go back and alter the outline.  After that, I will bounce between the two until I have something I can send the artist.  I also letter all my own books so after the art comes back and I’m adding in the dialog and everything, I’ll be re-writing the story.  That last step is really where I do my “final draft.”

Recently I have started using notecards to outline my stories.  This has been great and makes cutting and rearranging scenes dead easy.  Each story in Animals is self-contained so the notecards haven’t had a huge impact on that work in particular, but for longer episodic stuff it’s amazing.  Seeing an entire arc all at once has been invaluable in planning a story.   

I write everything full script, though I let the artists know that my panel breakdowns are guides and that if they see a better way to tell the story, they are free to change it however they see fit.    

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR EXPERIENCE AS AN INDEPENDENT COMIC BOOK CREATOR/ARTIST?  WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS YOU HAVE LEARNED OR PERHAPS A MISTAKE YOU MADE THAT YOU WOULD SUGGEST ANOTHER CREATOR ENTERING INTO INDEPENDENT COMICS DO DIFFERENTLY?

I’ve had a really good experience working as a creator.  I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a lot of great artists.  As lots of people know, or soon find out, the financial side of things is always depressing.  When you start doing the math it gets super sad real fast.  The reverse of that is, there has never been a better time to make comics.  There is very little stopping you.   One piece of advice I would give to anyone who is starting out: make comics. Don’t endlessly plan it.  Don’t over think it.  Just do it.  Make them.  They’ll be terrible at first.  But that’s okay because you’re next one will be better.  Be good to your collaborators.  Be a decent person.  Write all the time.  Do the work.  If you can’t find a publisher, who cares, publish it yourself.  It doesn’t matter.  Nothing matters but the story.  Start small.  4-8 pages.  It will be a lot easier to manage and easier to find a partner because you’re minimizing the commitment.   

WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE COMIC BOOK CHARACTER?

I don’t know. I don’t really like picking a “favorite” of anything.  I like a lot of different things for different reasons and each has their own merits and personal connections for me.  I guess if we were in some weird scenario where you put a gun to my head and told me to pick a comic book character I would say, “dude, you’ve changed.”  But after that I’d probably say “Crazy Jane” from Doom Patrol.  Morrison and Case’s Doom Patrol was the comic that made me want to make comics and that character is so, so, good.

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR GOALS IN COMICS?

I would like to one day earn a living creating stories.  

WHAT IS ON YOUR CURRENT “MUST READ” LIST?

If this is a list of books I want to read myself, the top of that is held by The Incal from Jodorowsky and Moebius. I’ve also heard a lot of really good things about I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly and J. M. Niimura.  If you’re looking for something I’ve read that I think people must read, I would highly recommend Day Tripper by Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon.

IS THERE ANY ADVICE YOU CAN OFFER TO A CREATOR/ARTIST LOOKING TO BREAK INTO COMICS IN TODAY’S MARKET?

If you want to break into comics, make a comic.  You did it!  If you want to earn money-making comics then the answer is not as easy.  Still figuring that out myself.  The only advice I can give you is to keep making comics.  Make them better than the ones you made before.  The world will eventually catch up.

DO YOU HAVE ANY PROJECTS PLANNED FOR THE FUTURE?

Right now I am finishing up Deadhorse, a mystery of sorts that I created with artist Phil Sloan and colorists David Halvorson and Marissa Louise.  It is a story told in two six-chapter books.  The first issue of Deadhorse was the first comic I ever wrote and I started working on it back in 2009.  This week I am finishing up the script for the fifth chapter of the last book, so it’s quite an emotional undertaking.  It’s really exciting to see it near its conclusion and it represents some of the best work I’ve ever done.   After Deadhorse, I will be finishing the last two scripts for Animals.

WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR FAVORITE MOMENT THAT HAS RESULTED FROM ANIMALS?

My favorite moment with Animals is always right after I finish lettering the book.  When I read it for the first time with everything that Claire has done.  And it’s real.  It’s a thing that wasn’t there before that now exists in the universe.  It’s a really exciting feeling.  It never gets old.  

ARE THERE ANY UPCOMING CONVENTIONS OR EVENTS YOU WILL BE ATTENDING YOU WOULD LIKE OUR READERSHIP TO BE AWARE OF?

I’ll be at Comic Fusion for FCBD and Wizard World Philly in May.

Check out (http://www.ericgrissom.com/disappearances) for all of Eric’s appearances.


I also had the privilege to interview fellow Jersey Shore native and artist on ANIMALS, CLAIRE CONNELLY.

HOW DID YOU MEET ERIC GRISSOM AND WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO TAKE ON THIS PROJECT? 

I meet Eric at the very first Asbury Park Comic con. I think he was the table next to me, but he was kind of far away because the show was in a bowling alley. He was selling his comic DEADHORSE with Phil and I was selling mini comics with my sister Paige Connelly. We talked a little bit and kept tabling next to each other for the next few Asbury Park Comic Cons.

Then he put out an open call looking for an artist on tumblr for a short called Animals which I drew and painted. We worked together really well so we thought let’s make Animals into a series.

ANIMALS DEALS WITH SOME HEAVY EMOTIONS AND A DARK UNDERLYING TONE.  HOW DIFFICULT WAS IT TO CAPTURE THOSE FEELINGS DRAWING ANIMALS RATHER THAN HUMAN BEINGS?

I found it to be really refreshing not having to draw human faces but also a challenge because I’m not drawing human faces. I find that sometimes really dark stories are easier to digest when working with animal characters compared to humans. Sometimes a chicken can be a lot more relatable then a human. Basically the eyes say it all. Every panel when I start inking I start with the eyes…if I mess that up, I have to start over. So I think as long as I’m getting the emotion across it doesn’t matter if the character is a human, a pig, or a shark. 

I FEEL LIKE ANIMALS IS ONE OF THOSE STORIES THAT EFFECTS EACH READER IN ITS OWN UNIQUE WAY.  HOW HAS THIS STORY AFFECTED YOU?

I think most of all what I get from the story is that the characters feel trapped in their current situations and are looking for some form of escape. I think at some point in everyone’s life they feel trapped in either the town they have grown up in or a job…almost like socially trapped where they are. So far each story has shown characters feeling tapped and how they escape the entrapment. I like working on stories that allow the reader to have a reaction and think on a personal level.

CAN YOU WALK ME THROUGH YOUR PROCESS? WHAT IS A DAY IN THE LIFE OF CLAIRE CONNELLY COMIC BOOK ARTIST LIKE?

Well, I have 2 different kinds of days. Days I go to work and days that I draw. I start with the boring one going to work. I work a few days a week for 10 hours, which basically feels like I’ve fallen off the face of the Earth. Anyway I come home, answer emails, and if I have the energy get a little drawing done. Generally I can get some sketching and maybe a page done.

Then there are the days that I draw. I get up around 9-9:30 check my email to make sure nothing dire is happening then take a shower and all that jazz. Then I hit the computer check Facebook, tumblr, and twitter then answer emails. I do anything that needs to get done around the house and try to run any errands. Around 11 or 12 I start drawing. I draw until around 5:30 or 6 then eat dinner and draw until 11 or 12. If I have a full day to draw I can get 2-6 pages done, so I get a lot done in a day.

When I’m drawing, I’m working on a bunch of projects at once. Generally I try to work on 2 different comics at once; lately it’s been more like 4. Anyway I try to work on one of my own and one I’m drawing for someone else like a writer or client. Then sometimes I just feel like painting, so I break out to my watercolors to take a break from drawing comics, which are really labor, intensive. I take a break from drawing… by drawing. 

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR EXPERIENCE AS AN INDEPENDENT COMIC BOOK CREATOR/ARTIST?  WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS YOU HAVE LEARNED OR PERHAPS A MISTAKE YOU MADE THAT YOU WOULD SUGGEST ANOTHER CREATOR ENTERING INTO INDEPENDENT COMICS DO DIFFERENTLY?

I like being an independent comic artist. I think no matter what I’ll always have my foot in indie comics. I like making up my own stories and the freedom that comes with it. Indie comics just have more freedom than anything. More conventional comics have to stick to a formula and generally a house style, I can draw however I want. I also have the chance to play with layouts and try to tell stories that wouldn’t really fit into more mainstream culture. My style isn’t for everyone or every story but that’s ok in indie comics.

For people who want to get into Indie comics I would just say make comics and just try to share them with people. People are more open and less judgmental than one would think.

WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE COMIC BOOK CHARACTER?

I don’t really have a favorite character per say. I like Killer Moth, Daredevil, and Dr. Strange, Swamp Thing, Silver Surfer and such. But to me I care more about interesting runs on characters or books. I follow creators from book to book versus following characters.

My favorite comic is Essex County by Jeff Lemire, it’s the whole reason I’m making comics. I also really love Mouse Guard and the Oz books by Scottie Young. I’m also super into indie stuff like Shawn Daley’s Terraquill comics and Tara O’Connor’s book Roots. I’m really interested in people with distinctive voices. That’s why I love conventions like SPX; I can walk around and find new artists really pushing comics forward.

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR GOALS IN COMICS?

My goal is to be drawing full time on my own graphic novels and working with awesome writers. I really just want to keep pushing myself to be better. No matter what I want to improve. I would love to work with editors and publishers collaborating on new stories and making great books. I would love to work on a monthly series. I think there are certain super hero books my art would really make a cool mini series.

I guess my biggest goal in comics is to keep making comics. Comics are a lot of work and I think it’s really easy to fall out of love with it. 

WHAT IS ON YOUR CURRENT “MUST READ” LIST?

I’m currently reading Nauaicaa of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki. I generally don’t read a lot of manga. I’ve maybe only read like a handful in my life. Most probably Pokemon Manga when I was a kid. But I really like the world Miyazaki created in this book. Plus his stories always have the best monsters.

I also have a small bookshelf next to my bed that is stacked with books, which I probably read about a third but I have at least flipped through them all. I wish I had more time to read comics, but with all the drawing I have to get done. I don’t have as much time to read, as I would like. 

IS THERE ANY ADVICE YOU CAN OFFER TO A CREATOR/ARTIST LOOKING TO BREAK INTO COMICS IN TODAY’S MARKET?

I think the best thing to do is make comics, like complete books or stories. Even if the story is only 8 pages long. Whatever you start, finish. And make lots and lots of stories; draw lots and lots of pages. Then share the stories online and work will come in time. Also just make stories that you would like to see. I think you can tell when the artist is enjoying the stories he or she is drawing.

DO YOU HAVE ANY PROJECTS PLANNED FOR THE FUTURE?

I’m currently spending a lot of my time drawing my next graphic novel…I guess it’s my 5th (I’m about to Kickstart my 3rd and 4th). I haven’t released the title yet but lots of sneak peaks on my blog and Instagram. I’m also working on a few covers for some anthologies and just finished drawing up 2 short stories that are going to be released this year.

This past week I just started drawing pages for my next comic I’m working on with Erica Shultz. Who I worked with on the book the Unauthorized Biography of Winston Churchill: A Documentary. 

So lot’s of late nights drawing.

WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR FAVORITE MOMENT THAT HAS RESULTED FROM ANIMALS?

I think the best thing is watching people treasure the copies that are in print. Like I have some people tracking me down at cons to get a copy. I think with the Internet, it’s harder to get the kind of treasure hunt. It’s nice to see people treasuring my work.

ARE THERE ANY UPCOMING CONVENTIONS OR EVENTS YOU WILL BE ATTENDING YOU WOULD LIKE OUR READERSHIP TO BE AWARE OF?

At the end of April I’m going to be Kickstarting my next 2 books BLACK EYES and THE LONG YEAR.

Black Eyes is going to be a book collecting my three-part series about a lone farmer fighting monsters in 112 page silent comic. Then my other book The Long year is my 2nd collection of short stories. It’s has 12 storied about 50 pages of the book are going to be in full color. So I’m really excited to get my next 2 books out. 



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