Sandra Marrs and John Chalmers (aka Metaphrog) have been creating graphic novels like THE RED SHOES and THE LITTLE MERMAID for over two decades. They recently penned an overview of their lengthy career on their own blog and they were kind enough to give us permission to reprint that article here. It’s a fascinating look at the development of two truly unique artists.
20 Years Since Our First Comic!
Unbelievably, this month sees the 20th anniversary of our very first comic. When we met in 1994 we started working on comics together almost right away and, after creating several short comic stories, eventually collected them in our first comic Strange Weather Lately – Martin Nitram #1 in December 1996. We brought this out with limited edition lino prints in silver and the tagline: “Stories from the surreal yet unnervingly real world of Martin Nitram”. We jumped up and down a bit when Diamond Comic Distributors agreed to distribute it through their Previews catalogue.
Thus began our career in comics. At the time we were told our comic was the wrong size (we’d had it printed A4). But we didn’t really care – we hadn’t even thought at the time about comic shops and their coffins or boxes for storing American comic sized titles. Indeed we knew very little about the workings of the comic market. The comic quickly sold out. (There doesn’t even seem to be any copies on ebay now!).
We followed this up with The Maze
and then with a longer and more intricate Strange Weather Lately
story arc published as bimonthly comics and gathered them all in our first graphic novels in 1998 and 1999. At the time, the Scotsman newspaper ran a “Who to Watch” feature on us and we were interview on the radio for The Brian Morton Show.
|Our first comic,
Strange Weather Lately
|Extract from Strange
Weather Lately #1
|Strange Weather Lately
Between 1999 and 2011 we worked on the Louis series of graphic novels. Louis – Red Letter Day was originally intended to be a one off but we realised how much we loved the character and working with the Louis world that five more books followed. Much to our amazement we received nominations for the Eisner Awards and also the Ignatz Awards and international acclaim. We were delighted to receive coverage in mainstream media as many places didn’t really review comics or graphic novels in the early 2000s. Our Louis books, perhaps because they were so different and a bit strange, found their way into publications like i-D (where Kodwo Eshun described Louis – Red Letter Day as “a seriously spaced enigma”), The Guardian (with a column on our work by Julie Burchill), SFX, Art Review, New Internationalist, The Herald, Creative Review among many others. Our comic/music/animation project with hey and mum and the Fat Cat record label, Louis – Dreams Never Die, was featured on the late, great John Peel’s radio show along with his beloved The Fall and even received a lengthy write-up in Liberation in France.
|The Guardian – Julie Burchill – 2003
|The Scotsman 1999
|The Herald 2004
In 2002 Louis – The Clown’s Last Words was the first graphic novel ever to receive funding from the Scottish Arts Council. The Scottish Arts Council became Creative Scotland and they have continued to be very supportive of our work.
|The Louis graphic novels (2000-2011)
Looking back now it is truly hard to believe that it’s been 20 years already! Since then we’ve devoted all our waking hours to making graphic novels and comics. Naturally, there have been ups and down, disappointments, rejections and moments of elation. When we started we were both determined to make a living from our work, from being a writer and artist, but had absolutely no idea if this was even possible or indeed how we’d go about it. Comics weren’t even respected back then, and many people thought they were just for kids, or just trash. Initially in the UK and US, we kept on being told that our work was too European, while in Europe, and in France particularly (even though Sandra is French) we were told that our comics were too Scottish. This is possibly because we were feeding them potato scones. Now things have changed and more people see comic and graphic novels as art.
This year saw us win the Sunday Herald Scottish Culture Awards 2016 for Best Visual Artist. It felt like a real achievement and a great way to celebrate the anniversary of our first publication. And we still don’t take anything for granted.
We’re delighted to be creating new work with support from Creative Scotland and are working with Papercutz, who published The Red Shoes and Other Tales in late 2015, and who will be publishing our graphic novel adaptation of The Little Mermaid in April 2017.
San Diego Comic Con aka ComicCon International is now just three weeks away! If you’re one of the lucky few (thousand) who will be at San Diego this year, don’t pass up the chance to stop by our booth, #1720! Papercutz is taking advantage of the opportunities provided with SDCC to make a couple of exciting announcements about upcoming projects, and to do one of the things we do best: give you free stuff! The centerpiece of our promotional items will be SLICEZ, a free 96 page sampler featuring bite-size chunks of all your favorite Papercutz graphic novels. We’ll also be handing out other goodies like TROLLS movie posters, LUNCH WITCH lunch bags filled with all sorts of creepy concoctions and even some items related to our brand new imprint that launches in 2017 (details are hush hush until the show)!
While we love the freebies, we also want to make sure that fans have a chance to do something that’s become harder and harder at the show in recent years – read great comics! So we’ve set up a special “Reading Nook” in our booth featuring comfy chairs and bookshelves stacked with all your favorite Papercutz graphic novels. When the press of the convention floor becomes too much or you just want to lose yourself in a great graphic novel, come by booth #1720 and remind yourself what being a comics fan is all about!
You definitely won’t want to miss Sunday (which is Kids Day at SDCC) because we’ll have so many creators at our booth! Among the top tier talent we’ll have signing at our stand are Eric Esquivel of PIG GOAT BANANA CRICKET, Sam Spina of SANJAY AND CRAIG,Stuart Moore of THE ZODIAC LEGACY, and Chris Savino and Jordan Rosato of THE LOUD HOUSE.
Here’s a tentative booth schedule:
Sunday, 7/24 Papercutz Booth Signing Schedule
11:00 am – 12:00 pm – Eric Esquivel & Sam Spina
12:00 pm – 1:00 pm – Stuart Moore
1:00 pm – 2:00 pm – Chris Savino and Jordan Rosato (signing exclusive THE LOUD HOUSE mini-comics)
2:00 pm – 3:00 pm – Eric Esquivel & Sam Spina
3:00 pm – 4:00 pm – Stuart Moore
Want even more Nickelodeon goodness? A bunch of your favorite creators will also be signing at the Nickelodeon booth on Sunday. Here are the details:
Current Series Signing ft. Chris Savino (Loud House), C.H. Greenblatt (Harvey Beaks), Johnny Ryan, Dave Cooper and David Sacks (Pig Goat Banana Cricket):Sunday, 7/24 from 10:30a-12:00p at the Nickelodeon Booth
Make sure you stay tuned to our Twitter feed and Facebook page for even more announcements and updates as we get closer to the show.
Acclaimed Web Publisher Emet Comics YA/Fantasy Graphic Novel to be New Super Genius Title
You’re 16-years old and recovering from a tragic car accident. Everyone tells you that your brother is dead but you keep seeing visions of him being carried in to the clouds by a mysterious flying boy. And the visions don’t stop there. You see shadowy figures, pirates, other worlds. Are you going crazy? Even your therapist isn’t sure. That’s why she wants you to draw your visions in a journal. That’s why she wants you to start THE WENDY PROJECT.
In Spring 2016 Papercutz scored a major hit with their publication of David Gallaher and Steve Ellis’ THE ONLY LIVING BOY, a title that began life as a web comic. So it’s no surprise that the company would be on the lookout for other digital properties that could successfully transition to the print graphic novel format. Enter McDuffie award nominees Emet Comics and their online sensation THE WENDY PROJECT. After the company’s agent, Dara Hyde, sent materials to Papercutz publisher Terry Nantier; the two companies quickly agreed that THE WENDY PROJECT should be the latest title in Papercutz’s Super Genius imprint.
Created by Melissa Jane Osborne (Campus Crush) and featuring stunning artwork by Veronica Fish (now the lead artist on Archie), THE WENDY PROJECT is a new take on the Peter Pan story and a coming of age tale with just the right amount of magic. Readers will be drawn to the compelling story and will empathize with Wendy as she seeks to answer the all-important question – is her journal just the imaginings of a troubled teen … or is it a portal to another world?
Papercutz is rapidly gaining a reputation for one of the most diverse lists in graphic novel publishing, and Emet CEO Maytal Gilboa believes that THE WENDY PROJECT is a natural addition to their line. “It’s been exciting to see the emergence of both female creators and diverse characters in the graphic novel category,” observed Gilboa. “And Papercutz has been at the forefront of this trend with titles like Deb Lucke’s THE LUNCH WITCH and Jessica Abel’s (upcoming) graphic novel TRISH TRASH. At Emet, our motto is ‘Comics by women, for everyone’ and Papercutz shares that sensibility. That’s why we chose to go with them for our first print project”
Papercutz Editor-in Chief Jim Salicrup admits he was sold as soon as he saw Veronica Fish’s beautiful artwork. “I’ve been a fan of Veronica’s since I first came across PIRATES OF MARS. But I think she’s taken her work to a new level with THE WENDY PROJECT. Her use of color reminded me of classic films like Powell & Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death, and I was hooked immediately. Reading Melissa’s moving story sealed the deal. I knew this was something we had to publish.”
PAPERCUTZ Publisher Terry Nantier feels Papercutz’s acquisition of THE WENDY PROJECT reflects a natural progression in both the company’s publishing and the interests of its readers. “As the longtime publisher of the DISNEY FAIRIES’ graphic novels, I know how involved kids can get with the world of Peter Pan,” he explained. “We created Super Genius to provide options for those readers of those books and other kids’ graphic novels as they got older. But we also wanted Super Genius titles to appeal to adult graphic novel readers as well. I can’t imagine a more perfect fit for this imprint than THE WENDY PROJECT.”
Papercutz will publish THE WENDY PROJECT as a stand-alone graphic novel in Spring 2017, and both Gilboa and Nantier are committed to creating a final product that highlights the beauty of its source material. “We’re talking about all sorts of different options that will really make this an ‘object of desire’,” explained Gilboa. “We want to create a book that will thrill existing fans and prove irresistible to new readers as well.” Added Nantier, “From Melissa and Veronica to the entire editorial and production team, everyone working on this book is going out of their way to create something truly special.”
Leading Comics Publisher to Develop Series of New Graphic Novels Based on #1 Fashion Doll
Global toy leader Mattel (NASDAQ: MAT) today announced a new partnership with Papercutz, “the #1 Kids’ Graphic Novel Publisher”. The agreement gives Papercutz rights to create comics based on the company’s BARBIE character, the best-selling fashion doll that has become a cultural icon.
The new partnership will let Papercutz create new material based on the hit BARBIE media properties and on the core franchise. The goal is to provide a range of graphic novels that complement the many ways that children interact with Barbie—from animated movies to interactive media to traditional toys—and to reflect the modern sensibilities and focus on diversity that Mattel has brought to the franchise.
The first three titles slated for launch as graphic novels are an eponymous BARBIE series and individual volumes based on the BARBIE STARLIGHT and BARBIE PUPPY ADVENTURE DVD movies. BARBIE and BARBIE: PUPPY PARTY will launch in September 2016, with BARBIE STARLIGHT following in October. All three series will be available in both paperback and hardcover. These three properties are just the start of the ambitious Mattel/Papercutz publishing program. Plans call for more series to debut in the first half of 2017, with new installments and new series appearing each season.
“BARBIE is one of the great kids’ properties, and I couldn’t imagine a better addition to our publishing lineup,” explained Papercutz Publisher Terry Nantier. “There’s never been a more exciting time to be a BARBIE fan, and we can’t wait to be a part of her new adventures. As Mattel guides the character in to new situations and life experiences, these new graphic novels will play a pivotal role in telling her story. Together, we’re going to create a series of publications that will delight and thrill a whole new generation of BARBIE fans.”
BARBIE VOL. 1 and BARBIE: PUPPY PARTY VOL. 1 will be on sale at comicbook stores, online retailers and bookstores everywhere on September 13th.
This article originally appeared in the Brattleboro reformer. Read the original piece here.
Brattleboro illustrator hits home run with “Fuzzy Baseball”
Not one to quit, Gurney made some changes to his reader after a handful of rejections. He turned his early chapter book into a graphic novel and started his research. He submitted to agents and editors who focused on graphic novels.
The rejections kept coming.
“I felt like Charlie Brown and Lucy with the football. Like every time they go, this is it, this is the perfect spot! Then, you know …” Gurney chuckles as he makes falling motions with his arms.
Growing up in Bucks County, Penn., Gurney always knew he wanted to be an illustrator. Becoming an author came as a product of that dream. “It is kind of like Woody Allen says, ‘I want to write the movies I want to see.’ So, I want to write the stories I want to illustrate.”
After a few more rejections (these a bit more encouraging), he decided to expand his 48 page graphic novel to 56 pages. Hoping that this new, longer book would be better received he submitted again.
During this time Gurney had other projects he was working on. In 2002 he had a children’s book, Dinosaur Train, published. That process had gone smoothly and he was picked up rather quickly. He had assumed that “Fuzzy Baseball” would follow a similar course. When it didn’t, he decided to shelve it for a while.
Not one to give up, Gurney decided to revisit his graphic novel. “As an illustrator, your ultimate goal is to create your own content,” he explains. So, he kept pushing for this book.
His 56-page graphic novel was reworked and condensed into a 32 page picture book he titled “Full Count.” It was also rejected.
Meanwhile, Gurney was traveling to schools, giving presentations about his works as an illustrator and author. He would be in libraries and notice the growing graphic novel section. He felt like his book would fit. “It seemed like a matter of time before I got it in front of the right person,” he said, not deterred by the growing pile of rejection letters.
Going back to the graphic novel format, Gurney was on the verge of publishing “Fuzzy Baseball” himself. He knew kids would love it. He spent many years reading baseball picture books to his own children. He knew that, while they were entertaining, they lacked the details his included. They didn’t have real rules or strategies that young ball players could relate to.
The main character of “Fuzzy Baseball” is a young female possum who is the Fernwood Valley Fuzzies baseball team’s super fan. They aren’t doing so well so she decides to train and join the team, bringing them to victory. It is a funny tale of perennial losers and perpetually optimistic fans and never giving up hope despite the long odds that Gurney hoped would appeal to children of all ages but especially third graders.
Gurney and his perpetual optimism and fortitude for his book submitted one more time. This time to a small publishing company that specialized in graphic novels, Papercutz. Almost immediately they responded with an enthusiastic yes.
After nearly 20 rejection letters, “Fuzzy Baseball” had finally hit a home run.
“Fuzzy Baseball” had a publish date set for May 3, 2016. Now through May 31, Gurney’s art from the graphic novel can be seen on display outside the Children’s Library at Brooks Memorial Library, on the third floor.
At 6 p.m. on June 17, 2016 Gurney will be doing a book signing at Everyone’s Books in Brattleboro.
More information can be found at www.fuzzybaseball.com or www.johnstevengurney.com.
Michelle Stephens is a regular contributor to the Reformer, including her twice-a-month column, Juicebox Confession.
Artist Steve Ellis Explains How His Experiences as a Father Shape the World of THE ONLY LIVING BOY
Like his co-creator David Gallaher, artist Steve Ellis has penned a meaningful essay on how parenthood has shaped his approach to his art. This article originally appeared on the ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY website and we thank them for allowing us to reprint it here.
Back in 2009, when David Gallaher and I first started collaborating on what would later become a series of graphic novels called The Only Living Boy, we envisioned our story in the vein of ‘I Am Legend,’ as the story of a young boy, alone in a big city, fighting zombies. We created a two-page proof of concept strip, brought it to San Diego Comic Con International, and circulated it around the internet. Not much came of it.
After letting it breathe for a few years, we revisited the idea and added in more of ourselves, letting the idea evolve. Rather than telling the story of a survivor in a grim, unrelenting zombie apocalypse, we focused on telling the story of an explorer discovering a wonderful and mysterious new world. As an added wrinkle, we stripped our new hero of his memory, removing any skills, knowledge, and cynicism he might have. As Erik Farrell, our 12 year old adventurer, discovered the world, he’d discover more about himself as well. It is a world filled with monsters, mad science, and mayhem.
Alone on patchwork planet, Erik is an alien in a world that has been moving on without him, who rightly or wrongly becomes an agent of change. Despite the challenges he faces, Erik isn’t prone to violence. As the parent of both a boy and a girl, that’s something I find really inspirational about the character. We live in a world of violence and conflict. It fills our newsfeeds and our entertainment. David and I wanted to create a character who had to negotiate his surroundings, think his way out of challenges, and forge new bonds across all walks of life. He stands up for what is right and what is just without jumping into battle at a moment’s notice.
Male characters in comics are often depicted as tough. They are muscular, one-dimensional characters whose fists speak for them. These portrayals in the media left me wondering why there were so few characters that were modeled after what it is like to be a ‘whole’ person. As jaded, cynical thinking made its way into characters like Superman — who would rather kill an enemy than look for a solution to a problem — what other heroes were out there for my son to admire?
Raising our children in Ithaca, my wife and I found ourselves involved in the Adventure Playground movement. In the early 1940s, an enlightened approach to play was developed in Lancashire, England. Traditional swings, slides, and see-saws were replaced by asymmetrical wooden structures, discarded buses, and abandoned train cars. These ‘junk playgrounds’ became a crucial factor in producing a more imaginative and exciting approach to children’s play.
One of the only Adventure Playgrounds in America — The Anarchy Zone — is figuratively in our own backyard. With giant ponds of mud to splash in, massive trees to climb on, and giant tires to swing on, it’s become a place that I’ve come to care about a lot. When my kids would come home covered in dirt and mud, I could tell that they had a great time. That sense of adventure and danger has helped my children understand their place in the natural world. They’ve learned self-reliance, independence, conflict resolution skills and gained a broader understanding of their place in the ecosystem.
We’re telling a similar, fictional, story in The Only Living Boy. Without skills or memories to call upon, Erik often relies on his wits and his developing code of ethical behavior. As he learns from the world around him, he is able to understand the cultures, traditions, and beliefs of others. He doesn’t let racial and societal prejudices influence his growth. He’s a thoughtful kid whose first response to adversity isn’t “punch first, ask questions later.”
It might seem naive to believe that a kind character, like Erik, could be a powerful one. Erik’s predecessors — Harry Potter and Captain America — show that kindness isn’t a weakness; it’s a virtue. I think it’s even more heroic when someone with no natural advantages still stands up and fights for what he believes in. Erik is that sort of character.
Erik may be the only living boy — but he is not alone. Joining him on his quest are Morgan and Thea, two female characters who are as vital to the story as Erik is. Strong, emotionally complex, and filed with their own share of insecurities, they compliment Erik, providing the resources and skills he lacks. Morgan, a valiant and arrogant mermaid warrior, has put herself in harm’s way to protect a tribe that doesn’t believe in her. Thea — the noble insect princess — lives in shame and fear of the monster she will one day become. They, like Erik, are trying to find their own place in the world.
And the world they inhabit — Chimerika — is an amalgam of thousands of alien worlds forged together into a single patchwork planet. Ruled by the Dreaded Lord Baalikar, the mysterious Doctor Once, and the Consortium, thousands of creatures have found themselves fighting for their very survival in this dangerous new landscape. This trinity of villains feels profoundly threatened by Erik and his friends. Each driven by their own agenda, they seek to stop him by any means necessary. As with our heroes, we’ve created a set of villains who will grow and develop over time. We can’t wait to share their backstories and their secret origins with our readers.
The Only Living Boy offers adventure, excitement, and inspiration unlike anything else being published today. We don’t shy away from pain, struggle and adversity. David and I are working together to create something for readers that will build psychological resilience, challenge their preconceptions, and encourage them to courageously follow their own paths. We want this generation of readers to be versatile, malleable and able to find strength in problem solving. We want our readers to go out into the world and challenge themselves — find new things, get hurt, make mistakes, pick themselves up and try again.
These are the lessons I teach my children… and the lessons David and I are teaching our characters. As Erik grows into the character I want my kids to admire, my children are growing into the adults other children will admire.