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GU Table at MoCCA 2010

Erin and husband Noah staff the table

Every year the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Arts hosts an independent comics convention, known as MoCCA Festival (or, usually, just called MoCCA as well). Held at the 26th Street Armory on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan, this year MoCCA had over 400 artists. The mood and market are similar to Portland, Oregon’s beloved Stumptown Comics Fest—you won’t find superheroes or manga at MoCCA, unless the superheroes are by indy publishers and the manga is Black Jack or Red Snow.

The Graphic Universe table was located between the balloon-decorated table run by First Second Books and the table presided over by Guinea Pig: Pet Shop Private Eye author and First Second designer Colleen AF Venable, which featured her lumberjack zines, jewelry by former GU editorial intern Marianne Ways, and books by animator Scott Bateman. Although traffic seemed a little lighter this year than in 2009, we found new (very young!) readers, with lots of excitement generated by Guinea Pig, Mr. Badger and Mrs. Fox, and Twisted Journeys #12, Kung Fu Masters. We sold a lot of books; met quite a few of our artists, authors, and letterers including Steph Yue, Zack Giallongo, Yuko Ota, Andrés Martínez and Na Liu, and Hyeondo Park; hobnobbed with bloggers; and bought some new T-shirts.

For me, MoCCA has always been dangerous. It’s essentially a convention all of comics that I would consider reading. In the past, I limited my time at the con. If I ran out of cash, I went home. One year I hit the ATM twice out of weakness.

Webcomics have been on the rise at MoCCA. This year the Topatoco booth had an impressive presence, with Kate Beaton signing comics next to the Wondermark guys. Beaton’s collection is self-published, but Wondermark has found distribution through Dark Horse comics, following shortly on the heels of Dark Horse’s Achewood collection. There were plenty of up-and-coming artists to discover as well, and excellent collections from students from the Center for Cartoon Studies and other schools. The quality level and creativity of the exhibitors at MoCCA 2010 reached a new high this year. Our office bookcase of books and samples is overflowing.

Expect to see Graphic Universe at MoCCA 2011 with an even wider range of titles to fit onto the table. And maybe even balloons of our own.

Colleen with sad balloon, MoCCA 2010

At the end of the convention, Colleen's balloon died.

Paul D. Storrie is the author of many Graphic Universe books, including several volumes of Twisted Journeys (#03 Terror in Ghost Mansion and #05 Nightmare on Zombie Island) and many of our Graphic Myths and Legends books (Amaterasu, Beowulf, Hercules, Perseus, Robin Hood, William Tell, and Yu the Great). He has also penned a book for our mysterious new graphic novel line. Paul’s mysterious new book will be released in the Spring of 2011.

Q. What was the first thing you were paid to write?

Robyn of Sherwood, a comic book starring the daughter of Robin Hood.

Q. What’s your favorite genre to write in? What type of writing do like best – long, short, fiction, nonfiction?

I’m pretty exclusively a fiction writer. For some reason, nonfiction just doesn’t appeal to me. Picking a favorite genre is difficult. Most of my stories have a strong action/adventure vibe, but they’ve taken the form of historical fiction, mystery, fantasy, science fiction and more. If pressed, I’d pare my choices down to hard-boiled detective fiction or sword & sorcery.

Q. Did you start off writing prose and switch to comics or vice versa? What’s it like working with an artist? Have you ever been surprised how your artist(s) see your characters or world?

Professionally, I started writing comics and have branched out into prose. I think I wrote prose first as a kid. Working with an artist is generally an incredible experience. Although you can be surprised by how much an artist’s vision of the world and characters differ from your own, the most astonishing thing is when you seen an artist’s work and think, “That’s it! That’s exactly what I was thinking!” I love that feeling.

Q. Graphic Universe books are generally for kids; how do you get into the mindset of your audience?

Some of my friends and family would claim that I don’t have to get into a kids’ mindset, I’m there everyday! Mostly what I do is think back to what I loved when I was the age I’m writing for and try to recapture some of the wonder and excitement that I experienced back then. Also, I try to remember that kids are a lot sharper than we sometimes give them credit for and make sure I’m not oversimplifying or writing down to my audience.

Q. If you write for Twisted Journeys or another series with a relatively strict structure, what is it like working within that structure?

Generally speaking, there’s a somewhat restrictive structure writing most regular comics. Most often, there’s a specific number of pages and you’ve got to make sure you’ve got enough story and not too much to fit. The Twisted Journeys books take that to another level, where there are a certain number of different kinds of pages. The first thing I did when I started my first Twisted Journeys book (Nightmare on Zombie Island) was to count out how many pages any given story path might have. If I’m remember right, the longest was only 32 pages (including ‘choice’ pages). That’s not terribly long, so it was important not to try and squeeze too much story into that space. The most important thing working with a strict structure is to embrace it, to try and pick a story that works best within that structure. It’s like the old saying about not trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

Q. Have your relatives bought copies of your books? Do your friends ask you to sign their copies?
Sometimes. Sometimes they mistakenly think I’ve got big boxes of books laying around and expect me to give them free copies!

Q. Have you ever written someone you know into a story? Perhaps at their insistence?
I don’t think I’ve ever written anyone into a story. Sometimes I’ve used names (usually first names) of friends or family. Sometimes I’ve written a character inspired by someone I know. I tend to avoid adding real people into my work because I wouldn’t want them to be angry or disappointed if they thought I hadn’t portrayed them correctly.

Q. What other stuff have you written outside of Graphic Universe?

The most complete list is on my website, storrieville.com, on the bibliography page.

Q. Which of your comic projects was your favorite to work on?

Even though it’s probably the shortest project I’ve ever written, I’m really proud of my contribution to Marvel’s Captain America: Red, White & Blue anthology. I got to write my favorite superhero in a story set in my hometown of Detroit and it was illustrated by renowned artist David Lloyd (who drew V for Vendetta) and colored by the very talented Chris Sotomayer.

Q. Do you listen to anything while you write? Lyric-less music? Talk radio? Podcasts? Can you leave the TV on?

I can’t listen to anything where the words distract me. That means I tend to put on movie/TV soundtracks or music that I’ve heard so often that it blends into the background. I like listening to NPR, but I can’t do so while I’m writing. I guess because listening to a conversation engages the same part of the brain that’s used for making up conversations between imaginary people! I envy my artist friends who can listen to podcasts or watch TV while working.

Q. This is a total cliché question, but do you have a favorite comic writer or prose writer? Who are your influences?

My favorite comics writer when I was growing up was probably either Steve Englehart, whose work on Captain America I particularly enjoyed, or Roy Thomas. I think their work probably influenced mine a great deal. One of my favorite prose writers is Loren D. Estleman, who writes mystery/crime stories set in Detroit, as well as westerns and historical fiction. My influences, in addition to those gentleman, include mystery writers Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, fantasy writers J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber, and science fiction writers Poul Anderson and Gordon Dickson. Plus Howard Pyle, whose Merry Adventures of Robin Hood is responsible for my lifelong love of the bold outlaw of Sherwood.

Q. Which college did you go to and what was your major?

I graduated from Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan with a Bachelor of Arts in English Language and Literature. I thought about majoring in Creative Writing, but decided to go for a broader approach. Also, I took a lot of art classes, though I was a few credits shy of getting my minor in Fine Art.

Q. What is the next convention you plan to go to?

I’m planning to attend the Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo in April and the Kids Read Comics Con in June.

Manga Math #4 The Kung Fu Puzzle: A Mystery with Time and Temperature

Manga Math #4, The Kung Fu Puzzle: A Mystery with Time and Temperature

This week I chatted with Der-shing Helmer, the artist behind Manga Math #4, The Kung Fu Puzzle: A Mystery with Time and Temperature. Der-shing has also done several Avatar the Last Airbender comics for Nickelodeon Magazine. Check out some sample pages here.

What computer programs and/or what kind of pens, pencils and brushes do you use?

I use Photoshop CS2 to do my rough work and my finished linework. I also use Photoshop to do my colors if I am doing colors for a comic. I like that I can achieve nice results with the program, and since I am not a precise inker, it is good to have the “undo” button!

What music (if any) do you listen to while drawing?

I actually can’t listen to music while I’m working… Listening to music makes me imagine things and go off task, which is not great for when you’re making art. I save music for when I’m doing less creative things, like grading papers.

I read in your bio that you’re studying to become a biology teacher. How old are your students?

Students in the science classes I teach are in 9th to 12th grade.

I was wondering, do you ever take your pet snake in to class?

Ha ha, sadly I haven’t had a teachable opportunity to take my snake to class. But I do get to share stories with my classes about my biology work in Yosemite, like how we caught live rattlesnakes(!) along with other endangered mammals, reptiles and amphibians in order to do population studies with them.

What comics did you read growing up?

Growing up I really enjoyed comics like Tintin and the comics in the (now out of print) Disney Adventures. Those comics made me excited about doing my own sequential art.

Did you go to college for art and/or comics, or something else? Which college?

I attended college at the University of California at Berkeley and majored in Integrated Biology. Having a background in biology is extremely useful for creating art that makes sense, and of course nature is an ultimate inspiration.

What is your favorite comics convention?

My favorite convention is APE con in San Francisco. I enjoy seeing my friends and the work of all the other growing comic artists who attend.

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