Comix Asylum had the pleasure to chat with Justin Currie from Chasing Artwork and GMB Chomichuk (Imagination Manifesto) about their new book, Cassie and Tonk.
1. Tell us a little bit about Cassie and Tonk. What is it about and how did you come up with the idea?
Justin: Cassie and Tonk are characters I’ve had in my head in one form or another for a couple years now. I think I’ve always been drawn to stories about younger kids with giant monster/robot guardians 🙂 Last year around May, I had finally had enough of working on others dream projects and set off to open my own Chasing Artwork studio and work 100% on my own stories. Cassie and Tonk was hands down the story I wanted to tell as my company’s first big project.
Basic mission statement for this book: simple story, short, but polished and powerful. I wanted to tug on the heartstrings and make a book that I would have loved as a kid.
GMB: Once we had that (above) as the mindset. I looked into my own life to find the story. Not my life as a giant robot or young girl mind you, but the parts of life that I could apply to make the story connect with people. It’s a vulnerable story. I was in a very vulnerable place when I wrote the last draft.
2. Describe your collaborative process. Gregory, did your experience writing and drawing your own graphic novels have an affect on how you and Justin were able to work together?
Justin: Once it was decided that Greg and I would be collaborating on a project, I approached Greg with a loose story. We brainstormed a couple evenings, and he sent over the script. He let me do my thing on a couple pages, then we met up again and fine-tuned, rinsed and repeated. It was a very organic evolution of a story. We were always careful not to set anything in stone too early, but rather let the story and its character’s development fit together naturally. I’m really happy with the end result, and I think a lot of that had to do with us trusting each other’s skills, rather than telling each other what we wanted to see.
GMB: Yes. Absolutely. As an illustrator you are “writing’ the story just as much as the person who put that idea on paper the first time. If film is a different total medium than the novel, illustration is just as much so. Because I’ve illustrated my own work, and other’s work, and had other’s illustrate my work, I know that open collaboration is the best possible outcome. Building on each other’s ideas left us with a Cassie and Tonk we are both proud of.
3. What has this experience taught you about self-publishing?
Justin: It’s still pretty early to say. The book has only been out for about a month, and we’ve been very lucky so far, but I feel like we’re almost cheating. When most people self-publish, I don’t think they have too much of an audience yet, and its a pretty uphill battle to get your books and name out there. Meanwhile Greg has had a lot of success with his own graphic novels, (was a great source of knowledge for me through this process) and earned a pretty solid fan base. I’ve been accumulating fans of my art for years at comic cons and online. So we launched Cassie and Tonk into a pretty big crowd of hungry followers, and things snowballed from there.
GMB: Justin is the modest one. People pushed into the Toronto Book Fair so they could buy his new book, got it, then looked around and said, “Oh look there are other things here.” But he isn’t cheating. He got those people to want to engage with his work because he engaged with them as people, face to face, at close to 20 conventions a year. Looking at it another way, we go to see them and both Justin and I show our gratitude for being allowed to do that by making things honestly and sharing them. Self-Publishing has a stigma in book-world. In comics we call that Creator Owned.
4. Now that Cassie and Tonk has been published, are you working on anything else right now?
Justin: I think I have a dozen new books in various stages of planning right now. When the second Cassie and Tonk was finished, I immediately wanted to dive into another story. (Attached is some preview artwork of the next books.)
GMB: INFINITUM is my new time-travel-noir graphic novel available for pre-order right now from CZP http://chizinepub.com/books/infinitum. I’m working on a new project now (in that absolute best early collaborative planning stage) with Kevin J. Anderson. I have a book I illustrated for Lovern Kindzierski called Underworld out in 2015 from Renegade Arts Entertainment. I’m working on three new comic projects in 2015, which, alas, I am not at liberty to talk about yet. Justin and I are cooking up some new things too. For all that, new people can look at www.alchemicalpress.com
5. How can fans get a copy of Cassie and Tonk?
Justin: We have an online store here: http://chasingartwork.bigcartel.com/
I will be attending many comic cons all over North America and maybe London next year, where you can grab one in person. I will post my full convention schedule on my sites early in 2015.
Every book sold also comes with a custom sketch from both myself and Greg! We intentionally left a blank page in the book so we could personalize each copy with a doodle as well as signature.
6. When did you first decide that you wanted to create your own comics as a career?
Justin: It’s always something I planned on tackling, and I think working with a couple clients to make their books finally gave me the push to put in the work and get my own story out there. It’s a very big undertaking, and I think it takes a lot of experience and discipline to finish even a short story. Now that I have, I’m hooked.
GMB: I was about ten, at a barbershop.
7. Who has had the biggest influence on you outside the comics industry, and how did they affect your life?
Justin: My mom was always a huge influence, always supporting my artistic endeavors long before they generated any income.
GMB: My wife (www.patronofdreams.com). She rarely talks story or process with me. But she is my hardest critic and my most honest supporter. She is a creative wellspring in her own right and in the last few years her drive to bend the rules of the fashion/art/music paradigms have given me plenty of courage to bend comics to whatever shape I want.
8. What tools do you use to create comics and what makes them the “right tools” for you?
Justin: My weapon of choice is Adobe Illustrator- it’s the main medium for most graphic designers, and that’s my background, so that’s what I used for my day job for the longest time. Its also a medium that next to NO other illustrators use, so since I developed a signature style out of it, I’ve created my own little niche that stands apart from most styles. It seems to be catching peoples eyes, so I’ll stick with it 🙂
GMB: I am a collage artist. I collage words and pictures and ideas and look for whatever medium suits the moment.
9. What element of your work gives you the most personal satisfaction?
Justin: When the scene coming to life on my screen surpasses the scene in my head – almost like the characters knew what they were up to more than me. During the Cassie and Tonk project, I had a couple of “wow” moments when a scene hit me far more than I had initially imagined.
GMB: The relationships. Nothing is made in a vacuum. People help and sometimes those people become your friends. When that happens for real it’s pure magic.
10. Creating graphic novels can be a solitary affair and you both have extensive experience attending conventions. Can you give our readers some insight into those two aspects of the profession?
Justin: I’ve never had a job where I had to interact with customers, and cons gave me a huge dose of that (like a 50-100 thousand attendance dose). So I definitely think I’ve developed a new range of social skills I didn’t possess before. It has also been a huge confidence boost and motivator. You also get to meet complete strangers that love and congratulate you on what your doing, and you get to meet a lot of other artists in the same boat as yourself. I’ve made some great friends on the con circuit.
You also get to meet those amazing artists out of your league, and that, more than anything has been a motivation for improvement. I’m constantly striving to out-do my peers.
GMB: Making things is only half of art. People are the other half. Conventions are a tangible measure of people from all walks wanting to experience something new. But they are also a chance to personally interact with hundreds of new people and gain new insight. I think that if you want to succeed at creator owned books you need to put some part of your physical self into the public area. In person is better than online.
11. Time to get philosophical: What’s the most important “big idea” that you’ve learned in life – in or out of comics – and why is it important?
Justin: One of the biggest realizations I had while working on this was don’t tackle a huge monster of a project before you’ve learned how to defeat the small ones. Cassie and Tonk is a short story by most standards, and it was still 10X more work than I had thought in my head.
I think all artists and writers have that huge epic tale in their heads that they so badly want to tell, but if I could offer any advice, it would be to start with a smaller story, and knock it out of the park before you burn yourself out trying to tackle that 12 part comic or book series.
GMB: We don’t have all the time in the world. “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it” (Thoeau). Do the things you want to do. If you don’t know how, find a teacher. If you do know how, teach someone else.