Tuesday, December 08, 2009
Interview with Graphic Novelist George O'Connor
I recently had the chance to run a brief Q&A past Author and Illustrator George O'Connor. George's most recent book, BALL PEEN HAMMER (with Adam Rapp) has garnered great reviews as well as solid sales. Publishers Weekly describes BALL PEEN HAMMER as "an eerie postapocalyptic urban world, where humanity is turning on itself". Also from publisher First Second, George created JOURNEY INTO MOHAWK COUNTRY which was based on the actual diary entries of Dutch trader Van den Bogaert, who set off through New York's Indian territory in 1634. Thanks to George for his time!
Is this your first time working with a writer for a graphic novel? If so, what was the working relationship like? Was there much more editorial involvement since you weren't the complete and sole creator?
Unless you count Harmen van den Bogaert, who’s been dead for over 300 years, this was my first time working with another writer ;). As for our working relationship, the truth is, Adam and I never actually met until after Ball Peen Hammer was finished. Aside from a few e-mails of character designs and such, there was virtually no interaction. This was actually a good thing, in my opinion. I was able (with some help from editorial, repositioning a few pieces of text, etc.) to go in and create my own vision of Ball Peen. I think it worked pretty well—Adam was very pleased with how the book the book came out, and I am too. It really feels like a book we both contributed to equally.
What was your process for this one—from script to finished page? Did the writer present you with the story as a whole or broken down into specific pages/panels?
The script of Ball Peen was written as a play—there were no panel or page notations, just dialogue and stage notes. After reading the script a few times, I started marking up the script, breaking down the dialogue into panel-to-panel chunks, and occasionally drawing some sketches in the margins. Then I started sketching out thumbnails of how these panels would fit on a page, figuring out the wordless stretches (and there’s a lot of them in Ball Peen), repositioning some chunks of dialogue, stuff like that. Thumbnailing is, for me, by far the most difficult part of the whole process. After thumbnailing, I create a “dummy” of the book—a rough draft of the whole thing in a bound notebook that is the same size as the print version of the finished book. This dummy will serve as my blueprint for the finished artwork, with page turns, compositions, lettering, etc all in place.
With everything laid out, the final step, finished artwork, was a comparative breeze. I drew the final artwork at approximately 10 by 15 inches, and inked the whole thing with dip pens (and brushes to fill in the many large areas of black). This was my first time working with dip pens. I originally decided to use pens for Ball Peen because they gave the lines, partially due to my unfamiliarity with them, a weird, wonky, disturbing quality. Now I love the pens—almost all the artwork in Olympians is being done this way.
Why do you think that the book has had such great initial success?
“Such great initial success”—I’m blushing! Well, I’m assuming you’re referring to the book going into a second printing already, which has been nice, I admit. As for why, well, I’ll say Adam has written a remarkably “true” feeling book. Yes, there are a lot of not-nice things happening in it, but there is an actual soul to the piece that really resonates with some people. Plus, I heard that the artist is a cool dude.
What's next for you and what other types of stories are you interested in tackling down the road?
I’m currently had at work on The Glory Of Hera, book 3 of the projected 12 book series Olympians I’m doing for first second, which are graphic novel retellings of the Greek myths. Books one and two, Zeus King of the Gods and Athena: Grey Eyed Goddess, come out in January and April, respectively. Interested folks should check out my blog at geooco.blogspot.com for some sneak peeks. If all goes well, these will be keeping me occupied for a good, long time.
Who are your influences? Whose work do you follow regularly? And what's the best book you've read in 2009?
Influences—I’m always worried that my influences might be too transparent in my work, but some of my faves are Mike Mignola, P.Craig Russell, Jaime Hernandez, Bill Watterson, Mike Golden. I try to keep up with all of their work, except, of course, Mr. Watterson, who hasn’t done anything for public consumption for many years now. Best book I’ve read in 2009? I’m going to go with Stitches, the first graphic novel by children’s book illustrator David Small. Wow, what an affecting memoir, such great storytelling, and his drawing line is so expressive it’s actually, at times, shocking. Great stuff.