This week we welcome another guest blogger to Blog@Newsarama — Jason Rodriguez, editor of Elk’s Run and Western Tales of Terror, as well as the upcoming anthology Postcards: True Stories That Never Happened. Each day he’ll present a different conversation he had with some of the creators involved in the anthology. Take it away, Jason …
Welcome! My name’s Jason Rodriguez and I am the editor (with assists from the talented James W. Powell) on Villard Books’ upcoming Postcards: True Stories That Never Happened. This all started as a passion project for me. Sixteen stories inspired by used, antique postcards I’ve collected over the years. I’d like to think my passion was infectious, as I’ve managed to get 30 creators on board including Harvey Pekar, Matt Kindt, Phil Hester, Tom Beland, Stuart Moore, Michael Gaydos, Antony Johnston, Ande Parks and Joshua Fialkov (not to mention the fact that Villard was all over it before I even had a completed story).
JK Parkin was nice enough to give me a five-day spotlight at the Newsarama blog. I decided to use this time to publish a series of conversations with different creators in the book. Today we start off with my very good friend Chris Stevens and his collaborator, Gia-Bao (GB) Tran. Chris is currently packaging his first comic project, Dream Compass, a collection of his own stories illustrated by the likes of Jae Lee, Art Adams, Farel Dalrymple, and James Jean. GB is the cartoonist behind the wonderful Xeric-nominated Content.
Their story, “Blue,” is a bit different from the rest. I gave Chris a special project – show the world how even a blank postcard can tell a story. To do this, he used a late-1920s postcard that features Lucy the Elephant, an old Atlantic City hotel that’s shaped like, well, an elephant.
Jason: First and foremost, I think of you as a friend. But, as you know, I’m also a huge fan of your work. It’s kind of fun because, right now, I sort of feel like I’m one of the few people who truly understands how good you are and I want other people to understand that as well. So I came to you with a challenge. I said, “Chris, I want you to do the lead story in Postcards and I want you to use nothing but the front of a postcard.” I showed you the card – it was an Atlantic City beach scene from the early 20s. You grew up in Atlantic City, you had stories that predated the casinos, and I figured you’d kill on the project.
Two weeks later you respond, “I’ll do it – but I want to use this card.” And it was the Lucy the Elephant card. Fill me in here, what went on in your head during those two weeks?
Chris: Well, you had told me about the project when it was still pretty much just an idea, and I thought it was a great idea. As you started putting things together and I saw more of what you were doing – the creators you were getting or were after, the early-20th century motif – I started thinking of my place in the book. I didn’t want to do it just to do it, y’know? I’d like to think I could have done a period piece and pulled it off but my heart wouldn’t have really been in it. For better or worse, I wanted to bring something of me into a book I felt had the potential to be special.
Jason: And you brought quite a bit of your own story into this piece. It’s essentially an analogue of your relationship with your grandmother, who had Alzheimer’s. It moved me, substantially, not just because it was a situation I’ve also been through, but because of the underlying sense of hope the grandson has. He’s a very strong character.
How much of you went into this character? Is it an ideal, a single moment, or a representation of your daily disposition?
Chris: All three, really. The last couple of years, yes, what you see in the story is very true to what my time spent with my grandmother was like. She had gotten old, to the point she couldn’t do much for herself, but her mind was still sharp. Then, that faded. But she was cagey until the end. She passed away about six weeks ago. She was in a dementia unit for a few months at the nursing home. It was clear to all she wasn’t in that class of mental case but having her in there was the only way her insurance would cover her care. The last day I saw her there, before we brought her home, she said to me plain as day, “Chris, get me out of here. If I wasn’t crazy when I came in here I will be when I get out.”
I’m glad the grandson reads strong.
It is a hopeful story, in the end. And I owe my collaborator GB Tran thanks for helping me see that. The original ending spread, when I was picturing it in my head drawn by another artist we were talking to, it was much more downbeat. It was in the script. But GB talked to me about taking it in the other direction and he was dead right. It works better overall and it really makes it a perfect lead-off story. If I’m allowed to say that.
Jason: Of course you are. That last spread was perfect. I asked GB if I could have it but he told me you already claimed it. So I had to settle for the other amazing two-page spread. GB, any comments?
Gia-Bao Tran: Chris gave me a deliberate and lean story that carried a lot of emotional depth while still allowing a lot of flexibility for the art. Its personal significance to him was immediately evident, and I tried to respect and emphasize this while also bridging the gap that every reader experiences on how identifiable and relatable a story is. This meant soaking it in mood and carving out as many layers and moments as possible. As we collaborated back’n’forth, the best thing was that neither of our egos took control which I think resulted in something far better than either of us predicted.
And that’s all for today. Tomorrow I have a little chat with Antony Johnston about his story with Noel Tuazon, “Best Side Out.”