Farel Dalrymple’s art is art you can love. It takes you to a good place where artist rankings and hipster factors don’t matter. This is just plain good stuff. I had a chance to chat with Farel at the Stumptown Comics Festival and this interview resulted. The man sure gets around and despite any modesty on his part, he is a drawing machine. Check out his LiveJournal. It says it all.
Farel Dalrymple is well known for his on-going comics series, Pop Gun War, published by Dark Horse Comics. He is the founder of the influential Meathaus collective and the winner of a Xeric Grant and Society of Illustrators Gold Medal. This year he is nominated for a couple of Eisner Awards for his collaboration with writer Johnathan Lethem on the Marvel Comics 10-issue series, Omega the Unknown. Currently, he is at work on The Wrenchies. This 250-page, full-color comic is a postapocalyptic fantasy that takes place 3,500 years in the future, featuring a group of street children called “The Bolts.” It is due out in 2010 by First Second.
Blog@Newsarama: At Stumptown, I had asked if you’d want to work with Marvel again and that prompted you to say you would if the project were something special and then the thought of Spider-Man came to you. Do you see Spider-Man as prime for a Dalrymple version? That’s interesting considering all the notable Batman versions.
Farel Dalrymple: It isn’t something I have been particularly jonesing to do or anything. It just struck me as something that might be fun right then. In reality it would probably be a drag. The cool thing about Omega was Marvel letting us do whatever we wanted. I don’t know if Marvel would be as wiling to have my take on a more established character like Spider-Man.
Blog@: Well, it seems Spidey is a tough nut to crack and doesn’t change all that much. Still, I think a Dalrymple Spidey is well within reason.
FD: I guess if an artist were to be able to do whatever he/she wanted on a character it could be fun. I liked Paul Pope’s Tangled Web story a few years back because that didn’t really have anything to do with the regular continuity.
Blog@: I understand your own work speaks to you the most. Could you let us in on how the world of Pop Gun War came about? I know you started out with your sketchbook and your interest in tackling moral dilemmas.
FD: I like children’s books and stories a lot. I also like weird stuff like David Lynch movies. I wanted the Pop Gun War world to be sort of a marriage of those things. I wanted the city to have a screwed up, surreal, 100 Acre Wood quality.
Blog@: Your career is quite remarkable: going from award winning work in comics and illustration all the way up to working with Marvel. Going from your first self-published book, Smith’s Adventures in the Supermundane, in 1999, to recently collaborating with critically renowned novelist, Johnathan Lethem. What must all that be like?
FD: Doing comics is the only thing I have ever known how to do or been moderately good at. I am still trying to figure out this whole freelance lifestyle. A lot of stuff I have lucked into like Omega The Unknown. I just happened to be a fan of the writer and he contacted me via email. It was a great opportunity that fell in my lap. I did work my ass off on it though. Normally I just do as little paying work as I can to get by then spend the rest of my time working on my own comics. There never seems like enough time in the day.”
Blog@: There are a lot of stark looking rural and urban characters, a lot of interesting background characters in your work. Are they mostly taken from life or do you feel you gravitate more to a certain look?
FD: It is a mixed bag I think. I do work from life occasionally and use a lot of photo reference. But my style or taste or whatever comes through all of my art I am sure. Sometimes it gets too heavy either with using reference or making stuff up, but mostly when I am lazy I make stuff up. Most people don’t seem to notice but I always do. Those are the moments I regret the most, when I see some of my art and think of how I should have used reference. I think my work looks better when there is some sort of grounding in reality. As I get older and more experienced I think my visual vocabulary is increasing, but I never want to rely too much on making stuff up. I think that is when artists usually start to suck, when they try to rely too much on what is in their head.
Blog@: I’ve just read your preview for the next installment of Pop Gun War, a story told in four parts, Chain Letter. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it looks like your recent work with Omega has left some traces on this current run at Pop Gun War: an enigmatic lean vibe.
FD: Working on Omega has definitely left its mark on me artistically. There is a lot of stuff I approach differently in the book I am doing now for First Second, artistic choices and pacing, things like that. But the Pop Gun War stuff, the 50 pages I have finished of it I did before I started working on Omega. Yes, it is that old. It is frustrating because I want that book finished so badly but I can’t seem to find the time to work on it.”
Blog@: What can you tell us about the artist collective, Meathaus, you’re involved with?
FD: It is just a bunch of friends and artistic peers that put an anthology out on occasion. It started off pretty small with a few friends I had in New York and evolved into what is now. A lot of us keep in touch semi-regularly and it has helped me develop some pretty great relationships with people. Our last effort, S.O.S. was in full color and looks pretty smashing I think. The book that came out a couple years before that was Meathaus 8: Headgames. I edited that issue and did all the design work. It has been fun, but these days I think most of the guys are so busy with all their own projects that Meathaus seems to get neglected a little. Chris McD does an excellent job of keeping the website and the spirit of the Haus alive. He has been there from the beginning, being awesome.
Blog@: If you’d like, tell us a little something about your roots in Oklahoma and how they might influence your work. I’ve read how your religious upbringing has influenced you.
FD: Yeah, I was raised pretty religiously in the very religious city of Tulsa. Sorry to all the cool people that live in that city but mostly it is not the most creative environment. I heard it used to be a cool city but it seems to me that there is a bit of brain drain going on there. People don’t support local businesses at all or seem to foster much independent thought. It is sad. But when I was a kid I didn’t leave the house much so I don’t think I was aware of any of that. Yeah, I was raised religious but my mom was also an artist and encouraged me to draw and paint and make stuff. Once I got to art school and out of the weird Christian subculture I shuffled off everything that was religious but growing up that way probably saved me from getting involved in drugs and other naughty stuff I shouldn’t have messed with as a kid. I still have a pretty delicate sensibility that might come through in my work. I just have no real belief in the supernatural any more. But I do like the idea of spirituality and religious themes in fiction. I guess I draw on a lot of that stuff when I am making comics.
Blog@: Now that you live in Portland, does that scene help you as you create new comics?
FD: I am sure being around other creative types has helped my own creativity and is good for inspiration. I try to stay home as much as possible these days because otherwise it is so hard to finish anything and stay on track. But I love that there are so many good cartoonists in town. A lot of my favorite cartoonists live here and I have met so many more that I am into since coming to town. It is a great place for a cartoonist to be. Especially after living so long in Tulsa. There are some great comic shops here too. It is a fun place to live. I get overwhelmed by all the stuff going on sometimes but mostly it has been good for me.
Blog@: I don’t necessarily see anything autobiographical in your work although you’ve mentioned there are hints in there. Would you ever do a full on autobiographical book?
FD: Nah, probably not. I like reading autobio comics but would feel weird about people knowing stuff about me and thinking all these things about my life. Funny that I am doing an interview then I guess. It’s just that I am a bit shy and would not like strangers knowing how I jerked off and stuff like that, especially if they came up to me at a show or whatever and started talking to me about it. Yikes! Of course every writer includes stuff from his/her life in their work. I’d just like people to read my stories for what they are and ignore who is behind the tale. At least while they are reading it.
Blog@: I noticed you had some art on display at Stumptown with your own watercolors added onto your comics. Do you prefer that look and feel to digital?
FD: Yeah, on my own work anyway. I am not anti-digital. I like a lot of artists that use the computer to color their stuff. I just think my own work looks a little cooler when I hand color it.
Blog@: I think I recall reading that you worked at a coffee shop while you lived in New York. Could you tell us a little bit about your time in New York. I imagine you there working the counter while formulating Pop Gun War.
FD: Yeah, Alt.coffee. I don’t think that place exists anymore. It was a fun time and really scary and frustrating at times too. That neighborhood along with the rest of Manhattan is pretty yuppy these days and wasn’t too crazy when I worked there but we were right across from Tompkins Square Park and got every sort of rif raf, drunks, homeless crazies, eurotrash tourists, yuppy art moms with their baby strollers, squatter punk trustafarians, bridge and tunnel douche bags, you name it. Calling the cops for me was a regular occurrence. As much as I hate the police it was always a relief to see them taking some nut out of the place. I was huge asshole while I was there too. I feel bad for all the poor customers that came in on one of my bad days (there were many). New York really brought out my grumpiness. But I worked with some great people, friends I still hang out with whenever I go back to New York. That was the place a lot of my buddies met up during the big east coast black out. I got punched in the head there the day after the 9/11 terrorist attack by some lunatic that I mouthed off to.. I actually put that story called “The Regular” in an issue of Meathaus. That was the most autobiographic I will ever get I think. I still use a few people I met while I was there as characters in my stories. They were formative years living there. And, yeah, I did ink pages at the counter during some of my slower shifts.
Blog@: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us? Anything else you’d like to say about upcoming projects? Advice to aspiring cartoonists?
FD: Well I am working on a book for First Second called The Wrenchies. It is a fun book I think, or going to be when I am finally done with the darn thing. Advice I would say is not let yourself get bitter. Keep your head buried in a project you love working on. If you want to make money you should go into another line of work.
Blog@: With all the buzz on The Wrenchies, anything else you can tell us?
FD: It is good to hear there is buzz about it. Actually I am pretty late with the book. So most likely it won’t come out until next year. I need to pick up the pace on it. Look for it in early 2010.