Friday, January 17, 2014

Dreamkeepers Interview with Alex Haas

Thought provoking questions regarding Dreamkeepers from reviewer Alex Haas- Dave & Liz reply:

1. For a series that has been in the works as long as Dreamkeepers, how close has the story kept to the original vision? Have there been a lot of changes along the way? 

There has been far more adaptation than I would have initially imagined.  Before starting Volume 1, I had the entire story roughly planned out, beginning to end.  I knew what I wanted, and jumped to start making it.  The biggest frustration over the years has been how much time it takes to render what I had in my head- but, in retrospect, I think it was one of our greatest assets.  I had time to get to know our characters better, let them grow and develop more, refine my understanding of the world, and develop my writing and artistic abilities.  Dozens of story choices changed.  We kept the same roots, the ones cemented into place within Volume 1- but the tree they are growing into has juggled branches and twigs, pruned itself into different forms.

I’m thrilled with the story taking shape.  It’s not that we’re creating something different from the original vision- but rather, conveying it more effectively than we initially could have conceived.

The magical thing is that progressive edits don’t feel at all like we’re making new stuff up.  It feels exactly like making a discovery, uncovering something that was there all along- like the perfect Dreamkeepers story exists independently in the ether, it always has, and the more we develop and focus our efforts, the more clearly it shows itself.

2. How did your working method change when Liz came on board towards the end of work on Volume 1 and particularly with Volume 2?

It actually wasn’t a stark shift…  I was always bouncing ideas off Liz, even before Volume 1 was drawn.  Whip’s current design is thanks to her.  If it wasn’t for Liz, Bast and Mace would have been rivals with… Get ready for it…  Fire and Ice powers.  Liz was candid about elements that seemed cliché or stale.  My original partner didn’t want competing input.  The biggest change from V1 to V2 was that we no longer had to bend backwards to work around an unhealthy dynamic- we could just get to work.  From V2 and on we’ve enjoyed open critical collaboration on everything, from early story concept to polished artwork choices.

3. Is the intention of Dreamkeepers to be an ongoing series or does it have a fixed ending in your mind? How many volumes do you envision for it if the latter?

Seventeen or eighteen graphic novels, roughly.  There is definitely an end to the story.  I like stories that actually go somewhere, and arrive there without outliving their welcome.  Things that never end tend to jump the shark, and end anyways when people realize there’s no point to reading Yet More Of This.

4. There are a lot of characters and stories already present in the DK world along with historical references that are thrown out periodically. Are there any spinoff series you might attempt parallel to or after the main Dreamkeepers story arc is resolved?

I’m open to the possibility.  Anduruna history has plenty of epochs that might yield good material.  When I refer to things jumping the shark, I’m thinking mainly of stories that follow a character after the story is over- to the point where the writers just have to think of stuff to throw at their protagonist, until they run through every cliché in the book- and then they keep going.  A story without an end is like a sub sandwich that doesn’t stop- eventually you get sick of trying to consume the thing.  But an entire world can be rich enough to yield different characters, with distinct stories that can stand on their own two feet.  But before I think seriously of any other DK stories, I’ve got to finish this one.  

5. Are there any story developments that you were reluctant to draw whether out of concern for reader reaction or because you didn’t like subjecting your characters to less than savory events?

The first one that comes to mind is Paige.  It was easy to write out her fate on paper- and then I drew her for the first time, and it felt like someone had punched me in the stomach.   It won’t be the last time I get that feeling.
I’m not worried for our readers, though- if there’s anything that explains why DK is being well received, I think a big part is because I don’t patronize our readers, or shield them from unpleasant truths.  They stay because they know the story will unfold in an unflinching, internally consistent reality.  That makes the danger relevant, rather than just another Saturday morning cliffhanger.
As for subjecting our characters to adversity…  That can’t be helped, for the same reasons stated above.  They aren’t stupid enough to step into true peril for petty reasons- they have to be pushed into difficult, near unacceptable situations.  It’s the most extreme circumstances that make or break characters, that show us what kinds of truths endure through life’s storms.  If our characters had it easy, there wouldn’t be a reason to read about them.

6. Is there a line you won’t cross in your writing, regardless of how well it would fit into the story?


7. KMFDM is mentioned twice: in the introduction to Volume 2 and as the background music for the club scene in Volume 3. How heavily does music play into your creative process? Is it something you use when you’re aiming for a particular mood while writing or drawing or more of an incidental? Are there bands other than KMFDM that are heavy in rotation while you work?

Liz and I both use music on a daily basis.
KMFDM is influential to me for two reasons.  First I enjoy the sound.  Second, it’s an aggressively independent band, released under its own label, held together by the will of the founding creator, which has endured through the decades to keep on kicking every ass within reach.  The band itself serves as a symbol- don’t give up, keep going, it’s possible to succeed creatively on your own terms.  It can be done.  There have been plenty of rough spots through the years, so having artificial willpower helps.
Music helps the work process, too.  When I’m color blocking or darkening pencils, I can play a movie or whatever in the background- but scripting, thumbnails, and blueline pencils require focus.  Music helps motivate and block out distractions.  In addition to KMFDM I enjoy pop, big band swing, classical, trance…  I guess ‘eclectic’ would sound better than ‘ superficially random’ to describe my taste.  Some names that come to mind are Muse, Metric, Mayhem of LapFoxTrax, Yelle, Angelspit, Big Bad Voodoo Daddies, Fitz and Tantrumz, Lady GaGa, Professor Elemental,  The Chieftains, Mika, Flogging Molly, Scissor Sisters, Brad Paisley, Britney Spears…  Listen- you can almost hear the judgement.

8. How do you rank the growth of interest in the DK comic? Is the fanbase still increasing? Is it where you hoped it would be by this point in the project’s development?

Our reader level is healthy, and still growing- despite the fact that they’re free to read online, we sell Volume 1’s and 2’s every week.
Our readership is far below my ambitions from 2006- I was hoping by 2012 DK would be *the* premiere independent comic series of our generation, and shouldering it’s way among the lower tiers of mainstream fiction.  I hoped that, though everyone wouldn’t be a reader, most people would be passingly familiar with us.  That’s the level of achievement I worked towards.
We’ve fallen far short of that- instead of doing earth-shatteringly spectacular, we’re doing pretty damn good.  The high aim motivated me to advertise and actively promote whenever feasible, which augmented reader word-of-mouth to bring us a substantial audience- thousands of readers, with thousands of books sold.  We’re larger than most web comics- and not nearly as big as some of the daily-updating ones.  But the quality and loyalty level of our readers is unsurpassed.  Thanks to them, I can realistically expect to continue expanding- we’ve by no means filled our potential footprint yet.

9. Where would you like to see the DK universe ultimately go? Is this something you would like to see as a multimedia project? Animation? Heavily merchandised video games?

The only rock-solid certainty is a graphic novel series.  That I can guarantee, regardless of external circumstances.  I’ve loved books from childhood, and I’m immensely satisfied to be making them.  However, expanding to animation and video games sounds fun as hell.  I don’t want to sign off on something that amounts to a sad travesty.  But if I have the opportunity to bring a solid animation or game into the world, I’ll go for it.  After I get some more books under my belt, if things are stable enough, I might instigate the opportunities.      

10. Are there any other creators – whether writers, artists or musicians – who speak to and inspire you and your work, even if indirectly?

Absolutely.  How cognizant I am of them is another matter- I’m a child of the 80’s, so I inherited a rich culture of vibrant traditional animation.  Dreamkeepers is really a takeoff from that era- a cartoon-loving child growing up and deciding to take what he loves with him.  I’m indebted to more creators than I’ll ever know.  Some that I’m aware of:  Bill Watterson, Glen Keane, Jhonen Vasquez, Tracy Butler, Katsuhiro Otomo, Akira Toriyama, Tim Burton, Brad Bird, Bruce Timm, Don Bluth.

11. You mention in the introduction to Volume 1 wanting to create a comic that spoke to your interests in storytelling and bypassing comic clichés. Was there ever a doubt that your idea had the ability to do this?

Not really…  Perhaps that reflects some arrogance.  But I knew what I didn’t like about most superhero comics, and I knew what I wanted to see instead.  Even if I fall short of the vision and make mistakes, I’m still satisfied with the direction I’m striving for.

12. What advice would you give to an aspiring storyteller, whether one just coming up with the beginnings of their concept or seeing their story through to publication?

The only one that really matters is this:  Don’t quit.

Talent is vastly overrated in our society.  There are a whole lot of talented failures.  The ones who prevail are the ones who hang on the longest, the ones who care the most, the ones who never stop striving to improve.

Starting advice:  Start creating what it is you want to see.  If you’re not ‘good enough’ yet, bear in mind that I still don’t see myself as good enough.  There will never be a perfect time to start.  You’re alive now.  Get cracking.

Second, finish.  Give up on making something perfect- nothing perfect is ever done.  You don’t get bonus points for making the ultimate creation that nobody will ever know of.

Now, developing your skills, planning your story, and effectively revising it are all critical steps to take.  But just make sure those steps don’t turn into never-ending foot-dragging death spirals.  Try setting some realistic deadlines if you find yourself drifting into the doldrums- and work for them.

Practice is critical for honing a skill in pretty much any area.  I got a head start on drawing since it’s been my lifelong pastime.  I started writing without much experience- I’ve improved by sitting down and doing a lot of it.  I also did some research- these are titles I would recommend to anyone looking to craft a story.  Read this stuff, and you’ll be better equipped to craft a story than some poor soul who got blasted with literary snobbery and saddled with debt at a university.  Jim Butcher’s livejournal houses sheer gold.  Grab a copy before the internet eats it.

Wired for Story by Lisa Cron, Story Engineering and Story Physics by Larry Brooks, Invisible Ink by Brian McDonald.  One or two months of reading, maybe thirty bucks on Amazon, and you’ll be ahead of most aspiring creators.

No time to start like now.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Wow!This was an incredibly insightful and intelligent interview and I applaud Mr.Haas for his time doing this and the review!As for you David and Liz just remember many big entertainment ventures started off by building a dedicated base of fans and although it might be hard I have no doubt in my mind you will make this creative venture profitable.Keep it cool you two and yourself as well Mr.Haas!