Ghostboy Q&A With Jason James – Part 1

Ghostboy has been a revelation on mobile devices and now on the Kindle with the interactive book. Before Chritmas I was able to have a Q&A session with creator Jason James about how he got into comics and the processes involved – check out part 1 below:

  • What’s your background?/How did you get involved with comics?

 

My background is in animation and character design.  My professional career in comics began only a couple of years ago.

When I was a kid I would be in my room drawing all the time.  I was heavily inspired by the Warner Brothers cartoons and Disney animation.  Looking back it is very evident in my early drawings.

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Whenever I visited my grandfather, he would be watching either the news or cartoons.  He’d even video tape them.  He was also a big fan of Rolf’s Cartoon Club.  For anyone in their 30’s who are into comics and animation, you will know what I’m talking about.  That is for those of you in the UK of course.  My grandfather had a massive influence on me when I was growing up.  He was highly supportive and very forward-thinking.  He also bought me my first computer.

My love for comics began in my mid teens with 2000AD.  Judge Dredd and ABC Warriors were my favourite reads.   Around this time, I was also introduced to DC Comics.  I fell in love with the Batman, I loved the idea that he wasn’t really a super hero like Superman.

In 1991 DC Comics released ‘Judgment on Gotham’ where they brought Batman and Judge Dredd together in this amazing graphic novel written by Alan Grant and John Wagner, with illustrations by Simon Bisley; which to me, was phenomenal.

When I was fifteen I joined the London Cartoon Centre correspondence course.  It was sponsored by DC Comics.  They taught you EVERYTHING you needed to know about how to become a comic artist; from layout, character design, inking and more.  There was no email back then, so everything was done via post.  Here is an original panel I did, which I sent off for critique.

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As I approached my late teens, my interest in comics took a back seat and was replaced with my new love of silent German Expressionist Cinema.  Where I was introduced to ‘The Cabinet of Dr Caligari’ whilst at art college.  I remember sitting in the lecture theatre looking on in awe at the screen.  The set design was incredible, with long reaching shadows and buildings that seemed to defy any architectural rule.

I was also introduced to surrealist animation, including the works of Jan Svankmajer and the Brothers Quay.

At this stage of my life I had decided that I wanted to become an animator and writer.  I wanted to make my own films and tell stories.

So, whilst in my final year at college I decided to base my final project on an animation that I would both write and animate.  In the end I made two animated pieces.  One inspired by South Park, which was a tongue-in-cheek mockery of the teachers and students.  And the other, which was my main piece, a short that combined both animation and pixilation techniques.

My main short was filmed in the front room of a house that I shared with friends.  The room was turned into a life-size set made of card and masking tape, which to my surprise turn out better than I had expected.

To film my South Park inspired piece I hired a room at a local media centre.  The room was specifically made for shooting rostrum animation.  Whilst there I made friends with one of the guys that worked there, who introduced me to a director who was working on an animation in another part of the building.  From this point on my career in animation was to take it’s first step.

On finishing college with a Merit, and a place at university, I spent the summer working as an assistant animator with the director I met whilst filming my final project.  The animation was a 2D traditional form of animation, using pen on animation cel.  My role was to animate small sequences and trace the penciled drawings onto acetate cels.  It was an amazing experience, and I am totally grateful that I gained this valuable experience.  Especially as it was shown on ITV.  It was all about being in the right place at the right time.  The studio I worked in was based in the basement area of the media centre, The Broadway Media Centre in Nottingham, to be exact.  The space was split up into different stations, where other businesses operated from.

Across from me was a digital designer and animator.  He had a string of post-it notes pegged to a line that span the width of his desk.  Seeing this, inspired me to create a short story, that I could then turn into an animated short.  I called the story ‘The Spider Garden.’  It was about a 10 year-old boy, who collected spiders, by pegging them to the washing lines in his back garden.  I was convinced that this idea could be developed. So, I put together a proposal, wrote a treatment and synopsis, which I then submitted to a local media funding body.  The idea was shortlisted, and after submitting further work, it got the Green Light to get the funding needed to develop the film further.  This was my first taste of success in regards people taking my work seriously and wanting to back it.

On receipt of my news I was obviosuly overwhelmed.  Meetings were set and attended, and things looked like they were moving forward smoothly.  Now.  I was faced with a dilema.  Do I go to University at the end of the Summer, or do I commit to my film and make it the best I can?  I asked friends and family for advice, but in the end it was my future I was planning here.

After a good few days of sleepless nights and pacing my room, I decided to stick with making my film and hold off going to University until the following year.

Because I was new to film making and directing, the funding body suggested that I find a director with proven experience in animation and film making.  I agreed, as I was treading in deep water here.  My project was ambitious, and I couldn’t do this alone and without any real experience.  This is when I began to look for animation directors.  Who really inspired me?  Who’s work did I like and why?  And would I want them working on my baby?  Back in the early 90’s there was a massive animation studio scene down in Bristol, especially when it came to stop-motion and pixilation.  There were three major players; Aardman Animation, The Bolex Brothers and Spike Island Films.  I decided that I would go down and pitch my film to all these studio’s starting with The Bolex Brothers.  With the intention of staying in the heart of the buzzing animation scene, until I had a studio on board.

When I arrived in Bristol, I had no place to stay?  And I had very little money.  All I had was my project and a dream.  When I arrived, I headed straight for a coffee shop and had a strong coffee, whilst I prepared myself for a long days pitching.  Like I said I began with The Bolex Brothers.

The Bolex Brothers are situated under a busy fly-over just outside the city centre.  A strange place for a stop-motion studio, with all the vibration of the passing cars.  But the strange thing is, there wasn’t an issue with any vibration.  Anyway, I walked in and introduced myself, bearing in mind, I had been to see them before a few years earlier, when I interviewed the founder and animation director, Dave Borthwick, as part of my college course work.  I remember Dave, not being there, but his business partner and co-founder, was.  So I told him about my project and that I’d like to pitch the idea.  He was very interested in it, but was booked up with a number of commercials at the time.  So couldn’t take it on.

I left with a little discontent, as I really admired the studio.  It would have been great to have been associated with them.  Well, I again, prepped myself for the next studio.  By the way, I was pretty much cold-calling these studios, by knocking on the door without any prior correspondence or phone call.  Something I wouldn’t advise.  I was a little naive back then, but hey!  I was on a mission and I believed in myself.

It’s funny how close these studio’s are, I only had a five minute walk and I was at Spike Island Films.  These guys were reponsable for the 80’s children’s TV show Trap Door.  The studio was originally called CMTB.  When I arrived, a friendly receptionist greeted me.  I told her why I was there and that I’d like to pitch a project if they had time.  I was offered a drink, and then the receptionist introduced me to Charlie Mills, who owned the studio, he was also one of the creators of Trap Door.

Charlie was great.  He was so welcoming and offered to see my storyboard, whilst I talked about the idea of an animated short using stop-motion techniques.  I also mentioned that I had finance attached to help develop the project.  To my amazement, he agreed to take on the project along with his business partner, who acted as the studio’s producer.

I left that place on such a high.  I didn’t know where to go or what to do.  The most obvious thing was to go and have a pint.  So that’s what I did.

I managed to find accomodation in the end, sub-letting a room in a pink house.  This was my base for a good few weeks whilst I planned and worked along side the producer to get the ball rolling, but things started to take a nose dive into the dark abyss.  The funding body didn’t want to release funds due to some red tape nonesense, which made the whole proccess turn into this nightmare of paper-work tennis between the guys in Nottingham and the guys in Bristol.

It got to a point where the studio in Bristol got restless, so I told them to shelve the project and I headed back home to Nottingham.  So this film never got made in the end, and I missed out on going to University.  This was my first taste of studio hell!

When I arrived back in Nottingham, I contacted a local animator.  I was given his number earlier that summer, when I was working on the animation for ITV.  He offered me some animation work, which I took.  I ended up working for his studio over the course of three years, where I worked on commercials for TCM, Cartoon Network and Fox Kids.

After this I worked freelance mainly, as a graphic designer, animator and web designer.  I did however spend a good few years working for a design studio based in the heart of Nottingham.   It was during this time when I came up with the origins of ghostboy.

 

  • What comics/writers/artists influenced you?

 

Like I mentioned earlier, it was 2000AD that introduced me to the world of comics.  The influence isn’t really evident in my work, especially, in regards to my drawing and writing style, anyway.  But the idea of telling a story through the use of panels and sequential art, is.

In regards to writers, I do love the classic Edgar Allan Poe, poems and stories.  They are so full of colour and depth, with an attractive darkness.  I am also a fan of Neil Gaiman, the writer of the Sandman comics, and novels such as; Coraline and American Gods.

One of the most inspiring books, I read, was the screenplay to David Lynch’s Lost Highway.  I remember reading the synopsis on the back and thinking WOW!  This sounds like it could be an interesting read.  So I bought it.  On bringing it home and sitting down with the book, I couldn’t put it down.  It just flowed, and had that typical David Lynch abstractness about it, which made it even more appealing to me.  I read it cover to cover there and then.

I read loads of screenplays, when I was back in Art School.  Mainly, because I wanted to get into film making and animation.

There is a fine artist who’s work spoke to me though, above any other form of art or illustration, and that is the art of Alberto Giacometti.  Alberto Giacometti, was an artist who worked, during the Twentieth Century.  His most recognisable work, is that of his figure sculptures, which have elongated limbs.  I love Giacometti’s work purely for its beauty and movement.  His work has life, both his paintings and sculptures.

  • How did you get into digital comics?

In a way, digital comics found me!  I never intended to become a comic artist, let alone a digital comic artist.  And I would have never considered being a mobile device comic artist and writer.

It all began at a party, a birthday party, I think.  A friend of my partners.  It was in the summer of 2009, and the party in question, was a barbecue.  Anyway, to cut a long story short, there was a guy there, who had just got himself an iPhone.  He was asking me if I could help him download and install some Apps.  I had never touched an iPhone before, and I certainly didn’t have a clue about Apps.  But I indulged, and had a bit of a play, although, I had never played with one of these smart-phones before.  I am tech savvy, so it wasn’t long before I was lost in this guy’s new toy.

I was amazed!  It had an App for this and an App for that.  The commercials were right, I thought to myself.  What really amazed though, was that you could download comic Apps.  I was blown away!  I had to find out more about iPhones and mobile device comics.  I was excited and incredibly inspired.  I had already been working on an illustrated book idea, so why don’t I adapt it into a comic.

When I got home, I googled ‘mobile comics.’  This was when I first became aware of Robot Comics.  I checked out the Robot Comics site, and was impressed by what they had been producing.  These were a new company, who launched that same year.  I checked out their submission requirements, and submitted a treatment, using the ghostboy story.  Two weeks later, I was emailed back with them wanting to see more of what ghostboy was about, along with chapter examples.  And the rest is history, as they say.

Come back tomorrow for part two of the interview where we talk about Robot Comics and Ghostboy itself!


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