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. Â 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. Â I was heavily inspired by the Warner Brothers cartoons and Disney animation. Â Looking back it is very evident in my early drawings.
Whenever I visited my grandfather, he would be watching either the news or cartoons. Â Heâ€™d even video tape them. Â He was also a big fan of Rolfâ€™s Cartoon Club. Â For anyone in their 30â€™s who are into comics and animation, you will know what Iâ€™m talking about. Â That is for those of you in the UK of course. Â My grandfather had a massive influence on me when I was growing up. Â He was highly supportive and very forward-thinking. Â He also bought me my first computer.
My love for comics began in my mid teens with 2000AD. Â Judge Dredd and ABC Warriors were my favourite reads. Â Â Around this time, I was also introduced to DC Comics. Â I fell in love with the Batman, I loved the idea that he wasnâ€™t really a super hero like Superman.
In 1991 DC Comics released â€˜Judgment on Gothamâ€™ 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. Â It was sponsored by DC Comics. Â They taught you EVERYTHING you needed to know about how to become a comic artist; from layout, character design, inking and more. Â There was no email back then, so everything was done via post. Â Here is an original panel I did, which I sent off for critique.
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. Â Where I was introduced to â€˜The Cabinet of Dr Caligariâ€™ whilst at art college. Â I remember sitting in the lecture theatre looking on in awe at the screen. Â 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. Â 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. Â In the end I made two animated pieces. Â One inspired by South Park, which was a tongue-in-cheek mockery of the teachers and students. Â 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. Â 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. Â The room was specifically made for shooting rostrum animation. Â 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. Â From this point on my career in animation was to take itâ€™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. Â The animation was a 2D traditional form of animation, using pen on animation cel. Â My role was to animate small sequences and trace the penciled drawings onto acetate cels. Â It was an amazing experience, and I am totally grateful that I gained this valuable experience. Â Especially as it was shown on ITV. Â It was all about being in the right place at the right time. Â The studio I worked in was based in the basement area of the media centre, The Broadway Media Centre in Nottingham, to be exact. Â The space was split up into different stations, where other businesses operated from.
Across from me was a digital designer and animator. Â He had a string of post-it notes pegged to a line that span the width of his desk. Â Seeing this, inspired me to create a short story, that I could then turn into an animated short. Â I called the story â€˜The Spider Garden.â€™ Â It was about a 10 year-old boy, who collected spiders, by pegging them to the washing lines in his back garden. Â 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. Â The idea was shortlisted, and after submitting further work, it got the Green Light to get the funding needed to develop the film further. Â 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. Â Meetings were set and attended, and things looked like they were moving forward smoothly. Â Now. Â I was faced with a dilema. Â 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? Â 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. Â I agreed, as I was treading in deep water here. Â My project was ambitious, and I couldnâ€™t do this alone and without any real experience. Â This is when I began to look for animation directors. Â Who really inspired me? Â Whoâ€™s work did I like and why? Â And would I want them working on my baby? Â Back in the early 90â€™s there was a massive animation studio scene down in Bristol, especially when it came to stop-motion and pixilation. Â There were three major players; Aardman Animation, The Bolex Brothers and Spike Island Films. Â I decided that I would go down and pitch my film to all these studioâ€™s starting with The Bolex Brothers. Â 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? Â And I had very little money. Â All I had was my project and a dream. Â When I arrived, I headed straight for a coffee shop and had a strong coffee, whilst I prepared myself for a long days pitching. Â Like I said I began with The Bolex Brothers.
The Bolex Brothers are situated under a busy fly-over just outside the city centre. Â A strange place for a stop-motion studio, with all the vibration of the passing cars. Â But the strange thing is, there wasnâ€™t an issue with any vibration. Â 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. Â I remember Dave, not being there, but his business partner and co-founder, was. Â So I told him about my project and that Iâ€™d like to pitch the idea. Â He was very interested in it, but was booked up with a number of commercials at the time. Â So couldnâ€™t take it on.
I left with a little discontent, as I really admired the studio. Â It would have been great to have been associated with them. Â Well, I again, prepped myself for the next studio. Â By the way, I was pretty much cold-calling these studios, by knocking on the door without any prior correspondence or phone call. Â Something I wouldnâ€™t advise. Â I was a little naive back then, but hey! Â I was on a mission and I believed in myself.
Itâ€™s funny how close these studioâ€™s are, I only had a five minute walk and I was at Spike Island Films. Â These guys were reponsable for the 80â€™s childrenâ€™s TV show Trap Door. Â The studio was originally called CMTB. Â When I arrived, a friendly receptionist greeted me. Â I told her why I was there and that Iâ€™d like to pitch a project if they had time. Â 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. Â He was so welcoming and offered to see my storyboard, whilst I talked about the idea of an animated short using stop-motion techniques. Â I also mentioned that I had finance attached to help develop the project. Â To my amazement, he agreed to take on the project along with his business partner, who acted as the studioâ€™s producer.
I left that place on such a high. Â I didnâ€™t know where to go or what to do. Â The most obvious thing was to go and have a pint. Â So thatâ€™s what I did.
I managed to find accomodation in the end, sub-letting a room in a pink house. Â 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. Â The funding body didnâ€™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. Â So this film never got made in the end, and I missed out on going to University. Â This was my first taste of studio hell!
When I arrived back in Nottingham, I contacted a local animator. Â I was given his number earlier that summer, when I was working on the animation for ITV. Â He offered me some animation work, which I took. Â 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. Â I did however spend a good few years working for a design studio based in the heart of Nottingham. Â Â 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. Â The influence isnâ€™t really evident in my work, especially, in regards to my drawing and writing style, anyway. Â 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. Â They are so full of colour and depth, with an attractive darkness. Â 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 Lynchâ€™s Lost Highway. Â I remember reading the synopsis on the back and thinking WOW! Â This sounds like it could be an interesting read. Â So I bought it. Â On bringing it home and sitting down with the book, I couldnâ€™t put it down. Â It just flowed, and had that typical David Lynch abstractness about it, which made it even more appealing to me. Â I read it cover to cover there and then.
I read loads of screenplays, when I was back in Art School. Â Mainly, because I wanted to get into film making and animation.
There is a fine artist whoâ€™s work spoke to me though, above any other form of art or illustration, and that is the art of Alberto Giacometti. Â Alberto Giacometti, was an artist who worked, during the Twentieth Century. Â His most recognisable work, is that of his figure sculptures, which have elongated limbs. Â I love Giacomettiâ€™s work purely for its beauty and movement. Â His work has life, both his paintings and sculptures.
- How did you get into digital comics?
In a way, digital comics found me! Â I never intended to become a comic artist, let alone a digital comic artist. Â 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. Â A friend of my partners. Â It was in the summer of 2009, and the party in question, was a barbecue. Â Anyway, to cut a long story short, there was a guy there, who had just got himself an iPhone. Â He was asking me if I could help him download and install some Apps. Â I had never touched an iPhone before, and I certainly didnâ€™t have a clue about Apps. Â But I indulged, and had a bit of a play, although, I had never played with one of these smart-phones before. Â I am tech savvy, so it wasnâ€™t long before I was lost in this guyâ€™s new toy.
I was amazed! Â It had an App for this and an App for that. Â The commercials were right, I thought to myself. Â What really amazed though, was that you could download comic Apps. Â I was blown away! Â I had to find out more about iPhones and mobile device comics. Â I was excited and incredibly inspired. Â I had already been working on an illustrated book idea, so why donâ€™t I adapt it into a comic.
When I got home, I googled â€˜mobile comics.â€™ Â This was when I first became aware of Robot Comics. Â I checked out the Robot Comics site, and was impressed by what they had been producing. Â These were a new company, who launched that same year. Â I checked out their submission requirements, and submitted a treatment, using the ghostboy story. Â Two weeks later, I was emailed back with them wanting to see more of what ghostboy was about, along with chapter examples. Â 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!