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July 15, 2007


CR Sunday Interview: Graham Annable

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*****

Graham Annable is one of those artists that comes along where you wish that the entire industry could shift a bit towards a business structure and an artistic landscape that better fit his talents. An animator and long-time comics fan, Annable is probably best known for the highly-stylized simplicity of his characters, these slouching, boxy stick-figures that the Portland resident marches through a series of horrors and physical traumas that are made inevitable by their own hubris. It's classic cartoons come to comics, in that way, a pared-down version of what the similarly under-appreciated Roger Langridge achieves.

I'm a fan of Annable's. I've enjoyed both his solo work like Grickle as well as the comics he does for the anthology Hickee. The third issue of the third volume of the latter book is the springboard for our short chat. Hickee is a very energetic anthology, and I think its greatest strength beyond the quality of its material is that there's a shared aesthetic between the cartoonists that seems to make the book bigger than the sum of its parts. I wish it came out every month.

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TOM SPURGEON: Graham, I don't know anything about you other than that you're a friendly guy and you make funny comics. Is there a short history you can give me of how you came to do comics? Were you a comics reader as a kid?

GRAHAM ANNABLE: I was definitely a huge comics reader as a kid. Big into Spider-Man. I definitely preferred the Marvel comics to DC as a young lad. I couldn't never figure out what the hell was going on with most DC characters. They were always meeting up with doppelgangers and reversing the time space continuum and whatnot. Too confusing for my simpleminded head. Marvel always seemed to have stuff that related to my tiny world view at the time.

I was also really into Peanuts and Archie comics. I hoarded tons of the paper digests that reprinted the Schulz strips and old Archies. I could never get enough of that stuff.

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SPURGEON: Am I right that you work in animation? Can you tell me about the day job? How much time in a week, say, do you get to do comics?

ANNABLE: I spent 12 years as an animator in the games industry, most of it at LucasArts. I did both traditional hand drawn stuff and computer animation. I'm currently working as a story artist on the stop motion animated feature Coraline from Laika. It's pretty much my dream job in the animation industry. Working from written scripts and conversing with the director, I get to take the first step in translating the story from words into visuals. It's a wonderful and challenging process and I absolutely love doing it. It's also not a far cry from doing comic work, which is great. I feel like the story work has definitely sharpened my compositional and storytelling skills, which I hope translates into better comics.

The amount of time I spend on comic work really varies depending on what sorts of projects I have going on. If I had to give an average I'd say I spend about six to eight hours a week total on comics. That number spikes up when there's a specific deadline involved of course.

SPURGEON: This is a second volume of Hickee, right?

ANNABLE: [sighs] It's actually the third volume now.

SPURGEON: Really?

ANNABLE: It's a bit bizarre how it's come to be three volumes of Hickee material. It's due to us constantly changing the scope and format of the book early on. Jeff Mason first published a collection of our previously self-published Hickee comics into a trade paperback appropriately named Hickee #1. At the time I think we all thought it would be a one shot sort of a deal. But further down the road Jeff expressed desire in publishing Hickee on a semi-regular basis, so we re-introduced Hickee as a new series from Alternative Comics (Hickee vol.2 #1.) This particular comic was an odd size (it was based on the weird format we had self published the comics with) and ultimately it became problematic for comic shops for shelf placement. So, after much deliberation we decided to re-launch Hickee again in a standard size and format. Jeff felt it was a good idea to just start fresh and so Hickee vol.3 #1 was born.

All of these changes and #1s happened within the span of about two and half years which I'm sure has been incredibly bewildering to anyone outside of our little circle. I feel confident in saying that I don't see this latest format changing anytime soon. Who knows? We might even get up to issue #4 this time!

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larger version of above available here

SPURGEON: How did you arrive at your stylized version of figure drawing? What is it about that style that you like best, that you think works best?

ANNABLE: I've got a pretty short attention span when it comes to visuals. I like to just get to the point and move on if possible. Drawing the acting and emoting of the characters is far and away the most satisfying part for me. I like the idea that I'm evolving a simple and direct enough style for myself that it becomes like hand writing. Instead of using words I'm communicating with my little grickle fellas and you can recognize the style instantly, like someone's writing.

SPURGEON: Is Hickee edited?

ANNABLE: Hickee is edited by me. And when I say editing, I mean I'm the person that gathers all the finished stories and assembles the book. I don't know if that's truly deserving of the title of editor, actually. Maybe organizer is a better term for what I do. As a group we always wanted to keep everyone's participation in the comic very loose and fun, with as little interference as possible. So I don't really mess with each artist's contribution much. If something feels wrong for the tone of the comic or there are some gross grammatical problems I'll definitely address it. But most of the time folks are pretty much policing themselves as they create their Hickee stories.

SPURGEON: Was that Anna Nicole Smith piece completed before or after she passed away? It's sort of impressive in its bile either way.

ANNABLE: I believe Vam created that after hearing the news. I find Vam to be impressive, so I'm not surprised his comics are, too.

SPURGEON: You mine a very specific kind of humor, based usually in out-sized, aberrant behavior that is recognized as such within the strip -- the fact that someone is chasing someone with a chainsaw is funny in part because there's a realization in the comic how horrible this is. What do you find funny about those moments of violence and cruelty?

ANNABLE: I always gravitated towards that type of humor my whole life and I suspect it's genetic. My mother, a very quiet, soft-spoken woman, always seemed to derive great humor from watching people in distress. And by people, I mean usually my father.

I grew up in Northern Ontario, Canada, and we used to get some pretty icy days there. One morning as my dad was preparing to go to work he slipped on the front door steps and slid across the driveway on his back and right under our car. My mother had witnessed the whole thing from the doorway and could not stop laughing as just my dad's head poked out from beneath the car. Thankfully my dad was unharmed by the incident. That kind of humor has always appealed to me most.

SPURGEON: Who might be an influence that hard to see in your work at an initial glance?

ANNABLE: I absolutely love Harvey Kurtzman. I wished he'd been able to create a dozen books like Jungle Book. I read an inordinate amount of E.C. Segar's Popeye growing up and I think that stuff seeped into my work, or at least I hope it did. Charles Schulz was another cartoonist that I read backwards and forwards and I'm certain is permanently lodged in my psyche. I guess those are all pretty standard influences for just about any cartoonist these days.

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larger version of above available here

SPURGEON: Nathan Stapley's comics really stand out in this latest issue. Can you talk about one or two of your Hickee peers and what you appreciated about them?

ANNABLE: Nathan's sensibility never ceases to surprise me. He's a fine artist at heart and doesn't really read comics much at all, so his stuff feels straight from the gut to me. I love it. I'm really amazed by the motley crew of artists that form Hickee. Some are straight up illustrators, and others are animators, but our comic work is tied to the same wavelength of humor. We really crack each other up when we get together and draw and that's the vibe I've always wanted the Hickee comic to capture.

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larger version of above available here

SPURGEON: I'm told that Jeff has over the last five years or so scaled back a bit on the books he releases. Has this had any impact on your ability to publish through him as often as you'd like? How is Jeff as a publisher generally?

ANNABLE: I'm not sure that Jeff's schedule has really impacted the Hickee comic much. We've always had a sort of sporadic existence with Alternative. Part of it is Jeff and part of it is us. The comic ebbs and flows as people's lives and work situations change. I moved up to Portland last year and started a new job, and that definitely put a crimp in my comics time (and subsequently Hickee's time). Other folks have gotten busy before and we've always played it by ear, working with Jeff to establish when the next best time would be for a new book. It's quite free-form, and it's been a mutually effective setup, I think.

That said, I would like to establish a slightly more regulated schedule for Hickee in the future to make it easier for fans of the comic. I know it can be frustrating waiting long periods of time between issues and never being sure when the next one is coming around the corner.

SPURGEON: How do you balance your interests between shorter stories like those in Hickee and the longer, stand-alone pieces that you do? What would you most like to be remembered for?

ANNABLE: For me the Hickee stories are an opportunity to try new things, both visually and thematically. I want to keep them slightly experimental, to test out ideas and make it fresh and fun. They're like doing exhilarating little sprints instead of a long marathon like the Grickle books are.

I suppose I'd like to be remembered as a cartoonist that was able to express pathos and/or humor effectively through an efficient, direct, style. And if not that, then at least a fellow that either disturbed or amused a few people with his doodles.

*****

Hickee Vol. 3 #3, Various, Alternative Comics, comic book, 32 pages, 9781891867958 (ISBN13), 1891867954 (ISBN10), APR07 3315 (Diamond), June 2007, $2.95

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front and back cover
page 4 - Razmig Mavlian
page 10 - Graham Annable
page 15 - Nathan Stapley
page 21 -- Joe White
page 27 (below) -- Scott Campbell


*****

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larger version of above available here
 
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