The act of discovery is one that often leaves an impression that can have lasting effects on an individual, shaping future actions that may have otherwise been passed by. I first heard of Sequart’s own Patrick Meaney, and subsequently Sequart itself, in early 2010 with a trailer for his documentary Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods, at the time when I was just starting to dive head first into comics in an effort to find all the medium had to offer. I had become a fan of Grant Morrison and was excited to see if any of the crazy stories I had heard of had any merit, which most of them did. Beyond the documentary, Patrick exposed me to Sequart, which at the time was the only place I knew of where I could find critical analysis of comics. I had a few friends in college who thought about comics in such a way, and I took the opportunity to write about the medium for class whenever given the option, but Sequart’s enterprise was on a much grander scale. I now find myself writing for Sequart, and it is with great pleasure that I am here today to talk with Patrick Meaney about his upcoming comic, Last Born.
Max Nestorowich: Patrick, without giving too much away can you give us a brief description of Last Born beyond what readers can find online?
Patrick Meaney: Last Born is a blend of epic fantasy and character drama that follows four characters from different points in time who come together at the end of the world to try and restart the universe. These aren’t great historical figures or heroes, they’re ordinary people who are haunted by the lives they left behind and overwhelmed with the new world they find themselves in. So, it’s taking the Lord of the Rings type fantasy quest narrative and playing it on a character drama level. I think one of the best things about comics is you can tell stories with a massive blockbuster scope, and still narrow in on character drama that most $200 million dollar movies don’t have room for. And that’s what I’m trying to do; tell intense, personal stories against a massively epic backdrop.
Nestorowich: Before the character Julia goes on her cosmic journey, she finds herself in 1961 yearning for adventure and a life beyond what is expected of her, a powerful theme that I think anyone can relate with, even if it is 2014. Is there any particular reason to have Julia hail from the ‘60s as opposed to present day?
Meaney: A lot of the story involves the idea of the fluidity of time and drawing connections between people from thousands of years apart. By having Julia be from the ‘60s rather than from today, it immediately puts the reader in the position of stretching their own identification and seeing things a bit differently. Personally, I also really like the idea of strange or occult things that happened in the not too distant past, like cults from the ‘60s or ‘70s. It’s so close to our time period yet feels alien at the same time, and I think putting some of the strange stuff that happens in her story, in that post war time period, makes it feel a bit more plausible than if you have it happening today, at least for me.
Nestorowich: Last Born is your first published comic. Is this a story you’ve been wanting to tell for a while? What stories, comics or otherwise, had an influence on you and this title?
Meaney: It has been one of those stories that has been in my head for a long time. I have outline documents on my computer that go back to 2008 or 2009. I first worked with Eric Zawadzki, the artist, on a short for the Occupy Comics anthology. After that, we were talking about doing another project, and I sent him the outline for Last Born, among a few other ideas, and this was the one he jumped on. Grant Morrison’s work is a huge influence on everything I’ve created, in both the obvious ways of having a lot of weird time and cosmic stuff, but even more than that, it’s the way his writing is able to amplify emotional conflict by using a sci-fi lens. Beyond his work, Magnolia is one of my favorite movies, and I particularly like the way that it blends a whole bunch of different stories together to create something greater than the sum of its parts. And the character work that Paul Thomas Anderson does there is astonishing. In terms of actually constructing the story, Terrence Malick and Wong Kar-Wai are big influences in the way that they’re able to create such indelible moments through a mix of visuals and voiceover. Writing comics is a weird blend of movie script and poetry, and the biggest challenge for me was figuring out how to convey the story and make it emotionally resonant in as few words or images as possible.
Nestorowich: Eric Zawadzki’s art really captures the motion taking place on the page, and he’s doing some interesting work in panel layout and lighting, giving the book a cinematic dynamic feel. What made you want to collaborate with him for this project?
Meaney: I met Eric through Twitter when I was looking for an artist for a piece in the Occupy Comics anthology. I was thoroughly impressed with his work and wanted to do something more with him. My favorite thing about Eric’s art is the way he’s able to convey the characters’ emotion and feeling in his drawing. A lot of comic art is geared purely towards aesthetic, and even some of my favorite artists feel more design-y than storytellers. I think Eric’s a great storyteller, and is able to design whole worlds with no problem.
Nestorowich: Are there any differences in your creative process when working on Last Born as opposed to working on a film or writing some more analytical?
Meaney: To some extent, it’s all storytelling. Editing a movie, particularly a documentary, is a great tool for learning about writing, since you wind up going over every frame of the movie so many times you become very aware of what is necessary to tell a story and what’s extraneous. No matter what I’m doing, I start with a basic outline, but once I get into the project, I let it guide me and usually take a different path to the end than I had expected. The tricky thing with comics is pacing. In film or analytical writing, I control the pacing as the editor or sole writer, but in comics, pacing is largely set by the artist, so I just try to convey things as best I can so Eric can run with it.
Nestorowich: You’ve wrote articles and books about deconstructing comics; how does it make you feel, as a writer and person, that as I read and reread your comic I was thinking about your work in a similar manner?
Meaney: That’s really exciting for me, since writing something makes you aware of just how much goes into every moment and how everything in a story is thought about and discussed and considered from a lot of angles. It does make me a bit more reluctant to be harsh on a creator or book, since I know someone could just as easily turn around and crack on me. Ultimately, I’m trying to make a comic that hits someone else in the way that The Invisibles or Sandman hit me.
Nestorowich: In the past few years I’ve noticed there’s been an increase in the number of cosmic, time travel, parallel universe, sci-fi comics, like Rick Remender’s Black Science and Jeff Lemire’s Trillium; any thoughts on maybe why this could be the case?
Meaney: In comics, part of it is the success of Image books like Saga that have opened up the market a lot, and led people to embrace books they previously wouldn’t have. I also think some of those creators are getting inspired by the work they’re doing with the big two. In Remender’s case, his X-Force was also all about time travel and parallel universes, and Jonathan Hickman’s Manhattan Projects feels like an edgier successor to his Fantastic Four. And I think we’re seeing a generation of creators who came up during the Silver Age revival of the late ‘90s, where books like Grant’s JLA or Alan Moore’s Supreme embraced the absurdity of superhero comics rather than trying to run from them. That plus the continued embrace of Jack Kirby as a major inspiration has led to a lot of books with big ideas about space and time.
Nestorowich: You’re directing a documentary about Neil Gaiman, and are a producer on She Makes Comics; other than that do you have any other projects you’re currently working on that you can share with us?
Meaney: We also just released The Image Revolution and Chris Claremont’s X-Men on DVD, and both are available right here at the Sequart store, and will be at our booth at SDCC next week (booth M-05). I’m also working on a couple of new things on the film front that could be really cool, but are still coming together, so there’s nothing to report yet. But hopefully soon! And a few things in comics too that hopefully you’ll be hearing about soon.
Nestorowich: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me today about Last Born. I’m really looking forward to picking it up when it’s released next month.
Meaney: Thanks! With comics, creator owned ones in particular, just a few people supporting a book can make a massive difference, so definitely go down to your store and say you want to pre-order. And, if your store doesn’t carry it or you prefer to read digitally, it’ll also be available digitally day and date. I’ll also be doing signing events in LA and NYC, so keep an eye out for that!
Bonus Mini-Interview with the artist of Last Born, Eric Zawadzki!
Nestorowich: Eric, what kind of setup do you have/use when you’re drawing (hardware software etc.)? Do you work only in digital or do you start with pencils?
Eric Zawadzki: My work on Last Born is 100% digital. I work with a Cintiq and Photoshop. I like the all-in-one aspect of Photoshop where I can do layouts, ‘inks’, coloring and lettering all with the same program. I tend to spend a lot of time working on layouts and sending them back and forth between my collaborators to iron out any problems, so I find that it’s very easy to make quick storytelling adjustments when you’re working digitally. It’s also a huge time saver.
Nestorowich: What first attracted you to the comic medium?
Zawadzki: I’ve been into comics since before I could read. For various reasons, the medium has always stood out for me above all others. But what it comes down to for me when creating comics is that I love telling stories. Most of my enjoyment is in the layout process, though. It can be a big puzzle and I really like the problem solving involved. There’s nothing quite like that feeling of transforming a blank canvas into a visual narrative that you can easily read through.
Nestorowich: Where else can readers find your artwork?
Zawadzki: I’ve currently got a semi-monthly comic coming out from Monkeybrain called Headspace that I do with Ryan Lindsay. I also have a webcomic that I did a couple of years ago with Danny Djeljosevic that you can read online at http://www.theghostengine.com.
The first of four issues of Last Born will be released by Black Mask on August 20th, 2014 and will be available in print and digitally. The Diamond order code is JUN140921.