Andy Ristaino’s surreal, colorful, crazy comics have earned a cult following and critical acclaim – but you’d be forgiven if you’ve had a hard time finding all of them over the years. That’s being rectified with his new collection, Night of the Living Vidiots, a collection of nearly a decade’s worth of short stories and one-shots that Ristaino is funding through a Kickstarter campaign. We spoke with Ristaino, who’s known to many fans for his work as a character designer on the Cartoon Network hit Adventure Time, about his campaign, which as of this writing has already raised more than $12,000 of its $15,000 goal just a few days in.
Newsarama: Andy, tell us about Night of the Living Vidiots, and what stories you’re compiling in the book.
Andy Ristaino: Night of the Living Vidiots collects a bunch of short dark humor comics I’ve drawn over the past eight or nine years. Some I had drawn for anthologies like Popgun from Image Comics or Tales of Hot Rod Horror from Cackling Imp Press. Some are stories that I’ve never published. I’ve been waiting till I had enough of them done to constitute printing it up as a book. The stories have been expanded, re-formatted, and colored.
Nrama: What are some of the STRANGE AND TERRIBLE stories readers can find inside?
Ristaino: Some really spooky things, like a world full of television zombies, cars possessed by an all too human fuel source, wolf-man vs. world, a haunted sweatshirt, or a giant pitcher of beer run amok. There's a story Giant Robot vs. the very living rock harkening back to the days of Shogun Warriors. A scientist superhero who's all backbone, and a terror from the deep who goes to...the prom!
I guess you could say there’s an old school sci-fi monster movie theme running through all these stories. They are definitely intended to be more funny than scary, but the humor is pretty dark.
Nrama:Why did you decide to do this through Kickstarter?
Ristaino: Partly because I have seen so many of my friends succeed at making their books through Kickstarter, for the most part I’ve only heard good things about the process. It seemed like the right way to go for me, and a good way to control how the book is made.
I’ve been really wanting to understand the whole process of printing up comics for a long time. Kickstarter seemed like a good safe way to go through the process step by step, with the safety net of knowing that if the it succeeds it would pay for the printing and shipping and also be a good estimate of how many books I should print up.
If it doesn’t succeed, then – oh well, time to try and find a publisher.
In order to get my last book, Escape from Dullsville, printed I had to do a lot of leg work to get Amazon pre-orders up so that SLG would have enough of a reason to collect it. I was basically running a Kickstarter without a Kickstarter, but it really opened me up to what crowdsourcing can do.
My comics have never sold very well, and I think part of that is because I’m a relatively unknown voice in the industry that doesn’t put out books on a regular basis. My work gets lost in the shuffle of the Diamond catalog, retailers don’t know who I am. With Kickstarter and crowdsourcing, I can communicate directly to people who have chosen to follow me, whether it’s on Twitter, or Tumblr or Facebook. These folks are already interested in my work.
Nrama: What have been some of the biggest challenges in doing a Kickstarter – figuring out how the expenses would price out vs. the donations, etc.?
Ristaino: The most challenging part has definitely been talking to printers figuring out all the logistics behind putting the book together – dealing with timetables, all the bureaucratic business stuff that I’m not naturally inclined towards.
Nrama:Looking back over the eight years covered in this volume, how do you feel you've evolved as an artist and as an overall creator?
Ristaino: Huge changes, This book represents a time when I switched from longer form very experimental comics to just wanted to focus on learning how to tell a good legible story focusing mostly on shorter comics. Everything that appears in this book is something that I still like.
I’ve gone back into some stories and added some panels or pages, but for the most part the only changes I’ve made have been to add color and correct the spelling.
Nrama: How do you feel Kickstarter has opened up new venues for cartoonists?
Ristaino: I think Kickstarter is a pretty amazing tool for artists to get their work funded and made with no compromises. Sure it’s a gamble but you’re also in control of the whole process. If you can get the word out about your project you can get almost anything made and into the hands of the people who want it.
Nrama:You mention you've redrawn some parts of the book – how long did this production process take to get the book where you wanted it to be, and can you tell us about some of this process?
Ristaino: My earlier work tended to be pretty experimental in regards to storytelling. One story that appears in this book, The Secret Origin of Dr. Mario Bandini, was experimental to the point of it being illegible. I had to completely redraw it. I also went into a bunch of stories and expanded them if the storytelling felt cramped or rushed.
Since a lot of these were first drawn for anthologies, trying to make the anthology deadline would mean not having enough time to properly sit with a story and make sure everything in it is working the way I wanted it. One story, Life’s a Drag, I expanded by over 30 pages.
Part of the Kickstarter goal is going to go to my brother Phil who’s been helping me a lot on the book filling in blacks, doing color flats, or correcting my spelling. My apartment has been like a little comics workshop over the last few weeks trying to wrap everything up before the Kickstarter is done.
Nrama: Your work is likely familiar to many of our readers from Adventure Time – tell us a little about what you do as a character designer on the show.
Andy Ristaino: I’ve actually moved on from character design to storyboards, so I’m pretty excited to see how fans will react to episodes I’ve had a hand in writing. Hopefully favorably.
But basically as the Lead Designer on the show, I was in charge of going through every storyboard and picking out anything that moves that has not been designed yet, and then overseeing and designing it all with the help of my design team. Everything from character turnarounds, mouth charts, props, and special effects. As designers, our job is to give the animators all the information they need to draw that character or object in space without any further communication.
Nrama:There's a lot of other indy cartoonists on AT, including Jesse Moynihan, Tom Herpich, Michael DeForge, Pen Ward of course – what's the creative environment like there?
Ristaino: Working on the show has been pretty inspirational for me. I get to work side-by-side and learn from some of my heroes! And these folks don’t ever stop drawing. Everyone has side projects they’re working on. Even when we go out to bars we all just hang out talk and draw. Might seem a little obsessive, but I think it’s pretty neat.
Nrama:What have been some of the biggest influences on your style, both in comics and in other media?
Ristaino: Hoo, this is always changing. Being a designer on At has definitely left its mark on my drawing style. other than that here’s a list of some of the big influences on me in no particular order:
Jean Giraud, Leiji Matsumoto, Jamie Hewlett, Maurice Sendak, Eastman and Laird, John Carpenter, Hayao Miyazaki, Brad Bird, Theodor Geisel, Wally Wood, Gary Larson, Mike Mignola, Dave Sim, Geof Darrow, Osamu Tezuka, Jack kirby, Zander Cannon, Ben Edlund, Katsuhiro Otomo, Steve Purcell, Adam Davis, Christopher Blain, Bill Watterson, Rod Serling, Charles Burns, Gene Rodenberry, Robert Clampett, Alex Grey, Richard Scarry, Jim Henson, and many more....
Nrama: Do you see yourself producing more comics in the future, and if so, what is particularly appealing to you about the medium?
Ristaino: Of course! I love comics. My dream is still to do comics full time for a living. There’s something so pure about the medium and so easy to produce. I can tell any story I want in any way and have complete control over every aspect of it. The only restraint is time to complete it.
I actually have a few more graphic novels in production that I’ve been working on at the same time as Night of the Living Vidiots that I hope to finish over the next few years. One will collect all the more serious sci-fi and horror stories that I’ve drawn. Another will collect all the Far Side type one-panel strips I’ve drawn over the years.
I also want to publish an all ages book collecting all the Lucinda Ziggles strips I did for Nickelodeon Magazine, along with some new stuff, and I have a Sci-Fi noir thriller that’s been sitting in my brain on the back burner that I hope to start working on once I print up these other things.
Nrama: Given that you're well on your way toward meeting your current Kickstarter goal, how far would you like to see the Kickstarter stretch, and what would you be able to do with additional funds beyond that initial goal?
Ristaino: Naturally, I would love to see this Kickstarter succeed well beyond the goal I have set for it, but I’d be pretty happy if it just succeeded.
Nrama: What are some current comics and creators you're currently reading/enjoying?
Ristaino: My favorite books at the moment are Prophet, Locke & Key, Fatale, Hellboy in Hell, Pope Hats, Dungeon Quest, Nobrow, and of course books from my friends from the show: Tom’s White Clay, Jesse’s Forming, Steve’s Turtle comics, Adam’sTall Penguin.I’ve also been enjoying watching that Strip Search reality show.
Nrama:What's coming up for you beyond AT and the Kickstarter?
Ristaino: Plenty coming up. As I’ve mentioned before I’ve got three or four other graphic novels planned for the future, and I have the slightly unrealistic goal of finishing one up every year. I’ve also got some other projects in the works that I can’t talk about, but hopefully some big things to come.
Help bring Night of the Living Vidiots to horrible undead life by supporting Ristaino’s Kickstarter campaign.