Stuart and Kathryn Immonen: A Family Affair

The Immonens: A Family Affair

Stuart and Kathryn Immonen have become some of the most in-demand creators in comics, with Kathryn's writing work on Patsy Walker: Hellcat and Stuart's recently announced stint on New Avengers, but while those might be their highest-profile books – and they take pride in doing them --, they have two other books that are closer to home – and heart.

The Immonens have been producing original creator owned work for several years now, both online and limited self-published print editions. But in 2009 these works have been taken to the next level, with major publishers coming in to publish the works and allow the Immonens more time to do what they do best – make comics.

The recently released graphic novel Never As Bad As You Think from BOOM! Studios is a collection of comic strips the Immonens published online that focuses less on over-arching story and more on character portraits. The book contains the original 52 strips published online as well as two new strips and a photo essay by Kathryn. And coming in the future from Top Shelf is the print edition of Moving Pictures, a World War 2 era story concerning the widely reported Nazi pillaging of much of Europe's art collections and an atypical romance between two people riding that rollercoaster.

Newsarama: Never As Bad As You Think isn't so much a big arching story but rather a collection of character pieces that inter-connect. But I'm just a journalist -- how would you describe it?

Stuart Immonen: That's a pretty good explanation! The story travels laterally, rather than vertically, which was all Kathryn's doing. Raymond Carver's book Short Cuts (later made into a film by Robert Altman) and Richard ("A Scanner Darkly") Linklater's Slacker follow the same structure. It's experimental in the sense that it's not a standard three-act structure story, but it's by no means obscure.

NRAMA: Correct me if I'm wrong, but Never As Bad As You Think was originally conceived as a challenge to use a specific word per week. Can you clarify that for me?

SI: Yes, that's right. There are a number of similar sites; Photo Friday, Inspiration Thursday, etc, which encourage users to contribute images based on given themes. Kathryn and I were involved in contributing to Illustration Friday for a while, and decided to try and make a comic using the same parameters. This is the kind of thing the OuBaPo has been doing for some time, and Tom Hart did "challenge" or "constraint" comics with Hutch Owen, and now hosts an OuBaPo site for the English-speaking world.

NRAMA: Never As Bad As You Think was originally published as a webcomic and then as a book yourselves, but now it's out in a new edition through BOOM! Studios. What's new with the book?

SI: Ah! Well, size for one-- it's a 6" X 9" landscape hardcover; OK, and hardcover for two, with new cover and dustjacket. Ross [Richie, Publisher of BOOM!] and Mark [Waid, Editor-in-Chief of BOOM!] suggested doing signed and lettered (as opposed to numbered) editions, too.

There are also two more strips which bookend the original 52, and make the story circular. Finally there's a kind of photo essay written by Kathryn which shows some of the process in a strip's creation.

NRAMA: As a contrast, the narrative of your other book Moving Pictures is rather straight-forward. How would you describe Moving Pictures as a story?

Kathryn Immonen: On the surface, it's a love story set against a historical backdrop. But at its heart, it's about how we assign value to people and to objects and what happens when those two things are perceived to be one and the same. It's about desire and lack of it. It's about all those things that are left unspoken in a relationship and how from the outside, and the inside too, I suppose, we can never know the reality of another's intimacies.

Structurally, it contains two timelines: the immediate present and then one which begins at some time in the past and then moves in a straight line until it connects with the beginning of the present time line. So everything that's a flashback occurs in chronological order.

NRAMA: Will the Top Shelf print edition of Moving Pictures differ from the online version?

SI: It won't have extra pages... well, it'll have actual pages, which is different.

NRAMA: [laughs] Well, I should hopo so.

SI: We've always said that Moving Pictures was never meant to be a webcomic; rather, it's a comic on the web. It's formatted and designed for print, with, I think, print sensibilities. We're fans of the medium; we like ink on paper, objects.

KI: Putting the work on the web has, from the start, been a way of enforcing a deadline and ensuring that we meet expectations.

NRAMA: How do you think the process of doing comics that's viewed one-page-at-a-time online affect the reading of a book as a whole in a print edition?

SI: We've been told by a number of people that they stay away from MP for a while, and then come back to read 8 or 10 pages at once.

KI: I think it's also less confusing to do it that way. The structure is straightforward but if you're only going at it a page at a time, I think it's easy to lose track of where we are. I think I've previously described Moving Pictures as one long strangled inhalation.

SI: It's a measured read to begin with, and "action" in Moving Pictures consists of getting up out of a chair, or maybe shuffling papers, so there's no "hook" every week, unlike Never As Bad As You Think, in which each strip was meant to stand on its own as well as be a part of the larger story.

There are many pages in MP in which absolutely nothing happens-- like zero-- but this is part of the pacing and integral to the story structure.

I think the people that are reading MP now are also people who are inclined to buy and read a longer comic. I think our intention is understood-- that this is primarily process, not end result. Our agreement with Top Shelf allows Moving Pictures to continue to be serialized online, even after print publication. We're not committed to maintaining an archive, though; the site may be dismantled when it wraps up.

NRAMA: Both of these works debuted as webcomics, and then later moved to be print books. Was that the plan all along?

SI: Yup.

NRAMA: Stuart, you've been working full time in the comic industry for over ten years, but only recently have you and Kathryn engaged in creator-owned work. What led you to set aside the time for these projects?

SI: Kathryn and I have both been involved in comics for twenty years now. We started out self-publishing in the late eighties black-and-white boom, and have been working collaboratively-- though sporadically-- during that entire period. Some efforts have been work-for-hire for Marvel andDC, and some have been for ourselves, or for anthology titles. It's what we prefer - we understand each other's working methods and have the same pet affections. Circumstances -- like needing to eat-- have led me to pursue with other creators, but I've always felt that a tackling a variety of jobs keeps enjoyment high and the work fresh.

Ultimately, we just decided that if we didn't set aside the time (or more like claw away at spare moments) now, then we'd never find it. It's also a verdant time for independent works; there is no single popular style or approach (ie Image in the 90s, TMNT in the 80s, Marvel in the 60s) driving the medium at this moment, and as a result, there's a lot of diversity. It's as right a time as any to be making work that doesn't fit a proscribed model.

NRAMA: Will you continue to self-publish after this, either online or in print?

SI: Yes, I expect so. We are both juggling so many things right now, it's hard to see around the next corner, but we have at least two projects waiting on the heels of Moving Pictures, but the coming six months will likely be spent in recovery and promotion mode. We'll hopefully have Moving Pictures to debut for TCAF, and Never As Bad As You Think just came out, and our contribution to Image's Outlaw Territory will also be out in 2009. And work for Marvel continues, of course.

NRAMA: To someone that would approach you that's familiar with your superhero work only, how would you describe your creator-owned works?

SI: Not remotely like superheroes.

KI: Less lucrative.

NRAMA: How do you view your personal creator-owned work in relation to the work-for-hire jobs for Marvel?

SI: It's all folded into the same work week. Marvel's aware of our personal projects, and as long as we turn in quality comics for them, it's all good. As I said earlier, working in a couple of different ways, and on books that look and feel and read differently helps to keep me energized and alert and engaged. I was working on the Hulk with Bruce Jones at the same time I was drawing Secret Identity with Kurt Busiek-- the projects, and the approaches were totally different. It's the rising tide that lifts all boats.

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