Robots and Life: Tannenbaum on Chronicles of Some Made

Chronicles of Some Made, cover

They might look like cute robots, but the characters in Felix Tannenbaum’s Xeric-winning graphic novel Chronicles of Some Made deal with some decidedly grown-up issues. The new collection from Passenger Pigeon Publishing tells two existential tales about holding on to love, finding a purpose in your existence, and hot dogs. It’s the sort of book that makes you go “awww!” on one page and wince in recognition on the next.

Tanenbaum began the book with the second story, “Why Doesn’t My Robot Love Me?: A Cautionary Fable.”

“My dad had just passed away, and I wanted to try and go the extra mile with my comic stuff,” Tannenbaum says. “He was really into comics, Nancy and Zippy in particular.

“I was living in Vermont, and the Center for Cartoon Studies had just opened up and was offering a scholarship to the person who could create the best comic starring a robot, a snowman, a piece of fruit and themselves.

“I had a little bit of money from my dad's passing so I took a month and came up with ‘Why Doesn't My Robot Love Me?’. It didn't win, but I thought it was a real strong piece of work and I wanted to do more like it.

“When I sat down to think about a new project ,I thought about the process and I realized that one of the reasons it was so strong was that the story was sort of organic- it wasn't overly constructed, and didn't seem forced, and the reason for that was that the characters sort of wrote themselves a good story, if that makes any sense.

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“So I brainstormed a bunch of scenarios, and came up with the basic structure of Chronicles - A group of robots realizes that they are programmed to destroy themselves but don't have the means to stop themselves from doing it. I didn't realize until I was halfway through the story itself what this story was really about, though.”

The title for Chronicles was something that Tannenbaum struggled wit for some time. “I knew I wanted something weird and old fashioned---enigmatic in some way--- so when it came to me, I don't really remember how- I liked it,” Tannenbaum says. “We are all made in some way, and certainly we make ourselves, or at least have a hand in it.”

Tannenbaum acknowledges the influence of Brad Bird’s film The Iron Giant on Chronicles, but says he wanted to take a darker, more complex look at some of the questions the film raised, such as “Can we escape our programming?” and “Are we hardwired for death and destruction?”

“To change a habit, a pattern of behavior, is it as easy as deciding that you are going to change? Is that all it takes?” Tannenbaum says. “Certainly, that decision has to be made for the habit to be changed, but I think there's a lot more messy crap involved – or at least there is in my case!

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Chronicles is in some way about all that messy crap. For instance, what if there was some part of the Giant that really liked blowing the hell out of tanks? I mean he would have to hate himself if he didn't like blowing shit up-- he has all that sweet ass shit permanently built into him!

“Again, if Brad Bird or any of his staff is reading this, I am not attacking Iron Giant in any way, I just think there's a lot of stuff in that metaphor of the robot to be explored.”

In creating the stories in Chronicles, Tannenbaum found some of the robots’ actions mirroring circumstances in his own life. “The challenge as I was realizing that, in trying to understand what the actions of the robots meant- Which robot represented me? What does that one particular action mean?” Tannenbaum says. “For a while there, it really was like the cutest Rorschach test ever! But the story is really like a dream- sort of shifty and plastic- I mean, I think the story makes a certain emotional sense, but it's not an empirical sort of sense…if that makes any sense!”

Tannenbaum’s stories were initially rejected by several publishers, but one rejection actually set him on the path toward winning the Xeric Grant. “The only one that got back to me was Top Shelf,” Tannenbaum says. “They actually posted some stuff online, which was real cool - They didn't think my stuff was just right for them to publish- but they did tell me that I could get a Xeric, so I tried and I did!

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“The Xeric has been real cool for me, it gave me the money to publish it, and a little bit of press, and I've learned a lot about the industry. But I hope someday that I could get a house behind me so I could focus more on the stories and pictures. Publishing is a tricky wicket, especially with the new Diamond policies.”

Tannenbaum, who cites Gasoline Alley, Segar’s Popeye, Yves Chaland, and the Spanish creator MAX among his biggest influences, says that he might revisit the world of Chronicles in the future. “I may do follow up stories to COSM - but I tend to do all kinds of different stories, but there is a little of the weirdness of this world in most of

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my stuff,” Tannenbaum says. “I am working on a couple of different stories right now. One is a sort of bio-comic about my parents and the other about a retired super villain based on this comic here: http://www.felixtannenbaum.com/2007/04/so.html”

And even though he’s achieved success with his robot comics, Tannenbaum admits they’re not his favorite thing to draw. “I sort of hate drawing robots actually!” Tannenbaum says with a laugh. “I much prefer people, though I think the over simplified style of the robots let them get pretty expressive, which was fun to draw.”

Chronicles of Some Made is in comic shops on April 29 (Diamond Order Code: FEB094423); it is also available for order on Amazon.com The first story in the book, “The Dent,” is online at http://www.felixtannenbaum.com/2008/10/xeric_winner.html

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