Pixar & Comics - Ronnie del Carmen on 'And There Your Are'

del Carmen on And There Your Are

And There You Are

For several years, AdHouse Books has been the purveyor of high-end comic books and art books With art books by James Jean and Paul Pope as well comic books such as Skyscraper of the Midwest and Project: Superior, some might think of them as an "art house" comic publisher.

They continue that trend with the new book And There You Are by Ronnie Del Carmen. Carmen is a long-time artist at Pixar and was the story supervisor for the upcoming film Up, but while movies are his day job, he's had his feet in comics for some time with his series Paper Biscuit.

In this new book And There You Are, Carmen documents the life of a woman named Nina, whom he's established in his previous works. This book is told via journals and art featuring Nina and discusses both real events and those imagined and unexplained. With his work on Up complete and the book just reaching shelves, we talked with Ronnie Del Carmen for more.

Newsarama: Thanks for taking to us, Ronnie. What can you tell us about And There You Are?

Ronnie Del Carmen: I notice that I gravitate towards books that have a controlling idea behind them, no matter how slight. I think it makes the editing process easier but more than that it makes the book about something. The question I deal with in my day job as story supervisor is: "What is--insert project here--about?" So, rather than just having a series of images that can run the gamut of drawings and scribbles I have in my sketchbooks I thought about what I was experiencing over time with my sketchbooks. What could a compilation of my drawings be about?

Since animation work takes the lion share of my creating time I only have found time to devote to Nina's story. Naturally these short snippets of found time happen around coffee breaks and in airplanes and such. That is also when I log into one of five or so journals I carry. The observations of the world and the seasons of my daily life are written and sketched in there. Along side those are my notes on Nina. That proximity does something. Details of Nina's story are from my observations. She walks the same streets I walk and frequents a coffee shop very much like the one I've been going to for the last nine years. Scarves, coats, traffic, overheard conversations and interesting folks--all seem to migrate into her story.

After a few year of this I find that she's grown added dimensions. She is become more of a real person to me over time. And that is what this book trail: the entries in journals and sketchbook, side by side with my entries about my plain days. They converge and somehow one steps over to join the other. A mystical thing, I believe. I gave her enough parts and minutiae from my life that she is becoming more solid in this world. It is a curious experience and very fascinating for me. I hope others find it interesting as well.

NRAMA: What initially set you off to create this book?

RDC: After losing a couple of sketchbooks I had to face up to the reality that you run the risk of losing it if you carry them around. I'm always losing stuff around airports or airplanes. Devastating. But I love having them so I can show them. That's why I wanted to compile these entries in book form--that way I can have something of my drawings from these sketchbooks and not have to carry the original books with me.

NRAMA: In our email leading up to this, you mentioned you're working on pieces for a Paris gallery. [Editor's Note: This interview took place before the Paris gallery show]. Can you tell us about that?

RDC: At Galerie Arludik in Paris! I did seven original pieces for it and maybe, if I have a modicum of free time, I can hustle me up two more before I leave and take them with me. This is a re-convening of the same protagonists of the "Three Trees Make a Forest" gallery show we did at Nucleus. A very successful show for us and a way for Tadahiro to join Enrico and I for a bit of catching up, it's been a while since all three's been together in one place. As you know Tadahiro is one phenomenal illustrator -- the real deal--and any time we can hang out with with him is such an honor and a treat. Diane and Jean Jacques Launier of Galerie Arludik had graciously offered us a show a while back and we've been trying to make it work ever since. I mean, come on! A gallery show in Paris? Diane and J.J. are so supportive and very helpful to us that it was a no-brainer that we do this show. I've visited the gallery before and it's an amazing location.

I'm swamped with so many projects at work and my own stuff that I have to make every free moment be dedicated to saving something from falling off the table. It's was no different for making the pieces for this show. I just finished a children's book for the Disney/ Pixar movie Up and I was still in illustration mode when I had to jump into making these images so that kept me in a mindset that is not my usual. All of them were done with acrylic ink and gouache on illustration board. I also had the good fortune of renewing a study of the abstract expressionist, Robert Motherwell. I'm nowhere near being an abstract expressionist but I used that inspiration to delve into a more graphic look to my illustrations, a way to visualize the pages of a Nina illustrated story book. That helped me a lot and made the work move faster.

NRAMA: Will these pieces end up in And There You Are?

RDC: I've mocked the entire book up and there are three pieces from the show in there right now. I might also include the thumbnails I did in my sketchbooks for it. The book is moving to a finish soon.

NRAMA: Did you have a specific goal (or goals) in mind to accomplish through the creation of this book?

RDC: I've done books of my work before and though most of them will have Nina in it I don't really talk about her story much. It's a laboratory of sorts. It shows me aspects of her story that I'm trying to fit into the books. Mind you I've yet to do a longer form of Nina's story and given my schedule it won't happen soon. This way I keep the fires burning until I can get to it as well as make discoveries about Nina along the way.

NRAMA: Correct me If I'm wrong, but this is the first time you're going with an outside company for help in publishing and distribution. Why'd you decide to go with AdHouse instead of self-publishing like you have previously?

RDC: We had Gingko Press as publisher of the Three Trees Make a Forest book before. Gingko had taken on the entire publishing duties, including hiring a designer for the book. All the attendant responsibilities of getting the book to market they take care of - the stuff that I'm not very good at. Given the pressures of being a Story Supervisor on a Pixar movie I've no more energies left to deal with all that-let alone making a book.

I've known Chris Pitzer since he invited me to do a story for Project Superior and we've stayed in touch since. He's a big supporter of independent voices out there. Scott Morse has a deal with him that works this way: Scott is the publisher and Adhouse distributes. I thought, "Great! I want to do that!" Of course, I really didn't have the time to devote to even make a book so I had to wait. Then Enrico put out The Venice Chronicles thru Adhouse as well. Meanwhile my duties with UP were just starting to ease up, not a lot but enough that I just had to have the book ready. The part of publishing that I like--creating, designing and dreaming insane dreams--I finally get back to. I'm really glad that Chris was open to having me on board at Adhouse with And There You Are and in fact it was his vote for the title of the book that made me keep it. It was just a working title months ago when I was still doing studies.

NRAMA: Previous to this you self-published several comics under the banner of Paper Biscuit. Will any of that work be in this new book?

RDC: Not in the direct storytelling comic book. That will stay with the Paper Biscuit books. The idea for And There You Are is to gather these images and drawn phrases of the work behind the stage that already seems to tell Nina's story. I think too much and I really should pay attention to the work being generated--even if they are just sketchy ideas and notes--that is telling me what Nina's doing.

I am amazed all the time that there's a mystical thing about capturing real people in my sketchbooks. I write and draw on the same journals I make my real world impressions as well as notes on Nina's story.

So, my observations of real people are there side by side with my notes on Nina. She will naturally hang out in the same places that I will be at and be around the same people I will draw in my sketchbooks. Somehow that equation, over the years, is accumulating these real details and nuances. Okay, I'm getting into it. But really, it's a fascinating journey and I share the images and hopefully communicate this impression in the book.

NRAMA: Do you have plans to publish any future issues of Paper Biscuit?

RDC: I have an ongoing story path for Nina that will continue. My day job keeps me from jumping into the continuity of Nina's story right now but I hope to pick this up again this year. I have offers to collect the story into one big book from France. It would be a curios path to see the story told fully in French first but they are very supportive and encouraging. I go where that positive energy takes me. So, the answer is, YES! I'll keep at it till someone stops me.

NRAMA: You mentioned your day job as Story Supervisor for Disney/Pixar's Up movie. What does that job entail?

RDC: As a Story Supervisor I am the first among equals of a fantastic story artist crew (Enrico Casarosa is part of this crew as well, along with Bill Presing). They number about 6 to 8 people for the entire life cycle of the story reels, which could be anywhere from 1 1/2 years to 3 years, depending on the story's complexity, director regard and luck. The story reels are the drawn dramatization of the movie. That means we create the entire movie story experience, complete with sound, temp music and camera work, almost like the real movie. We get to experience our storytelling before we spend the really expensive endeavor of producing the actual film. This way we can fix our story before we make it. I work with the director(s) on how to do this. We write, re-write, stage and re-stage, haggle, argue, laugh, go crazy with the story and we hand these as sequences to the story artists to realize in storyboards. Then we do it over and over again for a couple of years till we get it right--or run out of time. Likely it's a mix of both. I try to do as much on any movie as I can and this movie I did more. I believe that we can contribute to all aspects of the movie so I get to contribute to the art, cinematography, production design and layout of the movie on top of my duties as Story Supe.

NRAMA: Pixar has quite a sizeable and notable comics community within its walls. What's that like?

RDC: Well, there's a bunch of us here now and we all got to have an outlet for that part of our artistic lives. When Enrico and I started early this decade making our books we probably looked strange. Self-publishing then was rather new to us sometime comic book dabblers.

All my experience about creating your own book can be discouraging in most studios. We didn't know it at the time but Pixar did not have the same stance as other studios. We find out that Pixar sees this as a way to encourage creativity and passion that in turn funnels back into our day job. It does keep us plowing along with the same energies on or off the picture. All that legal caution a studio does to protect itself can backfire I think. Protecting yourself from the prospective bad employee who will turn around, sue and gum up millions of dollars worth of movie will mean that you regard ALL your employees as would-be traitors. Not a positive reinforcement move, I think. You create a culture of non-trust. The best that they can offer will be withheld as well.

Besides that we all tend to support and encourage each other in all our endeavors. We're not in this for the money right now. We have day jobs still. So we can develop and make mistakes as well as journey far afield to where most cannot go. We see now how other studios have their own large illustration/comic book troupes going to San Diego and making books. I like to think that we had a small part to play in that. As well as showing other studios that they can relax about their legal binds imposed on artists. I think that it all works together well and everyone benefits. There are likely very good stories, storytellers and new outlooks that can be mined from these ventures. As they say, "It's all good."

NRAMA: And lastly, do you have any appearances or signings to coincide with the release of the book?

RDC: I will be at San Diego this summer signing with my partner-in-crime, Enrico Casarosa. It will be a big return for me after being gone for so many years. I am looking forward to seeing all the familiar faces in that sea of madness and spectacle that is Comic-con. Hope to see you all there.

Newsarama Note: del Carmen has just announced his latest work, My Name is Dug, which he drew, at his blog. The younger-ages book stars the talking dog as seen in the Up trailer.

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