Jeremy Storese has garnered attention writing KaBOOM!'s Steven Universe, and now he's creating a world of his own with Curveball. The new OGN published by NoBrow akes a trip into the future where technology has advanced…but human relationships are as complicated as ever.
The 400+ page book is the tale of a relationship that’s unraveling against a backdrop of war, commercialism, a mechanized society and a dizzying variety of visual styles. Newsarama talked to Sorese about Curveball, as well as his diary comics for The Comics Journal and the real life behind these fictional stories.
Newsarama: Jeremy, tell us what Curveball is about in your own words.
Jeremy Sorese: Curveball is a science fiction graphic novel that centers on an emotionally manipulative relationship. Avery, the main character, is a waiter aboard a luxury dinner cruise who is struggling to let go of this past flame despite knowing, deep down, that it’s not worth their time.
It’s about that first attachment many of us have, especially, I think, for queer people, which is more fantasy than reality but holds a lot of power over us. The book also focuses on an energy crisis as well a slowly mounting war effort happening in the background of this world. I joke about it a lot but I really wanted to make a When Harry Met Sally but as if the movie was cognizant of world events and not just Billy Crystal’s very swanky apartment in New York.
Nrama: How did the initial idea for this come about?
Sorese: Emotionally, the initial idea for the book came from my own life. Most, if not all of my work is vaguely autobiographical. It gets chopped up and rearranged and mushed around, but my life is the foundation for everything.
I don’t bring this up to make people try and parse out who in my book is whom, but rather as a way to be open about this so more people in comics feel comfortable putting more of themselves directly into their work – allow themselves the space to work through their own their problems, their fears, their lives, in their stories, have that space to get honest and open and loud without worrying about feeling embarrassed. Which, truthfully, took me the entirety of making this book to do, but you gotta to start somewhere.
Nrama: How long did it take you to create this story, from conception to final form?
Sorese: I started drafting the story around January of 2011, which is roughly four and half years from start to finish. I’ll never forget this because I told my initial story idea to a guy I had been seeing at the time, mere minutes before he dumped me.
I was like, “Yeah, it’s science fiction and there’ll be a pop star I think and maybe be about that boat I was working on,” and then he said that sounded awful and then dumped me.
What sort of research did you do for the near-future setting?
Sorese: There was a really good interview with Margaret Atwood on the CBC about her new novel The Heart Goes Last, a dystopian novel about the prison industrial complex, where she said that she doesn’t do research, but rather comes up with story ideas first and then weaves the research into the story structure she has already laid out.
I think science fiction often suffers from that egg-headed stiffness of someone showing off how much they know, how smart they want you to think they are, instead of worrying about telling a good story, so I take Atwood’s route with research.
Nrama: Your style for this draws from a large number of influences in different eras of illustration and cartooning. What were some of the biggest influences for you – particularly those that readers might not expect from reading it?
Sorese: I was really influenced by mid-century American illustration back when my dream was to be a famous illustrator, and I didn’t really know anything about comics. Al Hirschfeld blew my mind in high school, though I think I was obsessed with the Fantasia 2000 segment inspired by his work first, and then discovered who they were referencing afterwards. Also, artists like Hank Ketchum and Erich Sokol and Peter Arno, incredible draftsmen with really strong storytelling, albeit maybe not the best depictions of women.
In 2012 I moved to France to work at La Maison des Auteurs, which is a comics-specific residency program in the town of Angouleme, France. I think because of more money to fund the arts, as well as a longer history respecting and cataloging the work being produced, France has a completely different approach to comics that’s really opened my eyes.
Artists like Julie Maroh and Manuelle Fior (who is Italian) and David Prudhomme and Kerascoet, artists who had books that looked deeply loved and labored, using natural materials and having the time to really stretch their drawing muscles, stuck with me. France isn’t some perfect wonderland, but being able to step out of the world of comics I had been so entrenched in, especially having gone to school for comics, was invaluable.
Nrama: Tell us a bit about your artistic process for creating this – what sort of materials (beyond pencil/pen/paper, obviously) to create the look of Curveball?
Sorese: Having spent four and a half years on this book, the drawings were a little all over the place, not only in level of finish but size and format, so Curveball when through a lot of work to become a single book.
Last summer, before I started inking, I formatted each page on the computer, photoshopping all the disparate drawings together, printed them out as a stack on 8.5 by 11 sheets of paper, edited each page by hand, and then Xeroxed them large enough that I could comfortably ink them on my light box, taping each Xeroxed sheet to a page of Bristol.
As for materials, I tried to use a little bit of everything; ink wash, grey tone colored pencil, gouache, grease pencil. I was really trying to move away from that Moebius-inspired dead line science fiction comic book look.
Nrama: The materials for this talk about the story as about how ignorance and optimism can become dangerously intertwined. Could you elaborate on this? Do you consider yourself an optimist, a pessimist, or a realist at the end of the day?
Sorese: Despite having lived in New York for two years, I’m trying really hard to stay an optimist. It’s a fine line though, and I’m learning as I get older that falsely being someone’s cheerleader can be denying them honesty that they’d actually benefit from.
You can believe deep down that “everything will work out in the end,” which I do really do believe to be the truth – but being an optimist can be smothering, and can unintentionally do real harm.
Optimists, myself included, are sometimes the worst listeners, because you're not really there for someone’s story, you’re just denying their pain with false platitudes intended to cheer them up.
With Curveball, I tried to find a way to bring that to the forefront, not only in the narrative, but also with the science-fiction elements. I had a friend read an early draft who kept commenting on the infrastructure of the city, the holographic traffic updates, the smiling robots, and how frustrating they were, because they weren't offering any real assistance.
Nrama: What, for you, is most personal/relatable about this story?
Sorese: Making this story was such a saga for me to try and get this time in my life off my chest, to process this relationship I was in for most of my early twenties.
I hadn’t read a story about an emotional, manipulative relationship, instead of a physical one, and I would catch myself undercutting my pain because it wasn’t as “real” as other people’s more substantial ex-relationships. I had never really thought about other people having gone through similar situations in their own lives, so to have people come forth and say that they’ve been there has been huge for me.
Nrama: What's been the most interesting reaction you've had to the book so far?
Sorese: I got my first piece of fan art! I cried! It was a big deal for me! Thank you so much Chantal Biwersi!
You live with this made-up world in your head for so long, and then it’s suddenly over, the project is done, you have to move on…so to have someone care about your little obsessive fantasy realm enough to make fan art felt huge to me.
Nrama: Tell us a bit about the comic strips you did recently for The Comics Journal.
Sorese: Like what I said earlier when I talked about trying to be more emotionally open about my life in my work, the week of comics I did for The Comics Journal were a little like playing a game of chicken with myself to see if I could actually do that.
I’m still blown away by how positive everyone was towards those comics, especially after hiding behind one long book project for so long – it was incredible to have that instantaneous reaction.
There are so few emotionally rich comics by gay men that I feel connected to, and I’m trying really hard to fill that space. I know how important honest and open work would have been when I was struggling with my gay identity in my early twenties so everything, my book included, is just me trying to send those positive vibes back in time to a nervous and terrified 21-year-old Jeremy Sorese.
Nrama: What are some other comics/creators you've enjoyed recently?
Sorese: Laura Knetzger. Sophia Foster-Dimino. Sophie Yanow. Liz Suburbia. Audry. K. Czap. Kris Mukai. Sophie Goldstein. The list goes on and on.
Women are making hands down the best comics, ever, and you’re either on board or you’re getting left behind so get with it already.
Nrama: What's next for you?
More comics. I have thumbnails for an 80-page sci-fi/horror story about home invasion, as well notes for what may end up being my next book, which’ll be more queer science fiction. I’m also teaching two classes at MICA starting in January, which I’m really excited about.
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Sorese: I’m on tour!
- SAN FRAN / Mission Comics / December. 3rd / 5-8
- LA / Comic Arts L.A. / December 5 - 6th / both days
- PORTLAND / Floating World / December. 9th / 5-7
- SEATTLE / Elliot Bay / December 11th / 7-9
- BROOKLYN / Powerhouse Arena / December 15th/ 7-9
I may be in a city near you, trying to sing “Last Christmas” at karaoke.