The Dark Steps of TOR's Cartoonist JOANNA ESTEP
Estep first came to the attention of comic readers as artist for the 3-part TOKYOPOP manga series Roadsong with writer Allan Gross. Although that work portrayed her as an innovative manga artist, she’s shown a diversity in style with other works, especially this new short story Happy Birthday, Michael Mitchell which was recently published online as a webcomic at Tor.com.
In this webcomic, Estep has stepped out as more than an artist drawing the stories of others, but coming into her own as a writer/artist (and colorist). Her work in this webcomic shows a much more darker style than her Roadsong work, portraying the story of a set of twins who trade lives like some people trade baseball cards. Her moody inking style paired with the down-trodden story make a potent mix.
Newsarama: Thanks for talking to us, Joanna. What can you tell us about Happy Birthday Michael Mitchell?
Joanna Estep: Well, Mitchell himself comes from an interest I'd taken in the idea that someone could walk the earth unattached, essentially homeless, and seeing all that they could see. You could probably call him a hobo, but I suspect I've romanticized him a little bit more than that. So the character came first, and the story came later, when in planning a road trip or two of my own, I discovered how truly difficult it is to put life on hold long enough to go where you want to go. I'm a single woman without a mortgage, so long-term travel seems doable for me. But what if someone had a thousand other responsibilities holding them back? It got me thinking.
Nrama: Is this a short story, or is there more to this story?
Nrama: From what’s online so far, I get a real Hitchcock vibe from this. How did this story develop in your head for you?
Estep: With as much as this story has been compared to the works of Hitchcock, I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I'm not familiar enough with Hitchcock to understand why. My two greatest sources of inspiration in horror/suspense short fiction would have to be Stephen King and Roald Dahl. I wanted to approach the story like they might, and spend some time shaping my characters into real people. That's my feelings on horror, really. It doesn't feel horrible unless you care what happens to the characters.
Nrama: In most of your previous worked you’ve worked with a writer, but this book is all you. What’s that transition like, and will you be writing more of your own comics in the future?
Estep: Well, I like it both ways. Working with a writer isn't difficult for me, but at this point in my career I feel like I ought to be giving my own ideas a little more attention. I do hope to be producing more short stories like Happy Birthday, in the future.
Estep: Ahh, The Misters. As opposed to my short stories, the script on this one clocks in at 250 pages. Embarrassingly, I got this comic a fair amount of press before it turned out that it's intended publisher was in dire straits, and wasn't able to put it into production after all. I got as far as illustrating chapter one before I withdrew. I still have a lot of faith in this project, however, so I'll be searching for a new home for it.
Nrama: This is your follow-up to the 3-volume manga series Roadsong. What else do you have planned, comic-wise?
Estep: Well, it's not exactly a follow up, because in between Roadsong and Happy Birthday, I drew a few other short comics, such as Reflection with writer Eric Adams, and Munden's Bar: The Crimson Tide with writer Martha Thomases. I also wrote the entire script for The Misters, which was an epic journey, in and of itself.
Currently, I have a few story pitches with other writers, a few story pitches of my own, and a whole lot of ideas for new comics. I'm playing the waiting game to see which among all these might pan out first.