Artist Cliff Chiang Welcomes You to Vertigo's GREENDALE
Cliff Chiang Welcomes You to GREENDALE
Tuesday Newsarama spoke with Greendale writer Josh Dysart and now today we turn to the project’s artist, Cliff Chiang. For years, Chiang has worked at DC Comics, first as an editor and then as an artist, illustrating titles such as Human Target, Beware The Creeper, and Green Arrow & Black Canary. For Greendale, Chiang holed himself up in his studio for his longest uninterrupted comic project to date; honing his style and technique and crafting a unique design for the book from the art on the pages to the feel of the pages and the book itself.We recently spoke to the artist about the project. Newsarama: Cliff, were you familiar with Neil Young’s album before learning about the comic project?
Cliff Chiang: It all kind of happened at the same time. I wasn’t familiar with the “Greendale” album before this project came along, but as soon as I knew I was working on it I watched the film, listened to the music and read Josh’s script.
Nrama: What was the process like for you to figure out the look and feel of Sun Green and her family?
Chiang: A lot of it was pretty organic and comes straight from the story. To start off with, I read the script multiple times to get a real feel for the story, to the point at which I know the story by heat and can really hone in on what emotions need to be brought out and what the reader would need to feel at any given moment. The character designs themselves took about a month for me. I sent those in and Neil approved them pretty quickly.
Chiang: I know Josh spoke to Neil quite a bit while writing the script, but by the time I came on to draw it the script was done. Neil knew it was in my hands – he wanted me from the beginning, as I was one of the first artists whose work was shown to him. Originally I couldn’t do the project but later on things cleared up so I could.
Anyway, once I started drawing Greendale I had very little contact. Actually, I’m glad I didn’t – Neil gave Josh and I the freedom to interpret the story and give our own spin on it. It’s great that he respected us as artists. He was really respectful of our work, and I appreciated it.
Nrama: The idea of adapting an album into a graphic novel sounds like a big challenge. How’d you balance not being just a comic version of the album but telling the larger story?
Chiang: It was a tricky thing to do. The “Greendale” album really isn’t that linear – Josh did all the heavy-lifting story-wise in terms of really fleshing out a world and storyline for Greendale and making it feel like one cohesive piece. And once I was onboard, it was just about making sure the look of the book and the storytelling had a real sincere, authentic feel that would be very much part of Neil Young’s style – both his musical style and his outlook on life.
Nrama: You said earlier that when you sat down to draw it, you had both the “Greendale” music album and the film Neil did to help inspire you.. but was there anything else that either directly or indirectly influenced the work you did on this book?
Nrama: I’m holding a copy DC just sent me in my hands right now, and I can attest to the time spent into the book design here.
Chiang: It was a great job all around – we were able to design it all, down to the cloth used on the cover. Some of Neil’s earlier albums would play with texture, with tissue paper and other stuff as a part of it that would deliberately fall apart eventually. That was also an inspiration behind it.
Nrama: How long did it take you in total to do this project?
Chiang: This book took a long time – about a year and a half, then a couple more months for design stuff before and after the book was done.
Chiang: Even though the script was already written by the time I got on-board, as with anything the script was never set it stone. There were some cases where we needed to adjust and massage things; spots where we felt like we could clarify certain things or really push certain scenes. There were a couple places where we swapped the order of pages to change the pace and feel of certain scenes. Josh was great to work with, and really patient with all my questions.
Nrama: I’m not as up to Neil Young on I should be, but even with my limited knowledge I noticed more than a few Easter eggs for fans out there. Was this something you and Josh had worked out, or something that came along when you were drawing the pages?
Nrama: Speaking of people, doing a graphic novel based on a Neil Young album is bound to put you in front of a whole new audience… it’d be like Neil Young doing a comic I think. What was that like for you – that first initial premise --- of doing a comic based on a music album?
Nrama: I have to ask, did you have any hardcore Neil Young fans to use as a sounding board as you worked through the project?
Chiang: Actually, our editor Karen Berger is a long-time fan of Neil’s. Being such a huge Neil Young fan, I knew that if anything felt “off” that she would let me know… but luckily that never happened. You know, at the same time, there are friends of mine who are Neil Young fans but I never really brought it up with them. As much as I wanted it to be influenced by Neil’s work, I also wanted it to be the work of Josh and myself as well. In the end, I think you can see a bit of all three of us in the book – Neil, Josh and I.