It's been six years since the all-ages graphic novel Polly and the Pirates from Oni Publishing burst onto the indie scene with writer/artist Ted Naifeh giving readers a character that's a solid mix of Peter Pan and Pippi Longstocking.In January 2012, Polly Pringle finds herself in a new high-stakes adventure – however, this time around Naifeh is joined by up-and-coming artist Robbi Rodriguez. While the story is sure to still be the signature style Naifeh is known for from this book, as well as his Courtney Crumrin series, Rodriguez puts his own signature on the title with his unique artistic style and direction.
Newsarama talked to both writer and artist as they give more details on what is on Polly's horizon, how the series evolved from being Naifeh's one man show to this new partnership, and why this book stands out as a gem in the rarely-explored genre of comics about quirky adolescent girls. They even brought along some exclusive preview art for the ride.
Newsarama: Ted, for those unfamiliar with Polly could you sum it up for us?
Ted Naifeh: The first Polly and the Pirates is about a prim and proper girl who gets kidnapped out of her comfy boarding school by a bunch of pirates that think she's the daughter of their long lost queen. In the course of the adventure, she discovers she has a natural penchant for swashbuckling, despite her sheltered childhood. But her real difficulty comes when she becomes a liar to maintain her respectability, and she realizes that respectability isn't the same thing as honor.
Nrama: Without giving too much away, where does this tale take her?
Naifeh: The second book starts out with the specter of public life looming. Polly will soon have to leave the bosom of her boarding school. But since her adventures in the first book, her reputation has fallen into question. But all that gets side-tracked when she learns that Emperor Norton, the pauper king of America, has been imprisoned for being a loony. In her attempt to rescue him, she discovers a much larger plot by a foreign power to conquer the city of St. Helvatia. Suddenly, her reputation doesn't seem so important.
Anyway, it's good swashbuckling fun, seasoned with lots of pluckiness.Nrama: How much time has passed since Polly 1?
Naifeh: Oh, maybe a year. Long enough for the story of Captain Peg, the new Pirate Queen, to turn into urban legend. And long enough for Polly to start worrying about what life will be like once she leaves the bosom of her comfy boarding school and go off into the world where *gasp* she may have to meet boys!
Nrama: Who approached you on handling the artistic duties here, Robbi?
Robbi Rodriguez: The simple answer is no one. I don't think I was on anyone's list for the book. But the backstory is a few years after years ago, just after Tek Jansen was complete, I had nothing lined up from Oni's editorial. One project fell through cause the writer flaked and the other sounded so much like a movie pitch it just gave me the creeps. It was also in the sci-fi comedy genre, so at that point I knew I was just pigeon holed as the "ha ha " guy from my work on Maintenance, Hazed at Image and Tek and as Doctor Gonzo said "I knew then I was f-----".
I was asking around about Polly 2 and saw some of the art that they had by someone else, and something just didn't seem right. I mean, I know its a indie book and all, but come on, it doesn't have to look like a 4 year old drew it. This was also the point where my eyes were starting their decline in health. So it was a do-or-die moment for me. I had to show readers my actual potential and stop running on auto pilot like I have been for most of my career at that point. And it was now or never to pull that trigger.
So I cornered Ted at an ECCC show and handed him a short [Robbi's creator-owned] Frankie Get Your Gun ashcan I did (a demo tape for that project if you will), and that got the cannon ball rolling on the project.
Nrama: Seeing Ted's style on Polly and being familiar with his work, how did you approach the book artistically? Did you feel any pressure?Rodriguez: While I liked Polly 1 very much, one of the things the tossed me out of the book was how much it looked like Courtney. I can't fault the Ted on it, thats how he draws. But Polly seemed like it was on a second tier to that book in the audiences eyes. I wanted to elevate it to equal in stature and I knew the way to bring it to that world was giving it a European look with the scope and energy of a Japanese comic.
So, yeah, this is where the pressure came in. One part being if I can pull this off. I mean at the time I worked on this book (like two years ago) I hit the point where I was finally discovering my voice as a cartoonist (that played into the subtext of the book as a whole). The other part did come a bit from Ted's fans because they are super loyal to him. I mean, I still remember those looks of disgust when you're trying to sell them on your book while they are waiting in line for Ted. But hey, they are still not as fanatical as Scott Pilgrim fans. Wow. And while I was working out a lot of personal issues through this book, I knew I did not want to s--- the bed and really give them something worthy enough for them to say to their buds "you have to check this out".
Nrama: Ted, you've done a couple Courtney stories and even dabbled in the Bat-universe over at DC, what's it like returning to Polly's world?
Naifeh: It's hard at first to switch gears from the grim and gritty boy's club of most comics to the much softer, gentler world of Polly. I ended up making this adventure a little more rough and tumble than the last one, but it's still a long way from your typical superhero story. After a while, I remember this charming British children's story tone comes more naturally to me than the grim and gritty stuff. I have no idea why, but it's true.
Nrama: Is there a different mindset when writing a Polly book in comparison to a Courtney one?
Naifeh: Oh yeah, Polly is a completely different beast. Courtney is a more punk-rock kids' book. It has this precious veneer that Courtney's terrible behavior trashes. And it's basically about how miserable it is being in Junior High, watching your childhood fantasies vanish, realizing how hard life is actually going to be. Whereas Polly is much more of a positive look at impending adulthood. It isn't making fun of preciousness. It's just precious.Nrama: Let's talk about the Naifeh-verse as a whole. There's something on your website called Princess Ugg, or at least doodles and sketches of something in the works. What draws you to write strong, and at times quirky, female characters?
Naifeh: I really can't say, but it may be that it's not a well-explored area. Boys tend to have adventures, while girls usually have romances. The genre of girl adventures is still pretty wide open. When people think girl adventurers, they tend to think of a spunky, plucky tom-boy with a chip on her shoulder. I'm not saying that this makes for a dull character, but I think other types of adventurous girls exist. It's easy to fall into well-established tropes, believing that the tropes of a genre define the genre itself. But every time, the very best stories defying this theory. I hear all the time that boys don't like stories about girls. Which never made much sense to me. Wasn't Terminator about a girl? And Alien? Hell, I grew up on the Wizard of Oz. People enjoy stories about anything if they're good stories.
Nrama: Robbi you have an interesting situation with your vision and how you've adapted to each book you take on.
Rodriguez: Yeah the short, but sweet answer is that I am legally blind and I found out about that before I started picking around about this book. Usually, I would adapt my style to the situation, maybe streamline my work a bit. But for Polly I had to go guns blazing. It would have hurt the book if I didnt. That's the same attitude Polly had with this adventure, well thats the motivation I gave her on my side of the book, so I had to follow suit. I think I may have done more damage to my eyes since this was 90% digital, but I don't regret doing so. Its a swan song of sorts for me and you can't half-ass it when you're playing Carnegie Hall and you cant half-ass it with this lady and her crew.
Nrama: Ted, in rare instances you've partnered up with another creator, but the rest of the time you're usually a one-man show, where as Robbi, you've just now ventured into solo projects, what was the chemistry like creatively?Naifeh: Most of my input is there in the script. Beyond that, I mostly sat back and let Robbi do his thing. I don't know if that's the optimal way of doing things, but I remember reading Brian Bolland discussing Killing Joke, and saying that he preferred to be left alone to get on with the drawing. And it's hard to argue with the results.
Rodriguez: That was something i worried about. I thought as two cartoonists we would butt heads from the get-go. But we had the same line of thought to this book on what the book should be overall. We only had a few emails and maybe one lunch at a NYCC show a year ago with each other really over the course of making the book. We knew what it should be, like a modern day Errol Flynn swashbuckler. Ted's script was strong so we really didn't need a chat for me to get the gist of what he was going for and add my own terms at the time to accentuate Polly's journey in this chapter of her life. He'd just check in so he'd know that the baby sitter didn't give his kids crack and booze that day.
Nrama: Robbi, what are you hoping Polly fans get out of the book?
Rodriguez: I hope they get the fun they had with one, but amped up to 11. I also hope the female audience gets the ass kicking hero they know and love.
Nrama: Ted, do you think you'd revisit Polly's world again?
Naifeh: Oh yeah. There are secrets in Polly's life that still haven't been revealed. She has a story or two left to tell.
Oni Press' Polly and the Pirates 2 comes out January 25, 2012.