Matt Furie’s colorful, creepy and weirdly adorable illustrations have made him a cult cartoonist the last few years with such adult-oriented books as Boys Club. Now he’s joined forces with McSweeney’s and other alternative cartoonists for a weird and wonderful all-ages GN/picture book, The Night Riders.The Night Riders, part of McSweeney’s new “McMullens” imprint that features such other cartoonists as Jordan Crane and Lisa Hanawalt, is the wordless tale of a frog and a rat who head off on a nighttime bike ride through some strange woods filled with stranger creatures. Along the way, they make a few new friends, head underground, take a trip to the beach, and watch the sun rise.
The Night Riders is filled with crazy, detailed scenes with bizarre creatures hiding in every corner of page – and is already earning widespread acclaim for telling a story gentle enough for kids, and eye-popping enough for their parents. We got up with Furie to talk about his book, his artist process, eating bugs and more – and have some art from both The Night Riders and his website, www.mattfurie.com, to share with you.
Newsarama: Matt, how did the idea for The Night Riders come about?
Matt Furie: Well, the electricity of an idea started with an anthropomorphized frog and his pet rat. I have pet rats and I wanted to share the joy I've experienced spending time with rats as an adult to a younger audience, one which is perhaps even more in tune with the idea of having a rat or two.
I knew it should be about a bike ride and that it was to take place at night. The first thing I drew was a frog on a bike with a rat in the basket. I took my rat for a bike ride once and she peed all over me.Nrama: I was also curious as to how you developed the characters.
Furie: The main characters are all creatures- a frog, a rat, a bat-like critter and a dragon. I have drawn these kind of creatures countless times so it was nice to put them in a setting and have them all become friends and go on an adventure together.
The frog likes to chill out and eat bugs, the rat is like a lovable pet dog, the bat likes to play video games in his cave and the dragon is like a big dog that the bat rides. I was inspired by artist's like M.C. Escher, certain weird picture books that I grew up with, video games like Golden Axe, and movies like The Neverending Story.
Nrama: What was it like working with McSweeney's on the book?Furie: It was an honor and a privilege. It gave my mind wings. Brian McMullen, head of the McMullens McSweeney's imprint, gave me total artistic freedom and the paperwork was fair and easy to understand (unlike projects I've done with bigger companies).
Brian was very supportive, he didn't rush me and the book turned out looking really nice: hard bound with foil stamping and a bonus poster.
Nrama: Tell us about how you created the art for this -- these drawings were done at or about the same size as they were published, right?
Furie: Yes, all of the art, including the poster, is the exact same size as it appears in print. I drew everything by hand using ink, watercolor, colored pencils and markers. No Photoshop required.
It was a lot of work, but I'm blessed to be a man-child who can draw all day with colored pencils. I owe a lot to that book The Secret and hope to match its sales of nearly 20 million worldwide.Nrama: I'm also curious about how you pick your color scheme for the story.
Furie: I had worked on a project earlier with my friend and fellow artist Will Sweeney where we collaborated on prints. He used hues of red and I used blues and greens. Some of that work can be seen here.
That experience informed the way I colored in the backgrounds for this project, limiting the colors to blues and greens. Also, the grainy texture of colored pencil gave it a nice feeling and look of nighttime.
You know, when it's night and your room is dark and you are tired and stuff looks grainy? I wasn't trying to do that it just came out that way due to the nature of the materials I was using.
Nrama: What were the biggest challenges in crafting the “cutaway” scenes, i.e. the sequences where you have wide shots showing the creatures hiding in the ground, or swimming underwater, that sort of things?Furie: The biggest challenge was drawing water and waves. Water is one of the most difficult things for me to draw. I researched a lot of old wood-cut prints and lithographs of ocean and river scenes to see how to graphically translate water.
Nrama: How did you develop the characters in the book -- had any of them existed in your drawings and stories before this book?
Furie: I've always liked to draw animals, so this is just a continuation of me drawing animals. Bats, frogs, rats and dragons are my favorites right now.
Nrama: My dad was flipping through the book while visiting recently and declared it “the best thing ever,” but didn't like that the frog ate that moth early in the book. Defend that frog!Furie: This is necessary. Life feeds on life. It's a difficult truth even for dads. I've always been fascinated by the way frogs lash out their long tongues to grab bugs out of the air. It's really amazing. It was amazing to me as a kid and it's still amazing in this moment as I sit here glued to a computer screen. One of life's great natural wonders. I'm glad your dad enjoyed it regardless.
People on average unknowingly eat about a pound of bugs each year due to the way food is processed these days. Some radical thinkers predict that bugs will be a staple of the human diet in the not so distant future. They are a great source of protein, a staple for many mammals on earth and insects are much easier to harvest that cows. In fact, a McDonald's Big Mac is 25% meal worms.
Nrama: …we’ll look that up. What was it like getting to work on an extended story as opposed to drawings?Furie: It took me about six months from first sketch to finished product. It drained a lot of my creative juice and left me twitching in the corner of a dark room, crying. But seriously, it was hell. Hell can be fun sometimes.
Nrama: What do you hope people -- kids and older -- take away from this story?
Furie: Well, for kids, I hope it inspires them if they are in an empty room somewhere with nothing but a few books and some pencils and paper. I was inspired by kids' books to draw so I hope it becomes something special to some young one whose mind is still developing.
For olderz- I hope to somehow bring the idea of the “fantasy natural world” or the curiosity of animals, creatures, and plants back into the moment before it gets crushed by an incoming text message in a traffic jam and there are bills to pay.
Nrama: What were some of your favorite picture books growing up?Furie: “Grandpa's Ghost Stories” by James Flora- it's only $200-$2000 bucks online. Buy one for you and a few more for gifts!
I also loved a Garfield Halloween book that was full color and had skeleton pirates in it and a book called Scary Stories to tell in the Dark.
Nrama: Would you want to do another story like this, either with the same characters or something original?
Furie: I would like to do another one- not sure what it would be- maybe one called The Day Trippers.
Nrama: What are some other comics/books/illustrators you're currently enjoying?Furie: I'm currently interested in an extremely perverted comic from the ‘90s called “Bondage Fairies” written and illustrated by Kondom. It's really intense adult manga involving fairies and insects in various sexual situations. (Newsarama Note: This is probably not for the same audience as The Night Riders).Nrama: What's next for you?
Furie: I just moved to Los Angeles from San Francisco and I hope to figure out a way to get rich here or die trying.
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Furie: Check out this awesome video!
The Night Riders is available now from McSweeney’s