Return of the Tiger - Catching Up With Scott Morse

Catching Up With Scott Morse

Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!

Cartoonist Scott Morse has been a prolific graphic novelist in recent years, doing books both out of his Red Window imprint at Adhouse Books as well as work for Random House and other publishers. And oh yeah, his day job is as an artist for Pixar – in fact, he's the first Pixar artist to enter (and excel) in comics.

His most recent work has been two books from Red Window entitled Tiger! Tiger! Tiger! and Notes Over Yonder. The latter is two complimenting stories about longing done in full page illustrations in a storybook fashion. Tiger! Tiger! Tiger! meanwhile, features the return of the Tiger character from Morse's previous book Southpaw, but this time playing the part of Morse himself.

You got that right. Scott Morse is portrayed by a cartoon tiger. Just as the Pixar movies he's worked on, the fanciful artistry belays a soulful summation on a mature subject – in this case, fatherhood. Morse explores his own relationship with his son through the masquerade of a father and son set of tigers.

Newsarama: Thanks for talking to us again, Scott. Let's ease into this by telling us first – what are you working on today?

Scott Morse: I'm working on a few things, but mainly working on being a good dad and person. I've got a 3 and a 1/2 year old, and a new boy, so things are crazy at home. New stories are always popping up, though. I'm working mostly on new Magic Pickle chapter books for Scholastic and new Tiger! Tiger! Tiger! volumes, which, really, means just living and interpreting my life.

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NRAMA: Since you mentioned it, let's talk about Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!. I can't help but ask about the intensely personal nature of this book. Tell me Scott, how was creating this book different for you that others?

SM: Tiger! Tiger! Tiger! is really a whole new animal, no pun intended, for me. It's the first time I've really employed narration in storytelling. I've always, as a rule, viewed narration as a sort of crutch for comics storytelling. As a filmmaker I was trained to explore every possible option to avoid narration as a crutch in the delivery of information. I've come to realize, however, that narration is really not a crutch in every instance. Narration can deliver a secondary or tertiary layer of information or symbolism that mere visuals often can't, especially with stories dealing with internal concepts. And Tiger! Tiger! Tiger! is a very internal "story." I put that in quotes to denote the way I see the book and Tiger concept: I'm exploring my inner thoughts, off the cuff, good or bad, thought out or not. I'm a reactionary person, and very scattered, and I think that's OK. I've discussed ideas on story with various other storytellers, Ronnie del Carmen and others, and concluded that you don't necessarily need an "act structure" to convey "story". Every moment can be "story".

NRAMA: Coming to do this story, did you know from the outset it would end up being so personal for you?

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SM: Yes. I fully intended this particular book to be an exploration into unfamiliar storytelling, yet very familiar territory. I'm watching what I convey to a certain extent, but hopefully as I forge forward, beginning here with Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!, I can loosen up and be more courageous as a storyteller, more pure and honest and less contrived. Fiction is great, and I always try to imply a sense of reality in my fiction stories, but this exploration in Tiger! is something new for me.

NRAMA: This book features the tiger from your previous book Southpaw. What led you to bringing him back for this tale?

SM: He's a popular design, I've discovered, and I'm comfortable drawing and painting him. He can be "off model" and still read. He's a Buster Keation sort of character, silent but emoting if played correctly, and as I relay in the book itself, I hate drawing myself, so he seemed appropriate.

NRAMA: You're saying you use the tiger as a stand-in for you. Would you say the tiger is one of the characters with whom you see yourself in the most?

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SM: In Southpaw he was really a sort of everyman, kind of empty. I want to use the tiger design in the future as a sort of actor in the same way the amazing comics storyteller Jason uses his characters. I'd love the tiger to appear in various stories as an "actor", like Bogart could be a second-hand villain, a hero, a shmuck, or what-have-you, depending on the story he'd been cast in. We'll see how far he makes it in the future. He's already been killed off in Southpaw, and there's a couple unpublished stories with him that still need to be inked, plus Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!. He'll be around for awhile in one form or another.

NRAMA: On your blog there's talk of a plush Tiger toy in time for San Diego next year – is that true? If so, can you tell us about it?

SM: It's in the works...Anna Chambers is designing the prototype. It'll be a small-run plush toy, available at the cons and online.

NRAMA: Leaving that ona good note, lets talk about Notes Over Yonder -- your other recent book through Red Window/AdHouse. What inspired you to do this storybook?

SM: Notes Over Yonder is actually a compilation of two different stories that appeared in past anthologies, Afterworks II (Image) and Project: Romantic (AdHouse). The two stories were written and produced simultaneously and intended to eventually be reproduced as Notes Over Yonder. Subject-wise, I'm a big music nerd and play ukulele, and this played into Notes Over Yonder pretty extensively. I wanted to explore a feeling that some music tends to strike with me, a feeling of longing and nostalgia and energy that unites everyday life with uncertainty, but hope at the same time.

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NRAMA: Not to get too far off-topic, but what draws you to the ukulele?

SM: I play the uke and harmonica...both "messy" insturments that tend to still sound OK even if you miss a note or two with basic chords. I'm no musical genius but I love how music acts in a similar way to storytelling in that they both can be calculated and paced to deliver a seemingly unexpected sense of wonder.

NRAMA: Back to the book, you use full single images rather than traditional paneled comics to tell your story –like a comic as well as a themed show of paintings. What led you to do this?

SM: I wanted to the story to "breathe" in a way that most sequential comics don't. I wanted the images to linger like a tune that might get stuck in your head, to let the color and atmosphere really make an impression that might make the seasoned comics reader falter longer than normal and consider how a single image, EVERY single image, contributes to the story. Comics and film tend to throw away visual information. Economy is really important. Music explores and succeeds with this fairly well, and I wanted to push this with visual storytelling.

NRAMA: These books are the latest in your string of books with AdHouse under your "Red Window" imprint, which has provided the best steady stream of Morse books in some time. What's it like now that you're over a year into it?

Notes Over Yonder

SM: I love working with Chris Pitzer, the AdHouse genius. We're good pals and think along the same lines. I use Chris as a buffer on more than one level, from creative input to distribution to just plain common sense. He's invaluable. I feel so comfortable and fortunate that I can produce my own books in conjunction with Chris, and I'm using this unique situation specifically for the more personal work, books like Noble Boy, Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!, Notes Over Yonder and the Ancient Book series. These are books that have a personal value to them that I want to control on every level, books that have a unique market as far as readership that AdHouse is sensitive to.

NRAMA: Before we let you get back to work, let me ask one more thing -- what do you have coming next for you?

SM: More Magic Pickle, more Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!, and a couple of other stories... They Cast Long Shadows, a ghost story about reconciliation, and Ten Against The World, a Kirby/Toth-inspired monster story involving everything about 50's comics storytelling I can incorporate. That last one also deals with my love of hot rods: I've got a '51 Ford truck as a daily driver and a '31 Ford Coupe with an Olds Rocket 303 motor in the works (you can see the progress at http://number63.blogspot.com). There's a story about the building of the '51 in the upcoming Afterworks III as well, so look out for that. Plus lots of PIXAR projects and of course, primarily, the family. That's always number one.

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