What do comic creators do after a productive day of creating comics? Create more comics – at least that’s how it seems for Stuart and Kathryn Immonen. These two Canadian creators spend most of their time working in the superhero genre at Marvel, but in the moments in-between they’ve been carving out a stream of creator-owned comics and graphic novels well outside the boundaries of capes and cowls for drama, romance, and a bit of comedy.
Early next year, boutique comics publisher AdHouse Books will be publishing the duo’s next graphic novel, Russian Olive to Red King. The series follows a couple, Red King and Russian Olive, who are separated and face unique and disparate struggles against deadlines, disappearances and a plane crash. Newsarama talked with Stuart about this graphic novel with wife Kathryn, and balancing work-for-hire with work for himself.
Newsarama: Earlier this month word broke that Russian Olive to Red King was going to be published in early 2015 by AdHouse, whom you’ve worked with in the past. This project has been a labor of love for you and Kathryn done while working at your “day job” so to speak of working at Marvel. But what’s it like to be past the drawing stage of this and into final production and release stages?
Stuart Immonen: By labor of love, you mean a non-paying gig? Based on past experience, that's probably true, but it's the story we wanted to tell on the heels of Moving Pictures. At the same time, though, we've done shorter pieces outside our mainstream commitments; a contribution to Above The Dreamless Dead, published by First Second, and Snipe, self-published in a limited edition and now on ComiXology. And while it's been four years of work on weekends and in spare moments, Russian Olive to Red King is still some distance from being "done," however. We actually added a new page only a month ago. In terms of production, it's been more like movie-making than comics. The pieces are all complete, but arranging them into a comprehensive form is more a part of the process than usually happens.
Nrama: You and Kathryn have spoken briefly on numerous occasions about the book, but a solid idea of what the book is about has been absent. Can you fill us in on the rough outline of the book?
Immonen: Um... not really. I think it's going to be different things for different people. It doesn't comfortably fit into a genre; it's a ghost story, but it's not frightening. It's a romance, but it's not passionate. We showed it to one person who thought from the title it was going to be about spies. It's not that. But what it's about and what happens are two different things, as Bruce Robinson has said on occasion.
Nrama: In transitioning from your primary work of superheroes to doing a more reality-based work like this and Moving Pictures before that, do you find imparting bits from your life – or from those around you – creep in more readily?
Immonen: No, probably the opposite. I mean, I get in as many fistfights as I crate sculptures in the basement of the Louvre, but in order to portray superheroes believably, I prefer to portray the characters with some gravitas, some weight, so they seem tangible and real. Naturalism kind of goes out the window in our more personal work. Characters can be comedically abstracted as in Never As Bad As You Think, or reserved to the point of inaction in Moving Pictures; these are approaches in the superhero genre that would come off as ironic at best. Inappropriate, anyway.
Nrama: Do you ever feel a danger of putting too much of yourself in a story, or adversely to little? Especially in your creator-owned work?
Immonen: This has honestly never occurred to me, though maybe if you asked someone else, they would be more readily able to point out where my ego emerges on the page.
Nrama: On the preview pages, I really enjoy the typography choice and the straight forward nature of the balloons. Although it’s not unnatural in comics as a whole, people are somewhat accustomed to seeing your work with the kind of lettering that propagates superhero comics. So when it came to lettering, what effect were you hoping to achieve there?
Immonen: The dialogue font is Populaire, by PintassilgoPrints. Each letter has four glyphs, so it really mimics the nuances and randomness of hand-lettering. And while the story is not dialogue-intensive, there are sequences which have dense balloons, so a condensed face was required. I designed the broader face we used in Moving Pictures, but it was too formal for this project. The balloon shapes are also more organic in Russian Olive to Red King, less decorative.
Nrama: The previous books you’ve done with AdHouse had some high-end production values which people are somewhat unaccustomed to from a smaller publisher. I assume that is the plan with Russian Olive to Red King, and assuming that can you talk about deliberating over the packaging and final form of a book as a piece of art and not just a collection of comic pages?
Immonen: We're still working with publisher Chris Pitzer on what the final form will be. We're discussing some humble materials, which can have the effect of being precious or fragile in the right context. We've settled on the dimensions at least, and the page count is now (finally!) fixed at 176 pages. AdHouse is absolutely the perfect choice for us; Chris has such a refined eye for detail and his approach to producing books as objects is sympathetic to our hopes for developing the story to its fullest expression.