Whatever happened to fun? That's what Sean Murphy brought up when talking about his upcoming series Chrononauts with writer Mark Millar.
The new four issue series, which debuts March 18, features to happy-go-lucky men as they take off with a time travel device on a time-tossed road trip with the U.S. government hot on their tails. Millar describes Chrononauts as "Apollo 13 meets The Time Machine", but Murphy hits upon the comedy aspect as one of the things that he most enjoyed about the series.
In the days leading up to the release of the first issue, artist Sean Murphy took some time to talk with Newsarama not only about his upcoming work on Chrononauts but also his artist mentorship program and other issues close to his heart.
Newsarama: First off, how did you and Mark Millar get together to work on Chrononauts?
Sean Murphy: I think Mark reached out to the people on his forums and asked their opinions on which artist he should work with. My name came up a number of times, which is the first he'd heard of me. He liked my stuff, and so he wrote me an email. I turned him down at first because I was working on Punk Rock Jesus, but he offered me the job again once I was done. Which I was happy to accept.
Nrama: This actually seems like one of those instances where the internet can have a positive influence on comics then, no? Do you spend much time on message boards or other fan sites?
Murphy: Mark's great about reaching out to his readers and listening to what they have to say. I'm really impressed with how he uses the internet. I tend to be a bit of a shut-in sometimes, so I'm happy to have a partner who's so good with the social media.
Nrama: The collaborative nature of comics obviously changes from one partner to the next. How much involvement do you have in terms of contributing to the narrative direction of Chrononauts?
Murphy: When I get the scripts, they're set in stone. Which is great because I'm better able to match the character's acting to the dialog. Mark's very easy to work with: as long as the dialog works and the storytelling is clear, he lets me do my thing. It's the best time I've ever had working on a comic (other than Punk Rock Jesus, of course). :)
Nrama: Now, do you find it takes you longer to work off of a full script creating pages that are a literal adaptation of the what the writer was looking for or is it more time-consuming when doing your own work, i.e. Punk Rock Jesus?
Murphy: It takes me about the same amount of time. Even if I get an easy page in a script, I'll usually add something extra to make the page exciting. No "talking heads" pages if I can help it.
Nrama: Sean, you have a penchant for telling stories that, while fictional, seem like they're only a few years away from being possible. In what ways does Chrononauts push you as an artist and visual storyteller?
Murphy: The car chases are a trick. Not only does time-jumping need to be clear, the special effects can't get in the way of the clarity of the story telling. I'm trying to find ways of showing the places they're jumping to and from within the same panel, while also making the cars “act." It's hard not to repeat the same shots.
Nrama: This is going to be the first mini-series of three, correct? What time periods will we see in this first arc? What can you tell us of what's to come in the later minis?
Murphy: I've gotten to draw the American Civil War, ancient Japan and Egypt, Scotland, 1950s Vegas—there are really too many to name. If this ever gets made into a movie, it's gonna be pricey!
Nrama: This mini-series also seems to take a much lighter approach from what you've been tackling as of late. What was the appeal to diving into this sci-fi story of two buddy scientists who go on a cross-time caper?
Murphy: Comedy! I miss comedy so much. Most of the stuff I've done is very serious and heavy. Chrononauts allows me to draw humor and funny facial expressions, so it's been a treat. There's a lot of serious stuff in there as well—the book settles on a perfect balance—but I especially come alive when I get to draw a half-naked man in a pink robe running away from gangsters.
Nrama: It seems like I can count on one hand the number of comics out there today where having fun is a top priority. Why do you suppose that is?
Murphy: Sometimes I think comics has an inferiority complex--we're all anxious to prove to the outside world that comics are serious literature that we avoid lighter content because it's seen as childish. Another reason is that humor is hard to write, and even if you're good at it, an artist might not be able to pull off the acting, the timing and the facial expressions. The best humor comics are usually written and drawn by a single person. Like comic strips.
Nrama: What about Chrononauts excites you most? How are you and Mark delivering something different to readers from what's currently out there on newsstands?
Murphy: To me, Chrononauts is a very different book than what Mark is usually known to write. It's a lot less violent than his other books, and he's turned up the comedy element a lot more. The best way to describe the book is fun. I think most of the Image books are sci-fi this year, but ours is the only one that doesn't take itself so seriously.
Nrama: Shifting gears here a bit, I know you’ve also made it a point to inform fellow creators and fandom in general about issues surrounding creators' rights through your Deviant Art blog . What led you to open the discussion about problems many creators face at a number of conventions?
Murphy: It's funny—I'm not convinced tackling that stuff was such a great idea. I wanted to start a conversation about shows and creators having mutual respect for each others needs, but I knew some would see it as the 1% complaining about a lifestyle other creators would kill for.
While shows are a blast an a great way to meet your readers, there's a lot that goes on that isn't part of the discussion: is it in a safe area? Is there transportation, or do we need to hire a cab? Is the hotel near places to buy food? Are there late night events that we're expected to attend? Is there a schedule we can be sent early on, rather then surprise us with one once we're off the plane? If they're helping with cost, what do they expect in return?
Shows are big business in the last few years, and with so many options of places to attend, the shows that get it wrong won't likely see creators return when there are shows out there who get it right.
Nrama: The points you make though are primarily focused on transparency between the promoters and the talent, no? Why do you think other creators would want to discourage having a better understanding of their business relationship with these convention organizers? What has the response been from promoters with whom you've worked to these information requests?
Murphy: Creators want to have a good time at shows. And communication helps ensure that good time, whether the creators realize it or not. With international shows, it's especially important. I think the resistance from my blog was mostly about the messenger, not the message.
Nrama: But it doesn’t really change the fact there’s a problem there to begin with.
Murphy: I'm happy to have a healthy career, but some folks start to bail on you when they hear about how healthy your career is. For example: I once got a free flight to a show in Europe, but there was no one there to meet me at the airport. I had no money, no working phone, and didn't speak the language. I'd never met the people flying me out, and I felt like my trust had been violated. After an hour in panic, the convention people did show up. In my blog, I suggested promoters not do that to creators.
Nrama: Seems reasonable enough…
Murphy: But some people read that and go, "you got a free flight to Europe, and you're complaining about waiting an hour? You're spoiled!" which misses my point.
Nrama: Now, the last time you and I spoke, you were promoting your Kickstarter for the week-long artists' course you were running at your home in Maine. Since then, you wrapped the course and published the Cafe Racer collection, which provided a vehicle for your students' work along with your own. Do you have any future plans to run a second class at the "Sean Murphy Art Institute?" What will this next course and class look like?
Murphy: The first Apprenticeship was a huge success, not only for my wife and me but also the students. Tana Ford, Corin Howell, Stephen Green, Jorge Coelho and Clay McCormack are all getting professional work now (some had pro work before we started, so I'm not taking all the credit here).
We're starting round 2 in the next few months. The only changes we're making is to make the Kickstarter a lot more simple and to hold the course in the summer, rather than the winter.