Wide World of Webcomics: Jesse Moynihan FORMING the Universe

Wide World of Webcomics: Jesse Moynihan

Welcome back to Newsarama’s Wide World of Webcomics, our ongoing look at the coolest comics on the Web. Today, we take a look at one of the weirdest and most creative comics online.

Even by the standards of comic books, Jesse Moynihan’s Forming is out there. The shortest way to explain it is that it’s every weird creation myth you’ve ever heard (and many you haven’t) rolled into one, with a deliberately flat, colorful art style reminiscent of Fletcher Hanks and Steve Ditko, and the language of Eric Cartman.


There’s Lucifer, Mithras, angels, Atlantis, Zeus, Adam and Eve, the Titans…in short, it’s out there. And it’s also hilarious, and was recently collected in a handsome oversized format by AdHouse books in the U.S. Moynihan, who has a pretty cool day job on the Cartoon Network series Adventure Time, got up with us about how Forming was…well, formed, how he puts his strip together, his plans for the series, and even a few behind-the-scenes tidbits from Adventure Time.

Newsarama: Jesse, where exactly did you initially come up with the idea for Forming?

Jesse Moynihan: I’ll try to keep it short, but it was a bunch of years of being interested in myths and mythology and religions and how they relate to each other and what the common threads are. I just had that interest in me, and after doing a bunch of really personal comics for a bunch of years, I wanted to broaden out and do something that was more epic, more fantasy with lots of crazy sci-fi shit. (laughs) 


: What were some of your influences?

Moynihan: I think I was mostly influenced by videos I used to watch when I worked at a video store – I watched this whole series of Joseph Campbell interviews with Bill Moyers, like 10 tapes. I got really into them, and then I read The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and that’s what sparked my interest in Forming.

I also love revisionist history and conspiracy theories and things like that. Reading Tolkien’s Similarion was a big influence, because it’s written like a Bible, like an official text, but all fantastical tales. While I was reading that, I was inspired to do something really broad and epic, and trying to wrangle countless characters and see what happens.

Nrama: How hard is it to keep all those characters straight?

Moynihan: It’s crazy hard! Yeah, I have real panic attacks about it. (laughs) And it’s always changing, so I have to keep on top of it. The comic started out with a couple of ideas, and as I’m going along, I’ll change this part of someone’s thread, and then I’ll have to change all these other threads and the art, week to week. As I’m writing it, I’ll get these new ideas about things, and throw them in, and then I have to change everything.

I get worried that I’m forgetting something, so I have these notebooks filled with updated notes, but they’re not very well-organized. (laughs) I should get a better system, but it’s just all these notebooks out of order, and I have to look through them to keep everything straight. 


: What’s the process for creating the strip each week?

Moynihan: I’ve got these general arcs – I’ve got everything mapped out in this very general, random way. I try to map out at least 20 episodes in advance, so at least I’m confident that it’s going somewhere. But as I do it, I’m following my instincts and what I want to see on the page – what I think would be entertaining or cool or funny on top of what the arcs are for the characters.

I don’t worry too much about everything hooking up – everything being super-tight and everything being super-explained. I just want it to be loose and energetic and entertaining.

Part of why I started Forming was because I wanted to push my art further than it had gone before. I’m always looking at new ways to approach color, to approach composition in the page and within the boxes themselves. I tend to really stress out about it, and as the series has gone on, I like to think I’ve made some pretty big leaps as to what my arsenal is to convey action or emotion.

I look at a lot of what my contemporaries are doing, how they’ll lay out a page or action within the frame, and I try to be inspired by people who are more ambitious than me.

Nrama: Who are some of those creators? 


: I was reading all through David Mazzucchelli’s stuff, from Asterios Polyp to Batman: Year One and Daredevil. I was looking at his stuff for a while because of how he’s able to create three-dimensional space so perfectly. That guy’s a master, so I’ve really been looking at how he puts a page together.

Who else? I’m also inspired by Dash Shaw a lot, because of his freedom – he will try anything, basically, in terms of combining different media and color and design work in ways that they have nothing to do with each other, but complement each other emotionally. Gary Panter, I look at his stuff a lot to get inspired.

Nrama: Tell us a little bit about the collected edition.

Moynihan: It’s 9-by-12, so it’s a big book. It’s cloth-bound, and has gold embossment – the colors are super-vivid, and it’s got some extra art stuff, and charts on things like family trees, and Nomo’s scroll with the symbols he reads off it. It feels good! I’ve never had a hardback come out before.

Nrama: How many episodes do you see this running? Do you see this running all the way to the apocalypse myths like Ragnarok? 


: I don’t know how far I’m going to take. I do know I’m going to take it at least to Atlantis’ flooding, and tying that to things happening on Planet Dogon, and then there’s going to be some time-travel stuff. Factoring all that in, I don’t know where it’s going to go! (laughs)

When I started Forming, I had the idea of it going all the way up to the present day and into the future, but now I think it might be more concise. I don’t know, I want to do other things in my life, and tell other stories besides this story. So I think there’ll maybe be 3-4 more years of Forming.

Nrama: And you’re only able to update about once a week, but you have a gig where you’re drawing all day…

Moynihan: I know, it drives me nuts. (laughs) Yeah, I draw all day, I come home, I try to eat something, try to go for a run, and then I draw until I fall asleep, basically. Sometimes I hit this wall where I just can’t do it. (laughs) I try to keep my energy up, but it’s not easy.

Nrama: A lot of people don’t know what goes into storyboarding – and let’s face it, we’ve got a lot of Adventure Time fans in our audience – so I’m curious about the role you play in the creative process of the show. 


: How it works is that I have a partner, Ako, and we work on an 11-minute episode. We get an outline from Pen Ward and Ken Osborne, the head writer, which is 2-3 pages of main plot points. We turn that into about 200 pages with two drawings on each page with dialogue and action over the course of two weeks.

We pitch it twice to the other writers and storyboard artists, so we act it out in a conference room, basically. And then we get notes and change it. After the final pitch, we spend two weeks doing finished drawings and everything.

Nrama: And you’ve designed some of the characters…?

Moynihan: Yeah, I helped design the Earl of Lemongrab and some other characters. I came in near the end of production on Season One, so I didn’t have anything to do with the original characters.

When a new character shows up in an episode I’m working on, my partner and I usually have a role in the rough design of that character. Those designs get passed on to the designers, who sometimes change it because they have their own ideas of what they should look like.

Nrama: What characters on the show most reflect your ideas and designs? 


: I’d say there’s a wizard in the episode “Wizard Battle” called “Dimension Wizard” that’s mine. We designed a lot of the wizards in that episode, but Dimension Wizard was this guy I created who was supposed to be in “Crystals Have Power.”

Originally, “Crystals Have Power” had nothing to do with Tree Trunks. It was about this New Age guru on the Internet called “Googax” – that was a parody of Gary Gygax – who shot weird psychic stuff out of his eyes and had four arms and so on. I was trying to find a way to get him back in after he was cut from “Crystals Have Power,” and he’s finally in the show. Though he’s not Googax anymore, he’s just Dimension Wizard. (laughs)

Nrama: Which comics and creators do you currently enjoy?

Moynihan: I really like Michael DeForge – everything he puts out is really cool to look at and read. As an artist, I really like Christophe Blain, who did the Dungeon comics with Louis Trondheim. I really like this guy Killian Eng– he’s not a comic artist, but does really cool illustrations. He works out of Sweden. Everything John Pham does – his Sublife comics are really cool. Reading all of Mazzucchelli’s stuff for a while, and Tim Hensley, who does Wally Gropius. Hitmen for Destiny was really funny.

Nrama: What’s coming up for you?

Moynihan: I just do what I always do every week – work on a new episode of Adventure Time, and on a new episode of Forming. I don’t really have time to do anything else! Sometimes I record music in my bedroom, and sometimes I watch episodes of Doctor Who. I’m putting together a show pitch with my brother, but it’s too early to see how that will pan out.

Witness the Forming of the universe each week at www.jessemoynihan.com, or check out the first collection from AdHouse Books.

Next at Newsarama’s Wide World of Webcomics: We head to the stars with Howard Tayler and the crew of Schlock Mercenary! And later, we talk to the guys from Unshelved and Matthew Petz of War of the Woods!

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