Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Fireside Chat with Ken Garing

It's time yet again for one of our Fireside Chats, so pull up a chair and relax, won't you?  This time around, we had the good fortune to get some time to speak with Ken Garing, writer and artist of Planetoid, the new series being published by Image Comics.  With the second issue of his new science fiction space opera coming out on July 11th tomorrow, we caught up for a bit to talk about his new book, its making of, and some of his personal background.  So hit the jump to see all this and more!

Ken Garing is still a relatively recent name on the comic book scene, but he has been working at his craft for years.  While his main production credit is the aforementioned Planetoid, Garing appears to have a bright future ahead of him, having already been announced as one of the upcoming creators for the new Monkeybrain Comics.  Based in San Franciso, California, Garing is the complete package, able to provide both the writing and art in his books with seeming ease.  Keep his name in mind, because Ken Garing looks to be a rising star in the comic book industry.

Grant McLaughlin:  To get the ball rolling, I'd love to hear about where the idea for Planetoid came from. How long has this been percolating in your mind?

Ken Garing: Planetoid was one of many story ideas I've had in my head head over the years. I was working on short stories for a while and then I decided I wanted to try and do a longer project, in this case a mini-series, and Planetoid seemed like the best choice. The story was pretty well formed in my head and I had a lot of notes and sketches that had accumulated over the years. I began work on the comic in the summer of 2010. It went through many revisions from then until now.

GM: And how would you describe Planetoid to someone who is unfamiliar with the book?
Garing: I have a hard time explaining Planetoid in any detail beyond the basic plot, which is somewhat generic; a man crash lands on a mysterious planet where he will have to struggle to survive. I kind of like people not really knowing what the series is "about" at this point. Image did a good job with the press release, but for me, all the interesting aspects of Planetoid are in the comic itself waiting to be discovered by the reader. My hope is that the preview pages and reviews will be enough to turn people on. Sorry to be so vague!  

GM: I know those pages really did a lot for my interest!  In terms of the series, how big of a story do you have planned? I feel like there's a lot more to Silas than what little we glimpsed in that first issue

Garing: In terms of length, the story will be a five issue mini-series. I have ideas for expanding the story past this original series at some point in the future though. I'm a big fan of Frank Herbert'sDune and the way he continued the story far into the future. I think Dune really created the model for epic space-opera science fiction. It also has this sort of melancholy feeling to it. I want to capture a similar feeling with Planetoid. More will be revealed about Silas in future issues... his back story is a bit darker than what was revealed in issue one.

GM: One of the things that grabbed me the most about the first issue was the world itself.  The setting is absolutely gorgeous, and I'd love to know where did the inspiration for the world come from?

Garing: A lot of it comes from the real world. I've acquired a lot of industrial photo reference over the years. I think that sort of abandoned industrial landscape can have an extra weight to it, when used in science fiction, because of the real world environmental or economic implications. It's impressive visually but also kind of disturbing to see such a place. I was also looking at a lot of Tsutomu Nihei and a friend of mine had recently given me a copy of H.R. Giger's Necronomicon, which was a big influence. I'm also just constantly looking at the work of Moebius, Otomo, and Corben.

GM: And how important will the planet and setting be to the overall story?

Garing: It's really important. Ultimately the story is about how people can survive and flourish in a harsh setting... so, creating a world that is consistent and believable is important.

GM: Will there be more exploration to come or is the settlement hinted at in the first issue going to change Silas' relation with the world?

Garing: The formation of the settlement will certainly change things but there will be more solitary exploration as well. The comics medium lends itself so well to that sort of exploratory narrative. I'm a big fan of Jim Woodring's Frank books where there are these long sequences of wordless exploration of this weird dreamworld. Moebius' Arzach is another good example of this. That comic had a huge impact on me as a kid.

GM: Is the planetoid going to be getting a name or will we have to do without over the course of the series?

Garing: The planetoid will remain nameless for now, though it does have a name.

GM: Would you mind elaborating on the history of actually making and publishing this book? You said that you started working on it in summer 2010, and I see that the first issue was published at graphicly in January 2012. How much time did you spend on the book between those two time periods? And how did the decision to publish digitally at graphically come about?

Garing: Over that two-year period of time I did commercial illustration work and some short story comics in addition to revising Planetoid. I also showed earlier versions around at conventions and got feedback. At the end of two years I had a finished comic that I felt was ready to be shown to the public and the deal offered by Graphicly seemed really appealing. This way I could get my work out there online while not giving it away for free.

GM: Following that, how did you end up getting involved with - and subsequently published by - Image?

Garing: I learned over the years that if you're a complete unknown, getting published based on a cold submission is virtually impossible. You have to give publishers some evidence that there is an audience for your work. The online version of Planetoid accomplished this by generating positive reviews and sales. Ultimately, Ron Richards of Graphicly/iFanboy, who has been a big supporter of the book, showed it to Eric Stephenson and introduced us. All of this went down around the same time as the Image Expo where Planetoid was announced by Eric Stephenson in his keynote speech. The whole thing was pretty surreal.

GM: I'd also love to hear what your work process has been like for working on Planetoid.

Garing: The first issue was done bits at a time over a long period with many revisions, so there was no clear process during that time. These days it's more straight forward. The story has been locked in place for a long time so it's just a matter of breaking it down into sequences and then into pages. My storytelling style is sort of hyper-compressed. I want the content to feel dense but easily readable. I write out the dialog in advance for conversations but there isn't a full written script per se. For layouts, I do rough thumbnails, but a lot of decision making takes place on the actual page. I go from pencil to ink pretty quick and then scan and color many pages at once. I'm managing a page a day right now. Each book is 32 pages, so it's a lot of work.

GM: No kidding!  I imagine that working away at Planetoid is probably taking up a lot of your focus and efforts, but do you have any other projects in mind that you're jonesing to tackle once Planetoid is complete?

Garing: I have another project lined up after Planetoid. I will be working with a writer. It will be announced at the Comic Con, so I can't go into detail yet. I also have a lot more creator owned projects in mind, many of which predate Planetoid. I also have some short story work that I'd like to publish at some point.

GM: Colour me excited.  In lieu of more details, let's move towards some more general stuff.  What's your background? How did you come to be writing and drawing your own comics?

Garing: I always made my own comics as a kid. Eventually I went to art school and then just worked odd jobs while trying to figure out what I wanted to do with comics. I also did some fine art painting and commercial illustration work. I spent many years simply trying to get better at comics and trying to get feedback. For example, over the years I'd show work to Erik Larsen at conventions and always received really constructive criticism from him. I remember showing some Planetoid pages to him early on and he said, "This looks pretty good." He had nothing critical to say. I knew then I was ready to get published.

I've never wanted to be a "penciler" or draw Wolverine or anything like that. I always responded the most to creator owned work. Even as a kid I loved Eastman & Laird's TMNT over most mainstream comics. I've always wanted to make my own comics.

GM: As well, what books, comics, movies, and so forth would you say are really formative for you? In a similar vein, (while you've already mentioned a few), are there any artists or writers that you really look up to?

Garing: Too many to name really. I read a lot of science fiction. I really like Frank Herbert, William Gibson and John Brunner. As for comics; Corben, Moebius and Otomo are my biggest influences. Frank Miller's Ronin was a major revelation to me as a kid. I'm a big fan of Jim Woodring. Also, there's a Japanese artist named Naoki Yamamoto who hasn't had much work translated in English, but I think he's amazing... especially his erotic work. For movies, I'm a big Kubrick fan. The way he frames things and has all these hidden themes in his work is really interesting to me. I also get a lot of inspiration from art history, architecture, photography, etc.

GM: What would you say is the biggest challenge you face when approaching a new project?

Garing: It's a little worrisome to start a project and have to make decisions about the way everything looks because you are sort of locked in after that. Luckily in Planetoid for example, the setting changes in #2 and the character leaves the junkyard area. Five issues of walking in a junkyard would get boring. Also, the robot designs are all different and somewhat organic. I try to avoid having to draw the same thing over and over again.

GM: What do you find most satisfying about the creative process?

Garing: Each step in the process can be enjoyable or frustrating. You are basically just inventing problems for yourself and then solving them. So anytime I find a solution to a particular problem, it feels good. Probably the most satisfying feeling is when I've laid out a page to a certain degree and it goes from being a blank board to a comic book page.

GM: Building on one of my earlier questions on inspirations, I always like to ask people what they're reading right now, so if you have any books / comics / whatever on the go, I'd love to hear about them.

Garing: For books I'm reading Bruce Sterling's Islands in the Net. I like that old cyberpunk stuff. As for comics I'm looking at a lot of Jack Kirby comics. I'm trying to increase my speed and I think confidence is a big part of that. I'm trying to study the way Kirby attacked each page, and trying not to be so precious about everything. Also, I am looking at Serpieri's Druuna a lot recently... great atmosphere in those comics.

GM: All I have left is our the Literary Rorschach Test, where I give you 10 different words and your task is to provide the first thing that comes in to your head for each one. It can be a word or it can be a paragraph or it can be anywhere in between. The choice is yours.

Science Fiction - Forum of ideas
Exploration - Healthy
Mystery - Exploration
Future - Going forward, I think Gramsci said it best, "Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will."
Determination - Important
Industry - Localize it
Home - Sanctuary
Deadline - Can be helpful
Art - Everywhere
The End - Cycle

GM: Thanks for taking the time to do this, Ken.  It's much appreciated.

The second issue of Planetoid should be at your local comic book shop tomorrow!  While you're eagerly waiting for Wednesday to come, you can get yourself up to speed on Planetoid by grabbing a digital copy of the first issue at Graphicly or Comixology!  I'd be hard pressed not to recommend it.

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brandon said...

Excellent interview. His first issue of Planetoid was incredible. I hope to see a lot more from Garing (Planetoid and beyond). He really sounds like he has it all together.

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