Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Fireside Chat with Paul Allor of Strange Nation

Paul Allor has been quietly carving out a place for himself in the comic book industry as a writer of lean, punchy comics that leave a strong impression with the reader.  He's been working on lots of projects, and  his latest book, Strange Nation, done with artist Juan Romera, is being published through Monkeybrain Comics on Comixology today with issue #1!  In preparation for the launch, he was kind enough to sit down with The Weekly Crisis to talk Strange Nation, conspiracies, and lots more.  Pull up something comfy and join us on the other side.

Paul Allor has already racked up an impressive writing resume, releasing his own self-published collection of short stories called Clockwork, dropping the most excellent Orc Girl on Challenger Comics, as well as some previous and upcoming work with IDW.  A man of many talents, he also works hard as a letterer and editor.

Grant McLaughlin: Let’s start simple. How are you doing today?

Paul Allor: I just got back from an awesome weekend at NYCC, so I’m doing okay.

GM: Where did the idea for Strange Nation come from?

Allor: Tough to remember, exactly. It’s been a couple of years. I wanted to do a story about journalism, about the search for truth, about standing up to power. And as I tossed some ideas around it developed into this story. Then artist Juan Romera came in and just brought it to a whole other level. 

GM: How would you describe Strange Nation to readers unfamiliar with the premise? What kind of story is this in your estimation?

Allor: Strange Nation is about a newspaper reporter named Norma Park, who uncovers a vast conspiracy involving aliens, sasquatch and other tabloid legends. She’s forced out of a promising career in journalism, and the only job she can find is at Strange Nation, a supermarket tabloid. But she continues her investigation, undeterred.

What kind of story is it? I hope it’s a good one. Other people will have to decide.

GM: Why the focus on the supernatural, conspiracy theories, and urban legends? What is it about these topics appeals to you and why did you want to centre a comic book around them?

Allor: I like the idea of things that exist in our world, but just outside our view. Things that are hidden from us, operating largely in the shadows. And then Norma Park walks into the room with a flashlight.

GM: The first issue has a couple of well-known examples featured throughout (and a few cameos here and there in the background). Are there any conspiracies or creatures that you really want to work into the story down the line?

Allor: Yes.

GM: How very mysterious of you!  If you won't share detalis of what's to come, how about you tell us about our protagonist, Norma Park. Who is she? What makes her tick? What is her favourite food?

Allor: Norma is great. She’s smart, stubborn and a bit angry at the world. She has problems with authority, including her own parents. She’s fiercely loyal to her friends, and incredibly impatient with anyone who gets in her way. So she’s worked to funnel this anger and sense of rebellion into her investigation of this bizarre conspiracy she’s uncovered. 

Her favorite food is nachos.

GM: Where did the investigative journalist angle come from? Was it there from the beginning in a symbolic searching for truth match to all the secrecy and mystery inherent in the comic itself or did it emerge while you developed the concept?

Allor: I’m a former journalist. It definitely started with the journalism and went from there. That was the kernel.

GM: On that note, will we be seeing more of Strange Nation itself? Is there a larger role for the paper in the issues to come?

GM:  Yup. Starting in issue #2.

GM: How long will Strange Nation be running for? Is this an ongoing story or is there a finite end point already picked out?

Allor: At least eight issues, though Juan and I have a story that goes much longer (but still has a definite end). We’ll have to see how folks react. 

GM: How did you encounter series artist Juan Romera and what does he bring to the project?

Allor: Juan answered one of several ads I put out, when I was looking for artists for Clockwork, my first book (Clockwork, a collection of five-page comic shorts written by me and drawn by different artists). I enjoyed working with him and loved his work, so I knew I definitely wanted to work with him again. When this story came up, I knew he’d be perfect for it. Juan is so good at nailing both big, weird, exciting moments, and small emotional beats. He’s doing fantastic work on this book.

GM: What’s your background? How did you come to be writing comics?

Allor: As I said, I used to be a journalist. My current day job is in economic development for a municipal government. When I was 28, a co-worker, who knew I was a big Joss Whedon fan, bought me a copy of the first Astonishing X-Men trade from Whedon and John Cassaday’s run. I fell in love with the medium, and it went from there.

GM: That's awesome! What is it about comics that excites you most? Or put another way, with so many ways to write, why are comics the one that you keep coming back to?

Allor: Limitless storytelling possibility, in a very structured format. That’s certainly not the only thing that appeals to me, but it’s a good start.

GM: What is your writing process like? Do you have a particular method or approach that you turn to every time or is it more chaotic than that?

Allor: Way, way more chaotic. My process depends on what the project needs. 

GM: I know that you also letter your comics. What motivated you to learn lettering? Does it impact your writing process? If so, how?

Allor: I was motivated by a desire to save money. And yes, it’s definitely had an impact. I think lettering my own comics has taught me a lot about dialogue, about economy of words, about pacing. It’s been great for my writing.

GM: Similarly, you’ve also edited quite a few comics. How did you start doing that? Again, has editing informed your writing (conversely, has writing informed you editing)?

Allor: It was a natural offshoot of my involvement in Comics Experience, and the friendships I’ve made there with fellow creators. And yeah, it’s definitely helped, insofar that analyzing other people’s scripts goes a long way towards helping you develop your own ideas about strong storytelling and the writing craft.

GM: Additionally, I know that you’re currently editing Ed Brisson and Johnnie Christmas’ Sheltered. What is your role in the book’s creation process?

Allor: Ed, Johnnie and colorist Shari Chankhamma rock it, and I check for comma usage. With such
talented creators, the editing duties are quite minimal on that book.

GM: Fair enough!  Generally speaking, what would you say are some of your big influences?

Allor: Just a few off the top of my head would be C.K. Williams, John Updike, Gillian Welch, Patricia Highsmith, Margaret Atwood, Tift Merrit, Jeffrey Eugenides, Ann Patchett, Okkervil River – ask me tomorrow and you’ll get a different list.

GM: As we zero in on the end of the interview, do you have any other projects on the horizon that you’d want to draw reader attention to?

Allor: I have an issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles coming out in November, focusing on the character of Shredder. It’s TMNT Micro-Series #8. I also have a short in Dynamite’s Pathfinder: Goblins #5 book. And some other stuff in January, so watch the solicitations for more.

GM: All that’s left is our Literary Rorschach Test. I have ten words for you and your job is to respond with the first thing that comes to mind – it can be anything from a word to a full blown paragraph. The choice is yours. Ready?

Cults – Go
Science – Order
Belief – Strange
Discovery – Nation
Truth – On
Conspiracy – Comixology 
Collaboration – Right
New – Now
Practice – Okay
The End – Everyone?

GM: Thanks so much for your time, Paul.

Strange Nation is available on digital comic book stands today. You can grab it from Comixology. If wide spanning conspiracies, the search for truth, and sasquatch sound like something that might be up your alley, then you should definitely give the book a look!

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