Hello Mixed-Up Filers,
Wow, you have me three times this month! How I envy you! Well, we are in for a treat today! We have the authors of the new graphic novel series from Simon & Schuster, Barb the Last Berzerker, by Dan Abdo and Jason Patterson.
JR: Thanks for joining us over at Mixed-Up Files!
Dan: Thank you so much for having us! It’s an honor!
Jason: Thank you so much!
JR: I was fortunate enough to have a chance to read Barb the Last Berzerker already, and found it to be so much fun! For those who don’t know, can you tell us a little bit about the book and where the idea for Barb came from?
Dan : Sure. Jason and I are writers, cartoonists, and animators. We were bouncing ideas off each other over sandwiches in Manhattan. We are huge fans of orcs, dragons, magic swords, and all things dorky. We knew we wanted to come up with an adventure story and we also knew we wanted to design a hero that our kids could look at and see themselves in. A real hero who did the right thing, even when doing the right thing is hard. Especially when it’s hard.
Jason: I think we were both in a place in our lives where we were creatively a bit frustrated. We hear the word no a lot! And so Barb is kind of this champion who never takes no for an answer. She never gives up! She really inspired us. It’s funny to say but we really do think of her as a real person. The more we got to know her, the world of Balliwick just kept unfolding in front of us in a really exciting and organic way. It felt more like a place we discovered rather than a place we created. Side note: Are italics kind of annoying? I can’t tell.
JR: They don’t bother me at all! There is a lot of humor in the book, as well as some more touching moments. How difficult is it to strike the right balance?
Jason: I think in all fiction, but especially fantasy, you have to really ground the reader. Action is a blast, but unless there is a real emotional story underneath, things can start to feel flat. Barb’s backstory was a really important element to get right.
Dan : Barb’s backstory and her relationship with her mom is one of things that makes Barb real. The comedy just flows out of these characters and the crazy predicaments that Barb and her pal Porkchop find themselves in. I grew up in a household with a single mom, and had never really seen an honest and fun relationship between a kid and a single parent portrayed in a fantasy adventure story. Barb’s relationship with her mom is rich and complex and gives us lots of places to go as writers and cartoonists.
JR: When reading the book, I doubt that this was in your minds, but I got a kind of Groo by Sergio Aragones vibe from it. Were you fans? Who were some of your influences?
Dan : We LOVE Groo! Sergio Aragonés is a genius cartoonist and we’re huge fans. I have always loved comics and cartoons that can really mix adventure and comedy. Teenage mutant Ninja Turtles has been a huge influence on me my whole life. The Scrooge McDuck comics and the Ducktales cartoon are also reference points I always go back too. Jason and I are always chatting about film and TV too. I think we’ve learned a lot about story telling by deconstructing some of our favorite films, like
Jason: Totally! Groo meets Conan! I think that could be the elevator pitch. Going over to Dan’s house after school and reading comics together was always such a blast. We would both just sit on the floor and get lost for hours. I remember one time in particular when Dan was super excited about a TMNT storyline where there was a dinosaur from the future. It was such a wacky idea but still totally worked in the world. It was so rad!
Dan : Triceratons rule!
JR: I could write a thesis about how much I love Duck Tales! The two of you have been friends since high school. What’s it like to work with your friend?
Dan : It’s a never ending nightmare I can’t wake up from.
Jason: Ha! I think Dan is joking. (God what if he’s not. This would be an amazing place to find that out. ) The best part is that we are in this together. It’s hard to make a comic. (probably not quite as hard as Barb defeating Witch Head, but close) What makes it easier is that as I sweat over my pages I know Dan is sweating over his pages too. When one of us starts taking this too seriously (usually me) the other one (usually Dan) can offer some perspective, we get to make comics everyday!
JR: Funny, I also like to tell my friends what I think that they’re doing wrong. What is your process like, and are there ever any disagreements over your projects?
Dan: We write and draw and do everything together. In all honesty, I feel super lucky to have a creative partner who is so talented and so fun to work with. I feel like I’m always running to keep up with Jason’s drawings and writing which makes me a better artist. Jason has one of the funniest and most twisted senses of humor I’ve ever encountered and I am constantly in stitches. We never really have huge disagreements.
Jason: That’s not true Dan, we do argue about stuff.
Dan: No we don’t!
Jason: Yes we do! Side note: Dan is an amazing story teller and artist, I have to run to keep up with him! I think his brain never stops.
JR: You’ve been responsible for projects in TV, movies, comics, and now graphic novels. What are the differences/pros and cons in each of these formats, and which do you prefer?
Dan: Right now we are all in on comics. It’s so great to be able to make something start to finish, with just a few people. One of the most frustrating parts of television and film development is that you can work for years on a project, and then in the blink of an eye it can go away. You can be left with literally nothing to show for it. Where in graphic novels there will always be a book, a physical thing, that you can hold. And the experience of reading a book is so exciting, so laugh inducing, and often more intimate and personal than watching something. We love film and TV, but dang comics are just so rad I can’t praise the art form enough.
Jason: Totally. It’s such a fun medium. Literally every part about making comics is fun. The writing, the first pass of thumbs, adding color, even answering questions about making comics is fun!
JR: When you do projects for TV/movies, how much autonomy do you have, as opposed to when you work on your graphic novels and can decide everything for yourselves?
Dan : Every project is a little different, but generally you have much less autonomy in TV/film. TV/Film is such a collaborative process, which is part of what’s amazing about it, but also there can be so many cooks in the kitchen that often all the edges get rounded off, and things become homogenized. Lots of metaphors there, but you get the idea.
Jason: With comics you can make changes up until the last second, which is so great. It gives the story a much more spontaneous and I think natural feeling. Like Improv Jazz . Animation has its own set of wonderful attributes, but you really can’t make changes once you lock picture. It’s just a much bigger boat and takes so much longer to change direction. Oops, switched metaphors there… I mean animation is more like a thirty piece orchestra.
JR: What are you working on next, and also, what’s next for Barb?
Dan : We have a graphic novel series called Blue, Barry, & Pancakes out with First Second books. It’s very different from Barb — these are super fun, surreal, stories of friendship between Blue a worm, Barry a frog, and Pancakes, a big fuzzy rabbit. They are aimed at a younger reader and are chock full of comedy, adventure, and heart!
Jason: Barb is definitely going to three books. We just wrapped the second book this week called “Barb and the legend of the Ghost Blade.” We will take a few minutes off…then it’s onto MORE COMICS!
JR: Thank you so much for joining us, and best of luck to Barb the Last Berzerker!
Dan and Jason: Thank you so much for hosting us and posing such thoughtful questions. We can’t wait to chat with you again! Cheers!
Well, that’s it for this time, Mixed-Up Filers! Hope you enjoyed, and make sure you go out and get Barb the Last Berzerker!