Monday, February 13, 2012

Creator Interview: Jeremy Whitley, Founder of Firetower Studios

While you are waiting for the next episode to be posted, we thought we'd share this interview we did with Jeremy Whitley. He was able to take time out from his busy schedule of writing five web comics for Firetower Studios, Princeless and his day job to answer a few questions. Even after the Indie Spotlight episode is posted, we plan on doing more interviews with each of the Firetower creators over the next few weeks.

CBotMP: Jeremy, what is your comics origin story? (what got you into sequential art to begin with?)

JEREMY WHITLEY: My dad got me into comics when I was a kid and we had a great comic store just down the street from us in Livermore CA.  When we moved to North Carolina I didn't have a local shop and kind of lost touch with comics.  However, in that time I ended up going to college for English and Creative Writing.  A few years after graduating I discovered comics again thanks to Joss Whedon and his Astonishing X-Men.  Before I knew it, I was spending $40 a month on comic books and borrowing trades and graphic novels.  Eventually I decided that there was an idea I had for a story that I really wanted to see in comic book form, so all that was left was to find an illustrator.  So I did what any serious writer would do...I posted an ad on craigslist.

CBotMP: And did you have much success?

JW: Well, Charlie Harper answered that Craigslist ad and invited me up to the local coffee shop where he had an art meetup so that we could discuss the project.  I decided to stick around and met another artist named Jason Strutz.  A lot of things happened, but a few months later we were sitting around a table in Barnes & Noble discussing officially forming a studio.

CBotMP: I can see it's grown quite a bit since then. How did the other creators become involved? 

JW: Well, Alicia & I met a long time ago in an English class.  If you read Hot Interracial Marriage, that first arc is more or less true to life.
   As for Rich, a year and a half ago we were at an outdoor festival in Raleigh with our tent full of comic books.  We were approached by this snappily dressed man who said, "Aw man, I always wanted to do what you guys are doing...and you're doing it.  That's so cool."  We invited him to come to our weekly drawing/writing meetups and he brought some ideas he was working on.  When we started talking about doing webcomics we were looking for more artists to contribute and his name immediately came up.

CBotMP: Rich's work is excellent. Switching direction over to the medium itself, why did you decide on webcomics?

JW: We've been working on print comics for what feels like so long...and it's such a long game.  Being an indy publisher and having real full time jobs, we were forced to disappear for months between issues.  Having a creative output where we get to tell stories, get them where people can see them immediately, and not have to spend money we don't have on printing is a huge plus for us.  Not to mention, we can tell stories like Werewolf D.A., which at times just feels to crazy to exist in a printed form.

CBotMP: You're not kidding. Firetower Studios "flagship book" is The Order of DagonetWhere did the idea come from?

JW: During one of those first artist meetups Jason brought a portfolio of some of his paintings.  I found one of Titania and Bottom that reminded me of an idea I had for having modern knights do battle with actual mythological creatures.  I went home that night and wrote a script for a first issue.  I brought it to the meetup the next week and not so subtly asked Jason to read it.  After reading and chuckling, he asked how I'd feel about him taking a crack at illustrating it.  I, of course, was thrilled with the idea.

CBotMP: How much research was done for Dagonet?

JW: A few hours of direct research into trying to find good candidates for the order and learning about obscure English royalty.  Most of the rest is from memory.  I've read a lot of fantasy and I was an English major in college, so it's largely made up of things I already knew. 

CBotMP: Where do the characters come from? Are they amalgams of people you know?

JW: Well, most of them are amalgams of real people who are actual knights.  Well, amalgams may actually be putting it kindly in the cases of Dizzy and Emerald particularly.  Tottington is a little bit of Ian McKellen and a little bit of Peter O'Toole. Everyman is...well, he's a rather cynically minded Neil Gaiman to be frank.  The only truly original characters are LaVerne and my faeries.  All three of them are bits and pieces of people I know and love.

CBotMP: Each one of the web comics has a very distinct style and feel. Yet they are all written by you. Do you try and write for your artists, or do they have a rather strong say in the creative process?

JW: A little bit of both.  A lot of what I do in Faerie Sisters garners its inspiration from what Jason has done in the book.  The style and format is all him and the goofy faerie girls are all me.  Alicia is co-writer on Hot Interracial Marriage, so quite often she decides what story she wants to tell and suggests it to me.  Usually I just specialize in the formatting (and I wrote most of the first arc, which is all true by the way).  Rich and Charlie have the least to do with what I wrote, as I really started writing those strips before we had officially started the webcomics, but both of them have made the art their own in ways that are impossible to underestimate.  Charlie likes to challenge himself to do neat tricks with panel formatting and storytelling.  Rich, however, just bleeds art onto the page.  I couldn't have chosen a better style for the primal nature of these pages.

CBotMP: How far ahead are these stories mapped out?

JW: Am I supposed to map them out ahead of time?  That's only kind of a joke.  I had a huge lead on everyone when we started this thing, but while I've been paying attention to Princeless stuff, that has quickly evaporated.  I really need a vacation so I can get some work done. 

CBotMP: Any teasers you would like to tell our audience about future story lines?

JW: Well, Faerie Sisters is into its second storyline now and is going to continue to be wacky in the upcoming "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" story.  Werewolf D.A. is headed inside the courtroom, as Maya is about to find out she's not the only legal professional with a few supernatural tricks up her sleeve.  Ennui of the Dead is just going to go plain crazy with a little WWII action, some True Blood inspired naughtiness, and more examples of immortals having absolutely no sense of responsibility. 

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