gg: OK, so you painted it without holding lines.
aa: Um, yeah, I did the same thing where, with the computer, I printed it out on Bristol and painted in the gouache. So then I had to actually paint to the edges of each shape. When I did the “Fisherman and the Genie” story I actually had a piece of tracing paper taped to the top, and I would paint large areas. And then I would go back with the tracing paper and transfer the marks onto the top of that paint over and over again and I think that that was more time consuming.
gg: Well the fact that you had 40 panels on a page was probably also time-consuming. [Arp laughs.] I was curious: on page three you have these two panels that are scalloped. And I couldn’t quite figure out why. [Groth laughs.]
aa: OK, that’s bad news that you couldn’t figure out why. It’s supposed to be the continuation of her thought balloon. So those two panels aren’t actually happening.
gg: OK, well you can attribute that to my own obtuseness, not your obfuscatory storytelling.
aa: Well, we’ll see.
gg: You must have an affinity for these fables. As far as I can tell you’ve virtually done no stories about modern, contemporary existence. [Laughs.] Why is that?
aa: Well, in my own work I always try to keep it out of any specific time. And even with those Japanese stories that happen supposedly at a particular time, I’m not trying to be historically accurate and I’m trying to keep it so that it’s… ideally there would be no time at all that you could place it in. I’m not sure why I have an aversion to specific times and especially representing contemporary action, but I think it has to do with, well maybe I’m afraid to get into that because I don’t think I would be good at it. But I guess it just doesn’t appeal to me as much. And I try to keep people, the things that they’re wearing to be really neutral and unspecific. I guess a lot of the comics that I read that I feel the most affinity with are like that.
gg: Such as?
aa: Um, well, let’s see, do you know Dave Fremont?
gg: I don’t.
aa: He’s one of my favorite comic artists even though he hasn’t done that much. He was in the Last Gasp anthology. And J. Bradley Johnson. I really like his… but you know they all have this sort of absurdist kind of sensibility that I relate to.
gg: Are you comfortable with contemporary life, expressing contemporary attitudes? I mean some cartoonists…
aa: Like Seth?
gg: Yeah — Seth is a great example — who have an aversion to modernity.
aa: Yeah, no I live in contemporary life and I don’t have a problem with it. I mean I do have a problem with a lot of things in mass culture I guess. But not in… You know, I don’t dress like I’m from a certain era, although my boyfriend would probably say that I’m obsessed with the ’50s or ’60s. [Laughter.] But that’s just aesthetics and it’s not like I’m a purist about anything. There are people who do comics and stories about contemporary life that I really like a lot, but it’s not something that I feel drawn to do myself.
gg: [Laughter.] Let me skip back and ask you some questions about the Oki Islands story. This was based on a story you read?
aa: Yeah, I read it in a couple of different places.
gg: Was it told differently in the different places?
aa: Yeah, yeah.
gg: How do you go about adapting it?
aa: I go through about three or four drafts before I start the actual pencils. And so the first stages are really messy, and I try, like sometimes I’ll be reading the story and one particular passage will inspire me and then I’ll just write, I’ll draw a couple boxes and write just that section. And I tend to do a lot of word balloons on a page with nothing else.
gg: I haven’t read the original story, but it seems you must have taken a lot of liberties because there’s a very modern spin to the dialogue, which I assume is a very deliberate choice.
aa: Yeah, well, that’s part of what I was saying about trying to keep it out of any specific time. I try to mix in different languages from different periods of time and hopefully it’s not going to come off as something where it’s like “Oh, I’m making this funny by putting modern dialogue in an old story,” you know. I’m trying to be a little more subtle than that. But yeah, I guess I’m also concerned about not keeping too close to any one version of the story, because I don’t want to plagiarize.
gg: How do you see your comics and cartooning evolving, where do you see it going?
aa: Well, I definitely want to write some more of my own stories; there are a few that I’ve been working on that aren’t really going anywhere. And I feel like part of why I’m doing so many adaptations is that I’m trying to learn from them. And there’s one, when I was doing all the research for these stories, there was one character in particular from Japanese mythology that I really wanted to do a story about. But there’s not really a story about him that’s tell-able. You know, he just prances along or whatever, so at some point I was like “Oh, well I could make up my own story about him,” so that’s something that I would like to do. I’ll see if that happens.
More books featuring Andrice Arp (click covers for complete product details)