gg: Tell me a little about your working method: how do you sit down and plan a strip? Do you write the entire thing first?
th: Yeah, I write the entire thing first. It goes back to my method when I was songwriting. I make it like an assignment. It’s not like something where I wait for inspiration to arrive, I just sit there and methodically try to put it together. Once it’s all written, I put it into thumbnails, and then I letter the whole thing, and then I jump around, usually, in different parts of it. Now, with Gropius, I wrote out the entire story, 53 pages, so it’s already written, and I’ve also lettered the whole thing, and I’m just taking the pages down as I work on it, just filling in the boxes.
gg: When you work on the composition of each panel, do you work directly on the board? Or do you play with it on overlays, or — ?
th: Oh no, not at all. I have a real simple thumbnail of what it is I’m working on, and usually I try to… Sometimes I draw the figures in first or sometimes I plot the perspective and put the figures in after. A lot of times, there always seems like things I need to refer to, like do a Google image search of a dumpster, I had to do that the other day. Or something to root it in reality, I guess.
gg: You changed from art to being an English major in college, so I assume you’re something of a reader. Who are your favorite writers?
th: Whoo, boy.
gg: Or who are the writers you feel most of an affinity for in terms of style and language?
th: Gee, I don’t know. That sort of puts me on the spot, I don’t know. [Groth laughs.] My favorite books, or something like that? In college, Dickinson and Poe were favorites, but nowadays I find myself reading naturalists like Theodore Dreiser, who’s also from Indiana.
gg: Your own writing is as far away from Theodore Dreiser as one can imagine.
th: Well, I mean, to be honest, I think when you’re asking about the language stuff, I think it’s that my sister has a learning disability — she could also be described as borderline mentally retarded, although that’s not the terminology in favor — and takes medication to stop her from hearing voices. She’ll say words like “o-beast” instead of “obese” and doesn’t know what World War II is. I maybe could have gone the route of becoming an autobiographical cartoonist and become a spokesperson/advocate type, but I prefer to use my affinity to simply drop people into a parallel kind of confusion that is second nature to me by now. And when you’re asking about my experiences in school, I had a problem that I didn’t realize at that time. My attitude towards learning, how words are put together, things that are considered irrational, was different.
gg: That makes sense. I think your whole approach to language is inspired.
th: It’s something that I feel that the comics that I do, the language part I feel more comfortable in than I do the drawing. The drawing is a real struggle for me. I feel that the actual storytelling, the panel-to-panel type stuff, I can get OK, but the actual solving drawing problems is where I really struggle. How do you draw a curved staircase, that kind of thing.
gg: Well, I have to say I think the images and the your particular use of language go together perfectly, like they do in the best cartooning, I think.
th: Oh, thank you. I think there are other cartoonists who don’t work from a script. The thing is, like in the Jillian story that I just turned in, if you read through it, it’s kind of like a dialogue, and it was written that way, and the thing I added to it when I was drawing is all the business with the hot dog and the caviar. It wasn’t something that I put in a thumbnail. I hope as I’m working on it that I can come up with these kind of sight gags that I can throw in. I’m hoping that that will make it less dry. I think other artists just start in with a piece of paper, and I’m sort of the opposite of that.