In Part 1 of our interview (found here) Willow Dawson talked about her work schedule, her audience and female interest in comic books.
In Part 2, she talks about the collaborative process between writer and artist, the push and pull relationship between mankind and nature and her current on-line semi autobiographical graphic novel, 100 Mile House, excerpts of which can be found at Top Shelf 2.0 (www.topshelfcomix.com).
JP: Do you find there’s a difference drawing someone else’s text for an illustrated book like No Girls Allowed compared to a story or comic that you write yourself?
Dawson: There’s certainly a difference. I enjoy both processes pretty much equally. When I work with somebody else there’s certainly a lot going back and forth with the writing and dialogue components and fixing them along the way so there’s communication that has to happen.
When I work on my own, in my head I have visuals for most of the book in place so when it comes to drawing it I don’t have to sit and really think about things, whereas when I’m working on a script written by somebody else, I certainly have to. It takes a few tries going over it a bunch of times and thinking about: Ok. How does this panel, you know, should it be next to this one? Is it going to work if it’s in this order or, if it’s on this page? Maybe I should move this last one to the next page and make it a full page? I guess it’s a little more work when I work on somebody else’s in the visual sense but then, in terms of overall, it would be more work for me when I’m on my own.
I love collaborating with other people and working on their ideas and hearing their thoughts and once I’ve done a rough, finding out what they think about them and where they say ” that’s not at all what I had in mind for that panel! You know, this is what I meant when I said that!” (Laughs.)
JP: It’s a nice surprise, huh?
Dawson: Yeah! It’s really nice working with other people and certainly Susan (Hughes, author of No Girls Allowed) was amazing to work with – she was awesome.
In book publishing, you don’t generally meet the author at all during the process. You’re doing everything through your editor and we did do everything through our editor. However, at the very beginning, there was a meeting where I met her and we discussed the book in quite a bit of detail in terms of the visuals and different aspects of what it was she wanted with it. She was just great. If I was: “Oh, I’m not so sure about this. Could we put an extra panel in here?” She was amazing. She say “Oh wow, yeah!”
The beauty of it is that it’s a collaborative process and it’s really nice bringing two or more minds together.
And then there’s your editor. My editor at Kids Can is amazing and I always love the feedback I get from her.
JP: It’s a good relationship then.
Dawson: It’s a very good relationship. In fact she just edited my manuscript and I’ve finished the next round of edits on it but when she sent it to me she said: “I hope it’s ok, there’s a lot of stuff…” and I looked at it and I said: “What? I love this!”
JP: I suppose you have to get over the “preciousness” aspect of it, especially when you’re working with other people constantly?
Dawson: Exactly. You have to. If you don’t and if it’s too precious then you’re just not a good collaborator and they’re just not going to want to work with you.
JP: What kinds of stories do you find yourself either writing, drawing or gravitating towards? The reason I ask is because nature is a really large component in your work whether it’s your comics or your acrylic work. What influence did your time spent out west in B.C. bring to your life here in downtown Toronto?
Dawson: Nature has been a huge part of my life and certainly with the cabin that we had at Hundred Mile House growing up. And my Dad is very – if he could just live in the woods and be a woodsman for the rest of his life, I know he would jump at the chance. Having been brought up under him, that was something that I learned was very precious and very important and became very important in my life very early on. I’ve always loved, as a kid, playing with bugs and playing in mud and the sand and the ocean.
JP: You can totally see that in your work!
Dawson: Yeah! (Laughs.) I’m a tomboy at heart! It’s very important and I think that, I’m also really interested in the idea of how the city and nature sort of collide and the sort of push and pull between the two – we’re always trying to control nature but nature eventually will win over. It’s not possible to control it. And now we’re seeing all these crazy natural disasters happening and you have to wonder: what is that?
JP: I just look at it and say there’s going to be a comeuppance at some point in time for somebody. Probably us.
Dawson: (Laughs.) I was with my husband the other day and we were driving down one of the smaller highways. There was all this garbage down the side of the road. I guess it must have been garbage day pick up or something. There’s all these mattresses and dresses and all kinds of stuff just blowing everywhere. I thought: you know, this is what the world is going to look like when there aren’t any humans and all their crap is going to be all over the place and then slowly but surely all the vines are going to creep up over top.
JP: They’re going to fossilize all that furniture.
Dawson: Exactly! And then, in billions of years, there’s going to be some other species that’s going to dig down and say “My God! What the heck is all this stuff?”
JP: And then put it in a museum.
Dawson: Yeah! Totally!
JP: You’re currently working on an on-line comic book called 100 Mile House for Top Shelf. It’s somewhat biographical. Tell me a little about that. How did that project come about?
Dawson: I’ve wanted to do something autobiographical for a while but I had been struggling in terms of the direction that it should take. Then it kind of came to me that, just in terms of my relationship with my father and my relationship with nature and how the two of them are very similar and how much he’s inspired me. That’s a part of it. Also, when I was a kid, I had really bad asthma, so that’s kind of what I want to sort of speak to ultimately. It’s been difficult figuring what would make a good vehicle for that story to come out. So this is kind of what came out of that.
Also, my husband and I have been talking about buying a piece of land in the next few years and so my memories of Hundred Mile House have been coming back to me a little bit more. I guess they’re at the forefront of my mind and my Dad is very far away and I miss him.
My husband is a musician so he has recording equipment and he began recording me telling these stories to him and then I took those and I listened to them for quite a while and then began to build a script with the various chapters.
I also found out that there’s this woman who got in touch with my father. Apparently, she owns the land and the cabin now. When my parents sold they sold to developers. It wasn’t just the idea of selling, it was the idea they would also log the land and develop it into something that is man made and not natural anymore. So, anyway, she got in contact with my Dad and told him that she owns the cabin now. We thought it would just have been bulldozed – very devastating at the time. She said, you know, you’re welcome to come up and check it out at anytime.
I’m planning in the next year to make a call to her and see if that offer is still valid and see if whether she owns it or somebody else. I’d like to go and check it out.
JP: That’s a good story!
Dawson: Yeah. I’d like to go with my Dad so that we’d drive up there together and then drive back and we’d just record our reactions to things. When I was young, it took us eight to ten hours to get there. There’s a new highway now which apparently is faster. In terms of the town – when we left, when I was young, there was nothing there. There were very few restaurants or building or anything like that. Literally, I think there was a building supply store, a grocery store, there may have been a Sears outlet or something but, you know, a couple of restaurants and maybe a couple of hotels but that was pretty much it. There was very little there in terms of retail or anything like that. When we were leaving, I remember they were putting up a McDonalds. I remember seeing the signage. And a strip mall as well and at that point I remember thinking “oh my God,” and just coming to the realization that that area was changing.
Now when I look back on that, I think that at the time I just wanted to resist all of that stuff. I didn’t want us to sell the land. What I would have loved was to have just been able to keep going there and for the town to not have a McDonald’s and to not have a strip mall. Now when I think about it, it’s kind of the way the world progresses and it’s sad in a lot of ways.
I think it’s really sad but it would be interesting to see how that’s changed in terms of the area.
JP: When was the last time you were out that way?
Dawson: Oh God! When I was twelve or eleven.
JP: It’s been a while.
Dawson: Yeah. It’s been twenty-two years or something like that. Twenty-three years.
JP: Since 100 Mile House is currently an on-line initiative, how is working on-line as opposed to working on hard-copy, tangible comics? Does the audience change? Does your style change at all?
Dawson: I’m sure the audience changes. I’m very new to this whole world of web comics so I can’t speak from experience on it and I haven’t actually asked Top Shelf whether they are able to see any kind of readership on the various pages. Certainly, it has a wider reach, which is nice. And it’s free, which is also nice.
I resisted anything digital for the longest time but I’ve since changed my mind. I think I’m fully embracing it!
It’s the way of the future but I also really love print. I really love having that book to hold, to sell, for people to take and keep forever and put on their bookshelves – or maybe they hand it off to a used bookstore if they don’t like it but eventually that book will find its way to someone who really treasures it.
Thanks to Willow Dawson for her time with Biff Bam Pop! You can catch her next at Toronto’s Word on the Street on September 26. For updates or to see more of Willow Dawson’s work, visit her website at www.willowdawson.com