Interview with Tales of the Night Watchman’s Artist, Lara Antal
Lara Antal is a talented artist for a new, self-published, comic series called Tales of the Night Watchman, the first issue of which has recently been reviewed here on Comics Forge and received a rave review! Although only one issue has been released thus far, within it’s bounds is a clearly unique and grand story (written by Dave Kelly), one which is so pleasantly accompanied by Lara’s terrific, black and white art. Of course, with all the awesome it has already proven to be, I couldn’t pass up the chance to hear what she has to say about Tales of the Night Watchman and what it’s like to be an indie creator.
1) Lara, at what point in your life did you decide comic book artistry was something you wanted to achieve? How far along do you plan to see this career go over these next few years?
The decision to actively pursue comics has only come about in the last year. I’ve always been making comics, but it was a secret passion I hid while I pursued an education in Interdisciplinary Art and Art History. I graduated from MICA almost two years ago and came to New York with very different career aspirations. I tried my hand at a diverse array of professions: I managed an “outdoor-object” design studio, archived film & print collections, assisted a conceptual artist in her studio, and took up various, even odder, jobs. All the while I worked part-time at a coffee shop. However, none of these positions amounted to much in the long-term. It wasn’t until Dave approached me about collaborating on a comic did I see the possibilities in my secret art. I’ve since redefined my goals and consider comic-making a lifestyle; both my career and passion.
I have big dreams for my comic work, but I know I can handle the doldrums of the day-to-day if I’m doing something I’m inherently excited about. I’m flexible to what the future holds but am content to keep plugging away until it’s here!
2) You have found a very unique and distinct art style, especially in the newer pages of issue #1 (8 and on), what artists have inspired you? Who are your favourites currently working in the comic industry?
Yeah, my personal style continues to evolve the more I do this. Like any artist, I strive to create pictures that work better, and are more engaging and dynamic, than reality. And obviously, I strive to get better and better with each page.
As far as influences, I spent a lot of childhood copying my favorite Toonami cartoon shows. Sailor Moon was especially influential and it got me into reading comics. I also spent a lot of time observing forms in the real world and can remember stealing my mother’s cosmetic mirror in order to study facial expressions.
Only since college have I been critically reading comics, so I’m constantly discovering the medium’s masters and contemporaries. My current inspirations are Craig Thompson, Fabio Moon & Gabriel Ba, Ray Jones, Angie Wang, and the amazing Helen Jo. I really admire the expressive and bold ways they utilize their tools. They make the whole process look effortless!
3) What is your opinion in regards to digital comics? Good or bad? Do you think that this opinion will change in any way once Tales of The Night Watchman #1 hits the digital shelf?
Dave and I have similar opinions on this. We love the tactile and organic quality of holding a printed comic book in hand. We love discussing paper stocks and the fresh smell of a comic book when you open it up for the first time. There’s something beautiful about that. We take pride in producing it that way because we like the end quality and try to hold ourselves to professional standards. However, at the end of the day, I’m more concerned about my work being accessible to anyone interested in reading it.
Going digital will allow us to reach more people. We feel the nature of our storytelling is flexible enough to be translated into digital. We really just want support and readership, and whatever form is most comfortable for our readers is fine with us. But we do also hope that if fans really like us they will someday buy a hardcopy of an issue, a poster, or a mini-comic too!
4) What inspired you to create this comic? And why was Dave the obvious choice as your co-conspirator?
Dave was the real impetus for the collaboration. Our relationship began casually over a common interest in horror films. Our first date ended romantically with the Christmas episode of Tales from the Crypt. As we got to know each other better, we learned of each other’s passions. Much to our jaded surprise, we felt a mutual respect for one another’s talent. So much so, that when Dave proposed the idea of collaborating on a comic book, I felt it was a compelling offer.
Both our relationship and our project have grown more meaningful as time goes on, and we now function intuitively as a team. Dave’s background in film production gives him a bird’s-eye view of the project; he’s very orderly, keeps us on schedule, and is great at handling the business stuff. Honestly, I need someone like him to kick me in the butt and keep me on track. I provide a different type of energy, the necessary chaos if you will. My job is to interpret Dave’s script, to visualize the subtleties and eccentrics of our characters and environments. His writing is very clean and clever, so it’s very fun to play with such good material. And we both don’t just stick to our team roles: Dave has often drawn for me some pretty awesome-looking interpretations of scenes, and I have added my fair share of prompts and puns to the narrative.
5) How would you describe Tales of the Night Watchman? (Both artistically and story wise)
Nora dreams of being a legitimate journalist and keeps up a blog on gender issues in the media. Charlie on the other hand leaves his host body to become The Night Watchman, defender of the Five Boroughs from phantom beings known as beyonders. His origins are hazy, save for one vivid memory, but he is moved forward by a sense of right and wrong and a desire to do good. They’re best friends but you wouldn’t know it by the way they bicker. They both struggle to help their city by their own means. Unfortunately, sometimes this just means making a latte quickly.
As sinister murders start unfolding in Brooklyn, both Nora and The Night Watchman will be called to duty by the most paramount and dangerous of forces.
One recurring theme is that things are never as they seem. We establish this by flipping different moralities on their heads. Both “good” and “bad” characters in TotNWM act according to their own ethics but often will find their perception of the world is counter to reality. Another theme is to always expect the unexpected. This is relevant to our experience in New York; madness lurks around every corner. Sometimes you ask yourself in a superhero story, “wouldn’t the by-standers be weirded out by this?” If you’ve lived here long enough, you know the answer would be “no.”
Artistically, I’ve tried to make the line work clean but still expressive. There are a lot of detailed environments and backgrounds, which is a new challenge for me, and are there to set up the otherwise “real world” that they inhabit. We like the handmade quality that we achieved in Issue One but are constantly trying to improve the clarity of these elements. We also have fun experimenting with layouts. Issue Two promises to have some more surreal and ghastly scenes that provide a glimpse into the Dead World, the homeland of The Night Watchman’s spirit. I’m really looking forward to that stuff.
6) Is there anywhere else you plan to showcase and sell Tales of the Night Watchman? Will you be visiting any cons or expos to promote the work?
We currently sell Issue One at six stores in three different states: Astrokitty Comics (Lawrence, KS), Bergen Street Comics (Brooklyn, NY), Chicago Comics (Chicago, IL), Desert Island (Brooklyn, NY), Jim Hanley’s Universe (New York, NY), and Quimby’s (Chicago, IL).
It’s also available digitally for iPad, iPhone, and Android devices via Lush Comics (www.lushcomics.com). And of course, you can buy Issue One,Walking into Traffic, and all miscellaneous swag from our website, www.talesofthenightwatchman.com.
We’ve got a few festival appearances on the horizon as well: We will be tabling at Baltimore Comic-Con on September 8th& 9thand Brooklyn Comics & Graphics Festival on November 10th. We will be hanging out at SPX so if you’d like to say hi, you can catch us there as well.
7) What challenges have you and Dave faced as indie creators? Do you have any advice for up-and-comers on what to avoid and how to get started in the industry?
One challenge we’ve faced is labeling. Our comic comes in standard comic size, involves a superhero, BUT also tells a very relevant, human story. Some people have a hard time comprehending this synthesis. The funny thing is that we never receive negativity from comic shops or readers who are generally excited about our material’s different perspective. Instead, it’s from certain sects of artists. Hipsters scoff at any mention of the word “superhero”, and we’ve had fanboys tell us we shouldn’t even touch standard comic book size unless we’re doing something akin to the Big Two which is complete nonsense.
Dave and I have found the comics community to be incredibly open and supportive, and we’ve made great relationships with other talented creators, but there will always be people who quarter off their lives with labels and prejudices.
The other challenge, and this is simultaneously advice I would offer, is that in order to make a self-published comic you have to be willing to commit time and money. Those are really the two things you need because talent is so much a product of time spent, and every minute you spend making a comic you are essentially losing money. Dave and I have made a conscious effort to budget our resources around our comic work. This means cutting out social time, other moneymaking opportunities, and suffering a little bit. Luckily, we’re each other’s best friends so we have a lot of overlap between fun and work, and we like to go halvsies on everything: food, household goods, and comic stuff.
7) With so many mystical and magical stories out there, how do you guys intend to continue to make your story feel unique and memorable throughout the coming issues?
We always speak from our own experience. We describe the world from the vantage point of Brooklyn but it can represent any city populated by aimless 20somethings. It’s crazy, big, and exciting but can also put you in a small place. Dave and I have both worked stressful day jobs in coffee and we’ve experienced that kind of post-graduate struggle firsthand. Our scenes of the city are authentic to what we see: we’ve walked through crowds of protesting hipsters and we’ve seen Hasidic Jews playing baseball against Nuns in public parks. Well, it was young Puerto Rican women and not nuns, but you get the point. We want this story to be as funny and painful as life really is, and we feel the best way to do so is to tell a story that is even more tangible than reality, a superhuman story.
Every supernatural scene is meant to progress the plot towards a better understanding of our characters and the world they live in, a mirror of our own world. People take things to heart when they are expressed in a fun and stylish manner. We are trying to provide an entertaining experience that speaks to people by speaking about people.
8) What are your plans for Nora? Is she going to start fighting in this inevitable battle against Merrick or stand on the sidelines for support?
It’s funny you should ask this question because I just put aside some of my thumbnail sketches for Issue Two to write this interview. The last scene I drew was Nora spin-kicking an assailant in the face. Nora is not a magically powered superhero or deadly trained assassin; she’s a normal city-dwelling female. Essentially, she can kick ass in a real way. She’s taken self-defense training, carries a taser, and she’s sharp as hell. She’s a necessary foil to Charlie/The Night Watchman because she understands and is connected to the modern world. It’s also her strong sense of ethics that drives her to be involved. Dave and I are both feminists at heart and couldn’t represent a lead female who wasn’t passionate, cunningly smart, down-to-earth, and sexy by virtue of all those qualities. So even when Nora isn’t throwing punches we’ve designed a story where the plot moves forward because of her bold actions. And yes, in our grand conclusion of this story arc, Nora’s butt-kicking role is essential!
9) When is Issue Two due for release and what can be expected of its progression of the plot and characters? Any new additions?
Issue Two will hit shelves this December. In this next installment, we get to the meat of the story: more action, more conflict, more character follies, and more sinister elements at work. We are introduced to a new character named Mama Shadow and we learn more about Dan Deane and his big plans for the Brooklyn waterfront. The Night Watchman will have his hands full saving innocents from a delinquent beyonder who wreaks havoc on the FDR expressway, and as I mentioned earlier, readers will get a glimpse into the Dead World. Nora also does her fair share of investigating, and Serena begins work at the coffee shop.
10) What other works, if any, are you and/or Dave currently working on now, or in the near future?
We have a mini-comic series,Walking into Traffic, which stars our cute l’il hooligan from TotNWM, Serena. These 6-panel comics are snarky and fun and provide a nice break of pace from the full issue. We have a few other unrelated projects in the works as well. One involves a killer mutant bunny. Another one is about a family of wrestlers going head-to-head against their neighbors, a family of monster truck drivers.
11) Thank you for your time Lara, I expect great things of this series and what you guys have planned. Is there anything else you wish to add?
Oh, man, the other big news is that I will be attending a comics and cartooning residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in Florida this October. I’ll be studying under Ellen Forney, producing a whole new batch of comic work. I’m really excited about that.
If you’d like to keep with what Dave and I are up to be sure to check out our website,http://www.talesofthenightwatchman.com, and subscribe to our updates.
You should also join our Tales of the Night Watchman fanpage at http://www.facebook.com/watchmantales. We’ve got a lot we’re excited to share, and we hope you enjoy our work! Thanks again, Sharayah and Comics Forge!
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