Interview: Graham Annable Pt. 1 [of 4]

Categories:  Interviews

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I jumped at the opportunity to interview Graham Annable, upon being asked by his new publisher, Dark Horse. We haven’t heard much from Annable on the printed front since the publishing schedule at Alternative Comics slowed to what might be generously referred to as a crawl. In fact, the latest issue of the Annable-helmed Hickee anthology, published in 2008, is the most recent book listed on the publisher’s site, still carrying a big, red “NEW” graphic, atop the homepage.

After a moment, however, something occurred to me—thing is, we’ve never really heard all that much from Graham Annable in this area. He is that rare beast in the world of cartooning—an artist with a really good day job. In fact, he’s had a string of them, having worked in the animation and gaming fields for more than a decade and a half, working for Chuck Jones, LucasArts, and TellTale Games at various points in his career.

Annable is currently employed by Laika Animation—the former Will Vinton Studios, now funded by Nike founder Phil Knight. The cartoonist storyboarded the studio’s first feature—the nearly universally beloved Coraline. Nice work if you can get it, certainly, but its easy to also lament what such successes have meant for us comics readers: fewer Grickle books.

Of course Annable has been doing plenty of peripherally related work in his free time, from his YouTube Grickle Channel to his weekly TellTale strip, Dunk/Dank. Still, it’s hard not to find oneself hoping that any success that might arise from the coming release of Dark Horse’s The Book of Grickle will inspire a whole new spate of Grickle material.

As the author of the book’s introduction, Jeff Smith, will happily attest, there’s something magical in these strips—perfect little snapshots of tragicomedy, drawn deceptively simply by an artist who could clearly craft something more grandiose, given a little more time. But to do so would strip them of some of their immense charm.

You’ve got a new anthology coming out on Dark Horse.

Yeah. it’s very exciting. It’s past work and whatnot, but it’s awesome to me to get a lot of this back in circulation. The first Grickle book has been out of print for five or six years now. It will just be nice to have that available again, and I’m hoping, through Dark Horse, a whole crop of people will hear about the stuff.

So everything in here was on one of those Alternative Comics collections?

Well, most of the stuff in there is from the first two Grickle books—Grickle and Further Grickle—but there’s a bunch of pieces from self-published mini-comics that I’ve brought to conventions, over the years. And then there’s one piece that was an art piece that I did for a show in Switzerland, of all places, a couple of years ago. It was a thing where they invited each artist to do whatever they wanted with 100 Post-it notes. Because I’m more comfortable working in a linear story fashion, I just created a whole story with the 100 Post-its. I just feel like there are so many people who haven’t seen that piece, and I’m just really proud with the way it turned out, I reformatted that into one of the stories, as well.

Which one is that?

It’s called “Sea Life.”

The mermaid story.

Yeah, the one where the guy attempts suicide and then sort of has a new life under the ocean [laughs].

Now that I’m looking at it, it’s a little more obvious—it’s one of the few strips in here where the panels are perfectly square.

Yeah. And there’s a slight tone to it, because the Post-its were yellow or blue, depending on whether it was the ocean or above.

The back of the book abstract begins with something along the lines of, “Grickle is not a character or a place.” What’s the common theme in all of these strips?

Well, it’s kind of just been me just sort of following my nose on anything I’ve been inspired to write about. When I first started created the strip, I guess my goal was just creating stuff that I was interested in. I started the whole thing, because I was working as an animator for years. At the time, I’d been at LucasArts—the entertainment company, working on video games. And in the late 90s, everything turned into 3D software. Every game became three-dimensional. Up to point, I’d actually been hand-drawing stuff at LucasArts. That sort of went away from my daily work.

I really got into animation initially because I really liked drawing so much. I started doing the comic stories on my own at home, at night just to keep myself focused and working, using a pencil and paper and pen. After a while, I got a big pile of stories that I’d finished. I thought, ‘well, I’ll make them into a book.’ When I got to that point, I thought, what do I call this?’ And then it kind of hit me that when I was a kid, my dad had a million nicknames for me and my sister. Grickle was one of the ones that stuck for me. And I just thought, ‘well, all of these stories are coming from me, and this is whatever I want to focus on.’ The word Grickle just seemed to fit. It sort of covered the whole thing. It’s kind of stuck ever since.

Did you ever consider changing it, early on, based on getting that same question, over and over again?

Uh, not at this point. Like I said, it just kind of fits it. It does take a little extra explanation for anyone who is unfamiliar with it. And, you’re right, it does get a little weird, because it’s not a specific character—it’s just my style of drawing. It’s my storytelling, I guess, is the best way to describe it, at this point. But yeah, it’s just melded with it so much that I just can’t think of it any other way.

You lost some of the ability to draw at work when the studios made the transition to 3D art. Did you also feel as though you weren’t given the opportunity to be a proper storyteller at that point?

Yeah. I’m sure like many of these folks, it wasn’t quite the career path I had expected when I graduated Sheridan College, way back in ’92. For the first couple of years, I worked as a freelance animator in Toronto. During that time, I got an opportunity to work with Chuck Jones. I guess, at the time, Chuck Jones’s studio in LA was attempting to get theater shorts going again. They started reaching out to people from all different places to work on these six minute theater shorts.

The pre-movie shorts.

Yeah, from long ago, like all of the Warner Bros. stuff used to be. They liked my stuff. I had a little bit of comic book work at that time that I had been doing. It was enough to show that I could do stories. They contracted me to do the six minute shorts. I spent like four months doing it.

Then, toward the end of the project, I got flown down to LA and actually got to work with Chuck Jones for a couple of days. It was just an amazing experience. I left thinking, man, that’s it, I’m going to do storyboards. That just fits with my skill sets, and I just enjoy it so much. But I was so entrenched in animation that I didn’t really do anything to switch gears. I knew that I loved doing storyboarding, but I ended up animated for the next 14 years, pretty much, until I got the opportunity to come up to Laika, up here in Portland, to work on Coraline, and got back into storyboarding.

When you say “animating” versus storyboarding, do you mean doing actual cell drawings? What specifically does that entail?

Yeah, originally, when I was in Toronto, I was working on a bunch of different television shows. And I actually got a chance to work a bit on A Goofy Movie with Disney [laughs].

I am familiar.

Yeah. Not everyone is [laughs]. I was doing traditional, hand-drawn animation. It was great. I learned a ton. And then I got hired at LucasArts and moved out to California and was working in video games. I was still doing what I guess you’d call “traditional animation.” But for a number of projects, we were drawing with pixels and just moving 2D art around. But with some of the projects, we went back to the original method of drawing on paper and scanning it in. and then, at a certain point, all games transitioned to being 3D.

Did you have a computer background, at all?

Uh, not so much. Sort of, but not applicable. I was super into computers when I was, like 12. My buddy had a Comadore 64, and we’d try to write programs and stuff. I was kind of a computer nerd for a little bit, but by the time I got to art college, I was completely not computer literate at all. I still remember getting hired at LucasArts and they sat down and I had my own computer and e-mail and stuff, and I was like, “what the hell?” I really didn’t know how to use it. I really had to be shown how to e-mail. This was back in ’94. I was a bit out of the loop. I wouldn’t say I’m super tech savvy, but like all of us, I’m pretty comfortable using a computer, these days.

How difficult of a transition was that?

It was a little weird when I first got to Lucas, because I had just come off of working on A Goofy Movie, which, at the time, for me, was the most challenge job I’d had. The line work had to be a certain way. I was doing mostly cleanup and in-between on it. It was so precise.

Disney’s a bit infamous for the specificity of its house design.

Yeah. It’s so much about a certain aesthetic you’ve got to follow. It’s really tough stuff. And, also, I was sitting at a desk at Lucas with 80 to 100 pixels, trying to make a character walk around. It was a weird switch. All of the animation fundamentals still applied, but the little pixelized guy was a far cry from the really meticulously cleaned up stuff I was doing for A Goofy Movie.

So, it took a little transition, but we ended up doing some really high-end stuff, I felt, at Lucas. The Curse of Monkey Island game, we traditionally hand animated almost all of that. We got pretty fancy with a lot of stuff on that project. But yeah, it was a little bit of a switch.

[Continued in Part Two]

–Brian Heater

8 Comments to “Interview: Graham Annable Pt. 1 [of 4]”

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