When he’s not making comic books or storyboarding films like Coraline for Laika Pictures or working on video games or producing Webcomics, Graham Annable is a one-man cartoon studio, creating animated shorts for YouTube–perhaps most notable of which is the tremendously clever Space Wolf, name-checked by Jeff Smith in his introduction to Dark Horse’s new Grickle volume.
In this third part of our interview with Annable, we explore the differences–and similarities of working in the two forms.
You’re doing animated shorts on a relatively regular basis.
Yeah. That’s kind of like the comic work. It sort of comes in fits and spurts. Whenever I get a little bit of breathing room, and I have an idea that I’m kind of obsessed with and want to get out there, I love the fact that I’m living in an era, where, with the software available, you can really just be a one-man animation studio, as long as you keep the animation minimal and are very efficient with the look of the whole thing.
I love the fact that I can come up with an idea one afternoon, and then a week later—or a couple of weeks, depending on how quickly I can execute it—I can have the thing out and put it on YouTube and have a whole audience of people who enjoy it…or hate it… [laughs] It’s amazing that you can do that, because of all of that stuff with animation used to be so tied up in distributors and all of the rest of the stuff.
It seems, aesthetically at least, much of that work is something of an extension of Grickle.
Yeah. When I had the first couple of Grickle books come out, people would see my work and then immediately say, “oh, hey, you’re an animator, right?” I wasn’t really conscious of it. It’s just, working in animation, you just sort of visualize things differently. For me there’s always that sense of timing, and I really love getting into the posing of the characters and the acting that’s involved. I’ve always been called out for being an animator in my comics.
So, in a sense, you’ve been storyboarding short cartoons all along.
Possibly, but both mediums certainly have their differences and their strengths. Because I’ve been dabbling in doing the shorts and doing comic work and doing Webcomics, there are definitely ideas and things that just play better in each of the mediums, for different reasons. There’s been times when I’ve come up with an idea initially for an animated short, and then, after working on it for a little while, it occurred to me that it would totally work as a short story in a comic. They’re all linked together, obviously, but they’ve all got their strengths, and I find that certain ideas, I can visualize and animate it right away, or it’s automatically got to be a comic story.
So it’s not a case where you’re working hard to figure out something in comics form, only to realize that it would actually work better as an animated short?
No. There’s such a feeling that you get when reading a book that you don’t get with a film, and vice versa. The experience is different. And, for whatever reason, when I come up with the ideas, I know it’s going to be a short—it’s not something I’d want to make a comic out of. Not to say that it couldn’t be a comic, or whatever. But for whatever reason, from the on-set I know that it’s going to be. But yeah, I’ve been told many times that my comics feel like storyboards.
In terms of the toolset that you’re using for the shorts on YouTube, you’re relatively limited, right?
In that sense, isn’t it a little more like doing a comic strip?
Yeah. I mean, I think one of the attractions of any artist working in comics is the fact that you pretty much control all aspects, at least in alternative and independent comics. One person can create the whole book. In animation, that’s not usually the case, because there’s so much involved and so many technical things to be concerned with. It’s a little tougher. But the way I’ve been doing these cartoons on YouTube, I am a one-man show. It’s a similar sense of control, being able to do it all.
Are comics something that you would ever consider doing full-time?
Yeah, I think so. Given the way I’ve been working over the years, I guess ideally I wouldn’t like to lock myself into any one medium. I really do enjoy being able to hop around to different stuff. It’s all about being inspired by an idea. And I find that I’ll go through a huge chunk of time where all I want to do is create animated shorts, because I get so excited about the combination of music and sound.
There’s nothing quite like visualizing something and then you throw the music in and it morphs into something that you couldn’t have anticipated. But then there’s other times—I love the way it feels to read a comic book or a graphic novel and kind of settle in and linger over images and the way the word balloons flow. And then all I’ll want to do for the next few months is comic stuff. So far I love having the option of doing both or whatever is more inspiring at the time.
Now that you can hold this new Dark Horse volume in your hands, are you getting back into comics mode?
Oh yeah [laughs]. I got the advance copy a few weeks ago, and man, it’s so cool just to hold that book. Unlike the previous stuff I’ve had published, this is actually a hardcover and it’s got some weight to it.
It’s a nice looking volume.
Yeah. I love that. I just love that feeling in general for all of the graphic novels I read. I just love that feeling.
And it doesn’t hurt to have a forward by Jeff Smith…
Yeah, that was a nice thing [laughs]. Jeff has been so supportive of my stuff, over the years. When the first Grickle book published, I went down to San Diego for Comic Con. Just like computers, I was really into comics when I was 12, or 16. And then I kind of feel out of it for quite some time. I always read the odd comic, from time to time, but I had really fallen out of following the industry.
So I was pretty unfamiliar with everything that was going on, when I went to San Diego that first time. I was at the Alternative Comics table, selling the Grickle book. This guy came up and shook my hand, and said he was Jeff Smith and that he really, really liked the book. He told me to come on by his table at some point, and I thanked him and sat back down. I looked around and everyone else at the table started at me and said, “you know who that was?” I was like, “yeah, he said his name was Jeff Smith.” And they said, “that’s the guy who does Bone.” Bone?
I’d heard of it, but I wasn’t really familiar with it. and then someone handed me one of the comics, and I was like, “oh! Whoa, whoa!” ever since then, I’ve always chatted with Jeff Smith, and then, when I was working at TellTale for that year, we ended up creating two Bone games, trying to turn Jeff’s storyline and turning it into an adventure game. So I ended up working with Jeff quite a bit on the phone. He’s just been great. He’s such a good guy. It’s just amazing the energy he seems to have at every convention I’ve ever seen him at. He’s always trying to go around and find new stuff and is always talking to the new cartoonists. He’s just a great person.
[Concluded in Part Four.]