Interview: Graham Annable Pt. 4 [of 4]

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In this final part of our interview with the Grickle artist we discuss Graham Annable’s years, including how he switched his focus from the sciences to animation, how bad his early reels were, and how the Grickle style developed. As Annable puts it, “I think my style has come out of my necessity to find the quickest way to meet the end result.”

[Part One][Part Two][Part Three]

Do you think this new volume will inspire you to do more comics work?

I hope so. Yeah, definitely. I would really love to. I would love to see Hickee get back rolling. And, as I said before, I would love to do a longer story. I want to do at least one big, long story, and see how that goes.

Can you talk about that, at all?

I probably shouldn’t yet [laughs]. Not until I get a little bit further with it. But I definitely intend to get that out there at some point in front of potential publishers and see what people think.

Stylistically is it similar to the Grickle stuff?

Yes, definitely. But I feel like it’s constantly evolving, as it goes.

There’s certainly aesthetic similiarites between characters in one strip and the next. Do you feel like there are crossovers, or do you not invest that level of thought into the characters themselves?

Yeah, I don’t really ever think of them that way. There’s certainly a similar sort of character that shows up in a lot of the stories, but I don’t know, I feel like the emphasis is on trying to tell whatever story I’m trying to tell at that time. I don’t ever think of it as being the same guy, despite how it looks [laughs]. It’s always specific to that particular story.

You had mentioned earlier that game design wasn’t a path you had imagined yourself taking? What field did you see yourself going into when you were in school?

Uh [laughs]… When I graduated from high school—or was about to graduate—I really had thought I was going to go into the sciences. I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do, but I really enjoyed biology class. I just thought I would be at some university, studying sciences, trying to figure out what I was going to do next. But when I looked over my science books, they were completely covered in doodles [laughs]. So I thought, maybe I’ll just go for art instead.

At that time I was super into newspapers strips, actually. I still am. I’m a fan of the Charles Schulz Peanuts stuff, and I had a zillion Archie Digests under my bed that I would read over and over. I thought that I kind that I kind of wanted to do stuff with comic books. I was also really into Ralph Bakshi’s Mighty Mouse at the time. I remember that being on TV and I lived to watch those episodes. And I loved film. So I thought animation was perfect. It’s like comic strips and film pushed together.

And it’s something you can potentially make a living at.

I should have been considering that side of things, but I wasn’t. It was just something I wanted to do.

So I ended up getting accepted to Sheridan College, and within the first couple of weeks, I realized that I didn’t know anything about animation. A lot of these other students were so steeped in the whole history of it. I had no clue about any of it, so it was just three years of beginning to learn about the whole industry.

I started in ’89 and graduated in ’92. At that time, the industry wasn’t quite as lucrative as it is now. It was pretty scary. A few of the teachers were like, “don’t expect to be drawing cartoons when you get out of this place. You’re gonna be delivering pizzas for the next five years.”

I think that’s pretty standard for liberal arts education.

I suppose it is. You should have a little reality in there and not expect to be the art director for some company as soon as you walk out. But it was kind of true for my graduating class. I ended up being the manager of a video store in downtown Toronto for about a year for the first year out of college, and I was like, “man, maybe I should have gone into the sciences.” But then I started getting some gigs at some of the animation studios, and like anything, you start to network and start to figure out what you need to do to get your foot in the door, and hopefully roll from there.

What do you do at an animation studio, when you’re first getting your foot in the door? What’s the low point on the animation totem pole?

Well, a lot of times people will come in and do some PA stuff to get a sense of what the studio is like. When projects are strapped for help, you can jump in and help with some of your services. Or maybe you do some cleanup work. It’s pretty non-existent now, but cell painting. But I actually got in as animator from the get-go. It had a lot to do with the fact that a lot of my graduating class happened to be working at that studio. They really just wanted to fill a lot of seats and get a lot of people animating.

So I got in there with my student reel. They looked at it, and I wouldn’t say they were impressed, but they were impressed enough to offer me work, and it started from there [laughs].

They saw a clear competence in the work that you presented.

I guess so. I look back on it now and wonder why anybody hired me.

Do you get a similar feeling looking at the old Grickle strips? Did you touch them up at all?

No. You know, there was definitely stuff I looked at and… I think you’re always evolving and refining the look. Definitely some of those strips were me still trying to figure out some special relations with noses and eyes. But I don’t know, I just feel like the art was the art, and it was done at that time. I actually don’t feel much desire to tinker. I’d rather just move on to newer stuff, I guess.

There’s definitely some variation in the art, but you seem to have already locked into a style from the first page. Everything in here knows what it wants to do. When did you realize that you had really hit on something, aesthetically?

I don’t have a specific moment. I guess after I published two booklets worth of the stuff back in ’99 or 2000, I sort of realized that, ‘okay, there’s a way that I do draw and certain themes that I keep coming back to in my work.’ But I don’t know, I think my style has come out of my necessity to find the quickest way to meet the end result.

Hence the stick arms.

Yeah. I get an idea and then I just want to execute it and move on to the next thing. Personally, I don’t want to get too bogged down in the details. I want that looseness to it to be able to get to that point quickly.

In a sense you’re really storyboarding the comics.

I suppose you could say that [laughs]. I guess you could say that.

When you say “themes,” what specifically are you referring to?

It’s more of what I’ve been told by other people. I guess darker humor. It’s the stuff that interests me. It’s the stuff that I want to watch or read. It’s the sort of story that I want to tell. Not that I would be opposed to writing something uplifting. I just always follow what appeals to me.

Schulz is definitely darker at times, but it sounds like a lot of what inspired you were children’s book. You said you had done some Spongebob comics, but did you expect that do more stuff for kids?

If you work in the animation industry, you certainly expect to be doing a good chunk of your stuff geared towards kids. And it’s a big part of why I do what I do. I was really into cartoons as a kid. It was so great when you find a show that hits all the right buttons for you, and you can’t wait for it to come on.

I guess I assumed that I would be doing more stuff for kids. There’s also a simplicity in children’s stuff that I find appealing.

–Brian Heater

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